At first I thought someone had stole a dose of acid into my Aviation cocktail.
There was this weird, trippy, muddy-headed dizziness, a warping in my mind that made me close my eyes tightly against it, and when I opened them, I was seated on the huge area rug that Giselle had dragged up from my apartment to the roof, just for the party.
It was only my second drink, so there was no way I was anywhere near drunk, and we hadn’t opened the Absinthe yet, so I couldn’t exactly blame it on that either. So, what else could it have been? And then it struck me.
“Asshole!” I stood up and yelled across the roof of my three-story building. I grinned, lop-sided and silly. Not my usual language, but really, who drugs you at your own birthday party? “Who slipped me the acid?”
I was angry, but I was having a difficult time remaining that way.
Not a single person turned to acknowledge my outburst, let alone give an answer.
The party was in full force. I had to hand it to Moira and Giselle; they had done a bang-up job with the whole shebang. Streamers and twinkling lights, like windswept diamonds strung a few feet above our heads, swayed in the ocean breeze, music drifted across the roof and floated out into the breezy night to be lost over the rolling sea; mirth tangled and entwined with it all.
To my left I took in the great view of the lights of Ocean Boulevard as the cars made their way along the busy street—people all eager to get somewhere on this beautiful Friday night—headlights and tail lights blazing the way to and from.
I turned my gaze to Queensway Bay and the ‘island’ that was just a quarter mile or so off shore, which was also brightly illuminated, complete with colorful waterfalls flowing, as if for my celebration tonight.
I closed my eyes, lifting my face to the night, enjoying the ocean air ruffling through my hair, not caring that the wind was displacing all my carefully positioned and pinned curls and waves; its caress felt too good to be bothered.
My eyes drifted off in the opposite direction.
The Villa Riviera sat just across the street and a touch to the right of my place. A gorgeous, sixteen stories high, historic, French Tudor Gothic structure built in 1929. I had to agree with an article I’d read recently calling it the city’s ‘most elegant landmark’. It was a wonderful sight to be greeted with every morning when I opened my French doors to let in the early morning, salted breeze. The building was topped with a steeply pitched copper roof tarnished by a green patina, that not only had a lit bell tower in the center, but the entire roof was aglow in lights. The fierce-looking gargoyles that perched along the ledges of the higher floors...well, thanks to whomever had obviously gifted my drink with the heavy dose of drugs...were moving about up there in front of the bay windows, as if patrolling their home.
My smile grew at that thought. I adored those gargoyles, and in the more reckless days of my youth—just a few years back—I and my best guy-pal, William, had sat up on one of those outcroppings right outside his apartment; arms around the necks of those gargoyles, taking in the night; reveling in our lives and what was yet ahead; soaking up the sights and sounds of the city that sprawled out beneath our feet so high up on our perch.
I spun away from that vision and took in where I was now, what was happening now. Great bash! My heart soared, even through the haze of the assumed druggage.
Everyone had shown up, and quite a few extras that I didn’t know. I glanced down briefly at a sleeping figure on the sofa—one of the many pieces of furniture that belonged to Giselle, Sweet Gigi, my best friend. It had been dragged up here just for the occasion by Daniel and Lucas, or maybe William had helped. I wasn’t exactly sure who had been in charge of what, but I was sure that I had the best handful of friends a girl could wish for. Such awesome friends they were, all chipping in and working to make this secret a success.
The party was Gigi’s and Moira’s doing, all their planning and plotting for a big ‘Welcome to 30’. Gods, I didn’t feel thirty! When had that happened? How had that happened? I still felt twenty-four!
It was a great turn-out, at least forty-five people milled about on the revamped rooftop. Since Moira had moved in, the once grey and bland roof had been transformed into a small, city skyline oasis. She’d installed a lovely little garden, trellises and lanterns, and a set of very comfortable chairs. The perfect outdoor sanctuary to retreat to after a hard day of cubicle farming, waiting tables, or in my case, staring at a laptop creating worlds I wished to visit. But tonight, it had been further modified into party central, the hot spot to be. Loud music, dancing, drunkenness, noshing, laughing, someone had even strung up a huge bat piñata—now, that was most likely a William addition, we both loved our bats—and it was currently being very drunkenly bashed in; trinkets and treats were beginning to spill forth, causing a loud round of cheers and diving. Grown adults...not children. Oh, how I love my friends.
There was absolute revelry taking place! Life was good. My grin blossomed wider. Life was perfect, and I was elated.
I had an ongoing book deal. After so many years aspiring, and dreaming, and working at it late into the night after my dreary day job, I had finally struck a deal with a big publishing company.
I was finally really over my ex. The demise of that relationship had left me feeling deeply adrift and betrayed for close to a year. I was ready to jump back into the dating pool.
I had money in the bank. Not the usual just-enough-to-cover-the rent-and-bills, but money in the bank. I was no millionaire by any means, but I certainly wasn’t hurting, and wouldn’t be for quite some time. No more Ramen noodles and PB and J for me! I even had a nice tidy cash-stash tucked away downstairs in my apartment.
I looked good. I felt good. I had a handful of close friends. I was very happy. I beamed. I glowed.
Life was very good.
A frown creased my brow and my contented grin wilted. I was very confused with what I was seeing. The rooftop became a vacuum, all the air was slowly being sucked away from around me. I felt even more disoriented than before.
How could I be looking down at myself—my own body—lying there curled up oh-so-pretty and cozy in the softness of the deep, plush purple couch? This was just so wrong. Like seven ways till Sunday wrong. Could I reach out and wake myself up? I kneeled down, stood right back up. Just too weird. So far beyond bizarre.
“At my own party?” I yelled out again. Because someone must have deposited something pretty damn crazy in my drink to be seeing this. I mean, I’ve dropped acid a couple of times, way back-in-the-day, but I’d never experienced anything even remotely close to this. The fanciful brocade wallpaper of the Villa waving and creeping? Uh huh! The Persian carpet undulating underfoot in the historic building’s hallway? Yep, you betcha! The crouching gargoyle’s moving on Katie’s tenth floor balcony…? Okay, that had happened before tonight...so, absolutely!
But this? This was completely fresh.
I looked around for the guy that had delivered the tainted violet drink to me. He must have been one of the many friend-of-a-friends that had shown up, I hadn’t known him. He looked familiar, had seemed familiar, like maybe I knew him slightly from a previous party or in passing from one of the clubs.
I didn’t see him anywhere now.
“Wake up!” I yelled at myself. “You’re missing your own party!”
The me on the sofa didn’t stir or respond in any way. I sat down on the pretty, dark burgundy and gold Persian rug, my hands cradling my face, my elbows rested on my knees, as I stared dismally at myself.
“Unbelievable,” I murmured, shaking my head faintly. “This isn’t really happening.” I reasoned with myself, trying to talk myself down. “I want this to be over. I need this to be over now. It’s my party. I don’t want to be doing this. I want to be over there, with Gigi and Rachel and Moira. Dancing. I want to be dancing.” Then a thought, a very simple thought dawned on me, just popped into my head; suddenly, and sickeningly, it wafted through my mind like a whisper on the cool ocean breeze.
“Oh. Oh. No. no no no no way.” My stomach twisted, dived, I choked on my breath. “That couldn’t happen.” I shook my head distractedly, whispered out, “I’m not dead.”
“Um, sorry, but you are. It really has happened.” A voice off to my right interrupted my lament. I shifted my gaze from where my eyes were fixated, down to the opposite end of the sofa. “I was wondering how long it would take you to come to that conclusion.” He looked down at his watch, then back to my face. “Not bad.”
“Excuse me?” I couldn’t have really heard him right. It was just the drug in my head.
“That’s you.” He nodded in my direction. Well, at the other me at the other end of the couch. He shook his head indifferently. “Not acid. An overdose unfortunately, it stopped your heart while you were sleeping, but nothing hallucinogenic. Quite peaceful actually.”
I looked at him sideways, not quite ready to take my eyes off myself, not quite buying into what he was saying, in fact, far from it. What was he on and why was he messing with me? But I’d play along.
“I don’t do drugs,” I insisted, offended. I looked him over, taking in how he was dressed, his hair, his eyes. Casual. Black Levi’s, boots, a green flannel shirt over a black t-shirt, sleeves rolled to his elbows. His hair was a golden brown, spiky and messy in that ultra-sexy bed-head way. His eyes. His eyes...green...or blue...or somewhere in between, and without end in their depth. I shook my head to clear it. I didn’t know him. Another party crasher?
If I wasn’t right smack in the middle of a crisis, I might think he was cute. In fact…wait…I had seen him a little while ago, before this had all begun. I vaguely remembered seeing him arrive. As he had exited the roof door, he’d paused in the doorway, looking all over, as if he had misplaced his date, or friend, or was meeting up with them here. You know? That searching look. I recalled thinking then that he was really good looking and had hoped he was here alone. He could make a nice birthday gift.
Rachel had come along and pulled me away before I could play hostess and introduce myself to him, or offer him a drink.
He had that easy-going manner about him, evident in the way he lounged so casually slouched there, arms spread out from either side of him across the back of the couch. He had a warm, wide smile, but under the circumstances...
“Didn’t say you did, darlin’,” he said indifferently as he popped a cheese topped cracker into his mouth, savoring it with an almost smug smile. “Mmmmm, Malvarosa, nice choice.” His gaze landed on the birthday banner. “Thirty, are you? You don’t look it. I’d have guessed twenty-four.”
I frowned. I didn’t want to look at myself sleeping there anymore, so I focused my complete attention on him. That cheese was a gift from Katie, how’d he get some when I hadn’t had a chance at it yet? She had special-ordered that just for me from Dean & Deluca.
And what’s that accent anyway? Scottish? Irish? Do I know anyone within my social circle that’s from Scotland or Ireland? I shook my head to clear out the fuzzy, sticky cobwebs that kept reforming there against my will.
“Come on, be serious please. Can you bring me some coffee or something? Or just go get Gigi? Maybe she’ll know how to get me down from this. She’s always clever like that. She can solve any problem. I’m not having any fun. It’s my party and I’m not having any fun.”
He just kept looking at me with this annoying, almost superior look plastered on his face. Don’t care how cute he is, he’s pissing me off. He didn’t make any motion to move and either help me or get help for me. He just gestured with a nod of his head back over to the sleeping form at the end of the couch.
“Why don’t you go to your friend? Why haven’t you gone over to her yet Lissa?” He asked me, simply.
“My name’s not Lissa.”
I started to rise to do just that, to go get help from Gigi. I couldn’t make myself budge. A pounding fear was beating inside of me. That thought, teasing just at the edge of my consciousness, what was it? I tried to wrap my brain around it, but it kept slinking away. I felt abruptly more panic stricken.
I looked back to him. As he studied me I saw something in his demeanor shift, he must have seen on my face exactly what I was feeling or thinking, or maybe he even knew what that thought was that I couldn’t seize hold of, because something in his face softened, became much more gentle and less self-satisfied. That might even be a trace of concern creasing his brow. Oh, relief. Maybe this game is over and he’s realized he’s gone too far and he’s going to fix it.
But he didn’t move. He just sat there. We stared at each other. I looked back over at me, shook my head. This had to be a joke, a very, very bad and gone awry birthday hoax.
“Come on…” I pleaded softly, nearly whispered. I begged him with my eyes, with every ounce of earnestness I could muster. “What’s really going on? This is some sort of really bad prank, right?”
He shook his head gently, tried to reach for my hand. I jerked away from him. Why would I want him to touch me? This cruelty had to end. Game time was up. I’d had far too much.
“Well?” I waited for him to respond, with a more acceptable response, one I wanted to hear. The proverbial light bulb winked on in my head. Stewart, my ex, could have planned this! He may have heard about the party. He’d broken things off, not me…but he still hated that I was over him. He was just spiteful enough to do this.
“Did Stewart put you up to this? Come on tell me. Was it Stewart? Do you know Stewart?” He shook his head. “You can’t be serious?” He just nodded. My breathing was becoming unsteady.
I heard light, heartening laughter coming towards us. It belonged to Gigi. I stood up, smiling. She was coming up to us, carrying a slice of cake on a plate, it looked to be chocolate mousse cake with strawberries...yum.
“Ha! See!” I cried out at him, directing his attention to Gigi. “That was a really messed up joke—” I broke off, my sentence incomplete…as she passed through me.
She. Passed. Through. Me.
I trembled, felt ill, strangling on my own breath. I fell to the carpet, to my knees. My throat was garroted; my eyes were beginning to sting with the filling up of tears.
I raised my face to him, feeling the wet beads begin their descent down my face. “So, that’s it?” I managed after a moment of just looking at him. “You are telling me the truth, aren’t you? You’re telling me that I am dead.”
He nodded, solemnly.
“This is no joke, no bad, bad, stupid, idiotic joke.”
“Sorry darlin’, wish I could say it was. You seem like a sweet, a real duckie, but…” He motioned around at the party, then towards the other end of the couch, “…this party’s over for you.”
I managed to glare at him, a weak glare through the tears, but still. What was that remark supposed to be? Witty?
“Well, that’s just messed up. Majorly. Why now? I just got my life back. Everything was finally right.” I squeezed my eyes closed tight, willing this all to go away, be a dream, a nightmare. I felt more tears welling up. Vicious wet droplets of anger, rage, fear, and despair, burning behind my eyelids. “No. I’m not doing this.” I turned my tear streaked face to him. If I was dead, why was it so damn hard to breathe? How could I feel so sick? “And who are you anyway? Why are you here? I didn’t invite you. And why do you know what’s happening? Why can you see me and Gigi couldn’t? She walked right through me…” I fired off the questions and statements in rapid succession, not giving him a chance to answer.
“Lissa, we should go now,” he said it so simply, after checking the time on his watch again. He leaned forward, as if to take hold of my hand.
I didn’t care how good the words sounded coming from him, with his nifty-sexy accent. “Oh hell no. No way.” I scrambled back from him and stood back up, unsteadily, but I held my ground. “I don’t know you and you’re not answering any of my questions.” I stabbed an accusatory finger at him. My eyes widened in conviction and then in speculation. “Did you do this to me?” I breathed out in loathing, enragement.
“No,” he protested, a look of aversion on his face. “I’m a Coimhdeacht, not a Lanmhuchadh.”
“What?” I asked with exasperation and increasing anger.
“The fellow who gave you the drink…” He strode closer to me and I edged backwards further still, towards the propped-open roof door, the gravel crunching beneath my boots, beneath his boots, my mind spiraling a million miles a second. “…he was a Lanmhuchadh, your Lanmhuchadh tonight.”
I stared at him like he was insane. I didn’t understand those words. And the look on his face said he was unwavering. And with everything I’d seen, experienced this night, who was I to dispute his statement? Who was I to say anything at all right now?
I felt breathless and unnerved. My emotions were all over the place and switching over back and forth like crazy, so quickly it was hard to keep up with them or correctly identify them.
But one stood out above all the others at this precise moment, hot anger, absolute fury.
“Well…that’s just fucked up! He poisoned me?” I fumed.
“Not exactly. That fellow over there,” he said pointing to the opposite side of the roof, where a youngish guy in Goth attire stood near the make shift bar, “he creeped a little something extra into your glass. Your Lanmhuchadh, your extinguisher, merely gave it a little extra kick.”
I just stared at him some more. He was purely so matter-of-fact. I shook my head desperately, angrily, not wanting to listen to this or to accept any of this.
“And who are you?” I glowered at him.
“I’m Liam.” He extended his hand in greeting.
I ignored it; I’m sure with a look of contempt on my face. Was he crazy? Why? Why would I, for any conceivable reason, be impelled to touch him?
“I’m your Coimhdeacht…your Escort, your Usher.”
Like this bit of info would reassure me, make it all better, smooth the disdain from my features.
“I’ll explain it all to you on our way.” He just kept going on. The fun never ended.
“On our way to where? And wait. No.” I shook my muddled head. “I’m not going anywhere with you,” I growled at him, edging away from him and again closer to the door.
Liam sighed. “We have to go. We can’t hang around here. Sooner or later, most likely sooner, someone is going to try to wake the birthday girl for her festivities and then things are going to get really interesting. You truly don’t want to be here for that. I’ve seen it happen. It will be even less fun for you than this right now.”
“Can you be any more callous?” I spat out the words, my breathing ragged, absorbing another bout of dread.
I moved markedly away from him, making my way through my friends—waiting, looking all around me as I turned among them, willing them to see me, speak to me, touch me, hug me…oh hell, even bump into me. The closest thing I got was another person walking through me on their way to the makeshift bar.
“Look, darlin’, I do this every day…well, nearly every day. I’m sorry if I’m not as delicate as you need—”
“You’re an ass,” I breathed out, choking back the onset of tears. I took one last look at myself, at my friends gathered here for me, to be with me, all so happy…and unaware. I heard a moan of absolute desolation escape from me, then I ran for, and stormed through, the open roof door. I tore down the single flight of stairs to my apartment and reached for the door knob, prepared to race through and barricade him out. My hand passed right through it.
The air in my lungs rushed out in dismay. “Shit!” I cried. I gave it another go, and another; again and again my hand passed right through the metal, as if my fingers were made of fog, not flesh. I sighed heavily, desperately. I pondered briefly, if I were to lean my head against the door, as I so utterly felt the overwhelming need to do, would I pass right through it? Before I could test it out, I heard carpet-muffled footsteps stop behind me. I knew it was Liam without needing to turn.
“We’ve got a lot to talk about and we can’t do it here. We need to go to my place.”
I glared at him in response. I was on fire with rage and resentment, but my mind felt suddenly focused and sharp, something humming deep within the recesses, making the fog and cobwebs fall away. I grabbed at the shiny brass door knob and felt my hand grip it solidly. I grinned and turned it, swiftly pushing the door open.
“What?” Liam was sounding awfully perplexed. I felt very satisfied with that achievement. “No. No. You can’t do that.”
“I just did,” I said to him smugly, darting through the door and slamming it in his face, locking it quickly behind me. He was not welcome here.