Dose Zero

The time of your life or your money back.

It was sweet — like honey, but in a sick, thin way, like it was mixed with window cleaner and one of Sean’s stupid spinach shakes — and I almost puked the second it hit my tongue.

“Oh my god,” I sputtered the stuff out onto the carpet adding the black like bruises to the already stained carpet. “This stuff cannot be safe.”

Alyssa cackled and downed her pink concoction with grace, “The good ones are always hard to do, sweetie. The first time Sean took Spec, we spent half the night in the ER. And when I did Tac for the first time, I just sat and cried for like three hours. If you have to, add it to some lemonade. It’s worth it. I promise.”

I pinched my nose and threw back the rest of the drink, squirming as it burned its way through my body. Any minute now, they said, and the fun would begin.

“I’ve called the caaaaaaab,” Sean — all six and a half feet of him — came bounding down the stairs, singing, stopping short at their bottom as if he’d hit an invisible wall.

“Alyssa,” he gasped, holding onto the railing for dear life, practically yelling. Likely he could only really see now, the rest of his senses dulled. “Babe, you look phenomenal.”

Alyssa giggled and twisted in her tight sequin dress, her blonde hair circling her like a wreath, “I thought you might like it, Spec or not.”

“Doesn’t she look phenomenal?” Sean was definitely probably talking to me, but it felt like the words were flying through space before they reached my ears, buried as they were beneath new sounds: the brush of Alyssa’s dress against her skin, my own heartbeat as the drug hit my bloodstream, the slow, slow give of the floorboards beneath our weight.

The room went dark and spun as the back of my neck chilled.

“Aw look, Sean,” Alyssa patted my shoulder and laughed and I heard the collision of her eyelids as she blinked. “Our little baby’s all grown up.”

The party was run by some guy named Mark. Or Brad. Or Christian. I don’t know, and Alyssa and Sean didn’t seem to either.

“I thought you guys knew him,” I may have whispered it, but even if I’d shouted, I’m not sure they would have cared, both of them too fascinated by the ridges of Sean’s right hand as we walked up the stairs to the apartment to even remember I was with them.

My head had already begun to ache when we stopped at the open door. Probably a hundred people were crammed into a space I couldn’t have imagined even two people living in, their conversations and dancing and exhalations and howling stomachs flooding in on me all at once. In the dark, I could vaguely make out a bar, but no smell of booze in the air. One corner of the room radiated with a fuzzy light, circled by shadowy figures.

“Alright, kiddo, let’s find your part of the room here,” Alyssa grabbed me by the elbow and pulled me through the forest of bodies toward the darkest corner of the room, toward…

“What is that?” all of the nerves in my body leapt to life at once as the slow swell of the noise discerned itself from the crowd.

“I dunno, some thing scientists thought was cool. Does it really matter that much?” Alyssa shook her head and waved her hand in the air as she parked me in the group that had gathered around a small speaker. “Stay here until it wears off, or you find someone nice to talk to, or Sean and I come to get you, okay? You’re not going to be able to find us if you go wandering around, so take this as an opportunity to make some new friends.”

Maybe she forgot, or maybe it was a joke, or maybe she really just didn’t care, but she followed this up with a half-muttered, “God knows you need some.”

“Okay,” I said, half-numb with the new, low tone the music had taken. “Thank you.”

“Good,” she nodded, satisfied. “Now, kiss me on the cheek.”

“Okay,” I did as bidden, and she grinned at the contact, then went dancing off into the dark, wrapped in an ecstasy that I’m sure was as powerful as my own.

I don’t know if hours or minutes had passed when I saw the woman with the straight, dark hair. But there she was, beside me, her eyes closed; her delicate, dark lashes fluttering against her high, sharp cheek bones; her thin wrists bouncing against the fabric of her straight black dress. I heard her lungs pulsating with breath — inhale and exhale, inhale and exhale — and it was like being engulfed by my own personal thunderstorm.

And then, lightning, as I felt long fingers lacing their way through my own, squeezing gently and then… gone.

“Wait,” I stammered, realizing only then that I’d closed my eyes sometime in this meditation, turning wildly as I tried to pick out her silhouette among the many.

“Come back,” I said as I found her slipping her way through the crowd, followed her, pushed through the bodies towards the door — the only light bright enough to draw the suffocating masses — and then, out into the hallway, dizzy with the change.

“What the hell?” I whimpered as I tripped through the hallway, stumbling over partygoers who’d once been on their way home, nearly turning a corner when I heard it.

“You didn’t tell me your boyfriend was going to be here,” the voice was male, disappointed like a pouty child, but the pulse beneath it pounded like the wings of some hungry insect.

“Well,” the laugh was female, familiar. “He’s not here right now, is he?”

The brush of a dress against skin, the crash of lips colliding, and the sickly crack, somewhere in the night ahead, of a heart shattering like a lightbulb in the hand of God.

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