Bodies press against each other, my own body moves to the beat of the music. Winding and grinding against an unknown person, sweat coats my skin, and my dress clings as much as hair does to my body. Lips press against my ear whispering words I can’t hear, the alcohol in my system makes me feel loose and the drugs that Remie and I did together make my body hyper-aware of every single touch.
I press all of myself against this guy, feeling his hard on press up, his hands roam and they grope. Lips travel from ear to neck, sucking and kissing, I know that when the drugs wear off I’m going to be sickened by the way he touches me. Turning around I look into black eyes, skin white and hair just as black as his eyes. The music is loud.
“You want to get out of here?” I can barely hear him over the music, his hands wrap around my hips, starting to take me away from the dance floor.
“I want to dance!” I call out and he rolls his eyes, tugging me away and I dig my nails deep into his shoulder, I’m lucky he’s a douchebag who is actually wearing a sleeveless shirt. His pain is evident with the way his face twists and he lets me go, walking away.
My hands shake, they shake so much that I have to rub them against my dress in attempts to calm myself down. Slowly I make my way towards the bar where I know Remie will be, my eyes searching for a girl with short hair and a pair of tight black pants with a light grey crop top.
“Tiger!” A drink is thrusted in my hands, Remi finds me first, her grey eyes are droopy, the usual white around her pupils is tinted the lightests grey. “You’ll love this drink, plus its your favorite color, blue!”
It’s impossible to have a favorite color when the only colors I see are black, grey, and white. My world is dead and hers is alive. “Do you have anymore e?” I am desperate. Hands go to her pockets and she laughs out loud, helping me out as she gives me some more of the drugs that makes me feel alive in this dead world of mine.
“I don’t know if its safe for you to take it,” She’s talking but I don’t care. “You already had a bunch of them and you’ve been drinking a lot.” Her voice sounds far away, as if she is shouting for me from down the hall. “We should go eat if you’re done dancing.” I down the drink that she’s given me, grimacing at the burning in my throat, a drink so strong it has my eyes watering.
“Just a few more drinks.” My voice comes out soft, so soft that it has me laughing. “Do you hear me?” I call out and suddenly Remi is close again, laughing right in my ear like the devil himself. Her laugh is twisted, deep, and dark sending a paralyzing fear through me. A fear that has me falling back and the world is becoming a darker shade of what it usually is.
“We’re looking for Ruby Casta Bragstone,” I can hear my mother’s voice, the door is slightly open and my room is right next to the front desk. This hospital is quiet, unlike all the others I’ve been too, and they are smart here.
“Are you her parents?” I look away from the door, my eyes are on the windows, it’s sunny outside. “She is most likely asleep,” The nurse has a comforting voice, one that is reassuring and cautious, but that’s how all their voices are when they are speaking to parents about dangerous children. “You two can go in, I’ll let the doctor know you’re here so she can speak with the both of you.”
I close my eyes the second I hear the door starting to open, doing my best to fake being asleep so that they don’t even try to speak to me. “Look at her, Charlie.” Her voice is full of agony. “She looks so pale and her lip is busted, she even has bruises on her arms and neck. Oh god Charlie, look at her knuckles!” From a fight, I don’t remember the reason for the fight, all I know was that I was coming down from a high. I wasn’t getting glimpses of color anymore and when that girl hit me.
The pain brought me a flash of color. Pain, drugs, and adrenaline are the triggers for color. For years living without color was fine, but one day I got a glimpse of color, it was my junior year of high school and I was at the seniors prom after party. That was my first time doing anything besides drinking. I got to see color and my world was suddenly shattered, how could I be living in such a dead world?
The story of my mother’s family goes like this. The very first of our relatives, specifically Anna Maria Casta, caught the eye of two gentlemen. They’d all met at the same time, during a festival her town always had and they all became fast friends. Anna Maria fell in love with Kalin Azul, while Ricardo Velazquez fell for Anna Maria.
Of course Anna Maria and Kalin became a couple but one day Kalin abandoned Anna Maria, he’d left a letter for her that told her he was never meant to stay in that town of hers. He had a wife and children that he loved, she was just a mistake. The only thing Anna Maria was able to do was cry in sorrow, while her dear friend Ricardo held her close.
Ricardo couldn’t stand to see the love of his life in such emotional distress, every day that he woke to her cries his own heart cried. So he told Anna Maria that he could keep her from ever feeling this pain again, and she agreed.
Ricardo grew up with a family who could do brujeria, witchcraft was their specialty. So he and his sister, who knew his love for Anna Maria was infinite, helped him perform a ritual. They’d made it so that anyone that carried the Casta genetics in their system from there on would know who their soulmate the second they saw them. As soon as Anna Maria was blessed her world of color became one of black and white, years passed before that world suddenly became full of color and the reason the color bloomed into her life was because she was looking into the eyes of a man named Santos Dominguez. She had found her soulmate.
Mama says that the family thinks of this as a blessing, we are born and we grow knowing that the first person we get into a relationship with will be the person meant for our entire life. We are fortunate enough to not face heartbreak.
But I call it a curse. What’s the point of living if I am only living to find someone? Why can’t I have a beautiful world without someone at my side? I want to get to live but I can’t truly live if I can’t really see. I’m cursed to spend my days in hell and alone, cursed until I find my savior, cursed until someone looks me in the eyes and the magical forces of the universe determine him or her as the one.
No one says it in my family but I know that once we find that person we will spend the rest of our days asking a single question. When will our days of color end?
The second our soul breathes their last breath and the second their heart no longer works. Our color is ripped away. I’ve heard the stories of women and men at work or at parties. They are busy enjoying their life and then suddenly their color is gone in a flash. I heard there have been cases where their color slowly fades. Their loved one is slowly dying and so are they.
I’ve witnessed it before as well. My uncle from my mother’s side was visiting when I was a little girl, he’d come to visit because mama was pregnant for the fourth time and he was coming to congratulate her. I remember how I was sitting with him and we were eating platanos fritos and then he was suddenly sobbing. The cries that came from him were sudden and they were very very loud. I remember how he cried her name over and over. Iris.
We didn’t receive a blessing. We received a curse. Anna Maria Casta damned us to live a life of misery.
“The nurse who called said a girl brought her in,” Papa whispers to my mother. “They told me that Ruby looked pretty beat up but I didn’t expect this.” I can hear how his voice quivers, my father and mother are strong people, I know because they’ve always faced their problems and have worked hard to give us the things my siblings and I wanted when we were younger. I’m sure that I am their biggest disappointment, I was always the best at school and the one who took care of everyone, even my older sister. I helped with everything.
I never got caught doing bad things when I was in high school, even though I did plenty of bad. I never made them worry until I was done with college. I’d done it quick. Entered at seventeen and was done before my twenty first birthday. I wanted to graduate so they could be proud, so that they wouldn’t have to worry over who will be the caretaker if they would pass away young. They always worried over who was going to be the head of our family. I was willing because my sister was a lone wolf from what I could remember. But I haven’t been home since I turned twenty and had graduated.
Somewhere between driving from my graduation to the house I broke down, I could not be who they wanted me to be because I wanted to stay at college where I could party every night and see the colors I longed for. I couldn’t go and face reality. So I went to the closest ATM machine, took out all the money I’d made babysitting, tutoring, walking dogs, and braiding hair every now and then. I took it all out and I vanished.
I’ve been in plenty of hospitals, some hospitals where they found out my name and called my family, some hospitals where as soon as I opened my eyes they were checking me out. The few times my parents were called I woke up before they got there and I was gone. This is the first time I couldn’t get away, the nurses had my wrists in restraints, I must have gotten violent but I can’t remember ever waking up. When I see Remi I’m going to beat her for letting my name spill from her lips. But then again it’s my fault she even knew my name. But the girl still needs a good beating because I’m starting to realize that she wasn’t giving me just e.
I should have never told her my real name. The times the hospital have found out my name was because I either had my ID on me or someone knew my name. I never learn.
“She let her hair grow,” I used to always have it short, but spending money on my hair is the least of my worries. “She has piercings now too.” I can hear the tears in my moms voice, she is so close but she doesn’t touch me. The sound of the door opening has my parents shuffling around, I can hear the heels of the doctors shoes.
I open my eyes now, raising my hands and sitting up slowly, I grip the rails on the side of the hospital bed. “Can you get these off me?” My voice is raspy and I could die for some water but I want these restraints off. “Not even the classy spot in Tally put me in these last month-”
“You woke up a few times and hurt a nurse,” The doctor is at my side and she is pulling off my restraints. “You had different drugs in your system this time, Ruby and ones a lot stronger than the last few times when you came it was just one type too.” The second she takes off my restraints I rub my hands against my face. “What did we talk about last time, Ruby?”
I glance to my parents, looking back to the doctor, this is the one hospital I’ve been to over two times. “That you’d get my name one day,” I pull off the sheets, I’m in a hospital gown, they are nice to me at this hospital. “I liked it when you were calling me Jane Doe,” I grab the small pitcher and take a long drink. “You know I didn’t want to see them, so why would you call them here?” I can’t look at my parents.
“I remember you telling me you missed them as well,” She has a clipboard in her hand and I push my fingers through my hair, the sound of my fingers brushing through the knots is loud. I can’t help but scoff, I was going through one of the worst ‘after’ moments, the night before I’d done some shitty things to get the high I wanted.“We talked about you going to rehab-“
“Can I get my stuff?” I’m not addicted. I want to tell her but I know she’ll tell me what all the others say. Only an addict would say they aren’t addicted. I can stop if I really want to, I’ve done it before.
“The girl that left you stole your stuff,” I can’t help but laugh, of course, she did, I put down the rail that my right hand was cuffed to. “That’s some friend you got there.”
“Can I at least get some scrubs so I can go apologize to the nurse I hurt.” I pull out the IV in me, pulling off the wires that take my pulse. “Remi will be back, she knows the drill, take the shit so no one will find out our names.” The machines are beeping but the doctor shuts them off, it’s almost the same as the last time I was here.
“Well she wasn’t too bright,” The doctor holds up my ID and I smile lightly. “You won’t say hi to your parents?” I look to my mom, she’s crying and I can’t look away from her.
“Don’t cry, ma,” My words only make her cry louder and I look to my father who has tears streaming down his cheeks. “See, Doc,” I look away from them now. “You made them cry by calling them over, I don’t even look pretty right now-“
“Come home, Ruby.” Mama cuts me off, I turn to her and give her a small smile.
“Home?” I shake my head slightly. “I’m trying to get my color, mama.” The Spanish comes out naturally, I’ve missed my mom and my dad. “If I go home to that little town I’ll never get it.”
“Ruby,” Moms voice shakes. “That’s not true. What you are doing isn’t finding your color, look at you!” Her voice sounds so broken, it makes my heart hurt, I have to shut my eyes for a second to try and not think of how hurt she sounds.
“I can’t go back mom.” I look away from her. “I’m not your Ruby anymore, and I never will be.”
“I don’t care who you think you are now!” Her yelling makes me flinch. “You are still my daughter and I’ll take whatever version I can get of you. Even if you don’t talk to me or lock yourself in your room I want you to come home. Even if you are out all day and most of the night. I don’t care, I’d rather know you’re coming home than not know anything about you!” I lay back in my bed, hands over my face, the tears come. “You’ll always be our daughter Ruby, nothing is ever going to change that.”
“Come home, Ruby.” Dad’s voice has me sobbing into my hands, so loud that I cover my mouth to stop the sound.
I want to go home.
I’m wearing grey scrubs and a thin cardigan that is scratchy, they let me take a shower before mama checked me out, the hospital wrist band that has my name and birthdate is tight on me. I apologized to the nurse, she didn’t look too bad, just a bruise on her cheek but that doesn’t excuse what I did to her. She was just trying to help.
I’m standing right outside the hospital, the sight of Remi has me stepping closer to the curb. Her hair is in a messy bun, she’s in sweats and a tank. “Tiger!” She’s waving at me and I wave right back. “I brought your bag from the warehouse.” I take it from her, looking through it to make sure my things are in it. “You want a beer?”
I take it from her, opening it and start chugging, she’s brought a tall can and I will surely need a light buzz from anything while on the drive home. The second I finish it I am tossing the can into the recycling bin and grabbing the other one in her hand, I babysit this one. Taking a small drink before nodding my head to Remi.
“I’m not going back to the warehouse,” I take another sip, looking at Remi, she’s younger than me by two or three years. I found her at the warehouse, choking on her own vomit, saved her fucking life. “You shouldn’t stay there alone.”
“Where you moving to?” She sits down on the curb and I sit beside her, taking my sandals out from my bag and putting them on. “I’ll just go with you,” She smiles at me, she’s got really white teeth, which is rare for girls like us. “You said if you ever moved spots that I could tag along, no one should ever be alone, right?”
I keep quiet, I want to tell her that I can ask if she can come with. “They called my parents,” Her smile falls instantly. “You dropped my ID and they came to get me so I’m going home.” She wraps her arms around her waist, knees against her chest, she’s looking at her bare feet.
“You going to rehab?” Usually when people we know head back with their parents that’s the first place they go, rehab. I know Remi’s tried getting clean, she told me she had the hospital check her into psych once and she’s been to rehab once too, but the thing is the support. She doesn’t have the support she needs when she gets out and the cycle just starts over.
“We haven’t talked about it.” I am soft spoken. “Listen, Remi,” She’s already sniffling, she reminds me of my little sisters. “I’m going to leave you my number and my address,” She nods softly. “I’m leaving you my bag too, alright?” Remi has fat tears coming down her face, she’s sniffling up her boogers and nodding as I turn over the list of the home remedies for withdrawal that they gave me at the hospital.
Pulling a pen out of my bag I twist my body so that I can put the paper down next to me. I hear the doors sliding open and I look up to see my parents walking out. I’m writing down our address quickly, putting down my number, my parents never disconnected my phone. I’ve turned it on a few times and each time I noticed it was still in service. I pull my phone out of my bag, putting it in the pocket of my scrubs and I stand.
Remi stands slowly, I gulp down the beer, holding the can in my hand I hand my bag to Remi. She takes it and is putting it on slowly, she’s still crying. “I got about sixty bucks left in that bag,” She nods. “Here,” I hand her the paper and she’s taking it, reading it and then folding it up, my parents stop right behind us. “If you need me give me a call,” I pause, maybe I should do more for her than just this. “If you need me look for me, Rem.”
“Don’t leave me alone, Tiger.” Fingers crush the can at her words the shock is terrifying, the aluminum is loud, I won’t ever hear someone calling me that name once I’m back home. There’s a guilt eating me up inside, I can’t leave her but she doesn’t want help.
“If I bring you with me are you going to stop doing drugs?” My voice is harsh, her eyes grow wide, lips are parted and I see the thirst for drugs in her eyes. I know the look because I’ve seen it in my own eyes plenty of times. I may not see color but I know I can see the pain in her eyes, in a way a lifeless world is beautiful, but it only shows its beauty in moments of despair.
“No.” She’s breathless.
“Then you have your answer, Remi.” She lets out a sob. I can’t help but crush the can in my hand. I hate myself. “When you decide you want to be clean you have my address, if you can’t make it to my place then give me a call.” She’s wiping her tears, I want to give her a hug but I don’t take a step forward.“The only way you can come is if you’re serious about getting clean, if you show up at my fucking door looking for a fix I’ll kick your ass.” She nods quickly, I turn to look at my mama who is looking at Remi with sad eyes.
“Can we give her a ride to the place we were staying?” Mama nods quickly, she a sympathetic person but I don’t want to put another druggy on her, she won’t be able to handle two people begging for drugs and death. “Am I looking for the van or the bug?” We’ve always had three cars, but I know this trip wasn’t one meant for the papa’s truck.
“The van, amor.” I’ve missed hearing my mother’s love for me. She calls all of us amor. I nod, should have known she’d come in the van, it’s always been her preferred vehicle. I’m not even sure if they still have the volkswagen beetle, it was falling apart when I was driving it and I was fixing it all on my lonesome. “Your dad has the bug in the garage, he’s been trying to replace the engine.” I glance at my papa, he’s on the phone, sending a message. If anything in the family group chat, it almost makes me want to turn on my phone.
“Did you guys tell them I’m coming home?”
“The girls don’t know, they think we are buying some things for the trip.” Papa puts his phone away and takes out his keys. “Where we heading to, Bee?”
“I’ll give the directions as we go, papa.” Spanish feels weird leaving my lips, I’ve been speaking english the entire time I’ve been gone from home, which was actually hard at first because I was used to talking a mix of both. Now all I speak is english and cancerous desires.
The streets are dirty, as dirty and tagged as the warehouse building we are stopped next to, no one says anything as I stare up at it. “Are you going to stay here or you are going to find a new spot?” I can’t remember how I found this spot, I had just left a club and was stumbling around. I think I fell right through the fence trying to lean against it just to rest.
“It’s already too late to find a new spot,” She’s right, the sun sets early since its winter. “I think I’ll stay here till winters over, you and I both know a warm spots hard to find.” I scoff, sliding open the door and waiting for her to make a move to pick her bag off the ground.
“That’s what the shelters are for, Remi.” At the beginning of the winter I stayed in shelters, but those fucking places are terrible, it’s loud and everyone smells and they have no respect. Unless you stay in a women and children shelter but even then you can always find a crazy motherfucker.
“You know I can’t stay in those places,” Remi picks up her bag. “They always try to steal my shit, you were the one keeping people off me. That’s why we all call you Tiger, I’m not tiger I’m a fucking-” There’s a loud bang, I turn to look and there’s a two people who’ve ran out the building, the second person out the door is tackling down the first and I let out a low whistle. “What do you think they are fighting over?”
I lean over towards the front, squinting, “Looks like a bag-”
“It looks like my fucking bag!” Remi is screeching and running out the van, I chase after her, bare feet step over trash. A door is opening and slamming shut. “Let go of my shit!” Remi is shrieking and familiar faces turn to us.
“Well it’s mine now, Remi.” Everyone is brave when Remi is doing the talking but the second I step in front of her lips shut tight. No one wants to get in a fight with me.
“That bag doesn’t look like it’s yours Kathy,” I’m calm, always calm, I need to stay calm so that when I explode I get to see the colors burst. “Why don’t you hand it over-”
“You know the rules, Tiger.” Kathy must have been pretty before, with her full lips and that wide eyed innocence to her face, but her teeth are ruined and lips are cracked dry. She’s frighteningly thin and her nose is crooked, I broke it on one of our first encounters. The city is big but the places people like us can stay in are few.
“Rules?” I turn to look at Remi, even to my dad, he’s got a worried look on his face and I just look at him as if to say. Did you hear this dumb bitch? “If you followed the rules you wouldn’t look like a rat, K-” She’s leaping, her fist hits my chin good, if I wouldn’t have kept my feet firm on the ground I would have fallen back. But all this time on the streets I learned to fight, I had never gotten into a fight before I left home but the first night I was on the streets I got my ass kicked.
I grab her hair before she can hit me again, sticking my foot out and throwing her to the ground, we both go down and I am on top of her. My fist is quick, punching and punching, the black and white world is leaving and all I can see is the red spilling from her nose. I know this color just because it is blood, but I don’t know the names of the rest of the colors that flash. But I’m being pulled away, the anger rages but my hands don’t meet flesh and neither do my legs as I kick out. I’m screaming my anger and for this person to let me go.
“I’ll call you Tiger!” Remi’s voice is so far away, all I can hear is my heart pounding in my ears and the slamming of a door.