Since we’ve officially entered the holiday season, I figured it was time to share some short, flash fiction with you. For this piece, I collaborated with Elise Stephens, author of Moonlight and Oranges, a YA novel about love, fate, and wounded trust. Elise is a dear friend of mine, someone who I deeply admire, and a creative soul like myself. The scene below is a short narration between Nicole and Lorena, our main characters, and the theme is hope. I think *hope* is something we could all use right now. Elise’s words are in bold, mine are in italics. Please feel free to share your thoughts below in the comments section. Both Elise and I would love to hear from you.
“Oh my gosh! What are you…?”
I leapt back from my car and stared at the woman standing there. Her long brown hair hung down her rail-thin body, and her blueberry colored eyes were so bright, they made you stare deep into them. Her face was dirt-smudged and her nails were filthy and tattered when she pulled her hands off my car door. The passenger’s side stood open.
What am I?
The woman’s shoulders shook, and she staggered away from the car. A coat hung over her dress, which was way too nice for this part of town, and red curls twisted behind her neck. Her expression showed what she thought of me. She was right; I was a junkie. But she looked more fucked up than me.
“Are you OK?” I asked, backing away from the other side of the car. I normally never talked to strangers, especially when I had a needle in my hand, but something was wrong with her. I had to know what that something was.
I teetered and caught myself on my car roof. This was too much. First my mother-in-law hires people to mess with me, now I’m being robbed by a…who is this person?
“I give up,” I said. I almost sobbed right there.
I laughed, but not because of the look on her face. It appeared as though she were about to cry. “I gave up years ago,” I said, taking a seat on the curb.
“She’s stronger than me,” I said. Small talk had no place here. I didn’t need to impress this person.
“Yeah, definitely stronger, and he’s smarter than me, too.”
I looked up. “Do you even know who I’m talking about?”
“For me, it’s heroin. You?”
“Damn.” I reached toward her, my hand landing halfway between us on the dirty pavement. “Family sucks. Mine won’t leave me the hell alone.”
“Sometimes I wish mine would. The new family, that is.” I realized I was biting my lip. Something stung and I tasted blood. I slid down onto the pavement next to this strange long-haired woman. I wanted to tell her everything.
The swish of air sent her smell, a mix of flowers and cinnamon cookies, into my face. What the hell was she doing here? She was clean and neat; she was poison-free. And she wanted to sit next to me?
“I’ve made a bunch of dumb decisions,” I said. I felt like a teenager confessing after she got busted for breaking curfew. Lame. Watery. Weak.
I held out my hand, palm up, and wiggled my fingers. Each pad was still covered in black ink. I couldn’t seem to get it off no matter how much I scrubbed or scraped my skin against the pavement. “We all make dumbass decisions.” I thought of my boyfriend who was still in jail. “You make these decisions alone or did someone make them for you?”
“I made my choices all by my idiotic self,” I said. “I married a guy after knowing him for less than a week, his mom has a vendetta against me, and now I don’t know where he is.” I stopped.
What am I doing? I don’t know who she is or what she’s about to do. Is she going to hurt me? Is this all just a ploy to make me relax?
Her eyes got wide and her skin turned white. “Relax, girl, I’m not going to take your money…or anything else.” None of her color returned; I needed to try something different. “We’re just talking here. Two women, having a shitty day, and we’re just talking it out. OK?”
“Truce?” I held up my hand like I was going to pinky-swear, then I caught myself and blushed. She stared at me like I’d lost it—I would have done the same thing in her situation.
She wanted to touch me? But no one, except Johns and dealers, wanted to touch me. There was a hint of a smile on her lips and warmth spread into her cheeks. I took a deep breath and matched her expression.
She held out her little finger. I didn’t think about how dirty it was. Her eyes were clean and beautiful, though, and I saw someone in them who was trying to be my friend. The next thing I knew, I was crying.
“What’s your name?” I asked. I slowly moved my hand to her shoulder, keeping my fingers where she could see them, and lightly rubbed her skin. My stomach was beginning to churn. It had been hours since my last shot and she had caught me just as I was about to inject, but I didn’t want to leave. At least not yet.
“Lorona,” I told her. “My mom picked the name out, so blame her for the weirdness. She named me after a tortured ghost. But I think my mother-in-law still takes the cake. Wow, I guess that’s my intro for you. What’s your name?”
“I’m Nicole.” Sometimes I wished for a weird name so I wouldn’t blend in as much. Right now, heroin was the only thing that made me stand out. That wasn’t something to be proud of.
My eyes traveled the length of her face, then her body. She had to be close to my age, but I looked as though I could be her mother. She was like the old me, the one before drugs. The one who could handle her shit without having to reach for the needle. Could I be that girl again?
“So…” I stammered, “forget about the car, it was asking for whatever you were planning to do it in this part of town. I was on a wild goose chase…trying to get on the good side of someone who’s always going to hate me. Big mistake.” I drew a shaky breath. My anxiety and stress were making me too chatty. “What brought you here?”
“Heroin brought me here, but I found something I didn’t expect.”
“What’s that?” I didn’t know why her mention of drugs didn’t scare me. Normally I would have frozen up tight and cold and stiff, but I felt softer, more alive. She was being totally honest with me.
I looked directly into her eyes, and prepared myself for the truth. That was something I hadn’t spoken in a while. “Hope.”
“Hope,” I repeated. Her hand squeezed my shoulder again and I closed my eyes and saw Kestrin holding his arms out, ready to hug me, to take me back. It made no sense, but something about this stranger’s impossible friendship was making me believe in other impossible things. “You’re going to be okay,” I said suddenly. I realized I was talking both to myself and to her. “You stopped your life to check in on me. I can’t believe that a heart like yours is totally wrecked. You’re not that far gone. Not if you can stop to help me.”
Her words echoed in my head.
Someone like her saw something good in me? Could I trust her? Could I give her that hope that she was giving to me?
She looked like she might scream at me or collapse and cry like a baby. Whatever it was, her brain was on fire and it was spreading everywhere else in her body. I held my breath.
“You really think that?”
“You’ve already reminded me that friendships don’t have to follow logic and or probabilities. I was doubting myself just now, and I would have drowned right here if I let that keep going. But then I met you.”
I didn’t pause when I reached for her hand. I didn’t say anything, either. I wrapped my fingers around hers and squeezed.