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a little less sixteen candles

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Sarah isn't sure where she's going. She just moves, walking quickly with her hands shoved deep into the pockets of her leather jacket, looking straight ahead. Hood up, but the wind is bitter cold, and she can feel tears on her cheeks. She's not crying--doesn't think she can cry anymore. Her heart is too heavy with self-loathing, and crying would only make her hate herself more.


She's got no money to buy a warm drink and no reason to get out of the cold. She moves downtown until she feels the electric energy inside her begin to ebb, and only then does she slow down.


She could go home. She could just forget about Rachel and Cosima and eat lunch by herself for the rest of the school year. She could walk straight home after school and eat snacks with Felix and help him with his homework while she struggles over her own. She could bring her grades up enough to graduate, and then she could go wherever the fuck she wants, and bring Helena with her.


She could do all of those things, but she knows she isn't going to.

 


 

 

Helena's locker is on the first floor, near the cafeteria and art classrooms. Sarah's is on the second, closest to the science labs. Inside both lockers are a mix of the girls' possessions--notebooks with scribbled equations, snack foods, sweatshirts and gym clothes, polaroids of grinning faces taped to the interior of the doors. It's a system they've used since middle school, and it's never been a problem.


Sarah isn't thinking of Helena at all when she opens her sister's locker and tosses her own backpack inside. That's the thing that, looking back, will always make her feel the guiltiest.


She hadn't been thinking of Helena at all.

 


 


She ends up at the Queen Street Viaduct, staring down at the water. Without looking down for it, she reaches into her bag and rummages until her fingers close around the plastic case of her phone. There are no messages waiting for her when she unlocks the phone. The others are still in school, or just leaving, and obviously don't give a shit that she's gone. She flips through her contacts and pauses with a fingertip hovering above the name Meathead, but can't actually bring herself to press down. She's not sure what she'd say, anyway.

Sorry I'm such a fuckup of a sister. Sorry I let you take the fall for something that was my fault. Sorry.


Sorry.


Sorry.

 


 

 

They're in the cafeteria. Pizza day. Helena has three slices, one plain, one pepperoni, one with broccoli. She's taking bites of each in turn. Scott and Cosima are arguing about Comic-Con and Sarah is pretending to listen to them. She's really watching the table about thirty feet across the caf, where Paul Dierden is sitting across from Beth Childs. Beth's back to her. Paul catches her eye and though his expression doesn't change, Sarah senses a shift in the set of his jaw. She smiles, slow and lazy and satisfied.


When she turns back to her own table, there are two adults standing beside Helena. Vice principal, a security guard. One has a hand clamped onto her shoulder. Helena's eyes are wide and suspicious, and she half rises from her seat, one slice of pizza still in her hand.


"What's going on?" Sarah asks, feeling stupid, feeling slow.


"Helena," one says, she's not sure which, "let's not do this here."


The whole table has gone quiet. No one is eating. Helena drops her pizza slice on her plate and stands the rest of the way up. The hand never leaves her shoulder, and as she walks out of the room, she turns and sends a confused look Sarah's way. She doesn't know either.


Sarah stays where she is, stomach rolling, not sure what to do.


The silence hangs on for several seconds, and then Cosima says, "Uh..."


"That was fucking weird," Tony says, and shrugs.


Sarah gets to her feet. She wipes her hands on her jeans. "I'm gonna," she says, and stops. The rest is self-explanatory, isn't it? She's going to get her sister. She walks across the cafeteria in what feels like slow motion, forcing herself to act normal. It's probably nothing, right? Like if it was something to do with Mrs. S or Felix, they would have come to get both of them, not just Helena. It can't be anything too bad. She pushes through the swinging cafeteria doors and hears them slap shut behind her, and only then does she start to jog.

 


 


She calls Vic, because she's an idiot, and she's hurt, and she's lonely. She calls him because everyone else she knows is pissed off at her or using her or too busy for her. She calls him because she knows he'll pick up.


"I hate my whole fucking life," she says, thinking the whole time about how much she hates herself, "I hate my family and I hate school and I hate this fucking city most of all." Quietly, she mutters, "I hate it."

 

Vic sucks in a breath, holds it, and lets it out. Sarah can almost smell the weed from here.


"I don't know what to do right now," she finishes. She still won't let herself cry. She feels numb from the cold and numb from thinking about how badly she's fucked up.


"Leave," Vic says. "Go somewhere better." Like it's that easy.


Somewhere better. She hasn't let herself dream, really dream, of better in a long time.


"How," she says, desperate. "My mum will call the cops. I'm fucked."


Vic laughs, the sound a smoky rumble. "Throw away your phone," he says. "Use a fake name. How the fuck are they gonna find you?"


She nods, though he can't see her. Throw away her phone. Just leave. Go somewhere better. As soon as she thinks the words, she knows that this has really been her plan since she walked out of school a few hours ago. She's just been waiting for her brain to catch up with her feet.


"Sarah," Vic says, thinking she's hesitant. "I have cash. We can go together, it'll be good. Like old times."


I don't want to go with you, she almost says, but stops herself. Would it be so bad? Having someone to lie close to at night, someone to pay for food and rent while she figures her shit out? If he hits her, she can always leave. He said it himself--how the fuck would he ever find her?


"I want to be somewhere warm," she says. "Like Costa Rica."


Vic says, "I can take you to LA."


She decides it's good enough.

 


 

 

Helena's locker door is hanging wide open, and Sarah stutters to a stop.


Who told, is her first thought, before anything else. Who fucking told them about the pills. Was it word of mouth, a random locker search, what? Are the cops here? Are they asking Helena who brought the pills to school? If she or Sarah were going to sell them?


She turns in the direction of the office, where her sister is surely sitting behind a closed door, and then she whirls in another direction. Stairwell, fire exit. The cops must be here. They don't just find drugs in your locker and give you a talking to, they call the police.


She's walking, and then she's running. Even then, she's not thinking about Helena. Only herself, and how she's going to get out of this.

 


 


Sarah hovers over her phone for several minutes, typing and deleting and retyping and deleting a text message that will send to a select group on her contacts list--Cosima, Helena, Tony. Rachel can go fuck herself, and Mrs. S will be better off not realizing she's gone right away. Felix she can't bring herself to include.


She eventually settles on a simple Sorry for everything. The first real apology she's made to any of them for any of the things she's done. Sorry for being selfish, sorry for fucking you over. Sorry for leaving.


She waits until she sees the tiny checkmark indicating that her message has been delivered. Then she drops her phone over the bridge and watches as it falls the thirty feet to the black water below, where it hits and sinks with barely a splash. It's a moment that should be meaningful somehow, but it isn't. It just happens, and then it's over, and the world is still spinning. People walk past her and don't even look over, don't even see her standing there half frozen in her leather jacket and toque and boots. She might as well not be there at all.


It's over. She's done. Done with Toronto, done with winter, done with high school. Done with Rachel. She takes in a deep breath of the freezing air and feels her lungs crackle like ice on the surface of a puddle. It feels good. Her bones are lighter, and she can feel that energy moving through her again, making her want to move. She turns in the direction of Vic's and doesn't look back at the place where she ditched her phone.


She should probably feel guilty, but all she really feels is free.

 


 

 

Sarah enters their bedroom late that night, after running past the quietly furious Siobhan and then up the creaking stairs and then past Felix's closed bedroom door.


"You got expelled," she says.


Helena looks over from where she's lying on her back on Sarah's bed. "Yes."


Sarah's voice lowers to something barely above a hiss. "You told them the pills were yours. You were gonna sell them."


"Yes," Helena says again. She turns and looks at Sarah, a brief, wounded glance, and then she stares up at the ceiling.


Sarah moves toward the bed, not sure whether she wants to slap her sister or hug her or cry or laugh. The relief is bubbling up in her and the guilt is heavy in her bones and she never knew it was possible for a person to feel these things at the same time.


"Where will you go now?" she asks finally, quietly.


Helena blinks, bites at her bottom lip. "Don't know, Sarah," she says.


"S will find you a place," Sarah says, like that makes this better. Like that makes it okay. Helena doesn't answer her, and Sarah climbs onto the bed and hooks her index finger around her sister's. She waits until the beat of Helena's pulse marches in time with her own, until their breathing evens out and matches each other's. "You didn't have to get expelled for me," she says. It's not an apology, because her pride won't let her apologize, and she's sure (she tells herself, she's sure) that Helena's pride won't accept one. And because this was Helena's choice, wasn't it? No one held a gun to her head. Sarah certainly didn't.


Helena says in a voice not much louder than a whisper, "Yes. Because I love you, Sarah. I love you too much to let you ruin yourself over this. This boy."


Sarah swallows. It feels like there's a piece of glass stuck in her throat. She wants to say she loves Helena too, or that she'll dump Vic, or that she'll at least try harder. Something. But she can't. She can't even do that much.


It takes what feels like forever before she manages to answer her sister. "I won't ruin myself," she says. It's the only thing she can do. "I promise."