- Text Size +
Chapter One

I slammed into a stall in the men's bathroom with a crashing bang of the door, falling to my knees and puking my guts out. Only half the vomit hit the bowl, the rest hit the floor with a splash and a waft of smell that made more rise in my throat. My knees burned against the tiles where I'd landed. I panted, trying to gasp in enough oxygen to calm down my racing heart. "Gotta see a doctor," I mumbled. I pushed myself up, my nose running, eyes wet, and I walked shakily to the bathroom sinks, turning on the faucet and splashing water into my face. I was all red and puffy and disgusting and my hair hung all in my face.

Coming out tonight was stupid. I hadn't been feeling good for days and days, but it was my brother's birthday party and it was the first time in almost a year that I'd heard from him in a positive manner and I wasn't about to let him down. Not because of some fucking stomach virus or whatever it was. The water felt cold against my red-hot face and I shook it off and dried my hands in the air current of one of them blower dryers. Then I pushed my way back out of the men's room.

Suddenly, a girl was directly in front of me.

She was thin, maybe half Japanese, with big almond shaped eyes and curly black hair. She stood between me and the club, where the music was thumping and the colorful lights were casting colors all over the walls and the ceiling and the floor. I could hear people shouting, could hear Aaron talking into a microphone. But the girl stood between me and everything else. I stared at her.

There was something about her... something.... something I couldn't put my finger on. She took a step toward me, one hand out, her eyes wide with awe and surprise, her mouth slightly open. "Oh my God," she whispered, "It worked."

"What worked?" I asked.

"What's today?"

"December 7th," I answered.

"Shit. I'm late."

"Late? Late for what?"

"Excuse me," a waitress pushed by me, a tray full of cupcakes balanced precariously on her upraised palm.

I dodged the tray, and during the split second that my eyes had been diverted, the girl had turned and walked away swiftly, ducking through the pair of doors to my right marked employees only and disappeared. The cupcake waitress glowered at me as she pushed back-first through the doors, too. I craned my neck, trying to see over her, but I coudn't see the girl anywhere in there before the doors closed. I thought about going after her, but just as I was about to, I heard Aaron calling my name over the speakers and there was a murmur of voices as people looked for me, so I dashed off onto the crowded club floors, pushing the mystery girl out of my mind.

"There he is," Aaron called, pointing, "There's my big brother. I love you bro." He grinned at me, eyes starry and watery. "If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be here today with all you great people." Angel was standing beside him, a tiara glittering from her head, a hot pink drink in her hand. She waved it at me, a smile on her face.

I smiled back.

"Okay so enough of this emotional bullcrap," Aaron said, "DJ, let's raise the roooooooof!" And a thumping club beat rose out of the speakers, shaking the floor as it got louder and louder and filled the room. Bodies started moving together like one massive gelatinous blob and I shrugged and shouldered my way across the room to the VIP area that was blocked off with velvet ropes. I threw myself into the otherwise empty booth and grabbed one of the cupcakes off the table in front of me.

I looked around as I peeled the wrapper off the bottom of the cake, blue frosting getting on my fingers. I had two of my fingers in my mouth and was sucking the frosting off them when my stomach started turning again. Maybe eating wasn't the best idea, I thought, and I pushed the cupcake away and leaned back into the cushioned seat, closing my eyes.

I thought about that girl in the hallway. What had worked? Why was she late? I ran my palms over my knees, swiping away sweat that had pooled in the crevices of my lifelines. It wasn't all that hot in the club - not now that I was away from all the crammed bodies on the dance floor anyway - yet I was breaking a sweat like nobody's business. I was about to go back to the mens' room when I felt the cushion next to me shift with somebody's weight.

"Are you okay?" It was Angel.

"Yeah," I lied.

"You sure? You look pale."

I nodded, but I wasn't. In fact, I was really... really dizzy. "I think I should maybe head home," I answered, "I think I have a little bit of a stomach virus or something. I almost didn't come but I know what birthdays mean to Aaron."

"He's such a diva," Angel laughed. She smiled. "He really is glad you came."

"Good," I answered. I could feel my stomach getting dangerously close to erupting again. "I'll see you guys later, okay?" I slid out of the booth and smiled at my sister and pushed my way through the club. The further I got from her, the more I allowed myself to wince and feel the pain that was twisting through my midsection. I grabbed hold of the door jamb by the coat check, my breath taken by the spear of ache that was rushing me. I bit down on my lip so hard that I tasted the iron in my blood fill my mouth. "Goddamn," I whispered, clutching my side.

Suddenly, there were hands on me, gentle hands, comforting hands. "It's gonna be okay. Come with me." And I allowed whoever it was to lead me out of the club without my jacket into the cool night air. "Shhh..." I doubled over, clutching my side. "Shh, it's okay. I already called the ambulance. They're going to get here faster this time. Maybe that'll help."

"This time?" I groaned. I felt the concerete of the sidewalk come closer and landed on it, rolling to my side, curling into the fetal position. I looked up to see the curly haired girl with the wide awestruck eyes looming over me.

"Well last time nobody called until after this happened, so ---"

"This hasn't happened to me before," I groaned. Pain like a lightening bolt shot through my side. "Oh Jesus. Fuck."

"I forget you don't know about the other times." She sighed. "I gotta work on that."

"What the fuck are you talking aboo-- owwww." I closed my eyes. The pain was so intense I could see stars and my vision went all blurry and white.

Was this what they meant about seeing the light? Was I about to die on a dirty street outside of a club? To be honest, I'd thought for many years that was how I'd go, but then I'd cleaned up and I'd somehow envisioned something else, something less pathetic. Something warmer, with less concrete and more blankets and maybe some family around... I clutched my side. "I don't want to die," I choked.

"I know," she said, "And I'm trying not to let that happen this time. I promise I'm trying."

"Why do you keep saying that? This time?" I asked. "Like we've done this before."

She stared down at me, but she didn't answer because there were red lights and sirens and an EMT rushed over and the moment had passed for her to answer me and the next thing I knew I was being lifted up onto a gurney and pushed into an ambulance and she was gone, replaced by the stoic faces of working medical professionals and the door was closing and the girl and the club were both left behind us in the dark.