Sometime in the near future…
I'd always loved the night, where anything could happen and everything usually did. The forbidden…the unexpected…the bad. Nothing seemed real in the ethereal light of the moon. Sins were easily forgiven. Why not play? everyone thought—I had once thought. Why not enjoy?
At the moment, loud, gyrating music pounded through the darkness, vibrating with so much force the ground shook and the trees swayed. In the center of a forest clearing, my friends danced around a blazing fire, and in the flickering gold and shadows their hands were everywhere. Their mouths were kissing hungrily, their bodies moved to the rhythm of the rock, fast and erratic. Sexual.
Those who weren't dancing were lounging against the circling trees, drinking beer, laughing, and smoking Onadyn, or “Snow Angels,” as we called the cigs—the drug of choice for humans nowadays. It was a deoxygenating drug meant only for the aliens who had invaded our planet so many years ago. A deoxygenating drug that made humans, who needed oxygen to survive, feel as if they were soaring through the heavens, untouchable and invincible (if it didn't kill them).
“I should know,” I muttered under my breath.
I'd flown for years before being forced into rehab. (Twice) I'd been too wasted to recall the first, but I remembered the second very well, the memory of it burned into my brain.
My mom had picked me up after school one day. Uncaring of her reaction, I'd smoked a Snow Angel just before she arrived. Not enough to pass out, but just enough to fragment my thoughts and emotions, making me loopy, disoriented, and a total pain in the ass.
Nothing could touch me when I was like that. Not anger, not fear, not sadness.
She'd known what I'd done the instant she spotted me—the glassy eyes and blue lips always gave users away—yelling in front of the other kids waiting for their parents, “Damn you, Phoenix! Is this how you put your life back together?”
Some of the kids around me snickered; some stared at me with disgust. Still uncaring, I didn't sit up, just continued to lounge on the steps. The sun was shining, bright and warm. Maybe I'd spend the rest of the day here.
“I asked you a question, young lady.”
“And I didn't give you an answer,” I'd replied with a laugh. “Now hush.”
“Hush? Hush! You're ruining your life, you're ruining my life, and you don't even care!” She abandoned the car and stomped to me, scowling down at me. “I'm supposed to go to work, but I can't leave you alone like this. No telling what you'll do.”
I laughed again. “You're a waitress. It's not like you make a difference in the world. And you know what else? Whatever I do is my business, not yours.”
Hurt washed over her face, but she squared her chin. “Whether I make a difference or not, my job is what pays for your food and your shelter and your clothes.” She grabbed my shoulders and shook me. “Your actions become my business when you steal my hard-earned money to buy the very drugs that are killing you. Your actions become my business when you run away to God knows where and I don't see you for days.”
“Just, I don't know, shut up and go away or something. You're ruining my buzz.” Dizzy, I tried to push her hands away but didn't have the strength. That, too, made me laugh.
She didn't reply for several strangled seconds, just stared at me as if I were a bottle of poison and she'd just digested the entire contents. Other parents had arrived, I realized, and watched us unabashedly.
My mom realized it, too, and wheeled around to face them. “What are you staring at?” she snapped. “Get your kids and go home.”
“Your daughter is seriously disturbed,” someone muttered.
“She's a menace,” someone else, a man, said. “And if she ever comes near my child, I'll call the cops and have her locked away.”
“Don't worry, Daddy,” one of the more popular girls at the school said in a snotty voice. I couldn't recall her name, but I knew she was a straight-A student, an all-around goody-goody, and someone I despised because she always seemed so put together, as if the world were her own personal treasure chest. “I'd rather kill myself than go near her.”
I pushed to my feet, wobbling as another wave of dizziness struck. I meant to approach her, realized I'd fall, so remained in place, saying instead, “You can f**k the hell off.” With that, I gave her and her dad a double-birded salute. “Feel free to kill yourself like you promised. Or maybe call me and I'll come over and do it for you.”
There was a gasp. An enraged snarl.
My mom dragged me into the car after that. I hadn't cared at the time, but she'd cried the entire way home and shipped me to rehab that very evening.
Once I'd sobered up, the memory had embarrassed and shamed me. Still did. I'd made my own mother feel worthless, and I'd laughed about it.
I didn't want to be that uncaring girl ever again. I kept thinking, What if, next time I use, I do something worse? What if, next time, I couldn't be forgiven—by my mom or myself? I mean, a guy I met in rehab had later killed himself because he'd been humiliated by the things he'd done to support his habit.
I hadn't reached that point. And I won't.
I refused to fly anymore. Which was hard, now that I was back in school and surrounded by friends who flew every weekend. Harder still as I stood in that ethereal moonlight, the world around me beckoning with promises of numbness and invincibility.
Those promises had always been my downfall.
I just, I didn't fit in with the other kids at school. They saw me as the goody-goody had. Worthless, untrustworthy. Tainted. These were the only kids that accepted and understood me, so I didn't want to leave them.
Stay strong, Phoenix. Stay strong. As I sipped my beer, I leaned against the jagged bark of a tree. I'd arrived only a few minutes ago, parked in front of an abandoned warehouse like everyone else, and trekked through the forest. Late. As always. I had debated coming at all.
Now, as I studied the scene in front of me, I realized I shouldn't have come, no matter how much I missed my friends. No matter how alone I felt.
No matter how determined I thought my resolve to remain sober.
Plumes of white smoke wafted, like mist, almost like ghosts, enveloping the kids who were puffing Snow Angels. I bit my bottom lip. Oh, the temptation…months ago I would have joined them without thought. Would have inhaled the sweet, after-rain scent of the drug and soared through the stars.
A painful need to do just that washed through me. In seconds I could be giddy, invincible. Fly…fly… I could forget the way my dad had walked out on me and my mom two years ago; I could forget my mom's constant disappointment in me. I could even forget the little stresses of the day, where it didn't matter who liked me and who didn't.