Negative Zero (Book 1)

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Chapter 2: Goodbye, Sanity

Chapter Two Goodbye, Sanity

I rolled out of bed early enough to get ready. It was jean day at work, so that was a plus. I jumped in for a quick, hot shower to wake myself up, threw on a decent red t-shirt and clean-cut jeans so I didn’t look unkempt, and then grabbed my bag and leather jacket as I walked out the door to see my neighbor.

Thank God it was Friday. I so did not want to go to work, but I had a few good things going for me. It was the last day of the work week, I had some mail to look forward to, and I’d get to go out and drink legally. I was so exhausted, but I was looking forward to retrieving my mail from Ms. Makerov. She was the old Russian lady in 3C, downstairs. I loved hearing her tell stories because her accent was so fun to listen to. She reminded me of the female version of Mr. Bobinsky in the movie Coraline. We’d had a conversation about that before too, and she said I reminded her of the main character in the movie. Since then, she’d called me her “little mouska,” meaning little mouse. She was the sweetest lady and was always keeping me fed.

“I had vision of bare cupboards on ninth floor. Your kitchen empty. No good. You eat what I make.” She’d grab my arm and drag me to her apartment right after I came home from work. I didn’t mind her directing me on a detour before I got to go home and relax. Winding down at her place was better than going home to the empty ninth floor. I loved seeing her cats. On most days, you could find all seven of them. My favorite was Lucius. He was an all-black cat that never really warmed up to anyone but me. Ms. Makerov was always amazed and would say, “See, Little Mouska? Just like movie.” We’d both laugh.

I knocked on her door, and in mid-knock before the third, she swung open the door and smiled as if expecting me. “Ah, Evika. You come for package?”

I smiled at her. “Yes, Ms. Makerov. Joel said you signed for it yesterday. Thank you.”

“Ah, it’s twenty-one birthday, yes?” she asked, enthused.

“Sure is. Going out with the girls tonight.”

She waddled over to the couch to get the box. “Very good. Fun with your girls tonight.”

“I hope so.” I smiled and shrugged.

“Here is package. You sit and open. I be back in just one minute to get something else for you,” she said as she skuddled down the hall to her bedroom.

I used my nail to cut through the tape and eager to see what Joel sent me. I finally got to some bubble wrap. I laughed to myself. Joel knew I loved bubble wrap. It was an obsession of mine to pop the air bubbles. I put the wrap to the side to save it for later. I found another bag inside and opened it to find a black t-shirt with white letters and a red heart reading: I Love Vampires. I absolutely adored it! I was wishing I could have just whipped out my cell to call Joel right then. He so knew it was my kind of shirt.

Ms. Makerov came back out to the living room.

“Look, Ms. Makerov! Isn’t it cute?”

“Oh, Little Mouska. Adorable. You wear tonight?” she asked.

“Absolutely!”

She laughed sweetly and observed the shirt for a moment longer. “He is good friend. Joel. You miss him?”

“Yes. I miss him quite a bit, but we talk a lot.”

“It’s hard to keep friendship when life take two different direction. But sometime, two ways that part lead to same place later.” She cupped her warm, wrinkly hand against my cheek. I smiled at her and shrugged. I wasn’t about to start crying. I’d cried enough already, and my day was just beginning.

“Here.” She handed me a little box with a pink bow. “You open. From me.”

“Oh, Ms. M. You didn’t have to---”

“Ah ah ah,” she held up her finger. “You open and not fight me. I saw and thought of you.”

I opened the box and found the silver clip. It was an angel with its wings spread, holding up a banner that read: NEVER DRIVE FASTER THAN YOUR GUARDIAN ANGEL CAN FLY. I’d never seen anything like it.

“Oh, this is too cute! Thank you so much!” I said as I leaned over to give her one of my huge bear hugs. She didn’t hesitate to give me one just as good in return.

She shoo’ed her hand at me. “Oh, it is nothing. You clip on car visor. Simple like cake.”

“You are the sweetest lady I’ve ever known, Ms. M. Thank you.”

“You are welcome, Little Mouska. You have fun tonight. I bring you soup for hangover in morning.”

I burst out laughing. She really knew me well. “Sounds great. I’m sure I’ll need it.”

She patted me on the cheek once again and I headed out the door to the lot to find my 93 VW Bug. It wasn’t much, but it got me from A to B. I liked the clip even more after sitting in my driver’s seat and laying my head back to look up at it. Ms. Makerov was such a wonderful lady. Even the little things she did for or said to me made an impact on me in some way. I knew she was such a good person inside, and I guess I just kind of dubbed her my grandmother.

“Off to work,” I groaned to myself.

The drive to work was always my most important time. There was something about being able to throw in CDs and blare the music in my own, little, moving cacoon. I had hundreds of CDs and whatever mood I was in, that was what I played. I felt depressed and sullen for the drive, so I popped in my Mindy Smith CD. She, too, lost her mother when she was young and wrote a song about it. I don’t know why I did it to myself, listening to something that just made me cry hysterically for the whole ride in to work, but having that release was probably a good thing because I wouldn’t be able to behave that way once I got there.

I parked in the four-dollar lot. Believe it or not, it was one of the cheapest. I walked up to my building after shoving the wadded dollar bills into the box marked number 46 and laughed at myself. When was I ever going to be responsible enough to save enough money from each paycheck to pay for parking? I’d had another week to wait until the next payday, and already I was down to my last twenty-five dollars. I was never good at planning.

“G’ morning, Reese!” I said to the firm’s receptionist as I walked in. She was a dark-skinned girl who should have been a model. Her complexion was to die for, and her hair was long and straight. She’d always wear a freshly picked flower in her hair every Friday and had the warmest expression at any given time. She had all the patience in the world, and that may have been why the company hired her for the phones. Hardly anyone could tolerate the phones.

“Happy Friday, Evika! Oh,” her voice went low, “I have to warn you, the Birthday Committee kinda decorated.”

My head sank. “Aw, man. Are you serious? I was hoping I’d just get out of here alive without any damage,” I said with a small smile.

She giggled. “I’m sorry, I had no idea how to stop them. I know you don’t like a big to-do about your birthday.”

“No biggie. They mean well. Happy Friday, Reese. Gotta go clock in!”

“Bye, Evika.” Then she lowered her voice, “and happy birthday.”

I darted through the firm to reach my desk, last minute as always, clocking in at the very cusp of the minute-change. In my rush to my computer, I hardly noticed until looking up and finally getting settled that crepe paper streamed across my cubicle walls along with a Happy Birthday sign across the back wall. Well, there was no doubt that people would know it was my birthday. As I waited for the daily programs to open on my desktop, I thought about how long I’d been working there. I was hired in as a lien collector and was still doing that job after a year. It wasn’t a bad gig, but it wasn’t my forte. I was always getting stuck on the phone listening to the sob stories. It was surprising to anyone that knew me and my temper that I had a decent amount of patience on the phone. I guess I felt almost like I owed it to these people, to listen to them tell their story as to why they fell behind on bills. It really did make a difference when I had to call them back in a month to get the next payment. They remembered me. My tactic may not have brought in the most money, but at least I was consistent.

Around eleven o’clock, my cell rang, so I took a morning break. Brittonia called me asking if I was still meeting the gang around nine o’clock at the Power House District, a multi-level building full of restaurants, clubs, and comedy holes.

“We’re starting out at the Shark Club tonight for the male review,” she said.

“What about dinner?” I asked her.

“Evika, chill. I got it covered.” She sounded frustrated that I would even think she didn’t have dinner taken care of, but I knew that her idea of covering it would be bringing a bag of bagels or something. I rolled my eyes.

“Okay,” I sighed, “see you guys later.”

“Tootles,” she said with fake enthusiasm. It made me wonder why the hell she was even attempting to throw me a party/get-together at all, but I knew it was probably just to keep her party girl status. Whatever. Anything was better than staying at home and sulking, even if I was out with a bunch of shallow bean poles.

After my long morning of random “happy birthdays,” a forty-five minute lunch that felt like ten minutes, and an excruciatingly long afternoon full of more random “happy birthdays,” I was finally free. The worst part of the day was over, and I couldn’t wait to switch gears, finally to get out that night. I ran to my car after clocking out, only to find that it was bucking when I turned the engine. I couldn’t believe it. Of all days! My AAA card was expired, so I couldn’t get a free tow. And the tow would have cost me more than just the fine for leaving my car in the lot the whole weekend, so I just walked to the bus stop at the corner. There went another five bucks. Maybe it was a sign. I’d planned on getting smashed for my twenty-first, and who knows how stupid I’d be? I considered my little predicament a blessing and figured it was God’s way of saving me from a horrible death, a massive twenty-car pile up caused by none other than Drunk Evika while taking a joy ride at four in the morning after getting home from total birthday-drinking annihilation. I knew how I was going to be, and there was no stopping me. I would have some drinks, and I would start thinking about her. It was better that the weapons of destruction were out of my reach.

Once I got to my apartment, I felt restless. I didn’t know what to do with myself for another three hours. I pondered a nap, but cleaning was needed. My living room was a mess, full of unfinished art projects. Thank goodness the webcam had only showed the kitchen when I talked with Joel that previous night; had he seen the mess in the living room, he would have killed me. That was just the way I was. I started something and just couldn’t finish it. Hell, I couldn’t even finish a good night’s sleep anymore. Story of my life.

I tidied up the living room a bit just to make myself feel better, but that took only an hour. I made my way to the kitchen and scoped through the cupboards. Ugh. There was next to nothing there. Ramen noodles were getting old, so I grabbed some chips and salsa to snack on for my dinner. It didn’t really bother me that there wasn’t a big variety of food to eat. I made do with what I had, but like every other subject I put on hold in my life, this lack-of-food situation would go on the back burner. I was going out, and I was going to enjoy myself. It was my damned birthday.

I never fit in with that Brittonia-clan crowd as far as fashion went. I had the darkest hair and the darkest clothes. They wore high heels, short little skirts, and low tanks from Abercrombie; I didn’t. After going through my closet twelve times for something that even remotely looked like I fit in, I decided to hell with it and just put on what best showed my true self. I grabbed my army fatigue skirt that cut off about mid-thigh, my black All-star sneakers, my new T-shirt from Joel, my black choker with the red ruby in the center, and my spiked bracelet. I threw my ensemble on the bed and determined how out of place I would be, but with the mood I was in, I did not care. Brittonia could suck my left butt cheek if she thought I was going to conform to her crowd any more than that.

The Power House was in walking distance of my apartment complex, so I left about five minutes till nine. Yes, the fifteen minute walk made me fashionably late, but like I said, it was fashionable. Brittonia, Shelby, Clara, and Demi were already there, giving me scolding looks as they stood at the entrance doorway to the building. They all robotically changed their positions to the same pose, shifting their weight on their heels. They were all wearing close to the same thing; low tank tops that showed their cleavage and cute, little skirts with ruffles on the bottom. Brittonia had the shortest, of course.

“Hi guys!” I said, pretending to be oblivious to their stares.

They finally smiled.

“Hey Evika! Happy Birthday!” Demi said as she walked up to me, wrapping me in a fluffy, pink boa. I actually really liked it. I preferred pink and black together, so it completed my outfit quite nicely.

“Well, that looks a little better,” Bittonia declared.

“I’m glad you approve.” I twirled around in my boa.

“Here,” she handed me a cupcake from the metal pan she was holding.

“Aww, how cute, Brit. Is this dinner?”

“Hey, I told you I’d take care of you tonight, right?” She sounded proud. Thank God I’d already eaten.

“We put the sprinkles on them!” Shelby’s little voice rejoiced as she gestured to Clara.

“Great job, guys. Thanks for taking me out for my birthday. It really means a lot to me since I don’t have Joel here this year.”

“We know, Ev. That’s why we’re here,” Demi chimed in again.

“Well, enough of this sober crap, guys. Evika, eat that cupcake. I’ll put the rest of these in the car if you want anymore throughout the night. I don’t want you passing out on me or anything.”

I laughed. “Nope, we wouldn’t want that.” Okay, so maybe she really did give a care...way, deep down.

Brittonia ran to her car, (as well as she could in those damned Stilettos) and met us back up at the door. We made our way into the Shark Club for the male review. I’d never been to the male strip club there before, and it was definitely a good night for it. Although, I’d made a mental note that if any sweaty stripper were to dance on me, I’d be sticking money down his pants only to make him step away and move on to one of the other girls. Ew.

The loud music punched me in the face as we walked in. It was heavy beats, and we could feel the bass from the floor. The first stop was, of course, the bar centered in the middle of the venue.

“Ever had a Blow Job?” Brittonia asked me.

“Excuse me!?” I asked, shocked.

She rolled her eyes. “It’s the name of the drink, you bubblehead. I know you’ve never given a real one.”

“Oh! Okay. Nope, never have, but I’ll try anything once.” I thought for a second. “Uh, I mean the shot.” We both laughed.

Her lips curled up deviously. “Two Blow Jobs, sexy!” Brittonia yelled to the bartender. He grinned and winked at her to let her know he was working on it. He was shirtless and wearing a black bow-tie. His chest was quite an attraction to me since I’d never really seen one up so close. I know, I know. I was twenty-one and probably the last virgin on campus at my age, but it was the one thing I had left to be proud of. I’d made some really dumb decisions in my life, but that was the one thing I could gloat about...well, if you could gloat about something like that around my crowd. With Brittonia, she was vocal about making me the butt of a virgin joke, but I think deep down, she actually admired me.

“Evika, pipe down. If you wanna take him home I’m sure we could arrange something.” She laughed.

“What?” I broke out of my trance.

She laughed even harder. “Babe, your eyes told me the whole story. You think he’s hot.”

“Oh. Eh, only his chest,” I told her.

“Hey, good enough. You don’t really have to look at their faces if you don’t want to. Just make sure you keep the lights off.”

The shirtless hottie placed our shots on the counter and said he’d be right back with the change.

“Oh, no. You keep it, hot stuff. Just remember me later.” Brittonia winked at him.

He leaned over the counter to her. “Sure thing,” he winked and darted to another crazed customer.

“My God, Brit, you are ridiculous.” Chuckling, I shook my head.

She shrugged. “I know,” she admitted. “So, you ready?” she nodded to our Blow Jobs.

I sighed, ready to pick the shot up when Brittonia stopped me.

“Oh no, Virgin Mary. No hands. You do it like this.” She clasped her hands behind her back and leaned over her shot glass, gripping it with her mouth and standing straight up with it, lifting her head and letting the drink shoot down her throat. Some of the crowd around us hooted and hollered while others clapped and whistled. Brit took the empty shot glass from her mouth and placed it on the counter. Such choreography. She curtsied for the crowd a few times waving her hand, mouthing thank you and blowing kisses.

“That, my friend, is how you do a Blow Job,” she said to me as she wobbled on her heels a little. I couldn’t help but love my sneakers.

“All right,” I said confidently. “Stand back.” I mimicked her movements and took the shot the same way. It was frothy at first, and then I felt the creamy liquid slide down my throat. I heard the cheering crowd around us again. I remembered a few flashes going off. Great. I’ll probably be all over the Internet along with Brittonia.

“You are a natural, Evika.” She threw her arm around me. “You make me proud.”

I laughed at her and just shook my head. I really was having a good time with her.

We scoped out the club to find the other girls. They were already nose-touching the stage and watching the dancers. There was a fireman and a policeman taking turns removing articles of clothing. They’d take something off, whip it around in the air, and then toss it into the crowd, making the gaggle of ladies in that section scream as if they’d never seen such a sight. I rolled my eyes. It was hilarious. I mean, seriously.

After about an hour of almost-naked, sweaty men thrusting their tightly-enclosed packages in little speedos that would have fit the average four-year-old, we decided we wanted to do a little dancing of our own, minus the stripping of clothing. We downed our beers, waited for Brittonia to flirt one last time with her bartending Chip ‘n’ Dale, and then flanked on the sidewalk outside to wait for an unclaimed cab.

After a fifteen-minute ride, we hopped out of the cab onto West Sixth right in front of Throb dance club, which was a madhouse. We waited for Brittonia, for she was the last to exit the car and was the one who gave the cabby the money. I couldn’t see much detail, but I swear she slipped it down his shirt.

We flashed our I.Ds. I was the last of all of us to turn twenty-one, so I was happy not to have to deal with any fake I.D. drama that normally occurred when we all went out.

The club was crowded, and they’d already opened the upper dance floor where the DJ was.

I loved dancing, but when I first got there, I always liked observing. I liked watching conversations the most, though. Of course, I couldn’t hear anything, but it was a game Joel and I always played. We’d watch a couple nearby, most likely a pair who had just met, and the guy was trying to get into her pants. People were always more into arm and hand gestures in loud places, so body language made our game even more hilarious when we put the voices to them. I’d be the girl, and Joel would be the guy. By the end of the night, we’d have characters with names, occupations, and even a five year plan of what might happen to them. It was all in good fun, of course, but man, we could create some dramatic stories. By the time we left the club, our characters were already divorced and off spending alimony in Jamaica with a lover half their ages. I was really starting to miss Joel as the girls and I stood at the bar getting our drinks.

“Ev, what do you want?” Demi asked me, waving her fresh twenty in the air to get the bartender’s attention.

“Oh! Just get me a Dortmunder for right now.”

“Draft or bottle?” she asked.

“Definitely bottle.”

“Here Ev. It’s your twenty-first birthday, and we’re going to drink like it’s your twenty-first birthday.” Brittonia came walking over to us with a tray of five shots. It was definitely Jager. My poison. I was going to wait, but hell, it was my twenty-first. Why not start the damage early?

“Everyone take one and down it, and I don’t wanna hear any cryin’,” she demanded.

I laughed. “Wow, Brit. You do know you and I are the only ones that can drink this stuff, right?” We all took our shot from her tray.

“Well, that’s because you and I are the only ones who aren’t pussies.” She laughed, flitting her hair behind her shoulder and tossing the tray to the counter. She held up her drink. We all followed suit. “Here’s to Evika Stormer’s totally awesome twenty-first birthday bash!”

We all “whoo hoo’ed” and clanked our glasses. Shelby, Clara, and Demi all grimaced as they braced themselves. I was already swallowing mine and savoring the warm poison going down my throat. It was a smooth delivery, and I was ready for my next shot, whatever it would be. Bring it on, I thought. I deserved to let loose and throw my inhibitions out of the way for a few hours. I knew that attitude would probably get me into trouble, especially since I was at the mercy of Brittonia, but I couldn’t find a care in the world that would stop me. I grabbed my beer from Demi, said, “Thanks,” and made my way to the dance floor when a new beat started to play.

The girls followed as Brit stayed behind to order another round of some sort of shot. I chugged my beer down to about an inch below the bottleneck. I wasn’t surprised. This day always got to me. It was bittersweet. I was celebrating one of my most memorable birthdays, yet drowning the pain of one of the most awful events that had ever happened to me. I didn’t want to care for a while. I danced over to Brit and took my next shot with her. This time it was a lemon drop. Easy.

Clara came over to grab my hand and take me back out onto the floor for another great song. I held up my finger to let her know I had to finish my beer. In a matter of fifteen seconds and a few chugs, I slammed the bottle down onto the bar a little harder than I’d meant to, pulled out the last twenty dollar bill to my name, and smacked it onto the counter.

“Hey Brit, grab me a Guinness and get what you want, I’m on the floor again.” I had to talk much louder than before. The place was starting to get packed, and I hadn’t even realized it with all the chaos in our little ho-bag clan. I found Clara standing there patiently for me, dancing in place. Then I grabbed her boa and dragged her out onto the dance floor until I felt a tug at my hair. I turned around to see Brittonia.

“No way, biatch!” she said crinkling up my twenty into a half-ass folding job. “I told you I was taking care of you tonight. It’s your twenty-first!” I thought I saw her wobbling, but blamed it on those heels again. She then proceeded to put her hand down the neck of my shirt to deposit the wadded up bill in my bra. What was it with her and putting money down people’s shirts?

Clara and I just laughed at her hysterically as she turned to walk away to get our next drinks. Some hot guy ran into her and spilled his mixed drinks all over her. Thank goodness they were colorless drinks. It looked like they were only Vodka and Sprites; otherwise, she would have killed him for staining her cute tank. Clara and I were laughed even harder when Brit turned around to show us the front of her shirt while the poor guy stood there apologizing to her.

Clara put her hands in the air and gave Brittonia the thumbs up. “Go Brit! Get some free beers!”

Oh, that poor guy. Brittonia grabbed his hand as she knocked one of the empty cups from his hand and dragged him to the bar counter. I’m sure she said something like, “You are totally buying my drinks now, buster!” I just couldn’t contain myself as I folded over, cracking up. It hurt so good.

We eventually made it to our designated spot to the floor saved by Shelby and Demi who were bumping and grinding. We were so in tune with our dancing circle, we shoved off any guys who tried to come up and grind against us. It didn’t matter how drunk I was, the only reason I would ever let a guy at the club touch me would be to hold me up when I started to wobble. The less-drunk guys could be quite sturdy to lean on.

Brit was finally over with our new drinks. With my Guinness in hand and all the girls in my circle, the rest of the night was pretty much a fast-paced blur of new tastes, faces and voices.

One of the highlights of the night was when one of Brittonia’s ex-boyfriends-slash-bedthumpers came up to her and slugged the guy who was dancing with her. I became slightly protective of Brit when that happened and yanked her arm. I wanted her out of the way. She had no clue what had just happened.

“Ev, what the hell?” she yelled at me, and then turned to find her male friend on the floor and her ex, Duke, standing there all sweaty and drunk.

I remember him saying something like, “You’re mine, Brittonia. What the hell do you think you’re doing?” I found it odd that this poor guy thought that he was actually with Brittonia when she probably just slept with him. She had that track record, but she would never, in a million years, make some guy think they were actually together unless they really were.

“Ugh! Duke, go to hell!” She walked away with me as security dragged Duke away.

The poor guy who was hit was long gone after that. It was probably in his best interest anyway.

“What a jackass!” Shelby found us.

“Clearly,” Brit agreed.

“Well, happy birthday to me!” I laughed to myself.

We all agreed we’d had enough of Throb, so we finished whatever it was we were drinking and tracked over to Liquid. It was a cool martini bar on the first floor, then the basement was a dance club. We grabbed martinis. They had one hundred and six different flavors and as the bartender mentioned the most popular one: the girl scout cookie, I had to have it. Brit was giving us the scoop regarding the V.I.P. section downstairs. Her slurred words reminded me that I had promised Joel that I would find my own way home, and I’d watch my back after Brit’s third drink. The problem was, we were way past drink number three, and I didn’t know what the hell I was doing anymore. All I knew was, I was drowning out pain and having fun doing it. In the process, I felt I was getting closer to Brittonia and that good person I saw inside, the side Joel never saw anymore. Despite the fact that she was going to get even more drunk and would probably leave me hanging, I knew there was a reason why she was the way she was. We kind of had that in common.

We single-filed down the red carpet stairs to the dance portion of the bar. Brit was adamant about getting us into the V.I.P. Section, which wasn’t even that great anyway. It was closed off with velvet rope, so anyone could really get in there by hopping over. The only thing was, we would get a wrist band and red velvet couches to sit on. I wasn’t sure what was drawing Brittonia to being over there, and I was really too drunk to put any more thought to it other than thinking she wanted in just because it was a challenge. Then I noticed a group of guys with the same build, same crew cut, and same stern faces, even the same kinds of beer. Military. And if anyone was a sucker for those guys, it was Brittonia.

Clara, Demi, and Shelby formed a circle around me and distracted me enough that we started dancing, slowly drifting to another part of the floor while Brittonia leaned against the pillar eyeballing the V.I.P. section. Her objective was to get one of the guys to invite her in, and that was exactly what happened. After a few songs, I twirled around to find Brittonia in my face with a new shot. I’d almost spilled my martini all over her, but luckily the glass was empty by then.

She slurred her words, and, as drunk as I was, I remember the slurring completely. “Here, s’nother birthday shot on me.”

I laughed at her. “What is it?” As if I cared.

“Jager, biatch,” she said as she clanked her shot glass against mine. Okay, so I said I didn’t care, but honestly, Jager was a bad call for me at the moment, and it was especially bad for Brittonia. She was so far past gone I didn’t even know how she was still standing, but I took the shot anyway. After that, I’d had enough to drink. I was done and just wanted to stop, which was not usual for me.

“Come on, Evika, you’re losing it tonight. These poor men have served long and hard times for our country and they deserve some sort of reward.” She laughed maniacally, tugging at my arm.

“Brit, I wanna dance. I don’t want to get stuck flirting with a bunch of guys tonight.”

“Oh, you are such a baby.” She shoved my arm away. This was when I knew she was over her limit. It was typical. She’d found a flock of guys who would probably give us all rides, but not before they dragged us to their place first and did God knows what with Brittonia and possibly one or two of the other bean poles.

“Brit, I’m not being a baby. I just don’t want to go over there and sit on those dumb couches talking with those guys that only give a shit about getting laid tonight. I know your type; they’re who you scoped out. I don’t want to be a part of it. Why don’t you just come and dance with me and the girls?” I held out my hand to her, hoping that would end the drama. I didn’t want the night turning out badly.

She glared at me. I could see the extra Jager kicking in, and it wasn’t going to be pretty. “My type?” Oh crap. “And what would you even know about my type, Evika? You don’t even know your own damned type!”

I thought before speaking. “Brit, I’m sorry. I just mean we should stick together on the dance floor. You know what those guys are after. Let’s just dance.” I tried explaining the best way I could and making a conscious effort not to wobble so much. I felt the warmth of the last shot consume my body.

“Well, just listen to the high and mighty Virgin Mary! She’s calling the shots now!”

Getting agitated, I shook my head. “Brittonia, you’re not making any sense at all. Please, just come dance.” The other girls had stopped dancing by that time, and surrounded us along with the rest of the small crowd forming.

“Oh, Evika. Get off the horse. You have an excuse for everything. Don’t lecture me about what’s right and wrong or what I should be doing.”

Confused, I looked at her. Most of what she said I could hear clear as a bell, but part of me just wondered if the music was making the conversation a bit more intense than it really was. At least, that’s what I’d hoped.

“Brit, what are you talking about?”

“Ugh! Forget it,” she shooed me away. “Come on, Clara,” she said as she grabbed Clara’s boa and started walking back to the V.I.P. section, dragging Clara like a puppy, a drunk, wobbling puppy. I could have just let it go then. It would have been forgotten. Whatever the hell that outburst was, it would have been done with. It was just Brittonia and her subconscious thoughts surfacing after the plethora of poisons we’d been drinking the whole night, but the idea of her walking away unscathed started to make my blood boil.

“Hey!” I yelled to her. Brit turned slightly, losing her balance, and gave me her attention. You know that turning point in a conversation when you could just end it and be done with it, but there is that window of opportunity that presents itself to you, coaxing you to take it a step further? That moment when the don’t-do-that guy just happens to be on vacation? This was one of those moments. “What the hell is up your ass all of a sudden, Brittonia? I mean, besides one of their dicks later tonight,” I gestered to the V.I.P. section. Oh, my mouth.

Her jaw dropped. Oh crap...again. I just didn’t know when to keep my trap shut sometimes. She darted over to me, and I almost flinched, thinking I would have to block a punch or some kind of cat-fight cheap shot, but she only bore her eyes into mine, staring me down. We could hardly focus on each other anymore, but what she said to me next hit me hard.

“At least I know how to move on in life, Evika,” she said through her teeth.

I looked at her, my eyebrows raised. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“Oh please. You’ve put everything in your life on hold because you can’t get over her. Three fucking years, Evika. It’s time to move on for God’s sake!”

I wasn’t expecting her to say anything like that at the club, on my birthday and in the middle of that crowd. Was this whole night out a ploy that involved more than just herself? Was her plan to get me out so I wouldn’t stay home and sulk, thinking about my mother? Yes, in her own weird, funky way, it was believable. For me, at least. Still, she pushed me over my limit, and aside from that, I was over my limit. I was done. I needed to go home to get away from the crowd. The night had taken a turn for the worse, and I was partly to blame.

I composed myself, battling with my arms not to rise up and strangle her. It took every ounce of energy I had to contain my rage; I had no idea what it was that was stopping me from throwing her to the floor and beating the crap out of her face. Then my senses reminded me that Brittonia had lost her mother to cancer while we were still in high school, right around the time everything changed. There were so many things I could have said to hurt her, so many things I could have mustered up to just get her where it hurt, but I managed to fight back my emotions and said only what I could.

“Wow, Brittonia. You sure as hell know how to throw a birthday party,” I said, glaring at her. “But you know what? You’re way better at ruining one.” Then I started walking away. I gave Shelby, Clara, and Demi my “I’ll see ya” look and headed for the stairs.

“Where are you going?” Brittonia shouted through the music.

I turned to give her one, last look and a clear view of my middle finger. “Nowhere with you.” I stomped my way through the crowd to the stairwell and pushed through the bodies of people on my way up. It was like being lost in a herd of cattle. People were coming in, but I just wanted the hell out.

I finally made it to the main level. Cooler air hit my face but still not enough to bring me back to sanity. I started to feel the heat rise in my blood. Did the night have to turn out this way? Should I have just stayed home and not given Brittonia a chance? What was I thinking?

She’d brought up my mother, and that was what stung the worst out of anything. It was the pain I’d tried to tame for those few hours, and now it was thrown back to the forefront. The hurt I was trying to avoid, along with the alcohol, was a horrible combination only waiting to see what I’d do next. I didn’t disappoint.

I’d finally made it to the outside and leaned against the wall of the building to catch my breath. I felt flustered and closed in. I took in the air as if it were something new to me. I filled my lungs, and when I inhaled I smelled the smoke from a group of people nearby. It was a habit I had kicked for almost a year, but tonight was an exception. I stumbled over to the group. There were three guys and a girl.

“Listen, I know it’s annoying when people bum cigs, but can I please have one?” I asked them.

Two of the guys who were facing the other direction turned to face me and looked me over from head to toe.

“Sure, cutie,” one of them said as he pulled out one of his Marlboro Lights. At least, I think that’s what it was. “You need a light, too?” he asked as he handed me the cigarette.

“Yeah,” I answered as I placed the smoke in my mouth.

He lit the tip for me. “So, you probably quit and can’t stand it, right?”

“You guessed it. I quit, but tonight is just not my night.” I turned to walk away. “Thanks, again. I appreciate it.”

“Not a problem.” He raised his cigarette as if saluting me. “Glad I could help a fellow smoker,” he said with a laugh.

“I quit,” I muttered to myself.

I continued walking down the sidewalk, trying to map out through my head what the best route home would be. Either way, it was a long walk. I figured it would be okay for me to use that time to cool down. I was still huffing. Inhaling the smoke deeply into my lungs, I felt a new buzz overthrowing my old one. I was angry at Brittonia for being her stupid, drunk self. I was angry at myself for letting her get to me. I even started getting angry at the other three girls for acting like puppets and doing whatever Brit wanted them to do. In fact, she didn’t even have to say anything to them anymore; they just followed suit with whatever she did.

After replaying the night’s events in my head, I felt a new rage overtake me once again, one of mixed feelings that I couldn’t dissect. It was a feeling of anger, meshed with guilt, hurt, and pain and it enveloped me, mostly in my chest. I blamed it on the cigarette, but I knew it was because I was thinking of her. My mother would have been so furious with me that I’d been smoking that cigarette. I could see her disappointed expression, shaking her head at me and looking concerned.

“What?!” I yelled into the air. “You can’t grant me this one vice for right now?” Tears came to my eyes, and once I blinked, the image was gone.

I thought about the people who passed me on the street. I’m sure they thought I was a total nutcase. For one, I was yelling at my imaginary mother, and second, I was a young girl in a short skirt walking downtown sort of aimlessly. I was such a great target for disaster. I’d almost wished someone would just come and snatch me up and take me away. A few blows to the head and I wouldn’t feel a thing. I’d be out cold for a while. Maybe they’d kidnap me, make me change my name and I’d get that weird Stockholm’s disease. Wow. That’d be a story. However, I thought about it, and honestly, I would have preferred the scenario where they just did what they wanted with me while I was drunk, then killed me, and dumped me off into the nearest ditch. That was what I really wanted, an excuse to die, an excuse to stop the pain that I couldn’t drown out with the vices I normally used.

I continued walking home and finally came to a street I recognized. I was getting closer, but home was only secondary to what I yearned for after realizing I was near the liquor store closest to my apartment. I checked my phone. It was almost one o’clock, but if I hurried, I’d be able to get in there and grab something. I remembered my wadded-up twenty Brit had placed in my bra. It had been poking at my breast since we were at Throb.

“Okay,” I said to the wrinkled twenty as I tried flattening it out over my knee. “You’re all I have left, but if you can be enough to get me one last hoorah in a bottle for my birthday, you will go down in history. I promise.”

What the hell was I doing? Talking to a dead president? Bribing him to pay for even more poison? I knew I was done. Gone. Finished. Completely and utterly annihilated, but I did not care.

The little bell chimed as I walked in. I didn’t even bother gesturing a “hi” to the clerk. I just scoped out the shelves for something that would be worth my efforts. I contemplated arguing the ridiculous pricing of some of my favorite hardcores, but then I just settled for a couple of mini-bottles of flavored vodkas and actually had enough leftover to buy a lighter and some Basics to smoke along the way home again. I couldn’t tell you what the clerk looked like. I don’t think I even looked up at him. The counter was very blurry, and so were his hands when he placed the seventeen cents in my palm.

A good man would have stopped me and asked me questions, because I highly doubt that I was looking even close to sober. He didn’t stop me.

A decent man would have, at least, called the authorities on me and given them my description, but no third-shift officer drove by me on my way home.

However, a wise man, like the one I’d just encountered, would mind his own business and go about his shift, not questioning the actions of a young girl walking in the night buying alcohol and cigarettes, right?

Nonetheless, a bit more sobered up after the walk home and the six chain-linked cigarettes, I was ready to battle my demons, ready to get angry again. I thought about the neighbors and how much they were going to hate me for blaring my music. I laughed. Oh, it was a dark laugh I hadn’t heard from myself in a long time. I didn’t have a dock for my Ipod, so I found an old CD I’d keep handy for my moments like these and placed it into the player. Stabbing Westward: Darkest Days, I could never part with that music. It spoke to me and was often what I’d listen to as I wrote some of my best prose and poems, but writing wasn’t what I planned on doing. I opened my bedroom window, wanting to be able to hear the music once I went up to the roof. I hit the “random” function and cranked the volume of the stereo up to almost thirty-plus, knowing full well I’d not have much time left before people started beating on my door. I rolled my eyes at the thought.

I grabbed the vodka mini bottles and my Basics and sloshed up the metal stairs. As I lit a new cigarette, I hastily twisted off the cap of one of the bottles and tossed it onto the cement. What was I becoming? Was this my call for help? No one would be able to hear me over my damned music. I’d reached my breaking point. I was losing it, that is, if I hadn’t lost it already. I thought about loss and that empty feeling it left in those it touched. I thought about the part of my heart that was ripped out of me when she was taken away from me. It had been three years to that very day. They hadn’t found the shooter, and I was left with a mess of a life, living it without her and living every damned birthday for the rest of my life, being forced to remember the agony of that excruciating day, a day I would re-live over and over and over again. A day that kept me from a different life that could have happened if only we’d walked out a few minutes sooner, or even a few minutes later. It would have just been somebody else. Not her.

I know I was being selfish and irrational, but my heart was still bleeding, and I couldn’t move on. After her death, my direction was lost. I was undeniably lost. I hated that my mother had been taken from me so soon. And for Christ’s sake, on my birthday?

My eyes glared into space and filled with the relentless tears that I’d succumbed to. I threw my head back and downed the bottle. It went down like water, like nothing. I swallowed and kept my head toward the night sky, suddenly fixated on a new focus.

I pointed up to the air. “You!” I yelled as my throat closed. “You were the one who took her away from me! What is it that people say about you? You’ll close a door, but leave a window open? I’m sorry, but I don’t see it! Maybe you should be a little more clear about your plans for me because I don’t see how the hell I’m supposed to carry on like this! Do you hear me?!”

I became frustrated when I didn’t hear an answer, not that I was being rational. I didn’t see what I was looking for...whatever that was. I tried being careful as I stepped up onto the edge of the wall. I didn’t look down, knowing it would only make me sick and I’d lose my balance. Nine stories? Was I really doing this???

Do you hear me?! Why can’t you just show me what the hell you want from me? Why did you have to take the one person I needed the most? She was all I had! Whatever damn merry-go-round you have me on, I want off! Just end it now, and show me what you want from me!”

The yelling caused my throat to burn. I’d had enough. I just wanted to go to bed, cry myself to sleep, and deal with whatever consequences were in store for me in the morning. I wanted peace.
I took one last hit of my cigarette, looked at the empty bottle in my hand and started to cry again. The real tears of the ending night coming to release themselves. The token tears that fell along my cheeks would leave me tasting like salt in the morning. I lifted my foot to step down from the ledge that no drunken idiot should even be near, but I lost my footing.

It was at that very moment that I’d felt the jolt of fear surge through me like an unstoppable current. A rush that scared my nerves into complete and utter alertness. My senses were awakened, and my body felt a new high as I’d reached the moment of realization only too late. It was one step, and I’d missed it, falling backwards into the night air from the concrete ledge. I whipped past my window and watched it get smaller and smaller, leaving the sound of the music behind as one hundred thousand thoughts and images pounded through my mind.

I felt the fear.

I felt the denial.

Suddenly, I accepted it all in a matter of seconds; I was falling to my death, and there was nothing and no one there to save me.

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