At that, the world for me seemed to momentarily stop in its tracks… I noticed that even Audrianna's hand on Lillith's shoulder stilled, that her face went stiff, drawn tight in shock. 449

How could this be right- how could she be telling the truth? What about the police, they'd seen Richard, wouldn't they know if Lillith had killed him? Wouldn't a scrawny little thing like her have had a hard time killing a man as big as Richard had been? 450

I couldn't have heard her right, she had to be wrong…451

"What?" I managed to force out through dry, cracked lips. "What- how- how did you - kill him?"452

Lillith's sobbing began anew, and she doubled over, hands tightly over her face. For a moment both Audrianna and I looked at her dumbly, then slowly Audrianna put a hand back on her back, rubbed it in circles slowly.453

"Try to tell us, Lillith. Try to explain- we want to hear you out."454

It was several moments before Lillith could force herself under enough control to be able to speak, and even then her words were distorted, fragmented by the anguish in her tone. She remained hunched over, hiding her face, her back rigid and bony beneath Audrianna's hand. Again, I felt like I should be doing something, saying something, but I couldn't, didn't even know what I should be doing or saying. Lillith's tortured half-confession had thrown out other possible thoughts.455

"I thought Richard was drunk and choked on his vomit," Audrianna prodded gently, as Lillith lapsed back into a shuddery silence after her initial incoherent attempt at speaking. "That's what the police seemed to think. Was this not true?"456

"N-no," Lillith said, her words more understandable now. "I mean, yes… sort of…"457

She took a deep breath, still bent over onto her lap. It was many more seconds before she spoke again.458

"I watched him die, and I d-didn't try to s-stop him… I let him. I let him die, and I didn't try to help him… he was choking and I let him, I didn't call 911, I didn't help him, I didn't do anything. I didn't even want to… didn't. I could have helped him and I just stood there and watched. And I wanted him to die, I WANTED him too…"459

And she was crying again, more softly, hopelessly… god, it hurt to hear her.460

"It's okay," Audrianna began to say automatically, apparently forgetting she had promised not to say that. "It's okay, Lillith…" she rubbed her back rhythmically, her face appearing somehow exhausted, numb, and worn at the same time. 461

Inside me swirled a vivid flow of emotions that immediately took presidence over my numbness… surprise, guilt, fear for her, shame, anger- but mainly, a powerful sadness for Lillith. It made sense now, all her confused feelings and behaviors… her shame and self-loathing… far more sense even than sexual abuse. For the first time since Lillith had come to live with us, I felt like I understood her, the person she was…462

And all this thawed my frozen tongue, made me speak to her without even considering what I'd say.463

"Lillith- don't cry. Don't feel guilty or afraid. You have nothing to be ashamed of."464

Audrianna turned her head toward me quickly, startled- then glanced back down at Lillith, who had not moved, hadn't straightened up or even relaxed her hunched posture.465

"I killed him, how do I not have anything to be ashamed of when I let him die?" Lillith asked, her voice muffled, teary.466

"You didn't kill him," I told her quietly but firmly, trying to make the tone of my voice insistent enough that she would be forced to believe me. "You only let him die. There is a huge difference between the two matters in the eyes of the law. By law you are not obligated to save someone who is dying. You cannot be prosecuted against for simply not calling 911."467

Of course I had no idea if this was true or not- I was just spouting out with whatever came to my mind and chose to exit my mouth. What I was saying sounded simultaneously right and wrong to me, but I didn't care. It was reaching Lillith in her pain and guilt and helping to lessen it that mattered.468

"But I wanted- I wanted him to die-"469

"But you didn't kill him. You didn't put your hands around his neck and choke him, you didn't shoot him or stab him or put bleach in his coffee- you stood there. That's all. No one would blame you for that- no one. You're fifteen, he was abusive, and you froze- you were scared and angry. That's ALL," I said firmly. "You did not kill him."470

"But I let him die," Lillith wept, not seeming to have listened to a word I had said. "I let him die, he was my father and I let him die."471

"Lillith- listen to me," I said urgently, and suddenly I was getting up, crouching down in front of her. She still would not look at me, but I stayed in front of her face, at her eye level, unwilling to let her retreat or block me out. I couldn't let her do this to herself, couldn't allow her to hate herself back into the girl she had been two months ago.472

"No one would blame you for killing him after what he did to you, the way he treated you. No one would think wrongly of you. He was not a father to you, Lillith, and not a husband to your mother. He was a tyrant. No one would have blamed you for killing him- what makes you think you should have people blaming you for letting him die?"473

Silence from Lillith, only shuddery half-sobbing breathing. Her hands still on Lillith's back, Audrianna's eyes met mine and held them- she seemed confused at my sudden change, my intensity, but trusting me to say and do what I could.474

"He deserved to die- it was long past his time," I told Lillith quietly.475

Lillith's shoulders rose up in a hunch, then sank down again limply. She raised her head a little, still not looking at me, but getting closer to it.476

"But I didn't help him," she repeated stubbornly, weakly. It was as if she was determined to condemn herself, to hate herself, proclaim herself as deserving of self-punishment and hatred.477

"So what?" I said forcefully, raising my voice. "So what if you didn't help him? Did he help you? Did anyone help you when you needed it?" When she didn't answer, I took her by the shoulders impulsively, feeling the bones beneath my hands. Lillith flinched but didn't try to pull away. I think she was afraid in that moment, afraid I would hurt her.478

"Lillith, you could have died too," I said gently. "Richard could have killed you while drunk. If he got too angry or hit you in the wrong place- would it be me who killed YOU then, for not helping you? Would Richard be absolved of all blame? Morally, maybe not, maybe some of the blame would lie with me. But realistically- and legally- that would not be true. Richard would have caused your death- and the same is true with this. Richard is responsible for his own death. His drinking led up to this- he chose to die in that manner, whether he knew it or not."479

Lillith did not speak, but I could hear her breathing quietening, slowing, becoming more normal. Encouraged, I pressed on.480

"And Lillith- you had a much better reason not to help Richard than I had not to help you."481

I felt a twisting pain in my chest as I said this, but I knew it was true. I could have helped her years ago, at least attempted to- and she had needed, deserved my help far more than Richard had hers.482

I saw Audrianna watching me with soft understanding and knew she knew what I was thinking, and that she forgave me of it, absolved me of self-blame. She placed a hand on top of mine on Lillith's shoulder, tenderly, as she continued to stroke Lillith's back with her other hand.483

"Both of us understand, Lillith. We don't' blame you- we certainly don't hate you. We don't' want you to hate yourself either," she said. "We want you to forgive yourself so you can have peace."484

"Lillith, I should have killed him," I told her, and I knew as I said it I meant it. "Long ago, when I had the chance. If you can't blame Richard for his death and for his making you wish death upon him, blame me. But don't ever think it's you who should be punished."485

It wasn't until then that Lilith slowly, cautiously began to lift her head to look at me. Her face was mottled, shiny with tears, her eyes swollen, growing red and bloodshot. But beyond that I could see the cautious flicker in her eyes that seemed to me to convey a faint, unbelieving hope…486

"You- you really aren't mad?" she asked falteringly, and her eyes dropped. "You-you really don't' think I'm bad or- that- it's okay?" Her eyes flicked up to me anxiously, then over to Audrianna.487

Both of us shook our heads.488

"No," Aud said softly, and I echoed, "No, Lillith. I've been trying to tell you that this whole time."489

"You- will you call the police?"490

"No," I reassured her. How could she still think I would do that to her, that anyone would not understand- but then, how could she think someone understood her and cared for her when no one had before?491

"They don't' need to know. Even if you told them, they couldn't punish you."492

I knew this might be false- not everyone, even some cops, might understand what had driven Lillith to the point where she could watch her father die and not attempt to save him, even be glad. Some might misconstrue it, think it an act of malice- but those were the people who had never been abused or watched anyone else live through abuse. Those were not the people Lillith needed to hear about.493

"You- you don't- I understand if you- don't want me," Lillith nearly whispered, and her eyes quickly dropped into her lap again. "I-"494

"Lillith, why would you even think that?" I asked, frustrated by now by how long it took her to understand, to accept what we were telling her- to accept that she was a worthy person. "495

"Of course we want you," Audrianna finished for me, "you're ours now, you're Evan's sister- and mine as well, if not by blood, if your brother would ever get around to proposing," she said wryly, sending me a pointed look. 496

I smiled sheepishly, but my heart squeezed in sudden joy- this, those words showed how much she had grown to care for her, to accept her- she still wanted to marry, to live with me, forever, in spite of Lilith- she had grown to consider her hers as well as mine, more than just a burden to get around to be with me. But mainly, she still loved me as well as she had before Lillith. Until that moment I had not known how much I feared losing Audrianna, even after she and Lillith ahd begun to get along better.497

"Yeah, you're pretty much stuck with us," I said in a voice strange to my own ears, but Lillith didn't seem to notice. She just looked up at me, her face shivering slightly, lips pressed together firmly. Then, almost as if forcing herself to do so, her lips curved slowly into a tight, tremulous smile.498

"This- this is so hard," she muttered. "I can't let myself- I don't- how can you when I'm so-"499

"Just believe," Audrianna told her softly. "Don't you think it's fair for you to get a break in life? Don't you think it's right?"500

"But-"501

"Don't tell me again you don't deserve it," I interrupted, then added in a lighter tone, "you just want to hear us tell you over and over how great you are and how much we care about you, you can't fool me."502

Lillith closed her eyes, her head drooping once more, but only for a moment. Then, to my surprise, she took a deep breath and reached out, taking my left hand in hers and Audrianna's right one in her left. She held them tightly, her small palm clammy and trembling; she seemed to be pulling courage from us, strength to begin again, to let go of the image of herself she had clung to so tenaciously in spite of the pain it caused her.503

We sat together, physically and emotionally joined, the only sounds audible those of our breathing, varying in volume and intensity. We sat together and let Lillith soak up whatever she could from us, willing to give what she needed. We sat together, and I prayed for Lillith as I held her hand in mine, prayed for the first time in years… prayed that we would be enough for her, that our fumbling attempts at caring would help more than hurt. I did not know if we could do anything for her, to heal her, or even if we deserved to try. But at least we WERE trying, which was more than anyone else in her life had done. Surely, that had to count for something…504

The end 505