[Trigger Warnings: Abuse, homelessness, apparent death of an alter that was actually splitting, discussions of suicide, false sexual assault allegation.]
It was the Facebook Live heard around the world. It’d actually helped that Xanthe had been uncharacteristically deactivated for a number of months, and this turning point happened after some worrying statuses.
I still wonder if some subconscious part of Xanthe had always planned it all. Saved the screenshots, recorded everything in journals, built their clout, vanished in a fog of vague drama, only for their platform to blaze to life when they needed it the most. As if they knew that someone else in the system would use what they built, to set the stage for Xanthe’s grand return.
It was everything Xanthe’s ego had sustained, publicly tearing down all that I had been building to conceal the truth of our existence. It was almost poetic, in that way.
During the Live, Dumptruck and Bentley, who would later come to be close friends with us, sat horrified on their couch as Xanthe rambled about how they felt they were a ‘walk-in soul.’ Xanthe was actively dissociating, speaking how there was a different person, Nebula, who had vanished in 2013– and how Xanthe hardly remembered anything before that.
“Uh… This bitch has DID,” Dumptruck had said in his trademark candor. I believe he’s the first on record to have ever said that specifically about us. When Arkady could be heard yelling at and even threatening Xanthe within the video, Dumptruck asked Bentley if they would be okay seeing this. When this friend, who was also a system, answered to the affirmative, they kept watching– just to make sure Xanthe would even be alright.
Alana, who had also stumbled upon the Live after it had happened, had remembered her own unsavory experiences with Vali. It was nearly everyone’s first impression, that he had been inconsiderate and over-edited his photos to the point of being unrecognizable in person. She was well-aware that word of mouth wasn’t precisely law, but Arkady was kind enough to portray his recent treatment of Xanthe to an audience. When Alana had expressed disdain to the situation and even confided in Sage about having problems with Vali, corroborating what Xanthe had been saying, Sage had told her, “That’s between you and Vali.”
Kaspar watched the Live as well, in their Airbnb on Tite Street. They had gotten shoo’d out by Phisoxa hours ago and was simply waiting to hear an update on Xanthe. By the time Arkady began ordering Xanthe to come out of their room, Kaspar’s face had gone white. Their jaw was set. I could actually see in their eyes that Cause and Effect was becoming clear as day. “So, you’re who’s destroyed them,” they’d whispered.
They’d only gone about ten more minutes of watching before Arkady threatened to reveal the body’s birthday to the world. At this point, Kaspar’s grip shattered their glass of pinot noir. They’d sat stock still, allowing Marie to tend to the resulting cuts and spill, both of which were thankfully minor.
A few notes about the video. We’re not overly certain who the phone number that’s given belongs to. It was formerly my habit of making Xanthe believe that old, forgotten contacts were Kaspar’s partners scattered across the globe, and that they could contact Kaspar through them. The contact information was just a token of proof I’d made that Xanthe could have no matter if in the inworld or out.
It does freeze in multiple places.
Xanthe actually held their ground. They fought back. They even bitterly laughed when Arkady said he wanted to speak to Kaspar. The abuse they had been going through, at least through Arkady’s hands, were suddenly revealed.
The videos above are when my castle of glass, my reinforced silence, all crumbled down. It had been more of a decade of scrambling, damage control, and orchestrating this house of cards and it all fell down before my eyes anyway.
It was a bittersweet relief I had felt. All of this, pulling strings, arranging memories to minimize harm, constructing alternate memories to hide the truth– it was all I ever felt good at. It had protected us. And now, by cruel irony, it had been killing us.
I watched Xanthe as well.
It was disturbing, in a way. I could see a sort of… internal scan of Xanthe, for lack of better phrasing. Those marbles that Kaspar mentioned– I could see them almost as individual drones, creating an unstable picture of Xanthe, but the look of an unfinished human being was terribly prevalent. A lot of Xanthe was in literal pieces, floating in confusion as to their original place, creating an unstable approximation as to the arrangement of Xanthe’s soul.
The result was grotesque. Imagine watching someone with half of their throat missing, or a huge hollow hole in their cheek, or half of their face floating away, holding their ground against their abuser. It took some effort to stay focused on the dialogue rather than focus on Xanthe’s state.
I wasn’t at all who erased their memories of the recent inworld events. As it turns out, many alters struggle with the fact of having died and returned. They remembered only a year and a half later, shaking on the bedroom floor, eyes staring into space. “I’ve died before, haven’t I?”
“Yep,” Sparrow said, having twice the experience Xanthe had. “Trippy, isn’t it?”
Granted, Arkady’s arguments were these panicked, somewhat nonsensical things. Such as claiming that Xanthe wasn’t doing therapy correctly, saying that Xanthe had lied to him about what he’d once corroborated, etc. They would be torn down the day later, but Xanthe held their ground and explained themself. That probably saved their life.
There was no erasing what everyone had seen. A city full of strangers, seeing a fellow human being that was in obvious anguish, proof of the situation in plain view. We would be torn apart a day later and unable to defend ourselves, but for now, Xanthe had fought back. Finally.
Everything after the video ended was a blur.
It was Charlie who had texted me to come rescue me to spend the night. They arrived and brought a friend of theirs who had also known the household and also seen the Live. I don’t know what would have happened if I had spent that night in that house. I don’t want to know.
I’d only really met Charlie in person once before. They were one of those previously faceless admirers over Facebook. We’d gone on a walk in Highland Park and vaguely rescued a baby bird who’d fallen from the nest. (More likely, lightly harassed and prevented its mother from naturally intervening, which was actually rather a good foreshadow into Charlie’s more meddling and arrogant traits.)
As I stood on the street of Crosman Terrace, I stared at these two near-strangers. I felt jarred by the inescapable realisation that this was all that I had now. My family of two years had categorically disowned me, leaving me in a new city that was half locked down from a plague. I hardly knew any locals outside of them and their defenders.
I’d never felt so adrift in my life.
I gripped my Franzia bag. I think I’d only grabbed that along with an overnight bag. I should have grabbed my journals as well, but, you know. Live and learn.
“Is that a bag of wine?” The friend asked. It was remarkably non-judgmental. Or maybe it was just the only neutral tone I’d heard used in reference to alcohol in months.
“Yeah,” Charlie answered for me. “Xanthe’s a functional alcoholic.”
I smiled weakly. Wow, we’re using the A-word now. Thanks!
I think I was scarcely even in the car before I lost my grip on the front.
I was back in my clocktower, staring at my hands. This new body was remarkably like my old one, having been harvested from the same inworld bloodline. I surveyed myself in a cracked mirror leaned against the wall. My wounds had disappeared. The blue in my hair had vanished. Instead, I found that much of my hair was black with a large patch of platinum blonde. I could find pearl-toned patches around my hairline and around my palms on otherwise parchment-coloured skin, which was certainly new. The body had seemed to come with its own top surgery, the skin on my chest bearing the signature tucking. I’d wondered if Phisoxa had done this in consideration for my gender, or if it were simply easier to get to my heart with nothing in the way.
My heart… Hadn’t something happened with my–?
I found myself vaguely hoping the previous owner of this corpse was deceased before Phisoxa found them but– knowing the count, I was afraid to ask.
I started when I saw Story staring at me from the other side of the room. They, like my physical form, was covered in blood. They were even vaguely shivering. Phisoxa’s eyes were fixated on them, tilting his head as if considering an anomaly. I was about to ask Phisoxa something, I forget what, but it was curtailed when Phisoxa spoke to Story.
“You two are holding each other back.”
You two? That hadn’t seemed aimed at me. In fact, it seemed like we were no longer as connected as we had been. I glanced at Story and saw an odd flicker in their eyes, as if someone else was watching. I remember that I’d used to see that same flicker in Sound’s eyes, before he and Koji had been separated.
Phisoxa stood abruptly, gripping her cane with a purpose. Story started, then something caught their eye in the mirror. They saw something in their eyes that turned their expression of one of alarm to one of icy dread. “Oh. Oh. Fuck.”
I could tell that the atmosphere had turned. The door creaked open behind me. I felt the odd pressure of Vex having arrived, but Phisoxa either didn’t care or didn’t notice. “Phisoxa?” I called, tentatively.
I knew this was Story. I know it was the younger one who had felt so much, one of the first who raised an alarm in the Faerie house. The glass of Phisoxa’s cane was glowing. “Phisoxa? Hey, Phisoxa, what are you–? Phisoxa, stop!”
Behind me, I could hear Vex’s raspy voice. “Phisoxa!”
Story, who had seen their lifespan reduced to a matter of seconds in their reflection, was quick to throw a beaker at the soul stealing count. Effortlessly, Phisoxa spun their cane and shattered the projectile in midair. Story let out a helpless laugh, backing away and tripping slightly over something I couldn’t see. I’ll never forget the look on their face, the reactions of the two separate people within them. Alertness, dread, hurt, helplessness, and bitter resignation. “You know, I can’t say I’m surprised–”
There was a horrible sound– energy crackling, something like flesh but far more vital rending apart, an expression of pain and demise that seemed like a scream that went beyond all senses.
The light had faded. Where Story had been was only a scorched bloodmark where Story once stood.
I was horrified. “What the fuck, Phisoxa! They were a fucking kid!”
Unbeknownst to me, a sort of birth was occurring within the inworld. Inside the that odd, newly formed part of that world that mimicked Faerie, a pair of eyes opened for the first time in a cell full of broken, shredded thorned vines that had been used as bondage. One eye was brown, nearly black. One eye was silver, a beacon in the shadows like the moon itself.
Elsewhere, yet undiscovered, a little blonde girl opened her eyes. A ball of trauma at first, but then later on, to be joined with Silas to become something inhuman and unaging, but still a child.
Sparrow and Averie/Aelaris had been an unbalanced fusion, too much emotion within one single person, slowly tearing themselves and each other apart through sheer incompatibility.
But I didn’t know this then.
Phisoxa was unperturbed. “They’re better off. They wouldn’t have lasted much longer like this. I was thanking them, though I have to admit, the separation between the two of you wasn’t quite an even split.” She looked at me levelly. “I didn’t kill them, Xanthe.” My head was spinning. I was on the very border of not asking more details and trying not to ask, but each option suddenly felt impossible.
Vex strode up to Phisoxa, eyes smouldering. “How long are we going to be doing this?” She jerked her hand toward the stain where a person used to be. “Ripping everything apart to build again!”
“As long as we have to!” Phisoxa hissed back.
I gave a startled laugh. I swear, without Story, it was like any hardwiring that had been connected to tears just ended up being re-routed to laughter. “Can you two dropped the fucking ‘divorced parents’ schtick for two seconds?”
I was back in the outerworld, the memory of the inworld already slipping from me like a disturbing nightmare. I’d later have to get the above narrative from Vex. I was in an unfamiliar living room in an apartment complex. There was some sort of stim toy in my hand, made of wiry circles set in a spiral pattern.
‘The Office’ was playing on the telly before me. My Nintendo Switch was in my lap, a true sign of a Xhaxhollari NestTM. I was feeling like Sherlock in ‘The Lying Detective’ again, a sequence full of disjointed scenes that I could barely find the connection in. The bag of Franzia was on the side table, half as full as it used to be. I later found that Xhaxhollari had essentially been panic-drinking, probably gagging through half of it, to try to summon me back.
Charlie had already gone to bed. I’d vaguely remembered that they had rescued me, but had specified that it would only be for one night. I scrolled through my phone. The amount of messages were overwhelming. Many were of concern, some were of confusion. I’d eventually edited the privacy on the videos so that no family or coworkers could view it, but I was also considering removing the videos all together.
I’d also found where Vali had already aimed his tantrum at Charlie for having the gall to get me out of a nightmareish situation.
Years later, Arkady would express incredulity at Vali’s claim that he was ‘grey ace’ and that I used drinks to ‘loosen [Arkady] up.’ “No, if anything, you were trying to open my mouth, not my legs,” Arkady had agreed, years later, when he was informed of this baffling Which meant that Vali R. Janiszewski is not above making up false sexual assault allegations to make himself look better in comparison. Which, as. asexual assault survivor myself, I find honestly bloody disgusting.
Back in Charlie’s living room, I could tell I wasn’t entirely myself. I found it hard to focus, to really make sense of the shattered pieces of the worst day of my life.
I wished I could tell, in that moment, what was my fault and what wasn’t. Rowan had reinforced, time and time again, that these dubiously-real friends existed to others as well. They had dated Aberle, for fuck’s sake. This doesn’t make sense. This doesn’t make any fucking sense. What about Arannan? Rebecca? Dram? William? Vis–
A lump lodged in my throat. I wished desperately, against all logic, for Arkady. So unused to support, I was, before his dubious entry into my life. I used to daydream about how he’d comfort me, on some of the worst days of my life. How I could curl in his arms, just ramble, maybe glasses of wine administered at intervals as he murmured in my ear. “It’s okay, it’s okay, I’ve got you. I’ve got you.”
And here it was. There was no reaching out to him, no comfort. The only safe place I had ever known was gone. Or maybe never really existed in the first place, along with a good half of my life.
This was the worst day of my life and he had been instrumental in it. Two years after the fact, I understand that it’s primarily Rowan’s fault. But Arkady was the key to hurting me that badly and he’d acted– well, willingly. If Rowan had acted alone, it just would have been another repeat of Rayzel. An ’empath’ that wanted to be my saviour in some way, who would end up gaslighting me. I would have fumed about it for a number of months, had another complex to add to the multitude, then eventually moved on.
But no, part of Rowan’s manipulation had used Arkady with my feelings and trust for him as both a weak spot and a weapon. And that decimated my psyche in ways I’m still discovering. But I couldn’t grasp that, then. I would not grasp it for a matter of months.
All I’d known is that Arkady was furious at me, someone who was so sweet and so protective towards me had turned into this loud brute over a live broadcast. That couldn’t have been him. Or, if it was, it was my fault, wasn’t it?
It wasn’t as if many lovers of mine had ever lasted long with me without ending up insane or dead. Maybe it was me.
I drank the rest of my Franzia, which was no small feat, and eventually passed out on Charlie’s couch.
August 5th, 2020:
I do vaguely remember waking on Charlie’s couch. I was in their living room. I only nebulously recalled that Charlie explained that they could only house me for one night, then it was back to Crosman Terrace. It hardly made sense to me, that there would be any way back. That they might as well be putting a packed suitcase in my hand and driving me to Chernobyl.
I’d looked out of their front windows, at an expansive parking lot and what looked to be a Wal-Mart or something. No two-hundred-year old townhouses, no sprawling trees, no Victorian suburbs with a skyline in the distance.
I think Charlie eventually convinced myself and Xhaxhollari that the body needed food. I don’t think I was hungover, by some miracle, but my hands were shaking. I do remember that Charlie basically had to walk me through the act of making eggs. “Yeah, you need a spatula. Okay, it looks like they’re done. Do you have a plate? You need a plate. Do you want salt? For your eggs. You don’t have to eat standing up, you can sit down. Did you grab a fork? You need a fork.”
Then we were on a trail. Charlie had wanted to go foraging along a trail near their house. There was maybe twenty minutes, maybe an hour, where it’s just a blur of them showing me plants and what they were harvesting them for. I would sometimes respond, and then sometimes ramble about what had happened within the house. Nothing profound, just rambling. “Oh, I never knew that was the name of that plant. You know what’s odd? Arannan and Rebecca basically adopted me. They were these… past-lives, I guess, of Rowan. Why would they allow this to happen?” “Everything was fine until Vali.” Here, I’d forgotten entirely that Rowan had held a knife to my throat and broken my consent, a half a year before they met Vali, but I wouldn’t get there for another year or so. “Everything was fine. Then Vali came in and it all started falling apart. I don’t understand.”
Then they, not really responding to me, would continue to tell me about plants. We were essentially having a one-sided conversation at each other.
It was around this time when I received a text from Sage Asra Barber.
I was somewhat numb to the blow, at that point. It was like if the house had burned down and then someone came by and stole the lawn ornaments and a package on your porch. Sure, why not? But I think that’s what prompted me to write a status to try to defend Arkady. Or, it was the fact that it was so many thought that Arkady was the primary villain in this and I wanted to dispel that.
And I thought that what I was saying below was true, that I was going Live to reveal myself. But my Narcissism knows better. What I was created to be knows better. But when I wrote this, I was entirely under this impression. Because, even miles away from my abusers, they lived on in my fucking head so much that I really thought that I was the problem.
At some point, Xhaxhollari eased into my head the fact that we’d already found and signed the lease on a new apartment. Unable to comprehend my own psychological suicide, I felt that I had, in fact, been present over the past month and that I was the one who had found this apartment in the blur of depression. This theory, however shaky, was somewhat soothing, especially since with all of these days of missing time and feeling like I was crazy. It was at least an apartment it felt feasible for me to choose. Upstairs, roof access, near enough to downtown. Not cheap enough for what I made, but nothing ever was.
I’d wondered the point of this. Honestly, all I wanted to do was take all of the rest of my COVID unemployment money, escape to Europe, and drink myself to death on the most aesthetic street possible. If I didn’t die, they’d probably find me, extradite me back to the USA, where I’d probably be committed in an asylum for the rest of my life because, really, what else was there? What other path was there for me?
And then I remembered. Oh, yeah. AJ.
AJ had two choices. A short-term living situation with me or certain death. Maybe helping AJ could be my one good, functional deed that I could do in my life. Then when they’d get themself settled, either with a job or on disability, they’d find a nice studio apartment, and I could hop off this doomed mortal coil because my life was undeniably over.
I texted AJ that day.
I was fading between Xhaxhollari and myself when I convinced Charlie to drive me to the train station. Not to get out of town, which would’ve been wise by that point, but to pick up the two large suitcases full of AJ’s belongings. See, AJ had been shipping their life to Crosman Terrace by piece by piece. We’d had a pile of packages from them and the suitcases were only the newest arrival.
I remember that Charlie had waited in the car as I went into the train station and retrieved this two suitcases. While out in the parking lot, I was overwhelmed by a sense of terror. I didn’t know where I was. Just that I was looking for a car.
“You’re looking for the car,” Xhaxhollari said, clear as day, describing it to me.
“It’s on Barnard and Bolton,” I said back to him.
There was a long pause from my mental arch-enemy/gatekeeper/guide dog. “What?”
“The Mitsubishi. I parked it on Barnard and Bolton. It had no paid parking. It should still be there.” Barnard and Bolton, many of my readers wouldn’t know, was a corner in Savannah. It was the corner wherein Nebula/Story/Sparrow had first parked their 1999 Mitsubishi Mirage years before when they arrived in Savannah, Georgia. My personality had somewhat been in its infancy, but I’d heard Nebula’s panicked mental repetition of ‘Barnard and Bolton’ so urgently that it had etched itself onto my memory. It came back when I was scared and somewhere unfamiliar.
“Xanthe…” Xhaxhollari said, alarm plain in his voice. “That Mitsubishi has been scrap for nearly ten years now.”
Charlie actually had to ring my mobile to get my attention. They actually had to open their car door Then I loaded the suitcases back into the car. The next stop was Crosman fucking Terrace.
I couldn’t celebrate the fact of Xanthe being alive when they were this unstable. Sparrow had made a crack about ‘Pet Semetary’ earlier, but it was far more like recovering a loved one from a near-death experience only to discover that they had brain damage. That’s no exaggeration; Xanthe’s mental faculties couldn’t have held up for any sort of evaluation, interview, or really even a particularly deep conversation.
As described over two years before, there was no sneaking into the house. Our house key, as long as it had taken us to get it, could not function when the deadbolts were engaged and Rowan had known this. Therefore, we actually had to call Rowan to let us back into the house. This allowed an ambush to form.
Exactly as Xanthe had described, Rowan and Vali both tag-teamed them in accusing them. “I think I’m the Unseelie Fae King?” Rowan snapped, referencing the confession that Sage had gladly given up as soon as was convenient.
“You have to stop talking about our worlds.” Vali proclaimed.
“Kaspar isn’t real. They’re just your idealized version of a partner for you,” Rowan asserted.
Xanthe and I aren’t quite certain of how we responded. They wrote in the previous post that they remember talking to me, but I honestly don’t remember saying the things I alleged. I’m not certain if this was a comforting delusion for them at the time, or if another alter had spoken to them and simply sounded and appeared like me. Or if it was a fractured part of Xanthe itself, still trying to find its way home.
The Faerie House, as Xanthe has said two years ago on this very blog, laid into Xanthe in one last hen-pecking session. Quoting their journals right back at them, announcing their thought crimes, as if these people had been thumbing through them to study for a test. It was an open-note test Vali still failed, citing when Xanthe had mocked his crying on a completely different incident than they actually had.
Xanthe was mistaken when they thought that it was Story apologizing alongside them. This was wishful thinking. It was me.
Because I was scared, too. I just wanted it to stop.
The worst part is when Arkady came up to the living room to join in. There was this air about Rowan and Vali, some sort of protective stance, as if they were supposed to prevent Xanthe and Arkady from ever being in the same room again to protect Arkady from Xanthe. And gods, wasn’t that just tragically ironic? “This is just funny to me,” he’d said, referring to the person he’d sworn to protect as they shook and broke in front of him. “This is like a soap opera, it’s just funny now. No, I want to watch.”
Not you, I heard Xanthe think. Not you. Anyone but you. Please.
Xanthe was retreating into themself, fading. Rowan, Vali, and Arkady were all kicking them out, making it clear that we were no longer allowed to live there, effective immediately. Vali was doing most of the talking, which, of course, at least offered the comfort of familiarity. “See, they’re just making themselves into a victim again! You’re doing it again, Xanthe, and we’re wise to all of your manipulation. And apparently you told Sage that I put everyone into a ‘Hostage situation’ by threatening to kill myself over the phone for hours when Rowan was on vacation? I was having a breakdown, Xanthe! A severe PTSD episode! C-PTSD, in fact!”
As much as Xanthe had held their ground the day before, as much barbed wit as they had possessed on that Live, it was nowhere to be found now. They were too far from any information, any memory that could be used to counter this. They were shattered. They just knew that they were afraid and that, since Arkady was involved, they were sorry.
Eventually, we were allowed to go upstairs.
I called Dad.
Dad wasn’t exactly the sort any of us went to for emotional support. I’d certainly inherited his ‘I’m going to take a walk, let me know when you stop crying,’ sense of tact. But he was consistent. And consistency is what I needed right now. “Hey, Dad? I’ve… I’ve had a really hard time.” I could hear how much my voice was shaking. There was once, years before, when I had been fronting when I failed my written driving test for the first time. The feeling of Failure had ripped me apart and I’d broken down sobbing, right in the parking lot. “Are you in the mood to deal with this, or…?”
“Sure, what’s going on?” He did take on a softer tone, at least. He must’ve heard the anguish in my voice.
“It’s my new house. My roommates. All of this drama happened, they read my journals. Now they think I’m crazy, and maybe I am. I was paranoid about a friend and another roommate. You know, the guy I told you about that scraped his hand and saw bone? But now they’re telling everyone about it. They’re kicking me out. I don’t know what to do.”
Dad, to his credit, saw the situation for the Level 5 cataclysm that it was. “Well, if they had to read your journals to find something wrong with you, then they’re definitely in the wrong. Weren’t you going to move into another apartment anyway? When can you do that?”
“Um… Ten days?”
I could hear the frown in my father’s voice. “What can you do until then?”
“I don’t know!” Here I was, backed against the wall, out of ideas. The one who could have plotted us out of this was going in and out of near-catatonia. I’d been there when Nebula had been homeless. I remembered the heat, the lack of routine, the bugs, the lack of privacy. I held the phone away from my mouth so that Dad couldn’t hear my hyperventilating. I didn’t want to go back to that! We’d all worked so fucking hard to make sure that we wouldn’t be in that situation again and we were back worse than where we started. Unlike what Xanthe’s fractured mind had felt, we no longer had a Mitsubishi to sleep in. “I could find a hotel, but– all of the Eastman and U of R students are moving in right now. The Employee Rate is not going to be available. Anything more is going to be at least $100 a night. I can’t do that for ten days!”
One criticism that Sparrow and Xanthe have against Dad, that I will agree with, is that Dad is not unremarkably wealthy. Our entire hotel stay would’ve been a drop in the bucket for him. He would eventually end up sending us $50, which… I admit, was a bit of a joke, since he was making at least that much an hour. But I still appreciated what I could get.
The rest of the night was a blur. I was honestly hoping that perhaps I could simply stay in my room with a locked door and the roommates would just leave me alone. Maybe even for a number of days.
I was honestly planning to hole up in the room, sneaking down only late at night to get food. We couldn’t afford a 10-day hotel stay, not when we were planning on renting an apartment and supporting AJ in food and board for however long until they, with their awful employment history and increasingly specific standards for employment, would find a job.
During the night, Xanthe came to again had called Cotton. They’d stored a number of Franzia wine boxes in their room and were already somewhat buzzed by the time they did.
Cotton answered somewhat innocuously. He was, of course, Xanthe’s friend on Facebook but never spent any time on the timeline, so he had missed all of the drama. He answered, completely in the dark.
“Hey, um… My life has… kind of falling apart and… I really need one of my best friends.” There was a dry sob that wrenched from them. They were no longer able to produce tears, but this wouldn’t be evident through the phone. Cotton, being the Cancer sign that he is, immediately went to comforting. It was a couple of, ‘Awww, hey, now…’ ‘s in a row from Xanthe’s old friend. Xanthe explained the situation in similar terms that I had, citing former conversations that they’d had with Cotton about both Vali and Zara. Of course, they also talked about their ‘dubiously real friends’, which was somehow simultaneously this great ruse born to vex the household and also something Xanthe had been candid with Cotton about for years. “I’m sorry, Cotton. I have this…– awful habit of being quiet until the 11th hour and then just trauma-dumping everything on you.”
“Well, hey,” Cotton said warmly. “If it makes it feel any better, I’ve kind of gotten used to it.”
Xanthe laughed, then. Laughed for the first time since they’d died. Xanthe filled him in on more of the details. And then, one really heart-breaking thing they asked is, “Hey, I know I can be… Narcissistic, in like… a clinical way. And I know I had to become not a… great person, to deal with Kirra– Well, Apollo. But… Hey, you’ve known me almost longer than anyone else. Have I ever manipulated you? Have I ever hurt you? Do you think I’m toxic?”
“No, to be honest,” Cotton said candidly. “Like I saw you kind of living a double life between what was going on with AJ and Apollo… And you’ve definitely gone off the rails, and I’ve been worried about you, but not to the extent they’re saying.”
Xanthe’s face crumpled. I could tell that this single honest answer probably extended their lifespan. “I have to be honest, Cotton. I actually thought this would work out. And it’s just… the same cycle I’ve been stuck in. Disaster, damage control, then scrambling to rebuild. I’m so fucking tired.”
It was actually too painful to continue to watch. I turned away from the rest of the conversation.
Xanthe was feeling like themself a little more throughout the night. The next morning, they posted about what both them and I had gleaned from the last night’s ambush. That these people had been through our journals again.
It wasn’t a hard conclusion to come to. One of them had a falcon feather as a bookmark, which had been discarded on our bedroom floor upon our return. And, beyond my Sherlockian observations, there remained the fact that the other three had quoted the damned journals word for word at them. In the morning, they posted this discovery.
It was within probably an hour or so when this status was shared to the household. In retrospect, it was likely Arkady’s mother, who Xanthe had forgotten they’d had friended. Vali was hovering outside of our door, referencing the status above. “We see you playing the victim, Xanthe. You tried to hide from Rowan, but it didn’t work. Also, Sage knows how you really are now. We told them everything.”
Nowhere to hide. Nowhere to hide. Scared scared scared scared. I think Xanthe and I were thinking that in tandem.
As Vali kept coming back to our door to give thinly-veiled (vale’d? -XZ) threats, we thought of nothing else but to call Wayne, our therapist. He famously said, in perhaps some of the best psychiatric advice we’d ever received, “They went through your fucking journals, Xanthe! And used it against you! You can’t stay another night in that house! Who cares if your friends are real? If they’re not the ones mistreating you, call them!”
Thus, Vex was there in an instant. Helping Xanthe pack. We grabbed our work clothes, pajamas, some paltry day clothes, our electronics, and, of course, our journals. For all the good it did now. Then we called an Uber to the hotel in Collegetown– not at the Employee Rate, of course, despite Arkady’s arrogant insistence. But at the Friends and Family, half-off rate. “This’ll sound weird, but try to enjoy the hotel,” I remember Dad telling me over the phone after I’d arrived to the hotel. “Order room service, take a walk, go to the pool…”
I remember that Xanthe, as scattered as they had been, grabbed only a pair of checkered converse for shoes. And Vex, as feral as she is, probably didn’t even know the difference. We were at work the next morning when our general manager eyed these with disapproval. “Did you think that these were professional?”
“Well, they were among my few belongings I managed to grab when my roommates kicked me out last night,” I said hoarsely. “So, no, they weren’t, but I had no other choice.”
The conversation was abruptly over.
The next two days were a blur of working and sleeping. And I do mean, a lot of sleeping. We were breaching 13+ hours a day. Part of that may have been malnourishment, as reluctant as we were to share common spaces matching Rowan’s apparent disliking to spend our grocery money on, you know, groceries for us. But I think it may just have been the fact that we could finally sleep in a sanctum that hadn’t been repeatedly violated, where we didn’t have to walk on eggshells, where we could even pause outside of our room without fallout.
We still drew the deadbolt on our hotel door. And made a note to the front desk not to disclose the fact of our staying here to anyone that may be calling. Of course, Arkady worked in a coffee stand located in the Strong hospital on the same block. I wouldn’t have put it past him to take a walk after work for a round two.
And anytime we weren’t working, any downtime was spent with my playing video games or Xanthe drinking. But more importantly, they were writing. I remember TheRightOpinion, recently my favorite YouTuber, had released a four-hour commentary special about Nikocado Avocado that month, which somehow was an odd lifeline to my psyche. Maybe some healthy dose of schadenfreude to put us at ease. It was playing in the background as Xanthe typed.
“This was during Nebula’s time as host of this body. Watching her memories is like watching a film. Between the years of 2005 and 2013, I wasn’t present. But I still have access to these memories. Or at least to most of them. This happened in 2007.”
Xanthe was far from themself. In the coming days, I would be assessing the damage, finding their conscious self to be a mess of novel quotations and song lyrics. But they could still write.
And if they could still write, we might still have a chance.