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CHRIS

FIVE DAYS BEFORE CHAMPIONSHIPS

Cassie made me a murderer. I could tell a jury it was all an accident, self-defense even, and they’d probably believe me. There’s no way I could’ve known I’d kill him. But I wanted to. I needed to. And that raw desire to end his life – to end someone’s life – well, Cassie’s always excelled at building desire.

The buildings outside blur by in a smudge of gray, blotted only by the occasional green of a tree, or red smear of a stop sign. Gwen weirdened up when we were leaving the hospital and hasn’t said a word since we got in the car. Thank God. With everything that’s going on, the last thing I want to do is talk. Even if talking is exactly what I need to do.

For now, though, a quiet car ride home is nice – nice-ish. Instead of chatting with me, Gwen’s put all her concentration into getting home fast, and for the first time in my life, I understand the term breakneck speed. It has an obvious meaning, but I suppose I never thought of it before. It wouldn’t be the worst thing if Gwen turned into one of those green blotches and my neck responded appropriately.

Did Jon’s neck break?

Was it from the fall? Or was it from my hands? While my fingers were sliding around the sweat coating his throat, did they snap something?

Gwen cranks the wheel to the right so hard I have to plant my hand next to her leg to keep from landing entirely in her lap as we turn. The plaster and gauze encasing my arm from elbow to palm does nothing to blunt the pain when it slams into her seat, and after hiding the pain for as long as I have, I don’t hesitate to scream.

“Aren’t Jeeps prone to rolling over when there are psychopaths behind the wheel?” I ask, regretting the words as they come out. I know Gwen won’t take offense. She’s not that kind of girl. She’s the kind you can joke around with like that. I could call her a bitch and she’d just call me a dick in return. But I shouldn’t. I can’t after what she did for me.

Gwen saved me.

God. Gwen saved me. The words are so absurd they sound foreign.

She tells me to quiet down without a hint of feeling in her voice and adjusts the rear view mirror for the tenth or eleventh time in the twenty-minute car ride from the hospital to my house. It feels like we’re in a movie – in a get-away scene, where the sound of the engine roaring and the wheels screaming are the only sounds able to penetrate the voices telling us this is a bad idea.

I need to make that phone call. I need to tell Cassie it’s over.

I never called my parents. Holy shit. I never called my parents. The hospital probably didn’t either on account of my being eighteen now. They definitely didn’t or one of them would’ve shown up in the emergency room. Oh my God, I never called my parents.

I’ll explain everything – everything except for the drugs, and the bad guy I almost killed, and the one I did kill, and Cassie. Dammit. What am I going to say to them? I can’t tell on her.

Can I? Shouldn’t I? If it weren’t for her I wouldn’t be speeding through all of Buffalo with a drug addict behind the wheel. No not a drug addict.

Well yeah, she is an addict. She is. She’s Gwen. But also, I wouldn’t be here at all without Gwen. I’d be dead. I’d be just like…

I can’t think about Jon anymore. I can’t keep doing this to myself. I didn’t mean to kill him. I didn’t. It was Cassie’s fault. Not mine.

Gwen turns onto my street, and I assume the only reason the wheels don’t screech as she skids around the corner is because they’ve turned more liquid than solid rubber from all the speeding and sliding we’ve done since leaving the hospital. The still rising sun sends it’s light through the frizzes of hair popped from Gwen’s ponytail producing what could only be described as a halo around her head. She really is beautiful. I’ve never noticed…

No that’s not true. I have noticed. There was a time when Gwen was the only person in our school I noticed. But then she changed, and I thought it was into something ugly, but it’s not. It’s a different kind of pretty, not the type that pops out and hits you with a sudden urge, a need. Not like Cassie’s pretty. Gwen’s is the type that settles within you, creeping into your mind and heart until her face is present in your every thought. Gwen’s is a face you could love, and Gwen’s the type of girl who if you manage to stop hating her, you can’t help but completely fall for.

“You just going to stare at me like some fucking weirdo, or you gonna go inside?”

The stopping yourself from hating her is definitely an obstacle though. I scan the driveway and relief pours over me like a cool squirt from a water bottle in the third quarter. Thankfully, the driveway is empty.

Oh shit, the driveway is empty.

If my parents aren’t home, that means they’re probably out looking for me. This is going to be so bad.

“You want me to come in?” Gwen asks, tucking a loose tangle of hair behind an ear. When her hand drops, and the sun bounces through her irises they turn from hazel to emerald green, and I take back what I thought of Gwen’s brand of pretty. She can be stunning, too.

Do I want her to come in?

Yes. I do want her to come in. I don’t know if I’ve ever wanted anything more. And not just because she’s gorgeous and proven to be my only friend, I need her. I need her strength. I need her to give me the strength to do the things I have to do. To make things right.

But I can’t. Gwen was there too. That night. I owe Gwen everything. I need to do this part on my own. I need to call the police and tell them what happened, leaving Gwen out as much as possible. Cassie will tell the cops Gwen was there. Hell, Cassie will probably try to blame every part of it on Gwen. And Gwen would let her.

It’ll be my word against Cassie, and if Gwen’s here when I make the call, they’ll never believe me when I say she had nothing to do with it.

I need to get through this part on my own.

“I need to rest,” I lie.

She nods, grimacing as she stares out the window. And her face, even now with a scowl, is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I can’t help myself.

Using my good hand I turn her shoulder and I don’t know if she bent in or I leapt all the way forward, but when our lips meet I know she wants this too. Her lips are rough and without the flavor Cassie’s always have, but her tongue’s gentle and the kiss is softer than Cassie’s ever was. Gwen means it.

“I should come in.” Gwen pinches the ignition, but I stop her hand from turning.

I tell Gwen everything I am about to do, everything I need to do, and eventually she agrees I should do this part without her. Also, she’s fairly uncomfortable being here when the police arrive, considering the huge amount of heroin in her back seat.

“You’re not going to…”

“No,” she answers before I can finish the question and I feel a blush of shame for even asking. “I’m done with it. I am. I’m going to flush it as soon as I get home. I’d have you do it now, but you already have a lot to do. God. You’re really going to do this? Are you sure?”

I only answer with a second kiss. Honestly, I’m not sure, but I know sitting here debating it with Gwen won’t help my unease. I say goodbye with another kiss – a small one, a peck – then I leave the Jeep, I leave Gwen, and go into my parents’ house.

All of the weight of the last three months falls on me the second I step into my foyer. It crushes me. My back against the front door, I slide to my ass, pushed down by Cassie’s injury, by her addiction, by my addiction, by my parents, by the guilt about Jon, and now Gwen.

Gwen. Gwen. Gwen.

I wish she never left. I wish…

Ding dong.

The chime of the doorbell flings ten tons of weight off my shoulders, allowing me to jump to my feet quick enough to wipe away my tears and think of something clever to say before answering. For the second time in twenty-four hours, Gwen is here to save me. I need to take care of everything. But I also need to be happy.

“So you can ring –”

The person at the door is not Gwen. It’s a guy. It’s the guy. He must’ve been why Gwen was speeding. She must’ve seen him and… Oh my God, it’s him.

“This is for Jon.”

I’m staring down the barrel of a gun – the same gun – for the second time in a month. This is Cassie’s fault. I’m going to die and all I can think of is her.

That bitch.

I raise my arm to knock away the gun and…

Bang.

CASSIE

NINETY-ONE DAYS BEFORE CHAMPIONSHIPS

I’m flying. I’m falling. I’m safe. Repeat. I’m flying. I’m falling. I’m safe. Repeat. I’m flying. I’m falling. I’m safe.

Five, six, seven, eight, up. Scorpion. Hold.

Wind brushes my cheeks, pushing the black tips of my hair back to blonde roots. Otherwise, I’m a statue, swaying only slightly from the heaves of the exhausted boys beneath me. This is where we get ‘em.

The crowd claps, cheers, thinking we’re done, but then the bass creeps in under their feet and quiets their hands. Now I’m a metronome, the boys’ hands hold my left heel and thigh, ratcheting side to side, as Lawrence positions himself on the raised platform behind me. The tick and tock of my inverted-pendulum increases in speed and violence as the bass picks up the tempo. Lawrence tickles my back, letting me know he’s ready, as if there was an option.

The bass cuts. I freeze. Lawrence ducks, grabs the wraps on my ankles. I fall to the left. The crowd gasps – my father’s so loud it’s distinguishable from all the others – I keep the scorpion, now upside down, only my hair betraying the pose when Lawrence jerks up for the toss.

I’m flying.

The treble kicks in, slicing through the humid, late-summer air, touching me at the peak of the toss. I’m at that weightless point of flight where you’re neither rising nor falling – untouchable, floating, high – and there’s little in life I love more than this feeling.

I catch a glimpse of the team beneath me. Brooklyn’s a blur of crimson and black, bending through her sixth, seventh, or – I don’t know – thirteenth flip. Mallory’s doing a floor routine that would make Olympians’ jaws drop, and she’s doing it on an abrasive, poly-something-or-nother track. All the talent below me, and still, I know everyone’s eyes are stuck on me.

I won’t lie – I love it.

I’m falling. I’m safe. And I’m up again. Arms out, legs spread, the crowd is cheering. This is the hardest part of the routine. I’m supposed to keep a serious face – lips pursed, eyes slanted and mean – but I always smile.

Lawrence’s grip on my ankle tightens and loosens three quick, consecutive times. Sorry, pal, the weather’s too pleasant up here to willingly fall back to Earth so soon. I feel Matthew tapping on my heel. Babies. If I don’t acknowledge them they’ll give –

I’m falling. I’m safe, cradled in the arms of my boys. Well none, of them are actually my boy, but they are still most certainly mine.

They bounce me to my feet and we walk to the sorry-excuse-for-a-bench the school’s so graciously provided for us. After all the craziness we pulled off without a hiccup, Brooklyn almost bites it trying to sit next to me. The football gods are granted an unlimited supply of whatever they want and we get wobbly, green, fold-away stools. Boys have it made.

Not all of them, of course. My boys, the only three guys I know brave enough to don a cheering uniform in place of the nearly-obligatory, traditional sports attire, are treated with the same disregard-bordering-on-disdain as us girls. I know dancer/cheerleader doesn’t exactly exude the type of tough-guy-persona desired by most high school boys, but they’re cool with it. Besides, who’d mess with them? They’re jacked, and could easily beat the hell out of ninety percent of the football players behind me, including Christopher.

Christopher’s voice, grunting out the silliness he yells before each play, grabs me. Even in those over-exaggerated, raspy, grumbling grunts he manages to be his goofball-self by replacing the typical blue-thirty-two-hut-hut football jargon with words like apple and cranberry. God, he is sexy.

He takes the snap from his center, what’s-his-face, looks down field, he throws it. Wait, where? The clattering, grunting noise of the running back, Jerod, shoots by me, with Christopher right behind. Still holding the ball, Christopher collapses in the end zone and increases the lead by six.

Aside from being phenomenal athlete, Christopher’s absolutely, positively, completely, and totally beautiful. He’s also the love of my life so I might be a little biased, but really I can’t see how anyone would disagree. All six, chiseled feet of him is always impeccably dressed, his hair perfectly trimmed, complexion is flawless, evenly tanned, teeth blinding white, eyes so light brown they look gold in the sun, and his lips – they are big and pouty and beautiful and amazing.

He runs down the sidelines tapping each player on the helmet, leaving a trail of dorks on the ground or on their way there. I swear, these boys spend more time choreographing their touchdown dances than we do on entire routines.

“Field goal. Or touchdown, I think. Whatever it is, they scored.” Miss Janice is one of the assistant coaches, but since she owns my gym, she acts like she’s the boss here, too. “That means now, people. Line up.”

“No,” Brooklyn moans, holding her hand in the air, waiting for me to grab it.

I oblige and make her regret the demand by giving her whiplash on the way up. As she rolls her arm like windmill, groaning and rubbing it with her right hand, I return to my boys.

Matthew’s hands rest on my hips, like they’re not about to crush my innards in moments. Oww. Three, two, bounce, up. I know these two-people stunts look good, but they hurt more than any other move. Stinging lines of electric tingles jolt from my toes, to my hips, to where my neck meets my shoulders. I grin more than smile and balance straight as a board – not a wobble in my pose – no matter what.

“Don’t drop my girl,” Christopher’s dad yells.

“Don’t hurt my boy,” my mom yells in response.

My parents are in the stands with Christopher’s parents, and all together, the four of them are quite possibly the biggest dweebs in the world. Both fathers are wearing homemade cheerleading tops with my last name, Wallaby, on the back, and both mothers are wearing homemade football jerseys with Christopher’s last name, Spencer, all adorned with the many, various forms of bedazzling offered by local and online retailers. The parents claim the mixing of the sexes was to show they were progressive or something goofy like that, but even my three-year-old, little sister could see they were only attempting to mortify their children. Losers.

Dad makes it to every game, every competition, everything regardless. Mom goes to anything that’s indoors, but dragging her to an outdoor game is typically a difficult task with all the snow Buffalo’s become famous for. But on nights like these, the nights when the sun is barely visible on the red horizon at eight o’clock in the evening, the breeze is light and carries hints of popcorn, pizza, and freshly cut grass, and the temperature is perfect for a t-shirt or a hoodie, Buffalo is a pretty awesome place to live. Even mom would agree. Doesn’t mean I won’t flee the very second I have a chance.

I’m falling. Ahhh. Mathew’s palms bounce off my shoulder blades, landing his fingers deep into my armpits. I would’ve been better off hitting the ground.

“I hope you like the smell of Secret under your fingernails,” I say.

“It’s better than what his fingers usually smell like,” Craig responds.

I do my best to keep a straight face on my way back to the bench – still not my strong suit. Matthew pushes Craig and Lawrence’s perfectly placed foot finishes the job. The lot of them, including Matthew, chortle the same high-pitched sort of laugh they incessantly mock me and the girls for. Or for which they mock us – whatever - boys are dumb and so is that rule.

“…douche bags.” I can hear, but not yet see, one of my bestish friends, Gwen. The ish wasn’t there in the past, but Gwen isn’t the same girl I grew up with. Lately she’s been less friendly, bordering on completely hostile.

“Nice of you to join us Miss –”

“The goddam traffic on the thruway. Does anyone in this shithole of a town know how to drive?” Gwen cuts Miss Janice off and chucks her water bottle, likely full of something other than water, under the seat next to me.

Next, Gwen flings her bag onto my lap, sits beside me, kicks off her shoes, and pulls down her pants. The boys on the field notice. And by notice, I mean completely forget they’re playing football for a minute and train their eyes on Gwen until the ref – somewhat reluctantly – blows a whistle to get them going again. She doesn’t care.

I grab her skirt from her bag and dangle it in front of her as I search for her top – Lord knows that’s coming off next.

The other football team is punting, which means my man’s heading back out. He’s so freaking cute when he gets all rowdy, pumping up his teammates.

“Eww.” Gwen frowns at me.

“What?”

“You’re just staring at him. It’s disturbing. You guys have been together for forever, you should be – I don’t know – hating each other by now. Or at least not gawking. Eww.”

“Shut up, Gwen.” Brooklyn comes over and sits on the other side of me. “They’re adorable.”

“Brook, you honestly don’t want to throw up when you see their…” Gwen stop’s mid-sentence eyes widen, as she tosses through her bag frantically. If I spent any amount of time considering all the possible predicaments she might be freaking about right now, it’d be tomorrow before I even scratched the surface.

Plus, I have my own problems to worry about, or more specifically my own problem – my back. That last toss screwed something out of whack and now the usual dull, nagging ache has transformed into a sharp, stabbing pain that’s threatening something less than perfection out of the next time I run the routine.

My old friends Tylenol and Advil greet me when I open my gym bag. Today is one of those days where I’ll have to take both together.

“Let’s do the big routine once more,” Miss Janice calls out through bugle-hands before dropping the skinaphone to her hips and pointing her attention to Gwen. “You won’t mind sitting this out, I’m assuming.”

Gwen gives her a thumbs-up, rolling her hand over and raising another finger when Miss Janice looks away. Since Gwen attends practices sporadically at best, Miss Janice started working routines without her in the mix. Gwen acts like she doesn’t care, but I know she does. I just don’t know why she allows it to happen.

I fall into formation, with my boys at my side.

“Oh no. Not again,” I hear my dad grumble too loud for it to really qualify as a grumble.

I’m flying. I’m falling. I’m safe. Repeat. I’m flying. I’m falling. I’m safe. Repeat. I’m flying. I’m falling. “I’m safe!” I yell to my father, coaxing a laugh out of Lawrence.

The team, particularly the boys, have a habit of teasing me about my parents’ enthusiasm – especially my dad’s. Dad’s undoubtedly explaining to Mr. Spencer how “wrought with perils a sport like football has for such a promising young man like Christopher.” If he isn’t boring Mr. Spencer with those juicy facts, he is almost certainly informing Mr. Spencer of all the potential liability the school district is opening themselves up to by not investing in the newer, safer generations of protective head gear. Always the lawyer.

Yells from the crowd, the parents of course screaming the loudest, point me back to the field. Christopher’s scrambling in the back field, dodging one, two tackles. He is so good at... Oh, I hope he’s okay.

Seeing Christopher taken down reminds me of how bad my back hurts. I return to my bag to remedy that problem.

“Do you want something better?” Gwen asks, pointing at the Tylenol bottle.

“Like what?”

She rolls her spandex sleeve up away from her wrist and catches a small, tan pill in her palm. The indentation where the pill used be has a similar fading mark right next to it. “This will take care of whatever your issues are.”

“You already took one?”

“Yeah,” Gwen answers, twisting her lips into a question. “How’d you know?”

“I just Nancy-Drew-ed the heck out of the impressions the two pills left on your arm.” Again I try to hide my smile, but I apparently suck at this straight-face business.

“Who says heck, you nerd?” Gwen shakes her head balling the pill up in her palm. “You want it or not, Felicia?”

I extend my hand and Gwen drops the pill into my palm. She snatches it back. “What the heck?”

“Don’t want you to overdose,” Gwen answers. She bites the pill in half, handing me one side, chewing up the other.

I take my half as should be done in civilized society – with a gulp of water. By throwing it in the back of my throat and swallowing as quick as possible, I still have that rotten metallic taste creeping up from my gullet. It’s enough to make me want to vomit, and seeing Gwen chew the pill almost pushes me over the edge.

I wish my relationship with Gwen was like it used to be. Like it was a year ago. Before she got all weird. I miss my friend.

A whistle blows signaling the end of the half, and stopping me from showing all the fans what a bagel with butter and cream cheese looks like after its been sitting in a stomach for six hours. Back to work.

CHRIS

SIX DAYS BEFORE CHAMPIONSHIPS

Beneath the swollen skin and muscle, I can see the outline of bent bones below my left pinky and ring finger. I am so screwed for next week.

If I could get some more pills, then I could straighten the bones out and then I’d be fine. I’d wear the brace again and all would be good. Cassie said there aren’t any in here, but I know she’s lying. I know it. She treated me like I’m an addict when she is clearly the one who has a problem.

Selfish bitch.

I empty her final drawer onto the ground, but there’s nothing. Just clothes.

And pictures. I crumble down into the mess I made and snatch up a single piece of computer paper that must’ve come from a different life. The pixelated versions of our faces are squished together so tight my smile bleeds into hers until only two corners exist for two sets of lips. When were we ever that happy?

It doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters now is me getting what I need to get through this week. Cassie does not exist.

Where are the meds?

The other day, when she got me more, she left me here, and went somewhere.

Where?

God, why can’t I remember? She walked out of her room and down the hall and…

I’m up and on my way to the bathroom as soon as the thought comes. She’s always screaming at her parents if they even attempt to enter. Of course she’d hide it there.

I reach for the first drawer I see and crinkle the picture around the metal knob. I forgot I was holding it. I slide it off the drawer and smooth it as straight as I can before holding it up and studying our faces once more. It isn’t just our mouths that meld together to make one, our eyes, too. Her long, thick lashes spread wide enough to cover some of my left eyelid. My eyebrow runs straight and thick above my eye until narrowing into a thin curve above hers. The smudges of black high on our cheekbones are only distinguishable by the speckles of mud that decorate mine, and even those differences vanish when a tear drops from my eye and dilutes the ink.

Was this homecoming? A scrimmage?

It doesn’t matter. It was a different life.

Tearing and crumbling it up isn’t enough so I drop the remnants of the lie Cassie fed me into the toilet and turn back to the cabinets. A mirror smashes at my feet after pulling out the first drawer. Whatever, I’ll clean it up later. Or not. Next drawer is makeup. Why does she have this much makeup? All that’s in the cabinet is cotton balls, an old electric toothbrush, and more boxes of tampons than anyone should ever need.

It isn’t here. Maybe she was telling the truth. Maybe I should’ve believed her. I should’ve believed her.

I grab the paper from water, realizing what I’m doing and not caring. Sliding against the wall onto the floor I begin to uncrumple the photo as gently as I can, sobbing as the pieces stick to my thumbs and tear apart one chunk at a time. I give up.

“I give up!” My scream echoes into Cassie’s shower as I begin to breath heavier and harder, my tears flowing faster with each catching breath. The paper splits nearly perfectly down the middle, tearing us apart for good, and it’s more than I can take. I fall the rest of the way to the ground, letting shoulder bump onto the cold tile and my head rest half on the floor and half on the base of the toilet.

Through the salty murk blurring my vision, I see something that stops the tears, the breathing, even my heart.

That’s not a tampon.

I kick off the wall and smack my head on the toilet bowl before I’m able to get the box in my hands and dump the tampons onto the ground, making sure to avoid the glass and toilet water I was just lying in.

Bitch.

Lying. Bitch.

Bunches of bags topple from the first box of tampons, filling the area between where my shins and knees are pressed against the tile of Cassie’s bathroom. I open the second box and it is just as full. Judging by the bulging sides of the remaining boxes, I’d guess Cassie keeps her real tampons somewhere else.

I feel no elation, no relief, no happiness. This isn’t what I came for. This isn’t me. I don’t want this.

I need it.

I scoop them up and shove them into my pockets. I don’t even know how much to take. Her needles and everything were in the nightstand but there weren’t any directions or anything.

I’d take three pills if I had them, so maybe use three bags? Maybe more. I don’t know. I run out the door and into my parent’s car. The wheels squeal Cassie-style as I pick up my phone. I go to favorites and see Cassie’s name.

I click Gwen’s.

***

I stand back up and close the door to my bedroom. Cassie’s satchel flies out of my hand and onto the bed, splashing out brown squares across my duvet. Carefully, I stretch the rubber bands off the bundles and pull out each bag, setting them on the bed orderly. It all looks so innocent.

I pluck a single packet from the middle of one row and quickly realize it isn’t a packet at all. It’s wax paper – just a folded piece of wax paper. Carefully – or as carefully as my ruined hands will allow – I begin to unfold. A small line brownish white powder, sits in a fold. It’s barely anything. Certainly nothing as dangerous as everyone makes it out to be. And if Gwen can take it – weak, frail, nothing more than skin and bones Gwen – can take it…

I unfold a little more and spill it all over my bed.

Goddammit. It’s all over my bed.

“Shit!” My hand darts to my mouth as though it can do anything now. Neither of my parents are home, but the neighbors might be. What if they call the cops? If the cops come and see heroin all over my bed…

I slide to the ground and grip bedrail tightly – ahhh, fuck – too tightly. Crunching, grinding bones shoot electric pain up my arm, loosening my grip and landing me hard on the carpet. I grab the duvet and pull until an avalanche of bag drops onto my face and chest.

Goddammit.

My nose burns with the empty smell of the powder. I ignore the pain for long enough to push the packets onto the ground, lift myself up with my good hand, and survey the damage. Tiny anthills of cream colored powder sit next to some bags and a couple mini rivers run in the stitching of the bed’s cover. Each move I make shifts the rivers, diverting one here, joining another two somewhere else. If I do it right, I’ll be able to group it all in one spot and scoop it up. I clutch the blanket again, but the pain is even worse this time.

Falling to my knees, I forget to release the comforter from my good hand’s grip and the powder pops up.

Watching the powder float in the air, dancing in the light coming through my window, it looks harmless again. Now, with it scattering itself around my room, finding its way into the threads of my carpet, onto the tops of my dresser, into the open drawers, probably coating my clothes, it’s no longer a threat. No one could see it now.

I begin to laugh at the thought. Now that it’s everywhere, no one will no it’s anywhere. It’s just dust. Hanging in the air. Like in the house. The house. The dust was everywhere there, so thick in the air it felt like I was inhaling chalk. I should’ve left. Right then, when I took my first breath after walking in the door, and all that dust filled me, began to clog and tighten my lungs. I should’ve said screw Cassie and ran. I should’ve turned around, let her deal with whatever trouble she’d gotten herself into and been gone.

A drop of water lands on my hand, reminding me it’s there, reminding me I’m here, and the pain isn’t going to go away if I don’t do something about it. I need Gwen. Where is she?

Standing and grabbing one of the bundles I didn’t unwrap, I move to the window and look for Gwen’s Jeep, not bothering to wipe my eyes. If Gwen really does come like she said she would, maybe she’ll see the tears and take pity on me. Maybe she’ll see them and decide not to be an ass for five minutes and just help me get this done.

If she ever comes.

But she won’t.

Why would she?

After how I’ve treated her. After the names I called her. After completely ditching her for Cassie.

She’s not coming.

I’ll have to do this by myself.

As soon as I reach the bathroom, I snap the rubber band and spread the remaining nine packets of paper across the vanity. I don’t know if Gwen really is going to come, but the throbbing in my hand and head and everywhere says I don’t have the time to wait and find out.

Three pills must mean three pieces of paper. But there was so little in that paper. If I put all the bags together, that might be the same amount of substance as there is in a single pill, Just about a spoonful. A full spoon.

Of course. In the movies, they fill a spoon and heat it until it turns to liquid. Then they suck it up in the needle and inject. I’m certain the ten bags would fit in one big spoon, and that must be why they put them all together like that. But there’s only one way to know for sure.

I take the steps two by two down the stairs and bolt to the drawer with our silverware. Grabbing the biggest non-serving spoon I see, I head for the drawer my parents keep a lighter just for lighting birthday candles. No need for a second trip.

Back in the bathroom, I begin emptying the paper into the spoon. It’s a tad bit more than a spoonful, but not much. One packet seemed to have a lot more than it should’ve considering how much was in the others, so it makes sense for it to be a little too much. It all makes sense now. That’s why these bags are wrapped up in a rubber band like that. Ten pieces of paper equal one dose.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

S.R. Lucas is a pen name made from the names of my three children. I live with them and my spouse in scenic Buffalo, New York. When not writing or working at my day-job, I spend most of my time shoveling snow and wondering why I'm a Bills fan.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
I was inspired to write the story after watching a young girl who looked exactly like Cassie being revived using a narcotic reversal drug. She was not very happy about it. After seeing her go from dead to hostile, I had to write about it.
Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
A.
I wanted to show people who don't see it every day how easy it is to become addicted to opioids, and how quickly they will ruin someone's life.
Q. Tell us about the cover and the inspiration for it.
A.
The pills that make up the "HEROIN" portion of the title are hydrocodones and the "E" portion is a packaging often used for heroin distribution. Fun fact: the needle in the picture was harder to come by than the pills.

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