Vanellope had been told over and over again the exact same statement:
You must be sad.
It was a funny thing, how others looked at a situation and immediately guessed what emotions ran through your head. And the worst part was, they always thought they were right. Like now, for instance. She had been approached by so many characters, some familiar and others not, and all of them said the same thing more or less;
You must be sad.
And so she listened to all of them and she waited for that feeling, sadness, to come. But it didn't. It seemed to refuse to come, refused to enter her system and fill her coding. No matter how many times they said it to her -you must be sad- she simply wasn't.
She'd gone to the funeral. But halfway through she'd left. Walked calmly out of the doors, despite the looks, and just… left, tugging the hood of her sweatshirt up as she did. He'd always teased her about that dress, so she hadn't worn it
People said she'd left because she was too emotional, that she couldn't stand it.
You must be sad.
They were wrong. She hadn't been sad. She'd left because she was tired of hearing those four words over and over again.
You must be sad. You must be sad. You must be sad. You must be- You must- must- must…
At first she thought there was something wrong with her. Looking into the mirror she did not see the broken figure that she saw on Felix's face. Her spine refused to bow and her eyes stayed clear, unlike many who now walked through life like they walked through a mist. No. She was not sad.
But some niggling part of her wished she would be.
Everyone else was sad. Calhoun, Bad-a-Non, and Felix. And she was so tired of it. Why did they have to be sad? Why did they have to keep throwing her looks? Felix, the day before, had stared at her with wide, droopy eyes, and tried to tell her that he understood. Calhoun had done the same, though her eyes were harder and her mouth fixed into a permanent frown, and the most she could offer was a firm squeeze to the shoulder before moving on. They were both liars. They didn't know how it felt.
They were sad.
She was not.
What she was, she wasn't quite sure. And it had taken her a few good days of staring into a mirror whilst pacing to figure it out- why her eyes weren't rimmed red and blank like so many others. She'd been taken off the roster, much to her distaste, and told that for the next two weeks she was to "take it easy" because, as so many in Sugar Rush had said:
You must be sad.
It hadn't taken her two weeks to figure it out. Rather, it had taken her three whole days of endless pacing and very little sleep. But she'd figured it out in the end. No, she wasn't sad.
She was angry.
And when she'd finally figured that out, sometime at around three in the morning on the third day, she'd let everything out. Floodgates burst and the river was free, and after that there was not a bowl nor a glass object that was safe.
On the fourth day Sour Bill had cleaners come to clear away all the broken glass. Then he'd gone to Vanellope and said exactly what she'd been dreading to hear:
You must be sad.
She wasn't sad. She wasn't sad at all. No. he was mad. Livid. Hopelessly furious.
How could he have done that? How could he have done that to her?
It was an accident, she knew. And it had taken a few days to realize, to convince herself, that it had, in fact, been an accident. Ralph always came to see her races. It was tradition in a way, like fathers going to their daughters soccer tournaments. No matter how tired or beat or distressed he was he always showed up, was always on the sidelines cheering her on, huge fists pumping the air back towards the sky.
It hadn't started off any different. He'd showed up at her race, and he'd seen him before she'd climbed into her cart, waving toward him and beaming when he waved back.
The race had started with her in third, though she knew it would change quickly. To her surprise, that day hadn't quite been hers for the taking. Usually advancing to first, she'd pouted when others passed her, placing her in fifth and sixth and than fifth again for a majority of the time. She played place-ping-pong for a while until she'd reached the gumball ramps.
One of the hardest parts of the race with one of the simplest of tasks. Dodge the gumballs. Don't get hit.
She'd gotten hit.
It was a simple clip to the right back wheel by a purple gumball that sent her car out of control. She'd flipped and tumbled, hearing motors as other racers passed her by and she was left behind. Her car had flipped a few more times and she'd fallen out onto the track, her car finally stopping upside down a few feet away. She'd gotten to her feet quick enough, but that didn't stop the fact that she was no longer moving at a reasonable speed and that the gumballs were still rolling up and down the sides of the ramp- huge and foreboding and frightening.
So she'd done all she could have. She'd ran.
Her luck was only as good as her situation, and before she'd known it a blue gumball had been coming her way.
After that she didn't remember much. She'd heard a scream –her own, those watching the jumbotron had said- and held her head in her hands. And then she was pushed. And then the game just sort of… stopped. In fact, everything had stopped.
What she could remember, and she remembered very little, was seeing him lying there on the track, having pushed her out of the way in an effort to keep her safe.
She was no longer a glitch. She wouldn't have died. She would have simple ceased to exist until the game saw fit to bring her back. Sure, her coding wasn't the strongest yet, and there was a chance –the smallest of chances- that she wouldn't return. But it was a chance, and she believed in taking chances.
He didn't. Not when it had come to her. Never when it had come to her.
And so he'd jumped.
Ralph had always been a jumper. He jumped up buildings. He jumped off of buildings. And he always jumped for Vanellope.
It had been an accident, she'd had to convince herself. She tried to hard to tell herself that. And for a while she'd honestly believed it to be her fault. But now that idea had changed. It wasn't her fault.
It was his.
It was his fault that they had the funeral service. It was his fault that Felix was left without his bad guy, Gene already looking for replacements. It was his fault that everyone was giving her all these looks, the faces that told her she should have been sad, why wasn't she sad? It was his fault that he had jumped.
Ralph had been so selfish. He'd been selfish and unfair and cruel. He'd left her alone.
So no, she wasn't sad, she was angry.
It was all his fault that now no one would show up for her. It was all his fault that no one would be there for her. It was all his fault that she'd been, once again, left alone.
He'd just had to be selfish and die outside of his game.
The fifth day had been the hardest. She'd run away from the castle and hid in the forest, kicking whatever she could find and avoiding anyone. And when the obnoxious song and the sight of chocolate was too much to stand, she'd left. Donning her princess crown, she'd left.
Sugar Rush had gone crazy. Where had there prin-president gone? A mad search had ensued, but she'd been nowhere to be found.
Felix was the first to actually find her.
Sitting on the remains of the brick pile, now a measly three feet off the ground, she'd been throwing bricks down as hard as she could, punching the pile and wincing, examining her knuckles each time.
"You're not as strong as him, you know."
She'd been surprised to see him, and turned away quickly, sitting and refusing to speak.
Felix had continued anyway. "We all miss him. We're all sad."
"You're not sad?"
"Then what are you?"
Question of the century. She'd just shrugged, finding that much easier. The bricks had shifted as Felix bounced from foot to foot.
"You were all he had, you know that?" Vanellope rubbed her arms, though it was hardly cold and she was in a sweatshirt. "And he couldn't see you get hurt."
"He was being stupid."
"He was." There was a pause. "But until you came along, he never acted stupid. He acted sad, and lonely. But never stupid." Another pause. "Sometimes stupidity and bravery go hand in hand."
"He wasn't being brave." She stayed turned around, refused to look at the handyman. "He knows I wouldn't have died."
"He wasn't thinking."
"I'd have to disagree."
"That's just because you don't know…" She stopped herself. A tickle had started in the back of her eyes and she rubbed them.
"I don't know what, Vanellope?" His tone was gently, but insistent, urging her to continue.
"You don't know… how I feel." Her fingers twiddled and she stared at them. But when she did she saw the bricks she was sitting on, so looked up instead. "Everyone thinks I'm sad. I'm not sad."
"What are you."
"Angry…" pause, "… I think." She tugged at her ponytail. "It was his fault that I'm here and he's not."
"Are you sure?"
"He jumped. He didn't have to jump, but he did."
She could almost hear Felix shrug sadly from behind her, a sad, forlorn sort of shrug. "He wanted to live up to what you made him believe."
Vanellope finally turned around. The handyman was smiling at her, a very sad smile, but a smile nonetheless. His hand extended and on his palm sat, innocently enough, her metal. The pink candy rope drooped toward the ground and facing the sky, where she could clearly see, were the words-
You're my hero.
"He was always a hero." Felix placed the metal on a brick and backed away slightly, "It just took you to bring it out. And once you did… he never had to be a hero. Just yours."
She'd been left alone after that, but she hadn't picked up the medal. She'd let it sit on the brick pile, curly letters staring at the stars. She could hear the Nicelanders from inside the building all talking to Felix. One of them said her name. Another said:
She must be sad.
And she finally discovered after that, that she'd been wrong.
She wasn't sad, and she wasn't angry. She was a mix of so many emotions, a nameless garble with a million faces. Anger didn't disappear, but other things were added to it, and finally she allowed everything in.
It had taken Vanellope Von Shweets five days to cry.
She sat on the brick pile for hours, and slowly the ideas she'd had began to change.
'It was all his fault' turned into "I'll miss you's.'
And it was then that she'd really begun to erase blame in order to write in sorrow.
She'd miss having someone watch her at races. She'd miss having someone to laugh with. She'd miss being able to call people names and have them call her the same back. She'd miss riding on shoulders. She'd miss someone to run to when she needed the nightmares scared away. She'd miss ground shaking footsteps, the red spiky hair, the ripped overalls and the gap toothed smile.
She'd miss trips to tappers.
She'd miss the wave she'd receive every night before closing, as she held the trophy above her head.
Sour Bill had found her the next morning, curled up on the brick pile, after having received a call from Felix. She'd woken up as soon as he'd approached. Her hair was out of place, a few of the mints had fallen out. Eyes misty and red, tear tracks solidified against flushed cheeks, back stooped and shoulders pushed forward. The metal was permanently affixed between her fingers.
She'd looked at him, and he'd looked at her.
But she'd shaken her head, her eyes telling him to 'wait'.
"I'm not…" her voice broke, swollen from holding back sobs, "I'm not sad …"
She wasn't sad. No. She really wasn't sad.
She was alone.
And that was so much worse.