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Girls fight dirty. No one had ever told you this, so when you split your knuckles open on another girl's face, hands smeared with blood and silver eye shadow, it's a bit of a surprise to you to meet the howling animal thing that you've been hiding deep down.

What you don't realize, in the adrenaline rush that makes this seem like five minutes and the next fifteen years simultaneously, is that this is a very brief fight, all things considered. It starts when Chantal Emory tells her friends as you pass, "She's a rugmuncher, did you know it?" It's not particularly creative and this isn't even the first time she's tried to malign your reputation in this way, and you'll find out later that it won't be the last, but today something in you snaps.

It has more than you'd like to admit with how two days ago you kissed Ella Rosen with Sugababes playing in the background and cheap liquor coating your tongue. It has everything to do with how just yesterday Ella Rosen tells you that she doesn't want to hang out anymore, that friends drift apart all the time, that she asked out Reece Hemmings, that she's not a, you know, not some muff diver.

When Chantal Emory tells her friends that you're a lesbian like she's letting them in on some secret, you turn for once and get right in her face. You tell her, "I think you're projecting a bit there, I mean ... you and Laura are very close." You're not sure if it's the accusation, right in front of her friends, or the proximity but her hands are suddenly very hard on your shoulders, pushing you away. There's a metallic taste in your mouth when you realize she and her friends are watching, your heart drumming against your ribcage. Walk away, you tell yourself, but your legs don't listen and some other part of your brain says, Push her back.

It escalates rapidly in the next few moments, from pushes and slaps to punches. It is undignified and inelegant, her nails raking across your face at one point. In another second, you've taken your bag and hit her in the gut. After your punch lands, she grabs you by the hair and cracks your forehead against the brick wall of the school she and her cronies had been lounged against before all of this erupted. Head wounds are bleeders, you learn that that day too, but the fight isn't over because you go down. The fight ends because your brother materializes from who knows where to pull you apart.

Later, your mother sits with you in the hospital in a cold fury as they stitch your forehead up. You are facing disciplinary action from the school in the morning, and it turns out you are mildly concussed. "You shouldn't have fought," she tells you. When you tell her that she came at you, as if that settles the matter, she sighs. "Sometimes you should walk away," she says. "Sometimes it isn't worth it."

It's an afterthought to someone else's scandal, but you are twenty-seven and sitting in a terminal at Cancun International Airport and reading about your old relationship. You are twenty-seven and sitting in a terminal at Cancun International Airport and, while people go about their day as usual, you have just been outed without ambiguity, for the first time in your life. There are almost no gendered pronouns in your love songs and you link your hand in your girlfriend's in public, but even if it wasn't a secret, it was yours to tell.

The phone in your hands vibrates with an incoming call; when you realize it's the ex-husband you were just reading about cheating on, you ignore it. If you thought he was calling to gloat about you getting your comeuppance, maybe you'd answer. Four years later, and guilt still pulls at you so insistently that if he wanted to make you suffer, you'd allow it. Instead, you know he wants to check on you and that is unbearable. After his call is sent to voicemail, you do it for him, checking how people are reacting on Twitter. Your position in the industry normally allows you a measure of anonymity but Fiona's hacking has dragged you through the mud and now you and all your dirt are in the spotlight.

it's hypocritical of u to stay in the closet when max is gay / doesnt visibility matter to u?

maybe next time you'll keep your legs closed, whore

you ugly bitch, i can't believe fiona would ever fuck you

cum sit on my dick, i'll make u strait again / i'd tie you to my bed and fuck you till you begged for my cock, dyke

You stand, with no recollection of doing so, and board the flight when your section is called, sitting among people who presumably have no idea who you are or what you're doing to yourself and presumably don't care. You are given a reprieve while your phone is off on the way to Phoenix, but once you land, your morbid curiosity sends you right down that rabbit hole once more. You know you shouldn't be in this headspace when you have a show to do, so when Max forces you to give up your mobile, you don't fight him on it.

You affect a casual voice when you say, "I was thinking I might respond, you know tell those people to go fuck themselves. Maybe retweet some of them and put them on blast," but your shoulders hunch in on themselves, bones weakened by the poison you willingly served yourself. Max gives you a look that's far too close to pity and then disappears to find Louise. Although she's only a tour manager, not a manager-manager, the line between the two roles has always been smudged when you feel unmoored. "I heard you were thinking of responding, Zo?" she asks softly. "I wouldn't, you'll only make things worse on yourself."