My head is pounding, the pain is radiating along my scalp, gripping my temples. Even my eyes are throbbing. I had wept until I was empty and drained and exhausted. I hadn't realized it would be this traumatic to remember the past, but the force of it had rushed up and surrounded me so quickly, so violently, I hadn't had time to prepare for the blow.
Bleary-eyed from the tears, I barely notice Ben and Nick sitting at the kitchen table finishing up lunch as I come back downstairs from the attic. I feel like a walking zombie as I go to the cupboard and pull out the plastic bottle, open it, pour two into my hand. I don't realize until that moment that I'm shaking as I numbly walk to the sink, fill a glass with water.
My movements are robotic as if I'm outside of my own body. Swallowing down the aspirin seems to take the last of my strength out of me and I set the glass clumsily back on the counter. I can't seem to make myself move anymore and stare dully out the window. Nick and Ben are talking behind me, their voices muted and far away as if I'm underwater.
"Becca, will you please tell Nick he's got it all wrong? There's no way he-" Ben's laughter quickly fades when he looks over and sees my face. "Becca?" His chair scrapes back and he's instantly on his feet, is next to me in two strides. He grips my shoulders, turns me towards him. "What is it? What's wrong?"
"I was right," I manage to push the words out past the devastation. My throat hurts as if I swallowed shards of glass. "I was right about her."
"Who?" He frantically searches my face for something, an injury, a scratch, or a sign of what could be making me fall apart like this. "Right about who?"
I can barely focus on him. My eyes feel glassy, my head full of fog. "Victoria. She's an alcoholic just like him. Lexy's been living with it for years." I'm surprised at how matter of fact my voice sounds, how clear. Especially since there is chaos churning inside of me, clawing my sanity to shreds. I can't feel my face, my lips. My skin is cold and clammy. "She said Victoria drinks all the time and then blacks out for days. Lexy has grown up the same way we did." I'm seeing spots, shifting colors of red and blue dance in front of me. Ben's face looks wavy and distorted. The air is too thin.
Looking alarmed, Ben grips my shoulders so I won't fall. His hands are too tight but I barely feel them. "Sit down," he urges, leading me to a chair.
I sit, my entire body limp and weak as if I'm boneless. "That poor girl. She's too young to have all this on her."
"What are you going to do?" Nick asks me.
I shrug helplessly. "There's nothing I can do. Victoria won't let me do anything. I've tried for years to reach out to her and she's shut me out at every turn." I look at Ben, fresh tears welling up and spilling over. I thought I'd cried everything out up in the attic, but there is so much pain inside of me. Years and years and years of it. "Victoria left here to get free of him. Now she's exactly like him and is doing the same thing to her own daughter. She even told Lexy we wanted nothing to do with her. Why would she do that?" I look desperately at the one person I always thought would have the answers, my face streaked with tears. "When does it stop?"
Anger and grief flash over Ben's face, darken his eyes. "I don't know. I wish I did. Where is Lexy now?"
"Upstairs. She's looking at more pictures. She needs some time to process it all." I wince as I remember how she'd sobbed in my arms after she revealed the secrets she'd carried out here. "She has no one back home to help her. Richard's gone all the time with work. He just avoids everything and leaves his daughter to clean up the mess. She can't tell anyone. She's totally alone. She shouldn't have to deal with all of this."
"She can stay here as long as she wants." He cups my face in his hands. "We'll figure it out. I promise."
Completely drained, I look at him, at the face I fell in love with when I was sixteen. He's protected me from so many things; the nightmares, the flashbacks, the loneliness. He's seen me at my absolute worst and has never left. I'd trust him with my life.
But this is bigger than him. He's not strong enough for this. He can't go back and undo our past or stop it from tearing down all we've built out here. He can't keep it from swallowing us whole.
"How?" I ask hopelessly. "It's never going to be over." Burying my face in his shoulder, I start to cry again, but not because of Lexy. It's because, for the first time, I don't believe him. We've been lying to ourselves all this time. My father has never been gone, I realize, and he's still taking my sister away from me. And I'm four years old again, hiding under the porch, with no one around who can save me.