Sara woke on the eve of her father’s funeral tangled in a mess of sweaty sheets. The room was dark still, a faint, gray glow from behind her blinds the only sign that morning was near. She flung the sheets off and brushed the lank hair from her face, fumbled about for her phone. 6:15. Early. There were texts, but she ignored them.
She stood, shuffled past the boxes that had piled up in her absence, filling up the room that was no longer hers, not really.
The water was cold when she stepped into the shower. She bit her lip to keep from gasping, hugged herself and shrank back from the spray until it warmed. She washed, dressed, grabbed her phone and crept out into the hall. Her mom was still asleep in the guest bedroom. Sara stared at the door for a long while, the dark stained wood a deep shadow in the gloom.
She left the kitchen dark as she set the kettle on to boil. She made coffee, everything as she remembered, everything still in its place. The mug sat steaming on the counter and she waited, staring at the fridge. A nightlight cast its pale, cold glow upon the room, and Sara could just make out the dark shapes that cluttered the white metal. The accumulation of two decades. Pictures, magnets, newspaper clippings and printed recipes. On the side of the fridge a magnetic notepad hung slightly crooked, a pen clipped to its colorful paper. The room looked weird in the half light, enlarged and shrunken both at once. Enclosed. Separate. A tiny world, removed and protected from the fading night that lay beyond its cinder block walls.
Her sigh filled the air. She drank the coffee black and scalding, then set the mug in the sink and filled it with water. She went into the living room and sat on the couch, unseeing, unthinking. It was a kind of meditation, but if she’d known that, the spell would have shattered, her silent, wordless mantra no longer enough to conjure the void. Her phone buzzed on the cushion beside her. Another text.
It was six days since she’d gotten the call and Sara had yet to cry. Had yet to feel much of anything save the emptiness that had hollowed her to a shell.
The bed creaked in the guest room, and a moment later Sara heard the bathroom door close. She went stiff, imagined how it would go, remembered how it had gone every morning since she’d come back. Her mother silent. Her mother crying. Then she heard the toilet flush and bolted for the door, grabbed her father’s keys on the way out.
She had been asleep in her dorm. Saturday morning. Summer break almost arrived. Curtains shut fast, her alarm off and buried under a pile of unwashed clothes. Her phone had rung and she’d answered it groggily, had known at once that something was wrong. Her mother’s voice was too calm, too deliberate, like she was reading from a script. She had listened silent as her mother explained, her stomach twisting, her body so numb and heavy she thought she might collapse. A few words got through to her, stood out, stuck in her mind. Sudden. Died in his sleep. Peaceful.
Sara hadn’t spoken as her mother kept on talking, as if the words were something to cling to. Then at last her mom had fallen silent and the dead air hung between them, held them so close and yet so far apart. Then a whispered promise to come home early, to come home at once and her mother brushing her off.
“It’s just two days,” she had said, voice beginning to crack. “Just wait and come on Monday like we’d planned.”
“Okay, Mom. You’re sure? I can fly down today if—”
“No. Monday. I’ll see you then. I love you, sweetheart.”
“I know, Mom. I love you too.”
She’d sat staring at the dark screen of her phone for a long time. Empty. Numb. Then she’d heard the door open slowly behind her.
“Oh, I … I thought you’d still be asleep,” Sara’s roommate said, brown hair a mess, clothes wrinkled. “I was just … what’s wrong? You look like your cat just died or something.”
Some horrible noise burst from Sara’s mouth, halfway between a cry of laughter and a sob. She’d clutched the phone tight as the room spun around her.
“My dad died,” she said.
“Oh … oh, shit …”
The engine turned over and at once the radio was screaming classic rock, tearing apart the still silent morning. Sara cursed, fumbled with the volume until Don Henley’s voice was just a whisper. Then she recognized the song, The End of the Innocence, and turned the radio off completely. She sat clutching the wheel, breathing heavily and shivering, though it was hardly cold.
She took a deep breath and relaxed her grip on the wheel. She snapped off the parking brake and set the car, her father’s car, in reverse, pulled out of the driveway and onto the empty street.
She was ten or eleven. It was spring and she and her dad had got it into their heads to go fishing together one warm Saturday morning. They’d gotten up early and driven out to a state park in her dad’s brand new Prius, singing along to Bruce Springsteen and the Eagles. At the park they’d rented a canoe and paddled out onto the lake as the sun beat down on their sunscreen slathered skin. He’d made an effort to dress the part, old plaid shirt and jeans, hiking boots, a hat he’d bought at Walmart just for the occasion. Yet to her he had still looked like the software developer he was, with his shaggy hair and huge, out of fashion glasses, and she had loved him all the more for it. It was hard to remember what she had looked like then. Short hair still. Baggy clothes. Far enough in the past that she could blur the edges, shift things to fit what might have been.
They’d sat for hours together out on the water, cane poles in hand, stale bread for bait, a cooler full of sandwiches and lemonade between them. Just sitting. Talking a little now and then about what ever they liked. They didn’t catch anything, and that was probably for the best. Neither would have known what to do if they had.
Sara drove slow through her old neighborhood, a 70s era development of close packed houses and quiet cul-de-sacs. Neat trimmed lawns. Pleasant, colorful gardens.
She drove an aimless, winding route along the empty streets. The sky was still gray and sunless above her, and she found herself wishing it would stay like this forever. All the world dark and sleeping. No one to speak, or misspeak her name. No one to ask how she was doing or offer their frail words of comfort, uttered more in fear than sympathy. Fear that she would break down. Fear at the thought of death, of their own inevitable conclusions. But there was no fear on her part. All she felt amid the emptiness was a cold, bitter rage.
Silence filled the car and Sara’s mind had nothing to do but wander. Her thoughts had sunk inward, into their tangled, hopeless circles. Memories and regret and words left unspoken, all too fresh and raw to bear. She turned the radio on and found the top forty station, wanting to lose herself in music that couldn’t drag her into the past.
The sun rose and the streets came briefly alive as one by one suburbanites made their daily exodus. Friday morning. The weekend already on their minds, the taste of alcohol a ghostly premonition on countless tongues. In eight, nine, ten hours the local bars and restaurants would be crowded with people celebrating nothing more than another week gone by. Somehow the thought of it all, the rituals and routines of adulthood, made her feel like a child, though childhood had long since slipped away. One day playing tag in the rain, soul burning with joy, the next stepping into her dorm for the first time, a knot in her stomach and a box of miscellaneous possessions clutched like a shield against her chest. Her home, her friends, her family all a thousand miles away.
Sara followed the commuters out to the edge of the neighborhood and, as they turned right onto the highway, she made a left.
The body was cold and still and pale when she first saw it. That was how she thought of it, lying naked on the table but for a thin blanket covering the waist and thighs: The body. Not Dad, not father, not the name that to Sara had always sounded like an artifact from some previous era. He’d always been dad. Just dad. And now he wasn’t anything.
She’d come alone, pleaded with the funeral director to let her see him one last time before he was embalmed, before they hid the true face of death with their chemicals and makeup. She’d driven out in her mother’s car as the hot sun fell below its zenith, still exhausted from the flight and from the two sleepless nights before. Her mother hadn’t wanted to come, had cried softly when she’d asked. Barely a word had passed between them since the call Saturday morning, and Sara was beginning to worry. She could tell her mother hadn’t eaten, could see by the pristine sheets on the guest bed that she hadn’t slept.
Gran had been the one to contact the funeral home, though she lived on the other side of the country. She had made the arrangements, had planned her youngest child’s final days above ground. It was to be an open casket service, friends and family, eulogies, weeping, a hearse from the funeral home to the cemetery. They’d dress her father in a suit, she was sure, though in life he had worn jeans and cargo shorts and geeky T-shirts. They’d probably comb his hair. Replace his old glasses with a new, stylish pair. She could picture him, and the somber service, and the relatives obligated to attend, and the thought of it all filled her with a quiet, seething rage. Her father would have wanted an eco burial and a party to celebrate his life. He would have wanted laughter and music.
“I can … I can leave you alone, if you want.”
The assistant mortician’s thin, nervous voice broke through Sara’s thoughts. She turned to him, short and skinny and standing half turned away, as if he wasn’t sure where he belonged.
“I’m done anyway,” she said, cast a final glance at the table. “I just … I wanted to see. I needed to see.”
The assistant’s features twisted in a strange, strained grimace. “I’ll walk you out. I’m very sorry for your loss.”
Sara prickled at the words, already too familiar. She said nothing, though, only nodded and followed the assistant out to the main lobby. An elderly man sat waiting in a leather armchair, hands folded, eyes lost, while the woman behind the counter typed away on her computer.
Outside, the sun came in blinding shafts through the boughs of an old, gnarled oak. It would be setting soon enough, staining the sky and clouds bright orange and gold.
The assistant went back inside and Sara stood at the top of the stairs, looked out at the shady grounds, tucked away at the edge of an old, sleepy neighborhood. Huge oaks. Green, trim grass. Crape myrtles all bright and in bloom. She took a deep breath of the warm, fresh air and felt nothing. Then she got into the car and drove home.
She had no destination in mind, no direction. The radio played on and she half listened, drove for hours in a wide circle around the place she still thought of as home. She had needed motion, but now the car wasn’t enough. It sped along while her body barely moved, coiled, tense. Ready to explode. She could feel her hands tighten around the wheel until her fingers ached, longed to tear the plastic apart, to smash the shattered wheel against the dash. To leap out and send the car crashing into a tree and run screaming from the wreck, tearing at her hair and weeping.
The station went to commercials. Sara came back to herself and realized she was speeding, eased her foot off the gas. Her breath came in shallow bursts and she forced herself to relax, to ease her muscles and breathe deep until her pulse stopped thundering.
That was all she’d felt since the call: sudden bursts of violent intent. The desire to run and to scream. But she never did.
She had tried to make herself cry, as people were supposed to, but the tears would never come. She’d sat for hours Saturday morning in her dorm, staring at the wall, waiting to feel something like grief take hold of her. For the awful, aching hurt she had heard creep into her mother’s voice. In the end her eyes had dried out for lack of blinking and she’d had to put drops in them.
Sara’s phone buzzed in the cup holder. It buzzed again, and then a third time. She wanted to ignore it, like she had been for days. Pretend she didn’t know who it was, but she did. At least some of them would be from Kaily. It buzzed twice more and she grunted, began to look for a safe place to pull off. She was on a two lane highway. Narrow shoulder. Scrub palms and pine trees on either side and a strip of grass that sloped away from the asphalt.
The commercial break ended and Sara found a place where the ground leveled off enough to pull aside. She set the car in park and bragged her phone, unlocked it. 19 new texts from Kaily, a few random condolences, one from her mother that had just come through. Her thumb hovered above Kaily’s name, trembling. Then she opened the the one from her mom instead.
Sara, where are you, sweetie?
Sara stared at the screen, read the words over and over, somehow unable to decipher them. Then the phone buzzed in her hand and she almost dropped it.
Sara? Are you there?
A long moment. The radio was too loud and she turned it off, found the sudden quiet deafening. Cars passed by every now and again, shaking the little Prius in their wake. Her hands were cold and they trembled, though warm light filtered in through the trees, little shafts of fire that promised another sweltering day. Another Florida summer.
She hit reply and froze, thumbs hovering above the screen. She had no words, and even if she did Sara didn’t want to talk, not to her broken mom, not even in this detached form. What was there to say? How many times could she watch her mother hold back tears as they sat in awkward silence. How many times could she feel guilty that her own eyes remained dry.
Sara canceled the unwritten text and moved to turn off her phone, then stopped. She thumbed into her contacts and scrolled, found Kaily’s name. She typed a quick text without looking at the unread messages and sent it, held her breath as she sat waiting for a reply. Four endless minutes passed and then the phone buzzed. She read and felt a nervous twisting in her gut. Then she pulled out onto the highway and headed into town.
Sara had cried the first time she saw Snow White, when the huntsman chased the princess into the woods and the trees clawed at her with their scratching branches and everything was dark and loud and frightening. She had sobbed and been unwilling to watch the rest, or so she’d heard, for now she remembered it only as a story her parents told in reminiscence. Along with her funny mispronunciations. Along with the inevitable anecdotes of her childhood precocity, so at odds with the quiet, anxious, depressed teen she would become.
She remembered her mother’s arms, though. Whether from that day, or some other, forgotten trauma. She remembered how big they had been then, how comforting. How her mother’s embrace would envelope her and make her fear or sadness melt away.
But she had grown too big for that now. Had seen her mother cry too many times, had learned that parents were, in the end, only people. That even their hearts could be broken.
The parking lot was already crowded when she pulled into the outlet mall. All the shaded spots were taken by hulking SUVs and shiny new cars. She found an empty space next to a Mercedes was parked across two spaces and got out, squinted against the bright sun. She started to reopen the door, to look for a pair of sunglasses she half remembered being tucked away beneath the seat, then stopped. She looked at her father’s Prius and felt suddenly nauseated, suddenly repulsed by the thought of being near it, of being in it. She swallowed hard and turned away, hurried over to the endless wall of shops.
She had time to kill and so she wandered, walked from one end of the mall to the other, glanced in through windows, at the clothes and cookware, the shoes and jewelry and toys, the people milling about, shopping, chatting. Few were alone. Many were young, or at least the young were who she noticed. Teenagers and twenty somethings. Her generation. Her people. The tribe she had shunned for so many years, until it was too late and she’d forgotten how to have friends.
On her way back along the shops Sara stepped into a shoe store at random. She browsed, kept her head down, circled the same pair of boots over and over again, brushed off the sales assistant who kept trying to offer her help. Ask if she was having trouble finding something. If she wanted to try anything on.
The boots were black and leather and knee high and covered in an excess of buckles and zippers. The sole was thick, with a practical heel, something you could actually enjoy walking in. But they didn’t come in her size, none of these shoes did. This side of the store had been made with other people in mind, and no matter how much she might look like them, there were some things she could never change. And anyway, they weren’t the kind of thing she would ever buy for herself, no matter how good the sale, no matter how much she might want them, long for them. It wasn’t just the size that precluded her. They said something, made a statement, however small, one she could never live up to. They’d be like a costume, a lie; she had already lived too much of that and for far too long. Boots like that demanded a certain kind of wardrobe. Haircut. They implied piercings and tattoos, a sort of courage she had never possessed, and no amount of makeup or spiked chokers or torn jeans could change that.
Sara unclenched her fists, felt the cold ache as blood began to flow again unhindered.
The sales clerk started toward her again, but this time stopped when he caught sight of her face. He stared at her for a moment and she returned his gaze unblinking, wondered what he saw, who he saw. Then he turned away, found another customer to help.
The heat hit her like a breeze as she stepped outside. It wasn’t even noon yet and the sun burned like the searing inferno it really was. Sara checked her phone and started off toward the food court. Within moments she was sweating, a fine, damp film that covered every inch of her skin. Such was the reality of summer, that slow, bloated season which seemed to last half the year, only to vanish the day after you finally acclimated, leaving you freezing in a fifty-eight degree cold snap that lasted two days and was the closest thing to “winter” you could ever hope to endure. If you stayed.
Not even a week had passed and Boston seemed a world away. A lifetime ago. When she had closed her eyes in bed last night it was no longer her dorm she felt around her. That ghost had faded, along with all her petty fears. Exams. Essays. Lack of sleep. Lack of social graces. She knew, in a clinical sort of way, that they had caused her anxiety, but the thought of them now was hollow and devoid of any feeling. Even her memories had gone numb.
From within, the food court seemed little more than a giant concrete box. Sound echoed off the polished floors and bare, block walls, filled the air with a constant chatter of noise. Countless tables crowded the center of the room, many already claimed. Along one wall a line of nameless concession stands served pizza and hot dogs and chicken nuggets. The kind of cheap food that always tastes stale.
Sara looked around, searched the crowd for the one face she knew would be familiar.
She couldn’t find her.
A minute passed, then another. Sara scanned the tables, but Kaily was nowhere to be seen. Sara glanced at her phone. She was five minutes late now, and Kaily was always early, always obsessed with arriving on time.
Her phone buzzed and she checked it. A single text.
Hey, I’m sitting outside if you’re looking.
Sara put her phone away, already walking to the far exit. She pushed the door open and squinted against the sun. Kaily was sitting at a little table just outside. She waved, smiled nervously, and Sara walked over.
“Hey,” she said as Sara sat down opposite her.
A pause, stretched out far longer than was comfortable.
“I wasn’t sure if you’d eaten yet,” Kaily said, indicating a soft pretzel sitting alone on a paper plate.
They didn’t look at each other. Sara opened her mouth to speak, only to find that it was empty.
She felt like an idiot. She’d known this would be awkward, that she should have waited, should have just ignored Kaily’s texts.
“So … So I guess you must have heard. About me, I mean. You don’t seemed surprised.” Sara managed, still unable to look up.
“Yeah. I saw it on facebook.”
“Who was talking about it?”
“Molly. Tucker’s mom.”
Sara nodded, wished her limbs didn’t feel so heavy. She knew people from home must have gossiped about her; it was one of the reasons she’d deleted all her old social media accounts, started fresh. Her arm twitched and she grabbed the pretzel, tore off a bite just to give her body something to do.
“I’m really sorry about … you know. When I got your text I figured … well I thought maybe you needed a distraction. Someone to talk to, but not about … that. You’ve probably had enough of people telling you how sorry they are. What a big tragedy it all is.”
Sara looked up. Kaily’s hazel eyes were downcast, her dirty blond hair the gorgeous mess she remembered. She wore a faded T shirt and pegged skinny jeans. Battered pink high-tops. Sara looked at her and she was just as she had always been, ever since they’d first met over half their lives ago on the playground during recess. Sara had been alone, she had been new. They’d started talking and hadn’t stopped until the bell rang, by then already friends. How easy it had been then. How effortless.
For years they had spent all their free time together, playing make believe, talking, organizing games of tag. Then, when they were older, playing video games and D&D. Hanging out at the library or in bookstores. Other friends had drifted in and out of their circle, their lives, but Kaily was always there.
They’d been friends. Best friends. And then Sara moved away for school, realized who she was, what she had to do, and it had been easier to drift away than try and explain.
“I just … It doesn’t feel real.” Sara glanced away. She lifted the pretzel halfway to her mouth, then set it back on the plate. “I’m so tired. Of everything.”
“Let’s not talk about it then. Talk about school. Or the weather. Anything.”
They’d been so sad when they’d said goodbye, had both cried. It felt like so long ago now. Another life. another world.
“How’s Amy?” Sara asked, fingering the pretzel, pulling it into ever smaller pieces.
Kaily blinked. “Good, I think. I don’t really know. We broke up.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”
“It’s fine. It’s been almost a year. We both realized we weren’t really right for each other, you know?”
Sara stuck a piece of pretzel in her mouth and chewed, stared at the table and cast about for something, anything to say. Wished Kaily would speak. Would say something to make her laugh, to make the years melt away.
“How about you, you seeing anyone?” Kaily asked.
“No. I don’t … I’m not really ready to date yet, I think.”
Sara shrugged. She finished the pretzel and stared at the loose salt left on the plate. She hated the greasy, salty residue that coated her fingers.
She glanced around at the people passing by along the shops and felt the all too familiar awareness of her own body, her clothing. She felt overdressed in her black pencil skirt and white cotton blouse. Black ballet flats she’d had to order online. The uniform she’d adopted when she’d moved away and started to rebuild her wardrobe, trying to look like an adult, like a woman. She’d felt like an impostor at first, but at least on campus there were other girls dressed like this. At least in Boston the idea of wearing stockings in the summer didn’t seem so insane.
“What have you heard about it?” Sara asked. “About my dad, I mean.”
Kaily was silent for a moment, suddenly intent upon her finger nails.
“Just …” She fell still for a moment and sighed. “Just that he … that he’d had a heart attack. And that the service is tomorrow.”
“Are you going to come?”
Kaily looked at her, and something in her eyes seemed lost. Frightened.
“I wasn’t sure I was invited.”
An angry, involuntary sound burst from Sara’s lips. “Jesus, Kaily, it’s a funeral, not a wedding. You don’t have to be invited. You knew him, didn’t you? You know me.”
“Do I?” Kaily asked.
Sara glared at her and she looked away, looked down.
“I only meant…” Kaily began, voice strained. Then she looked up. “Fuck, Sara, when was the last time we even talked to each other?”
“We’re talking now—”
“I mean before now. When was the last time we talked, and I don’t just mean a few vague messages online, or a five word text on my birthday. Even if you count those it’s been months. When was the last time we had a real conversation?”
“I was busy— ”
“Bullshit. You never even told me. I had to see it online when fucking Molly found out somehow and went off on a rant about her fucking traditional values garbage.”
Sara balled her fists beneath the table, stared hard at at the smooth metal surface and saw nothing of its color or texture.
“It wasn’t just my fault,” she said, her voice low and shaking. “I wasn’t the only one who stopped talking. You could have asked me about it.”
Kaily leaned back in her chair, rubbed her eyes. “I didn’t mean to start anything. I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“But you did.”
“I don’t want to fight.”
“Why, because my dad died? Don’t back down just because you feel sorry for me. Don’t you dare take pity on me, Kaily!”
“It’s not that, I just…”
“What? Look at me and tell me you don’t pity me. Tell me you wouldn’t be mad at me right now if my dad hadn’t died.”
She fell silent, fuming, and Kaily was quiet. Sara relaxed her hands, her fingers stiff and aching from how tightly they’d been clenched.
“I’m sorry I shouted,” she said. “I’m just sick of everyone treating me like I’m fragile. Playing nice when I know the’re judging me behind my back. If you would have been angry at me before then be angry now. If I’ve been a shitty friend then tell me, be mad, blame me for us losing touch and we can talk about it and work it out, because I really need a friend right now. Just one person to tell me ‘damn, that sucks,’ and then move on. I need someone who knows me well enough to not look horrified when I tell them I don’t feel sad. That my father, who I loved, is dead and I feel nothing.”
Kaily was staring at her but Sara couldn’t meet her gaze. Someone laughed not ten feet behind her, a loud, deep sound that made her teeth grind together. She realized her hands were shaking and tried to take a deep breath.
“Everyone grieves in different ways—“
“Oh, don’t give me that crap. I’ve heard it too many times already. How is nothing grief? How is it that my dad dies and I don’t shed a single tear? I can’t cry, Kaily. I’ve tried. I’ve listened to my mom spend hours sobbing every night and all I can do is wonder what’s wrong with me. Why all I feel is … is …”
Sara looked at Kaily. Her stomach was a twisted mess. She felt nauseated. Dizzy.
“I don’t need you to be my psychiatrist. I know I’m angry. I’m furious.”
“Well, that’s not nothing, is it?”
“It’s not grief. It’s not sadness. It’s not what you’re supposed to feel when a parent dies.”
“Says who? There’s no right way to grieve, Sara—”
“I said don’t!”
She stopped talking. Sara watched an elderly couple cross the parking lot and get into their car, a dull gray BMW that looked at least twenty years old. Kaily breathed a low sigh and folded her arms.
“I’m just trying to help,” she said
“I know. I’m sorry.”
A long moment passed. Sara felt as though she were standing at the edge of a cliff, looking down, seeing nothing but darkness. Then Kaily spoke and she looked up.
“Do you want me to go?”
Sara studied her face. The shape of her jaw, her nose, the faint laugh lines that would someday deepen into wrinkles as her hair turned gray, then white, and her skin began to sag. Sara saw her and a moment Kaily looked a thousand years old and a child of nine both at once.
“No. Maybe. I don’t know.”
Kaily sighed. Leaned back in her chair. Turned away.
Sara brushed the hair from her eyes. Her mouth was dry. She could feel the pretzel squirming in her stomach.
“I was afraid,” she said.
Kaily glanced back to her and she looked away, looked at her hands, which she twisted together in her lap.
“I was scared that you wouldn’t want to be my friend anymore. That it would weird you out.”
“So you pushed me away?”
“Yeah. I didn’t … I was in a fragile place. I was still figuring everything out. I couldn’t have dealt with you hating me.”
“I would never hate you, Sara.”
Sara bit her lip. A motorcycle went by on the highway, loud and obnoxious. After a while Kaily stood up, the metal legs of her chair scraping against the concrete.
“I … I have to go, I’m sorry. I have work.”
Sara nodded, still looking at her hands.
“I’m off a seven, though. Call me, okay? I mean you don’t have to, but if you want to. I still want to be your friend. If you want me.”
Kaily started to leave and then paused, stuck a hand in her bag and pulled something small from within.
“I almost forgot. I didn’t have time to wrap it, but …”
She set the object on the table. A shot glass. The number twenty-one etched into the side.
“Happy Birthday, Sara.” She put her hand on Sara’s shoulder. Then she was gone.
Her birthday. She’d forgotten.
Sara stared at the glass for what could have been ten minutes, or twenty, or an hour. A cloud moved over the sun and she looked up, saw the darkness building in the sky, felt the wind picking up, playing with her hair.
She swallowed. Her arm jerked out and she wrapped her fingers around the cool glass. Then she stood and headed to the bathrooms at the far end of the mall.
It was cold inside. There was music playing, but she couldn’t hear it. A strong, chemical smell assaulted her nose, but she didn’t care. There was a woman at the sinks, touching up her lipstick. She heard a flush and an instant later a young girl in a Dora the Explorer t-shirt stepped out of the stall and walked up the woman, who told the girl to wash her hands. Don’t forget to use soap.
Sara stepped into a stall and latched the door. She turned to the toilet and then felt dizzy, leaned against the stall divider for support. Her breath came in short bursts and her whole body trembled. The world spun beneath her and and her eyes went cloudy. She clutched the shot glass tight in her sweaty hand and there, in a bathroom stall, amid the sound of flushing toilets and running sinks, she began to cry.