As she woke, Georgie was right away aware that she was not in her room. This was similar to the way she'd woken the first few mornings that she had been in the Shadow Realm – a slow rouse, a queer feeling of curiosity, alertness. The bed felt all wrong and the blanket did not feel like the one she'd grown accustomed to. How to explain the feeling of one's blanket, though, she was uncertain of and could only affirm that this was not her blanket. Beneath her head was a pillow stiffer than the one she usually used. Also, she was clothed in that hideous dress, still, which meant she had not sent herself to bed, for that was always shed before her sleep.
With a nibble of anxiety in her stomach, Georgie shot up in the bed, suddenly wired. Bright light flooded the room and instead of oatmeal walls, she was greeted by bland, overly cheerful, sterile white walls. Rapidly, she blinked her lashes and a stirring noise caught her attention. Before she'd had a chance to glance over, though, a voice filled her ears and set her skin crawling.
"You're awake, finally," drawled Damion's voice, filled with aloof apathy.
As Georgie narrowed her eyes at him, her attention to him waned and instead shifted to the two sitting beside her bed. In rather uncomfortable-looking chairs waited Dempsey and Rowan. Rowan held a book in his lap, opened with his finger held upon one of the pages. Next to him, Dempsey curled and folded her legs beneath her. Both of them had turned to look at the roused Georgie, though Dempsey wore a look of more worry than Rowan.
"Well, good morning sunshine," greeted Dempsey, arching both brows in concerned shock. "Took you long enough."
Georgie blinked twice.
"You were passed out." Damion's voice remained apathetic and cool, quite similar to the way he had earlier spoken to Austin.
Again, she blinked.
"We were hanging out over in the library, see," explained Rowan, holding his book up as though proof were needed of his statement. "And we're sitting here when we notice Damion kind of marching down the hall. I notice he's got something flung over his shoulders and I'm like what the hell is Damion doing when Dempsey recognizes that gaudy dress of yours and I swear to god, she squealed."
"I did not squeal!" snapped Dempsey as she smacked Rowan's arm. Georgie noted that she did not meet her or Rowan's eyes.
"Whatever! You squealed! Georgie, she so squealed, I kid you not. She's all 'Eeeeee! Why is Damion manhandling Georgie?' and I-"
"Excuse me?" Damion interrupted, voice aghast. "Manhandling? All I'd done was slung her over my shoulder!"
Dempsey rolled her eyes and gave Damion a pointed stare. "Whatever. That was so cave-man style." In a terrible caveman pantomime, Dempsey beat her chest with her fist. "Me caveman. I carry girl like meat."
Georgie could only stare at the three before her. What a ridiculous commotion. Was she still dreaming? If so, why were her dreams so ludicrous?
"That was not manhandling," Damion insisted, giving Dempsey the sort of look that Georgie imagined had formed in her mind: what the heck are you talking about?
"It so was!"
Damion merely stared at the girl, ceasing the argument. He then turned to Georgie, face smoothed of emotion. "You passed out after the collection. Gave way, though that really was no surprise to me. Even still, I'd sort of hoped you'd surprise me for once. So I had to gather you up and bring you to the infirmary."
"He had you thrown over his shoulders like a cave man bringing home the wildebeest." Dempsey ignored Damion's scathing glare and carried on. "Rowan and I were pretty weirded out, obviously, so we followed him. Angelica, saw, too. I mean, tons of people saw Damion stalking through with you over his shoulder and they were all yadda yadda and Angelica was glaring and I laughed."
Georgie was having trouble processing this all. First, the image of Damion carrying her over his shoulder was kind of amusing, but at the same time, very infuriating. If he were to carry her, couldn't he have at least cradled her? That was less dehumanizing, after all. Secondly, her mind was stuck on Angelica. Again, there she was. Even when Georgie was unconscious, Angelica seemed to be angry about something – Damion, of course. She blinked curiously at the stoic boy off to the side, wondering again what existed or had existed between Angelica. Thirdly, she was still stuck even further back, on the fact that she'd passed out.
He would hold that against her forever, wouldn't he?
Shame colored Georgie's face pink and quickly, she glanced away from her friends, to her toes at the end of the bed. To distract herself, she wiggled them and swallowed hard. Of course she would pass out and give Damion more ammo, and more proof that she was not cut out for this job. Her chest tightened and her throat echoed painfully; the poor boy had seemed so upset, though. He had been stupid and foolish, yes, but unlike her case, his foolishness should not have cost him his life. Austin hadn't pulled out with intent to kill, himself or anyone else for that matter. Everything about it just seemed so unfair! Were they not told that they could learn from their mistakes? That everybody had a chance to make up for their misgivings? This went against everything she had come to believe.
A dull click of a door closing resounded in Georgie's ears and curiously, she peeked to see that Damion had evacuated and Rowan and Dempsey were the only ones remaining in the room. Dempsey still wore that worried look and even Rowan had a frown in his brow now. Wincing visibly, Georgie predicted the words even before they tumbled off the tongues of her friends.
First was Dempsey's voice of concern. "Are you okay, George? You look… pale and stuff and after what Damion said…"
Rowan echoed his voice rather curious. "Was it so bad? Is it that upsetting? You just seem so off and the fact that you passed out and everything… Just sounds like it was too much for you."
He was right, Georgie knew. Everything was way too much for her and she just couldn't handle it. From the start, Damion had been right. His instant judgment had been accurate and cruelly perfect. Georgie had no stomach for this, she had no stomach, was unable to swallow the pill. Without more than a minute, Damion had pegged her and how she hated that. What began as a queasy disappointment in herself was quickly forming into anger again and her fingers tightened around on the blanket covering herself. Anger at him for being right, anger at herself for not proving him wrong, anger at this world for existing, anger at herself for making her a part of this world.
Mostly, she was angry that she was so stupid.
"In a way… I guess it probably isn't as bad as I make it seem." Georgie pulled her legs to her chest and wrapped her arms around them tightly, locking her hands on either forearm. "He just seemed so upset about it and Damion seemed so harsh. Cold and aloof and the poor kid was panicking. I guess it didn't seem right, to me. Wouldn't you prefer some compassion when you find out you're leaving this world? He wasn't even given much time to realize what was happening before Damion was demanding his soul." She shivered and had to hug herself tightly to prevent the trembling.
"Won't it be really hard for him? Whenever his soul is awoken or whatever. He'll be disoriented and confused and sad and angry and the least we can do is be considerate and kind to him, right?"
Helplessly, Georgie regarded her friends, feeling the trembles threatening again. She swallowed hard. Everything just seemed so hard and wrong. This felt wrong. Collecting souls was not what she wanted to be doing. Existing in the afterlife would be much preferred. In fact, she'd prefer to cease existence to this. The end would surely be better than wandering around and stealing people's lives like trophies. With a sick churn of her stomach, Georgie wondered suddenly if that was Damion's case. Did he collect souls as though they were prizes to be earned? Such an idea made her feel ill.
Gentle, worried eyes scrutinized Georgie and she looked away from Dempsey, uneasy under their gaze.
"Though I hate to say this, George, maybe Damion was right? He's been doing this longer and he knows what he's doing, right? If he didn't, he'd not be as effective as he is, and we know he's effective, 'cos he's not detained in punishment or anything."
That was too much. Georgie whipped her head to the side again with such a force that the crick in her neck was momentarily mistaken for whiplash. Hand at her neck, she massaged the spot and stared at Dempsey with imploring eyes.
"There's got to be a better way," she stated with such a strong, firm voice that Dempsey leaned back a bit, eyes widened briefly. "He was so cold and so mean and it doesn't seem right to die so confused. Tricking someone for their soul is cheap and wrong and spiteful. For some, maybe you have to but… can't he bother to be nice about it? Can't he like, talk to them?"
A critical brow was arched with grace above Dempsey's eye but before Georgie's words had finished, the door to the infirmary had swung open and Damion stood in the doorway, eyes settled on Georgie. Something flashed in them, foreign and so quick that Georgie didn't even notice it. Still, she knew he'd heard, especially the last part of what he'd said and, against her will, she found herself shamefully feeling guilty. Even though he was viciously mean, she remained certain that there was a reason and she was only egging on his cruelty by speaking so harshly behind his back.
She felt cheap. And low. And stupid, so stupid.
Again, the anger curled in her stomach. Why was she acting so dumb, anyway? If Damion really cared, he would change, wouldn't he? She was more than entitled to say whatever bitter resentment he felt, because he might as well be asking for it! Respect was given to those who deserved it and Damion hadn't even made a plea bargain for it.
Level eyes fixated on Georgie, brows inching down upon them slowly. Then a smirk grew on Damion's lips.
"Silly Georgie Porgie. You speak tough words, but I'm not the one who fainted, am I? Prove me wrong next time and maybe I'll listen." Though his voice was as level as his eyes, cold and calculated, Georgie noted a sort of disturbance beneath the spoken words.
Her mind was stuck on this when suddenly his arm had whipped forward and a pale pink blur was sailing towards her. A quick hand from Rowan caught it and he peered at it with Georgie and Dempsey.
A velvet pink of baby pink that matched her dress was held in the palm of his large hands. The tiny draw strings were silver and the pouch seemed filled with something. With delicate fingers, Georgie pried the bag open and spilled out six little glass circles. They were rounded and flat on one side, curved on the other, and colored. Two were light blue and smaller than the last one of teal. A curious blink surveyed them before Rowan finally spoke.
"Money! All right!"
Both Georgie and Dempsey cast looks of curious inquiry at Rowan. Georgie had not even been aware that money was used in the Shadow Realm and Rowan knew of it? The sheepish smile on his face indicated that he had assumed the other two had known of the money. Dempsey gently picked up the larger of the assumed coins and delicately ran her fingers over the translucent teal shape. They were pretty and reminded Georgie of the glass she would fill fish tanks with when she was younger, except these were smoother and felt airy and light. Rowan had not had a chance to explain, though, before Damion was pushing Dempsey aside, standing next to Rowan. He held out his hand, fist balled, over Georgie's lap. As his fingers opened, a mess of these glass coins fell. Light blue and teal like the ones in her hand fell into Georgie's lap, as well as one smaller than the teal though larger than the blue, in a silvery sort of color.
Quickly, in her head, Georgie counted them out. Five of the large ones, three middle sized ones and five of the small ones. She blinked just as quickly before looking up at Damion. His face remained stoic and a silence passed between them, charged with… something. Georgie couldn't figure out what it was emanating from Damion – was he really unhappy with what he had overheard her saying? Just under the surface, her temper stirred again. Damion had no rights to be angry or upset with her. Before she was able to give much thought to the curiosity, though, Damion's face had shifted, a haughty sneer tugging at his lips.
"Use it to buy yourself something presentable, Princess Georgie Porgie," said his snarky voice before he turned on his heel and made quickly for the door, a stalk in his stride.
The door had slammed with speed and force before Georgie had even been able to think up a remark. She was busy finding her voice when Dempsey spoke the words for her.
"God, that boy is an uptight ass."
They all chuckled, though Georgie's felt nervous. A heavy stone settled in the pit of her stomach and she had to force her mind off of Damion and to her lap, where the assorted array of glass gems sat.
"They're like dollars back in the living realm," Rowan was explaining, distracting them all from Damion's weird moment. "See, these teal ones here? They're worth fifty. Those silver ones are twenty-five and those small blue ones are ten. Coins are rewarded for completing tasks. Depending on how well the job goes over and how content the soul was, the monetary value of the reward can differ."
Quick math added in Georgie's head and numbers were carried before her eyes bugged. All together, four hundred forty-five coins sat in her lap. How much was that, she wondered. Did this make her wealthy? Considering her job itself had only brought in a total of seventy dollars or whatever, this much must have been a lot. Especially so as none of her friends yet had anything, let alone near this. A thrill of excitement tumbled in her stomach. One could never help but feel such a feeling with a large sum of money in her lap.
"So… we use this money…?" Georgie's voice curiously inquired, leaving off the end of the sentence to grope for the answer.
"To buy stuff," finished Rowan, his voice airy with a silent but resounding "duh".
Georgie could not fight the half-smile that curled her mouth and she glanced to the side at Dempsey, who looked just as intrigued. Shopping. While alive, before the darkness, before losing herself, Georgie had once believed in retail therapy. Though the effects were limited and short-lived, new clothes or shoes tended to make herself feel good, at least in terms of self-esteem. Plus, being able to change out of this awful frou-frou dress would be lovely! She was so sick of the tank-top and jeans she'd arrived in and the dress was so gaudy that she was more than willing to go shopping.
"I want to go now." The urgency in Georgie's voice seemed to be the cause of Dempsey's quiet laughter.
"You can't, girl," she explained. "The nurse hasn't yet been back to check on you."
With her brows tucked together, Georgie surveyed her friends with muted scrutiny. The fact that she was merely a soul, a spirit, should have meant that she needn't a nurse. After all, could a spirit, a disembodied, existential form actually become ill or harmed? Such an idea was silly and made Georgie giggle softly over the absurdity of such. Even after her existence so far, Georgie continued to be surprised by the world she now occupied.
Her friends seemed to feel the same way.
Dempsey shrugged her shoulders. "Don't ask me. This place is like a real, friggen hospital. If you want to get out, you need to have a nurse sign you out."
An impatient sigh passed Georgie's lips. "I was never good with money," she admitted. "You would think that I was. Everything about my lifestyle was oriented to perfection." Georgie realized that this was one of the few times she'd ever spoken of her life, back in the living realm, and this made her feel simultaneously wistful and weightless. As if merely speaking the words were shedding off pounds of shackled weights locked around her ankles and wrists. Strangely, she found that speaking of such a tenuous subject was refreshing and not nauseating. Still, an undercurrent of anger ran beneath her skin, coursing through her veins. With struggle, she pushed this feeling aside. She decided to try to take in some of this feeling.
"Right. So, I was this super perfectionist. Everything had to be done to perfection and mistakes and failure were not of any option. I had to be in control of everything and nothing could take an unexpected route or I just… freaked out… but money. Money didn't last long. As soon as bills and expenses were paid off, instead of putting it in a bank or saving it or whatever, I was spending the money. Right away."
Feebly, Georgie chuckled.
"I guess… back then… there wasn't a lot that could make me feel better. But temporarily, a new shirt, new jeans, new shoes that I knew I'd never wear, made me feel good. For a bit… I'd feel pretty."
Rowan's hand was gentle when it patted the back of Georgie's. "Well, Kid, those days are over," was his affectionate response. An immense amount of relief lifted from her chest when he did not ridicule her lifestyle. "And in this new life, you have no expenses and few reasons to save your money so… why don't we go perform some retail therapy, eh?"
Brightly shining eyes came from Georgie as she looked upon Rowan, but from Dempsey were daggers. Rowan flinched away from the short girl, hand clutching at Georgie's. She squeezed back. When Dempsey did not agree, she would let you know, and her opinion came out passionate and loud. Most often, Rowan was at the receiving end of Dempsey's glares and he still came off frightened of them. Georgie couldn't help but chuckle – she was feeling dazed and absurd right now. Waking up from passing out left her disoriented and silly and with all this money in her lap, she couldn't bear to feel too miserable, even with Damon sulking off somewhere, as she suspected.
The look of fright on Rowan's face morphed though and easily turned into something else; she watched his brow straighten out, his jaw go rigid, his lips turn flat. Curiously, she eyed the look in the boy's eyes – this was not the look of timid fear, but something lighted up. Jutting out was his lower lip and Rowan tipped his head back as he eyed Dempsey in a cool and level manner. For a moment, Georgie was flooded with a surge of curiosity as she tried to decipher the cryptic look in her friend's eyes, and suddenly, as he spoke, it dawned on her.
"You're not the one in charge here, Dempsey," the boy huffed. "I know you're like, our self-proclaimed momma or whatever, and that's cool, but George just got back from taking someone soul and obviously, it sucked a lot, so how about, we don't inhibit her? Come on, Georgie."
The defiance in Rowan's voice was forced and evident. Georgie blinked and her head whipped quickly to glance Dempsey's way. The other girl seemed reeling, shocked. So far, no one had defied her. This wasn't a control thing, Georgie knew. Dempsey was just honestly shocked. In their time together so far, she was their self-proclaimed leader and everyone let it be that way. Even with Jeremiah with them, Dempsey rose to command and took the lead. No one minded much, because Dempsey seemed born to lead and they were content to follow behind her.
But now, Rowan rose in defiance, his chin held high, his jaw rigid. A simple squeeze was delivered of Georgie's hand to Rowan's. Why he was choosing now to be all independent, though, she couldn't fathom and though her mind had crawled out of its muddled state, it still lagged behind a bit.
"What are you trying to do, Rowan?" came Dempsey's level voice, though a hint of agitation scratched at the surface of her words. "Instill a level of reckless abandon? Isn't that how we got here?"
Rowan cast Dempsey a pointed stare, a look of pride arranged on Rowan's face. The arrogance, which should have been unattractive, instead, only made Rowan that much more alluring. Georgie wondered, dully, detachedly, if Rowan had pulled a lot of girls when he was alive. She watched the way he raked his hands through his hair, letting the dark locks stand up on end in bedraggled fashion, lean muscle flexing beneath his skin. Something about him seemed different; stiffer and challenging.
"Dempsey, we can't baby her."
"What exactly do you think you're doing then, if not babying?"
Georgie felt like she was listening to her parents arguing about her. Back then, before everything, when she was in deep, laying in her bed and not moving, not doing, not thinking, not being. Just… laying. Her stomach churned and anger lashed out at her. Her free hand clenched into a tight, painful fist.
"I'm not babying her, Dempsey, I'm giving her some fun. She's been hating herself, so can't we give her some fun now?"
"Distracting her won't help, Rowan. Besides, the nurse said she's not to leave until she returns and checks her out-"
"Honestly? What kind of injuries can a spirit have? We are DEAD, Dempsey, in case you've forgotten."
Dempsey, who typically resembled classic cool and practicality, shot daggers at Rowan through her dark eyes, alight with some sort of frenzy. Her chest heaved heavily and she snorted impatiently through her nose. After a moment of staring at her friend, Georgie realized that Dempsey was trembled with subtlety, and she felt a wave of compassion and dismay wrap around her. This was her fault. They were fighting because of her. Miserably, Georgie tried to intervene, but her faint "Hey guys-" was drowned out by Dempsey's dangerously cool voice.
"Rowan Birch, if you would stop being a douche for a moment, you would realize that we can't exactly forget that we're dead. And, maybe you're still in your angry phase, but don't take it out on me. I don't know why you're here and why you're dead, but we've all got our reasons, okay? So, maybe you should just chill out and stop being hot headed."
Rowan lost his cool. "Does it even matter?" he spat, his voice loud as his hand wrenched free of Georgie's tight grip. Both hands balled into tight fists, knuckles white, as he took in deep breaths. "What does it all matter? Why we're dead, why we're here, what sort of stupid, foolish accidents we made? I was drunk! Does that tell you anything? This wasn't even a choice! I did not choose this. All of it was an accident. A drunk, hot shot, trying to be big and bad. My father trusted me around his guns and I was showing off and them BOOM. That simple. The end. Over. But I never chose this, Dempsey. So if I want to be angry, I'm going to be angry."
Georgie seized upon herself; body straight and rigid. Rowan, was, too, and Georgie could see tense veins on him, popping up larger than they were supposed to be. Like Dempey, he trembled, but his tremors were much more violent than that of hers. A wild look had colored his eyes, but they focused, not on Dempsey or Georgie, but somewhere else. That night, she wagered, by the way his breath hitched, quickening and quaking. Crossing her mind was the thought that maybe she should try to hug him, but she wasn't even certain that a hug was what he needed. Instead, she racked her mind for something to say, a comforting word or sentence to offer him, some sort of solace, but she couldn't find it. Instead, her mind reeled and a number of thoughts and emotions ran rampant through her, coursed through her veins and into her heart. Mentally, she flinched against Rowan's words. They stung painfully; he had, essentially, just tried to set himself aside from them. That his death truly was an accident where hers and Dempsey's was choice.
Anger melded with pity and despair and fury and self-loathing. Of course, Rowan was right. She'd not be here had she never done it. Had she just thought. At least he had an excuse. What was hers? I could never be perfect. I was sick of trying. Everything hurt too much. Living was unbearable. My life sucked. I didn't know happiness. No one saw me. I was invisible. My efforts resulted in failure. I would never reach my goals. I was a waste of space.
Georgie knew her thoughts were selfish. Rowan was spilling, yelling secrets he'd kept buried for so long, but she couldn't help it. They were selfish creatures and his words forced her to reflect upon herself, to plunge into the darkness that she evaded. Tears gathered on her lash line and she kept a steady gaze on Rowan, swallowing the bitter emotions through a tightly constricted throat.
"Rowan," said Dempsey's soft voice. Compassionate, but strong. Why, Georgie dwelled, could she not be like that? She couldn't even muster up the voice to speak his name in that same concerned tone. Instead, she remained soundless, watching her friends through wavering vision.
"No!" yelled Rowan, flinching away from Dempsey's out reached arm. "You act like George is the only one suffering. That she's the one we need to tiptoe around! But we can't keep treading so carefully. We've got to let her know things how they are and if she wants to get out of here, then we should let her. Following rules… where have they gotten us? We're dead already, we might as well have a little reckless abandon!" Something about Rowan's voice sounded, not only angry, but almost… crazy? Georgie couldn't place the sound. But Rowan didn't sound as if he was coherently thinking things through. His eyes still gazed off elsewhere, into the past. "Look at me. I shouldn't be here. We shouldn't be here! But Corey Ruscoe challenged me and I was the sort of ass to give in to him. And I had my father's gun in my hands and they were saying I didn't know how to shoot and I told them I would prove them wrong."
Georgie wanted him to stop. His voice was progressively changing. What started out an angry roar now sounded twisted, strained, pained. She could not listen to this. Her pain was enough, but another person's? A males? The crackling in his voice sounded as if it was going to give way to tears or more rage. Without meaning to, she shrunk in on herself.
"The safety was off and I was maneuvering it around. Clumsy, drunken fingers aren't good for handling and I hit something, and the trigger moved and there was pain. Someone screamed. The end. Over. Her scream, and the crack of the bullet and the pain and my chest stung but then it was over. Just light that. Lights out."
Don't cry, oh god, please don't cry, Georgie thought. Who she was commanding, she wasn't entirely certain, but she felt the warmth pooling over her cheeks and her fists twisted into her bed sheets. She dug into them and twisted at them as his crackling, shrill voice slashed at her chest, her heart. Her stomach turned.
"Rowan, stop it!" Dempsey demanded. Not, Georgie knew, because she didn't want to hear the story , but because Rowan was too unstable to be telling the story.
In a swift, fluid movement, Dempsey had moved forward and somehow managed to grab Rowan by the forearms. His arms flew to grab back, but Dempsey's reflexes moved quicker than his and she somehow maneuvered him sideways on to Georgie's bed. Quickly, Georgie scooted back, over her pillow, towards the headboard, as Dempsey wrestled Rowan down onto the bed, tried to pin him down. Disoriented, Rowan fumbled and grabbed at Dempsey's prying hands, but the girl was, in this moment, stronger.
Wild eyes frantically looked from Dempsey towards Georgie and back again. Georgie watched them, watched the wild look slowly give back to sanity, to confusion and heavy sadness. If her heart had broken at the sound of Rown's grief and anger, it shattered now when she fully met those deeply sad eyes, an endless tunnel of sorrow that lead to nowhere and didn't seem to end. When her eyes searched Dempsey, Georgie found that she, too, was crying, and her eyes seemed to have locked onto that endless sadness, that dark tunnel of pain in Rowan's eyes.
They were all quiet for a moment.
The only sound came from their breaths; shallow breathing, trying to catch up and make normal pace.
After a shuddering breath from Dempsey, Rowan was the one to speak. His eyes first squeezed shut and a grimace marred his features. He was very… Georgie groped for a word and could only come up with beautiful. Handsome was too debonair to describe the beautifully rough features of Rowan and when he screwed his face up like that, he almost passed for grotesque, as he allowed all the contaminant emotions spill onto his face, barring all guards.
"I'm sorry," he choked in a raspy, hoarse voice.
"It's… whatever," said Dempsey.
Georgie noted that Dempsey didn't apologize as well. Neither fought to blame themselves. Finally uncoiling herself, finding mobility, she leaned forward and fell to her knees and scotched herself back towards Rowan, who lay awkwardly backwards along the small width of the twin-size bed. Knees almost touching his ears, Georgie reached forward and let her fingers burrow in his dark hair, gently raking through it in what she hoped was a soothing manner.
One of her tears dropped onto his forehead.
"I hadn't even written about it," he admitted out loud, his voice a whisper. "Facing it… I didn't want to until now. And… I didn't mean… anything bad. About you guys. But. I don't know."
His voice gave way, weary. The sound seemed to collapse, rather than fall quiet.
"If it was only an accident, you wouldn't be here," Dempsey whispered. She still lay uncomfortably on top of Rowan, pinning him down with her weight. Her voice was not accusatory, but plaintive. From her voice came the truth. "In your mind… even if you were inebriated, you knew that what you were doing was dangerous. That's why you're here, Rowan. You had a choice. We all had a choice, but we made the wrong ones."
Rowan merely nodded.
He looked exhausted. Hollow. Haunted. Georgie could empathize. Every night, when she fell asleep, that's how she felt. Empty. Drained. Void of anything. Her fingers continued to soothingly draw through his hair.
"I didn't want it," he whispered. His voice was no longer defiant, no longer angry. Just… empty. Broken.
Georgie's fingers twisted in his hair.
"I know," she whispered, before Dempsey had a chance to. "None of us wanted this." A niggling voice in her mind surfaced and it whispered cooly Except for Damion. She shrugged this off. "If any of us had really thought, if we knew… we wouldn't have…"
Soundlessly, they all shifted on the bed; Dempsey pulled off of Rowan and he sat up. They all squished together on the small bed, arms tangled around each other as they frantically held on to each other. In the small space, emotions strung out and ran wild. Anguish, despair, frustration, anger, hatred. They shared the same concepts between them. Loss, pain, mistakes, failure, defeat. Georgie felt the silent sobs raking through her again. Bittersweet grief fueled them, urged by a lecture to herself.
Strange, though, Georgie noted. Had she never died, had she never slain herself and spilled her own blood, she'd not be here. In this strange hospital room, clustered together in a messy, desperate hug with two of the best friends she'd met in a long time. Silently, she wondered if they would ever have crossed each other's paths if they'd all stayed alive and a panicked clutch on her chest told her that no, they probably would not have. For all she could wonder, she could not decide if this was fortunate or not. If she'd never fallen depressed, never lost herself, never taken her life, would she have found friends like them?
In a sick, twisted way, she was almost happy that they had. Because, at least they had each other now.
That much made up for their sins, for their tainted hands.
"We can't dwell forever, though," Georgie finally whispered a few minutes later, breaking the silence. "The point of this world is for us to grow, right? And… you've got it out, Rowan. Now… we grow."
A smiled twisted on Dempsey's mouth that didn't quite reach her eyes. But it was a start. Dempsey was right, of course. She always was. Rowan had to start his healing process. Knowing that she was being selfish again, Georgie wondered when she entered her healing process. When did she stop grieving and being angry and feeling sorry for herself and hating herself? At what time would she come to love and embrace herself? Rediscover herself? Because, even now, Georgie wasn't quite certain that she knew who she was, anymore.