Before We Burn

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Gold Dust Woman

“Where have you been?” Theresa asked with her arms crossed.

Her golden watch glimmered in the bright house lights, and her blue scrubs swished every time she shifted.

The sun was beginning to rise over the horizon, and iridescent colors came through the windows and painted the carpet.

“Out. Where’s dad?” Oaklyn asked as she bit into a slice of salami from the fridge.

Her mother sighed heavily. “Who knows nowadays. Work? A woman’s apartment?”

Her eyes appeared tired from being on call and not receiving the amount of sleep her body desperately craved.

“I’ll ask one more time. Where have you been?”

Oaklyn shrugged before she moved past her and went up the stairs toward her room.

“You smell like alcohol and cigarettes,” her mom yelled to her. “That boy is going to be the death of you.”

Oaklyn stopped walking but decided not to take the bait.

She just flashed a cold smile, “I sure hope so.”

She let out a harsh breath of air when she closed her door behind her. Her cigarette pack weighed heavily in her pocket as it began to beckon her, yet she threw it on the dresser.

Oaklyn avoided the mirror as much as she could when she placed another tablet on her tongue, then decided to call up Sandra.

“Don’t you know what time it is?” Sandra answered immediately.

She assumed from surprise as she was no longer the one to send messages or call first.

“Where do you get these things?” she asked in a hush in case her mother were to hear.

She could hear Sandra shift in her bed, and a laugh came through the phone.

“I told you they were amazing, didn’t I? I was thinking about making another supply run. Wanna join?”

Oaklyn hesitated. She glanced at herself in the mirror, then quickly turned away from her reflection.

She became a shell of the person she used to be. Yet, there was an overwhelming part of her that found comfort in that fact.

“Sure,” she answered. “I bailed on going to music lessons, so I have more time on my hands.”

╚»★«╝╚»★«╝

“There’s something different about you,” Sandra announced as she eyed Oaklyn head to toe.

Oaklyn had on her usual denim jacket and distressed skinny jeans. She had cut up one of her black shirts into a muscle tee.

Her eye makeup had graduated to liquid eyeliner with a flick at the corner of her eyes.

“You’re not so girly anymore, but there’s something else,” she added as she continued to study Oaklyn’s face. “You had sex!”

Oaklyn blushed, “Shut up!”

Sandra laughed before she took out a flask from her purse and threw the liquor into the back of her throat. She handed it to Oaklyn once she finished.

Oaklyn swished it around in her mouth before she swallowed. The alcohol burn around her tongue and gums satisfied her more than she wanted to admit.

“How was he?”

Oaklyn drank one more time before she gave the flask back.

“That man knows what he’s doing, I’ll tell you that much,” she replied as she stared out at the sidewalk they strolled down. “He’s nothing like what his reputation says about him, you know?”

Sandra shrugged, and she didn’t appear convinced. It was evident that she might have had known more about Wesley than she led on.

“He has a reputation for a reason, Oaky. You just might not have seen it for yourself yet.”

She nodded and didn’t say anything else. Even though she knew Wesley better than anyone else, there were many people out there that could argue they knew him better in other ways.

The thought bothered her.

He had seen her at her worst, but he had not opened up to her completely. He was hiding something.

Oaklyn guessed it was his rage or aggression, which had led him into trouble before, but there was something else that didn’t sit right with her. Something much more profound than a bad temper.

She stopped walking once Sandra stood in front of a broken-down house.

The layout was similar to Wesley’s but didn’t have the same captivating appeal.

The blinds were closed but crooked and bent. The front lawn hadn’t been cared for in years; the grass was brown, and the weeds were overgrown.

Wrought iron grills covered every windowpane of each side of the house. A metal screen was in front of the main door.

Loud music played from behind the chipped bricks.

“Inviting,” Oaklyn commented.

Sandra snickered before she guided her to the front door. Her knuckles pounded on the metal screen.

A moment later, the door opened, and Oaklyn gasped at the familiar face.

“Well, well, well. Flamer’s sister. Never thought I’d see you around these parts,” Nick smirked. “Weren’t you a barbie doll last time I saw you?”

Of course, Sandra got her supply from Wesley’s former group. It was no wonder as to why she seemed to know more about him than Oaklyn. She ran around with his former friends.

“Yeah, yeah. Who knew people could change their clothes?” she retorted with a fiery glint in her eye.

He licked his lips and checked her out in amusement. His eyebrows quirked up into his light hair.

“And could gain a personality,” he laughed. “Does Wussy know you’re here?”

She shook her head as her eyes narrowed. “No, and I like to keep it that way.”

Sandra groaned when she grew impatient. Her feet shifted uncomfortably, and she held the folded money in between her fingers.

“Are we going to flirt, or are we going to talk business?”

Nick opened the door for them after he stuck a burning cigarette in his mouth.

“A relationship built on secrets isn’t healthy, you know,” he murmured to Oaklyn when she moved past him.

“Like you’d know what a healthy relationship is.” She rolled her eyes.

The inside of the house was unkempt like the outside.

Beer cans and bottles were jam-packed together on every open surface. The smell of smoke and weed was strong throughout the rooms.

A couple of half-naked girls passed out on couches and the floor. One of them had a thick rubber band wrapped around her arm as she slept soundly.

A few men also passed out in various parts of the house, and moaning came from one of the back bedrooms.

Oaklyn grew more uncomfortable and more anxious as they followed Nick to his bedroom.

Sandra closed the door behind her and became excited when she saw a familiar duffel bag sitting in the corner next to his bed.

“Don’t be looking at her. I’m paying for both of us,” she declared.

Regardless, Nick kept his eye on Oaklyn the majority of the time.

She went to argue with her about the money but stopped when Sandra held up a hand.

“Alright. Price doubled for two,” he replied as he pulled out two small baggies filled to the brim with the familiar pills.

Sandra slapped the bills into his hand, then gave Oaklyn the other bag.

When Sandra walked out of the room, Nick closed the door behind her, and Oaklyn looked at him with alarm.

“It doesn’t surprise me that Sandra became a customer, but you,” he waved his finger in the air, “I would have never expected.”

She crossed her arms and tilted her head as if to size him up.

He had discarded his leather jacket, but his black shirt and jeans were the same. A giant colored tattoo of a tiger growling coated his bicep caught her eye, and she met his face again.

“I don’t think that’s any of your business,” she retorted.

“No, but if you’re looking to rebel a little,” he whispered as he nudged himself closer to her, “we could use a girl like you on our team.”

Her brows raised. “A girl like me? What would I be able to do for you?”

Nick smirked.

Oaklyn’s breathing became heavy and ragged in anxiety. Her teeth clenched hard that her jaw ached while the rest of her body froze in place.

“A sexy looking thing like you would play a perfect decoy. Someone to lure the buyers in, and make our cash that way.”

Oaklyn scowled. “I’m not going to be your prostitute.”

He clicked his tongue at her and shook his head. “No sexual contact guaranteed.”

She didn’t respond. She watched Nick as he opened the bedroom door for her.

“I won’t tell Wes if you won’t,” Nick declared in a regular voice, and his smirk morphed into a friendly smile. “Just think about it.”

She walked out before him and met Sandra on the porch, who was smoking a cigarette.

“What was that about?” she asked while the smoke floated around her.

Oaklyn shook her head and gave a smile she didn’t feel.

“He was just reassuring me that he won’t tell Wesley. Nothing special.”

Sandra accepted her answer and proceeded to walk down the sidewalk.

Oaklyn glanced back at Nick’s house one last time with uncertainty, then caught up to her friend.

“I wonder how sex would feel while on one of these,” Sandra laughed before she took two and swallowed it down with the liquor in her flask.

Oaklyn’s eyes almost bulged out of her skull. One was strong enough, but Sandra had decided to double it for good measure.

Her friend innocently looked back at her. “What?”

“Why not just take one?”

She laughed again and shook her head at her naivety. “Oh, Oaky, you’ll see. You’ll start doing it too after a while.”

You’ll see, Oaklyn thought. There it is again.

Uneasiness settled in her chest, then through her gut. She understood the dangers of addiction, but it was different when she was witnessing it.

“Soon, one won’t be enough. Then two. Then three. Next thing you know, you OD,” she had remembered a police officer saying during an assembly when she was a kid.

Oaklyn, looking at two of them in her palm, took a hard gulp of the flask.

Sandra cheered and clapped for her, “It’s a party all the damn time!”

She smiled shyly and blushed. It didn’t take long for the double dose to kick in, and her body relaxed.

She felt as though she finally understood why Sandra felt like she couldn’t live without them. All of her stress had gone away. Any dark, impeding thoughts that haunted her faded into the background.

Although they were still there, the thoughts were only as a low hum instead of a blaring alarm.

“Have you ever been with a girl?”

Oaklyn coughed and wheezed when she accidentally inhaled the liquor out of surprise.

“What?” she rasped. “No.”

“I have,” she admitted. “It’s so much better than being with a guy. You should try it sometime.”

Oaklyn’s eyes were wide, and she grinned sarcastically with a nod.

“I mean it, Oaky.”

She rolled her eyes and shook her head in disbelief.

She couldn’t decide if it was from the downers or her partying personality, but Sandra had also changed a lot since the last time they were close.

She was just as straight and narrow as Oaklyn had been. She had to be, or else her relationship with Brian wouldn’t have had worked out.

It seemed as though she had taken the minimal amount of classes she could, spent a lot of her time partying, and didn’t want a relationship anymore.

Oaklyn knew she wasn’t too far behind, but she was proud she had Wesley, which was why she had to keep her interaction with Nick a secret.

She didn’t want him to know that she was purposely finding ways to numb her pain, even if that meant dying.

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