We’re in his cousin’s driveway again. I’m sweating hard, the car getting too hot for me to handle—I crack open the door a little. “What are you doing?” Jeremy hisses, shutting it again. Not sure why he’s so worried. We’ve been caught before.
I never was even the slightest bit inclined to do something like this, but now there’s something about outdoor sex that excites me. His friends are in the car behind us, knowing fully well what’s going on behind the foggy windows.
I clasp my bra back on, pull my underwear up. I’m feeling almost faint from the afterglow. He’s humming along to a song on the hip-hop playlist I made just for him, eyes closed. I’m silent for the first time in a while—he’s commented on my endless stream of chatter before—playing with the giant cross on the end of the chain he’s wearing. He glances down at my hand, smiling. “I still don’t get why you don’t believe in god.” He shakes his head. I don’t let it ruin my moment, running my fingers along one of his tattoos.
“Tell me,” I say. “Tell me why I should.” He shakes his head again, then shrugs. He begins to explain, but I’m not really listening. I’m certain that nothing he could say would sway me. I continue to examine his fifteen tattoos. I wonder when and why he got so many. He wants two more, he’s told me. “Love” and “Hate”, on opposite sides of his torso.
“You can’t explain faith,” he’s saying when I tune in again. “It’s just…I know there is a lord, and he’s taking care of me.” Jeremy looks at me like, “Well?” I nod again, and he looks exasperated. “How can you explain miracles? Real miracles! Like life.”
“I can explain life,” I laugh.
“Bullshit. Where’d the world come from, then?”
“Well, the beginning of life and the beginning of the universe are two different things,” I reply, sitting up. “But they’re intertwined in a beautiful way.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Stars!” I say with a little too much enthusiasm. “It’s all from stardust. There’s that Carl Sagan quote...‘The nitrogen in our DNA, calcium in our teeth, iron in our blood’?”
“The fuck are you saying?”
“He’s a famous scientist. He was saying all the parts that make up the world, and the parts that made life…they all came from collapsing insides of stars. Isn’t that fucking beautiful? To come from the stars?”
“I don’t get it,” Jeremy shrugs. He points upward, ostensibly to the heavens. “He’s up there. God is truth.” I just grin at him, yet again unbothered by the chasm that is the differences between us.
Later, inside of his cousin’s house in their makeshift studio, I’m watching him record a track, witnessing the switch between Jeremy—which is what he’s called in my head—and Young LG, which I’ll never call him to his face. It feels too ridiculous. I’m happy to learn, however, that he’s actually pretty good at what he does. His rhyming, his word play, the flow—it’s clear that this is his own form of genius.
4 A.M. sneaks up on me. But I’m not tired, haven’t been in a while. Sometimes I can feel the energy building up in me, making me twitch and fidget, pace back and forth. Restlessness zaps through my brain, my body. But I’m young, and it’s summer, the perfect time to feel so alive. Jeremy wraps me in a hug so tight and long I wonder if he’ll ever let go. When he does, I’m presented with his beautiful smile, dimples denting his cheeks slightly. “See you tomorrow,” he says, sort of sadly. Tomorrow—our last day working together.
I informed my managers of my plans to leave sort of late, but it had to be that way. Not that I give one shit about pissing them off. An opportunity to leave for San Francisco arose when a professor contacted me about starting a research rotation before the semester begins, pay and all. I’ve been miserable, fast food and failure scented too long for my tastes, and found it impossible to turn down. I cannot wait to be immersed in the world of research and academia. Where I belong.
Jeremy despised high school, and cannot wrap his head around going back to more in college, let alone volunteering your youth away in graduate school. I’ve tried to explain to him why it appeals to me. Unfortunately, the magic of scientific discovery is lost on him.
The ideas are bubbling in my mind, and I eagerly scrawl them down in my black, tattered journal. I want to study genes associated with schizophrenia. I want to discover a new anti-depressant, to flip the switch in the brain that turns sadness into euthymia. I am capable of anything. I imagine the mice and rats I will work with—can see myself plating cells and culturing neurons. The thoughts I have almost overwhelm me. I can feel them bumping together in my head, shouting over each other. I scribble them all.
Upon finding out I’ll be moving away early, I decide to contact an old friend of mine who moved to Oakland back in high school. I met Nicolai junior year, and haven’t seen him since graduation when he bit my earlobe. My earrings apparently reminded him of green M&Ms—the sexy ones, he’d said. He’s readily offered me a spot on his couch until I can afford to get my own place.
I’ve been saving more money lately, hanging out with Jeremy. Budgeting for weed is not necessary around him and his friends, who smoke me out for free because they like seeing pretty girls get high. Jeremy just loves introducing me to everyone he knows. “Guess how old she is?” he always asks, because apparently I really do look sixteen. The guys all flirt with me slyly, but he doesn’t seem to mind. Almost seems proud of it.
Nearly all of his friends rap—they have a group, in fact—and a good number of them deal. I flash smiles and girlish pouts to get free dime bags and blunts. They seem fascinated by me, a blabbering genius mess, while Jeremy just looks on. He’s smiling, but behind it I know he’s warning them to back off.
“It’s fucking hot in here,” his friend Dame says. He and three of the others have popped some Molly, and I’m jealous. Jeremy says he doesn’t fuck with anything but the green, but I find myself craving a different high suddenly.
“Do you have any more?” I ask, hoping for a yes and betting I look cute enough to get a dose for free.
“You’re not ready for this,” Dame laughs. “And I’m out anyway.”
“Let’s get more!” I clap my hands like an excited child.
“Don’t listen to her,” Jeremy says.
“Yes, listen to me. We’ll get more. I’ve got money. How much is it?”
Dame smiles slowly, not nearly as dazzling as Jeremy can. “You want me to hook you up?”
I make a noise of disgust, impatient. “That’s what I said, nigga.” Everyone laughs, loudly, at that. I don’t know whether to revel in it, or feel like they’re all laughing at me. I just laugh along. “Help me out.”
“I’ll make a call.”
He doesn’t find me any Molly. But he does introduce me to a man named T. Only T. “Teeee,” I say, giggling. He raises an eyebrow at me, and both Jeremy and Dame give me a look that says, “Shut the fuck up.” They both seem afraid of him. I’m afraid of no one. “I’m Cara. Nice to meet you,” I continue with a grin, extending my hand. T snorts a little laugh, grabbing my hand. He kisses it and keeps holding on, guiding me inside his apartment. Jeremy’s nostrils flare a bit, but he says nothing.
“What are you looking for?” T asks.
“Whatcha got?” I ask, bouncing a little in my chair. His living room is impeccable, and I’m impressed. His furniture and giant TV let me know he’s good at his job as an independent pharmaceutical sales representative, my own personal spin on the term ‘drug dealer’. T smiles almost evilly at me, but I’m still not afraid. I just smile back, sweetly. “A girl can only smoke so much weed,” I say.
“I’m out of E,” he informs me. “But I’ve got some pretty good shit you may be into.”
“Break it out!” I’m almost yelling. Jeremy looks really uneasy. Dame is grinning his fucking face off.
T leaves the room, comes back with a baggie of white shit. “That could be anything,” I say. “Heroin. PCP. The fuck is it?” It doesn’t matter, though. I’m prepared to snort anything.
“Plain old white girl,” he says, dumping some onto his glass coffee table. So cliché. Cocaine was always on my no-no list, but tonight I’m feeling invincible. He chops up a little baby line for me. “You in?”
“How much is it?”
“This is on the house,” T replies, giving me the same lecherous grin. He presents me with a rolled up twenty-dollar bill, and I can only think about all of the hands that may have ever touched it. The infection I’m setting my sinuses up for. “You ready?”
“You’re damned right, I am,” I laugh, taking it from him. I inhale deeply, then release. I’m ready. I stick it up my nose, hands shaking already, and loudly sniff the fine white powder from the table. It’s as if I’m snorting snow—it numbs the way an application of ice would. “Good god,” I say, throwing my head back. It drips down my throat, anesthetizing the whole way down. T and Dame laugh, Jeremy shakes his head.
“Want another?” I nod, and he fashions a bigger line for me this time. “Be careful, girl.”
“Careful,” I repeat, smiling. “You don’t know me, T.” The next line shoots straight to my brain, where it’s supposed to go. “Holy shit,” I say, not more than a minute later. “Brain zaps.” I shake my head back and forth, feeling my thoughts speed up even further. Feeling my sense of well being ramp up to one hundred thousand billion. I start babbling then, telling them about how cocaine blocks the dopamine transporter’s function, which causes a build up at the synapses. “Dopamine’s my favorite neurotransmitter. I wear it around my neck,” I say, playing with my necklace. “It’s supposed to be the feel good chemical, but it does so much more. Basic human instinct relies on dopamine. Food. Sex.” I rub my nose. “Movement! So important for movement. You know, in Parkinson’s disorder—”
“She always does this,” Dame says, seeming to apologize to T. He waves him off, looking at me as I continue to ramble on.
“And schizophrenia,” I continue. “Most anti-psychotics block the D2 dopamine receptor. So it has a role in that disorder, definitely. Myself, I find the addiction aspect of it interesting. Your whole dopaminergic system hijacked by a silly chemical.” I laugh heartily. “Not gonna happen to me though. I’m stronger than this shit.” I reach for the credit card myself, and cut up another line. T laughs at my boldness.
“We need to go soon,” Jeremy says to me. I’d nearly forgotten he was here.
“One more,” I whine. He looks to T, who nods, and just shrugs.
“Do whatever you want.” He almost looks disappointed in me. I really couldn’t care less. If I thought I was on top of the world before, I’m standing on the fucking moon now.
One more line, up the nose. My whole face is numb, my jaw clenched tightly during the few seconds I’m not opening my mouth to speak. The words are coming out at breakneck speed, and I can tell by their faces they can’t keep up, but I’m unable to stop, to slow down.
Before we leave, T slips me a tiny bag. More coke. I beam at him. “You’ll come back to see me?”
“Without a doubt,” I reply, before Jeremy takes my hand and leads me away from sin.
My mother and I are arguing again. I’m angry, but my main concern is that I’m sniffing too much. Voice too nasally. I’m afraid she knows. She’s worried about me, asking where I was all night. She’s totally blowing my high, right now.
We progress to the silent anger act of this play that I’ve seen too many times. I’m breathing deeply, having just unleashed a torrent of screams. My heart is beating so quickly I can hear it, and it’s probably not just the cocaine. I wish for the millionth time I lived anywhere but home. Letting out another growl of frustration, I reach for the closest thing I can throw—a couch pillow, lucky for her.
Her eyes are wide. She seems scared, defeated. She steps toward me slowly, looking at me the way a person eyes a vicious dog in his path. “Your behavior lately…it’s just frightening, really.”
“Oh, do tell!” I shout. She voices her concerns like she’s made a list: the drinking, the anger and irritability, the minute-to-minute mood swings, my agitated, hurried nature.
“And you’re gone every night, and I have no idea where you are. You look like you haven’t slept in days.”
“I’m twenty fucking two. I don’t need as much sleep as your decrepit, old—”
“Don’t talk to me that way,” she snaps. “Listen. Stop pacing and listen. I’ve been reading and—”
“Have you?” I laugh. “Whatcha been reading, genius?”
“The way those anti-depressants first made you act,” she continues over me. “I remember it so well. You weren’t yourself, and you’re acting the same way now. Worse, really.”
“This is myself,” I say. “Haven’t you considered this is just me? I’m feeling fine. I’m feeling finer than fine, completely amazing, thank you.”
“I’m just worried it’s something else. These articles...”
“These articles, these articles,” I mimic. “Tell me more, doctor.”
“It’s called hypermania, Cara, and I think—”
“It’s called hypomania, you idiot, and I think you’re full of shit.” I cross my arms like a petulant kid. “You have no idea, no idea, what you’re talking about.” I guess I said it rather heatedly, because she takes a step back. I bare my teeth in the meanest grin I can muster. I’m winning. I always win.
“We should really see another doctor about this,” she says quietly. “Depression may not be the only problem.”
“Stop trying to pathologize my happiness,” I cry. “I’ve read the DSM, twice. I know that hypomania induced by anti-depressants—”
“You’re talking too fast,” she interrupts. “I really—”
I scream louder. “Hypomania induced by anti-depressants does not count toward the diagnosis of another ‘problem’.”
My dad finally steps out of their bedroom. “The hell is going on out here?”
“I’m just happy!” I exclaim. I’m smiling big, unable to control it. Suddenly, I am very happy, a light switched on in my head bringing me out of the darkness of my anger. “I really am. Why won’t anyone just let me be great?”
My mother is completely baffled, I can tell. She can’t understand. Nobody ever does.
“I’ve been thinking,” Jeremy says. “Maybe I could go back to school.”
“Oh?” I’m listening, but distracted by everything in the studio. So many buttons I’d like to press. His mix-tape playing in the background. Bottles clinking. The smell of marijuana in the air, his friends’ stoned laughter.
“Yeah. I could study audio production, or something. Make this shit more professional, you know?”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I say. I pull my final bit of my cocaine out of my bag, and Jeremy rolls his eyes. Ignoring him, I take the last bump. “I’ve been thinking, as well.”
“You’re brilliant, you know?” I say, right as he’s asking. “You’re a genius. I know genius.” He laughs, shaking his head. “I’m serious! You could do anything. Go back to school. It’s a great idea. You’re so smart.” I had a point, but I can’t find it anymore. The thoughts in my head blur together, the radio in my mind changing stations second to second. The coke finally helps me pick out the right one again. “But yes! I’ve been thinking. I could be your manager.”
Jeremy snorts. “My what?” He slaps my hand away when I tap my fingers against the soundboard. I can’t stop fidgeting.
“I could do it! Listen. You’re amazing. I mean that. I could get you on the radio.”
“How you gonna do that?” I wave my hands, shaking my head.
“Irrelevant. I can do it. Can’t be too hard.” I wish I had more cocaine. Jeremy’s cousin passes him a blunt, and before he can hand it back, I pluck it from his fingers and take a big puff.
“You’re cut off,” he laughs, handing it back to his cousin. “You trippin.”
“I’m gonna make you famous,” I insist. “Listen. I’m moving away, across the country. I can make you big from coast to coast, dude.”
“Dude,” he laughs. He just keeps shaking his head. It’s making me mad, really.
“Hey,” I snap. “I can do it. We can do it. And you could come to California with me, and—”
“Stop. Stop it. You sound crazy.”
I groan. “Crazy, crazy, crazy,” I rant. “That’s all I hear. Nobody understands. You people don’t know shit.” He looks confused. “I’m perfectly normal.”
“I didn’t say—”
“It’s like nobody is on my level right now. I’m up here,” I say, raising both of my arms to the sky. “In the clouds. Dancing in the troposphere. Nobody can reach me. Nobody can hear me, clearly, because nobody is ever listening to a goddamned thing I have to say.”
“You make no sense right now.”
“You are so beneath me, Jeremy,” I hiss at him.
“That’s not my fucking name.”
“Well, Young LG is a stupid name,” I shout. “And you’d know that if you knew anything, you moron.” I expect anger, but his face is still set on befuddlement. Bemusement, really.
“Whatever. You trippin,” he says again. “You need some air or something.”
“Listen to me! Can you hear me down there?” I yell. Everyone is looking at us, and I couldn’t give a shit. They don’t understand. “You don’t deserve my help. Good luck with your rap career, you shithead.” I stand up and grab my purse. He grabs my arm to stop me.
“Where you going? You’re fucked up.” He’s holding onto my hand, and looking at me with so much concern I want to chew his face off and spit it back at him.
“This world is fucked up. You’re all fucked. I’m out of here.” Jeremy lets go of me, and shrugs.
“Do what you want. I’m done.”
“I was finished first!” I yell. I win again.
I leave the house and head to my car—drive in circles, nowhere to go. It’s only ten-o-clock, and I refuse to go home. I park the car and look at my phone, thumbing through the contacts. I finally come across the perfect number to call.
T lets me into his apartment, smiling as creepily as before. “Back for more, huh?”
“I have no money,” I say. “But you’ll help me out anyway?”
“I’ve got you, girl.” He relaxes on his couch, arm slung across the back of it. He pats the seat next to him, and I plop down on the cold leather. My skirt is so short, my legs immediately freeze. “What do you need?”
“Cocaine, please!” I say so cheerily it makes him laugh. “But I’ll take whatever you got.”
“Try this.” He reaches for a bottle of pills on the table, hands me one. “Wait about fifteen, then we’ll do some lines. Trust me.”
So I do. Exactly eighteen minutes later—I time it—I’m feeling flushed. A little nauseated. But good. Giggly. “I’m ready,” I say. He hands me the rolled up bill, and I snort the fattest line laid out. It takes a minute, but suddenly I understand. “What was that?”
“Oxy,” he replies. “Mixed with the coke?” He kisses his fingers.
“It’s fabulous,” I tell him. I feel the head rush of the cocaine, and the cloudy euphoria of the Oxy all at once. I’m so warm, the cold feeling of the couch long forgotten. “I feel like I’m flying.” I’ve transcended another plane of the atmosphere. My phone vibrates next to me—Jeremy. Ignore.
T puts his hand on my leg. I stare it, seeing him rub up and down my thigh but unable to feel a thing. “Can I have another line?”
“Anything you want,” he grins. I brush his hand away and lean forward to numb myself even further. I know what he wants in exchange, and know I’m uninterested. But I hear the pearly white lines calling to me, telling me it’s okay, and I let him put his hand back on my leg after sniffing a second.
“Like your skirt,” he says, grazing further and further up. Then I hear ringing, and T groans, removing his hand. “I need to get this. Be right back.” He looks at me, his eyes saying, “Don’t move.” I pull at my skirt, but it doesn’t get any longer.
When he leaves the room, I rub a little powder against my gums, like in the movies. I’m not ready for this. For the first time in a while, I’m uncertain of my actions and a little scared. He’s taking so long. I do another line. I reach for the large bag of coke he’s got just sitting on the table, opening it to lay out another—pause. It occurs to me that I could just leave. Forever. I look again at the massive amount of illicit drug in my hands. I could take it. And go. Forever. I’m capable of anything but doing what he wants me to do, right now.
I look around like there are security cameras. For all I know there are. Don’t really care, though. Just have to get out of here. I close the bag and put it in my purse, not thinking twice. I hear him yelling in the other room, and twitch nervously. I have to leave. Have to go. I stand slowly, feeling dizzy, and step carefully toward the door.
“You listen to me,” I hear him say threateningly. “If you don’t have it by tomorrow,” he’s saying as I close the door quietly. Escape, is all I can think. Get out now. It may be the coke, but I’m paranoid as hell. I leave with my lights turned off, just in case he’s looking out the window for my car. And I drive. Drive and drive.
It’s 2 A.M. and I can finally go home. But I cannot stay there. I have to get out. I spend the rest of the night packing as much as I can into my small car. It’s at least half of my stuff. Forget the rest, I think. My mind spins, still feeling a little dazed. The Oxy, I think, has got me tired for the first time in weeks. More cocaine. I laugh when I brandish the bag from my purse. “Why, look!” I say out loud. “More cocaine!” I take a few bumps from my finger. I’m ready to go.
And so I do. I drive for a day and twelve hours—over 2,500 miles—non-stop, to Oakland. My phone rings constantly—my parents, Anna, Jeremy. I answer for no one.
When I reach Nicolai’s place, I’m wide-awake, no substance abuse necessary. The thrill of escape, of being in a new place, fueling me. He’s rightly shocked to see me. “Wow. I thought you wouldn’t be here for a week or so?”
“Change of plans!” I chirp. “Hope that’s no inconvenience.” But I don’t really care.
“Not at all,” he replies. “Just a surprise. A pleasant one,” he assures me. “You look good.”
I know I’ve got dark circles under my eyes, a messy bun on top of my head. But I feel pretty all the same. “You too, Nico.” He doesn’t seem to mind the nickname, even though in high school he insisted it was a girl’s name. His eyes are bigger and bluer than I remembered, his light brown hair much longer. I’m fascinated by his eyelashes, curlier and lengthier than mine even after mascara.
“You’ve gotta be tired,” he says. “Take my bed.”
“I’m fine!” I’m feeling a coke crash coming on, though. “You got any weed?”
Nico smiles. “Who do you think you’re talking to?” He rolls a beautiful joint, well practiced. “I can’t believe you smoke now. Remember when—”
“You tried to buy me weed for my birthday?” I laugh. “Or maybe that time we were working on a group project outside of the classroom and you wanted to go to your car to get high?”
“That’s the one,” he says with a grin. “You nipped that in the bud pretty quick.”
The weed brings me down gently. I forget all about why I ran away, about the clusterfuck I’ve probably left behind me. “I missed you, man. Thanks for saving me.”
He shrugs, not knowing how very much I mean it. “Anytime.” We finish the joint, and I’m actually sleepy. “Go. Go to bed,” he insists, and I don’t fight. I stand to give him a hug, and when he lets go he blurts, “I have a girlfriend.”
“I just wanted you to know,” he mumbles. I give him a little smile. It’s like he’s daring me. I don’t back down from dares anymore.
The next day he introduces me to this girlfriend. Her name is Amber, and she’s beautiful. She’s also entirely too comfortable having a strange girl living with her boyfriend. She offers to cook dinner. “I heard you were going to grad school out here?” she asks, stirring something that smells amazing. “That’s so cool! What are you studying?”
“Neuroscience,” I reply, staring at Nico. He’s looking back at me, nervously. “I want to cure depression, I think.”
“Wow!” Amber turns the burner off and leaves the kitchen to sit down next to me on the couch. “That’s really cool. So you’re, like, really smart?”
“Like, kind of,” I say meanly. She didn’t deserve it. She’s oblivious though, and keeps talking about how she wishes she could do something like that, telling me she and Nico met while they studied history together at the small college they went to. “Neuroscience…no way I could do that. I’m so impressed.”
“She’s sweet,” I say when dinner’s done and she’s left.
“Yeah,” Nico replies. He drums his fingers on his guitar. He’s still trying to find his calling in life. A musician, maybe. A painter the next moment. A barista by trade. “We’ve been together a little while now.”
“The love of your life?” I tease. Nico laughs, putting his guitar down and walking over to his kitchen.
“Something like that.” He goes through his refrigerator. “Here we go!” he says, presenting a bottle of champagne—I’m sorry, “sparkling wine”. I wonder briefly why he didn’t pull it out while Amber was here.
“Pop the cork!” I squeal. “Wait right here.” I go to his bedroom to get my purse, and come back with my giant bag of coke. He’s completely stunned. The cork shoots across the room.
“Whoa,” he says, and I’m not sure if he’s talking about the loud pop or my stunning reveal.
“Would you like some?” I say, offering it like candy. “There’s plenty.” I laugh.
“I can see that.” He brings over two glasses, not champagne flutes, of the wine. “I’ll have a bit, sure. Haven’t done coke in a while. Where the hell did you get so much?”
I giggle as I pour some out onto a hardback book in my lap. His table is so dirty. “A friend. Of a friend…of a friend.” He gets close to me so he can lean down and snort. I notice he smells like a girl—Amber, probably.
“You’ve changed,” he says, pinching his nostrils open and shut. “And oh my god, this is the best shit I’ve ever had.”
“You feeling it?” I ask. “The dopamine? That rush? Pure euphoria?”
“I’m feeling a little hyper,” he says. “Pretty damn good.”
“A little?” I jump up, the book falling from my lap, cocaine dusting the floor and the couch. “This stuff is magical. I’ve been running on it for days now.”
Nico shakes his head at me. “That’s how you end up addicted. You should get rid of it, maybe.”
“Will do!” I sit on the floor and pour more onto the cover of the book. Snort. “See! All gone.” I laugh crazily, but he just laughs along. He gets it, I think. He may understand.
We do a little more before he insists we’ve had enough. “I’m not making a trip to the ER tonight.” He plays his guitar for me, and I dance around his messy living room, tripping over things on the cluttered floor. His pupils are gigantic, his smile even bigger, as he watches me move. He stops strumming suddenly. “We should go to bed.”
“I’m not even close to tired.”
“I know,” he replies, standing up. He takes my hand, leading me to his room. I get it. This is the double dare.
Nico sleeps it off all the next morning. I don’t even fall asleep. I happily buzz about, cleaning his kitchen, his living room. I scrub an insane amount of gunk from his stovetop and counters, wash every dish twice. I throw away an almost endless amount of empty cigarette packs, singing to myself. When he wakes up I’m in the middle of rearranging his bookshelf by author and title. “Well hello there,” he laughs. “What are you doing?”
“Fixing your library.” I jump up from the pile of novels and textbooks, flinging myself toward him. “Sleep well?” I ask, kissing his cheek.
“Not at all. Have you been up this whole time?” I nod. “Did you do more?”
“No!” And it’s the truth. The bag sits on the now pristine table, untouched since last night. I can tell he doesn’t believe me, like nobody could have the amount of energy I have right now without chemical help. He doesn’t know the half of it. “Are you hungry? I’m not hungry. But I could cook! Do you cook? Let’s make breakfast. Do you like pancakes? I prefer waffles, but pancakes—”
“Stop,” he says. “Slow down. Have a seat.” I join him on the couch, where he sits with his head in his hands. “Fucking hangover.”
“Hydrate. See, the alcohol dehydrogenase has caused a build up of acetaldehyde, which—”
“Speak English for a second,” Nico laughs. “I don’t believe you didn’t have any more blow. You’re so speedy right now.”
“I’m a speedy girl.” I get him a glass of water, and come back and try to roll a joint. I’ve always been bad at it. He fixes my damage and sparks it, exhaling and looking a little relieved from his hungover state. “Do you often cheat on your girlfriend?” I ask casually. He sort of glares at me, and then shakes his head. “So I’m special?”
“You’re special all right,” he replies, laughing. He lights a cigarette. “I don’t know…I always wanted you, you know. Back in high school. You were an innocent little know-it-all. I wanted to corrupt you, maybe.”
“The world beat you to it, huh?”
“I guess so.” He smashes his cigarette in the ashtray and leaves it there, but the ember refuses to go out. I watch it burn. “It’s not that I don’t love Amber…” He sighs. “I just think, maybe, I have the capacity to love more than one person at a time.”
I snort, and he hits my arm lightly. I tap him back, and it turns into a flirtatious fight. He’s pinned me to the couch, rubs his hand under my shirt. It’s too easy, really.
I finally return my parents’ and Anna’s phone calls, and they are irate. I don’t see their point really, and just happily tell them I’m safe and excited to start my research. I hang up the phone and get ready to go, getting instructions on public transit from Nico. When I reach my lab, I almost feel tingly. I’m home.
My project involves working with genetically modified mice, prone to “depression-like” behavior. You never call the mice depressed. “We can’t ask a mouse how it feels,” my professor says. But I can understand the mice, I think. I run the behavioral tests—forcing them to swim, hanging them by their tails. I can see the despair in their little eyes. I know how they feel, I really do. I’m so glad to be free of it. I suck neurotransmitters out of their brains with a probe, compare the normal mice to my little freaks. I work long hours, sometimes all night, and get an incredible amount of work done in just over a week.
“You’re kind of a rock star,” the older student I’m working with tells me. And I know. But it’s nice to hear it.
When I leave lab I return to Nico’s, living together in fake domestic bliss. Amber doesn’t come over anymore, he only goes out to see her. But when he comes back, he’s all mine. We sleep together every night, the actual sleeping part often optional with the amount of cocaine we’re running through.
“We really gotta get rid of this,” Nico says. He’s had a little too much and he’s freaking out, standing up to look out of his window every three seconds. “What if the cops come? What if—”
“Why would they? Are you a fugitive?” He’s moving around more than I am, an accomplishment. “Relax!”
He finally sits down for good, watching in amazement as I do another line, then another. “You’re out of control.”
“I’m so in control right now it’s not even funny. I’m running things. Do you realize the greatness I’m capable of?”
“I realize how arrogant you are,” he laughs. He looks toward the window again. I ignore his comment.
“This is gonna be great. Grad school, I mean. I’m on the top of my game right now, and I can’t be stopped. Do you realize this? Do you?” I start laughing madly.
“We should sell it,” Nico says suddenly. “I know some people.”
“No way! I earned this shit. It is my bounty.” I twirl around, thinking about how I almost can’t remember the last time I felt badly. Thinking about how it all could have been avoided, if I’d only known. All the vodka shots I could have taken, all the drugs I could’ve swallowed, smoked and snorted back in high school. I could’ve controlled my mind instead of the other way around. I could’ve been out of bed in college, out of my dorm room cave of misery. “Smoke a little bit,” I tell Nico. “It’ll bring you down. Then we’ll go out.”
“Go out?” he says, like it’s the most ridiculous thing he’s ever heard. He starts packing a bowl, heeding my advice. “I’m done. No way.”
“Come on. I’m moving to my place soon. We need to cherish our last few days together.” I hit the bowl then get up to look for something to put a little bit of the coke in, to take out with me. “Yes, we must leave. Finish that up,” I tell him, watching as he exhales a haze of smoke. “This is going to be fun.”
I don’t know where the time goes. It’s escaped me, literally, my brain unable to recall how I got into the car with Nico, exactly where we were before we were driving. I don’t know how much I’ve had to drink, but I can guess it’s a fair amount because I’m screaming. Just screaming, no words, kicking my feet against his dashboard.
“We’re going to wreck,” he snaps. “Fucking quit it.”
I can’t stop. “You’re not listening to me!” I yell, words finally coming to me.
“You’re not saying anything! Stop kicking.” I move my feet harder. One slips, crashing into his windshield. Crack. I cackle. He slams on the breaks. “Are you insane? You’re fucking insane! What is wrong with you?” I can’t stop laughing. Until the screaming starts again, me shaking my head over and over trying to slow down all the words tumbling together in my mind—my own thoughts, running marathon speed. I just want it to slow down.
“It won’t stop,” I say, gasping. “It won’t stop!” I have to scream again. Nico covers his ears and growls.
“Freaking stop it already! Look what you’ve done. You’re paying for this shit.”
I open the door and stumble out of the car. I can barely stand up straight. The noise in my head is so, so loud—so, so incomprehensible. It’s plain madness. I stand on the sidewalk and shout. It’s late so nobody’s outside, nobody’s listening. Nobody ever does.
“Get in. Get in!”
I pound my fist against my forehead, trying to quiet things down. It just gets louder. “Stop!” I order my mind. “Just stop!”
“Fine!” Nico shrieks. “Just stay there. I don’t give a shit.” He drives off. And I’m all alone, with just the whirring thoughts in my head. I don’t care about finding my way back. I shout until my voice is weak and raspy. It could be for hours, I don’t know. The noise doesn’t stop, and I start to cry. But I’m not sad, quite the opposite. It’s the oddest feeling I’ve ever had. Like I’m so happy, I could kill myself.
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