Authors: Evelyn Rosado
Storm: Book Three
Nobody makes good decisions at 3am. Nobody. But it feels like there’s no other option.
A couple hours after Tessa finally went to bed, I slapped open my suitcase and grabbed a black garbage bag from the living area and threw most of my stuff in it. I was right about this city all along—it chewed me up and spit me out.
I walk a tightrope out of the door, turning the lock gingerly so it won’t make a sound to wake Tessa. I look over at the desk to the left of me and see a framed picture of us. It was from the first day we met. We’re wearing sunglasses, making funny faces at Manhattan Beach. I hold my gaze, taking one last good look at it. Tessa’s grown to be a really good friend to me. I’m going to miss her. Maybe I can come and visit after I get settled back home. Probably not. I doubt I’d ever step foot on campus again after I leave here. I fight the tear that wants to fall from my eyelid and walk out the door. It’s better this way. I hate goodbyes.
I sit at Louise’s Diner, a couple of freeway exits east off campus. Aside from a trucker with a black and white bandana on his head, I’m the only person here. The red lights of a big rig semi flickers onto my table repeatedly as I sip my coffee. Or at least as I try to sip it. One sip is enough for me. The bitterness makes me jut my tongue out. My face scrunches and I slide the cup away from me.
My waitress comes to my table. She has eyes that at first glance look like everyone else’s but as I look closer, her doughy grey eyes are surrounded by speckles of crimson, like she just got off the phone with a sick mother and excused herself out back for a cry and a couple of drags from a Marlboro Red. But I think her eyes always look like this, droopy and hardened. The name Deb is on her nametag. Typical waitress. Rail thin with lobster skin, worn and leathered from years of tanning on top of baking under the southern California sun. Her teeth are the color of sunflower cornflower.
She greets me with the typical, “Wuddle it be hun? Anything besides coffee?” She leans on one hip chomping on the same piece of gum that she started her double shift with. She has a southern drawl that she’s kept despite her years of living on the west coast. She’s still charming.
She yanks out her notepad from under her apron, smeared with what looks like dried egg yolk.
“No food. Just a water, no ice please,” I say.
“Comin’ right up,” she says. I lean back and exhale deeply, conflicted about if this is the best idea for me. I hate being a quitter, but after this morning, I can’t take any more drama. I know when a situation isn’t in my favor. And all the signs I’ve been given since I’ve stepped on campus have shown me that.
In the corner of the window next to me is a fly that had been buzzing around my head since I got here. It lands on a spider web and gets stuck. Its tiny limbs flailing and flurrying in frenzy. It knows its doom is coming, but still hasn’t given up. The web shakes repeatedly from the fly’s desperation. The harder it fights, the more entangled it becomes, rolling around deepening the prison, strands of white threads blanketing the fly and its struggle finally fades. I hear the faint buzzing like it’s panicking. The buzzing stops. Its fight is over.
“What am I doing?” I ask myself under my breath. The door opens snapping me from the attention of the fly. I can’t give up like this. A cool sweat dots my back. I can’t give up. I’ve come too far to do so. I feel a confidence pour over me and I smile slightly. I throw a crumpled five-dollar bill on the table and dart off to my car.
I pull up to the student athletic complex and the parking lot is deserted. I grab my cleats, my lacrosse stick and shorts out of the trunk and head to the gym.
I bench press until my shoulders and chest burn. I squat to the point that the muscle fibers in my quads want to burst out of my skin. Sweat is dripping from my chin to the tips of my fingers. I feel alive. I head over to the indoor field and do forty-yard wind sprints until I nearly puke.
“Don’t give up Brynn,” I say to myself under the crack of light spilling into onto the field from the hallway. It’s just enough light for me to run. I’m wheezing, keeled over, grabbing the hem of my shorts, sucking air. I love the feeling. For the first time I embrace the pain. It fuels me.
I’m not giving up, no matter what comes my way. Not Chase. Not Connor. Not any drug. No drug. Whatever comes, I’m going to power through it. It’s only going to make me stronger. I can’t go back home.
I get back to my dorm before the crack of dawn. The campus is beautiful at this time of morning. The sprinkler system kisses the blades of grass and flowers. The sound is repetitive, but almost hypnotic and soothing. Nobody is on campus except for a few heavy panting joggers wearing headphones and a guy walking two dogs.
Surprisingly, Tessa is already up, in the bathroom curling her hair. She looks at me—the sweaty, spent, but fulfilled mess that I am—and smiles with a slight look of sadness. This is the first time we’ve spoken since we found out the news about Chase from her brother. She looks at me like a mother would when she finds out the boy her daughter had a crush on turned her down.
“Hey,” she says placing the flat iron down on the sink turning towards me.
“Hey,” I say, flopping the gym bag down on the floor heading to the mini fridge for a water.
“Brynn, I’m soooo sorry. Are you okay?” she says inching towards me, her voice tender.
I take one long swig and put the bottle on my forehead to cool down from the early morning humidity outside. “I’m fine,” I say taking another sip.
Her face is still inquisitive, like she knows I’m saying empty words and on the inside I’m torn apart. “If you need to talk about it, I’m here.”
“Tessa. I’m okay with it. It’s just one boy. I’m only eighteen. Yeah, I’ve been through some fucked up stuff this semester, but guess what?” I’m standing straight up, confident, in the glow of the sun beaming through the curtains, “None of it has kept me down. It’s knocked me down, but I don’t plan on staying there. I’m going to keep trucking through.”
She slaps me on the arm. “That’s the fucking spirit. You’re not a quitter, I can tell. You’re so much stronger than me.”
“Don’t say that.”
“You are. All the shit you’ve gone through I would’ve packed up my shit in the middle of the night and jetted back home and never looked back.” I nod slowly, biting down on my tongue. “I’m sorry you had to find out like this. But at least at least you found out right? It sucks, but that’s one way of looking at it right?” I nod. “I have class. If you need me to stay and keep you company I can,” her eyes are earnest and forgiving. I clear my throat and regain my bearings at least on the surface.
“Yeah…I’m okay. Just kinda…you know still reeling,” I say. “I guess I at least found out in the beginning right? And not three kids later.”
“Exactly. Look you’re a hot freshman girl in Los Angeles. So what a tatted up ex-felon rapist broke up with you. You’re back on the market. You should be jumping for joy. You’re prime real estate. You’re like a number one draft pick.” My phone buzzes in my pocket. “So where are you coming from at this time of the morning. You’re usually not up this early,” Tessa says.
I pull the phone out of my pocket. Someone tagged me on Instagram. “I just got back from the gym.” I look at my screen. It’s another post from Connor. He’s tagged me in his post with another picture of me I don’t remember taking it. It’s of him and me at the Theta house. From that Friday night—the night that I try to block out of my memory. He has that disgusting smug grin on his face holding a red cup towards the camera. I don’t remember taking this pic, but I was so zonked out of my mind on so much coke that night of course I don’t remember it. My eyes look half closed, glazed with redness and my face is flushed. What I read makes my stomach dip.
@lacrosse_leggs Hey baby! Long time no see. You miss me? I looked thru my phone and remembered the good times we had. Dancin. Grindin. So much fun. How about we—
I can’t finish the rest. I can’t bear to. What a fucking creep. My skin floods white-hot and my heart bangs from my chest. I can’t let him continue to do this to me. No one knows the truth. People think I’m the slut who had sex with that asshole. Only they don’t know what kind of monster he really is. I have to do something. I just don’t know what.
“Brynn. Brynn!” Tessa says snapping me from my daze. I jump slightly. I stuff my phone back in my pocket so she can’t see it.
“You okay? You didn’t hear me calling you?”
“Sorry I just zoned out.” My voice quavers. “I was looking at the dashboard for my Art History class.” She nods, knowing I’m telling a huge lie.
“I’m going to go take a little nap.”
Before I close the door behind me, Tessa begs me to go to her yoga class with her. She says I need to de-stress. Maybe she’s right.
I lie on top of my covers with my hands folded behind my head. Times like these are when I let things like an Instagram post get me so uptight and I run to pop a pill or do a bump. My left eye twitches as a slight reminder that all those traces of toxins still run through my blood. I take a few deep breaths and take a book about fighting drug addiction from under the mattress. I read halfway through chapter two and take a few more deep breaths. I slam the book down on my stomach.
Just a couple of pills won’t hurt, says the small voice inside my head. It grows louder and I feel that craving churning in my bones. I ball my fist up and bite my lip. Just one line won’t hurt. One line won’t make me overdose. I just got too crazy that day and had too much. One line every now and then is totally doable. I can make it work. It makes me feel soooo good. I can cope with the pain that way.
I reach for my phone and pull up Stephanie’s name from my contacts. She always has the good stuff. Even if she doesn’t, she can point me in the right direction.
My breaths are short and a trickle of sweat strikes down my spine. My thumb hovers over the send button. If I press that button, there’s no going back. It’s a one-way ticket back to hell. I’ve worked so hard to get back on the right track. I can’t put that trash back in my body. That’s what Connor wants. He want’s to see me weak. Vulnerable. Chase wouldn’t want this.
Fuck it. I need this. Especially after what happened yesterday. That asshole.
I push the send button. And after a half a ring, I realize I’ve bottomed out.
I quickly push end and throw my phone on the bed. If she calls back I’ll say I dialed by accident. I plop back on my pillow and breathe deeply, though jaggedly, feeling a bit victorious that I dodged that bullet.
“I feel like complete shit,” I say to Tessa. We’re in her truck on our way to the yoga class that she’s been going to. I pretty much sulked under the sheets in bed all day after she dragged me out to go. I’ve never been into any of that hippie stuff, twisting and turning my limbs and all that crap about breathing from my belly. I figure I’d give it a shot, with my stress levels off the scales all the time. The book about addiction that I’ve been reading mentions meditating and freeing my thoughts. Only today, my thoughts are all of over the place.
“It’s a total bummer,” Tessa says. “I should’ve never mentioned it in the first place. I knew it would play out like this.”
“Then why didn’t you stop me?”
“Don’t blame it on me. You wanted to know. I told you to proceed with caution. You’re your own woman. Have you confronted him yet about it?”
“There’s no way I can see him after this. I can’t bear to look into his eyes. He raped a girl, Tessa. Rape. There’s no way I can look him in his eyes or be in the same room as him.”
“There’s got to be more to the story.”
“None that I need to know.”
“Do you miss him?”
I sigh. “Yes. No. I don’t know. This is all a mess. I should’ve had never had sex with him.”
“You fucked him? And you didn’t tell me?”
“I’m trying to block the memory of it out of my head. I shiver every time I think about it.” What a total lie.
“So you do still think about him?”
“Why does everything have to be too good to be true? I mean, he saved my life not once, but twice and then this happens. Maybe college just isn’t for me.”
She yanks off her sunglasses and looks at me. “That’s crazy talk. You had some bad fucking luck. You’ll make it through.”
“I don’t know. Maybe I’d go home and help out my mom. I know she could use the help.”
“Speaking of your mom. How is she?”
“She’s doing great. Kinda back to her old self.”
“OMG that’s so good to hear,” she says pulling into the parking lot of a small complex. The yoga studio is nestled between a powerlifting gym, a sushi restaurant, a and a juice bar. “Drink up” she says,” nodding to the water bottle between us. “You’re going to need it. Bikram is noooo joke. Especially for a first timer like you. I’ve been going since the start of the semester and I still have to pace myself.”
“Are you sure this is safe? Doing all this in the heat?”
“It’s totally safe. Trust me. You might get a little bit lightheaded. But that’s only if you haven’t eaten anything or didn’t drink enough water.”
“It sounds a little scary.”
“It’s not. It’s ridiculously relaxing. And after the semester you’ve had, you’re going to need it. You’ll walk out a totally new girl.”
“Good. Because the girl who I am now needs replacing.”
We walk into the studio and the heat hits me in the face like a brick wall. I struggle to breathe. Tessa walks ahead of me as I stand back trying to get control of my breathing. She turns around and cackles at me. “Stop being such a drama queen, Brynn. The heat isn’t on yet. Probably it’s probably from the previous class.” Trickles of sweat dot all over my skin, and I haven’t even spread out my yoga mat yet.
The studio is empty so far. I expect to see sixty-year old women drinking hemp smoothies with their ankles twisted behind their neck standing on one leg. The studio is pretty basic. If I read about this place in a magazine they would describe it as minimalist. The walls are painted the color of cranberry. Relaxing, as the sunlight bounces off the wooden panel floors against the walls, giving it an almost velvet look. Dozens of candles are placed around the outskirts of the room and lanterns hanging from the wall hold incense, toasting a faint, hypnotizing smell. Out back there’s a small patio enclosed by a garden and a tall ivy bush, shrouding it from the hustle and bustle of the trendy LA neighborhood outside.
“Great. We’re super early,” I say. We can get the best seats in the house. Right in front of the instructor. Last time I got stuck next to a fat guy near the bathroom.”
Tessa sits Indian style on the mat and then stretches out her legs. “You are not going to believe how much of a cutie the instructor is. He wears these form fitting tank tops and you see can his abs bulging right though. I just want kiss all eight of them.”
“You are too much,” I say before guzzling half of the water bottle trying to regain control of my breathing.
“Did you hear me? He has an eight pack. I mean, is that even real? Who has an eight pack?”
“How does a guy get to teach a yoga class full of women?”
I take off my shoes. “Guys
come—they just don’t. A lot of the girls have a pool going about who can screw him first.”
“Why can’t we just do yoga and not have to worry about boys all the time?
“What would life be like without boys?”
“World peace and bitches fighting over the last pair of stilettos and ice cream.”
“Sounds like heaven to me.”
The door opens and I almost choke from what I see.
“What the hell has gotten into you? You seen a ghost?” Tessa says. She looks at the door. “Oh my God.”