Polyester Woman (Epilogue)
rating: +11+x

Graphic depictions of abuse ahead. Proceed with caution.


Four months later…

Caryn Walsh wasn't stupid. She may have been a counterfeit valley girl with a ridiculously spelled hippie name, but she wasn't stupid. Of course Theresa barely tolerated her. Theresa was the straight-lace orthodoxist trying very hard for a steady job; Caryn had a wine problem, a cushy gig, and an ambivalence towards the second-wave stuff. And yeah, maybe it was a rude move sticking her with the talk show, but Theresa had ridiculous free time and a better grasp on the politics than anyone else in the Line.

Maybe Robin was stupid, then. She insisted Caryn come along to the weird intervention thing she was doing. Honestly, it's not like Theresa liked Robin any better! Hellen should've been the one standing at her door, not Caryn.

Looking back at Robin, however, Caryn found herself repeating none of this. Not like she'd listen.

Robin knocked twice, halfhearted. Then, receiving no answer, she waited a short while before knocking again, harder but only once. A much longer pause followed, and Robin appeared to have decided another knock was in order when the door opened and holy SHIT Hellen wasn't kidding.

Theresa's apartment was a fucking mess. Papers, stacked or crumpled, littered the floor like garbage. They also hung on the walls, either backwards or drawn sides deliberately hidden from view. Some of them bore weird… stains? Burn marks? Some weird discoloration that, come to think of it, was also present in splotches against the ceiling and some of the furniture. Not to mention, strange… chemistry equipment(?) cluttered the tabletops. Not livable. So, so not livable.

This didn't seem to stop Theresa! She was… smiling. Clean. Dressed girlier than usual in some polka-dot dress, plus a red belt that was scuffed in two places. Round glasses and makeup, too, and come to think of it, it looked like she was growing out her hair. Weirdly pristine. Caryn tried to look at her eyes, but an immediate sense of panic forced her gaze away.

"Robin, Caryn." At least she sounded the same. "Can't say I expected you. Is something happening?"

Robin cleared her throat. "You been busy."

Theresa shrugged. "What can I say? New job."

"Sure." Robin nodded. "Mind if we come in?"

Strictly speaking, Theresa 'chuckled'. "Yeah, get on with your piece. Doesn't look like you want to be here any more than I do."

Robin grumbled as she crossed the threshold, immediately settling onto a couch. Theresa's gaze followed, for a while, before turning to face Caryn. "You too, Caryn."

"… right." Caryn stepped through the—

Something was wrong.

Caryn hadn't ever been to Theresa's apartment before; even so, how did she live like this? The decor was bad enough without the scent of rot that perfumed its surface. Like, yeah, maybe she got up to weird experiments, but in her own home? Even the cleanest spot on the sofa felt tainted, somehow. Screw every previous thought: Theresa absolutely needed this intervention.

For her part, Theresa didn't take a seat, choosing instead to meander around the kitchenette. "You came at a bad time, eh? I was working on this—"

"Let's talk about the Weilstedt."

Theresa clicked her tongue. "I don't like being interrupted, Robin."

Robin sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. It was the kind of gesture Caryn had come to expect from Theresa, at least before the last few months. She'd freely admit that, welcome as her change of attitude might be, it was pretty off-putting.

Or maybe she only thought that because Theresa turned to her with a smile. "Weird seeing you come along. Guessing this must be pretty important?"

Caryn opened her—

"Yes, it is." Robin stood up, got closer, clearly trying to project authority. "I'll be real." A second-hand disgust boiled up as Robin put her hands on the kitchenette countertop. "I need you to stop poking the Weilstedt."

A pause, before Theresa cackled… and then she stopped herself, and it was like it had never happened. "We're talking about a different Weilstedt, right? Not the one you made me cover for on BackTalk?"

"I retracted that, Terry."

"You did?" She snorted. "That wasn't half as bad as those creepshows deserve. You should've had them sucking blood." Theresa's nails drummed against the countertop. "What did they do this time?"

"They—" Robin stopped herself and took a deep breath. "… not what they did. They're not doing anything."

Theresa tilted her head. "I've got a box of letters that say otherwise, Robby, clearly—"

Robin slammed her hands on the countertop. "This is your problem, Terry! You versus the Weilstedt, you versus the world. I'm sick of it! One tomato, one piss-weak memetic, suddenly you have to bunker down, fling shit, leave us to clean up. Weilstedt doesn't even use memes, they want you dead you're just dead! That clear enough?!"

The air seemed to foul further, but Robin continued regardless. "See the trees for the forest, alright? Weilstedt's made no action on you. You treat the Line like a personal army, train your Little Sisters like soldiers, make it too toxic to stay. El and Hellen are gone cause of you."

Something… jolted through Theresa. Or settled over her. Truthfully, Caryn wasn't sure what she just saw, if she saw anything at all.

"Look, Terry, I'm not saying—"

Theresa held a hand up, although she wasn't quite looking at Robin. More the expression of… Caryn didn't know, someone who lost something? The realization that she'd left her stove on? Halfway through a bout of chess? Something or other. Either way, Robin stopped.

"… they're gone? I…" Theresa bit her bottom lip. "… they told me they were busy."

"… course they'd say that, yeah. People that nice, didn't want to hurt your feelings." Robin took out her phone, though Caryn couldn't see what she'd opened at this angle. "But four months ago, El texted me. Told me she had to leave. Said she was in danger. Hellen too."

For an instant, something flashed across Theresa's face. But only for an instant.

Robin continued, but Theresa no longer looked to be listening. "This isn't it. If not for that, you'd be a role model. But you need to tone it down, alright?" With a nod, Robin turned to Caryn. "For both of us." Help me out here.

"Uh… right." Caryn nodded, turning back to Theresa. "I've noticed that…"

Caryn trailed off. Whatever she was supposed to say, the fact of the matter was that Theresa was too engrossed with her countertop to pay attention. And it's not like she knew what to say, either! What, Caryn had to prep a speech she'd barely—

Theresa blinked, and Caryn's internal monologue stopped dead in its tracks.

An inexplicable grin found its way onto Theresa's face. "… you didn't even tell Caryn what she was here for, did you?"

"What?"

Theresa finally turned her gaze to Robin, even as she reached for something in her dress's pocket. "What, were you afraid of me? Afraid I'd boil you in a cauldron?" A phone. She pulled out a phone. "Wow, I'm already the villain. And you say I'm paranoid."

"What are you talking about?" Except her words seemed to fall on deaf ears as Theresa… texted someone?

After (probably) sending her message, Theresa looked back up at Robin. "I don't get you, Robin. Why am I the problem? What about Caryn, who barely believes in the cause? Not even you trust her enough to fill her in on why you're here."

Caryn blinked, and almost didn't notice when Theresa's phone vibrated.

"And what, Hellen was a big enough loss to care about?" Theresa once more looked down at her phone, only to come back up with an off-putting grin. "Hellen was a ten-ply who chickened out when the going got tough. Maybe if you weren't a repressed pervert, you'd have caught on sooner."

The apartment went dreadfully quiet.

Theresa snorted. "Say something with that open mouth, before I spit in it."

"… say that again."

"What, you want me to spit in your mouth? Then stop baring your teeth like a chimp."

Caryn cleared her throat. "It's okay, it's okay. Let's all calm—"

Robin's words came out less like words, more like a growl. "Say that again, you dirty bitch."

"Gladly: maybe if you weren't wasting your free time tranny-chasing on SkyHigh, you'd have caught on to—"

Robin's punch was swift and immediate, sending Theresa's phone flying from her hands and Theresa into a counter.

The initial blow was more than Caryn was prepared to process; after the immediate startle, she forced her attention to Theresa's phone, which had landed face-up on the floor. Theresa had been… messaging someone? The app she'd used was an obnoxious shade of pink; it took a while to parse the name of her contact (someone named "KeeLee"?), and quite a bit longer to—

But before that could happen, Caryn's attention was pulled back to the scene by a squishing noise and a wet gurgle. Turning to look, Caryn almost couldn't believe what she was seeing.

Reeling in the kitchenette was Robin, clutching her throat as blood burst through her fingers like a faulty dam, crumpling to her knees and gasping for air or help or mercy. It was quieter than Caryn might have thought, unceremonial, almost unbelievably so, as if a prerequisite of exsanguination were some orchestral score, moody lighting, anything but the frank depiction of her best friend bleeding to death on white tile.

Something knelt in front of her. Theresa, clothes stained in blood, with a bundle of paper towels in hand to staunch the bleeding…

… no, not the bleeding. Theresa was merely damming the floor, walling off the space where tile met carpet. Cleaning up the blood before it leaked into the carpet. Sparing no glance towards the dying woman beside her.

None of it felt remotely real.

Her head was light. Caryn's whole body was light. The room was swallowed in light. It had to be a dream. The world would melt away, Caryn would be blown gently out the window by an unseen wind, and all of them would wake up in—

"Caryn?"

Caryn blinked herself back to reality.

She was sitting at the kitchenette counter, in an apartment that smelled like raw steak and burnt eggs. Standing at the other side was Theresa, dressed in a lovely maroon dress that dripped itself across the kitchenette. In the corner of her vision lay something perfectly still, which made no sound. She did not turn to look at it.

Theresa smiled. "I was worried, there. You doing alright?"

The corner of Caryn's lips turned upwards, enough to show her teeth, squinting her eyes slightly. Her right hand unconsciously brushed against some sort of plastic grip, wet with something sticky and half-congealed.

"That's good." Theresa chuckled. "I find when I'm stressed, smelling salts help. Do you want some smelling salts?"

Caryn's mouth opened, until she realized she lacked the energy to scream.

Theresa didn't wait for an answer, sloshing her way to a cabinet to retrieve a glass vial of some peculiar black liquid salt. Salt could be like that, right?

"Here." Theresa set the salt before Caryn. "You look confused about what happened, okay? Here's what happened: Robin attacked me out of nowhere. To protect me, you were forced to kill her with a nearby boxcutter. Does that make sense?"

No. Caryn wasn't sure if it was meant to be her answer or a plea, not that it came out her mouth.

Theresa's smile dropped. "You don't have to be shy, Caryn. Killing someone can be very hard, but you did it in self defense, so it's okay." A gloved hand gently took her right, depositing it over and curling its fingers around what Caryn now felt to be a boxcutter. "Can you be strong and admit it, for me?"

No. A memory Caryn was certain of flashed silently through her head. No. No no no. A symphony of gasps rang through her memory, one of which had to have been something she'd said, something to rationalize the moment. Please no. I can't do this. Minutes of silence underscored a cacophony of thoughts.

Theresa sighed. "I didn't want to do this, Caryn. But you need to take responsibility for your actions. Come, smell the salt."

And so Theresa uncorked the glass, letting forth a violent swarm of blackened animosity. Caryn's nerves screamed for release, but by the time it began to matter, she'd already been locked out of her shell.

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