Authors: Season Vining
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my biggest cheerleader, who talks me off ledges and tabletops,
indulges my obsession with tattooed boys, and kills all the bugs.
Everyone is a moon and has a dark side
which he never shows to anybody.
Two planets in close proximity to each other in the sky.
“Hey, babe, hand me my smokes.”
“I’m not your babe,” Josie replied.
“Fine. Hey, bitch, hand me my smokes.”
She laughed darkly and complied with his request. One-night stands were not afforded
the privileges of pet names. Contrarily, the neatly arranged rails of white powder
on the tray across the room meant he could call her anything he damn well pleased.
As the stranger lit a cigarette, Josie sat up and stretched her arms over her head.
The air reeked of sweat, sex, and tobacco. The humming fan that had helped lull her
to sleep a few hours ago now got on her last sober nerve.
Spotting her underwear across the room, Josie slid from between the sheets and retrieved
it. She slipped on each article of clothing as she found it, eventually donning her
outfit from the previous night. The young man’s eyes followed her around, seeming
amused by her hunt-and-gather technique.
“You were amazing,” he said.
His voice rasped like he had cotton and sawdust in his throat. The way his slate blue
eyes shined, she could see all his lust. She had no interest in dwelling there.
Josie ignored him and leaned over the tray, holding the rolled-up dollar bill to her
nose. She closed her eyes and smiled as she inhaled the drug, knowing that numbing
bliss would soon find her. With a final sniff, she stood and let the chemical absorb
into her blood. It was soft feathers across her skin, drifting down from the sky and
landing around her toes. Her body tensed and prickled with the warmth of a prolonged
orgasm. In this high, she had no name, no past, and no future. All she had was now.
And now was amazing.
“Can I get your number? Sam Bradley is playing the Casbah on Wednesday. My boy could
get us in for free.”
His words punched holes in her buzz. Irritated, she slung her bag across her body
and pasted on a smile. The morning light peeked through the vertical blinds, casting
stripes of gold across his body. He smiled and she could feel his desire for her again.
To Josie, he was just a guy—a guy with a warm bed, pleasurable hands, and a large
supply of coke.
“It was fun. Let’s just leave it at that.”
She spun on her heel and headed for the door.
“Yeah, whatever. I’ll see you around,” he shouted.
“Not likely,” she answered, stepping out into the blinding light of another morning
* * *
Josie sat back in the dark corner of the familiar bar. Graffiti-riddled walls and
empty chairs were her only company. A journal lay open in her lap while her charcoal-stained
fingers clutched the pencil hovering above the page. Hundreds of words flashed through
her mind, yet she did not possess the will to choose one and write it down. The first
word of a sentence, the precipice of an idea, usually held all the power as far as
she was concerned. This is why, most nights, she kept to sketching—the curved lines
and shading smudges were easier to commit to.
Most bar patrons took no notice of her. They were too busy, focused on their immediate
goals of sex and intoxication. Josie’s intentions were the same as every other night
spent in this establishment. She’d come to see about a boy.
Routine was not something she was accustomed to, though lately she’d been devoted
to him. She always arrived an hour before his shift started and slipped out when he
took his last break. She’d convinced herself that her obsession was normal.
With glossy eyes, she glanced up from her blank paper, awaiting the arrival of her
muse. She sighed and blew her bangs from her eyes, wishing she’d smoked a bowl before
coming here, something to take off the razor-sharp edge.
Since she was fourteen years old, Josie Banks had existed this way. She floated on
whatever high she could get, reluctant to touch down, afraid reality might never let
her go again. There wasn’t a physical addiction to the drugs. She never used one long
enough to develop a taste for it. The addiction was solely to the state it provided,
a numbing blissful high of indifference. Her savior wasn’t always drugs or sex with
strangers. Sometimes her pencils, along with fresh paper and a silent room, could
deliver the much-needed feeling of ecstasy. The rough scratch of charcoal or the shake
and rattle of paint cans calmed her in a way that no therapist ever had.
Josie looked up to find a stranger staring down at her. He seemed to stand at the
edge of her personal space while wearing a brittle smile. She did not respond but
impatiently waited for his next line. It was delivered like a rehearsed speech.
“You’re too pretty to sit alone. Can I join you?”
Her silence answered. The man turned swiftly and retreated to where he came from.
Josie didn’t watch him go. In any other place, at any other time, she would have entertained
the idea. He was tall and handsome and she loved how nervous she made him. But not
Plenty of charmers had told her that she was attractive, but she always dismissed
their words as a systematic technique to get into her pants. If only they’d known
she didn’t need to be seduced. She gave it up freely and often. Shame did not exist
in her bank of emotional labels; it had no place in the life she led. Fucking was
always enjoyable. Even bad sex was still sex. Ever since she’d lost her virginity,
she’d felt empowered by her feminine allure. No man or woman, no matter how attractive,
had ever held her attention for longer than it had taken to get off.
She leaned back in her seat, curling her fingers around the nearly empty glass, and
thought back to their first and only encounter.
* * *
Clouds stretched across the moon, stealing her natural light. Josie settled herself
on the fire escape, drawing by the glow from her apartment window. Dirt and dust on
the glass cast a freckled pattern over her. Haunting eyes stared up from the page
as she tried to recall a connection to them.
A hooded figure stormed into the alley below, catching her attention. The lead of
her pencil ceased in its track, its intended path abandoned. His dark garments blended
into the shadows as if she could smudge him out of one of her drawings.
“Fool!” he shouted. His voice rolled up the alley walls until being freed into the
sky like thunder.
He pushed the hood back, his nails scraping through dirty hair. It wove through his
fingers, staying upturned in a veritable crown of thorns. Heavy footsteps counted
off his rhythm as Josie watched him rage.
“Unforgivable,” he said. He tried it again, repeating the quiet chant over and over
until it mirrored the beat of Josie’s pulse.
She gasped as he ripped off his hooded sweatshirt and threw it to the ground. Brilliant
inked images covered his arms, interrupted only by the white beater that molded to
his body. He slammed his forehead into the wall and then landed punch after punch.
His blood painted the bricks and Josie knew a part of him would die here this night.
She sat stone-faced, her gaze fixed on the raging figure below. She was envious of
such a physical kind of anger. She had never unleashed her fury that way and wondered
if it would do any good. His chest heaved in a quick cadence, and Josie fought hard
to keep her own breath even.
In that moment, the moon broke through the clouds and cast a blanket of silvery light
over the alley. He froze, mesmerized by the grid-pattern shadows created by the fire
escape. His eyes traveled up the shadow as if navigating a labyrinth, until a small,
solid shape obstructed the path. He looked up, catching her.
The pencil slipped from Josie’s grip, rolling and falling over the edge. As connected
as she felt to the lead and wood, she did not watch it drop. Instead, she stared down
into the face of something so familiar—heartache. She’d never seen such a beautiful,
broken expression, and it took her breath away. Somewhere in the back of her mind,
she registered the soft
tap, tap, tap
of the pencil hitting the ground.
Josie felt bound to him in that moment. They were two souls snared by chance and circumstance.
Though they did not feel like strangers.
She wanted more, but she didn’t know what. It tugged at her like the undeniable pull
of the moon. She couldn’t name it, but she craved it like her drugs and her art.
A siren wailed from somewhere down the block and they both blinked, released from
each other in a defeated kind of way. He turned away slowly. Josie leaned forward
against the railing as he disappeared back into the dotted path of streetlamps.
When he was gone, she raced down the steps of her building and retrieved his abandoned
hoodie from the alley. Josie wrapped herself in the black cotton and, for the first
time in years, slept through the night. Almost every day since, she’d worn the oversize
article, growing attached to it as if it were a long-lost friend.
“You need another drink?” the waitress asked. Josie made eye contact with the girl
and nodded. “Another rum and Coke and no conversation. Coming right up, hon.”
She smirked when the waitress left to fetch her drink. Alone again, Josie began sketching
a couple making out against the bar. The woman was standing, squeezed between the
man’s thighs, while his hand gripped her waist. Their faces pressed together in heated
kisses and whispered words. Their display garnered the attention of everyone in the
place before the waitress tapped the bar and told them to take it elsewhere. Josie
couldn’t care less. Her boy had arrived.
He took his place behind the bar after a smile and wave to the waitress. He looked
good there, backlit by mirrors, lavender lights, and half-empty bottles. Gone was
her tortured boy from the alley. This version was sexy and confident.
It was pure luck that she’d found him here, tending bar at this yuppie establishment.
Josie had come in one night, looking for a release of any kind, when she’d spotted
him. She recognized his tattoos, and when he turned, she remembered his flawless face
as well, even after six months. The images had been burned into her memory on a cellular
level. It hadn’t taken long to learn his schedule, and soon she saw him four nights
a week. But he never saw her.
Josie wanted him. The one-night stands that left her feeling coveted but isolated
were no longer satisfying. She wanted to taste his lips and trace the patterns on
his skin. She wanted to live in his clothes and feel the weight of his body on hers.
Their relationship was complicated, existing only through one-way glass and never
shared. Josie liked it this way. She felt anchored to him but not possessed.