Vinnia tried to ignore Aretta's comments, but there was no denying the fact that they stung. Badly. "Don't forget who you are, Vinnia! A mere replacement - both times around!
"I know very well what I am, Aretta. And let me tell you - it is far more honorable than you will ever be."
Aretta's eyes flashed with memories. Holding her head high, she put her hands on her hips and rolled her eyes. "It depends on what you think honor is."
Tempted to remind Aretta of incidents past but not wanting to stir problems, Vinnia turned back to Trace. "I think I'm ready to go," she said. "Do you think we have to stay for much longer?"
Trace sighed. "We've only been here for an hour and a half."
"I know, but..."
"Whining are we?" Aretta asked.
Vinnia whirled around to face her rival. "You know what, Aretta? I'm not interested in playing your games. I'm not interested in watching as you destroy my life! So if you want to exchange words with me tonight, tell me what your real motive is."
"I want to give these people a show," Aretta said. Smiling, she raised her eyebrows. "I want to give them a good show they'll never forget."
Vinnia's voice rose, but she didn't care. "Oh, really? And what, pray tell, is that?"
"You know what I'm talking about," Aretta said, her voice escalating in volume, as well. "You know what I want, Vinnia. You might as well drag the skeletons out of your closet before I do."
Stomping her foot, Vinnia felt Trace's hand on her shoulder, but she didn't pay any mind to the warning he was trying to send her. Not caring that those around her could hear, Vinnia was intent on shooting down Aretta's pride. "Don't forget why I hate you, you..." She stopped, humiliated by the fact that she'd almost used a less-than-appropriate term to describe her archenemy.
"That's right, Vinnia. Tell me what you're thinking." Aretta's voice was loud and clear.
"Vinnia!" Trace exclaimed in a low whisper.
Looking around, Vinnia saw that everyone had ceased their talking and was focusing on the miniature showdown occurring between Vinnia and Aretta. Taking a deep breath, Vinnia turned back to Aretta.
"What is it you want?"
"Why do you always cover your arms?"
There was nothing but silence.
Finally, in a shaky voice, Vinnia asked softly, "That's what you've wanted this entire time. Not just to anger me, but to mortify me, as well." She turned to face the wonderstruck people watching, their eyes wide. "Is that what you want?" she asked, voice unsure but still loud enough for all to hear.
"That's what we want," Aretta said. She smirked. "Why don't you reveal your true colors, Vinnia? Why don't you show us who you've become in these past nine years?"
Trembling, Vinnia set her shoulders back. "There's no hiding," she said. "There is no honor in hiding."
Trace stood. "Vinnia..."
Not minding Trace, Vinnia unzipped her lacy arm warmers and let them fall to the floor. Raising her scar-riddled arms, she watched as horror, disbelief, pity, and a myriad of other emotions played on the spectator's faces.
"What you see," Vinnia said in a low but inexplicably confident voice, "are not marks of shame, but battle scars. It's been two months since I've last succumbed to temptation. Perhaps you view my skin as dishonored by fear and cowardice, but what I see is the strength it takes to overcome heartache and addiction. What I see is someone I'm proud of becoming." Turning to face Aretta, she held her arm out. "I don't know why I haven't done this earlier."
Trace's face was filled with pride, and Vinnia looked to him for her strength.
"I want you to ask yourselves what prompted me to seek an unhealthy outlet for my pain in the first place. I want you to ask yourselves if I am the monster, or if someone - something - else is."
Without so much as a glance back, Vinnia turned and left the room.