1. The Farewell
Ava inhaled. For a moment, the lights and the people around her blurred together. The music became silent. There was nothing but blackness, trying to pull her down. In the blackness was a faint whiff of apples, luring her to the heart of it all.
Then she opened her eyes, exhaled. First, she smelled the aftershave and perfume of the other people. She remembered where she was. It was Saturday night; she was at a nightclub. The dull thud of the bass appeared, dictating people around her the rhythm they had to move to, and finally, there were the green eyes, staring into hers.
“Are you okay?”
Patrick, her boyfriend, wrapped his arm around her to keep her steady. Confused, Ava looked around, trying to comprehend what happened. The dance floor was filled with people, instead of the colored blots she had seen only seconds ago.
In the end, Ava nodded.
“Are you sure? You’re as pale as a ghost.” Patrick didn’t believe her. Lately, it felt as if he never trusted her anymore.
“I misstepped,” Ava said, wiping a long strand of hair out of her face. She raised her left foot to show him an elegant shoe. “I’m not used to these high heels.”
“Right.” He didn’t call her out on her lie. “I think it’s time for a drink anyway.”
Patrick guided her firmly to one of the many bars in the club. At the end of one of them were two empty stools. He waved the barman over, and in no time, two drinks appeared in front of them - a glass of water for Ava, a glass of beer for Patrick. She never liked it when he decided for her what she would drink.
“Seriously, what was that all about?” Patrick insisted. He nonchalantly ruffled his blond curls with his hand. “I don’t believe for one second you had problems with your heels. I’ve seen you run around on higher ones. It looked more like you were about to faint.”
“I don’t know,” Ava said. Why couldn’t he give it rest? “Maybe it was the strobe; I always feel weird when I stare too long at it. I am sure there is nothing to worry about.” She smiled at him and hoped it would convince him.
Patrick grunted something that sounded like approval, but she could feel he still didn’t believe her. To smother any further conversation, she curled up against his chest.
She didn’t want to think or talk about what happened. That this was the second time today, she almost fainted. Other people she told small lies, and they believed her. She told them she forgot to eat that day, nothing to worry about; she was just busy. Or she said them it was a blackout; she had them once in a while, it was just nervousness. Everything was fine!
But to Patrick, she couldn’t keep up the charade. They had been together for years, and he knew her through and through. It must be some secret sixth boyfriend sense.
“You work too hard,” he said and drained his beer in one go. One wave of his hand and it was filled again. The barman knew them, they came here every Saturday night, and he would keep their drinks filled.
“Work hard; play hard.” She turned her gaze away, sipping from her glass of water. It was true; she was working hard. One more paper, one last hard push, and she would have her master’s degree. Plus, she was working two jobs; some secretary thing for a huge firm and a receptionist function at a youth center. They were both part-time jobs and paid next to nothing. She hoped her master’s degree would make a difference, especially as her student debt pressed hard on her budget.
Finally, Patrick’s face relaxed. He was worried about her, but he didn’t want to give her a hard time, at least not tonight.
“Time to relax then.” Patrick handed her a small white pill, embossed with a little heart. Without thinking, she put it in her mouth and swallowed. Ava didn’t look around. No one noticed what she had just done. Most of the people here used something. To forget their regular lives, to relax, or just to get wasted. As long as everyone had fun, Ava didn’t see any problem.
A high pitched squeak pulled her out of her thoughts. “So, this is where you two hang out.” A small blond girl embraced her. It was Kim, one of her best friends.
“Come on; you’re missing out on all the fun.” Kim pulled Ava from her chair. “Hurry lazy, let’s dance!”
Patrick wanted to pass on Kim’s invitation, but Ava already rose from her stool. He uttered some words, telling her he wasn’t sure if this was such a good idea, not after what had happened earlier on the dance floor, but she pretended she didn’t hear him.
Live now, worry later, she thought, and Kim had already dragged her halfway to the dance floor.
“Thanks for the escape,” Ava said to her friend when they were at a safe distance from Patrick.
Kim waved it away as if it was nothing.
“I saw you two, and you didn’t look too happy,” Kim said. “And he looked like he was some cop interrogating you. What was that all about?”
“Nothing really,” Ava lied again, “I just was a bit dizzy, and he kept questioning me about it.”
“As if you owe him an explanation,” Kim shook her head. “I know that you two have been together since high school, but...
“But what?” Ava reacted a little sharper than she had intended to. She regretted it right away.
Kim sighed. “Please don’t be angry, but sometimes I feel like you two just stay together for all the wrong reasons. Does he still make you happy?”
A suggestive smile curled upon Ava’s lips.
Kim laughed and slapped Ava’s arm. “That’s not what I mean, Ava.”
“I’m not sure,” Ava said, “It’s been so busy the last couple of months, and my life is about to change. Maybe it all gets better when I got my degree. I will have more time for him. Things will get better.”
“Do you really think so?” Kim frowned. “Don’t get me wrong, I believe your life is about to change as well, but I think your lovely little Patrick is on a different path than you, isn’t he?”
Ava turned away, ignoring the question of her friend. “Can you please let it rest, Kim? I just want to dance.”
Kim embraced her, looked straight into Ava’s eyes.
“He gave you stuff again.” It wasn’t even a question. Kim knew what was going on and didn’t like it at all. The girl loved to party, but she also loathed drugs.
“Please Kim,” even Ava’s eyes were pleading, “I don’t want to talk about that.”
Kim raised her eyebrow. “Just be careful.”
“Yes, mom,” Ava said while dragging her friend to the dance floor.
That was all the encouragement Kim needed. The girl was jumping around, like a human flea, and seeing her dance made Ava smile. It was as if Kim was everywhere, dancing with everyone.
Ava closed her eyes, her body slowly relaxed, and she let herself go. Gradually the lights became brighter, and Ava knew the drugs were doing their work. Her heart was beating in the same rhythm as the music, a steady thud. The whole world was moving to the same beat, and Ava was feeling one with the world around her.
She couldn’t remember how long she stood there when she opened her eyes again, but things had changed.
The world was spinning, like a merry-go round-from hell. The lights were too bright now, the rhythm of the music too fast. Her heart was going faster and faster, beating frantically, and cold sweat was pouring down her back. She looked around for Kim, but she couldn’t find the familiar face of her friend.
Fresh air, that was what she needed. She made her way to the exit. She would return when she felt better. The oxygen didn’t make her feel better. She moved slower than she wanted and blamed the unsteady floor for it. Never had the exit been so far away.
Finally, she reached the exit, but the fresh air didn’t give her the relief she needed. Instead, things got worse. All the color in the world seemed to fade away. She had to sit down.
“Ava?” she heard someone say. It sounded far away, but when she looked around, she saw Patrick stand right behind her. “Are you okay? Kim said that you acted strangely.”
“I don’t feel so well,” Ava said. “I think a little air will clear my mind. Nothing to worry about.”
But he was worried, and no matter what she said would change that.
It was all fuzzy in her head as if her skull was filled with cotton wool. Her heart was racing now. Sweat had soaked her clothes. All she could see were black spots.
“I need to sit down,” she said. “Now.”
“Come on, Ava. You can sit down at my place and rest all you want. Just keep moving now.” Patrick tried to lift her and carry her away. She didn’t like this at all; the motion made her feel sicker than she already was. She struggled, broke free from his grip.
“Shh, princess, everything will be okay.” The words should soothe her, but she felt disoriented. She stumbled over her own feet and fell. At first, she thought that she was floating to the ground, like a leaf in the wind.
That thought shattered when she hit the concrete. She opened her eyes and closed them faster. The world was still spinning. When she opened her eyes again, Patricks’s face was in front of her. He was cursing under his breath. “Come on, hun, you have to get up.”
His voice was soft as if he knew he asked something impossible. They both knew Ava wasn’t able to stand on her own two feet.
In the distance, she could hear the sound of sirens.
Her teeth were clattering, the pounding of her heart overtook everything like she was stuffed in a bass drum. The world around her slowly faded into darkness.
Her eyes fluttered open again when she felt a sharp pain on her cheek. “Stay awake, Ava.” The words didn’t contain harshness. There was desperation behind them.
She desperately wanted to obey his words, but she couldn’t. The last thing she heard before losing conscience was the fast pace of his footsteps, leaving her behind on the pavement.