Source material: Worm, Tangle 6.9
Originally blogged: September 26, 2017
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s… oh. It’s just some nerd with glasses and too much head hair for one human being, getting ready to read some Worm. Never mind.
Hello there! It’s time to jump back into Worm! Last time we learned a bit about the Boss, who just so happened to be Coil, and his plans to take over and hopefully improve Brockton Bay. Now Taylor has yet another reason to stay part of the team in her shortly upcoming Decision…
…and I do mean shortly. The raid on the gallery is over, Taylor wants to Decide sooner rather than later, she knows who the Boss is and what he wants, and it’s not like we have any other subplots to follow immediately (besides Taylor going home to Danny). We are rapidly running out of reasons to postpone the Decision, and for all I know, it might even happen in this very chapter.
So yeah, I’m very much looking forward to seeing what Wildbow has in store for me tonight. Let’s get on with it, shall we?
Dear Miss Militia…
Oh boy. Sounds like Taylor’s trying to formulate how she’s going to give the Protectorate the information.
Was it wrong to start with Dear? Was that implying more friendship or intimacy than there was? Would it seem taunting?
Eh, I think it works. It sounds more respectful than intimate in this case.
Miss Militia, we met earlier tonight…
No. If I went that route, she might throw it aside alongside all the other fan mail she got.
Fair. I guess you need something that immediately catches her attention.
Not that I’m sure she’s the one you’d want to send this to. I mean, I would’ve absolutely said that she was before the recent encounter with her, but she’s either a good actress or almost as troublesome as Armsmaster.
Miss Militia, you know me as Skitter, but you don’t truly know me…
Better, but I didn’t like the tone. I’d leave it as is, move on, and come back to it later.
Ehh, yeah, “you don’t truly know me” needs a little work. Sounds a bit overdramatic.
…You see, I’m not a villain, despite…
Despite what? Despite the fact that I’d terrorized and hurt a lot of innocent people? Despite the fact that I’d nearly killed Lung and later cut his eyes out? That I had nearly two hundred and eighty thousand dollars in illegitimate money to my name?
Yeah, no, this is going terribly. I can imagine Miss Militia reading these first sentences and just rolling her eyes.
I shivered, pulled my hands from my pockets and did up my sweatshirt to cover my exposed stomach. After we’d arrived at the Loft, Brian had suggested that we were all too tired to discuss Coil’s proposal, so we tabled all discussion until the morning.
Sounds like a good plan.
I was glad for the excuse to avoid hearing or seeing anything that might make this any harder. Besides, I’d promised my dad I would be home tonight.
Oh yeah, that’s a thing too.
It was past nine, so the bus from the ferry was only arriving every ninety minutes. I’d figured it was better to walk home than wait. I could use the stretching, too, given the abuse my body had sustained while I was riding Judas.
Let’s hope it didn’t leave even more marks for Danny to worry about. How’s the handprint coming along?
Sticking my hands back in my pockets, I returned my thoughts to how I’d word my letter to Miss Militia. Scratch ‘despite’. Another approach, maybe?
…Believe it or not, my intentions all along have been good. I joined the Undersiders in the first place to assist you. To assist this city…
Okay, yeah, this sounds a lot better. 🙂
Was that entirely true? No. If I was being entirely honest with myself, part of the reason I’d joined and stayed with the Undersiders was because I had been lonely. What if I offered some honesty?
Ehh. Might help with your credibility, but other than that, not the best thing to bring up.
I do like that she’s admitting this to herself, at least.
…It caught me off guard just how easy it was to like them. I was in a bad place, and they accepted me. So writing this email to you is difficult. But it is necessary. In the end, I decided to go this route because it serves the greater good…
Okay, this does sound pretty decent.
That was what I had told myself, earlier today, before we left for the job. That sticking with those guys would pose the greatest risk to innocents, that it would eventually lead to someone getting caught in crossfire, or me getting arrested for something serious.
I mean, there is something to this, but could it be that it would be easier to prevent people from getting hurt while being part of the group that might be doing the hurting?
But now I had Coil’s agenda to consider. Was he really being honest about how he planned to help this city? I had no reason to believe he was lying, and Tattletale was vouching for him. But at the same time, Coil’s motif was a snake, and Tattletale had hedged the truth and misled me before.
I can’t see any realistic reason Tattle would have for misleading you about this unless she had so far unknown relations with Coil.
…okay, I guess there are a few potential reasons, but none that I think are in play here.
Question was, was I taking this route because it served the greater good? No. Or at least, I wasn’t sure enough either way for it to be the reason I was doing this.
It’s interesting that she says “No.” and not “Not entirely.” It implies that she’s finally aware of how much she’s been deluding herself on this front.
Why was I doing it, then?
Dammit, Taylor, you’re messing with my format compromises here! This isn’t part of the letter.
I think the answer to this question is about five parts loneliness, three parts escapism and two parts thrill.
It had been a hard question to answer hours ago, and it was doubly hard now. Enough that it spooked me. How had I gotten to this point?
(#this wasn’t a super easy screenshot to make
#I had to look up unicode values and debug json and such
#but hey it’s not an easy challenge either
#let’s give Taylor some credit for pulling off one of the hardest challenges in all of Minecraft)
I was put in mind of a time I’d sat in on one of my mom’s university classes. I couldn’t have been older than ten, my dad had been busy and my mom hadn’t been able to find a babysitter.
Ooh, backstory. So apparently her mom taught at a university? Either that, or she was still studying.
So I’d been precocious, proud as hell to be sitting in that English lecture with the teenagers and twenty-somethings and understanding what my mom was saying.
Teaching, got it.
We’d even read the book together, over the prior few weeks, so I knew the material. Oranges are not the Only Fruit.
Judging only by the title, that sounds like an LGBT-themed text, but maybe I’m biased because El Goonish Shive has put “apples and oranges” in my head as metaphors for the binary genders in relation to sexuality.
Apples and oranges of the past aside, I guess I should look up this title.
Maybe I wasn’t entirely off-base after all.
In fact, it looks like I was spot on.
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is a novel by Jeanette Winterson published in 1985, which she subsequently adapted into a BBC television drama of the same name. It is a coming-of-age story about a lesbian girl who grows up in an English Pentecostal community. Key themes of the book include transition from youth to adulthood, complex family relationships, same sex relationships, and religion.
In England and Wales, it has been included on both GCSE and A Level curricula, such as the OCR English Literature A Level, Literature Post 1900.
I like the idea of a book about same sex relationships being on the curriculums. It’s nice that LGBT folks get at least some representation in British education.
I don’t really know yet what this anecdote has to do with Taylor’s current conundrum. I’m guessing the book itself and its LGBT themes are mostly irrelevant and this is more about either Taylor’s mom, something that happened during this class, or the feeling of pride in sitting among all these big kids and being ostensibly on the same page as them, literally and figuratively.
While I’d been sitting and listening, an older man had come in and sat next to me, in the back row. In a kind voice, he’d murmured a comment about how my mother was an excellent professor.
So this would be someone who knew of Taylor’s relation to the teacher, then.
Then, a few minutes later, when I got up the courage to raise my hand and answer one of her questions, he’d complimented me, got up and left.
Sounds like a nice man.
I’m thinking this might’ve been one of mama Hebert’s superiors. He just stopped by for a few minutes in the middle of the lecture, so he clearly didn’t come to learn, but there’s no mention here of mama Hebert or the students reacting much to this man’s presence (though of course there’s a chance Taylor just didn’t notice that), so I don’t think it was anything unusual for him to stop by. Plus, his behavior reminds me of the leader of my faculty in videregående.
All my pride in myself and my mother aside, what had struck me about the encounter was the man’s hair. A ridiculous comb-over.
After the class was over and my mom had been taking me home, I mentioned the man, and she’d identified him as the head of her department, her boss.
Then I brought up the comb-over and how bad it looked.
Ahaha, precocious little Taylor is great.
“Look at it from his perspective,” she’d explained. “Maybe, a long time ago, he started to lose a little hair, but he could brush it to one side in a way that made it not show so much.
And then he kept going… ahh, so that’s how this ties in. Slippery slope, mixed with hiding the truth.
Every year that passed he brushed his hair over a bit more. It was gradual, something he slowly got used to, seeing it in the mirror every morning and every night. Lots of small steps.”
Yep, that’s pretty much what happened with Taylor here. The hair is her lawful alignment.
“Why doesn’t someone point it out?” I’d asked her.
“He doesn’t have anyone to point it out for him,” she had replied, “And anyone who knows him well enough doesn’t want to hurt his feelings, even if it might be better in the long run.”
Taylor does have someone who’s willing to point it out: Armsmaster. But she’s not exactly willing to listen to him.
“You could,” I’d told her.
So she had, later that week.
Ripped off the band-aid for the old head of the English department. According to her, he’d gotten a haircut, then thanked her at a later date. That event and what my mom had done afterward always stuck in my memory.
Oh, huh. That went better than I expected.
So is Taylor about to realize that this is what Armsmaster was trying to do for her in Agitation?
I swallowed past a lump in my throat. It always caught me off guard, just how frigging much I missed her, when I thought about her. I’d give anything for a thirty minute conversation with her, right this moment.
I didn’t have the slightest doubt in my mind that she could have made sense of everything, put things into terms so simple that working it out looked easy.
The following day, Taylor, to Alec, Brian and Rachel’s great confusion, sticks a custom-made bumper sticker that says “WWMHD?” on the Undersiders’ van and refuses to explain it.
(#what would mom hebert do)
I had to stop, look up, blink back the tears in my eyes, and take a deep breath before I moved on.
Was my situation the same as the old man’s? Had I let myself gradually slip into a bad spot, because of my lack of perspective beyond what was going on inside my own head?
Yes, but “bad” is debatable, especially considering Coil’s agenda would (if he’s telling the truth) solve a lot of what you perceive as the problems of the city.
Granted, that doesn’t make it not villainous to pursue it – many fictional villains are motivated to crime by what they think is the greater good (hell, that applies to Kaiser), and the difference between heroes and villains is often only the methods and/or whether the law and the public agree with them on what the greater good actually is.
I hadn’t been thinking about this clearly. I was still confident enough I could send that email, make the call… but before I did that, I had to get my thoughts in order.
Important step, that.
Make the Decision.
Composing the letter in my head wouldn’t work, I needed the words on my computer screen in front of me, concrete words in black and white.
I tend to rework sentences in my head all the time, but I would also prefer to actually have them on the screen. Otherwise I would just keep returning to the same sentence.
I walked around the back of my house and reached into my pocket for my keys. Before I could get them, my dad opened the door.
“Taylor. It’s good to see you safe and sound.” My dad looked tired, years older than the last time I saw him.
Yeaah, he’s been worried sick. I can’t blame him.
I gave him a brief hug, “Hi, Dad. You got my message, saying I’d be late?”
“I did.” He shut and locked the door behind me. “What happened?”
Hrm, now what excuse will Taylor use here?
I shrugged as I pulled off my sweatshirt, made sure my pepper spray, phone and keys were all in the pockets, then hung it up by the door. “Nothing big. I was at Brian’s, helping him put furniture together, then his sister and his sister’s social services caseworker came without any warning. I couldn’t find a way to leave without it being kind of awkward.” Which did happen, pretty much, just at an earlier time.
I wonder what Danny thinks upon learning Brian’s sister has a social services caseworker.
“I see,” he murmured. “Were you two alone?”
“No,” I lied, to stop him from getting the wrong impression.
I think you mean the embarrassingly right impression. 😉
“At least, not for long. Lisa left a few minutes before the caseworker dropped by.”
Nice, now you don’t have to make up what Lisa or “the others” were doing when the caseworker came by if pressed on it.
“And you have a new shirt, I see. It’s nice.”
“Lisa’s,” I fibbed, squirming a little under the scrutiny.
“Ah,” he nodded.
Imagine the reaction she’d get if she’d said it was Brian’s. I mean, besides Brian’s shirts presumably being like ten times too big for Taylor.
(Although honestly, it’s such bullshit that those connotations only hang around culturally for straight relationships, to my knowledge. For all Danny knows, Taylor might’ve discovered a different kind of fruit.)
“I’m going to go to my room, if that’s alright? I’m kind of wiped.”
My dad shook his head, “I’d rather you stayed to talk.”
Danny needs to know what the deal is between the two of them from now on.
Not what I wanted to do. My mind was jammed with enough crap and internal debates that I didn’t want to worry about concocting more lies for my dad.
I don’t think you have much of a choice right now, Taylor.
“Can we do it tomorrow morning?” I offered him, retreating toward the door to the front hall, pressing my hands together in a pleading gesture. “I really need to sit at my computer for a minute and organize my thoughts.”
That much is true.
I pushed on the door and it didn’t open. Strange. I tried the doorknob, and it didn’t help.
Heh, did Danny anticipate this?
“Door’s jammed,” I said.
“Door’s locked, Taylor. So is the door to the living room.”
Yup. There’s no escape from the parental We Need To Talk.
My dad answered me. When I looked at him, he showed me the old fashioned key in his hand.
No choice, Taylor.
As I watched, he pulled out two chairs from beside the kitchen table, placed one in the middle of the room, then placed the second chair against the back door and sat down in it.
You better do as he says.
I’m at least 90% on Danny’s side here. As a parent, it’s pretty much his responsibility to do this after how Taylor has been behaving (as seen from his perspective). And Taylor has been rather careless with how much she makes Danny worry about her.
Extremely unlikely hypothesis that I’m only putting here because it crossed my mind: Imagine if Danny has managed to recognize Taylor in footage from the gallery hit, or (even less likely) Emma or her dad managed to hear and recognize her voice and promptly told Danny about it (but not the authorities??).
“Dad, tonight’s not really-”
It is time. To sit. And talk.
My heart dropped out of my chest. Or at least, it felt like it. I felt an ugly sour feeling in my stomach.
“I talked to your school today,” he informed me, confirming that ugly feeling.
Oh, right. Shit.
As if Taylor’s behavior wasn’t enough, she just got caught lying to her dad.
“You’ve missed nearly a month of classes, Taylor. Three weeks. You’ve missed major tests, project due dates, homework… they’re saying you might fail, if you haven’t already.”
“I- I’m sorry,” I repeated myself.
That’s pretty nasty, yeah.
“I could maybe understand, I know what you’ve been dealing with, except you didn’t just leave me in the dark. You lied to me.”
Which also calls into question all of the other things she’s been saying recently. If she’d lie about this, Danny would ask himself, what else might she have lied about? Oh no, what if she’s lying about her “friends” too? Or about Emma?
I couldn’t form the words for another apology.
“I called the school to get an update on how you were doing, and they said you hadn’t been to class in some time, and I didn’t know what to do. I just- I felt completely lost. I called your Gram.”
Most people have several tens of thousands of them.
I winced. Gram was my mom’s mother, an austere woman who’d never fully approved of my dad as a match for her daughter. It wouldn’t have been easy for him to make that call.
“She convinced me that maybe I’ve been too focused on being your ally, and not focused enough on being your parent. If she’d told me that a week ago, I would have hung up on her. But after talking to your school, realizing how badly I failed you-”
Yeeah, this conversation certainly seems to be Danny taking that advice.
“You didn’t fail me,” I told him. I was caught off guard by how my voice broke a bit with emotion.
See, now he’s not just worried he’s failed as a parent. Now he’s certain.
It’s clear that whatever we’ve been doing hasn’t been working, if you’re in this situation, if you can’t talk to me. No more secrets, no more half truths. So we’re going to stay here all night if need be. I’ll even call off work tomorrow if I have to, but we’re going to talk.”
I wonder, is Taylor willing to, if she has to, spill the beans on Skitter to her dad?
I mean, it certainly wouldn’t make him stop worrying, but having that out in the open would probably make for a healthier relationship between the two of them.
I nodded and swallowed, hard. I still hadn’t sat down in the chair he’d left in the middle of the kitchen.
Sitting down means agreeing to have the conversation. Sitting down means committing.
“I, um, need to use the washroom.”
“Okay,” he stood. “I’ll walk you there, and I’ll walk you back here to the kitchen afterward.”
He’s acting a bit like a warden, or an exam guard, but I can absolutely see why.
“You’re treating me like I’m a prisoner?”
“You’re my daughter, Taylor. I love you, but I know there’s something going on,
And he knows he won’t get the conversation they need if he lets her slip away.
and it’s not just the bullying, or it’s something to do with the bullying that you haven’t mentioned yet.
Danny is a smart cookie, Taylor.
I’m scared for you, Taylor, because you’re avoiding me and staying silent even if it means failing.”
And there we go: Full circle to Danny’s primary emotion, worry.
“So you force my hand by making me your prisoner,” I replied, letting anger and hurt creep into my voice,
To be fair, this does go against how their relationship has worked for a long time.
“Do you think this is even remotely cool, after all the times I’ve been cornered by those bitches from school? I’ve got to come home to this bullying power-abuse shit, too?”
Taylor just performed a flawless gut punch on Danny.
My dad answered me with the utmost patience, “I hope you know that I’m doing this because I love you.”
My distaste for that particular line traces back to this specific moment in Steven Universe, from a character who is very pointedly not a good parent:
The difference between Mrs Maheswaran and Greg Universe, who said “because we love you” in the first place, is that Greg actually means it whereas Mrs M treats it as an empty line meant to shut down the child.
I do think Danny is closer to the Greg side of the spectrum, but Mrs Maheswaran’s treatment of it still makes it leave a bad taste in my mouth.
I did. Thing was, that didn’t make it even slightly easier to handle.
“Do you need to go to the bathroom, Taylor?”
“Or were you lying again to try to escape?”
I shook my head. What I needed was to get out of this room. I saw him purse his lips, knew he was aware I’d just been looking for an escape.
“Yeah, didn’t think so.”
“Talk to me, Taylor.”
“Don’t feel like talking.” I walked across the room to try the other doors, to the living room and basement. Locked.
Well… at least it’s a step in the direction of honesty.
“Why are you so insistent on escaping?” he asked. I could hear the pain in his voice, which didn’t make me feel any better. “Please, just relax, sit down.”
Escaping wouldn’t do much good anyway, now, would it? Danny would still be there next time you came by.
I felt the crackle of my power at the edges of my awareness, realized I was clenching my fists. Why was it that the people I was supposed to be able to rely on were the people who turned on me, cornered me, made me feel the worst? Emma, the school, Armsmaster, now my dad?
Jeez, she is not taking this well.
I kicked the chair, hard enough that it made a mark as it hit the fridge.
Really not taking this well.
My dad’s eyes went just a bit wider,
Can’t blame him.
but he didn’t move or speak. I could feel the tug of my power as bugs throughout my neighborhood began to move to my location. I had to willfully cancel out the order to make them back off and return to their normal behavior.
That would be one hell of a way to reveal her secret! Losing control over the power and summoning a massive swarm of bugs filling the entire room, and being like “oh by the way dad I’m Skitter, y’know, that new villain you heard about in relation to the bank robbery? okay bye dad I love you”
Not feeling even remotely better after my abuse of the chair, I shoved the cookbooks and printouts off the shelf beside the fridge, letting them spill to the ground. A picture frame that had been hidden in the middle of the pile broke as it hit the ground.
If that turns out to be a picture of her mom…
“Damn it,” I muttered. I still didn’t feel better, and I was having a harder time keeping the swarm at bay.
“Possessions can be replaced, Taylor. Vent however you need to.”
…Danny is damn good at the “ally” side, at least.
“Dad? D-” I had to stop for a few seconds until I felt like I could catch my breath and talk without my voice breaking up, “Do me a favor? Stay quiet for a bit and let me think?”
Is this just to get time to repel the bugs, or to gather yourself for the conversation? Or maybe both?
He gave me a careful look before he answered me. “Okay. I can do that.”
With nowhere else to sit,
Kind of your own fault, that. 😛
I put my back to the wall under the bookshelf I’d just cleared and let myself sink to the ground, my legs making their protests felt as I brought my legs up against my chest. I folded my arms, resting them atop my knees, and buried my face against them.
If nothing else, at least you’ve made it abundantly clear to anyone with eyes that Danny was right that there was more on your mind than he knew about.
And Danny just so happens to have eyes.
(#unlike certain other dads)
I knew it had been 9:24 when I got in. By the time I’d suppressed the bugs, got my power under control and felt safe to raise my head, it was 9:40. My dad still sat in the chair.
Took a while, huh.
I let out a long sigh, quiet, then buried my face in my arms again.
Yeah, that’s a hella good question.
Come on, Taylor. You’ve faced down Supervillains in life or death situations. You faced down Armsmaster earlier tonight. Is it that hard to face your own dad?
Yes. Yes, it can be.
No. Ten times harder.
This is a problem a lot of fictional heroes and villains face at some point… interpersonal relationships being harder than battles.
But I had to face the problem the same way. Catalogue my options, my tools at hand. Physical violence was out. So was using my power. What did that leave me?
Pretty much the only thing you could use your power for here is to reveal your secret. Or, I guess, to tranquilize, but that doesn’t help in the long run.
The situation was ultimately the same, I decided. I still had to write that letter to Miss Militia, organize my thoughts. Problem was, now I had an additional thing to deal with. I had to fess up to my dad about what I’d done.
Yes, but to what degree of sincerity? The whole thing, up to and including the undercover mission and the various villainous deeds?
Also, that had is an odd choice of word to emphasize.
I wasn’t sure I could say it. My throat was thick with emotion, and I doubted I could organize my thoughts enough to convince my dad that I’d done everything for the right reasons.
She can barely convince herself… This’ll be difficult.
I’d open my mouth to tell him, stammer out the basics of it, maybe he’d even look concerned at first.
Of course he would!
Then as I kept talking, failing to adequately describe what I’d done and why, I could see his face turning to confusion. After that? Disgust, disappointment?
This is rapidly turning into a bad timeline in Taylor’s head.
A little part of me died inside at the thought.
I’d write it. I raised my head abruptly, looked to the papers scattered around me. I found a manilla envelope, the kind you put documents inside. Then I found a marker.
That’s a good idea! It’s the same concept as with the email – can’t work it out just in her head, needs to be writing it down. If she can write it adequately, that’ll help with the email too.
Now, one thing – if she successfully tells Danny everything, she has one hell of a motivating factor to not stay with the Undersiders. This is the first time in a while that I’ve seen that as an outcome that might actually happen here.
Along the top of the envelope, I wrote the words: “I AM A SUPERVILLAIN.”
Blunt. To the point. Maybe not the best thing to say on its own, though.
I stared at those words on the brown envelope that rested against my legs. Then I looked up at my dad. He was reading a book, his right ankle resting on his left knee.
I imagined handing him the envelope as-is. Just that one line.
Yeah, might not want to do that 😛
“Fuck.” I muttered.
“Did you say something?” my dad looked up from his book and reached over to put it down.
Uh, you may want to wait a little, Danny.
“It’s okay. Keep reading,” I said, absently, annoyed at the distraction, still pissed at him for cornering me like this.
I mean, imagine if he’d come over to look at the envelope right now.
“Okay,” he agreed, but he didn’t look at the book for longer than three seconds before glancing up at me again, as if to check on me. I tried to ignore him and focus on the envelope.
Good luck with that.
What to write? After a second, I began writing below the title I’d put on the envelope.
I like Brian and Lisa. I even like Alec and Rachel. But they’re supervillains too. I joined them with the idea that I would get details the Protectorate needed and then betray them.
That’s a good start. 🙂
I raised the marker and frowned.
Why was this so damn hard?
I mean, you’re literally sitting here trying to work out how to tell your dad you’ve joined the Dark Side. Of course it’s gonna be hard.
I put the cap on and nervously tapped the marker against my knee. Thinking about stuff, trying to gauge my feelings, exploring my thoughts to see what it was that made that knot deep in my gut get tighter.
Maybe the way you’re subtly implying that you no longer intend to betray the Undersiders? Maybe the way you don’t actually want to say that you do?
Maybe the way you really don’t want your worlds to collide like this?
My dad? Was I too conscious of what he would read, how he would perceive it? Yes. But it had also been hard to write when I’d been mentally writing it for just Miss Militia. That wasn’t the whole picture.
There’s uncertainty about how much you still mean what you’re writing.
There’s the knowledge that sending the email, giving the envelope, will force you to go through with the betrayal.
Was I scared of arrest? No. Well, I’d seen bureaucracy at work with school, I didn’t trust the system, I fully expected to get screwed over somewhere down the line.
Heh, good old Taylor.
But that wasn’t what was driving my choices. It was something more personal.
The team. Was I worried over how they would take it? Over possibly having them as enemies? Like Coil had said, there was no guarantee any action against them would be wholly successful.
Nahh, that’s not it.
Tattletale would probably be able to tell a PRT team was there before they could get in position, and the team was good at making an escape in a pinch.
True. Masters of the getaway, and all.
Then I’d have one or more enemies after me, who knew everything they needed and had all the tools to make my life a living hell.
Closer, yes, but I don’t think it’s so much the making of enemies as the loss of friends.
It did have to do with those guys, and it slowly dawned on me what it was.
I stood, then walked over to the oven.
Is it happening, right at this moment? The Decision?
“Taylor?” my dad spoke, quiet.
I folded the envelope lengthwise to hide the words, turned on the oven burner, then held the tip of the envelope to the flame until it ignited.
There we go. 🙂
I held the burning envelope over the sink until I was sure my message was obliterated. I dropped the remains of the envelope into the basin and watched it burn up.
This must look so odd from Danny’s perspective.
I didn’t want to send that email to Miss Militia because I liked those guys. That wasn’t the big realization. What made me stand up and burn the envelope was the realization that I liked those guys, I was fond of them, I trusted them to have my back…
And you want to be one of them?
Yet I’d always held myself at arm’s length.
It was stupid, it was selfish, but I really, desperately wanted to see what it would be like to get to know Lisa, without worrying that she would find out my scheme.
Taylor wants to have real friends.
I’d like to see what it was like to interact with her without having to censor myself out of fear that I’d provide that damning clue. I wanted to get to know Bitch and Alec better. And Brian. I wanted to be closer to Brian.
Perhaps especially Brian? ❤
I couldn’t phrase it any better than that, because I didn’t know if there would be any future with him beyond a simple friendship. I didn’t expect there to be. It still mattered.
D’aw. I really appreciate this message. Romance is good, but sometimes overhyped – good platonic friendships are just as important.
I’d let myself think that I’d tried a friendship with these guys, that I had grown as a person, so it was okay to go ahead with my plan. But I hadn’t. I’d never let myself truly open up and connect with them, and I was realizing just how much I wanted to.
…that’s an incredibly mature way of looking at this.
My reasons for going ahead with my plan were thinning out, getting harder to justify. My reputation was probably in shambles, I’d made enemies of everyone that mattered, and I had a number of felonies under my belt.
It would certainly make for a rough transition.
As much as I might try to ignore all that and tell myself I was doing it for the greater good, my conversation with Coil had left me less sure. That wasn’t to say I believed him wholeheartedly, or that I thought he’d be as successful as he thought, but I was less sure.
And then there’s this. It would’ve been a lot harder to make this Decision if it had turned out the Undersiders worked for someone like Kaiser.
Damn it, I wanted to hang out more with the Undersiders. Knowing I was out of reasons to justify sticking with the plan, all the crap that would come raining down on my head if I did go ahead with it, how much I’d loathe myself for betraying friends?
Ever fewer reasons to betray them, and more reasons to stay.
This little desire for a real, genuine friendship was enough of a nudge in that direction. I could change my mind. I wouldn’t be sending any letters to Miss Militia.
There’s one thing that’s been occasionally coming to mind that I haven’t really discussed yet, and that is – with a Decision to stay, what does Taylor do now? Does she tell the Undersiders what she was up to and risk a temporary dip in their relationships, or try to keep the secret indefinitely while pushing it to the back of her mind?
I really don’t know. The latter is sounding less likely after some of these last few arguments, though.
I ran the tapwater over the smoking remains of the envelope, watched the remains get washed away. I watched the water running down the drain for a long time after the last scrap of burned paper was gone.
“Taylor, in that envelope was a check for $20,000.”
I turned off the tap, stuck my hands in my pockets, and crossed the kitchen to lean back against the door leading to the front hall, glancing briefly at the handle and lock before I leaned against the door with my back to it. I called some bugs from the living room, hallway and heating vents down the front hall and up to the door, into the mechanism of the lock. Could they move the necessary parts?
…holy shit, Taylor.
No such luck. They weren’t strong enough to manipulate the door’s internal workings, and any bugs that might be strong enough wouldn’t fit inside. Go away, I told them, and they did.
You’re not gonna abscond.
What are you going to tell Danny now?
Which left me no good way to avoid dealing with my dad. I felt more guilty than ever as I looked across the room at him. He looked so bewildered, so concerned, as he watched me. I didn’t have it in me to lie to his face again.
I mean, I think anyone would be bewildered after witnessing the events of the last few minutes.
But whatever I did was going to hurt him.
One way or another.
I’m gonna getcha getcha getcha getcha
I crossed the room and he stood up, as if unsure as to what I was going to do. I hugged him tight. He hugged me back tighter.
“I love you, dad.”
“I love you too.”
“You have nothing to be sorry for. Just- just talk to me, okay?”
I pulled away, and grabbed my sweatshirt from the hook by the door. As I crossed back to the other side of the room, I fished in the pockets and retrieved the phone.
I started typing out a text.
…to Danny? Envelope message 2.0?
“You have a cell phone,” he was very quiet. My mom had
died using a cell phone while driving. We’d never talked about it, but I knew he’d thrown his out not long after the accident. Negative connotations. An ugly reminder.
“Yeah,” I replied.
“To stay in touch with my friends.”
“It-it’s just unexpected. I wouldn’t have thought.”
“It worked out that way.”
I finished the text, closed the phone and stuck it in the pocket of my jeans.
“New clothes, you’re angrier, lying to me, missing school, this cell phone… I feel like I don’t know you anymore, little owl,” he used my mom’s old pet name for me. I flinched a little.
Honestly? Yeah. There’s definitely been a disconnect along the way.
Carefully, I replied, “Maybe that’s a good thing. Because I sure didn’t like who I was before.”
“I did,” he murmured.
I looked away.
Wildbow’s spending all his daily pain allowance on this chapter.
[Daily? More like monthly.]
“Can you at least tell me you’re not doing drugs?”
“Not even smoking or drinking.”
“Nobody’s making you do anything you don’t want to do?”
They seem to be slipping back into the same dynamic they’ve had from the start. Taylor not wanting to talk about what’s bothering her, Danny worrying but trying not to push too much.
“Okay,” he said.
There was a long pause. The minutes stretched on as if we were both waiting for the other to say something.
Buuut that doesn’t mean we’re done here just yet.
“I don’t know if you know this,” he spoke, “But when your mom was alive, and you were in middle school, the subject of you skipping a grade came up.”
Hm. So why didn’t she?
“You’re a smart girl, and we were afraid you were bored in school. We had arguments on the subject. I-I convinced your mom you would be happier in the long run attending high school with your best friend.”
I coughed out a laugh. Then I saw the wounded look on his face.
Yeeah, that didn’t turn out quite as anyone had expected.
“It’s not your fault, dad. You couldn’t have known.”
“I know, or at least, I have that worked out in my head. Emotionally, I’m not so sure.
Funny how guilt can work like that sometimes.
And by funny I mean heartbreaking.
I can’t help but wonder how things would have played out differently if we’d gone ahead with what your mother wanted. You were doing so well, and now you’re failing?”
“So I fail, maybe,” I said, and I felt a weight lift, admitting it out loud.
Education is important, but failing isn’t the end of the world… right?
There would be options. I’d picked up enough that maybe I could still pressure the faculty to let me skip a grade. I would be old enough to take online classes like Brian was.
I’m not so sure about the grade skipping, but online classes would certainly be an option. A good one for a cape, what with the flexibility.
“No, Taylor. You shouldn’t have to. The staff at the school knows your circumstances, we can definitely get some exemptions made, extend deadlines…”
Well. They know some of the circumstances.
I shrugged. “I don’t want to go back, I don’t want to beg and plead for help from those assholes in the school faculty, just so I can return to the same position I was in a month ago. Way I see it, the bullying is unavoidable, impossible to control or prevent. It’s like a force of nature… a force of human nature. It’s easier to handle, if I think about it like that. I can’t fight it, can’t win, so I’ll just focus on dealing with the aftereffects.”
Hm. I mean, it’s a pretty defeatist attitude that hasn’t worked out for her in the past, but fair enough.
“You don’t have to give up.”
“I’m not giving up!” I raised my voice, angry, surprised at myself for being angry. I took a breath, forced myself to return to a normal volume, “I’m saying there’s probably no fucking way I’ll understand why she did what she did.
And there’s another reason to stay with the Undersiders, brought up a while back: Not wanting to be like Emma, who betrayed her friend.
So why waste my time and energy dwelling on it? Fuck her, she doesn’t deserve the amount of attention I’ve been paying her. I’m… reprioritizing.”
See, this is a much better approach. Don’t give the bullies the satisfaction of being the center of your life.
He folded his arms, but his forehead was creased in concern. “And these new priorities of yours are?”
I had to search for a response. “Living my life, making up for lost time.”
LIVIN’ LA VIDA LOCA
As if to answer my statement, the back door opened behind my dad. My dad turned, startled.
“Lisa?” He asked, confused.
Well, that’s unexpected.
Did she Know Taylor needed an out? Or is she just here on Undersider business? Or maybe– oh. Obviously. The text. I’m an idiot 😛
Lisa revealed the key she’d taken from the fake stone in the back garden, then placed it on the railing of our back steps.
Because of course she’d know where it was.
Unsmiling, she looked from my dad to me. She met my eyes.
So, uh, Taylor. How much did you tell her in the text?
I shoved my way past my dad, and he grabbed my upper arm before I was clear of the doorway.
“Stay,” he ordered me, implored me, squeezing my arm.
I wrenched my arm free, twisting it until he couldn’t maintain his grip, and hopped down the back steps, felt my knees ache at the landing. Three or four strides away, I turned back in his direction, but was unable to look him in the eyes.
Poor fucking Danny.
“I love you, dad. But I need-” What did I need? I couldn’t form the thought. “I, uh, I’ll be in touch. So you know I’m okay. This isn’t permanent, I just… I need a breather. I need to figure all this out.”
“Taylor, you can’t leave. I’m your parent, and this is your home.”
She… can. It’s not usually a good thing, but she can.
“Is it? It really doesn’t feel like that’s the case, right now,” I answered. “Home’s supposed to be a place I feel safe and secure.”
“You have to understand, I didn’t have any other options. You were avoiding me, not talking, and I can’t help you until I get answers.”
“I can’t give you any answers,” I replied, “And you can’t help anyways.”
Holy shit as if there weren’t enough things in this chapter that would sting for Danny.
“And you can’t help anyways.”
Just… Holy shit, Taylor.
He took a step forward, and I quickly stepped back, maintaining the distance between us.
Trying again, he told me, “Come inside. Please. I won’t press you any further. I should have realized you weren’t in a place where I could.”
He’s trying. He’s trying so hard to be a good father.
So damn hard.
Honestly, I think I’m actually tearing up here.
Yup, there it goes.
He took another step toward me, and Lisa took a little step to one side to get in his way, as I backed up again.
“Lisa?” My dad turned his attention to her, looking at her like he’d never seen her before. “You’re okay with this?”
Apparently so. Taylor, what the fuck did you tell her?
Lisa glanced between us again, then carefully said, “Taylor’s smart. If she’s decided she needs to get away and work stuff out for herself, I trust it’s for good reason. There’s plenty of room for her at my place. It’s not a problem in the slightest.”
“She’s just a kid.”
Lisa is a good friend.
“She’s more capable than you give her credit for, Danny.”
I turned to leave, and Lisa hurried to catch up with me, putting an arm around my shoulders as she reached my side.
But this still hurts.
“Taylor,” my dad called out. I hesitated, but didn’t turn around. I kept my eyes fixed on the gate of the backyard.
Not gonna lie, I half expected the chapter to end with this line.
“Please do keep in touch,” he said, “You can come home anytime.”
“Okay,” I replied. I wasn’t sure if my voice was loud enough for him to hear.
Well. That’s something at least.
As Lisa led me to her car, I had to steel myself to keep from looking back.
And there we go. And there they go.
End of Tangle 6.9
H O L Y S H I T .
I need a moment.
This is, without a doubt, one of the best chapters in the story so far. From the Decision happening, to the parallels between the Decision and the confrontation with Danny (right down to the ultimate conclusion of “I can go back later, but for now I’m staying with the Undersiders”), to the heartbreaking confrontation itself and everything said during it, to the even more heartbreaking ending… Simply stellar, and incredibly painful. This is probably the strongest emotional response I’ve had to something non-humorous/shippy in this story since Clockblocker, and it was executed excellently.
Just. Holy shit.