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a little less sixteen candles

Chapter Text

The first thing Sarah does after she wakes up is kick Tony Sawicki in the head.

It’s an accident, of course, but it definitely sets the tone for the day. The light is pouring in through the bare windows, bright, almost blinding. Not 8 AM sunlight or even 9 AM sunlight but 11 AM sunlight. At least. She squints and struggles into a sitting position on Vic’s scratchy couch, slides her legs over the side, and almost screams when her foot connects with something warm, soft and slightly fuzzy. The warm, soft, fuzzy thing turns out to be a part of Tony’s mullet. Specifically, the part that’s attached to his skull.

“Fuck,” she mutters, getting to her feet and stepping over the body on the floor (also Tony’s, also connected to the mullet). There’s a pounding behind her eyes, a shitty hangover-slash-stress headache, and she makes her way to the bathroom almost blind, kicking aside empty beer cans and a half-full ashtray.

In the bathroom, she rakes a hand through her hair and swishes some water around in her mouth and sizes herself up. Hair needs washing, but isn’t too terrible otherwise. The makeup smeared around her eyes is at least covering up the dark circles underneath them. Split lip, big surprise. She’ll tell S she bashed it on something.

When she exits the bathroom a minute later, she finds Tony sitting up and rubbing at one temple, eyes bleary with sleep and, she’s sure, an even bigger hangover than her own. “Did you just, like… kick me in the head a minute ago?” he asks, more confused than angry.

“Go back to sleep, Tony,” Sarah soothes. “You’re fine. I need to run.”

“Yeah, you better run, sister,” Tony says agreeably, going from rubbing his head to scratching his armpit. “You’re way late.”

“Fuck,” she groans again, while Tony laughs and buries his face back into the hoodie he’s been using as a pillow.

She grabs her bag from its spot near the front door and leaves at a brisk walk. The air is hot, muggy, and she’s already sweating less than a block from Vic’s place. Before long, despite her headache, she’s jogging, then running, her bag slapping against her leg with every step, her breath coming in ragged gasps.

“Fuck you, Vic,” she gasps out loud. Fuck Vic for convincing her one last night of partying was not only a good idea but a necessary one, even when she knew she had to be home in the morning. Fuck Vic for inviting a bunch of people over and letting them say even as the clock hit one AM, then two, then three, then four. Fuck Vic for getting up who-the-hell-knows-when and not bothering to wake her before he disappeared to who-the-hell-knows-where. Fuck Vic for—

Her boot snags on something as she rounds the corner. She makes a halfhearted attempt to stay upright, but knows it’s useless even before her center of gravity tilts too far forward and she hits the sidewalk, before she feels the air whoosh out of her lungs, before she hears her bag ripping open on the sidewalk like the cheap piece of crap it is.

“Fuck!” she says for the third time in twenty minutes. She almost doesn’t want to get back up, almost doesn’t want to look at the damage, but every second she stays down is another second Mrs. S gets to tally against her, hold over her head, use as blackmail later. At least she doesn’t have to make up some bullshit story about her bloody lip now.

She gets to her knees, looking back at what she tripped over. One of those moving truck ramps sticking out into the sidewalk. She glances to the left, at the nearest house, expecting to see movers tanned and sweaty in the sun, but the only person who seems to have witnessed her crash is a blond girl standing just inside the doorway of the house her family must now own. Her eyebrows are raised in mild surprise, but her lips are quirked in a disapproving frown.

“Oi,” Sarah growls. “What the hell are you lookin’ at?”

The girl doesn’t respond—not quickly enough, anyway, and Sarah is already on her feet and running again, leaving the contents of her bag lying on the sidewalk. Screw it. It’s just stolen makeup and old receipts, anyway.

Ten minutes later, she crashes, heaving, through the front door, already yelling, “Cosima’s parents woke up late, we didn’t get on the road ’til ten, I just ran from her house…”

Mrs. S doesn’t even look up from her tea.


london calling: oi oi guess whos back from vic’s

geek monkey: Everything work out okay? Mrs. S isn’t going to be calling my parents to verify your story?

london calling: yea i rolled in a few hours late and s was a bit suspicious but i reminded her that your familys always late for everything and she bought it. thanks for being my cover btw

geek monkey: Scuse me, late for everything? Rude.

london calling: just sayin it’s not exactly a lie

geek monkey: Except for the part where it totally is, because my family wasn’t late for anything, because you weren’t actually with my family this weekend…

london calling: alls well that ends well yeah?

geek monkey: If you say so. How’s Vic?

london calling: still a dick of course. he didnt even wake me this morning

geek monkey: Seriously Sarah, dump his ass. I could introduce you to so many guys who aren’t total utter douchebags. Or girls!

london calling: nice try cos

london calling: so speaking of girls hows scienceland, have you hooked up with anyone yet?

geek monkey: Dude, I told you that wasn’t happening this summer.

london calling: yea but you say that every summer

london calling: and every summer you hook up with someone anyway

geek monkey: Seriously, I’m focusing on academics this year. One last push before college.

london calling: yeah right

london calling: ah shit i gotta go fee’s calling me.

london calling is offline.


The doorbell rings just before nine that night. Felix bolts from the couch, shouting “I’ll get it!” as if either Sarah or Mrs. S have made any move to beat him to it. Sarah rolls her eyes and turns back to the TV, but just a few seconds later Felix is calling, “Sarah, it’s for you!”

Shite, she thinks, praying it’s not Vic. Not like she’s actually dumb enough to give him her home address, but who the hell knows? It’s not like he’s above following her.

She gets off the couch and walks to the front door, muscles tensing, already prepared to tell him off, but the person standing in the threshold isn’t Vic at all. It’s the blonde girl from earlier, standing straight as a pin, arms crossed in front of her chest. Somehow the sight of this girl freaks her out even more.

“Uh… yeah?” she asks, hoping her tone manages to convey both her extreme dislike of stalking and her extreme unwillingness to befriend some new girl just because they happened to see each other before the start of the school year.

The girl holds something out in one hand, a small plastic ID card. Sarah reaches out and takes it. Shit, her license. S would’ve killed her if she had to replace it.

“You left this behind,” the girl says in a sharp English accent, surprising Sarah so much she momentarily forgets to speak. “When you ripped your bag,” the girl clarifies, sounding mildly frustrated.

“Uh,” Sarah says, looking down at her driver’s license, then up at the girl’s face. “You walked all this way?”

“My father drove me. He’s waiting,” the girl says, and raises an eyebrow. “You’re English.”

“Yeah,” Sarah says, “we moved here when I—”

“That’s a surprise,” the girl says in a mildly bored tone that suggests she couldn’t care less. “Well, you’ve got your license back, so if that’s everything…” Like it was Sarah who forced the posh bitch into a car and made her drive across town, not something she’d decided to do on her own.

“Right, thanks,” Sarah says, doing her best to match the disinterested tone. “See you around.” Like hell.

“Who was that?” Felix asks from the top of the stairs as Sarah closes and locks the front door, as the blonde girl walks primly down the front walk to her father’s car. “She was English.”

“Hell if I know,” Sarah says, tossing her license onto the nearest table. “Just some bitch.”

Chapter Text

The day before school starts, Sarah and Felix walk to Shite Beach, Felix carrying his sketchbook. Sarah can think of worse ways to spend her final day of vacation, but she can also think of better ones.

“Anyone gives you any shit, yell for me,” Sarah tells him as Fee sets himself up on a folding chair near the water. She doesn’t think it’ll be an issue—the only people she sees are some kids playing on the opposite shore, and they look too young to give anyone much trouble. The kids her and Felix’s age are most likely sleeping in late on their last day of freedom.

Felix nods and adjusts his sunglasses. “The first future frat brother who approaches, I’ll run straight to you.” Then he smirks. “Well, maybe not straight.”

Sarah smacks him on the back of his head. “Don’t be cheeky.”

He waves, and she makes her way along the shore, no real destination in mind, occasionally glancing back to check on Felix. It’s another hot, muggy morning and she’s already longing for air conditioning. She tries convincing herself she doesn’t really mind the humidity—knows before too long summer will seem like a dream, especially once winter hits and she’s rolling out of bed before the sun’s even up, walking to school along frozen streets, her fingers and toes feeling permanently numb. For a minute, it almost works.

She’s just finishing her first circuit of the lake when her phone vibrates inside her pocket. She digs it out reluctantly, expecting S, but the name printed across the cracked screen is Cosima’s.

“Hey,” she says, shoulders relaxing. “Thought you weren’t gettin’ back ’til this afternoon.”

“That’s the plan,” Cosima says, sighing. “Dude, I’m stuck at the airport for like another two hours. My flight’s delayed.”

“Shit, really? Sucks.” She squints at Felix as she passes by, but he’s fine, head bowed in concentration as he sketches. “I’m just at the beach with Felix.”

“I’m not, like, interrupting, am I?”

“He’s drawing,” she says. “I’m just making sure he stays out of trouble.”

“Wow, that’s rich coming from you,” Cosima says.

“Piss off. It’s too bloody hot to stir shit up today,” she says, grinning. “How was your science thing?”

“Symposium,” Cosima corrects absently, as she does every year. “It was great, man. I got to talk to this one guy—he’s a professor at Berkeley, and he specializes in epigenetic influences on…”

She can feel her eyes glazing over as Cosima talks, managing the occasional “mm” or “huh” when she feels like her friend is expecting a response. Mostly, though, Cosima is content to talk without interruption. And it’s not like Sarah doesn’t care about Cosima’s incredibly specific college plans—she just doesn’t know what the hell she’s talking about.

She’s drawn out of her own thoughts a few minutes later when she hears Cosima say “—Helena?”


“I said how’s Helena?”

“Oh.” Sarah looks down at her scuffed sneakers, then kicks at a rock and watches as it goes skipping out across the grass. “She’s okay. S is making sure she’s got a computer for her dorm room by the time the semester starts for her.”

“That’s cool,” Cosima says, sounding relieved. “You’re not still feeling bad about that whole thing, are you?”

Sarah feels a familiar heat in her chest and sucks in a deep breath, trying to dispel it. It doesn’t work. “Of course I still feel bad. I feel like shit about it, Cosima. She’s my sister, she should’ve gotten another chance.”

There’s a long pause on the other end of the line. She can hear muffled voices, footsteps, and imagines Cosima parked next to an outlet somewhere, legs outstretched, watching as people walk around her. Finally, she says, “Helena got a bunch of chances, Sarah.”

“Then why am I still here?” Sarah snaps, curling her free hand into a fist. “I’ve fucked up just as many times—more—and I’m still here. Why?”

“Okay, okay, I’m sorry,” Cosima says in a rushed, soothing tone. “I shouldn’t have brought it up, okay?”

She takes another deep breath, resisting the urge to hang up, to throw her phone as hard as she can and watch the already broken screen shatter completely. But what happened to Helena isn’t Cosima’s fault. It’s hers. She lets the breath out, takes another, and finally mutters, “It’s all right.”


“Yeah,” she says. “It’s… you know. Still a touchy subject. Sorry.”

“Totally.” Cosima sighs. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have…”

Sarah shakes her head. “Look, I should go,” she says. “Felix is probably hungry and my battery’s shit, so…”

“Sure,” Cosima says. “I’ll see you tomorrow, right?”

“Yeah, of course. Later.” She hangs up and stuffs her phone back into her pocket, kicks at the grass a final time, and starts making her way back to Felix, trying to arrange her expression into something resembling normal.

The morning she starts her senior year, the first thing she hears is Siobhan speaking from her bedroom doorway. “Up and at ‘em, love. Big day today.”

She groans into her pillow. Fuck, she shouldn’t have been up til one last night. Twelve bloody years of this shit, and she still hasn’t learned. “Piss off, no it’s not.”

“You’ve got to make this year count, Sarah.” Now Siobhan sounds serious. “No more stealing, no more lying, no more running off. This is your last chance.”

“Or what?” Sarah asks, lifting her head and glaring at her foster mother. “You’ll get rid of me, too?”

“Do not test me, Sarah Manning,” S says, and disappears down the stairs. Minutes later, Sarah hears dishes clanking in the sink—S pouring her breakfast down the drain, probably.

So needless to say, she’s already in a bad mood by the time she gets to school and slides into her usual seat in homeroom. Cosima’s seat behind her is, of course, empty, because Cosima is (surprise, surprise) late. Cosima’s always late, and she always gets away with it. It’s bloody unfair, and it makes Sarah even more pissed off. Cosima never gets detention, never gets called down to the office for a “chat,” never even gets shit from the school secretary who writes up her late slips. Cosima—

“Sarah Manning, they want to see you in the office.”


“But I haven’t done anything,” she insists to her homeroom teacher, who only shrugs as if to say Don’t kill the messenger, kid.

She walks down to the office as slowly as humanly possible, trying to figure out what she could be in trouble for so soon. Something to do with the deliveries she made for Vic over the summer, maybe? But if it’s Vic-related, why go to the school about it and not to the cops? Shit, maybe there will be cops waiting for her in the office. Her stomach churns, not at the thought of being expelled, but at the thought of having to look at S and Felix and then Helena and try to explain herself to them. Sorry, sis, I know what you wanted, I just couldn’t stick it out. You know me. You know what I’m like better than anyone.

There are no cops waiting for her in the office, but the reality is, somehow, almost worse. Miss Bowles is there, and so is the blonde girl from last week, standing with her hands clasped behind her back like she thinks she’s at a bloody board meeting.

“What the hell…” Sarah mutters under her breath, searching her brain for some kind of clue as to why she could be in trouble with this girl she’s only spoken to once in her life.

“Sarah,” Miss Bowles says, already sporting her usual this-job-is-killing-me-slowly smile. “You certainly took your time, didn’t you?”

“Look,” Sarah begins, and shoots the blonde girl a suspicious look, “I swear I haven’t done anything, okay? I don’t know what the hell she told you, but whatever it is, she’s lying.”

Miss Bowles laughs, actually laughs, and the girl gives her a slightly bored, barely-there smile. “Oh, no, Sarah, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to worry you.” Like hell, Sarah thinks. “This is Rachel Duncan. She’s new this year and she’s just moved here from England. Rachel, this is Sarah Manning.”

Sarah manages a nod. “Hey.”

“Pleasure,” Rachel says, equally icy.

“I thought, Sarah, that you might be willing to show Rachel around today and make sure she finds her classes. Maybe introduce her to your friends,” Miss Bowles says in that cheery, fake voice. “You’re both from England, I’m sure you’ll have lots of common ground.”

Like hell, she thinks again.

“Now, your schedules are different…”

Yeah, no shit. Because Rachel Duncan is dressed like her shoes cost more than Sarah’s entire outfit. Rachel Duncan’s hair is pin straight and professionally dyed. Rachel Duncan’s got silver nail polish on manicured nails. Rachel Duncan is staring at her like she’s some kind of disease, and there’s no way in hell Rachel Duncan’s taking the same classes she is. Not-going-to-college-without-a-miracle classes. No way.

“But she has the same lunch and PE hours,” Miss Bowles continues, “and you're in the same English class, so that’s a start.”

She tries not to roll her eyes. “That’s a great idea and all, Miss Bowles, but if I walk her to all her classes I’m gonna be late to all mine,” she says. And after last year, she can’t risk that. Especially not on the first day.

Miss Bowles smiles and takes a handwritten note from her desk. “Which is why I wrote this. It explains everything. Just show it to your teachers so they know what’s going on.”

Before she can stop to think, Sarah reaches out and grabs the note. Two minutes spent walking rich bitch to her classes and a note letting her show up to her own whenever she feels like it? Worth it.

“Excellent,” Miss Bowles says. “Remember, I’m trusting you to be responsible with this.”

“No worries, Miss B,” Sarah says, and smiles, making sure to show all her teeth.

The hallways are empty now, first period already in progress. The two of them walk in silence, Rachel’s heels clicking on the floor, her schedule folded neatly in one hand. Once they turn the corner and Sarah knows they aren’t being watched, she turns to Rachel, sizing her up.

“So where you from?” she asks. “London?”

For a few seconds, she thinks Rachel isn’t going to answer, but finally she sighs and says, “Cambridge.” Exhausted. Like her even deigning to speak to Sarah is some special privilege.

“Shit, really? Why’d you move, then?” Sarah asks.

Rachel rolls her eyes and sighs again. “Oh, something to do with my father’s job. Of course, it wasn’t our choice to move here.”

Sarah feels the muscles in her shoulders tense up as suddenly as a light switching on. Rachel is fixing her with a steady, appraising stare, and she gets the impression that Rachel knows exactly what Sarah is thinking. That Rachel can see just how she’s offended Sarah, and that Rachel is happy about it, though her face is giving away nothing.

Sarah is still trying to force her shoulders to relax when Rachel asks, “Where are you from originally?”

“Oh, uh, Brixton.”

Brixton,” Rachel says in a knowing tone, and Sarah decides right in that second that if the two of them weren’t inside the building, she would beat the shit out of her. Give her something real to sigh and roll her eyes over.

But they are inside the building. And there are cameras. And this is her last chance, as S so kindly reminded her this morning. So instead of backhanding Rachel Duncan, she reaches out and steals her schedule, yanking it right out of her hand. She feels Rachel tighten her grip for just a second before she pulls it free. Control freak. Yeah, she can work with that.

She scans Rachel’s schedule—same PE and lunch hours, same English class, but otherwise Rachel’s classes are all advanced, like she’d suspected. “Calc, bio, German IV… sounds thrilling.”

“You’ve looked at it, now give it back,” Rachel says. “I need it.”

Sarah practically throws the schedule at her. “Your calc class is on the second floor,” she says, rolling her eyes, “follow me. Let’s get this over with.”

Rachel does, heels clicking, face set in stony disapproval. They don’t speak as they climb the stairs and walk down the hall to Rachel’s math class, but when they near the closed classroom door, Sarah shrugs and says, “Yeah, so it’s right there. Have fun with your derivatives and shit.”

Rachel doesn’t say anything. Sarah watches her as she fakes a smile that doesn’t reach her eyes, then as she opens the classroom door and steps inside with quiet confidence, and finally as she closes it behind her, all without a word.

“You’re welcome, bitch,” Sarah mutters to the closed door.

Chapter Text

“So how many of these do you think I could fit in my mouth at once?” Tony asks, sitting down at their usual lunch table with nothing but a giant plateful of cafeteria fries smothered in ketchup.

“Who cares,” Sarah says, picking at her burger with distaste.

Tony pounds the table with one hand like he thinks he’s running an important meeting. “Any takers?” he asks expectantly.

“Nobody cares,” Sarah says again, but she can see Scott gearing up to say something. Sure enough, after some consideration, he suggests, “Uh, twenty?”

“No way. Twelve max,” Cosima says without even looking up from her book. “But Sarah’s right. Nobody really cares. Not even Scotty here.”

“That’s—that’s not true,” Scott protests feebly.

“So what you’re saying is you’re really invested in what Tony can fit into his mouth,” Cosima says, and Tony crows with laughter.

“Hello,” Rachel Duncan says from directly behind Sarah, making the four of them fall silent, Tony’s laughter dying in sudden disgust. Sarah feels her shoulders tightening, but she refuses to turn around. Let Rachel work for it if she suddenly wants to talk to her after a month of pretending she’s too good for it. After a few seconds, when Rachel seems to realize that Sarah won’t be greeting her, she moves around to the other side of the table where Sarah is forced to look at her and her stupid blazer.

Rachel looks at all of them—Scott refusing to make eye contact, Tony refusing to drop eye contact, Cosima smiling up from her book, and finally lets her eyes rest on Sarah. “You weren’t in English class yesterday.”

“Uh huh,” Sarah agrees. “And how’s that your business?” The truth is, she skipped out after lunch yesterday, claiming it was to meet up with Vic, but really because she’s been feeling out of sorts, tired and vaguely nauseous.

Rachel barges onward, ignoring the animosity. “We’ve been paired up for our first semester project,” she says, and Sarah immediately regrets ditching yesterday.

“The hell does that mean?”

“It means,” Rachel says, “that we have six weeks to complete our project and I’d like to begin as soon as possible so that we can be done with it ahead of time.”

“How the hell did we get partnered up in the first place?” Sarah asks, suspicious. Rachel hasn’t even spoken to her since the half-hearted attempts they both made on the first day of school, over a month ago. Rachel has, in fact, made every effort not to talk to her. She sits on the opposite side of the cafeteria at lunch, on the opposite side of the classroom in English, and changes at the opposite end of the locker room for PE. Not like Sarah cares either way.

“The groups were prearranged,” Rachel says her. Obviously, she doesn’t add out loud, but she doesn’t have to. Her voice is dripping with it. Obviously the groups were prearranged. Obviously I’m only talking to you because I have to. Obviously I’m a huge fuckin’ bitch with a stick up her ass. Obviously.

“Shit,” Sarah says before she can stop herself. To her credit, Rachel’s expression doesn’t change from its standard bored-and-slightly-pitying, which gives her a tiny bit of hope. If Rachel doesn’t want to be paired up with her, maybe she’ll end up doing all the work for both of them.

“Give me your email,” Rachel says mere seconds later, crushing all of Sarah’s hopes beneath her $200 heel. She uncrosses her arms and passes a piece of folded paper and a pen to Sarah, who scribbles down her email address without even looking down at it.

When Rachel takes the paper and pen back and moves to leave without a word, Sarah rolls her eyes and calls, “Hey, wait, you gotta give me yours too.”

Rachel turns her head and looks at Sarah for a moment, thinking. Then she says, “No, I don’t think I do. You’ll get it when I send you my project ideas this evening.”

Sarah sees Tony and Cosima exchange a look that very clearly says Well, here comes Sarah’s expulsion. Meanwhile, Scott looks like he’s having a mild heart attack. Well, fuck all three of ‘em. She can control herself. Even though her pulse is racing, she can control herself. Even though her hands are clenched into fists, she can control herself. She can. “Yeah, okay,” she hears herself say in lieu of throwing a chair at Rachel’s head. “Guess I’ll look out for the message from, then.”

Tony snorts laughter from across the table. Rachel glances down at him like he’s a particularly uninteresting rock, then turns and walks back to her own lunch table without another word.

For several seconds, they all sit in silence, looking at each other. Finally, Cosima clears her throat. “Holy shit, dude,” she says. “Good luck with that.”

“Yeah,” Sarah mutters, “I’ll need it.”

from: r.duncan
to: l0nd0ncalling

After looking over the list of books available to us, I’ve decided that we should do our project on The Sound and the Fury. I’m assuming that, since you don’t seem to care enough to come to class, this will be ok with you. If it’s too advanced for you, do lmk.

Message sent at 5:45 PM

from: l0nd0ncalling
to: r.duncan

next time, you ask nicely
Message sent at 6:03 PM

to: l0nd0ncalling
from: r.duncan

I didn’t think it mattered to you, considering your track record with class attendance. In any case, if you have another idea, say so.

Message sent at 6:05 PM

to: r.duncan
from: l0nd0ncalling

i don’t like this attitude you have
Message sent at 6:09 PM

to: l0nd0ncalling
from: r.duncan

Like I said, if you have another idea, say so. Otherwise I’ll assume we are moving forward w/ Faulkner. If you don’t think you can understand his work, there’s always sparknotes. Anyway, I’m quite busy with work for other classes tonight so I’d appreciate it if we could get this figured out asap.

Message sent at 6:14 PM

to: r.duncan
from: l0nd0ncalling

is yours the family living in the big white house with blue shutters, rachel duncan? it was for sale this summer i know. does your window look out onto the street? lol :)
Message sent at 7:23 PM

to: l0nd0ncalling
from: r.duncan

Excuse me?
Message sent at 7:25 PM

to: l0nd0ncalling
from: r.duncan

Message sent at 7:36 PM

to: l0nd0ncalling
from: r.duncan

I am not failing this project because of you, Sarah Manning.
Message sent at 8:02 PM

to: l0nd0ncalling
from: r.duncan

You are unbelievable.
ps: If that message was some sort of thinly veiled threat of vandalism on my home, I will be alerting the authorities.
Message sent at 11:40 PM

She wakes up with a headache that fades away as she walks to school, then comes back with a vengeance at the start of gym class. It’s because they’re playing soccer, she’s sure. So-ccer. Bloody stupid name for a game.

The team captains end up being Beth Childs and Paul Dierden. Surprise, surprise. Sarah finds herself watching them as they stand near each other on the center line, wondering if their innate competitiveness makes them fight when they’re alone with each other. Fight or just have athletic, team captain-y sex. Not that Paul’s that good in bed. At least he wasn’t last year.

Beth gets first pick and scans the unenthusiastic class for only a second before announcing, “Manning.”

Christ, Sarah thinks, searching Beth’s expression as she trudges over. It’s like Childs knew exactly what she was thinking about.

“First pick?” she mutters as she joins Beth on the court. “Seriously?”

Beth crosses her arms, still scanning the class. “Don’t get cocky, Manning. Alison’s out with a broken ankle and I need someone who knows what they’re doing.”

“You do realize that just ‘cause I’m from England doesn’t mean I’m any good at this,” Sarah says, and watches as Beth’s eyebrows furrow the tiniest bit. It’d be funny if her head didn’t ache. “Besides, I’m wrecked today. Feel hungover or something.”

“Oh, wonderful,” Beth sighs. “I guess I can put you on defense.”

Once the teams are picked, the class walks out to the soccer field, some of the kids trash talking the other team as they go. Paul and Beth stay mostly silent and stoic, looking more like they’re marching off to war, not to a high school scrimmage. Sarah is fully prepared to take her place on the field and then proceed to ignore the game entirely. Maybe she’ll make a few token movements if the action gets too close to her, but otherwise, no way in hell is she putting the effort in. Not with this migraine.

They’re almost to the soccer field when she feels someone grip her shoulder and tug her out of place. “Who do you think you are?” Rachel hisses in her ear as she releases her.


“You may not care about your grades,” Rachel continues in a low voice, “but I have goals that I plan to reach, and I won’t be punished for our teacher’s poor judgment.”

Sarah looks to the front of the class, where the coach is talking to two guys who are on the opposing team. “He didn’t choose teams,” is all she can think to say. The sun is in her eyes, making her wince, but she still catches the flash of annoyance that crosses Rachel’s face.

“Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about, Sarah. This project might be a joke to you, but we are going to finish it, and finish it as soon as possible.”

“Wait,” Sarah says, still confused and now a little angry. Why can’t Rachel just piss off back to Cambridge and leave her the hell alone? “You’re talking about the thing for English class?”

Rachel says nothing, her mouth set in a thin, disapproving line.

“‘Cause I’ve got no bloody idea what you’re going on about and that shit’s not due for like six weeks,” Sarah says. “Now piss off, will you?”

“You’re a liar,” Rachel says, more disgusted than angry. “You don’t get to threaten me and then pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about.”

Oh, fuck, Sarah thinks, feeling her stomach lurch. She needs to get the hell out of the sun before she faints or throws up or kills Rachel Duncan. Whichever happens first. “You got the wrong email, Rachel,” she says, feeling exhausted at the very idea of having to explain what she’s now certain happened last night. “It wasn’t me, okay? It was—”

“You expect me to believe that?” Rachel interrupts, curling her upper lip the slightest bit.

“I expect you to quit acting like such a stuck up bitch,” Sarah snaps. “This shit’s your fault to begin with since you refused to give me your email yesterday at lunch. So get over it.”

Rachel’s eyebrows shoot up in an almost comic expression of surprise. Only for a second, and then her expression is back to normal. She exhales loudly in disgust and turns away from Sarah, muttering something that sounds suspiciously like “illiterate tramp.”

“What did you just fuckin’ say to me?” Sarah says, closing the distance between them and shoving Rachel into the side of the equipment shed. “What did you just call me?”

“Get your hands off me,” Rachel snaps, pushing back, her immaculate silver nails digging into the skin of Sarah’s shoulders. She hauls back, ready to knock Rachel’s pretty white teeth into the back of her throat, but suddenly Beth is between them, saying “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” and shooting Sarah a look that says You have personally betrayed me. A second later and the coach is right behind her, out of breath, yelling for both of them to knock it the hell off.

“You two,” he says when they’re separated, pointing a pudgy finger into both of their faces. “Office. Now.”

They get halfway up the hill to the main building before Sarah realizes her face and the back of her neck feel strange, clammy and hot all at once. She has time to think God, not now before she bends over, hands on her knees, and gags. Rachel skirts away from her, clearly horrified, but Sarah can’t bring herself to find it funny. She takes several deep breaths, eyes closed, and when she’s pretty sure she isn’t going to actually throw up, straightens up.

“You’re ill,” Rachel says, in the same sort of tone that someone might say, You’re covered in spiders.

“Been feeling like shit for days now,” Sarah croaks, wiping a hand across her sweaty forehead. “I hope you catch it.”

Rachel chooses not to dignify that with a response. She walks parallel to Sarah, but makes sure to keep several feet away, and Sarah guesses that’s enough of one for both of them. As they enter the blessedly cool building, Rachel sighs and pauses in the entryway, apparently conflicted.

“What?” Sarah says dully. She’s just so done.

“Just…” Rachel begins, then stops, looking physically pained.

What?” Sarah snaps again.

“… Just go to the nurse,” Rachel mutters finally, refusing to look at her. “Go home.”

“Are you serious?” Sarah asks, disbelieving.

“Yes,” Rachel says, “go home. Get away from me. I don’t want to catch it.”

Sarah can just see it. She goes to the nurse’s office while Rachel walks right into Miss Bowles’s office and spins some bullshit story about how Sarah harassed her for no reason. Maybe she’ll get detention. Maybe she’ll get expelled. Does it even matter? Right now, at this moment, all her promises to Helena and Mrs. S and Felix seem like exactly what they were when she made them: complete bullshit. All she wants to do is get out of here and stop worrying about her next move, about keeping out of trouble, about trying to be this person she’s not and never will be.

Hell, maybe Rachel will be doing her a favor by getting her kicked out of school.

She thinks about articulating this—any of it—but in the end it seems too exhausting to even try. In the end she simply nods her head.

“Hey,” she calls as she stops in the doorway of the nurse’s office, and Rachel turns, looking over her shoulder. “My email’s londoncalling,” she says just before she walks inside. “With Os. Not zeros. Okay?"

Rachel hesitates, then nods.

Chapter Text

to: londoncalling
from: r.duncan

As you’ve probably noticed, I’ve been out for the past three days with the flu. I will be back on Mon. In the meantime, we should start working on our project, which is now due in approx. one month. Since I know your address and vice versa, we’ll need to decide where we should meet to work on it. This weekend is good for me.
Message sent at 5:08 PM.

Sarah sighs and shuts her eyes before she rings the doorbell. The sun is setting and the air is already getting colder, but she dreads spending time in Rachel’s house more than she wants to get someplace warm. She hears footsteps approaching and prepares herself for Rachel’s withering stare, but the person who opens it looks genuinely pleased to see her. Rachel’s dad, she guesses. He’s on the older side, with graying hair and glasses, and he doesn’t look much like her, actually. Or maybe it’s the smile that makes him look so different.

“Hello,” he says. “Come in, come in. You must be Sarah. I’ve heard so much about you.”

“Uh… hi,” she says as she steps inside. The living room looks cozily lived in, with a large bookshelf and several birdcages set up in one corner. What the hell, she thinks as she looks at the tiny, hopping birds. What the hell is this?

“Rachel hasn’t had any friends over to visit yet,” Mr. Duncan continues, oblivious to Sarah’s confusion. “Can I take your jacket?”

“No,” Sarah says, clinging to the leather like it’s a safety blanket. “Thanks. I’ll keep it on.”

“Rachel is up in her bedroom,” Mr. Duncan says, pointing her to the stairs. “Third door on your left, my dear.”

She flees up the stairs, almost looking forward to Rachel’s bored stares and sarcastic comments. Better the bitchy devil you know than the weirdly friendly parent you don’t, she figures. The door to Rachel’s room is sitting slightly ajar, and she’s not sure whether she should knock or just walk inside. In the end she settles for a brisk “Oi, it’s me” as she pushes the door open.

Rachel’s bedroom is a stark contrast to the living room. There’s no clutter here. It’s a big room and seems nearly empty aside from the bed, a set of dressers, and a desk piled with textbooks. Maybe Rachel hasn’t had time to unpack all her shit, she tells herself, knowing that it’s bull even as the thought crosses her mind. Rachel’s shit is unpacked.

Rachel looks over from her seat at the desk. “Hello, Sarah.”

“You don’t look too bad for someone who spent three days puking her guts up,” is the only thing Sarah can think to say as she tosses her backpack onto the bed. She sees Rachel wince as it lands and feels a twisted surge of pleasure in her gut.

“I was almost entirely better by Friday,” Rachel admits, “but my father says you should always take an extra day to recuperate after an illness. To prevent others from catching it.” At this, she looks pointedly at Sarah.

“Well, my mum’s more of the ‘you go to school even if you’re dying’ type,” Sarah says, neglecting to add that the reason for S’s lack of patience might be because of the amount of classes Sarah misses even when she’s healthy.

Rachel rolls her eyes, sighs, and opens a notebook. “Sit,” she says, and Sarah shoots a quick look between the bed and the floor, her only options. After a second or two she chooses the bed, feeling awkward and strangely nervous. Bloody Rachel not getting her a chair. What a bitch.

“… So that’s your dad, yeah?” she asks when Rachel doesn’t immediately launch into her plans for their project. “He seems nice.”

“Mm,” Rachel says, sounding bored.

Sarah shifts on the bed. “You said you moved here for his job, right?”

Rachel flicks her gaze up from the notebook and looks at Sarah, frowning. “He works for a multinational,” she says. “He’s a scientist. They needed him here.” Why do you care? is implied but not spoken out loud.

Sarah shrugs. “So where’s your mum, then? She working too?”

She can tell by the way Rachel stops moving, every muscle frozen, that she’s said the wrong thing. “My mother is dead,” she says after several long moments, her tone even. “Sadly.”

Sarah feels her stomach shriveling and crawling into her chest cavity. “Oh,” she says. “Oh. Shit. I’m sorry.”

Rachel doesn’t look at her. She scribbles something into her notebook. “It was a long time ago,” she says after a moment. Sarah waits to see if she’ll offer up any more detail—not that she wants her to, but after bringing it up like that she can’t refuse to listen—but Rachel doesn’t say anything else.

Sarah lets out a breath and wipes her sweaty palms on her jeans. “My mum’s not actually my mum,” she says in a sort of desperate attempt to make up for her stupid comment about Rachel’s mother. “I’ve never actually met either of my parents,” she adds when Rachel doesn’t respond. “Grew up in foster care ’til I was like eight.”

She sees Rachel swallow, throat contracting. “I see.”

“So… I guess we’ve got a few things in common,” she continues, feeling stupid and childish and wishing she could just leave. “From England, I mean, and…” The other thing.

“Yes,” Rachel says after a pause. “I guess we do.”

It rains on Monday morning. More than rains, really. Pours. Sarah and Felix share an umbrella until they get to the junior high, after which she flips up her hood and hands it to her brother.

“Got detention after school,” she admits. “You’re on your own walking home.”

“Run,” Felix advises her, eyebrow raised. “Run fast.”

She does, for about a block. By then she’s already soaked and freezing and figures she can’t get much wetter. Or colder. And if she stops running she’s got a good excuse when she ends up walking in late.

She’s waiting for a stoplight to change, numb hands stuffed in her pockets, when she hears a car roll up to the curb beside her and the electric buzz of a window lowering. She steps back, peering suspiciously out at the car beyond the water dripping off of her hood. Rachel Duncan is looking back at her, unsmiling.

“Sarah,” she says. “I thought that might be you.”

Sarah sniffs and wipes water from her face. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees the light change to green. Like hell she’s going to ask for a ride from Rachel.

Rachel, likewise, doesn’t seem eager to offer one. She glances back at the driver—her father, probably—and listens as he says something. Then she turns back to Sarah and with a sigh says, “Get in.” There’s the click of a car door unlocking.

Sarah climbs into the backseat, dripping water everywhere. The interior of the car is blessedly warm. Soft music is playing on the radio—something old, not her style at all, but it all sort of adds to the ambiance. Mr. Duncan is at the wheel.

“Hello again, dear,” he says with a smile, maneuvering back into traffic.

“Hi,” she says, wiping at her face again. “Thanks for this.”

“It’s nothing,” Mr. Duncan says. “Nothing at all. We couldn’t possibly let you walk all that way in the rain, could we, Rachel?”

Rachel says nothing, just stares blankly out the passenger side window at the rain. Mr. Duncan doesn’t seem to notice or care. In fact, he seems content to talk to himself for the rest of the ride to school, whether or not either of his passengers have anything to say.

“Rachel tells me you have a twin sister,” he says at one point, looking at Sarah in the rearview mirror.

“Uh… Yeah, I do,” she says, after a pause, when Rachel doesn’t jump in to insist that she has said no such thing. “Her name’s Helena. She goes to a different school, though.”

“Very interesting,” Mr. Duncan says, sounding like he really means it. “Are you identical?”

“Yeah,” Sarah says, and Rachel’s father makes a “hmm”ing sound like he wants her to keep going. “She’s left-handed and I’m right-handed, though,” she adds, obliging him. “Like a mirror.”

“Fascinating,” Mr. Duncan says, and attempts to make eye contact with his daughter, who is still staring out the window. “Mirror twins, Rachel. Only twenty-three percent of identical twins exhibit this trait.”

“Yes,” Rachel says, finally turning from the window and giving her father a bland, polite smile. Then she turns and gives Sarah the same. “It’s very interesting, Sarah. I’m sure you and Helena are… very unique.” Which, Sarah is pretty sure, means fuck both of you for that shit you pulled with the email addresses in Rachel-ese. She can’t really blame Rachel for still being pissed off about that, though.

When they pull up to the school, Mr. Duncan is still talking about twins, something about nature-nurture and epigenetic markers. He sounds like he’d get along well with Cosima.

“Thanks for the ride,” Sarah calls as she climbs out of the backseat.

“My pleasure,” Mr. Duncan says. “Rachel, dear, have a wonderful day.”

“Goodbye, Father,” Rachel says as she shuts the passenger door.

The two of them stand under the alcove by the front doors, watching as Mr. Duncan pulls away from the curb and reenters the flow of traffic. Soon his car is indistinguishable from all the others moving slowly down the rain-soaked street. Rachel finally clears her throat and says, sounding almost embarrassed, “I’m sorry about my father. He can be talkative, and genetics is his passion.”

Sarah shrugs. “Hey,” she says. “He gave me a ride. I’m not gonna complain.”

Rachel considers this for a second, then nods. “Good,” she says. “Maybe we’ll see you the next time it rains, Sarah.” With that, she turns and walks inside, heading for her locker, heels clicking. Sarah looks after her before sighing and heading to her own locker.

Not late for class after all.

“Where the hell were you Saturday night?” Tony asks when Sarah sits down for lunch.

“Hello to you too,” she says.

“Seriously, where?” Tony asks. “Vic was going completely apeshit.”

She sighs. “I had to go to Rachel’s house to work on that bloody project for English,” she says. “I told Vic. Not my fault he got high and forgot, is it?”

The excuse seems to placate Tony a little, but there’s still an irritated growl in his voice. “Well, shit,” he says, “next time at least answer his calls or something, will you?”

“Look,” Sarah snaps, poking a straw into her juice carton with more force than she’d intended. Juice sprays onto the table and Scott slides over a napkin, which she ignores. “Vic’s not my bloody father, okay? I don’t have to answer him if I’m busy doing something else. Which I was.”

“Hey, it’s not my business where you go or what you do,” Tony argues. “It’s just that Vic gets violent when he feels neglected and nobody wants to deal with that shit, Sarah.”

The entire table falls into awkward silence as the meaning behind Tony’s words hits all of them. Sarah rips a chunk out of her pizza crust and pops it into her mouth. Finally, Cosima clears her throat and asks, “So how was spending time with Rachel? Did anyone bleed?”

“Funny,” Sarah sighs. “It was shit, but not ‘cause of her, really. Just ‘cause it was to do with school.”

“Seriously, dude, I don’t know how you manage it,” Cosima says. “She’s in our bio class and she doesn’t talk much, but when she does, it’s like…”

“Scary,” Scott interrupts. “It’s scary.”

Intimidating,” Cosima corrects, nudging him with her elbow. “She’s not scary, but she is a total bitch, man.”

Sarah swallows a bite of pizza and takes a swig of juice before she says anything. “She’s not that bad.”

“Yeah fuckin’ right,” Tony laughs.

“No,” she says. “I’m serious. Once you get her alone she’s not so awful. And her dad’s really nice. They’ve got birds.” She clears her throat and grabs the napkin Scott passed to her, shredding it with her fingernails. She’s not sure why she feels like she needs to defend Rachel to her friends all of a sudden. Because Rachel’s mother is dead, probably. Because her mother is dead and because of what Helena did the week before.

Cosima is giving her an odd look across the table. “What’s up with you? You hated her more than any of us last week.”

“True,” Scott adds with his mouth full.

She sighs. “I’m just saying, maybe we were bein’ a little harsh. Rachel’s moved across an ocean and—” her mum’s dead “—we’re about to graduate, so it’s not like she’s got incentive to make a ton of friends, yeah?” She points to Cosima. “And remember when I first moved here? It’s not like we were best buddies on day one.”

Cosima shrugs, conceding the point. “Yeahhh,” she agrees, “but you were just kinda explosive, Sarah. You never went around acting like the rest of us were beneath you or whatever.”

“I’m not saying she’s a great person,” Sarah admits. “I’m only saying she’s not as terrible as we first thought.”

“Ah, shit,” Tony says. At first Sarah thinks he’s still talking about Rachel, or even Vic, but he ducks his head and mutters, “Speaking of terrible people…”

Paul Dierden approaches the table and stands next to it. He doesn’t smile, exactly, but then again, he never does. “Hey, Sarah,” he says, and then nods to the rest. “Hey, guys.”

“Paul,” Sarah says, refusing to look up at him. “What do you want?”

She hopes Beth isn’t watching them. Last thing she needs is for Paul to start getting cozy again while he’s already got a girlfriend. A girlfriend who Sarah actually kinda likes, even.

“Just thought I’d stop by, say hey,” Paul says. “It’s been a while.”

“Yeah,” Sarah agrees. For good reason.

“Also,” Paul says, “a guy I used to go to school with is throwing a party next Saturday, so I thought…” He trails off.

“Not interested,” Sarah says.

“Just think about it,” Paul insists in his low, emotionless voice. “You’re all invited. It’ll be fun. Rudy’s a fun guy.”

Sarah finally glances up, shooting a quick look around the cafeteria. She doesn’t see Beth, but the room is crowded. Doesn’t mean she’s not watching.

“Fine, whatever,” she says, hoping that if she agrees, Paul will go the hell away. “I’ll think about it.”

“Great,” he says, mouth twitching in one of those weird almost-smiles. “I hope you decide to come, Sarah.”

I don’t doubt it, she thinks as he walks away.

Chapter Text

“Oi, Meathead.”

“Hello, Sarah.” As usual, Helena has her face way too close to the computer screen. Her face fills up the entire Skype window, all wide eyes and grinning teeth, loose strands of crimped peroxide hair framing her face. Sarah wouldn’t have it any other way.

“How’s school going?” she asks, and Helena’s grin turns feral, a wolf’s smile.

“School is school is school,” is all she’ll say about it.

“Yeah, I hear you.” Sarah rubs at one temple, thinks about and then decides against telling Helena about anything that might upset her. That excludes anything to do with Vic and his business, or to do with Sarah’s shitty grades and less than stellar attendance rate. “I hear you,” she says again, and sighs.

“Yes,” Helena says thoughtfully, sighing back at her.

Sarah hesitates, then asks, “Your roommate’s okay?” She’s not sure what she wants to hear—that Helena hates her, that the only roommate she’ll ever need or want is Sarah, that they’ve been getting along great, that she’s Helena’s new best friend. Each one seems equally selfish and none of them seem right.

Helena’s eyes flit to one side, then back to center. “She is messy.”

“As messy as me?” Sarah asks, and Helena only shrugs. “More, less? Come on, tell me.”

“I don’t want to talk about my school,” Helena says over her, something she almost never does. Sarah shrinks back, feeling rebuked.

“Fine. Okay.”

The two of them sit in silence for almost a full thirty seconds, just looking at each other. Finally, Helena looks down and rummages in her desk, then pops something into her mouth. Candy, Sarah assumes, though the video is lagging just enough to turn whatever it is into a little pink blur.

“Listen,” she says, “I didn’t mean to bring up anything you don’t wanna talk about. I’m not, like, spying for S or some shit like that. You know I wouldn’t do that.”

Helena bites her lip and nods once, saying, It’s done without words. “Tell me about you, Sarah,” she says finally. “I want to know.”

“Not much to tell, really,” she says with a shrug. “Same old boring shite.”

“Don’t lie,” Helena prods, and smiles again, this time sly, teasing.

“There’s some party happening this weekend,” she admits after searching for something (easy normal safe) to talk about. “Some guy Paul Dierden knows, Rudy something, it’s at his place.”

“Military school boy,” Helena says knowingly.

“You know him?”

“Seen him,” Helena says, still in that knowing tone, and leaves it at that.

“Yeah… well… I guess I’m gonna go,” Sarah says, forcing enthusiasm into her voice with some effort. If she feels one way about this party, enthusiastic is not it. She hadn’t been planning on going, no fucking way, but Vic changed her mind. As he so often does these days, he did it with his fists. She’s still got the bruises on her throat, two longish ones on one side, a circular thumbprint on the other, where he squeezed until she couldn’t breathe, until she choked out that of course she would go, if he wanted her to, if it was that big a deal, of course she’d go. Here on the Skype window, they look like insignificant shadows.

“Who else will be there?” Helena asks her. “Cheating Paul, of course.”

“And that’s finished, don’t worry,” Sarah assures her. “Uh, not sure who else, actually. Beth, all their jock friends, I guess. Cosima can’t, she’s got some moral support thing going on with Scott at the airport. Don’t ask, it’s dumb. And you know Tony hates Paul, so he’s out too.”

“Yes.” Helena hums, sounding like she agrees with Tony on this particular issue, but she doesn’t say so. After a bit, she says, “Maybe you’ll make new friends.”

Sarah snorts. “Yeah, like that’s gonna happen.” And the two of them laugh in perfect unison, grinning at each other across the miles.

Saturday night is cold, the first really cold night of the season, and the stars are bright pinpoints in the black sky. The air smells like burning leaves, like winter on its way, and Sarah walks to the bus stop with her bare hands stuffed in her jacket pockets, wondering what the hell she’s doing this for. What the hell she’s doing going to this party with pills wrapped up in her backpack, with instructions and bruises from her boyfriend, like she’s some kind of junior assistant drug dealer. What the hell last year was even good for if she’s just going to keep living this way.

She rides the bus with her head leaning against the window, looking at her own bruises reflected back at her, and thinks about Helena, stuck at boarding school, punished, while she herself just goes on breaking the rules. And breaking them, and breaking them. And breaking them.

She’s the only one who gets off at her stop. Other kids have their own cars, or catch rides from their friends, or live close enough to walk. Lucky assholes. She hopes Cosima’s bored out of her mind at the airport with Scott.

She hears the party before she sees it, low, rumbling bass that seems to vibrate up through the soles of her boots the closer she gets to the house. She starts up the long, winding driveway, following the music. She stops outside the front door and rests her forehead against it, dreading going inside. She could always just… run. The air’s cold, yeah, but not too cold to spend one night outside. She could turn and go back to the bus stop, get on the next one that stops, ride it to the end of the line. From there, who knows? Who cares?

But the thought of what Vic will do when he finally catches up with her—and he will, if she runs—is enough to kill those thoughts before they get too tempting. Instead, she forces herself to open the front door and step inside the sprawling house.

She pushes past a couple kids smoking cigarettes in the foyer and follows the sound of voices to the living room, where Paul and a bunch of guys are sitting around, drinks in hand, passing around what looks like a little leather notebook. She steels herself. The faster she gets in and greets Paul, the faster she can get down to business and then get the hell out of here.

“Paul,” she says in greeting. “What’s up?”
“Sarah, hey,” he says, waving her over and only mildly more expressive than usual. “Guys, this is Sarah Manning.”

“Hi, Sarah Manning,” the boy sitting beside Paul says, looking her over with a leering, excited smile. Rudy, she assumes. He’s got wide eyes, creepy eyes, she thinks, and a scar running down one cheek. He pats a spot on the floor. “Sit down with us.”

She takes a seat, as far away from Rudy as she can get away with, and slides her backpack to the floor, keeping one strap looped around her wrist.

“Liquor doesn’t do much for you, does it?” she asks Paul, who only looks at her, confused. “Forget it.”

“I’ll get you a drink,” he offers.

“I’m good, thanks,” she says, but he’s already up and moving across the room. Well, shit, if he’s gonna serve her, she’s not going to argue.

“We got full use of my mom’s bar,” Rudy tells her, still grinning, like he wants—expects—her to be impressed. “Anything you want.”

“What’s with the notebook?” she asks, deadpan, letting him know how much she doesn’t give a shit about his mom’s bar or his big house or this party.

Rudy raises an eyebrow. “Oh, this?”

“Yeah,” she says, already regretting asking. “That.”

“Just a little bit of record-keeping.”

“Record-keeping,” Sarah echoes, trying to decide whether Rudy is as creepy as he seems or whether this is some kind of an act, some male posturing bullshit. She decides, intuits, that he probably is just that creepy, and so are his friends.

Paul returns to the living room and holds out a glass. “I know you like bourbon,” he says, and she snorts, not caring if it makes her look like a bitch. Paul pretending to be chivalrous because he remembers what she likes to drink, Paul pretending that he didn’t have sex with her while he had a girlfriend, Paul pretending to be some kind of nice guy. She doesn’t want any of it.

She sits for a little while, sipping at the bourbon and pretending to listen to the guys talk. Rudy puts away the notebook after a couple minutes and the conversation turns to someone called Parsons. Parsons, apparently, has disappeared from the party, probably high, and nobody wants to volunteer to go looking for him. The boys argue back and forth about it—whether Parsons will come back, whether they could get in trouble if he gets picked up by the cops, whether he might have just gone home and passed out—and she half-listens, letting their voices rise and fall around her.

After another few minutes, she feels buzzed enough to get down to business without being tempted to ditch out early and gets to her feet.

“Hey, where are you going?” Paul calls after her as she gets to her feet and leaves the room.

“I’ll be back,” she lies, the words coming easy. “Save me a spot. Gotta see someone first.”

On her way through the kitchen, she stops at the bar and replaces her glass of bourbon for the half-full bottle.

There. That’s more like it.

It’s eleven.

She sits cross-legged on the floor of what’s probably a guest room, though she’s not sure, watching as a guy who’s a few years older than herself counts money. The cash makes a pleasant thwack sound every time he lays a bill down on the hardwood floor. The guy’s girlfriend, a blonde girl Sarah knows vaguely from school, talks endlessly, her manicured nails a hypnotizing blur each time she gestures with her hands, which is enough to give Cosima a run for her money.

“… invited me to this party, and I was like, I don’t think I want to go, I mean, we’ve been going out every weekend since summer, basically, but Hector really wanted to because he knows some guy who lives in this neighborhood. Don’t you, babe?”

“Yep,” Hector says in a low, monotone voice, his brows still furrowed as he counts.

“Rudy is such a creep,” Krystal adds, leaning in closer to Sarah. “He seriously skeeves me out, and what’s up with the scar? Like, at first I thought it was kinda hot, like, yeah, he’s a bad boy, you know? I could be into scars, right?” She waits. Sarah eventually realizes she’s waiting for an answer and nods. Krystal nods back, validated. “Yeah, but now I’m just not so sure.”

Sarah leans forward and lowers her voice to a half-whisper, nodding toward Hector. “Isn’t that your boyfriend…?”

“Oh my god, yeah, of course! But we’re trying this whole open relationship thing, aren’t we, babe?”

“Yep,” Hector agrees.

“I do kinda like his hair,” Krystal continues. “Rudy, I mean. The whole fauxhawk thing, right?”

“Sure,” Sarah agrees. She can feel herself smiling. The combination of the bourbon, of Krystal’s infectious energy, the music, it’s all getting to her. She’s having a hard time remembering why she didn’t want to come to this party. It’s not so bad. It’ll make Vic happy. If she hadn’t wanted to go, she shouldn’t have mentioned it to him in the first place. She should’ve known he would have wanted her to go. Really, the whole thing was her own fault.

“Okay,” Hector says, passing the bills over to her. “Should be right, but double check.”

Sarah takes the bills and starts to count them, placing each bill into a little pile on the floor. She loses count after the first few, again half-hypnotized by the sound the bills make against the hardwood, but keeps going anyway. “You’re good for it, mate,” she says at last, gathering up the money and putting it into her bag. Hector nods.

“I gotta go,” she says. “More people to see. You know who to call for more, yeah?”

“Yep,” Hector says.

“Good luck, Sarah,” Krystal calls after her as Sarah leaves the room. “By the way, your hair looks amazing tonight!”

“Thanks,” she mutters, closing the door behind her.

It’s one thirty.

She’s lying on a couch in Rudy’s basement, listening to the music and the sound of people moving in and out of the room, wondering if it’s late enough for her to go home. Wondering if Siobhan will be awake, still, waiting up for her, or if she’ll have gone to bed by now. Wondering if Siobhan is awake, will she be able to hide the fact that she’s drunk? Doubtful. But then again, miracles happen, she guesses. She thinks she should probably stay a bit longer, sober up some, before she risks it. And anyway, it’s not as if she particularly wants to take the bus home drunk. That would just be—

Someone stumbles and almost trips into her lap. They manage to catch themselves at the last second and land heavily on the arm of the couch instead. Sarah looks up, prepared to shove whoever it is off the couch and onto the floor, especially if it’s Rudy or one of his military school buddies, but freezes in place instead.

“What the hell are you doing here?” she asks before she can stop herself, before she can get rid of the surprise in her voice.

Rachel Duncan adjusts her hair, cheeks flushed. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I didn’t think you had… you were close…” Sarah shakes her head, feeling like she’s suddenly fallen into a very weird dream. “You don’t seem like the party type, no offense,” is what she settles for.

Rachel gives her a withering stare, and for a second Sarah thinks that the silence will just stretch on indefinitely, as it often does with the two of them, until Rachel decides she’s had enough and rejoins the rest of the party. Instead, she shrugs her shoulders the slightest bit and says, “Paul Dierden invited me, if you must know.”

“Paul, huh.” There’s something she can talk about without feeling like a total idiot. She sits up and props her arms on her knees, looking at Rachel. “You know he’s got a girlfriend, yeah?”

Sarah sees, or imagines she does, the slightest twitch of Rachel’s lips. “I don’t know what you mean by that.”

“Oh, yeah. Like hell you don’t.” Despite herself, she’s smiling again. “Don’t worry,” she hears herself say, drunk and too talkative, “I’ve been there before.”

“Have you,” Rachel says, sinking back into the couch, too relaxed, drunk. Rachel Duncan drunk strikes Sarah as funny, makes her smile again.

“Once or twice,” she admits.

“That’s no surprise,” Rachel says, and maybe she means for it to sound bitchy, holier-than-thou, but something in her voice is softer than usual. In the end, all she sounds is like she gets it, and even though Sarah knows it can’t be true, this is just—too weird, the two of them sitting and talking like this. Too weird. She needs to back up, get her wits back.

“Been thinking a lot about my sex life, have you?” she asks, and watches with a smirk as Rachel swallows convulsively. “Knew it.”

“That’s not—” Rachel exhales and tries again. “What I’m saying is you’re not like—like—you’re always skipping class and disappearing. Irresponsible.” She waves a hand as if to say, You know what I mean, silver nail polish immaculate as always. “I know your type. What… what you do.”

“My type?” Sarah laughs. “Yeah, you think so, huh. Get a little tongue-tied when you’re drunk, yeah?” Rachel’s all talk, she decides. She’s got the advantage here. Rachel’s got nothing on her. Nothing.

“No,” Rachel says, clearly an instinctive argument with no real force behind it. “It’s… hot in here. That’s all.”

Sarah looks around at the semi-crowded basement. Yeah, it’s hot. There’s a haze of smoke, cigarettes and weed. Body heat. Spilled beer on the carpet. All of it mingling to make the basement smell like the back of some old bar. She guesses if she weren’t used to this kind of thing, being drunk, being high, being down here long enough might start to make her feel sick. Might make her stumble and almost fall on someone, might make her desperate enough to sit and talk with someone she normally can’t stand.

“You wanna go outside, get some air?” she asks, because she doesn’t really like Rachel Duncan but she doesn’t want her to puke or faint or whatever, either. Rachel nods, stands up and heads for the door that leads out of the basement and to the quiet, cold backyard. She doesn’t ask Sarah to come with her, but she doesn’t protest when Sarah follows her, just walks out of the glare of the overhead lights and into the darkness and waits.

Sarah sidles up next to her. The air is cold, but it feels good after being inside the house. The air is clear, the backyard quiet. It feels like they’ve walked out of the party and into another world.

“How’d you get out here, anyway?” Sarah asks. “The party, I mean.” She can’t imagine Rachel asking her father for a ride, and the thought of her riding the bus is weird enough to make her have to bite the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing out loud.

“I got a ride,” Rachel says. She doesn’t offer a name or ask Sarah if she wants a ride home. Her voice is steadier, less languid. Sarah sniffs, shrugs, and looks back at the house. The lights inside, the people walking past, the muffled music. When she glances back, Rachel is watching her. Observing her. Sarah crosses her arms, suddenly feeling exposed, vulnerable. Like as soon as they crossed the threshold and stepped into the backyard, Rachel regained control.

“What happened here?” Rachel reaches out and runs a fingertip along the skin of Sarah’s throat. Her fingernail is as thin as a knife edge, and Sarah feels a tingling heat bloom in her chest and start to spread outward. She shivers and takes a step closer.

“Nothing,” she lies. “Just—nothing.”

“No. That’s not true.” Rachel keeps her hand on Sarah’s throat. Just like Vic’s, except Vic’s had curled tighter and tighter until she couldn’t breathe, until tears welled up in her eyes. Rachel’s is small and warm, an injection of electric warmth straight into her veins. She can feel hot breath on her face and smell something sweet and alcoholic, and when they did they get so close, anyway? She closes her eyes and makes herself breathe. When did they—

The music inside cuts off at the same time wall-mounted lights click on, illuminating the backyard. She takes a step backward and turns toward the house, heart a staccato beat in her chest, expecting—what? Someone watching them? Rudy, Paul, hell, even Krystal?

No one is watching. Kids are moving quickly inside, gathering their things, yanking on jackets and grabbing car keys. One of Rudy’s friends comes crashing out through the basement door and runs past them, barefoot, one shoe held in each hand. He doesn’t stop as he passes them, just yells, “Rudy’s mom came back early, someone called the cops,” and then he’s gone, disappeared into the darkness.

All Sarah can think of are the pills and the cash in her backpack. Suddenly she feels like throwing up, her entire body rigid and alert. She thinks about Helena. She thinks about sitting in the police station waiting for S to pick her up. She thinks of Felix, half-asleep, getting dragged out of bed because there’ll be no one at home to watch him while S picks her up. If they even let S pick her up.

Rachel is looking at her. Rachel doesn’t know what to do, how to get out of this, so Rachel is watching to see what she does.

She runs. She leaves Rachel behind and runs, cutting through backyards, climbing over fences, not willing to risk taking the sidewalk. She moves as fast as she can, running until the cold air has her lungs burning and her throat dry, and when she finally stumbles out of the trees near the bus stop, there are scratches on her face from branches she can’t even remember hitting.

She walks to the bench, doubles over with her hands on her knees, and tries to just breathe. No one’s here. No one from the party, no one from the police. She’s alone and the next bus will be there soon. She’s safe. The money’s safe, the pills are safe. She’s alone.

She’s alone.

It’s two in the morning. Sarah runs a hand over her face and thinks, Shit.

Shit. Shit. Shit.

Chapter Text

Siobhan wakes her up at nine on Sunday morning, either unaware of or (more likely, Sarah thinks) unsympathetic to the hangover she’s suffering from.

“I’m taking Felix downtown to look at some art supplies,” S says as she enters Sarah’s bedroom and pulls up the window shade, sending a bolt of pain shooting behind Sarah’s eyes and straight into her brain. “After that, we’re going to lunch. I expect you’ll still be here when we get back.”

“Ughhh,” she groans, trying feebly to shield her eyes from the light.

Siobhan continues talking. The woman’s merciless sometimes. Christ. “I want the dishes done at some point before we get back, understood? And the kitchen floor could use mopping, too.”

“Understood,” Sarah croaks, the sound coming from somewhere in the center of her throat, where it sounds like a breaking beam.

“There’s lunchmeat in the fridge if you get hungry,” Siobhan adds, and she feels her stomach roll over like a dead dog.

“No thank you,” she says, both relieved and somewhat proud that she manages it without gagging.

“Suit yourself,” S says, giving her an irritated and knowing look as she leaves the room.

Minutes later, she hears her foster mother and brother leave the house (Felix slamming the front door behind him, the little git), and then the house is blessedly silent. Sarah forces herself upright—shit, that hurts—and into the kitchen to gulp down a large glass of water and some aspirin. Sure enough, there are dishes piled in the sink, and the floor’s not exactly sparkling, but like hell she’s doing any chores in this state. She ignores the dishes and trudges back to her room, where she pulls the shade back down and curls up on the mattress as gently as she can. Fucking bourbon. Never again, she lies to herself.

Several hours later, the sound of her ringing phone drags her back into consciousness, this time somewhat less roughly. Her stomach feels better, at least, even if her head is still pounding. She reaches out blindly, feeling around on the blanket until her fingers reach her piece of shit phone.

“‘Ello,” she sighs, expecting Felix or Siobhan asking if she’s cleaned the kitchen yet.

“Lesbian crisis alert,” Cosima announces, and Sarah feels her heart kickstart into a frantic beat before she even remembers why. A second later, her brain catches up with her body and she’s bombarded with memories from the night before. Sitting around with the guys from the military school, okay. Selling those pills to Krystal Goderitch’s boyfriend, typical. Hanging out with Rachel Duncan, all but flirting with each other, shite. Disappearing into the backyard to let Rachel Duncan touch her neck and who knows what else, double shite.

“What?” she hears herself say, mouth dry. “I mean, did someone—have you heard something, or—”

“Sarah, she’s so hot,” Cosima groans, oblivious. “Hot, French, blonde, French, nice, did I mention French?”

Sarah offers up a silent prayer of thanks. Her heart starts to feel a little less like it’s about to quit on her. “You mentioned that one, yeah,” she says, voice once again creaking out from a throat that feels like it hasn’t had water touch it in about a week.

“Her name is Delphine,” Cosima continues. “She’s staying with Alison Hendrix. Her accent is so cute. Sarah, this is big. I need your help.”

“You need my help,” Sarah echoes. She forces herself into a sitting position, wincing. “With what, exactly?”

“Alison works at her mom’s store after school most days,” Cosima says in a rush, so excited she’s almost stumbling over her words. “Delphine’s going to be there. Which means we need to be there.”

“Fuck, Cos.” She runs a hand through her tangled hair. “You met this girl like five minutes ago and you’re already stalking her? Dial it down.”

“It’s not stalking,” Cosima insists. “When the French kids landed, it was like, breakfast time for them, so a bunch of us went to this 24-hour pancake house. I was sitting right there while they were talking about it. That’s not stalking. That’s just observing.” When Sarah doesn’t respond right away, still struggling to catch up, Cosima keeps talking. “So anyway, I was thinking we could just… go by there this week. You know, casually. And ask Delphine to hang out with us.”


“Casually. Will you help?”

The last thing Sarah wants to do is help Cosima get laid, but what are friends for? Besides, Cosima’s convinced her to do so much dumb shit over the years that this is hardly a drop in the ocean. “Do you even know if she’s into girls?” she asks finally, not yet ready to commit.

“That’s what this is for,” Cosima says. “We’re testing the waters, dude.”

“I dunno, Cos…”

“Oh, come on, Sarah! I never ask you for anything,” Cosima begs. It’s such a blatant lie that it sends Sarah into painful laughing fit despite herself.

“Fine, I’ll help you,” she says. “Christ.”

“You’re the best,” Cosima says, and Sarah hears something that sounds suspiciously like somebody dancing around her friend’s bedroom. “Can we go tomorrow after school?”

“Tomorrow? Uh, I’m…” She feels her stomach lurch, her heartbeat accelerate. “I’ve gotta go to Rachel’s. Finish this project. Maybe we can do it Tuesday.” She takes a breath. “Hey, Cos, listen. I gotta go, yeah? I didn’t get in ’til late last night, I’m still hungover as shit.”

“Say no more,” Cosima says. “You’re the best, I love you, see you tomorrow!”


Sarah closes her eyes and switches off her phone with numb fingers, throws it down to the foot of her bed, and wishes she could sleep away the rest of the whole bloody school year.

On Monday afternoon, she’s wrestling with her locker’s ancient combination lock when she hears the clicking of heels nearby. She refuses to look up—it’s Rachel, gotta be Rachel—but when the heels get close enough to enter her field of vision, she sees that they’re… pink.

“Sarah!” Krystal yells. “I was so worried about you!”

She looks up, confused. “You were?” She realizes what she’s about to say next is going to make her sound like a huge bitch, but she can’t think of anything else. “No offense, but… why?”

“You know,” Krystal says, lowering her voice. “The party? We thought maybe you’d gotten… you know.”

“What, arrested?” She finally manages to jerk her locker open. “No, I took off. It’s fine.”

“That’s so great,” Krystal enthuses. “Hector and I left pretty soon after we saw you. I heard Rudy got kicked out of school and everything. I almost feel kinda bad for him, even though he’s super skeevy.”

Sarah shifts uncomfortably. “Not to be rude,” she says, knowing full well she’s about to be, “but what’s it to you if I get arrested? I was holding.”

“Well, I mean, yeah,” Krystal says, and leans back against the locker next to Sarah’s. “But everyone knows that wasn’t your fault. Like, we all knew you just came to that party because Vic Schmidt made you.”

Sarah stops reaching for her English book. “What’s that supposed to mean?” The thought that she might be known around school for being a fuck-up has occurred to her before, sure. She and Helena both had a reputation, and now Helena’s gone, leaving Sarah to do all the screwing around for both of them. But the thought that her school-wide reputation is really just for having an asshole for a boyfriend? That’s so… embarrassing.

“Not everyone,” Krystal says, clearly trying to backtrack. “Just—like—some people, I guess?”

“Jesus fucking Christ,” she breathes, running a hand through her hair in frustration. Then, without anything else to do, she grabs her English book off the top shelf of her locker and slams the door shut. Krystal jumps, looking guilty.

“Like… I’ve never even met Vic,” she says, reaching out to put a hand on Sarah’s arm. “I can only go by what I hear from other people, you know?”

“Yeah. Sure.” For the second time in two days, Sarah finds herself wishing she could knock herself out and wake up at some point after graduation. “I gotta go,” she mutters.

Krystal gives her a knowing look, but says nothing as Sarah pulls her arm away and hurries down the hall to her final class of the day. And the one she’s been dreading all day. Perfect.

Inside the classroom, she sees Rachel sitting in her usual seat by the window, chin in one hand as she stares discontentedly down at the school grounds. Sarah steels herself, then approaches. Whatever Rachel has to say to her, it surely can’t be more humiliating than what she’s just heard from Krystal.

“Hey,” she says.

Rachel doesn’t even turn her head. Not a good sign. Sarah swallows, watching as Rachel flicks her gaze toward her, then back to the window. “Hello, Sarah.”

“I was just wondering if we’re still on for after school.”

“No,” Rachel says, and Sarah feels a sick jolt in her chest.

“What? Why not?” She steps back, wondering if Rachel will mention the party. If that’s even the problem. It could be something unrelated. Helena, maybe? But… no. Helena wouldn’t. She promised.

“I have other plans,” Rachel says, sounding bored.

“It’s just—I thought we were trying to get this thing over with, yeah?” Sarah says, clutching at the strap of her backpack like it’s some kind of lifeline. “If you pull this shit now, we’re gonna have to… I mean, I’m gonna have to… you know. Keep coming around.”

“I told you I have other plans.” Rachel rolls her eyes.

“Well, I think you’re lying.” It’s the closest Sarah can bring herself to mentioning what happened at the party, but Rachel seems to understand her meaning. Sarah sees her jaw tighten.

“Class is starting,” is all she deigns to say. Sure enough, the bell rings a second later. Sarah scoffs, disgusted.

“Fine. Suit yourself.” She stalks across the room and practically throws herself into her own chair, kicking her legs out onto the lower basket of the desk in front of her. Fuck Rachel Duncan, honestly.

Just fuck her.

When the final bell rings, signaling the end of yet another school day, Sarah makes her way to Cosima’s locker, where her friend is, as usual, surrounded by her backpack, purse, and a huge pile of books and papers. How she fits half that shit into her locker at the end of the day, Sarah has no idea.

“Change of plans,” she announces, sliding up against the locker nearest Cosima’s. “We can do the thing today.”

Cosima grins, showing all her teeth. “Really?”

“Yeah, but let’s stop at my house first so I can tell Felix where we’re going.”

“Sure,” Cosima says as she stuffs the books into her locker. “So did you finish that project early, or what?”

“Rescheduled.” She shrugs.

They walk to Sarah’s, picking up Felix along the way, and Cosima fidgets anxiously as Sarah takes the time to fix them all a snack in the kitchen.

“Come on,” she whines when she sees Sarah pulling out the box of cookies. Felix pats her on the arm in a way that should be condescending, probably, coming from a twelve year old, but somehow isn’t.

“There, there,” he says. “You’ll need your energy for all this lesbian stalking.”

“It’s not stalking,” Cosima insists, “and shouldn’t you be on my side about this, you little jerk?”

Felix is unfazed. “I’m withholding judgment until Sarah reports back to me. Unless you’d like to invite me along, of course.”

“Nice try, Fee,” Sarah says, placing a glass of milk down on the table in front of him. Felix only shrugs. To Cosima, she adds, “Calm down, will you? We’ve gotta give Alison a chance to get to work, yeah? It’s not like she teleports there directly from school.”

“Dude,” Cosima says, chin in her hands, “if anyone we know can teleport, it’s definitely Alison Hendrix.”

Alison looks over as they step inside the store, little bell over the door jingling as it swings shut behind them, and Sarah sees her visibly tense, shoulders tightening. And they were already pretty tight.

“Hello, Cosima,” she says, not bothering to hide the suspicion in her voice. “Sarah. What brings you to Bubbles?”

“We’re just browsing,” Cosima says. It’s laughable, the idea of either of them—but especially Sarah—going to Bubbles to browse, and Alison knows that as well as anyone. But she doesn’t have the authority to kick them out, either.

“Let me just remind you that my mother is not above taking the price of any stolen merchandise out of my paycheck,” she says, looking directly at Sarah, who resists the urge to roll her eyes. She does take her hands out of her jacket pockets, at least, and Alison, mollified, returns to the shelf she’s been stocking.

Sarah and Cosima are still lingering near the bath bombs, pretending to shop and ignoring Alison’s frequent looks, when the door to the stockroom opens and a tall blonde girl emerges, holding a cardboard box in her arms. “Alison, here are the soaps you asked for,” she says in accented English.

Sarah raises an eyebrow. Ah. Now she sees what Cosima meant with all her jabbering about hot and blonde and French and nice and French and whatever. She looks to Cosima, waiting for the next part of the plan to begin, but Cosima seems to have frozen in place with one hand curled around a purple and blue bath bomb.

Ah, shite.

“Oi, Alison, already putting your exchange student to work, are you?” Sarah asks, elbowing Cosima in the ribs.

“I most certainly am not,” Alison snaps.

Delphine offers her an apologetic smile and says, “Not at all. I’ve been doing my homework in the back, but I’ve run out. I asked if I could help here in the shop.”

Cosima seems to recover herself. “Hey, Delphine,” she says. Casually. “If you’re bored, me and Sarah were gonna walk around, do some shopping, maybe get something to eat. Wanna come with us?”

Delphine looks at Alison, unsure. “I couldn’t leave Alison here alone,” she says, but Alison waves her off with a tired flap of one hand.

“No, no,” she says with a long-suffering sigh. “It’s fine, Delphine. Really. I’m used to being here on my own.”

“Besides,” Sarah says. “It’s not like you’re getting paid, right? Isn’t that illegal?”

“It is,” Cosima adds. “It’s totally illegal, Delphine.”

“I said it’s fine,” Alison repeats, frustrated. “I’m not holding her hostage. Just be back by seven.”

Delphine shrugs and grabs her coat from the back of the store. Nice job, Cosima mouths to Sarah, grinning.

It’s one of the last things Cosima says directly to Sarah for the next three hours.

“See you tomorrow, Delphine,” Cosima calls as Delphine gives the two of them a wave from the doorway of the store.

“Goodnight,” she says, smiling, and the two of them watch as she disappears inside.

“Wow,” Cosima breathes after a few seconds. She sounds almost reverent. “She’s great, isn’t she?”

“She’s okay,” Sarah sniffs, frowning. Honestly, she doesn’t think much of Delphine. She seems nice, sure. But she’ll only be here for, what, two months? Then it’ll be back to France with her, and it’ll be Sarah who’s left to deal with Cosima’s broken heart. As usual.

“Didn’t you like her?” Cosima asks as they turn and start to walk down the darkened street. She sounds disbelieving, which doesn’t surprise Sarah at all. Cosima’s barely looked at her since Delphine agreed to hang out with them, so the fact that she hasn’t picked up on Sarah’s ambivalence is typical.

“I said she’s okay,” Sarah mutters. “She’s just got more in common with you, that’s all.”

“Yeah.” Cosima hums, sounding thoughtful. “I bet if you talk to her some more you’ll end up being friends, though.”

Sarah only shrugs. She’s got a feeling that if Cosima and Delphine do start dating or whatever the hell it is Cosima’s got in mind, she’ll be seeing way more of Delphine than she’d like for the next couple months.

“Come on,” Cosima says, nudging her shoulder. “Don’t get all sulky on me now, dude.”

“I just don’t think she’s amazing, all right?” Sarah says. “She seems nice, but that’s it.”

Cosima laughs, putting an arm around her. “Of course you don’t get it,” she says. “You’re not into girls. Trust me, if you were, you’d see what I see.”

“Doubt it,” Sarah mutters under her breath. She kicks a dried up leaf off the sidewalk and watches as it skitters into the gutter, forgotten.

She’s not sure how, exactly, she ends up standing in front of Rachel’s house. It’s near Cosima’s… kind of. If you squint. Mostly, she thinks she just wants to catch Rachel in a lie. Prove that Rachel feels embarrassed about the party, laugh at her, finish this damn project, and get on with her life.


Mr. Duncan opens the front door, smiling, as usual. “Sarah, hello,” he says, sounding honestly but pleasantly surprised. “Rachel didn’t tell me to expect you.”

“Oh. I wasn’t supposed to come over,” Sarah says, giving him that fake gee-whiz-Mrs.-Cleaver smile she’s perfected over the years (Cosima’s parents love that shit). “But it was on my way home so I thought I’d stop by and say hi to Rachel. Is she home?”

“Yes, of course,” Mr. Duncan says, ushering Sarah inside. “She’s in her room. Go ahead up.”

To her displeasure, Rachel doesn’t look too shocked to see her. Girl’s got a hell of a poker face, Sarah will give her that much. “Hello, Sarah,” she says, and the only thing giving away her anger is her eyes, which look so dark they’re almost black. She doesn’t move from the doorway. “You aren’t supposed to be here.”

“Right, because… you have plans,” Sarah says, doing a pretty good impression of Rachel’s snotty voice, if she says so herself. She makes a show of looking over Rachel’s shoulder and into the empty bedroom. “Hiding a boy up here, are you?”

Rachel doesn’t roll her eyes, but Sarah can tell that she really, really wants to. “I didn’t know it was any of your business what I do with my free time,” she says, and steps back, preparing to shut the door in Sarah’s face.

Oh, like hell. She pushes past Rachel and into the room, kicking the door closed behind her. “If you didn’t wanna see me for whatever stupid reason, you should have just said that,” she says. “I’m a really good liar, Rachel, I know one when I see one.”

This time, Rachel does roll her eyes. “Fine,” she says. “I lied about having plans. But I still don’t want you here.”

“Too fucking bad,” Sarah snaps. “I want this over with. You think I give a shit whether this project gets finished?”

“No,” Rachel admits. She crosses her arms, appraising Sarah.

“Yeah, I don’t,” Sarah says. “I’m only here so we can stop doing this.”

Rachel scoffs, or the closest thing to it. “Doing what, exactly, Sarah?”

And Sarah realizes—suddenly, horrifyingly—that she’s not sure what to come back with. “Pretending we can stand each other, I guess,” she says after a second of frantic thinking, knowing it sounds weak.

“Then it’s over with,” Rachel says. “Leave. Go home. I don’t need you to finish our project.”

“Yeah, right,” Sarah says. “So you can hold that over me for the rest of the year? No thanks.”

“You’re only dragging me down,” Rachel says.

“That’s not how it was Saturday night,” Sarah hears herself say. She watches Rachel’s eyes widen, just for a moment, before she recovers. “Is that what this is about?” she continues, smirking. “Saturday night? Feeling a bit embarrassed? Eh?”

“Get out,” Rachel says. “Get out of my house.”

“Your dad let me in,” she spits back, feeling mean, feeling good. “I think he likes me, Rachel. I think he thinks me and you are pals. Maybe he’ll ask me to stay for dinner.”

“He has no idea,” Rachel says, quietly furious, “how I feel about you.”

“Yeah,” Sarah agrees. “He’s got no clue you don’t have any friends, does he.”

Rachel says nothing, teeth bared in disgust. She curls her hands into fists so tight her nails must be cutting into her own skin.

“We better not tell him,” Sarah continues. “We better not let him find out his daughter hasn’t made a single friend in over three months. Better not let him find out you’re just a—”

She feels the stinging slap before she’s even registered Rachel’s movement. Her mouth drops open in shock and pain, and she reaches up to touch her cheek, where she’s sure Rachel’s nails must have drawn blood. But she’s been hit before, and she’s never let it freeze her up, so even as she’s doing that, she’s moving, crossing the rest of the distance between them and leaning in close. Letting Rachel see her anger.

“Don’t you ever fucking touch me again,” she breathes.

Despite the wideness of her pupils, the flush in her cheeks, Rachel manages to say, “Or what?”

“Or I’ll—” Sarah pauses, swallows. She’s only been this close to Rachel once before, standing just outside the smoky heat of the party with night air on her skin and bourbon in her blood. “I’ll,” she starts again, but Rachel is already reacting, moving, tipping her head forward the slightest bit and catching Sarah’s lips in her own.

Sarah has been kissed before. By boys. They’ve all been more or less the same, thin lips, beard stubble, too much tongue. Any excitement only brought on by the alcohol or drugs in her bloodstream, edging her on.

Rachel’s lips are soft, warm, and Sarah feels her own parting almost unconsciously. Oh, she has time to think as her eyes close, as she feels the start of that warm, electric rush in her chest.

Oh, I’m so fucked.

Chapter Text

The final bell rings, sending students out into the halls in a rush of bodies pushing past each other as they hurry to their lockers, their busses, their after-school jobs and clubs and practices. Sarah follows the crowd, not in any particular hurry to get where she’s supposed to be going—which is a good thing, she observes when she and about fifty other kids get held up in one of the stairwells for no apparent reason.

“Damn,” Tony says from behind her, his voice still scratchy from his usual ninth period nap. “If there was a fire in this building? We’d be fucked.”

“Yeah,” Sarah agrees without much concern. In fact, a fire sounds like a fantastic distraction from the reaming she’s about to go through. “Probably.”

The crowd begins to inch forward, and Tony gives her a confused look when he goes to duck out the side door and she doesn’t turn to follow him. “Where you headed, sis?”

“Hell,” she sighs.

Tony laughs. “Not ultimately,” he says, jabbing her in the ribs with an elbow. “Right now.”

“Miss B called me down to her office for a ‘meeting.’”

“Oh, shit,” he says, jabbing her again with a little too much enthusiasm. “Basically hell. I get you.”

“See you when they quit stabbing me with pitchforks, then,” she sighs, and gives him a half-hearted wave as they go their separate ways.

“If they ever do,” she hears him crow over the crowd behind her.

The front office is predictably busy, crowded with teachers talking about teacher shit to one another, and the secretary manning the front desk snaps that someone will be with Sarah as soon as possible, that she should wait outside for everything to calm down. Sarah goes into the lobby and slumps onto a bench, watching enviously as the steady stream of kids leaving the building becomes a trickle, then nothing more than the occasional latecomer heading out the doors. Miss Bowles is nowhere to be seen, is probably holed up in her office on the phone or some shit, purposefully dragging out Sarah’s discomfort. Like she doesn’t have anywhere better to be right now. Like she couldn’t be hanging out with Cosima or walking Fee home from school or—

She feels her phone buzz to life in her jacket pocket. A text.

Come over, is all it says. Rachel. She feels her stomach drop, an odd, exhilarating sensation, like she’s just missed a step and nearly fallen.

busy rite now, she types back. waiting for someone.

A minute goes by. Two. Sarah bites back a sigh and tries to pull her eyes away from her phone. But when it goes off again, she unlocks the screen too quickly, embarrassing herself even though no one’s around to witness how weird she’s being.

Who is it? Rachel is asking her.

is that your business? Sarah replies, grinning to herself as she imagines Rachel’s annoyance.

Oh, Rachel responds a minute later. So ur in trouble again. Shocking.

God, she can just hear her voice saying the words. Low and dry with that layer of smug superiority.

piss off, she sends back, then wonders if Rachel will take her seriously and end the conversation. i can come over in like 1 hour, she adds, estimating that she’ll spend half an hour or so trapped in Miss B’s office of torture and then another half hour hauling ass to Rachel’s house, which is on the edge of town.

This time, she gets a reply only seconds later. It’s one word: Good.


She’s still staring down at her phone, heart beating too fast, when the secretary leans out into the lobby and calls, “Sarah? Miss Bowles is ready to see you.”

“Hello, Sarah,” Miss Bowles greets her as she trudges into the office and slouches into her usual chair directly across from the large oak desk. “Sorry to keep you waiting.”

“Hey, s’not as if I’ve got a life to live or anything like that,” Sarah says, and Miss Bowles gives her a disapproving look before glancing down at the papers stacked on her desk. Which, as far as Sarah is concerned, means she’s won the first strike.

“I called you in so we could discuss your grades,” Miss Bowles says. It’s not a surprise, but Sarah feels the familiar tension in her shoulders and neck, the tightening of her fists. Of course it’s her grades. She can never catch a fucking break. “I doubt this is going to come as much of a surprise to you,” Miss Bowles continues mildly, “but right now you’re failing four classes and on thin ice in another.”

Sarah says nothing. She kicks at the carpeted floor with one boot and wishes she could fast forward, just close her eyes and open them again and… not be here anymore. Not with Miss Bowles’s smug voice or her transcript spread out in front of her, all her failures listed one by one.

Of course, the worst part is that it’s her own fucking fault. As usual.

“As it stands, right now you’ve got passing grades in gym and English. Your performance in history is salvageable, but…” Miss Bowles purses her lips, leaving the rest unsaid.

“Yeah,” Sarah agrees. What else is she supposed to say. “Okay. Can I go now?”

Miss Bowles ignores her question. “Now it’s only November,” she reminds Sarah, as if she’s so dumb she can’t read a calendar. “So you’ve got some time to bring these grades up before winter break. I’m afraid if there’s no improvement by the end of the semester we’re going to have to call your mother in to discuss what to do next.”

“She’s not my mother,” Sarah spits out. “She’s my legal guardian.”

Miss Bowles gives her a steady look. “Your guardian, then.”

“Well, I’m gonna be eighteen in a few months,” Sarah says, like a dare. See them try to call Mrs. S in then.

“Yes. You will.” Miss Bowles steeples her fingers, still watching her with that steady, almost pitying gaze. “Sarah, do you have any plans after graduation?”

She shrugs. “Not really.” And if she did, she sure as fuck wouldn’t be talking about them here.

“Nothing?” Miss Bowles presses. “You haven’t thought about it at all? It’s coming up sooner than you’d think.”

Sarah says nothing for several seconds, the only sound the light scuffing of her boot on the carpet. “I guess I wanna travel,” she admits finally. The idea of getting away—going anywhere, doing anything, no longer chained down in this town—is the only appealing thing she can think of right now.

Miss Bowles nods, seeming to think it over. It’s such bullshit, Sarah decides. All this fake investment in a student who’s clearly not destined for anything good. Bullshit. Finally, Miss Bowles tells her something she already knows all too well: “You won’t be going anywhere if you’re repeating your senior year. Stuck here while your friends go off and live their lives.”

Sarah tries to ignore the angry heat in her stomach, the shame welling up behind her eyes. “I know, okay?” she manages to say as she pushes herself out of her seat and makes for the door. “I fucking know.”

Rachel opens the door barefoot, which stops Sarah in place. She can’t remember ever seeing Rachel’s bare feet before, only the heels, but—it’s her house. Why shouldn’t she be? It’s not like she wears high heels to bed, right? But it’s so… human. And weirdly intimate.

“What are you doing,” Rachel asks her in that low, disapproving voice, “just standing there on the porch? You look like an idiot.”

“Piss off,” Sarah mutters, shaking her head as she steps inside. “Your dad around?”

“He’s working.”

“Oh. Right.” Sarah drops her backpack to the hardwood floor in the entryway. “Good.”

“Good?” Rachel asks her in a knowing voice.

“Just—you know.” Her phone starts to vibrate in her pocket again. Shit. Could be S, Felix… “Sorry, hold on, I’ve gotta get this.”

Rachel says nothing, and Sarah loses track of her as she pulls the phone out of her pocket and squints at the cracked screen. Cosima.

“Oi oi,” she says, and hears Rachel’s disapproving scoff from across the room, mirrored a second later by Cosima’s own huff of breath.

“Dude, where are you?” she asks in a pleading voice. “I’ve been hanging around outside your house for like forty minutes.”

“What? Why?”

“We’re supposed to go pick Delphine up, remember?” Cosima sighs loudly. “Don’t tell me you forgot.”

“Well, she’s not my… whatever,” Sarah argues. “Look, I’m busy. You’re gonna have to do this one on your own.”

“Seriously, Sarah?” Cosima says plaintively. “Just tell Vic this is really important. He’ll understand.”

Christ. “I’m not at Vic’s,” she says, then lowers her voice. “I’m at Rachel’s.”

“Rachel’s?” Cosima sounds confused.

“Yeah, it’s just this bloody project, you know,” Sarah says, her voice so low it’s a wonder that Cosima can make out what she’s saying. She can feel Rachel’s gaze boring into the back of her head like a pair of lasers.

Cosima goes quiet for a few seconds. Finally, she says, “What the hell kind of project is this, anyway? You’ve been working on it for like two months.”

“It hasn’t been two months,” Sarah argues weakly. “Look, Cos, I’m really sorry, I can’t get out of this. I’ll help you out another time, yeah?”

Cosima sighs again, this one even louder and more exaggerated. “Yeah,” she says finally. “Okay.”

“See ya.” Sarah hangs up the phone and closes her eyes. All this sneaking around is liable to give her a migraine sooner or later.

“Sarah,” Rachel calls from the bottom of the stairs, impatient. “Are you coming?”

She’s still not entirely comfortable lying on Rachel’s bed, sinking into the mattress, surrounded by matching white-and-purple blankets that smell like Rachel and expensive pillows that smell like Rachel and, well, Rachel herself. It’s all overwhelming, and she’s never sure how to feel, but she’s working on it the way she always works on things that overwhelm her—when she’s not running from them, anyway—which is by pushing forward as if she’s not bothered, as if she feels completely at ease.

It’s getting easier to fake it, but she’s sure that Rachel can call her bluff. She’s sure that Rachel takes in everything, from the way the muscles in Sarah’s legs tense the slightest bit when Rachel’s fingers caress them, the small movements in her dry throat as she swallows, the way her eyes move from one point to another too quickly, dizzying, until she’s forced to close them entirely.

Right now the two of them are lying side by side, one of Rachel’s legs pressed in between Sarah’s, clothes on. Sarah’s fingers are under Rachel’s shirt, feeling the slope of her ribs, the rise and fall as the other girl breathes. They kiss, warm lips and ragged breathing, and they touch—hair, throat, collarbones, ribs, breasts—but they don’t get undressed, and they don’t have sex.

It’s the most chaste Sarah’s been in bed with someone since she first had sex at fourteen, but somehow she feels like she’s on the edge of something she’s never felt before. It’s thrilling and terrifying and she’s not sure which one she feels more, but she doesn’t want to stop.

“My father will be home soon,” Rachel says after some time has passed, and Sarah comes back to herself as if waking from a dream, as if coming down from some kind of new drug. The two of them disengage abruptly and Rachel won’t look her in the eye.

Sarah loathes having to climb out of the bed and make the walk home in the dark, the cold air biting at her face and ripping every warm and decent feeling away from her, but she won’t ask Rachel if she can stay for dinner. She hasn’t sunk that low.

“Can I ask something?” she asks, stalling for time as she pulls her jacket on, the movements rough.

Rachel has moved from the bed already and is sitting in front of her mirror, twisting open a bottle of silver nail polish. She doesn’t look up, but she does pause in removing the brush from the bottle. “You may,” she says, and Sarah swallows a remark about how she didn’t know Rachel was a kindergarten teacher in addition to being a bitch.

“Do you have… plans?” she asks, and Rachel finally looks up. She doesn’t turn around, and the two of them watch each other in the mirror until Rachel shrugs and glances back down at her nails.

“Plans,” she echoes dryly after the silence has dragged on just long enough to become uncomfortable.

“For after graduation,” Sarah says. “Uni, or work, or whatever. Just curious.”

Rachel’s lip curls up in a smile, as if she thinks she question is amusing. Sly, Sarah thinks, like she knows exactly why Sarah asked her. “Of course I have plans,” she says, and finally turns in her chair to face Sarah.

“Oh,” she hears herself saying. “Well, what are they, then?”

“I’m going to Cambridge,” Rachel says, sounding almost bored. “The University of Cambridge, that is. I sent in my application soon after we moved here. I’m flying back for my interview next month, in face.”

“They wanna interview you, eh?” Sarah asks, feeling sick with—she’s not sure what. Jealousy?

Rachel sighs through her nose. “Being granted an interview is nothing special. Anyone who isn’t an utter imbecile gets to that point.”

“You nervous?”

“No,” Rachel says, so plainly that Sarah has to believe she’s telling the truth. “I expect to be admitted.” She dips her head, appraising the polish on her nails, before asking in a voice too casual to be anything but cunning, “Why do you ask?” She knows perfectly well why Sarah asked, and the fact that she’s walked right into another one of Rachel’s bloody traps (again, bloody hell, like she didn’t get enough the first time, as if she likes this weird game) makes Sarah want to punch a wall.

Must be nice for Rachel to “expect to be admitted” to University of bloody Cambridge. She’s probably been headed there since the time she started walking and talking. Not like Sarah, who spent her first eight years getting bumped around from family to family, hit and kicked like a dog, sent to school with no lunch, punished for nothing more than being born.

“No reason,” she says in a wooden voice, and pushes open the bedroom door before Rachel can say anything else. “See you.”

As she walks home, the night air bitter cold against her face and hands, Sarah decides that she has to figure this shit out. She has to drop her biggest problem, and her biggest problem right now is Vic. She’s not delusional enough to believe that dumping him will solver all her problems, but it’s a start, isn’t it? Without him in the picture, she’ll be able to focus on more important things, like her friends, like salvaging her awful grades, like finally trying to make things right with Helena.

She’s nearly at rock bottom, and all Vic is doing is dragging her deeper into the hole.

He’s gotta go.

Chapter Text

She breaks up with Vic on a Wednesday night. Vic is too stoned to work up a good cry, but it doesn’t stop him from trying, his eyes red and watery and somehow animal, reminding Sarah of a gutter rat blinking up into the sunlight. Well, it suits him, she can’t deny that.

“You’re smiling?” Vic says in a sort of breathless amazement. “Smiling, Sarah? Is this funny to you? My pain is funny to you? You think fucking with my heart like this is some kind of game?”

Sarah hadn’t caught the smile in time, but now she makes it disappear with some effort. She tries to go back to her prepared script, although when she’d been writing this shit out in her head earlier, Vic hadn’t been quite as dramatic, which is fucking things up. “Look,” she says. Definitively. “It’s just not working out with us.”

“Is there someone else?” Vic asks her, and reaches for her hand. She pulls it back like her fingers have just brushed against something disgusting. The more she looks at him, the less she can understand why she ever wanted to be with him. Sleep in his bed. Touch his naked body.

“I need to focus on—”

“There’s someone else,” Vic says in sudden understanding.

“—my own shit,” Sarah finishes. Not as definitively, now. “School, my family. I can’t do this anymore.”

Vic laughs in disbelief. “Your own shit, yeah, right. You’re gonna break up with me and go make the honor roll? Gonna go make nice with that crazy sister of yours? Gonna go switch places with her, Sarah?”

She feels a heat building up behind her eyes and can’t tell if it’s anger or tears. Fuck him. “We’re done,” she says, and she’s walking across the living room and toward the front door of Vic’s shitty little house.

“We are not finished,” Vic says, and she hears a thud behind her as he scrambles off the couch, trying to catch her before she runs.

“Fuck you, Vic,” she says, and takes his front steps in one running jump, boots crackling on the rock salt on the sidewalk below. Vic is barefoot and wearing sweatpants and an old t-shirt. He makes it to the sidewalk seconds after she does, but not much further. Sarah thinks she hears him curse under his breath when he realizes she’s not going to stop and he’s not going to be able to keep pace with her, but she’s sure as hell not going to ask him to repeat himself.

She doesn’t stop running until the lights of his house have disappeared around the next corner.

The first thing she does after she gets on the bus is call her sister. Helena answers in a croaky, tired voice, and Sarah pictures her twin curled up under a nest of warm blankets, a box of cookies nestled protectively in her lap.

“I did it,” she says in a gasp, lungs still burning from the cold. “I dumped Vic.”

Helena doesn’t answer her, just waits, silent on the other end of the line.

“I did it,” Sarah repeats more slowly, sinking onto the bench.

“Only six months late,” Helena finally says in the tone of voice that always makes Sarah feel so guilty—a mixture of disappointment and a sort of resigned sadness.

“Better late than never, yeah, meathead?” Sarah tries to force a smile into her voice, but she doesn’t think Helena buys it. She closes her eyes and leans her head against the bus window, against the cold.

“Mm.” Helena yawns loudly. It’s a clear dismissal. “I don’t believe you, Sarah. I don’t think I trust you to stay away.”

The words hurt, and somehow the sting is worse because she wasn’t expecting them. “I thought you’d be happy for me.”

“I will be happy. When you’re happy.” Helena sighs. “You aren’t happy, Sarah.”

“I’m workin’ on it,” Sarah says, and she knows the words are weak. Half-assed promises. But maybe this is the best she can do.

Helena seems to understand that much, at least. “I know,” she says, more softly now. “I know, Sarah.”

She tells Felix, who congratulates her on finally taking out the trash. She tells Cosima, who wants to celebrate with wine and Jurassic Park. She even tells Beth Childs while they’re walking out of the locker room, just making conversation, and Beth just says, “Wish I could go through with it myself,” then laughs when Sarah doesn’t know what to say. “Just kidding,” Beth adds, and jogs across the gym to meet Alison.

The one person she doesn’t tell is Rachel, because she knows Rachel wouldn’t care.

“So,” Tony announces at lunch on Thursday, “I talked to my uncle and the cabin’s ours at the end of the month. Who’s in?”

“Me,” Sarah says, because like hell is she going to miss an excuse to get drunk around a bonfire. “Helena, too. She’ll be home then.”

“I can prooobably go,” Scott says, like he does every year. Sarah’s sure he’ll end up bullied into it by Cosima.

“Yessss,” Cosima says, and nudges Delphine in the ribs. “Delphine will come too! Right, Delphine?”

Delphine looks like a deer caught in the headlights of Tony’s beat-to-shit truck. “I’m sorry?” she asks. “Where are we going?”

“Tony’s uncle owns this cabin a couple hours north of here. Every year he lets Tony take us up there and we camp out. The cabin is right on the lake, practically,” Cosima says, practically bouncing in her seat. “Please say you’ll come, Delphine.”

“Yeah, this is the social event of the season, Delphine,” Sarah says in her best deadpan. “You can’t miss it.”

“Aw, shut the hell up.” Tony flicks a piece of lettuce at her face. “You fuckin’ love it.”

Sarah bats the lettuce away, but doesn’t argue.

“I would love to come with you,” Delphine is saying to Cosima, “but it wouldn’t be right to leave Alison’s family. I am living with her.”

“Ah,” Sarah says, and manages to do a pretty good job of masking the happiness she feels, she’s pretty sure. “She’s right, guys. She can’t do that.”

“So invite her, too,” Cosima says, shooting Sarah an annoyed look before turning back to Delphine with a hopeful smile. “It’s just two nights, and it’s over winter break…” She doesn’t have to add that this might be one of their only chances to spend time together, unsupervised, before Delphine has to go back to France.

Delphine looks at Tony, not willing to say yes without his permission. Tony must either want to help Cosima get laid, or he’s more pissed off at Sarah than he’s letting on, because he agrees without much hesitation. “Sure. Whatever. One more person, who cares.”

Cosima kisses Delphine like the two of them just got engaged or some shit. Sarah rolls her eyes.

The following day, Alison follows Delphine to the lunch table, holding what looks like a series of color-coordinated notebooks against her chest. “I heard about your little ‘campout,’” Alison says.

“Did you now,” Tony says, leaning back in his chair. If he regrets extending this invitation to Alison, he’s doing a better job of hiding it than Sarah expected.

“I’m letting you know that, yes, I will be attending,” Alison continues. “On one condition.”

Tony frowns, suspicious. “What condition would that be?”

“I’d like to bring a friend along,” Alison says, and looks around at the group, eyes falling on each of them in turn. “Since the five of you will be spending time together,” without me, she doesn’t add, but she doesn’t really have to, “I think it’s only fair.”

“Look, Alison,” Tony begins with a sigh. “My uncle’s cabin isn’t that big. And neither is my truck.”

“Well,” Alison says, “that’s fine, because Beth’s boyfriend has his own car, and he’d be more than happy to follow you!” Although her voice is still upbeat, there’s a rising note of annoyance building up behind the forced perkiness.

“Look…” Tony says again, and trails off.

“Either Beth comes, or I don’t,” Alison declares with finality. “And if I don’t, Delphine doesn’t.”

“Tony,” Cosima hisses under her breath, eyes huge and desperate behind her glasses. “Please.”

“Come on, Tony,” Sarah says, kicking him under the table. Cosima’s her best friend and deserves some happiness, whether Sarah likes Delphine or not. “Beth’s cool. It’ll be good.”

Tony holds out for a few more seconds, then groans, “Jesus, fine. Whatever.”

Alison nods and gives them all a tight little smile. “Wonderful!” she says. “We’ll see you then.”

“I heard your friend is hosting a campout,” Rachel says from behind her at the water fountain that afternoon. From right behind her, actually. Sarah inhales what feels like a gallon of water and has to cough it back into the basin before she can speak.

“Where’d you hear that,” she croaks, not turning around.

“From Paul, of course.” Rachel moves to lean against the wall next to the fountain, where Sarah can’t avoid looking at her. “He seems to have invited quite a few people. It seems like it’s becoming quite the gathering.”

“Ah. Paul. Of course.” Sarah turns off the water and straightens up. She has to wipe some water off her chin with the back of one hand, which Rachel observes, expressionless. “Guy’s not exactly subtle, is he?”

“No,” Rachel agrees. “He isn’t.”

“Tony’s gonna fuckin’ kill him,” Sarah says.

“We’ll see,” Rachel says.

The two of them stand there, not moving, as the hallway empties out. Sarah should go to class, should get her shit together, should quit staring at Rachel’s legs or her tits or her lips, but she can’t seem to force herself to do any of those things. “I gotta,” she manages, and then stops talking altogether. Rachel gives her a knowing little smile and says nothing.

“So… did Paul invite you?” Sarah asks after a few seconds. “To the thing?”

“He did.”

“You turned him down, yeah?” she says, because she simply cannot envision hanging out in Tony’s uncle’s cabin with Rachel Duncan next to her. It’s like dividing by zero, like a stutter in her brain. It’s just bloody weird.

“I told him I would think about it,” Rachel says, which only makes Sarah’s anxiety worse.

“Do you ever say what you mean?” she blurts out before she can stop herself, and Rachel just looks at her, still with that little smile curling on one side.

“I’m going to be late for class,” is all Rachel says. And with that, she pushes herself off from the wall and walks away, heels clicking on the floor as she goes.

Chapter Text

When Sarah wakes to the sound of her alarm, the discordant opening chords of London Calling, it’s still dark outside. Without lifting her head, she reaches out, feeling around on the bed for her phone. The light of the screen is blinding as she taps the alarm off and checks her messages, squinting with sleep-swollen eyes.

we’ll be there at 5. you ain’t there by 5:02 you get left behind, sis

Are you awake yet?

rachel duncan:
See u soon.

She feels a strange, sick flutter in her stomach and rolls onto her side, still staring at the last text. See u soon. The feeling stays with her as she forces herself out of bed, as she pads across the hall to the bathroom, and as she returns to her bedroom to dress and grab her packed duffel bag.

She’s thinking about Tony’s truck, vaguely at first and then with more and more clarity. It’s an ancient, rusting thing with a converted bed, covered from the elements but without any actual seats, just storage space. Tony compensates for the lack of seats in the back by throwing in an old twin mattress, covering it with a blanket, and then announcing that whoever complains can walk wherever it is they’re going.

So. The truck. What if she climbs in and Rachel is sitting there—just sitting there like she belongs with Sarah, with Sarah’s friends? What if they end up spending hours together in the back of Tony’s shitty truck, the two of them trapped next to each other, with Cosima and Helena seeing all of it? What the hell will they talk about, what will they do?

“Jesus bloody Christ,” she breathes into the cold silence of her bedroom.

When Tony pulls up in front of her house at 5:06 (“Lying wanker,” Sarah mutters when she sees his headlights), Paul’s sleek, black car is following closely behind. Sarah sneaks a glance at the car as she walks by, but in the darkness she can’t see anything but human-shaped shadows cast by the dashboard lights. She takes a deep breath and swings open the passenger side door of the truck.

The first two she sees are Scott, grinning at her from the front passenger seat, and Tony yawning over the wheel.

“If I’m not outside by 5:02 I get left behind, eh,” Sarah growls at him as she climbs between them and into the back, where Cosima and Delphine are sitting curled under a blanket, purposefully letting her duffel smack Tony on the arm as she does.

“What d’you have in there, bricks?” Tony asks her, as Scott closes the door and the truck eases away from the curb.

“Oi!” Sarah yells as, jostled by the truck’s movement, she falls into the lab of a boy she’s never seen before, scattering comic books everywhere. “The hell, let me sit down first, Tony!” Tony just laughs and keeps driving. Sarah manages to extricate herself from the random boy and stumble on her knees to a free section of mattress. Oh, she really missed this shit, no seatbelts or seats or even windows back here. The one good thing is that Rachel’s not back here with them, either living it up in Paul’s Imprezza, or—Sarah can’t decide if she wants this or not—in bed, asleep, having decided against the trip entirely.

“Come sit with us,” Cosima says to her, grinning and lifting a corner of the blanket. “I’m cold.”

“I’m good, thanks, Cos.” Like hell she’s going to be the bread in a Cosima sandwich when Delphine is sitting on the other side.

“Aw, come on,” Cosima says. “I want both my girls.” Sarah just shakes her head and leans up against the metal side of the truck, the space where a window would be. If Tony had decided to get a truck with windows.

Before Cosima can say anything else, Scott interrupts them, poking his head over the backseat. “Sarah, this is my friend Hell Wizard, by the way. Hell Wizard, this is Sarah.”

“Hell Wizard,” Sarah repeats, unfazed. “What’s up.”

Hell Wizard gives her a dopey smile and then goes back to his comics, portable book light bouncing as the truck heads toward the highway.


Great. Someone’s trying to talk to her.

“Sarah, wake up.”

Even better: it’s Delphine.

“Go away,” Sarah mumbles into the mattress. Delphine doesn’t go away. She reaches over and shakes Sarah by the shoulder. Oh, Jesus Christ.

“Piss off, Delphine,” Sarah snaps, lifting her head and glaring over at them. “Can’t you see I’m sleeping?”

Delphine looks mortified, but Cosima only rolls her eyes and kicks at Sarah hard enough to hurt. “Don’t be a bitch. It’s time to get Helena.”

Sarah stares at them, still trying to process—Helena, yeah, that’s right. Delphine shifts uncomfortably under the blanket and says, “You have a little…” She gestures to her chin, but the English word seems lost to her, and she looks to Cosima for help.

“Drool,” Cosima says, still unimpressed.

She wipes her chin with her sleeve and turns on Hell Wizard, who’s pressed up against the back of the front seat, staring at her with wide, nervous eyes. “You got anything to add?” she asks, and he shakes his head. “Then move. I gotta get my sister.”

“There’s two of them?” she hears Hell Wizard whisper as she pushes past him and climbs into the front. Scott, wisely, has vacated the front seat already, even opened the door for her.

Sarah hops to the ground, her boots crunching down on rock salt, and rubs at her face. Tony’s leaning up against the front bumper of the truck, smoking a cigarette. The smell of it and the cold air are already doing a good job of clearing her head, and already she feels guilty about yelling at Delphine and Hell Wizard, but—well, she’s got the entire weekend to make nice with them. Right now, Helena’s what she cares about.

“Meathead?” she calls, stepping onto the sidewalk.

She hasn’t gone three steps when suddenly Helena is there, grabbing and squeezing her so tightly that Sarah is lifted off the ground. The two of them spin in a half circle before Helena sets her back on the ground and tucks her head into the hollow between Sarah’s shoulder and her neck. Sarah wraps her arms around her sister and breathes in the familiar smell of her, something cold like ice and sweet like sugar.

“Missed you,” she whispers, and Helena nods against her shoulder.

“Yes,” she says. “It’s been a long time, Sarah.”

“Four months, innit?” She wonders if Helena can hear the guilt in her voice, but Helena doesn’t look up, just tucks herself even closer.

Over the top of Helena’s frizzy head, Sarah can see that Paul and his passengers are getting out of the Imprezza and stretching their legs. Beth and Alison she’d been expecting, but the sight of Rudy climbing out of the back makes her roll her eyes. Leave it to Paul to invite the one person none of them want around. Well. Two people, if you count Rachel. She’s not sure if she does or not, yet.

“Hey, Helena. What’s up?” Paul sounds neither enthusiastic or disappointed by the appearance of Sarah’s twin. Helena, like everything in Paul’s life, seems to leave him entirely numb. “You know Beth and Ali, right?”

Helena nods into Sarah’s jacket, but releases her when Paul continues, “And this is Rachel. She’s new this year.”

Rachel is staring at Helena, not able to conceal her unease at seeing Sarah’s face on this other girl, this person wearing an oversized green coat and with wild, bleached-to-hell hair. “Hello,” she says after just enough time has gone by to make things uncomfortable. As always, Rachel’s voice is polite and emotionless, but Sarah can see the truth in her eyes. She’s nervous. Great. That makes two of them.

“Hello, Rachel.” Helena’s tongue curls on the name, making it an insult. “I’ve heard about you. From Sarah.”

Rachel’s gaze goes from Helena to Sarah and back, and again that look of unease is only half-hidden in her expression. “Have you,” she says.

“Just bitching about homework,” Sarah says before Helena can open her mouth again. She nudges her sister and says, “Hey, I’m hungry. You hungry?”

“Yes!” Helena agrees, Rachel immediately—Sarah hopes, anyway—forgotten. “I want… mm, pancakes. And eggs, with toast for dipping. Oh! And extra, extra bacon.”

“You can have mine,” Sarah says, sliding an arm around Helena’s shoulders and steering her across the street, where a diner’s glowing sign punctuates the morning mist with OPEN 24 HOURS BREAKFAST ALL DAY.

“So,” Alison Hendrix says as she goes about cutting her pancakes into neat squares, “what kinds of things do you all do at this cabin?” She sounds friendly enough, but still manages to make the word “cabin” sound like it’s code for “den of sin.”

“Well, we spend most of the first day drinking,” Cosima says, immediately confirming Alison’s suspicions. “And then the next day…”

“Recovering,” Sarah says.

“And playing Runewars,” Helena adds, propping hr chin in her hand. A strip of bacon hangs from a corner of her mouth like a lolling tongue. “Much yelling. Much fighting.”

“Oh!” Alison says. To her credit, she manages to force a modicum of enthusiasm into her voice. “That sounds… interesting.”

“Don’t worry,” Sarah says. “They won’t force you to play. I always beg off.”

She’s in a much better mood now that there’s food in front of her, and more importantly, coffee. Helena is beside her, Rachel across the table, but neither have been antagonizing the other. She’s almost starting to think that this weekend will turn out okay.

For the first time since the group of them entered the diner and took over two entire tables, Rachel speaks directly to her. “Is that because you need more recovery time than the others, Sarah?” The corner of her mouth is quirked up in a half-smile.

Sarah’s not sure if she should frown or laugh, so she does an odd combination of both. Is Rachel Duncan teasing her, like a normal human being? Beside her, Helena’s choky laughter erupts.

“Yes,” Helena says, and punctuates the word by spearing an entire sausage with her fork. “Sarah needs much recovery time. She can’t… mm, hold her liquor like the rest of us can.” The sausage disappears into her grinning mouth.

“Oi! What the hell, you know that’s not true!” Sarah protests. She’s still smiling, but under the table, she can feel her fingers start to shred her napkin into thin little strips, a fidgety gesture that does a shite job of actually channeling the adrenaline pumping through her body.

Someone’s foot nudges hers under the table. She looks up from the napkin, surprised. Rachel is still watching her, still with that half-smile. Sarah clears her throat and kicks back, lightly. Rachel raises an eyebrow and, seemingly satisfied, turns to look at Paul.

Sarah goes back to shredding her napkin.

The arrival at the cabin is, as always, filled with a giddy energy. After four hours in the back of Tony’s truck, Sarah thinks they’d have that same excitable happiness if Tony’d dropped them off in front of the local waste treatment plant.

Cosima and Helena start throwing snow at each other before they’re even fully out of the truck. Sarah climbs past them and stands nearby, breathing in the smell of pine and ice. Tony crosses the snow-covered front path, cigarette poking from his lips, and turns to face the group.

“Here’s the deal,” he says. “We’re gonna need supplies, y’know, firewood and shit to cook.” He points down the hill, toward the lake, more for the benefit of Paul’s group than the others, who are used to this. “The store’s across the lake there. We could drive, but usually we walk it, since the lake’s frozen. More fun that way.” He grins, exposing his silver capped tooth.

Rudy, who’s sprung out of Paul’s car wearing full camo gear, looks excited by the prospect of hiking across the frozen lake. His eyebrows are practically at his hairline, giving him the look of a horror movie serial killer. Not that Sarah’s judging him or anything.

“Guys should go,” Rudy says. “Girls set up the house, guys go hiking.”

“That is so sexist of you,” Alison says, hands on her hips. She looks pissed off, and after spending the ride up stuck in a car with both Rudy and Paul, Sarah can’t exactly blame her.

“Do you wanna go get us firewood, Ali?” Rudy asks in a faux generous voice, copying her movements and putting his own hands on his hips.

Alison hesitates. “No,” she admits. Next to her, Beth rolls her eyes, but her smile is fond.

“Look, I don’t care who goes,” Tony says. “Just don’t bitch to me if someone claims the bed you wanted before you get back.”

Helena approaches, her hair covered with melting clumps of snow, and announces, “I will go.” She holds up a laminated card, flips it between her fingers. “Fake ID.”

“I thought S took that away from you,” Sarah says, but Helena only grins at her.

“Thank fuck one of us does,” Tony says, and tosses the house keys to Sarah, who manages to catch them on instinct. “You’re in charge ’til we get back. Don’t burn the place down.”

Well, she’d only be starting the bonfire early.

Sarah dumps her duffel bag in the back room she and Helena always share. It’s tiny, but that’s fine. Tony’s uncle, part of a huge Polish family with what seems like about a hundred people, has managed to squash a few extra sleeping spaces into a not-so-big house. She and Helena like the little room, though. It’s warm, cozy, gives them a place to talk.

She turns to head back to the living room, but stops when she sees Rachel in the doorway, watching her.

“What,” she manages, hating how unsure she sounds.

“Nothing,” Rachel says, still leaning in the doorway. “I thought I would see how your room search is coming along.”

“Did you really?” Sarah raises an eyebrow. “If you’re looking for a roomie, you’re out of luck. I’m sharing with Helena.” There. That sounds… not as stupid, anyway.

“Yes,” Rachel says, “I thought you would. I’m in the loft with Alison, Rudy, and your little tabletop friends. They seem quite interested in teaching us to play.”

Sarah can’t help but feel a tiny bit bad for Rachel, stuck in the loft with Rudy all weekend. Of course, Rachel could’ve avoided this by not coming on the trip in the first place, but that’s not her business, is it?

“Well… watch out for Rudy,” she says finally. “Guy’s a creep.”

“Are you worried?” Rachel asks, amused, and Sarah doesn’t let herself answer. After a moment, Rachel continues, “He won’t be a problem.”

“Good.” Sarah unzips her duffel bag just to have something to do with her hands. Silence falls again, broken only by the sound of footsteps above them, in the loft. Finally, Sarah asks, “Why’d you come, anyway? Didn’t think this would be your thing.”

Rachel doesn’t roll her eyes—not quite. But Sarah detects the slightest movement, a suggestion of an eye roll aborted at the last second. “I thought it might be interesting,” Rachel says. “To see you with your friends.”

A warm electricity moves up Sarah’s stomach and into her chest. “I thought you’ve always got other shit to do.”

“Sometimes, yes,” Rachel agrees. “But not always.”

When it gets dark, they set up a bonfire near the frozen lake, clearing logs of snow and using them as benches. Cosima brings two bottles of cheap red wine, and Helena pulls an entire handle of bourbon out from under her coat, handing it to Sarah without an answer as to how the hell she carried it around under there.

The more Sarah drinks, the better she feels. Rachel’s here, sure, sitting across the fire with a glass of wine. Helena’s here, next to her. But nobody’s been murdered yet, and everything… everything’s good, for once.

Helena is asking her something. Sarah glances over and sees that her sister has speared three hotdogs on a stick and is holding them over the flames.


“Do you want one,” Helena repeats, just as the first dog catches fire. She lets it burn for a few seconds, humming, and then waves the stick until the flames gutter out.

“Uh… no,” Sarah says. “No thank you.”

Helena leans against her side so she can enjoy her charred hotdogs. It feels safe, having her there. Helena always feels safe. Whenever Sarah finds herself wishing for something more—normal, something more steady, she just has to remember that. Whenever she finds herself wishing she could be the kind of girl she watches in the movies or reads about in books, she has to remember that she’s got Helena and the two of them don’t need normal.

She just hopes that Helena knows that, too.

She looks across the fire at Cosima and Delphine, their fingers intertwined. Paul with an arm slung comfortably over Beth’s shoulder. Then at Rachel, fingers curled around her glass of wine, staring into the embers. No, she’s not that kind of girl, not like Cosima or Beth. Those relationships, so simple, aren’t for her. Not that kind of girl. Not that kind of life.

The night gets darker, and colder, and in small groups, people start to leave the relative warmth of the fire and make the trek back to the actually warm cabin. First Alison, stumbling and drunk, then Scott and Hell Wizard, finally Cosima and Delphine (going to make the most of their shared bed, Sarah thinks). Helena has long since switched hotdogs for marshmallows, roasting them to almost full blackness before popping them into her mouth and licking her sticky fingers. Then Beth stands up and says she’s going to check on Alison, and it’s just Sarah, Helena, Paul, Rudy, Tony, and Rachel around the fire.

“You know, I’ve camped out in conditions like this before,” Rudy says, gesturing with his glass of bourbon to their surroundings. “By myself.”

“What, on the back lawn of somebody’s lake house?” Sarah says dryly, and hears Helena snort next to her. “Impressive, mate.”

“In our wilderness survival program at school,” Rudy continues. “We all camped out together on the first night and then we split up and spent two nights by ourselves. Remember that, Dierden?”

Paul nods. “Poor Parsons.”

“Yeah,” Rudy says. “Poor guy.”

Helena stands up and announces, “I am tired, and you—” she points at Rudy with a flourish— “are boring.”

“I don’t see you bitches doing any entertaining,” Rudy says.

Helena fixes him with a long, unblinking stare. “Are you coming, Sarah?” she asks without looking away.

“Uh—yeah, in a bit,” Sarah says. She’s just poured herself another drink and it’d be a shame to waste it.   Helena finally looks away from Rudy, but she doesn’t look at Sarah, either. She sighs through her nose, hunching her shoulders up in a way that seems to say, Typical. Sarah says, “I’ll be up in a few minutes. Promise.” Like her promises are worth shit to Helena anymore.

Still, her twin turns and starts the walk back to the cabin. Sarah can hear her start to hum softly to herself as she goes, and then the sound fades away.

She sips her drink and stares into the fire and pretends to listen as Rudy starts to tell another story, or maybe it’s a continuation of the same one. It feels like no time has passed at all, but when she blinks and looks up from the fire, Beth is crunching toward them through the snow, dressed only in pajama pants and a track sweatshirt, her cheeks flushed from the cold.

“I put Alison in our room,” she tells Paul, who only looks at her, unblinking. “I just wanted to let you know so you don’t come in later and get surprised.”

Paul glances at those remaining around the fire, then stands up and motions for Beth to follow him.

“Trouble in paradise,” Tony crows, laughing, but Paul ignores him. The two move several feet away and lower their voices, but their words are still uncomfortably audible to Sarah.

“I thought we were spending this weekend together,” Paul says. “Together, Beth.”

“She’s crying and throwing up everywhere,” Beth whispers back. “What do you want me to do, leave her in the loft?”

“You can’t be responsible for everyone,” Paul says, in a tone that makes it clear they’ve had this conversation—or one like it—more than once. “I keep telling you—”

“I’m going,” Sarah announces, taking her cue to leave. “Night, everyone.”

She leaves her half-full glass on the log and turns, walking through the snow toward the distant lights of the cabin. If she follows the others’ footprints, the snow isn’t too deep, and all the bourbon she’s had leaves her with a warmth on her skin, despite the cold air.

When she’s halfway to the cabin, she hears someone behind her. Please don’t be Rudy, she thinks in desperation, but when she turns and looks, it’s Rachel who’s walking up to her. Neither speak, but Sarah stands in place until Rachel makes it to her, and they continue on together.

“You drunk?” Sarah asks, the words puffing out like smoke.

Rachel makes a considering noise. “Not as drunk as you are,” she allows.

“Yeah, well.” Sarah walks another few paces in silence. “Gotta make my ‘recovery time’ worth it, don’t I.”

“Mm,” Rachel says. It could be agreement, or amusement, but Sarah doesn’t bother asking. She’s done asking Rachel questions, trying to figure out what she’s thinking. Rachel can tell her, or—not. Up to her. None of Sarah’s concern.

They reach the cabin, the warm air hitting Sarah’s face almost like a drug, and she fumbles with her leather jacket, struggling to pull it off and hang it by the door. Beside her, Rachel is doing the same with her coat, except like everything Rachel does, it looks effortless.

Shit, it’s too quiet in here.

“Well,” Rachel says, looking at Sarah.

“Well,” Sarah says back. She’s not sure what she should be doing right now. Should she keep talking, should she kiss her? Should she—

“Goodnight,” Rachel says, and heads for the stairs that lead up to the loft.

Okay. Well, that answers that. “Night,” Sarah says.

She wakes up at some point just after sunrise. Helena is in the bed next to her, snoring softly. The house is silent, not even the sound of settling, and the thin curtains cast just enough light for Sarah to creep out of bed and walk through the house to the downstairs bathroom without banging into anything. Inside, she closes her eyes against the fluorescent light and splashes water on her face. She’s not quite drunk, still, but everything seems hazy and somehow unreal.

She leaves the bathroom, and Rachel is waiting for her. Like she knew Sarah would be there.

Oh, Sarah has time to think, and then Rachel is crossing the hall and kissing her, and she thinks it again: Oh.

She pushes Rachel against the wall, and they’re right there in the hallway where anyone could walk by at any second, but that’s a hypothetical and Rachel is real, Rachel is with her in this hazy, blurry moment. Sarah can feel her own pulse thudding in her ears and she can feel the heat of Rachel’s skin, smell her shampoo, and she thinks—

You planned this. You came on this trip to do this. To have me do this where any of my friends could see us.

But she’s past caring, because this is happening. This is happening.

Now she’s on her knees, pulling at Rachel’s pajama pants and dragging them halfway down her legs. She moves aside the elastic of Rachel’s panties with her fingers, her lips on the warm skin of Rachel’s inner thigh. Rachel makes a strangely vulnerable sound, almost a sigh, and pushes herself closer. Her fingers tangle in Sarah’s hair and pull. Sarah feels—

“Oh my god,” a voice says. Sarah doesn’t register, at first, why Rachel is going still beneath her, muscles tensing, but then the words hit her—oh my god—and she jerks away, turning on her knees to look at the person who said them.

It’s Delphine. She stands with one foot in the hall and the other still in the bedroom she’s sharing with Cosima. Her eyes are almost comically wide. She licks her lips, trying to find the right words, Sarah’s sure, but what the hell could the right words possibly be?

After a second, Delphine manages to say in a quiet, shocked voice, “Je suis très désolée,” and then she’s turning and disappearing back inside the bedroom, shutting the door behind her, and leaving Sarah and Rachel in the silence that follows.

Chapter Text

Sarah tries to catch Delphine alone, she does, but maybe she doesn’t try hard enough.

She tells herself it’s because of the others—the cabin’s not big, someone’s always around, if not in the same room than in the next one over. She tells herself it’s not because she’s embarrassed, not because she has no idea what she could possibly say to make this go away. It’s because Cosima is always there, doing her best to bridge what she sees as a widening gap between her girlfriend and her best friend. Or because Alison is checking in on her foreign exchange student. Or because Helena’s stuck to Sarah’s side like a stubborn bur.

The longer Sarah says nothing, the more ridiculous the thought of confronting Delphine seems. What would she do, anyway? Threaten her? Beg her not to tell anyone? Both options make Sarah look desperate, and in the end, she decides that the best option is to not say anything. That maybe if she acts like the whole thing meant nothing, it will mean nothing.

Look, she figures that afternoon, crashed out on the bed, one arm flung over her eyes to block out the sunlight. It was early. It was early in the morning, they were all still half-drunk, who’s to say Delphine will even remember what she saw?

The rest of the long weekend crawls. Delphine isn’t looking at Sarah, or at Rachel, and Cosima is halfheartedly trying to keep everybody entertained while she nurses her own hangover, and Helena is at Sarah’s side like a kicked puppy, not knowing what’s wrong but feeling the wrongness anyway. And Rachel? Rachel is acting like she couldn’t care less about any of them, so nothing’s new there.

By the time Monday evening rolls around, Sarah is exhausted down to her bones. She thinks longingly about her own bed, tucked safely into a corner of her own bedroom, and decides she’d love to sleep for… oh, approximately twenty hours. It seems like time is stretched to the breaking point, though, the drive back to Helena’s school taking an eternity, the back of the truck jolting with every pothole, curve in the road, unmelted patch of road salt. Helena hugging her goodbye seems to take even longer, somehow. Then there’s the two hours back to Toronto, the tedious drop offs that seem to go on forever, until Tony, finally, deposits her at her own doorstop with a too-cheery “See you tomorrow, sis.”

Sarah dumps her bag in the living room as she comes through the front door, which immediately catches Siobhan’s ire.

“You’re certainly not leaving that on my living room floor,” her foster mother says in greeting.

“Hello to you too,” Sarah says, and pushes her bag toward the stairs.

“Not on the stairs, either,” S says.

“Christ,” Sarah mutters, picking the bag up and starting to stomp up to her bedroom.

“Well?” S calls up after her, suddenly wanting to talk. “How is Helena?”

“She’s great,” Sarah snaps over her shoulder, “except for the part where you sent her away from all her friends and her entire family. She’s fantastic.” With that, she slams her bedroom door and flops face-first onto her bed. This time last year, Helena would have been lying on her own bed, maybe making her way through a jumbo-sized bag of potato chips or M&Ms. Now, though, Helena’s bed is pushed to the far corner of the room, facing away from Sarah’s, and it’s empty. Perfectly made, but un-Helena in its perfectness.

She falls asleep missing her sister.

“Hey,” Felix is saying. He shoves her, not gently, and says it again. “Hey.”

“Piss off,” Sarah says, slapping at him without opening her eyes.

“You’re late,” Felix says. “S is pissed off.”

“Oh, what else is new?” Still, Sarah decides she’d rather deal with goddamn bloody school than Mrs. S’s anger, so she gets up. Reluctantly.

The sky is gray as she trudges toward the building, the air cold and heavy with snow that could start at any minute. She keeps her hood up as she pushes her way inside the building, through the halls and into homeroom, doesn’t even notice the yellow envelope on her desk until she’s standing right next to it. Her heart more than sinks—it plummets, leaving her feeling sweaty and nauseous and like she’s just misjudged the bottom step on a flight of stairs. Can it be time for report cards already? Is the school year half over?

“Hey!” Cosima says as she comes through the door with less than a minute until the bell and deposits what looks like half a library onto her desk with a loud thud. She adjusts her glasses, squinting, then frowns as she gets a good look at Sarah’s face. “You okay? You look like you’re about to barf.”

Sarah slumps into her seat, where Cosima won’t be able to look at her face anymore. “Still hungover,” she says in a voice that sounds as cold and heavy as the sky outside. Hungover, right. Can a person get a life hangover? She supposes that, yeah, if your own life makes you sick, that’s basically what’s happening. One big unending life hangover.

“Okay, well, if you do barf, aim toward Paul,” Cosima is saying. “He might make an actual facial expression.”

“Ha,” Sarah manages, weakly.

Cosima lets it go. Of course she does. She’s got enough on her mind already, with Delphine going back to France soon.

When the first period bell rings, Sarah walks out into the hall with everyone else, but she has no intention of going to her history class. What’s the point, when she’s already failing? What’s one more missed hour? She can’t go home, though, and she can’t sit under the bleachers when it’s this cold outside. In the end, she ducks into the closest bathroom and locks herself in a stall where she can stare her dismal future in the face in relative peace.

It’s as bad as she thought. She’s failing world history, chemistry, and health. She’s got a D in Spanish 202, maybe salvageable if she works her ass off in the second half of the year. The only classes she’s really passing are gym, which is impossible to fail, and English. She’s not sure what’s more pathetic—that she’s failing over half her classes, or that she managed to scrape by with a C in English purely because of Rachel Duncan completing and turning in the project that was worth so much of their first semester grade.

“Fuck,” she says, and laughs, because if she doesn’t do that, she might cry, and if she cries, she’s not sure she'll be able to stop.

She knows it’s stupid, but she’d really thought she would scrape by, like always. Despite the missed classes and the forgotten homework and the half-assed papers and the straight up warning from Miss Bowles, she’d thought she’d pull through somehow. Graduate with her friends, get out of this shitehole school, and do something. Now she’s looking into her future and all she can see is nothing. No graduation. No final summer before her friends go off to university. No Siobhan being proud of her. No twin diplomas hung on the living room wall.

There’s a sharp, panicky feeling in her chest that seems to expand until it’s taken over her entire body, until she’s sure she’s about to throw up or burst into tears, and she can’t do either one of those things, because if she does, she’ll—she’ll be weak. And she can’t be weak, because no one’s going to come along and help her. No one ever has.

She paces back and forth in the stall, breathing fast, and she needs something to do with her hands before she completely loses control, so she fishes her phone out of her backpack and calls Helena. Her sister, a two hour drive away, must be in class, her phone on silent, but Sarah lets it ring until it goes to voicemail.

“This is Helena’s phone,” her sister’s voice says. Sarah can remember sitting across from her and hissing Meathead, say something else as they recorded it. After a pause, Helena continues, “Leave a message and I will call back soon. Proshchayte.”

“Helena,” she says, voice shaky, and then stops, not sure what to say next. Helena, you’re gonna hate me. Helena, I fucked up. Helena, I know what we planned, but I…

“Helena,” she says again, and closes her eyes. She can’t say it. Not like this, in a voicemail, where Helena won’t even be able to see the regret on her face. “Just wanted to talk, but you’re probably in class or some shit. Don’t worry about calling me back ’til later, yeah? Love you.”

She hangs up, sits there in the silence, and thinks about how much she hates herself. More than Helena ever could, surely. And the worst part is that this was all her own fault. Completely her own doing, and now she’s drowning.

Drowning and no one is going to save her.

She spends the rest of the day hanging out in places she’s not supposed to. Instead of going to her morning classes, she wanders into the electives wing and hangs out in classrooms where no one knows or cares that she’s not supposed to be there. The art room, messing with clay alongside Tony. The dark room, listening to voices murmur in the cool quiet as they process their photos.

She sits in the cafeteria through all three lunch periods, moving from table to table and laughing and acting like she’s fine. Just fine.

When school lets out for the day, the snow has started falling. Light, barely dusting the road, the flakes fluttering down in what looks like slow motion. Like something out of a Christmas movie. Sarah flips her hood up and leans against the brick wall near the front doors and watches people as they walk to their busses, their cars.

She can’t go home. She’s not sure where she’ll go tonight, but it’s sure as hell not there. The junior high and high schools get their report cards on the same day. Felix will want to show S his marks, of course. He’ll hang her without even meaning to.

Somebody stops beside her. She sees a pair of heels that must have cost at least $150, bare legs, a skirt.

“Aren’t you freezing?” she asks.

Rachel adjusts her bag. She looks pained at having to admit it, but says, “It’s cold.”

“Maybe if you wore jeans like a normal person,” Sarah suggests, but Rachel doesn’t take the bait.

“You weren’t in gym class,” she says. “Or in English.”

“Observant, aren’t you,” Sarah says, but without much bite. She’s not in the mood to play games with Rachel. Not now, not today.

Instead of snapping a retort, Rachel doesn’t speak at all. She leans back against the bricks next to Sarah, looking out at the snow, or maybe at the people walking through it. Sarah imagines they must look pretty fucking weird, standing next to each other like this. Like they’re friends.

“It wasn’t…” Rachel begins, and stops herself. She makes a self-conscious sound, an embarrassed not-quite-laugh, and starts again. “It wasn’t because of what happened the other morning, was it?”

For a few seconds, Sarah can only stare at her. “What?”

Rachel says nothing. She gives nothing away.

“Look,” Sarah says finally. “Not everything’s about you, Rachel. Okay?” She means for her voice to sound confident, angry even, but instead it comes out sad and almost pleading. Please don’t ask me any more questions. Please just say what you mean.

“Good,” Rachel says. Then, after a pause, “It’s just that I’d hate to have kept you from verb conjugation. I know it’s your favorite.”

“Hilarious,” Sarah deadpans, but she smiles. She can’t help it. “You’re hilarious.”

Rachel turns, watching her now instead of the road. She tips her head the slightest bit, her eyes still on Sarah. Her lipstick is very red, and her cheeks are flushed from the cold.

“Come over,” Rachel says softly. “Finish what you started.”

The house seems to be empty when they arrive, aside from the birds hopping in their cages.

“Father?” Rachel calls as the two of them step into the living room, but there’s no answer, and she turns to Sarah. “Working. He won’t be home for hours.”

The meaning isn’t lost on Sarah, who nods as she stands in the threshold, snow dripping from her jacket. “Hold on a minute,” she says, knowing that if she doesn’t take care of this now, she’ll forget. She pulls her phone out of her pocket and calls Felix. Rachel shrugs and moves across the room to the bird cages, pretending not to listen in.

“Where are you?” Felix answers, without so much as a hello. “It’s snowing, and I had to walk home alone. You know S doesn’t like that.”

“Come on,” Sarah says, fondly exasperated, “you’re old enough to walk by yourself, you tit.”

“That’s not the point, Sarah,” Felix says in a tone of voice that makes him sound like her father instead of her little brother.

“Look, I’m at a friend’s,” she says, and sees Rachel glance quickly over her shoulder, then away again. “Just tell S that I’m at Rachel’s and I’ll be home later.”

“Wait,” Felix says, “does this have anything to do with—”

“Bye, Fee,” she says, makes a kissy sound into the phone, and hangs up on him. “My little brother,” she says to Rachel, who’s standing in front of the cages, feeding the birds.

“I didn’t know you had a brother,” she says, not turning around. One of the birds, a little brown and white thing, hops onto her index finger, and she watches as Rachel lifts her hand from the cage and strokes the tiny head. She doesn’t smile, exactly, but for a second, her eyes lose the hardness Sarah is used to seeing in them.

Sarah realizes she’s been silent a moment too long, staring, and says in a rush, “Yeah, foster brother. He’s twelve.”

“Mm,” Rachel hums. She places the bird back into the cage, gently, and closes the latch. She still won’t look at Sarah, maybe embarrassed by this small act of humanity. “Well,” she says after a moment, and looks toward the stairs. “Shall we?”

Sarah follows her upstairs, conscious of the sound her boots make on each step. She’s used to her own home, with the chaos of herself, Felix, and Helena coming in and out. Or Cosima’s house, with her parents who never show up, just like their daughter. Rachel’s house is so quiet, she has a hard time imagining what it must be to live here. She pictures Mr. Duncan in his study, reading, and Rachel in her room, doing her homework. Both of them silent.

Rachel opens the door to her bedroom, walks to the bed, and sits on the edge. She starts to take off her shoes, placing them next to each other on the floor, perfectly parallel, ready for her to slip back into them whenever she wants. Sarah stands in the doorway, backpack still slung over one shoulder, and hurries to kick her own boots off, much less elegantly. She says, “Hey, not to make things weird, but.”

Rachel sighs. “Do you always have to do this,” she says in a tired voice, like Sarah has made a habit of interrupting these potentially intimate moments. Maybe she has.

“Just, Delphine,” Sarah says. Rachel looks at her, eyes half-lidded. Waiting. “I wanted to know if you… said anything to her.” Boots off, Sarah steps further into the room, but she doesn’t want to approach the bed. Not until she hears what Rachel says next.

Rachel seems to be thinking it over. “You don’t like her,” she says finally. It isn’t a question.

“Well, no.” Sarah’s not sure where this is going, but she doesn’t have it in her to lie, not about this.

“Then,” Rachel says, easy, like the answer is simple, “she shouldn’t matter to you. And if she doesn’t matter to you…” She pats a spot on the bed next to her. “Then she doesn’t matter to me.”

Sarah drops her backpack and walks to the bed. She sits in the spot Rachel made for her, bends her head, and presses her lips to the spot in between Rachel’s collarbone and her neck. She can feel Rachel’s pulse, beat beat beat, under her lips, like a message.

Don’t stop, it says.


At some point, later, Sarah hears a door open. The sound doesn’t register at first, but Rachel sits up immediately, mouth open, expression caught.

“What time is it?” Sarah mutters, propping herself up on her elbows. The light in the room’s gone dim, but it’s not dark yet. Can’t be that late, can it?

“Shh,” Rachel hisses, grabbing her shirt off the floor and trying to smooth it out.

“Rachel?” Mr. Duncan’s voice calls from downstairs. “Are you in, dear?”

Rachel is yanking her skirt back on and trying to button her shirt at the same time. It’s the most flustered Sarah’s ever seen her, and for a couple seconds, she can only watch, amazed, as always, to see Rachel acting like a human being.

“I’m in my room,” Rachel calls, and despite her hurried, almost frantic movements, her voice is calm. “Sarah is here. We’re studying.” Sarah doesn’t doubt that, if asked, Rachel will have a detailed explanation of what, exactly, they’ve been studying the past few hours.

“Hello, Sarah,” Mr. Duncan says, pleasant enough. He sounds closer now, maybe standing at the foot of the stairs.

“Hey, Mr. Duncan,” Sarah says. Rachel turns and gives her an annoyed, expectant look, grabs Sarah’s jeans from their spot at the foot of the bed, and throws them at her. She gets the message and goes about gathering the rest of her clothes.

“Is Sarah staying for dinner?” Mr. Duncan asks.

“Yes,” Rachel says, not bothering to look at Sarah for an answer. “We’ll be down soon.”


Sarah hears his footsteps moving from the living room to the kitchen. Rachel breathes out through her nose, muscles relaxing, and finishes dressing. “Hurry up,” she whispers.

“Relax,” Sarah says, grinning as she gets up to pull her jeans on. “He’s not gonna teleport up here.”

“I’m relaxed,” Rachel says.

“Yeah, right.” She leans over, close, still smiling. “Rachel Duncan, shame to the family. Afraid your dad’s gonna catch you with a girl and send you back to England?”

“I’m glad,” Rachel says with pointed calm, “that this is a joke to you.” She moves from the bed to the window across the room, picks a brush up from the desk, and starts to run it through her hair. Sarah follows her, running a hand through her own tangles and deciding that’s probably good enough.

“Jesus,” she murmurs when she sees the street outside, all thoughts of teasing Rachel forgotten. The snow, light enough when they left school, is still falling, heavy now. The road’s pretty well covered, and the sky is dark. The light she’d assumed was sunset is actually moonlight reflecting off the fallen snow.

“Will they cancel school tomorrow?” Rachel asks, surprising her. She hadn’t figured Rachel would be the type to care about snow days, but then, she remembers, this is Rachel’s first winter in Toronto. Does it snow like this in England? She can’t remember much from her years there, but she doubts it.

“Nah,” she says. “They wouldn’t cancel school unless the front doors were buried, the bastards. Even then it’s questionable.” Next to her, she sees Rachel’s smile, just a flash, there and gone again just as quickly. “Mrs. S is gonna murder me, though,” she adds. “She’ll make me walk home just to spite me.”

“Stay here,” Rachel says. The words seem to come out of nowhere, with no thought behind them, and Sarah looks over, expecting it to be a joke. But Rachel is still watching the snow outside. She seems unable to look at Sarah, like she’s waiting for her to laugh or refuse.

“Yeah,” Sarah says, throat suddenly dry. “Okay.”

As the two of them enter the kitchen, Mr. Duncan is serving out portions of grilled chicken, green beans, and mashed potatoes. Sarah wonders how in the hell he managed to cook all of it in the twenty minutes since he’s been home, but then she sees the bag of takeout on the counter near the stove and understands. She wonders if he ever cooks, or if Rachel does. She can’t imagine Rachel planning and cooking meals, or even shopping for ingredients, for that matter.

“Sarah is spending the night,” Rachel says as they take their seats around the table.

She expects Rachel’s dad to ask questions—“isn’t it a school night,” or “do your parents know where you are”—but all he does is smile and pronounce the idea “Wonderful.”

The food is good, but Sarah’s appetite dies the longer she watches Rachel and her father, sitting across from each other at the dinner table. It’s like watching two strangers share a meal. There’s none of the easy back and forth she’s used to from her own family.

How was work? Oh, fine. How did you do on your German test? An A. An interesting article was published in Science Advances; you should read it. The ticket for your flight to Cambridge is in the foyer table drawer. The weather should clear up by tomorrow morning.

Mr. Duncan occasionally turns to Sarah and asks her questions—about her family, the classes she’s taking, what she does for fun—and Sarah answers them, but carefully, not sure whether she’s trying to impress Mr. Duncan or Rachel herself.

After dinner, Mr. Duncan goes into his library. Rachel and Sarah stand in the kitchen, neither speaking. Sarah’s not sure what they’ll do for the rest of the night. Does Rachel have any hobbies? Does she watch TV? The minutes stretch out ahead of them, agonizing, and Sarah searches for something to say, to do.

“Hey,” she says, brushing a hand against Rachel’s arm, at the same time Rachel starts, “Well—what?”

“I need to call home,” Sarah says. She pulls her hand back, embarrassed. “Gotta ask if I can stay over.”

Rachel looks at her, surprised, like the concept of having to ask for permission to do something is foreign to her. “Oh,” she says. “Go ahead, then.”

Mrs. S doesn’t sound happy when she answers the phone, and when Sarah asks if she can spend the night at a friend’s house, her tone rises incredulously. “Asking my permission to spend a night out?” she scoffs. “That’s a first from you.”

“Yeah,” Sarah says, “guess there’s a first time for everything.” She’s annoyed, but trying not to let it creep into her voice. Jesus, you try and do the right thing for once and you just get yelled at. Where's the justice?

“Here’s what’s about to happen,” S says. “You’re going to tell me what you were really planning on doing tonight, and then you’re going to get your sorry arse home, and maybe—maybe—I won’t place you under house arrest until your next birthday.”

“I’m telling the truth, though,” Sarah says. “I’m doing you a bloody favor not making you drive out here and pick me up.”

Rachel takes the phone from her in one fluid motion, places it against her ear, and says, “Hello, my name is Rachel Duncan. I’m a friend of Sarah’s from school.” There’s a short pause. “Yes, I understand. She is, isn’t she. No, we were working on an English project and I’m afraid the time got away from us.” Another pause. “Yes, I assure you, we’ll both be at school tomorrow morning. Goodbye.” She ends the call and hands the phone back to Sarah, all business.

“Uh—thanks. How’d you…” Sarah shakes her head, decides she’d rather not ask. “Thanks.”

“My pleasure,” Rachel says. “Now, as I was saying before, I have homework to do.” She lowers her voice, adding, “Actual homework.”

Sarah wakes up at some point in the early morning, dressed in an extra pair of Rachel’s pajamas and, at first, unsure where she is. One of her arms is draped over Rachel’s chest. Rachel is lying on her back, hands on her stomach, because of course she is. Of course she sleeps like a mannequin. That thought brings it back—where she is, why she’s there.

At first she’s not sure what’s woken her, but the noise comes again. A knock on Rachel’s bedroom door, quiet, like the person on the other side doesn’t really want to wake them. The door opens just a crack, letting light from the hallway spill into the room.

“Rachel,” Mr. Duncan calls, soft. Sarah shuts her eyes, pretending she hasn’t woken up, and feels Rachel’s breathing change beside her. “Rachel,” Mr. Duncan says again, and Sarah feels her stirring, trying to slip out from under Sarah’s arm without waking her.

“I’m awake,” Rachel says in a quiet voice. “What is it.” Sarah feels her sliding out of bed, hears her feet padding across the floor toward the door.

“There’s a phone call for you,” her father says. “It’s your mother.”

Chapter Text

cos .:
hey! you’re coming today, right?

Sarah puts her phone on hold without answering and thrusts it into her jacket pocket with more force than she really needs to. Beside her, Rachel doesn’t even glance over. Rachel thinks everything is normal. Her peacoat, with the occasional flake of snow dusting the shoulders and chest, makes her look like something out of a fashion billboard. Sarah would almost find it charming if she weren’t so pissed off.

She holds off on saying anything for as long as she can, she really does. But as they’re standing on the corner, waiting for a light to change so they can cross the street, the words burst out of her all at once.

“So how’s your mum, Rachel?”

Rachel’s eyebrows furrow, almost in confusion. She turns and looks at Sarah, mouth opening, but before she can say a word, Sarah continues, “I heard you talking to her this morning, which is pretty weird, since you told me she died. Or do you have some kind of direct line to hell in your living room?” The last bit is unnecessarily cruel, she knows, but she doesn’t care. Rachel told her that her mother was dead. Rachel used that story to make Sarah feel guilty, to make Sarah feel a connection between them.

The light changes. They don’t move.

“My mother,” Rachel says finally, in a voice so dignified that it has to be fake, “is dead.”

“Bullshit,” Sarah spits.

“To me,” Rachel continues. “She’s dead to me.”

Sarah stares at her. Rachel’s cheeks are flushed pink, but she can’t tell whether it’s from cold, embarrassment, or both. Rachel stares fixedly at a point just over Sarah’s shoulder, unblinking.

“What the fuck,” Sarah mutters quietly, and then again, louder. “What the fuck, Rachel? Is that supposed to make this better? You give me some stupid overdramatic bullshit, I say it’s okay, we kiss and make up? Eh?”

Rachel says nothing, but she turns away, facing the street again.

Sarah doesn’t let it go. “Huh? Well, Rachel?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Rachel says, and Sarah sees her close her eyes, just for a moment.

“How can it not matter?” Sarah says.

“Did you think we were going to be friends?” Rachel asks her, tone suddenly biting. “Girlfriends? I’m leaving, Sarah. We graduate in less than half a year. I go back to England. We never see each other again. It doesn’t matter.”

“It matters,” Sarah says, suddenly panicked as she realizes that it’s true. It matters. Somehow. Rachel matters.

“I don’t care,” Rachel says. “I don’t care about you, Sarah.”

“You’re lying,” Sarah says. She reaches out and takes Rachel’s gloved hands in her own, tugs her forward. “You’re a liar.”

Rachel doesn’t answer her.

“Liar,” Sarah says again, and kisses her. Right there on the corner, with the snow falling down, under the glare of streetlamps that haven’t turned off in the morning gloom. Rachel’s lips are warm and soft, and behind them, Sarah can feel hard, sharp teeth.

When they pull away, the light’s changed again.

“Come on,” Sarah says, tugging Rachel forward. “Let’s go somewhere.”

“I told your mother you’d go to school,” Rachel says.

“She’s not my mother,” Sarah says, “and I don’t care what you told her. Besides, those freshman are staring at us.” True, across the street there’s a small gaggle of freshman boys watching them with eager grins. Sarah flips them off as they pass by.

They go to the mall, the only place Sarah knows that will be warm, dry, and open at this hour. Most of the stores are still dark when they arrive, their steel gates shut or propped half-open as sleepy-eyed employees set up for the day. Only a nearby kiosk selling coffee and donuts actually has its lights on. Sarah and Rachel watch as a group of elderly women power walk down the empty corridor past them, taking advantage of the early morning.

Sarah takes a seat on a bench near the escalator, shoving her backpack underneath, and after a few seconds, Rachel sits next to her.

“Is this where you go when you skip classes?” she asks, sounding unimpressed. Sarah wonders if Rachel’s ever been to a mall, then decides some questions are better left unasked.

“Not usually,” she says, “but I don’t think you’d like the places I go.” Shite Beach, or Vic’s house, or Tony’s—none of them are places she can really picture Rachel inhabiting, much less enjoying. Rachel seems to accept her answer, and Sarah struggles to think of something else to do, to say. Finally, she settles on, “Want a coffee? I’ll buy.”

Rachel glances over at the brightly lit kiosk. “I suppose,” she says.

“Cream, sugar?” Sarah asks as she gets up and digs some money out of her pockets.


“Gross,” Sarah says, but without any venom. She goes and buys the coffees (one black, one with extra cream and sugar) and then carries them back to where Rachel’s still sitting, waiting. Now at least they’ll have something to focus on during the awkward silences. Rachel takes the cup Sarah offers her—black coffee steaming—and holds it in front of her chest like it’s the only thing keeping her warm.

Sarah sits beside her and sips her own coffee and waits for Rachel to speak. It takes a long time, at least a few minutes, but finally Rachel seems to wilt under the silence. Finally, she opens her mouth and tells the truth.

“My parents,” Rachel says, “are divorced. They have different opinions on science. And about how to raise a child. My mother prefers not to. There was never a question that I would live with her. I would interfere with her research. She calls every other month, when she has the time and the inclination. The whole process was all very…” She pauses, swallows. “Clinical.”

“Did you want to live with her?” Sarah asks. “Or with your dad?”

“I don’t want,” Rachel begins, and then stops. Finally she continues, “I don’t want to live with either of them. I want to be on my own.”

“Wouldn’t that be perfect,” Sarah mutters, looking up at the ceiling.

“Yes,” Rachel agrees.

They sit in silence for a bit, and then Sarah says, “That’s what I want, too. To be on my own. After graduation, I could just leave, travel, whatever.” Even as she says it, her stomach is sinking. After graduation. If she graduates.

“University,” Rachel says, almost teasing in the knowing way she looks at Sarah, sideways.

Sarah doesn’t bother telling her that it’s not in the cards. University’s for people like Cosima, like Rachel, like Alison and Beth and Paul. But Rachel knows that already. Rachel knows.

“Do you like me?” Sarah asks, and feels weirdly vulnerable as she waits for an answer. “Like, do you care at all about me, or am I just a game to you?”

Rachel blinks behind the steam rising from her coffee. She looks surprised and thoughtful and not at all like a liar when she admits, “I do.” Sarah exhales, slow, and reaches out, tapping a finger against Rachel’s hand, then resting her palm against it. The two of them aren’t the hand holding type, but Sarah stays like that for several moments, anyway. Rachel’s hands are warm, and she doesn’t pull away.

The next morning, she wakes up in her own bed, without the warmth of anybody’s body next to hers. It’s depressing, and she can’t imagine walking the streets to school and forcing her body inside those metal doors and down those hallways and acting like everything is normal when nothing is normal. She gets dressed in slow motion, her numb hands struggling to button her jeans and zip her leather jacket. She walks Felix to school with her face buried under a scarf and a hood, and then she turns and walks in the opposite direction, away from the high school.

She’s not sure where she’s going, exactly, but when she ends up at Tony’s, it seems as good a place as any to get out of the cold. She heads around to the back of the house and knocks at Tony’s bedroom window. If Tony is at school, there’s still a chance that someone else could be hiding out. Tony’s good like that.

It’s Vic who comes to the window and pushes it open for her to climb in. She hesitates and almost turns away, but then he’s reaching through the window and grabbing her by the arms and helping her hoist herself inside. She tumbles down onto Tony’s bare mattress and pulls the scarf away from her mouth while Vic closes the window after her. The room is smoky with weed and cigarettes, an oddly familiar, if not comforting, smell. It makes her think of summer.

“Long time,” Vic says.


“I’ve been missing you,” Vic adds, and Sarah makes a grunting sound that’s, she guesses, kind of an acknowledgement. Vic offers her his pipe, and she takes a hit, because that’s why she came to Tony’s in the first place, isn’t it? The smoke burns in her throat and lungs and she holds it in as long as she can, enjoying the way it feels against the cold morning.

“What you been up to?” Vic says, and Sarah exhales smoke.

“Nothing,” she says. “Nothing at all.”

Vic nods and takes the pipe back. “School?”

Sarah laughs, a short, harsh sound. “No.” Vic nods, like he understands. Well, he would. He dropped out last year. He probably gets it better than most.

The two of them sit in silence for a while. Sarah’s not sure how long. Time stretches out in front of her like honey, sweet and smokey, but for once, it seems okay. It reminds her of better times with Vic, of reasons why they got together in the first place. The two of them had some good days spent just like this.

“I might drop out,” Sarah says finally, after maybe ten minutes or maybe an hour. She doesn’t look over at Vic, but she can sense him nodding. “I’m still thinking about it.”

“Yeah,” Vic says. “I know how it is.” He exhales smoke through his nostrils and adds, “Look, while you’re thinking, would you mind delivering some shit for me? Just weed,” he adds, sensing that she’s about to refuse. “Well. Weed and some pills.”

“Vic…” She sighs. “I don’t know. I’ve got some other shit going on, yeah?”

“Yeah, no,” he says, “I get it. We don’t have to get back together, Sarah. Just think of it like a business arrangement.”

She laughs again, the same harsh, humorless sound as before. “Business arrangement, seriously?”

“Just think about it,” Vic says. “I know I can count on you, Sarah, that’s why I’m asking. Even if we’re not together, it’s like I can still count on you to get shit done.”

“You know how to make a girl feel special,” Sarah deadpans, but she knows herself too well, and she knows already, deep down, that she’s going to say yes.

When she leaves Tony’s that evening, she has about fifteen missed calls from Cosima. If it was anyone else, she’d be worried, but Cosima is—Cosima. She’s probably freaking out because Sarah missed a test. If it was anything serious, anything bad, she’d have heard from someone else by now. Felix would say something. Or Tony would have. Someone. She doesn’t call Cosima back, just stuffs the phone back into her pocket, still on silent.

She’ll talk to Cosima tomorrow. Tomorrow when she goes to school to deliver Vic’s shit.

The next day, in homeroom, Cosima doesn’t look at her. She doesn’t speak. Sarah, feeling progressively more confused, is forced to wait until lunchtime to try again. This time, Cosima at least looks at her, although the expression on her face is strangely stony, unlike her.

“Where have you been?” she says finally.

Sarah shrugs, feeling like at this point, no excuse will satisfy her. “I took a few days off.”

“Why didn’t you call me back?” Cosima asks—snaps, really—as the expression on her face crumbles into something near tears.

Sarah’s stomach drops. Whatever it is, it’s bad. “What happened, Cos?”

“Delphine went home two nights ago,” Cosima says, and wipes furiously at her cheeks with both hands. “I thought you would come help say goodbye, or come over after, or something. Instead you just ghosted me! You wouldn’t even call me back.” She sniffs, and a tear spills down one cheek. “You’re being a shitty friend, Sarah.”

“I’m being a shitty friend?” Sarah echoes. The entire lunch table is staring at her. “I’ve barely seen you since you started dating Delphine, anyway. How was I supposed to know you wanted me to come to the airport? You’ve been so bloody obsessed with her, all you care about is her! Piss off!”

Cosima looks down at her lunch tray. She pokes at her salad with a fork, and for several seconds, Sarah thinks the conversation is over. They’ll be pissed for a few days, then Sarah will make a half-assed apology, and everything will be back to normal. She’s just feeling the muscles in her arms start to relax when Cosima mutters, “I know you’re sleeping with Rachel Duncan.”

Sarah feels like she’s been punched in the stomach. For a second, she can’t breathe, much less speak. “What?” she says, wheezes almost.

“She told me,” Cosima says, looking up from the table. “How long were you going to lie to me, anyway? For the rest of the year? Nobody works on an English project for four months, Sarah! Did you think we were all stupid or something?”

“I didn’t,” Sarah says, but it’s a lie, a weak lie, and she knows it, and Cosima knows it. “I wasn’t.”

“All you do is lie to us, and you’re still lying,” Cosima says, and gestures around the lunch table, where everyone else is staring down at their laps. “So why don’t you just get out of here.”

“Get out?” Sarah repeats, incensed. After this whole shitshow, she doesn’t particularly want to stay here at the table, but they can’t just kick her out, for fuck’s sake. “You can’t tell me to get out of the whole bloody cafeteria. I go to school here. I’m allowed to be here.”

“Yeah, you go to school here,” Cosima says. “Barely.”

“Fuck you.” Horribly, she feels tears building up in her eyes. Don’t blink. Do not blink.

“I don’t want to sit with you!” Cosima snaps. “None of us do! So get out!”

Sarah gets to her feet, looking around at the rest of the table through blurred vision. At her friends. None of them will meet her eye, except Tony, who looks uncomfortable and mouths the word ‘sorry’ but doesn’t speak up on her behalf. Okay. Well. Fuck them, then. Fuck them if this is how it’s going to be. She whirls around, unsure where she’s going, just that she’s going there. The library, maybe. The gym. Somewhere else.

As she walks across the cafeteria, she sees the corner table where Rachel sits with Paul and Beth and their friends. Like a magnet, Sarah feels herself turn in their direction. She’s not sure what she’s going to say until her hand is actually clamping down on Rachel’s shoulder and roughly pulling her around to face Sarah.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” she’s yelling before Rachel can even slap that calm, bored expression onto her face. “That shit you said the other day, about how you care about me? That was just a lie, wasn’t it?” When Rachel doesn’t say anything, Sarah shoves her. “I’m just some object you fuck with when you get bored! And if I’m not around, you go and fuck with my friends instead!”

Rachel still says nothing. Slowly, the look of shock on her face changes to what Sarah knows is Rachel’s boring, polite mask. Something in the eyes goes dead. The lips sit in a firm half-smile. She could be staring straight through Sarah, for all the emotion in her face.

“Deny it,” Sarah dares her. “Fucking deny it, Rachel.”

But, of course, Rachel won’t.

Chapter Text

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.






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."