I allowed Jess to link arms with me on our way to the bathroom. Nash had told her so much about me; it was like she already knew me. I didn’t know her, but what’s not to like about a friendly, humble, beautiful, model?
After the bathroom, we went to the theatre table. There was a roar when the club saw me. All at once, the questions about majoring in Theatre rained down. I was happy to answer them; there is never a moment when I don’t want to talk about acting. Their captive ears and shining eyes made me feel like a celebrity. I thought I was a shadow in school, but I had left a footprint. I could literally feel my skin glowing with happiness.
Trina was surprised to see Jessica Fabian attached to my hip. Through nonverbal communication, I told Trina that Jess is okay and Trina told me to watch out. Then, it dawned on me. Trina and Nash are the only people who I can speak to without saying words. Was I really considering never returning to Kansas?
Trina bought me a beer. Jess bought me wine. Billy came inside and apologized for being rude by buying me a rum and coke. Nash bought me some nachos with extra cheese. Everyone was my best friend and every damn thing was funny. I was spinning.
For the first time in a long time, I forgot about calories. The last thing on my mind was my dead mother or my drunken dad. The more I drank, the happier I felt, so the poisonous liquid kept on flowing down my throat. At some point, Nash pulled me aside and asked me to slow down. I told him that my tolerance went up because of the jungle juice at frat parties. It was true. So he let me dance with Jess until we had to hold each other up.
“I am getting us more drinks!” Jess screamed over the music.
I swerved over back to our table, bumping my hip on a table. I winced in pain. I frowned when I remember that was the hip that I carved into a heart shape, like my necklace, a month prior. I shook my head. I was having a good time, no depressing thoughts. In a minute later, Jess returned with two whiskey stone sours. I felt my mood deflating like a helium balloon.
I hated whiskey. Looking at it, smelling it, tasting it. It was what my dad smelled like on school day mornings when I sat and ate stale cereal next to his passed out body on the couch. He was usually in boxers, a grubby tshirt, and had the crumbs of his late night bar food in the corners of his mouth in a mashed, spitty, blob. He smelled like stinking sweat and whiskey. At some point, I stopped eating breakfast.
Dr. Jones said my physical response to my neglect as child was my negative association with food. In fact, he traced a lot of my problems back to the way Dad raised me. He even suggested I moved in with my grandparents.
I couldn’t abandon my dad.
I wasn’t my mother.
But… Jess didn’t know all of that. She didn’t even notice that I didn’t take a sip, she just swayed to the music. Her hair billowed around her pore-less naturally tanned skin. I should hate her. But she would be away at college in just a few months. Away from my Nash. No way would they last. Nash dating Jess for a few months. I couldn’t blame him, she was sort of incredible.
“Bathroom break! Coming?” Jess asked.
I shook my head.
“Okay, watch my drink, please!” Jess set her glass on the sticky table next to countless empty bottles and glasses of melting ice. “Be right back.”
I sat there for a few moments, alone. Everyone else had given into the dance floor. Even Trina, who usually was too stylish to dance in a bar. I groaned when three songs passed by and Jess wasn’t back. I had to pee. I bobbed up and down and waited and waited. I couldn’t leave Jess’s drink unattended, that was nightlife safety rule number one. I decided just to take both drinks with me to the bathroom with me. This couldn’t wait.
It was difficult to manage two glasses, but I couldn’t waste it. I knew I shouldn’t, but I sucked a bit of fruity bitterness up the thin straw. I prepared to be disgusted. It wasn’t too bad, not like I thought it would be. Dr. Jones would be so proud of my self-initiated exposure therapy. Still, there was something wrong about consuming whiskey, even whiskey in a clever fruit disguise.
I stopped in the bathroom and after I was done, I realized that Jess wasn’t there. I worked on my drink a little bit so I could combine the two, and just give Jess a full one.
I couldn’t find Jess on the dance floor, so I figured she was in the pool area. I finished enough to combine the two drinks, and abandoned the glass on an empty table. I started towards the hallway that leads to the back. My mind flashed to Nash guiding me back there. I giggled. I wondered what he would think if he knew what his touch did to me.
In the middle of the hall, I saw two silhouettes. It looked like they were leaned against a wall. I squinted and walked closer. I stopped. The drink slipped from my hand and shattered into a million pieces. Whiskey stone sour splattered on the jeans Nash picked out. I felt droplets on my ankles.
Nash noticed me. His eyes locked on me while his lips were still on hers. His hands were nestled in her shiny, ebony hair.
Jess turned, looked over her shoulder, and her lips curved. I back pedaled, crunching over broken glass and ice. My back slammed into the opposite wall. I looked at Nash and our eyes locked. He frowned; pink lip gloss smeared on his lush lips.
Maybe it was the heart ache mixed with the smell of whiskey. Perhaps it was the frigid, wet on my ankles paired with the shock. I’m not sure. I never truly know what sets me off. I was eight years old again, in a pink flannel nightgown, with my Barbie tucked under my arm. I thought I heard a noise, so I crept to the living room. I tip-toed next to the Christmas tree and wiped the fog off of the window.
The moon was a glowing orb, and its silver beams reflected off of freshly fallen snow. The snow was like glittering crushed diamonds. It was brilliant. I strained to see. It looked like something was outside in the front lawn. My heart fluttered. Santa’s sleigh! I imagined what the kids in my class would think. Without a thought, I walked out into my front yard in my slippers. No boots or a coat, I didn’t have time. I could see my breath form into clouds as I walked towards the dark shadow. It looked like a sleigh in the curious trickery of moonlight. I slushed through the snow; my ankles began to burn from cold. As I got closer, my heart raced. The shadow was transforming to a monster. Then I saw it. Then I knew.
I needed to run back inside my house!
I raced to my house and knocked into a few random bar-goers who gave me angry looks. No time for apologies. I saw Dr. Jones’s face appear like a hot air balloon. Count Brie. 1, 2, 3, I ran to the table and crawled under. 4, 5, 6, I wrapped my arms around my legs and rocked. I was outside and the snow was falling, soaking my pink flannel nightgown. The bar’s music sounded like me screaming. I covered my ears. The flashing lights. 7, 8, 9, 10. They looked like police car lights.
My consciousness observed from a faraway place. Not real. Not real. Not real.
“Brie!” Trina’s head appeared under the table. “Oh Lord, sweet, Brie.”
I screamed as I snapped back. Reality took a hammer pounded me on the head. I was back in the bar, again. I looked around. My thoughts immediately went to Nash. I needed to cover this up. Fast.
“I-I’m ssorry, Tr-tr-trina.” I said, so traumatized that I shook like I was electrocuted. “He-he can’t. He won’t under-sstand.”
Trina nodded without any questions. “Stay there.”
Some time passed and I watched my chest rise and fall. Rise and fall. I breathing again.
I saw Trina again; she reached under the table and slid her hand into mine. She pulled me out and tucked me under her arm, as if she were coddling a bird with a broken wing.
“Hurry, he’s looking for you.”
I commanded my heavy ankles to jog to the door under Trina’s arm.
When we got outside, Trina didn’t slow down until we got by her car. She opened my door, sat me down, and clicked my seatbelt across my chest. She ran to the other side, switched on the car and peeled out of the parking lot, like we just robbed a bank.
Her car fish tailed on the ice, but Trina wasn’t the least bit phased.
“Stay with me tonight, sweetie. Impromptu slumber party.”
“F-flashback,” I replied. I was still shaking.
“Just focus on your breaths. It’s all over now. You are in my car. You are safe.”
“Y-y-ou sssaved me again. Th-thank you.”
Trina nodded. “Nash asked me about you and I said I thought that you were in the bathroom throwing up.”
“Did h-hee buy it?”
Trina shrugged. “Sweetie, he’s only a man. Men don’t catch on all that quick, they are an inferior species. That’s why they need us girls.”
We were almost at Trina’s when my violent shaking melted into trembles. She pulled into her driveway and put the car in park. She turned and faced me.
“I saw Nash kissing Jess. I knew he was dating her. Dating people kiss. I don’t know why that would trigger me into flashback.”
“Well, I know why,” Trina said shooting me a smug look. “Told you I didn’t like that little bitch.”
“I started liking him, again, over fall break.” I felt I owed Trina at least an explanation. The words tasted like bile in my mouth.
“Oh sweetie,” Trina wrapped her hands over mine. “You never stopped.”
“He picked Tabitha.”
“You never gave him a choice!”
“I was that scraggly, weirdo little girl who wore sunglasses day and night for six months. There was no coming back from that.”
“What?” Trina said, pulling her hands back and placing them on her hips. “You looked just like Dakota Fanning, you were an adorable little thing.”
“Did I ever tell you how I met Nash?”
“Probably…I don’t really remember though. Sorry boo.”
“I was on the bus to my new school. I sat all the way in the front and I could hear the kids whisper about me and my sunglasses. They said that I was blind. A freak.”
“Ooo, if I was on that bus, I would have smacked those lil fuckers upside their heads!”
A hint of a smile graced my lips. “I know, Trina. So I looked back and they were all staring at me. I remember one kid stuck out his tongue and asked what planet I was from.”
My smile grew. “Right? So, that’s when I met Nash. He walked past all of those kids and plopped right next to me. He didn’t say one word.”
“Didn’t need to. Nash was the Lord of the Rings even back then. I remember.”
“After that, the kids just ignored me…no more taunting. I started to like being invisible. When I wanted to be someone again, I would choose someone else. I told Nash I wanted to be a movie star, like my mom. So for my birthday, he got my first Shakespeare. Eight years old and he knew to get a girl Shakespeare. Can you believe that he thinks he’s dumb?”
“He’s not dumb in general…he’s just a man, he can’t help it. He doesn’t even know you love him.”
“I never gave him a reason to think that I love him. Even while I’m drunk, I would never reveal something like that. I’m always in control.”
“Except for flashbacks, sweetie.”
“Except for flashbacks. God, Trina, I haven’t had one in years. I feel stupid and so much…shame. How can I think I’m back there on that night? It’s not a memory. I’m there.”
“Stop it, Brie. You can’t help it.”
“I’m no better than when my dad and I moved to Rivertown after I saw…you know…”
“You aren’t that girl anymore. You are a beautiful survivor.”
“But I am that little girl. She’s right here.” I put my hand on my chest. My palm felt the cold metal of my silver necklace. “She’ll never go away as long as I’m here. Somewhere in the Rivertown dump, my twin mattress is probably still there, saturated with my blood.”
“You are upset right now. Don’t let your mind go there.”
“Why not? I had a flashback, grabbed that razor, sliced open my wrist… if you didn’t find me…”
Trina grabbed my cheeks and pulled me inches from her face. Her eyes were shining with tears. Her nostrils flared. “Brie. You go. You run away and never come back here. Run!”
The next day, she drove me to the airport.