I look at you and see nothing - yellow umbrella (2023)

chapter text

"How far do we get today?"

Shauna looks over at Jackie, who is sitting in the passenger seat, with an awkwardly large map spread out in front of her, showing lines between different cities and penciled notes scattered across freeways. He says he even looks color codedTasteat the top, damn it.

"Well, if we leave now, we could reach Indianapolis before the sun goes down. If we don't make too many stops we might even be able to extend it to Terra Haute and then we're right on the border, but we've got a long day ahead of us tomorrow so it's up to you. "

As she speaks, Jackie runs her finger over one of the many lines she has drawn and sticks her tongue out of her mouth in concentration. It's a look Shauna knows well, something she's seen a million times, from strategy for upcoming games to the all-important task of planning Lottie's birthday party.

Something draws Shauna, the manifestation of one of the few things about Jackie that has never left a sour taste in her mouth. She was always so committed, so devoted to whatever cause she decided to do that week, and while it was exhausting to expect her to invest as much of herself as Jackie did, she never did. He could blame her because at least she showed that she was capable of itCare.

"Where are we going tomorrow?" she asks, deciding to bury that thought instead of thinking about it."

"Tulsa," Jackie replies absently. Now holding a bright yellow highlighter like a gun, she leans forward in her seat and circles the map — maybe a rest pose, Shauna really has no idea.

"Jesus, Jackie," he says. "Isn't it five hundred miles?"

"More like six, actually." She looks at the card, examines it again, then presses the cover back onto the highlighter, seeming pleased with her changes. "I know it's a lot, but we really need to start making up real ground here if we're going to get to Phoenix by the end of the week."

Shauna sighs because, unfortunately, she's probably right. There's hardly anything in this world he hates more than when Jackie Taylor is right about something. "Yes I believe." She shifts into gear, mentally preparing for the day ahead, saying, "We should probably play by ear. See when we arrive in Indianapolis and whether it's worth continuing or not.

"Sounds good," Jackie hums, leaning back in her seat and blinking with her eyes closed.

Shauna begins by reflecting on the fact that this was probably their most polite conversation in a year. Not that that's particularly difficult considering the majority of their interactions, as the Nationals largely consisted of Shauna being unable to stop herself from spitting years of grudges against her and Jackie briefly fighting back before inevitably fumigating her outYou fucked my boyweapon, effectively ending any further arguments Shauna might make.

But still, it's... weird, she thinks, talking to Jackie like everything's normal, even if it's just for a minute. Like it's just two people - twothe friends,Even on a normal road trip, unencumbered by all the baggage lying between them, they simply exist in each other's orbit with no danger of exploding.

He doesn't think she likes him.

Somehow it feels disingenuous talking to Jackie, like everything is normal and it's just a normal day. It's like she's completely discarding the past year of her life, everything she's done to become her own person again, just for the sake of the convenience of a conversation that doesn't end in tears.

It would be so easy to go back to her old routine. He could apologize and tell Jackie that he didn't mean to hurt her by sleeping with Jeff, that he doesn't know why he did that and that he wishes he had never done it. They would talk and Jackie would cry, maybe too, and Shauna knew deep down that bringing them back together and closing the rift that had grown between them over the past fourteen months would be enough.

For a moment, the thought is actually tempting. She hated herself when she was with Jackie, but at least she knew who she was and who she wanted to be. She would wake up in the morning and put on Shauna's costume, a disguise so well perfected over the years that she would often forget she was wearing it for months, convinced that it was her real self.

Now that she's living in Providence and trying hard to bring back the parts of herself she's no longer certain she still has, she finds that she's still just as miserable as before, but a lot lonelier. It's nice to be able to make decisions for myself, to finally be able to control my own life, but sometimes in the quiet moments she wonders if it means anything when she actually has no one to share it with.

But it wouldn't change anything, would it?

She could tell Jackie that she didn't want to hurt her by sleeping with Jeff, that she didn't know she would, but at the end of the day she would still be lying. They could get back together, slip back into each other's lives like they never left, and it could be comforting for a while, but Shauna knows that after a few weeks of contentment, the resentment would build up again. and things would end just as before.

It would be so easy for her to go back to this version of herself, to pull the mask out of her closet and find her old identity again, but she'll only delay the inevitable because she knows the truth is this: she's always been like this . It's going to happen one way or the other.

Whether it was because she slept with Jeff or some other form of betrayal that she may later have committed, the foundation of their friendship was never built to last and it doesn't make sense at any given point in time travel back what had made them both so miserable, only to see it explode in their faces a second time.

He decides on the spot that this will be the last time he sees Jackie - or at least the last timeSensibleanyway time. He'll take her to Phoenix, he'll even bring her back, but the second he drops her off at his house, that's the end, because it's not faireitherfrom them to continue to put them through this agonizing process in the hope that things will turn out differently this time.

This is the best.

After a few hours, Shauna feels Jackie getting restless, fidgeting in her seat like she's somewhere she needs to be, tapping her toes on her feet.

In another life, Shauna would have taken the opportunity to distract her in some way — by popping in a cassette she knew she'd like, or sparking a conversation about Mari's party that weekend, anything to do with that Tapping her foot on the music to calm the floor.

However, she doesn't say anything about this, but continues to stare straight ahead at the road in front of her.

Out of the corner of her eye, she watches Jackie free herself from the backpack that has fallen at her feet, the same one she picked up on her first day of senior year. Shauna had been given the same JanSport her mom bought her in middle school, and she hated the way Jackie's face grimaced at the sight of it, like she felt sorry for her for something she had known up until that moment hadn't even thought of.

Jackie pulls out a book, something old and worn. Shauna can't make out the title, but she can't help but giggle at the sight – sort of, after everything that's happened over the past three days, seeing Jackie Taylor pull out a book and looking like she's getting ready makevoluntarilyRead it's the strangest thing ever.

"What?" he asks, narrowing his eyes in Shauna's direction.

She lets out her most diplomatic "nothing," determined not to let this turn into another argument, with absolutely no energy to deal with it today.

"No, Shauna, what?"

Apparently she won't be so lucky because she recognizes immediately that it is Jackie's battle voice.

Well, peace was nice while it lasted.

"Nothing, Jackie, it's just...some things seem to have changed."

Jackie scoffs. "Oh yes I forgot.Are youThe only one who can read and is smart, everyone else around you just needs to sit around and look pretty to make you feel better. She turns on her side so she's looking even further away from Shauna. "You have such a damn superiority complex sometimes."

He shouldn't pick it up. It must not rise, it must not rise, it must not--

"IDo you have a superiority complex?' She stands up. "Coming from the girl who's spent her whole life pushing other people to be able to do itshines the brightest, or whatever, that really sucks.

"You know what, Shauna, you could actually be a writer. Sometimes I think you get so caught up in the damn narrative you made up for your life that you actually seem to forget that half of it is just shit you made up.

Shauna's fists clench on the steering wheel. "Oh, you want to talkMeinmake up shit?'

She's seething with anger now, in a way only Jackie could evoke, and she feels like it's been building up over the past few days, the culmination of everything they've accumulated over the past fifteen years , now will finally pour out , even more than last year, even worse.

"Yes actually."

"How about the fact that you've spent over a decade forcing me to do what you wanted me to do?Isall thatOfdid you want it to be me?'

Her hands tremble on the steering wheel as she spits out the words, infusing her tone with as much venom as possible, and the desperate desire to hurt Jackie sears her insides with a ferocity she thought was buried long ago.

Jackie just rolls his eyes, seemingly unfazed, which enrages Shauna even more. "Oh, cry a bloody river, Shauna. they doNecessaryDo what I did, no one had a gun to your head.

What's scary is that Shauna thinks Jackie might actually believe what she's saying. That he was just a spectator of Shauna's life, sitting on the sidelines and watching, and not the one holding the fucking reins.

“If you're thinking that, you're seriously delusional, Jackie. Do you really think if I said I don't want to play football you would be okay with that? Just leave it?"

"That isWhat is it;" Jackie almost yells. "FuckFootball?You fucked my boy because you didn't want to playFootball?"

And there it is.

She wondered how long it would be before Jackie brought this up because she knew she inevitably would. It's her favorite card to draw since she first realized it was in her deck, because it's something you can't argue with and can't turn into anything other than the ugly thing, that it really is.

Sometimes Shauna thinks that fucking Jeff was the best thing that ever happened to Jackie because not only did he give her the reason she was looking for to finally break up, but he also gave her something real and tangible that she could hold on to. towards Shauna, to constantly tip the scales of good and evil in her favor and never have to think about what came before.

"You still really think that's Jeff? Do you seriously think this all happened because I fucked your boyfriend?'

The book is now entirely discarded and lies at Jackie's feet, a victim of her escape. Briefly, Shauna wonders what it was, if starting with something so small and insignificant was even worth it.

"Well, the way I look at it, things were going really well between us until that happened, so yeah, kind of I do."

And it's easy...

How can he not see it?

How could one person be so responsive to every change of mood and feel it every time they were upset about something one of the other girls said or angry because their dad canceled them again and could tell from miles away ? If she were some kind of police dog, specially trained to detect every little break in Shauna's demeanor, but still so painfully unaware of who she wassheWas that what touched her most of the time?

It's so exhausting watching Jackie constantly contradicting the truth of the situation and yet somehow not seeing her at all and always managing to get a good look no matter how close she gets. Sometimes Shauna thinks she probably doesn'tI wantto see it, because if she ever realized the imbalance between them, she'd have to admit that the years they spent entangled together wasn't actually the romance she had concocted in her head, but instead something very much worse .

At the end she says, "Jackie, if you really remember that, I don't know what else to say to you," and she feels like crying, although she won't because in Jackie Taylor's world she knows it capitulate. .

However, when Jackie starts, she's like a dog with a bone and always wanted to have the last word. "I honestly don't even know what the hell you're talking aboutAproposAbout half an hour, Shauna. From the way you make it sound, it's like we've lived two completely different lives."

"Because it isI felt!You just existed in the center of your own little world and I was right there in the background waiting for you to pick me up when you got bored until you finally dropped me off and I just had toWaituntil you decide you want me again

"Wait, Shauna--"

Somewhere in the back of her mind she recognizes the change in Jackie's tone, from anger to something more like concern, but she doesn't stop, the words keep pouring out of her mouth like they have a mind of their own.

"You just sat back and — and the back seat steered my entire life like it was yours, like I didn't even have a say in what."Iwanted it was always easyOf--"

"Shauna, I have to..."

She barks a laugh. "Do you see! you do it now, like thisLiterallyBack seat drives me. I can't fuck--"

"Shauna!" Jackie blows, so hard she pauses for a moment, and turns to Jackie, who is looking out the window with….Fear,in her eyes? "You would shut upone damn minuteAndSee?"

"Look what..."

The words died in her mouth because as she turns her head forward, she sees the sight of thick smoke billowing from the car's engine, almost completely blocking her view of the road.


He pulls up at the first rest area he sees and once he's stopped, Jackie climbs onto the passenger side and opens the car's hood, which is illuminated by a puff of smoke that makes her cough.

By the time Shauna comes out and joins her, Jackie is already tied to the machine and looking for god knows what. "Hey, Jackie?" he says in a suddenly shy voice, which in itself is ridiculous considering how he was teasing her two minutes ago. "Are you sure sticking your head in there is a good idea?"

"Shut up, Shauna," Jackie says, although she's less mean and more distracted as she leans in closer to get a better look. "I know what I am doing."

What good. Secure.

Jackie has never used a hammer in her life, she cries as Taylor knows what she is doing by fucking in the engine of a smoking car. That's believable.

"I really think we should call an auto repair shop or something and find someone who's really, you know,competentmanage with that."

Jackie sighs, leans on the edge of the machine with his elbows and, to her credit, looks almost like she owns the situation. "Shauna, like I said, I know what I'm doing. Nat and I do this shit all year round.I have this."

This information surprises Shauna so much that she no longer has an argument to force her onWas.Had she not been completely overwhelmed by the recent revelation that Jackie and Nat are apparently friends these days, the idea of ​​them working on cars together and Nat teaching Jackie the basics might have been enough to make her laugh. . Heart attack caused by surprise.

She can't even imagine what it might look like in her head.

Does Jackie wear overalls? If so, are they pink and did you specifically order them? Does she tie her hair back, scrape back the little strands that fall in her face so they don't bother her, or does she just let them hang? Does she ever accidentally apply oil to her face while distracted from work and only realize it hours later when she retires for the evening? Does she wear something under her jumpsuit so she doesn't get too hot, so does she pull down the sleeves and tie them around her waist? If so, is it one of those little white tank tops that she loves so much, or is it just an old shirt, something she doesn't mind getting dirty with?

The mental image has Shauna feeling a little carefree, something about the combination of Jackie — who was always so classy and decent, the true epitome ofsauber— and something as practical as working on cars that makes her feel like she needs to sit down for a second.

It's not even a matter of judgement, but rather sheer, unbridled curiosity, the need to see Jackie in what's obviously now her element, pounding through her veins like a heartbeat.

She probably shouldn't be as surprised as she is — Jackie has never been one to sit back and do nothing with his time and the revelation that once she ran out of football to go with her, she would throw herself into something new fill with.blank isn't really an apocalypse.

Of course, she doesn't think she can be blamed for being surprised that fixing old cars is Jackie's new hobby, but still.

He steps back and watches intently. He notices Jackie's hands moving at lightning speed, circling the engine as if it were little more than muscle memory at the time. It reminds her of when she was on the field and Jackie was running so fast trying to catch the ball that she was little more than a blur whizzing across the grass.

Shauna didn't love soccer since they left their peewee league, she only played it because Jackie loved it so much, but sometimes she had a hard time remembering that when she saw Jackie so engrossed in the moment , As if the only two things in the world were the ball at her feet and the net she was aiming for.

She looks fine now and is focused on the task at hand. She has rolled up the sleeves of her sweater to reveal her slender, tanned arms and is frowning in concentration, her upper teeth sunken into her lower lip. Something in the scene stirs something in Shauna, like a beast that slumbered years ago awakens and suddenly conjures up memories of pool parties, locker rooms and summer nights wearing little more than underwear, skin to skin and body vibrating energy of the other.

He blinks that thought once, twice, three times.

He certainly doesn't have the energy to come downTheTrain of thought today or tomorrow or possibly at some point in this life. Barely able to fight the overwhelming weight of her resentment towards Jackie, she believes that trying to get to grips with all the other, much more complicated feelings she harbors for her could kill her.

It's far easier to focus all of your energies on hating Jackie than to fall into the minefield of exploring anythingTheIs.

"Okay, good, good news," Jackie says, getting out of the car and blowing the smoke off her face. "I think it's just overheating. I've checked and it doesn't look like a seal has blown and everything else seems to be working fine.”

Shauna slowly nods, probably a bit speechless, waiting for her to continue.

"When was the last time you added coolant?"

Nowexistsa question.


"Jesus, Shauna, you got this car four years ago.

It's almost funny that Jackie lectures her about proper car maintenance like this. It's totally nostalgic and totally weird at the same time, like the dream she keeps having of where she's slumped on a soccer field and every time she tries to do something, she knows it's going to result in the team goes completely wrong and they lose the game.

She wipes her forehead with the back of her hand, wiping away an invisible bead of sweat, and slams the hood shut again. "Well, in this case, probablymustHave it checked at a store and make sure there isn't anything wrong that I can't see. There's no way I'm going to die out here because you're an idiot who shouldn't be behind the wheel of a car.

It gets mean, but there's nothing more to it, the tone is stripped of all the meanness it displayed while driving. It's almost playful, the kind of nudge he used to make - a joke, but a joke nonetheless. Something he said, and then when Shauna got upset, rolled her eyes and accused her of missing a joke, he turned it up louderShaunaHe was the culprit of the situation.

"We passed a bar a few minutes further," says Jackie, already walking in his direction. "We'll see if they have a phone we can use to call a repair shop."

What else can Shauna do but follow her?

"When can you see it?" Shauna asks as Jackie walks into the booth across from her, two bottles of Budweiser in hand.

"They said it would probably be another two hours before they could send anyone out."

She moans and drops her head in her hands. "God, we didn't even make it out of Ohio."

Jackie chuckles like it's a secret. "Yeah, I think coming to Terra Haute at the end of the day might be a pipe dream now." He pauses for a moment, face lifted as if thinking something, then hands one of the bottles to the table . "Here," he says. "We drink."

Shauna looks at the bottle skeptically. First, he hates beer, which Jackie doeswhite,And second, this whole thing is where it's supposed to be, you knowDrive?

However, he suspects, it doesn't look like that's going to happen anytime soon.

"Come on, Shipman," Jackie says, and the use of her last name burns inside Shauna like a nettle, another all-too-familiar reminder of how things used to be. "You look like you need it. I know I do."

As if to prove her point, she interrupts her sentence by taking a long gulp from her own bottle before slamming it back down on the table and looking at Shauna expectantly. She wants to resist, thinks about it for a moment, but finally gives in, raises the bottle to her lips and savors the bitter taste.

They sit like that for a while, drinking their own beer in silence and saying nothing. The stillness is different from the feeling of the past few days, almost lighter—as if their car racing was enough to relieve some of the pressure crushing them, and now they can at least exist in each other's space without it being dangerous.

Shauna watches with interest as Jackie flirts around the bar, making lots of small talk with the other people who are there, and doing her best by flirting with the bartender, which Shauna sees as an apparent attempt to win him over . Beware that it's clearly not twenty-one.

There's something about her, the way she moves through the world so easily, that's so fascinating. It usually enrages Shauna to watch everyone she meets for even a second somehow shrink just to give her more space and make her the tallest person in the room, but now, admittedly, a bit dazed – my god, only two and... Half a beer drinker drinks, finds she can't tear her eyes away, and most of her anger melts away in a slightly sick-smelling stomach, sticky as tar.

By the time Jackie floats over to her, the beer has softened her enough that she won't collapse when she slides back into the booth, and she even manages what she thinks is a smile close. It can.

"Sauna," she says as she sits down, looking at her with eyes her daughters almost completely hide, as big as the moon they put under a blanket every fourth of July. Shauna thinks she must be a little bit snappy as well because her voice is soft when she asks, "I just have to ask you something, okay."

For some reason Shauna is nervous, even though she knows it's stupid. It takes active effort to remind yourself to hate Jackie and to keep your gaze on the spot directly behind her instead of meeting her gaze. It's so stupid, she thinks - it shouldn't be that hard to stay angry and remember all the reasons she should feel this way, and yet right now all she's feeling is small and tired and longing for comfort . from a relationship he will never give back, although he will never admit it.

"What's up, Jackie?" she asks, so very tired of everything.

“You were… it really shaped youTheunhappy, are you friends with me?'

Then she recognizes the look in Jackie's eyes: She's scared.

She's scared to ask the question and she's scared of the answer, but Shauna believes what scares her most is Shauna saying yes, and that if she does, she will have to reevaluate every moment of her life so far .

But then when Shauna saysNO,Suddenly, the entirety of the last three days appears in a completely new light. If her answer is no, it means that everything he said to her, every accusation leveled at her and every vicious word spat at her, was nothing more than a ploy to hurt her, and that Shauna was irrationally evil only because they are allowed.

And it's like this: How is she supposed to answer this question if she doesn't even know the answer herself? If it's something that's still keeping you up at night, your brain will work overtime deciding how it makes you feel, jumping straight from one conclusion to the next once it's finally settled on one.

"I do? No? I – I don't know, Jackie, it was – it was busy, it was really … I was confused. I never really knew how I felt."

It's a much more honest answer than she likes, but something about the way Jackie is looking at her makes her unable to contain herself. She desperately wants her to stop doing this thing with her eyes, to stop looking at Shauna like every word. from her mouth he cuts her like a knife.

It was easy to be mean to Jackie, to refuse her mercy and to criticize her whenever she got the chance, because every time she got the chance, Jackie gave back as much as she took. It was a fair fight - every malicious and nasty thought she had about Jackie was just reflected in her mind and she didn't have to think about it, in fact she just acted on autopilot.

But here's Jackie, she's looking across the stands at Sauna like she's about to start crying and all she wants is not to have to deal with taking Jackie's feelings as far as possible and burying them there, where they are so they don't accidentally remember all that Shauna forgot to acknowledge in her turmoil with them over the last year.

"Come on, Jackie," he says. “You can't believe that everything was fine between us. Even you are not blind enough to think that.'

Jackie sinks into her beer. "Hey thanks." She narrows her eyes like she's seriously thinking about something, then shrugs. "I don't know, I mean... I guess things have always been kind of..."

"Jackie, we used to fight all the time. How,atTime."

"Yeah, but that's how teenage girls areI do,Shauna, that's not happeningmeanAnything."

It's like this, she thinks, Jackie, who's basically begging for the truth and then refusing to accept it when it comes. That's what she asked for, but now that Shauna finally comes along, she looks hurt like she's been torn from the inside out.

It's uncomfortable to realize that Jackie still has such deep feelings for what happened.

Shauna isn't such a liar that she would pretend it doesn't still affect her that sometimes she doesn't wake up at night drenched in sweat and reach out to someone who isn't there. She'd spent Jackie's last birthday drunk and letting a guy from her anthro class fuck her in the dirty bathroom of a bar not too dissimilar to the bar they were in now just because he had to. something,anythingto distract her from the buzzing in her brain.

Sometimes the absence is so overwhelming that she feels like she's lost a part of herself, as if part of her got up and left one day, abandoning her while she constantly waited for him to return and still held out feared the day that the same thing would happen.

It is - it iscomplicated,and messy in a way she still hasn't found the words for, yet somehow she feels that way every day because of what the hell this is.

When in college she thought it was hard being apart, together in their cozy little dorm in Brown, two hundred miles from Jackie's, it's utterly impossible when the only thing separating them is a table.

He doesn't know what he wants to say. The thought of convincing Jackie that she was the one here — that it wasn't normal that they would wake up every day and both be walking around each other on eggshells, too afraid to go too far because they couldn't trip is over tripped a fuse - it sounds like torture, but she's honestly not sure Jackie will actually catch it if she doesn't.

"Why did you do that, Shauna?" Jackie asks in a trembling voice. She looks so genuinely confusedernst,like he really, really wants to understand.

Shauna knows there's no explanation she can offer to satisfy Jackie's need to know more, because if she's being completely honest with herself, even she isn't quite there yet. "I…"

Luckily, she's saved by the doorbell - or, as the saying goes, the shrill noise of the phone ringing across the room and the bartender yelling "Jackie!" It's for you!” in her direction.

Jackie stands on trembling legs, finally breaking eye contact, and suddenly Shauna can breathe again and exhales that she didn't even realize she was holding.

Shauna follows her to the bar and watches as Jackie takes the man's phone while giving him a sickly sweet smile. She listens to her while the person on the other end mumbles, her face getting more and more pouty the longer she talks, and she wonders what's being said.

"Well, you aresecureYou can't - no, no, I see, we just got itReallyI've arrived... yeah, okay, okay.” She sighs for a long time, rubbing her face with her hand. "I guess we'll see you tomorrow."

"Wait,Was?"asks Shauna while hanging up and handing it back to the bartender. "Morning?"

Jackie moans into her hands. "He says he won't make it today. Something about one of his guys not being there all day and he has an emergency or something like that. He won't be able to see the car until tomorrow.

"We areEmergency Damage!”

Jackie rolls her eyes. "I don't think not knowing how to take care of your car is an emergency, Shauna."

"So what are we going to do? "You were the one who said we should move on — we didn't even make it to Columbus, Jackie, let alone Indiana."

"I know Shauna, but what's our other option here? I mean, we could go ahead and wait until we see another workshop or something, but I don't know how long that's going to be.

She considers her options for a moment.

From what Jackie told her, it really doesn't sound like what's going on with her carThecatastrophic. They could probably make it safely for a while, at least to the point where it wouldn't compensate for their travelverya lot, and the more she spends in the car, the less time she has to spend being so stuck, idle in the purgatory of a broken friendship and all the pain and unwanted memories that brings with it.

But then JackietutShe seems apprehensive about the thought of walking away without looking at the car, and apparently that's her thing now, so she'd probably know more about it than Shauna, whose knowledge on the subject extends only to knowing which ones gas nozzlenottouchable when full.

Add to that the fact that she can feel the effects of the beer in her body, albeit quietly and possiblyshould notDo not drive at this time, especially a vehicle that may start smoking at any time.



"I guess we'll wait until tomorrow."

Things get a bit unclear after that, and Jackie decides that if they stay there overnight, they'll at least be drunk.

He refuses to let Shauna order a Malibu and milk, insisting it's a surefire way to put off the bartender for his age. For some reason, Shauna takes on the issue and drinks a Sprite vodka that she hates. Bubbles taste in her mouth.

She keeps catching herself doing thisyield,and he can feel how dangerous it is. That's what she used to do: she just handed over all her decisions to Jackie to make her life easier. She had sworn it wouldn't happen again this time, and yet she feels pity three days later as she watches in horror from the sidelines as Jackie once again pulls the strings and is ready to take control again to take over. like a puppet, back to her old routine.

She hates that feeling, hates it more than anything because she's sure Jackie doesn't even know she does, and yet here she is again, feeling seventeen and stupid and can't stop the wheels, now that they are on the move.

That's exactly what he'd feared when he'd agreed to take this trip with Jackie. That she wouldn't let that stop her from giving in, that even a year of conditioning herself to think for herself wouldn't be enough, and that in the end she would give up and give Jackie all her power on a silver platter.

At this point, she's not even sure if it's Jackie's fault. The more he thinks about it, the more he realizes that Jackie isn't that far off the markhe hadShe always willingly surrendered to Ascension. Maybe it was just that she knew she wasn't worth the struggle that resistance would entail, but she had never tried, and of all the things she can force Jackie to do, this isn't one of them .

Jackie is now sitting at the pool table talking hilariously to a group of men who are probably old enough to be her father and laughing like they just said the funniest thing she's heard all year, although Shauna realizes that it's not real. It's the same laugh she laughed at her parents' Christmas party when she was sixteen and her father's boyfriend let his hand linger on her arm too long, the same laugh she laughed every time he gave a by jeff's jerk friends stupid comment about her at a party.

She bends down to insert her ball, and Sauna's eyes fall to her ass of their own accord, too loud to resist. She enjoys the sight for about ten seconds before realizing that the kids Jackie is playing with are doing the exact same thing, and then it shows how spooky she is and forces her to look away.

By the time the clock strikes six and more and more people are pouring in, Shauna has passed out quite drunk and can't take her eyes off Jackie, who just looks like itnaturallyin this environment in a way that Shauna has never seen before.

The way she's acting now is a little different, like she's infinitely more confident than ever. Shauna wonders what else she's missed over the past year – if Jackie is now the kind of girl who isn't afraid to get her hands dirty, to reach into a car's engine like she can barely do it expect to reveal what's inside, what else has changed?

He remembers one night in Lottie's basement when Jeff and his baseball buddies were huddled around the pool table. Jackie had approached him and asked him to teach her how to play. She had opened his eyes like she always did when she was trying to get what she wanted. Shauna had watched in disgust as Jeff wrapped his arms around her and handed her the cue stick, and Jackie had downplayed her ignorance by intentionally missing the ball every time she made a shot and giggling every time she missed him. He did it.

Now she's completely decimating the kids she's playing with, squinting around the table, mentally calculating the best angle for her to shoot from, and Shauna can't help but feel a little in awe at the sight how different she looks now version of herself that's burned into Shauna's memory.

Maybe he was wrong the other day - JackieIsis now obviously different in many ways. She doesn't doubt that the other parts of her, the manipulative, selfish ones, are still there and lurking beneath the surface, but if what she sees can be trusted, it's clearmaychange.

The thought confuses her. She distracts herself by downing the rest of her drink and motioning for the bartender to have another one. She's convinced that just one more will be enough to finally get Jackie out of her mind.

Shauna can't sleep until Jackie does.

It had been like this for years, ever since their first sleepover at daycare, when Jackie woke up in the middle of the night shaking and Shauna had to persuade her to go back to sleep by wiping her tears and pulling her to her, promising it would protect him from monsters trying to show up at her door and was safe.

She waited at least fifteen minutes after Jackie had finished breathing before letting herself go back to sleep, and from that moment on she vowed to be Jackie's protector and never let her sleep without the sauna to check if that was safe was.

At first she'd felt honored when they were kids and silly things like monsters and dragons had seemed so scary and so important to her, but as they grew Shauna had lost the need to protect them. , and more about delivery.

Over the years it had become something innate, an integral part of her, just like the color of her eyes or the way she could never sit still enough to take a picture.

They continued the tradition at every sleepover, and on the nights they stayed in their own beds, Jackie always made sure to call Shauna as she went to sleep so the last thing they heard for the night was the voice of the others was a sign that Shauna was okay with ending her day, too.

He had blamed her, perhaps wrongly. She tried to rebel against him, sent herself to bed long before she knew Jackie would be quiet for the night, and prayed that she could finally do it so she could at least say that Jackie wasn't in full control had functions beyond their biological abilities as well as in every other aspect of their lives.

Of course he never made it. No matter how close she was to breaking free, there was something that just wouldn't let her slip off that edge, until she realized Jackie had done it first, as if her wires had been crossed all those years ago and she'd forgotten what part of JackieandShauna was supposed to be. serve.

It was, in hindsight, the hardest habit to break.

She had barely slept for weeks, subsisting on caffeine and the strength of a few afternoon naps, until one night her mother fell into bed with her, hugging Shauna to her chest. If she was ill, he would offer her a reprieve without having to say anything out loud.

It hadn't worked that well, not really, but he'd finally gotten into the habit of actually following it againMineSleep signals and not someone else's.

But now, after spending just one damn night in the same room as her, it's like her body has totally reverted to its old ways, and here she is, staring at the rotating ceiling of the cheap motel room the bartender managed to shut down for her and desperately hoping that Jackie would fall asleep soon so she could rest.

"Go to sleep, Jackie," she moans and closes her eyes. He's already feeling the headache he knows he's going to have tomorrow morning, his head is almost bursting.

"I amtried",says Jackie with an annoyed lookHmmmm"I can't take--comfortable."

"Just close your eyes."

"Oh thanks Shauna, I hadn't thought of that," Jackie curses, moving again.

This goes on for at least ten more minutes, Jackie tossing and turning tirelessly while Souna listens from across the room, silently praying to a god she can't believe is finally putting her to sleep and Souna wiping her can. All the memory of the day, wake up tomorrow with a clear head and remember whatReallyfeels.

However, God is not listening and eventually Shauna gives up hope, gets out of bed whimpering and does something she knows she will regret in the morning.

Thing is, she's drunk and JackieReallydrunk. There's a good chance that tomorrow he won't even remember it and will attribute it to an alcohol-related fever dream and they'll never have to talk about it and nothing will change.

At least, that's what she tells herself as she approaches Jackie's bed, throws back the covers, and says, "Move."

"Huh? What are you doing?” Jackie asks loudly, turning to her and wiping his eyes with his clenched fist.


She agrees and Shauna slips in next to her, takes her in her arms without even thinking about it, rests her chin on Jackie's head and pulls her to him.

"I thought you hated me," Jackie says as she snuggles up to Shauna, pressing her cold nose against her neck and anchoring one arm around her waist.

"Yes," she replies, but for the first time, it doesn't make her feel any better. She just feels bad, the words leave a bitter taste in her mouth, and when Jackie snaps at her, she wishes she could take it back and literally say something else. "But that's not necessary tonight."

Jackie hums contentedly behind her neck and the feel of her lips against Shauna's skin is almost enough to throw her off the bed. "Okay," he mumbles, already dozing off. "Will you still be here tomorrow?"

Shauna knows that shortly after she falls asleep, Jackie slips out of her body, crawls back into her bed, falls asleep hugging a pillow and pretends she doesn't want to be anyone else. She knows there's no way she'll ever sleep here, holding Jackie in her arms like she's something to protect.

But they're drunk and Jackie won't remember it tomorrow, so she just says a soft "yes" and waits for her to fall asleep.

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