I consider this for a moment, because it’s actually a good question. I wouldn’t have before all this happened. I thought exactly the same way when it was Meg he was keeping forever, when it was Meg who was stuck with him, whether she liked it or not. I thought if she was stuck with him, she might as well be happy with him. I lied to her to give her that. But now, when it’s me in her position, he’s right—I’ll deny myself, even if I actually want it, just to deny him.

“It’s my responsibility now,” I tell him. “To Vince. To you. To the world, maybe. I never held you accountable before. I let you get away with anything. I gave up everything for you. I completely sabotaged my relationship with Vince because I wouldn’t let you go—because I kept glorifying you in my mind. He needed me to be sorry, and I wouldn’t. And why? For what? I didn’t need to fight him on that. If the shoe was on your foot instead of his, if the roles had been reversed, if Vince had raped me and I thought it was you, and you needed someone safe to blame, and you knew you couldn’t lash out at him so you needed to blame me, I would’ve let you. I would’ve accepted it, I would’ve apologized, I would’ve done what I had to do to heal you, because I can take it. Because I’m stronger than he was. I’m stronger than you are, because you don’t have a heart. You don’t have empathy. You don’t care about people, and I do. I can endure any trauma that you put me through and I will be fucking fine. Would I have preferred happiness? Of course. That was all I wanted. I thought I was finally leaving Vince and I would be with you and it would be fucking great. I would get more nights like the ones we had. I would get to actually enjoy you this time.” I shake my head, surprised the disappointment of losing this future doesn’t feel heavier, but it doesn’t right now. “I wanted that, Mateo. But you couldn’t let us have it. And now I realize, you may be a monster, but I helped make you that way. I lied for you. I protected you from the consequences of your own actions out of misplaced loyalty, but it didn’t serve you, it spoiled you. I forgave you for everything you did to me, because again, I can take it, but that was the wrong thing to do. It made you think you could get away with anything. And you can’t get away with this. You went too far. You’re you, so there’s no justice system, there’s no court of law, there’s nobody who can punish you. Only me. So I will. I will be your consequence until you get sick of me and kill me, too.”

Mateo watches me as I conclude my speech. He doesn’t look angry, just annoyed. “I wish you wouldn’t commit to that.”

“And I wish you would’ve just listened to me when I begged you to, and none of this would’ve ever happened.”

“And what would have happened, Mia?” he throws back, watching my face. “Say I didn’t come over to Vince’s that night. Say I gave up, told Colin to go home, and let you stay with Vince? What then? Did you and Vince live happily ever after?” he asks, more than a little mockingly. “Did all your many fucking troubles just evaporate into thin air? Did you stop having feelings for me and endure your martyrdom to make him feel better about me being inside you?”

“Fuck you, Mateo,” I fling back.

“No, I want to know what magical happy ending I took from you. Because you know what I think I took from you, Mia? A kid who wasn’t fucking ready for you. A borderline abusive boyfriend—and I’m being generous here by using borderline, let’s be honest—who flew off the handle every time you said my name. And you said my name a lot, because I’m the one you wanted. Do you know what I took, Mia? I took out the fucking garbage for you.”

I’m up on my knees now, riled. “He wasn’t garbage. He was a person. And he had good in him.”

He rolls his eyes, ridiculing me. “Oh, you think everyone has fucking good in them, Mia. I’d love to hear your take on Charles Manson sometime.”

“I think you’d be great friends,” I toss back. “You could bond over all the murders you commit together.”

“You didn’t fucking mind it before, now did you? This isn’t new. I didn’t just become a murderer, Mia. I killed the last person I was in a meaningful relationship with, for god’s sake. I run half the crime in Chicago. Did you think my hands were clean before now?”

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