Lips Like Morphine by Sarah

Challenges: 

“Put the ice cream down.” and/or “BALLIN’”

bunk beds and/or poppies

Anything in the realm of magic substances felt like such a safe haven to my spirit. That, coincidentally, occurred with the addition of spirits to my bloodstream. It was almost like my blood was igniting with the taste of the alcohol moving over my lips, down my esophagus, and hitting the acid in my stomach. Oddly homey, it soothed me. It soothed me much more than I wanted it to be capable of. It had a power over me that I could not deny. I was almost a superhero after a little while.

But alas, I digress. It is a dream. I could never dream of being a superhero, especially when it’s hard to stand on my own two feet.

Breaking me out of my thoughts, I hear the phone ringing in the background. I ignore it. I’m too focused on the task at hand. What will be my poison tonight? I quickly pick out a bottle of peach schnapps, a bottle of coconut rum, an 80-proof bottle of cheap vodka, and a bottle of blueberry schnapps, like I was Rachael Ray juggling all her ingredients for a healthy and delicious 30-minute meal.

I need more hands.

Not only was I planning to make Jell-o shots for the occasion, we were going to make some killer cocktails as well. Damnit. Well, I guess I can come back later for the rest.

My cell phone beeped 3 times in the mean time. New voicemail, was the immediate thought that sifted through my brain. I had some leftover Sambuca in the cupboard. I knew for a fact that I had stolen my grandmother’s whiskey and still had it somewhere in the apartment, and there was a bottle of Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum dying for a coke and some mistletoe. I remember cherishing my first holiday cocktail with my mother while I was making tiramisu for the first time. It turned to total shit, but the cocktail warmed my soul where my sweater failed to.

Ah…memories I should not even be remembering.

After the liquor was purchased with cold, hard cash and then placed into my backseat, I finally flipped my cell phone open to listen to my voicemail. As expected, it was Taylor again. Time, place, location, and amount of alcohol he needed to consume. Typical. The boy wouldn’t be able to use his head correctly if I didn’t have an instruction manual. I don’t even know how I acquired, but I did.

Remembering the moment that we met each other is difficult for me. I know for a fact that he told me he was in the midst of deciding whether or not to enter a relationship. A year ago, when I was 18 and he was 24, I was just a freshman talking shit about a former flame of mine in college. Little did I know, the young man walking past me was listening in on my conversation.

“Dousche. Total dousche.”

“What are you talking about?” my friend, Amelia, fresh-faced and innocent, looked at me, completely shocked, “You can’t be talking about…”

“Yes. Poor boy.”

A man stopped in front of the table we were sitting at. I had a nice plate of mozzarella sticks completely doused in Frank’s Red Hot sauce, ready for consumption when I caught the eye of this man. He was dressed professionally, more like corporate casual, and looked as if he had been struck in the chest with an arrow.

“Why, though? There’s got to be a decent reason.”

“It’s simple enough, Amie. Boy sees girl in dining hall. Boy likes girl. Girl looks at boy and kind of likes. Boy and girl sleep together. Boy doesn’t ever look, or talk to, girl anymore.”

“Are you serious? You slept with him?” she ended up crying out.

“Let all campus hear you,” I growled at her, jabbing a stick into my mouth angrily, wincing lightly at the shock of the heat spreading across my taste buds, “Lower the decibels. Once. That’s it.”

“It shouldn’t have ever been once,” she mumbled quietly as I saw the man staring at us, and I wondered why he was eavesdropping. At that time, 2 more friendly figures were walking in my direction: my other best friends, and former roommates, Ingrid and Joyce. I had to change roommates for the spring semester because our schedules conflicted too much. Luckily, Amelia was available in her room, so I became her new roommate.

“What now?” Joyce sat down, her curly blonde hair falling over her shoulders as the set of walking bones, otherwise known as Ingrid, sat down in the seat next to her, a smile beaming on her face.

“Well, I think you two already know,” I looked at them.

“Oh…that,” she noticed with a flourish, then decided to clam up around it, “But I don’t think my staying quiet is going to do anything about anybody else hearing it already, big mouth.”

“Yeah I know,” I replied softly, running a hand sheepishly through my hair, but holding it in my hand. The waves were overwhelming. I needed a change. I needed something extreme. I wanted to throw that punk away so that he knew he was trash in my eyes.

Little did I know I would see that man again…sooner than I thought.

Another text message sounded while the thoughts were still left in my hair, coming from my roots. My hair, from the change a year ago, was now a gorgeous carrot orange with streaks of light blonde. I thought it would be a nice change, to be able to put the stuff behind me and show I was a fun person. Little did people know that my fun tended to involve alcohol. My sophomore year had just ended and my 20th birthday was impending. That’s why Taylor was heading up to mine and the girls’ apartment: my birthday. It was nice to have a late spring birthday, at the very beginning of June.

It almost set my insides on fire.

I flipped open my cell phone and saw this:

“where are you sexy? ;-) im at the office, come find me NOW”

I laughed, a hearty and long laugh that made me lean my neck back. I loved Taylor with all my heart. Not in the way that lovers love, but in a way that I could never replace. I, on the other hand, knew that Taylor kind of had a thing for me. I found it odd that he did because I still believe that we have absolutely nothing in common. I am definitely a rebel, and later that day when I finally met him, he told me he was fascinated by me. He was more straight laced than a nun. At that thought, I popped some Sangria Fresca gum into my mouth and smiled, texting:

“im on my way stud”

Back to him. I had this odd set of butterflies floating throughout my stomach, but I ignored them, like usual. Maybe it was just because he was a boy being nice to me. Not many were. Maybe it was because he was a cutie, which he definitely is. I’ve always just ignored it, played it off, wrote it down actually that it would never work out. He and I fought too much anyway. It was love/hate thing we had going on with our relationship in the first place. Plus, neither he nor I were the long relationship type.

I admit, though, I have a dark side. Taylor and all my friends know about it. It was the times that I drink. I turned into a completely wild person. I was usually pretty quiet, reserved about things, unless you’re really close to me. Definitely not the most friendly person to be around. When I drink, I turn into everybody’s best friend and quite the life of the party, but the dark side about it is that I turn a little bit destructive. I’ve broken 4 of my toes, my foot, and oddly enough, my collarbone. Not only that, but I get a little…scary, let’s call it. I’ve done it before and scared the hell out of people.

Let’s just say, I wear wrist bands for a reason.

I ended up getting at the car and staring at the alcohol. Did I really need it? Yes. Yes I did. Getting in the car, my quest to meet up with Taylor back at the school began. I couldn’t wait to see my girls either. They were coming back from their respective locations in the summer just for my birthday. I felt special. Truly.

But there was so much more to it that I didn’t even want to admit.

My boobs are too damn small. It didn’t help that I was practically a mannequin build in the first place.

Only living a few minutes from campus left a strong advantage. It wasn’t too far for people to come party at my house. The problem? My parents. I hated living in my parents house. My friends and I usually stuck to partying at Taylor’s apartment, confidentially and all. We all took a vow to never bring up to the university what was going on in his apartment.

The advantage? I fully took advantage of my upstairs apartment when my parents were out of town. They both had long business trips overseas that they would be attending. Currently attending, actually. They apologized fifty times that they were sorry they were missing my 20th birthday. It didn’t matter. My fake i.d. bought me alcohol, and my appearance, though young initially, stops the clerks at the spirit store from i.d.’ing me. It was all to my manipulation, and in the end, it is my downfall as well.

Placing the liquor on my countertop, I had to run to the store for some pineapple juice, orange juice, cranberry juice, and some pop. Actually, that was Taylor’s job. He wanted me to accompany him so I could be the judge of what we mixed with our alcohol. Jell-o shots were never enough for me. I don’t ever want to remember. I don’t ever want to remember what I’m like when I’m drunk.

A knock quickly sounded. I was topless, trying to shove my boobs into a B-cup bra that I had just purchased and realized it was too big. I quickly threw on one of my brothers huge t-shirts to cover it and answered the door.

“Hey. I’m early.”

Joyce’s serious face looked in on me and stared at my chest strangely, “Why are you wearing Austin’s shirt? That just looks plain weird on you.”

“I know that. I had to throw something on really quick,” I sighed, letting her in the door. The blast of air conditioning hit her and I saw her very skin shivering with it, “Why don’t you get something more comfortable on?”

“More like, why don’t you get something more sexy on?” Joyce was mocking me now. She was dressed up to the T, her hair up in a messy yet sexy bun with strands around her face in a tube top dress that was hot pink, her nails matching. Her tan matched it all. She looked like the perfect Barbie girl.

“Have I ever mentioned how hot you are?” I asked, ticking my tongue out of her.

“Have I ever mentioned how incredibly lesbian-like you sound when you say that?” Joyce stuck her tongue out right back at me, “Now let me in.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I let her aside and she completely walked in the door, letting the air hit her full force.

“Where are we all sleeping?” she asked curiously as we made our way upstairs, “And when are the others getting here?”

“Amie called about a half hour ago and said she was leaving her house, and Ingrid called right after that and said she was halfway. So…I would say Amie will arrive in about any time now, and Ingrid’s still got 2 hours to go.”

“What in the hell are we going to do until Ingrid gets here?” she huffed, putting her stuff down where she stood.

“We could get started,” I pointed out the bar that was neatly laid out on the countertop before her. Her eyes lightly lit up.

“I have a better idea…” she smiled as she was looking in her bags for the little gem of goodness. I could only predict what she was going to pull out. I knew: those little green buds that were yelling “smoke me”.

“No, no, I’m not mixing again,” I looked at her firmly and she seemed disappointed, “Last time I did that, I missed 2 days worth of classes I felt so fucked up.”

“But you promise, right? Once the other girls leave, you’ll smoke a couple bowls with me?” she looked at me and smiled.

“Yes, I promise, but not until then, and no mixing,” I looked at her skeptically.

“For old time’s sake, okay? Now, let’s crack open this rum,” she smiled.

“Wait, I’ve got to make the jell-o shots. Maybe you could help me,” I smiled at her.

She looked at the counter, which also housed the small menagerie of Jell-o that I would be using, “How many do you plan on making?”

“5 different types.”

“You know how that shit makes me ill,” she looked at me with a firmly disgusted look on her face.

“Well, I’m making a bunch of candy-style ones, so you won’t have to worry about getting sick on those.”

“Why can’t you handle the real stuff, Whitney?” she asked me curiously, “You like to drink so much, I figured you wouldn’t be this picky about it.”

“I just am, can’t you just take it as it is?” I asked her curiously. All the time, it felt like she was asking me the same exact questions, and all the time, I gave her the same exact answers. She just wouldn’t let it rest.

“BALLIN’! We fly high, no lie, you know this,” I suddenly heard the voice from down in the kitchen and knew instantly it was Amie. She had this affinity to sing Jim Jones whenever she came over to my house. I don’t know why. It could be that every time she saw my brother, Josh, it reminded her of the song “We Fly High” because he was a basketball player. I don’t really see any other reason why she would immediately say that as soon as she walked in the room.

Joyce and I peered our heads down to see Amie, her hair braided over her shoulders, wearing a huge pair of sunglasses over her tiny face, and wearing a wife-beater that revealed her tattoo, a quite interesting piece of work that happened when she was drunk: a bulldog that not only was rabid, but had bloody teeth. She really was quite harmless, but she looked ghetto the way her pants were buckled and baggy on her skinny hips. The ensemble was insane, and the bandana fit the persona as well.

“You’re insane,” I looked at her and laughed from my position on the stairs. I saw her reaching in the freezer for something, and as soon as I saw the maniacal look on her face being born, I instantly knew she had found it.

“Put the ice cream down!”

“But you have ‘Imagine Whirled Peace’!” she whined, putting it back in the frosty freezer as she saw me behind her, giving her a large hug, “Why????”

“Because it’s my hippie ice cream, okay? We’ll have plenty to snack on later, trust me,” I smiled at her.

At that time, Amie brought all her stuff up and her and Joyce began to help me make the Jell-o shots. By the time we were finished, we had practically consumed half of them as plain liquid and I was beginning to feel it already from the vodka. Joyce didn’t feel it as much as I did, but Amie was getting there too.

Once we had finally settled into my room, affectionately called the Grassy Knoll (because my wall was texture-painted, something I prided myself in so that it looked exactly like a thick rich lawn of grass) we were giggling like crazy over anything and everything we saw. I knew at that point, I was whining that Taylor and Ingrid were not there yet. By that time, I knew we had whipped out my digital camera and were beginning to sing a little bit of karaoke to ourselves. Joyce had put a tiara on my head, me not even knowing where it came from.

The next thing I knew, Taylor was there and laughing at me throughout all the stupor. At that time, I had a Pina Colada in my hand. I took a deep sip of it before I looked at him firmly in the eyes. He sure was cute. Too bad I wasn’t into him.

On the other hand, there was another cute boy that had arrived with him.

“Who is this young stud, darling?” I draped my skinny arm over his shoulder.

“Geez, Whitney, you reek already…” he sniffed my breath carefully, “Have you girls started the party already?”

“Quite,” I laughed at him, “Now answer my question. I’m not drunk yet. I’ve still got time for that.”

“This is my little brother, Zac,” Taylor pointed to him, “The half pint wanted to see who I was hanging around with all the time,” he brushed a hang through Zac’s shaggy hair and I looked at him.

“What’s up, Zac?” I asked, feeling my tongue sliding over my teeth swiftly, like it were coated with wax, “I’m Whitney.”

“I can tell. Happy birthday,” he smiled softly at me, shaking my hand. I, at that moment, felt the ‘fuck it’ brewing deep in my brain as I threw my arms around his neck and quickly hugged him tight down to my small breasted chest. He seemed flabbergasted and didn’t hug me back, but I was okay with that. At that point, I was okay with everything that was going on.

“Hello?”

Zac turned his head and smiled. Ingrid had just entered the room, and just like every other guy I had ever seen around her, he was spellbound. I don’t know how she did it. She was gay, or at least she said she had no interest in men at all. Her glasses were perched on the edge of her nose and her hair was pulled back in a high ponytail, looking like she had come straight from the gym. Very athletic-posh looking, very her.

“Hey guys, sorry I’m a little bit late,” Ingrid replied quickly, setting her stuff down, “I hope you don’t mind that I just came in, Whitney. Josh let me in.”

“That’s fine, my dear little Ingrid,” I smiled over at her, “Happy freaking birthday to me. Everybody’s here now!”

“So, let’s get started, why don’t we?” Taylor smiled as we all went downstairs, eager for the festivities to begin.

I left Amie in charge of my camera as Ingrid and Taylor took charge of setting up my cake. I had initially freaked when they had told me the truth about it, but I found it extremely hard to believe. Two of the members of the Charm City Cakes staff (Geof and Elena to be precise) brought up the cutest cake I quite possibly have ever seen:

A cake-size replica of Emerald City with the 4 figures of Dorothy, Tin Man, Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion walking down the yellow brick road towards it through the field of bright red and black poppies. I was a religious fan of Ace of Cakes, and I knew from the look of the figures, they were all the work of Katherine, but all those poppies…

With alcohol in my system, even though they were made of gum paste or marzipan or whatever they were made of, they were quite potent.

We did sing the traditional “Happy Birthday” song around the cake, but I couldn’t dare put candles in it. It was too damn pretty.

The flowers were all edible. How did they even pull that off?

We were all eating the cake in no time, white almond cake with strawberry filling. It was killer good. Good job, guys! During the whole cake-eating experience, I noticed that Amie was latching onto Taylor’s arm and Zac constantly had his eyes on Ingrid, even though she seemed pre-occupied with other things. I smiled, trying to blow it off. Why would I care about not having any attention on my birthday? I’m not an attention whore like Amie is, Joyce could give a fuck less unless she has people eyeing up her pot, and Ingrid is social only when she needs to be. Then there’s me.

I sighed. I knew this night was going to end badly. I just knew it.

Once we got back up into the Grassy Knoll, that’s when the craziness began. Taylor and Zac were leaned up against the wall and we were beginning to mix drinks. Taylor playfully held out a large bottle of vodka and insisted on taking a picture in a kung-fu style. I wondered why in the hell he wore his glasses indoors as I snapped the shot. I happened to grab Zac in the picture too holding a Red Bull, right before Amie stole it off him and took a sip of it herself.

After that picture was taken, I leaned down in-between Taylor’s legs and snuggled myself against his body, letting my head nestle on his shoulder. I felt snug and cozy, like I belonged there, even though I didn’t like him like that. Or did I? Everything was beginning to get hazy around me. Ingrid was sipping on her drinks. Joyce was playing it cool with her consumption, and Amie was going a little nuts.

“C’mere, Whitney, you deserve a birthday dance!” Amie pulled me up and smiled. From the music on Ingrid’s iPod, it quickly turned into a birthday bump and grind, playful-like, and the boys’ eyes were on both of us. My t-shirt was riding up my stomach and I was getting into the beat. Taylor was quickly up at my side. I knew he had to protect me from roaming hands, even if they were Amie’s. What I was surprised at was that he was so into it. He seemed to really be into me more than I originally would have thought he would have been capable of. He kept smiling down at me, his hair falling on his face, so I ended up forgetting about Amie and danced with him. Zac pulled Ingrid over close to where Taylor and I were dancing and they started getting into it as well.

As I commonly knew, after a while, Ingrid let loose once she had been drinking for a little while. They were starting to bump, grind, and possibly air hump in my room.

“Go reserve the guest room for the night if you’re gonna fuck in the middle of the dance floor!” Amie laughed playfully. Joyce just shook her head as she changed the track to “Ms. New Booty”.

Zac and Ingrid, at that time to my shock, darted out of the room. Ingrid was smiling. I hadn’t seen her smile like that for a long time. Zac was giddy and quite drunk by that time. I sure hope they remembered their escapades in the morning.

“You’re taking my woman away from me!” Amie cried, pulling me away from Taylor what seemed to be gently, but it ended up knocking me straight to the ground. I winced, banging my elbow off my desk chair as she moved in on my best friend.

At that moment, I admitted my defeat. She could have him if she fucking wanted him. At that moment, I didn’t care. Without anyone else noticing from my knowledge, the last thing I remember doing was grabbing the bottle of vodka Taylor was playing with. I had to get to the fridge downstairs to get to the Diet Pepsi. I knew we had some bottled lime juice.

I didn’t remember anything after that.

“Whitney? Let me the hell in, you’re blocking the door!”

I felt the sharp jab of the door in my side. My hair was strewn about my face and I was sitting up. I was in the bathroom. And I didn’t have a hangover. I knew for a fact that I was beyond drunk last night, yet I was hangover-free. Amazing.

Then, I felt searing pain in my skin. Oh…no…

“Whitney!” Josh was finally squeezing into the bathroom. I knew I was in the downstairs bathroom because it had a basketball-shaped bath mat in it and he sighed.

“Do you have any idea how I got in here?”

“No, but I would appreciate you getting out of here so I can shower,” he looked at me. He was covered in sweat. He must have just gotten back from his morning practice.

I slowly dragged myself to my feet, my head feeling like a bobblehead and I looked at my brother. He cared. He knew. He just didn’t know what to say.

“Whitney…” he looked at me, calling my name before I left the bathroom completely and I turned around to look him in the eyes.

“What, Josh?”

“You know…” he looked at me softly, biting his lip, still not knowing what words would heal me, “Your friends are probably going to be beat. Make some coffee, would you?”

“Sure,” I let a weak smile form over my face and walked out. I didn’t expect Josh to help me. I was okay that he didn’t. Nobody could. And apparently, the only safe haven I had, drinking, couldn’t either. I couldn’t escape it anymore.

The burning was still strong on my skin as I walked in the kitchen and looked. I saw my old childhood bike chain still stuck in the grates of our gas range. I pulled it out carefully. It was still a little bit warm. I must have done it when I was drunk. The tips of my fingers were sore and deep red. I must have tried to pick it up and burnt myself, but I kept a firm grip of it, which explained the strong red one on my right palm. Then, the big long line on my forearm from where I had pressed it in was the next thing I saw. Dry blood was all around it. I must have pressed it hard. Good thing it wasn’t too long. I always call things long when they’re not. It was nothing my bracelets couldn’t cover.

I wasn’t safe anywhere.

Heeding to my fingers, I picked up the coffee pot and made the coffee. The smell was intoxicating. I couldn’t wait to consume it. Next to the pot, I noticed the container of Imagine Whirled Peace ice cream was completely melted in the pint container and the condensation was in a puddle all over the counter. I decided not to bother at the moment. Slowly dragging myself upstairs, I went to check on my kin. Zac and Ingrid were still indeed, in the guest room, covered in blankets. Looks like they slept together. Predictable. I didn’t even know Zac, but Ingrid wasn’t like that. I thought she was gay…I guess not.

Going back to the Grassy Knoll, Taylor was asleep on my bed. Amie was asleep on the bed too, but Taylor was flat on his back and Amie had her back to him, curled up in a tiny ball. I smiled. It was cute, but it made me sad. Somewhere, deep inside my heart, I wished I were even a blip on Taylor’s radar right now instead of the sleep that he was currently in.

“Whitney…hey.”

His eyes must have been open the entire time because I looked at him when he carefully sat up. Amie flinched, but brushed it off and fell back asleep.

“Where did you go last night?” he asked, getting up, “We were all looking for you. Josh came back and said you were fine. You just passed out in his room.”

I silently thanked Josh for his lie and looked up at Taylor. He would never understand. He would never understand why I did this. I was glad I had my bracelets already on. I just slid them unconsciously down my arm to cover my new bruises. My old ones had faded. No harm in that. He wouldn’t understand why this was absolutely necessary in my life. Josh could deal with everything so much better anyway.

Ever since I was a kid, I was told not to be sad. I was told not to cry. If I cried, I was going to Hell. If I would cry, I would get trampled on, spit on, and pushed down in the dirt. If I even showed one hint of uncertainty to other people, they were going to take my happiness away from me. Any happiness that was not properly earned would be easily stolen from me.

My dad: what a wonderful person.

Once he died, I didn’t know what to feel. Happy, sad, angry, stoic, I just didn’t know. All of a sudden, I felt nothing and I was okay with it. Then, one day, I felt everything all at once. That’s when I found a way to remove my bike chain from my bike. Josh helped me. Even though he was nine and I was thirteen, we found a way. I said I needed it for a school project. I knew better. I knew it hurt my body when I was trying to pull it off. My hands bled for a while, but it felt comforting. That form of dealing with things helped me until I turned 15 and stole some liquor out of Mom’s cupboard. My mother didn’t know what to do with my behavior. She knew I wouldn’t listen and had tried to take my bike chain away from me for years. I found wherever she hid it (like in Josh’s bathroom) after a while and ended up doing it over and over again, whenever I needed to. The alcohol, as soon as it hit, was strong, and it was the only time when I felt the ability to express my emotions. I cried. I cried for the first time in front of my mother. She knew I had stolen her prize bottle of whiskey, but the sight of her daughter crying for the first time in her life overwhelmed her. All she could do was wrap her arms around me and tell me it was alright while she stroked my blonde hair.

That was the only time I was not afraid to express myself. Now, I guess, I couldn’t either.

I put on my smile and looked at him, “Taylor, Josh took care of me well, like a brother should.”

“I don’t believe you.”

The words were so simple, yet it felt like there was a clamp on my lungs at that very moment. I was frozen on the spot and couldn’t help but look at him. The words echoed in my head: they will take your happiness away from you. Do not be weak. Never be weak. You’ll taste dirt and then begin to like it. I don’t want my daughter growing up to be some fucking priss.

“What do you mean?” the air entered my lungs again as quickly as it had disappeared and I held my hands to my hips.

“You don’t have to tell me. You just seem…” he looked at me, walking up to me, “Off.”

“How? Maybe it could be because I was drinking all night. Weren’t you doing the same?”

“No need to get defensive,” he looked at me, giving me that look. The same look I recognized the first time I ever saw him. That look that pierced my very soul.

I stood in line, impatiently, waiting my turn to drop this class that was way too hard, even for the first class.

“Next!”

“Finally,” I growled, moving in and stepping up to the desk, instantly recognizing the young man that had walked by me on the main lawn outside earlier today. It was about time for the office to close, so I was glad that I had made it to the office on time.

“Hello…”

“Whitney. Whitney Moran,” I looked at him.

“I’m Taylor Hanson,” he smiled, professionally of course, “Just started here about a week ago.”

“Yeah, yeah, could you drop this course here?” I jabbed my fingernail on the piece of paper, pointing to the course number that needed to be eliminated from my schedule.

He looked at my finger, my arm, and then up at me. I gasped inside. Did he notice? I thought the damn bracelets would work better. He acted like he didn’t. Maybe he didn’t. He looked like he was shocked enough to hear about me sleeping with Len.

“Alright, did you get the signature?”

“Yes, at the bottom of the page,” he took the slip at that time as my foot kept tapping impatiently.

“So…” he replied quietly once most of the people had dissipated from the office, “Sorry about earlier.”

“It’s alright. Looks like you owe me a drink, though,” I tried my best to smile at the man. He was extremely handsome and just witty. Usually not the type I would even look twice at. He looked young too. Young enough to be attending here.

“What kind of drink?”

“Purple Hooter.”

“Aren’t you a little too young to be drinking?” he asked me.

“Aren’t you a little too overdressed for this job?”

“Okay, fair trade, I’m sorry about earlier, I really am, I just couldn’t help but look at you,” he smiled and that left me struck, “I mean…forgive me for being so unprofessional, but just looking at you, you’re…you’re electric.”

“Electric?” I could not possibly take that as a compliment, “You make me seem like I’m a big bolt of lightning.”

“Well you sure could conduct it with that metal thing on your belt.”

At that time, I was wearing the chain for a belt because I felt like it was the only thing that protected me at the time.

“It’s a memento.”

“I thought it would be a fashion statement.”

“Could be.”

“Why not let me buy you a drink…and dinner?”

“Wow, are you serious?” I looked at him and almost laughed, but stifled it as he slapped down my paper on the counter, “Thanks.”

“Wait, answer my question!” he ended up yelling after me as I walked out of the room.

“I’ll give you an answer tomorrow!” I called back to him. What a tease I was. Like I even deserved happiness after what happened with Len. That night, the girls helped me dye my hair red, but that night, I went to use the chain and accidentally burned my hair, turning a large chunk of it blonde. After a couple days, I evened it out. Luckily it was the weekend and I had time to cover for my mistake. I not only didn’t have to answer his question, I probably would never have to see him again.

An unlikely meeting place, the lighting department at Target, would make us meet again and would change things between us. We quickly became friends as the ‘electricity’ grew.

“I’m not getting defensive,” I sighed, looking at him.

“I’ll forgive you for now.”

“I made coffee. Would you mind waking up Amie? She can get some if she wants. Your brother and Ingrid are in the other room…spooning,” I looked at him carefully when I said that.

I knew on the inside that he was cringing from the thought of his brother getting action when he wasn’t, “Well…what a surprise. Zac is a ladies man, after all.”

“But I was almost 99 percent positive that Ingrid was a lesbian,” I raised my eyebrow, “And speaking of hook-ups…”

I jerked my neck over to Amie’s sleeping form as she rolled over, realizing there was a warm spot where a body once was that she could snuggle into.

Taylor looked at me and I could barely tolerate the answer. I latched onto the belt loops, wishing my armor were there to protect me as I tried to brace myself for the answer, “Almost.”

“Almost?”

“Well, as you probably saw last night, she tried…she did manage to kiss me and grab my junk,” he laughed it off like it was so casual, but this was huge. The boy had asked me out at the beginning of last year and yet, it seemed like we were absolutely nothing at the moment, “But nothing more than that.”

“Why not?”

“What do you mean, why not?”

“I mean, why not? Amie’s always thought you were cute, she was just ex…expressing herself,” I spit out the word that I wasn’t even capable of feeling or knowing the personal definition to.

“I’m not interested in her, you know that,” he peered at me, “You know…I still think you’re electric.”

“Want more of an electric shock? Stick your finger in a wall socket,” I smiled. He knew how to make me smile.

“Shut up,” he looked up at me and grabbed me by the waist, “I wanted to do this when we were sober.”

“What? Grab me? You’re doing it. Now you’re done,” I backed away from him, not even wanting to feel the possibility of morning wood on him. I didn’t know if I could handle it.

“No, this.”

And he began to lean in for a kiss almost quicker than I could react. At the very last second, I turned my face to the right so his breath lingered on my neck.

“Why do you always do that?”

“Taylor…you know I’m not that kind of girl,” I sighed.

“Oh, but I think you are,” he tilted my chin back to look at him, “What in the hell are you so afraid of?”

“You couldn’t begin to understand,” I looked at him, dead serious. Then the thought crossed my mind:

Where was Joyce?

“Have you seen Joyce this morning?” I asked him, trying to distract his lips from me.

“I think she went outside. She said she needed a cigarette.”

That was international code for “rolling a joint”. She was a morning person, and that was her form of coffee. She liked to spend her morning alone with her first joint, so I wanted to let her be. But I needed a distraction from his lips.

“Don’t worry about her, she’ll be fine,” he brought my thoughts back into the conversation, “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure,” I replied, not even caring what the question was at that point.

“Are you 100 percent sure you want nothing to ever happen between us? Because I believe you want something to happen. And you just don’t want things to end up the way that things ended between you and Len.”

“Things between us have nothing to do with me and Len. Len was nothing to me. I was nothing to him either. It’s old, dead business.”

“You never gave me an answer that time,” he replied.

“And I don’t ever plan to.”

“Why?” he was getting more frustrated the longer I fought him, “Why are you acting like this? The way we act together, it’s like we’re already dating.”

“I’m not going to jinx a good thing, okay?” I felt my air supply, once again, cutting off from behind me. I had to escape this situation before I hurt myself again. I don’t think my arm could withstand another burn.

“You’re not going to jinx it.”

“Yes I am,” I sighed and pulled him out in the hallway, knowing that we might wake up Amie at this rate of our speech.

“No you aren’t,” he leaned me against the wall, “All you have to do is close your eyes…”

“I don’t want to,” I whispered, barely audible as I felt tears surfacing. My fingernails were lightly digging into my skin in my sore arm. I was beginning to not be able to control myself…

“Let me do it for you before you hurt yourself even more.”

“What?” I asked, my fingernails still in my skin.

“You act like I don’t know,” he told me softly, “I know what’s hidden underneath those bracelets. I saw that time in the office. You burn yourself with something. I don’t know what, but you do it.”

“So? That’s just how I am,” I wasn’t truly surprised that he knew that I did it. I did my best to hide it, but at that moment I was so distraught, I guess I didn’t care that he had seen it.

“My sister is the same way,” he told me softly, trying to look into my eyes, but I wouldn’t let him, “When I first found out, I freaked. I didn’t know what to do. What could I do? How could I understand her suffering? I couldn’t. She goes to therapy now. She still does it, but she’s actually sat down and talked to me about what’s been bothering her and what she’s feeling. It’s still slow. She’s been doing it for 2 years now, and she’s still learning a lot about how she feels.”

“Are you saying you can help me?”

“No,” he looked at me sternly and I dared be courageous and look up at him, his eyes being honest, “But you don’t deserve all this pain you put yourself through.”

“Who said I don’t? You? What do you know about me?”

“I’m not saying I know anything, god damnit.”

“Guys, shut up,” Amie groaned out, walking past us casually. I knew she couldn’t hear specific words that were coming out of our mouths, but she was definitely hung over, “You’re going to make my veins pop. Is there coffee?”

“Downstairs,” I replied.

“Go Taylor!” she groaned, lifting her arm up and then quickly retracting it, “Wow…that hurts,” and she made her way down my stairs.

After she was out of our sight, we continued our conversation.

“I’m not saying I know anything,” he had calmed down since Amie’s interruption, “All I’ve been saying since the beginning is that I like you and I want to go out with you. It hasn’t really changed. I’ve been out with other girls, but I can’t…”

“You can’t stop thinking about me,” I sighed.

“How did you know?”

“Zac told me…I remember that from last night. He told me you talk about me constantly.”

“Whitney, it’s not going to be easy, but you know you need help. I’ll take you to a counselor if you want. You don’t have to be afraid. I’m going to be here for you. You’ve got Ingrid, and Joyce, and Amie. We’re all here for you. You don’t have to tell us anything if you don’t want to. Just know we’re here.”

I was silent. I looked at him with eyes that were watering with tears, but I still would not let them fall, “Thanks…”

Not really that much was spoken between us for the rest of the morning. We shared a cup of coffee at the table. Joyce came back in from the porch outside, the smell of the smoke from the pot lingering around her and somehow tranquilizing me. Amie was sitting there, groaning the entire time, and Zac and Ingrid came down together, awkward, yet happy at the same time. Later, I went outside with my cup of coffee, still enjoying the look of the dew on the grass as I noticed my camera was sitting outside. Joyce must have been flipping through the pictures while she was smoking. I decided to flip through myself, laughing at most of them. I noticed the vodka bottle one with Zac in it, then the next couple pictures were of me and Taylor close up, smiling, making faces, then, there was one that caught my attention. I was against the nape of his neck, nuzzled into his shoulder, my eyes were shut and the tiara was falling off my head, and Taylor was kissing my forehead, protectively. My heart swelled at that picture.

I didn’t know exactly what we were before that moment, but I knew at that moment, Taylor was just like a poppy. He had lips like morphine, ones that could put me right to sleep…there was just something about that man that annoyed the hell out of it, yet at the very same time was a source of comfort that I needed at a time like that. He was the opiate reincarnated into a human body that could somehow tranquilize me.

I turned around after I turned my camera off and saw Taylor standing in the doorway, looking out at the driveway, and then caught my eye. He smiled.

“Hey, stud,” I looked at him putting the cup and the camera down.

“What?” he asked, smelling the strong Columbian scent wafting up into his nose.

“Want me to answer your question?”

He crossed his arms, the cup still cleverly poised in his hand, “About damn time.”

“I changed my drink order…” I replied, biting my tongue at the same time, “Instead of a Purple Hooter, I want a Southern Sweet Tea. And you better take me somewhere nice.”

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