October 11th, 2013
Victoria Chase always knew what to do.
Except for today.
I did this.
She was watching the video again. The one of Kate making a complete fool of herself. The religious girl’s smile was weak; her eyes, glassy; her breathing, ragged, as she sloppily made out with one football player after another. The video eventually got to her sitting on Courtney’s lap, the black-haired girl laughing as Kate grinded against her.
When Victoria had seen Kate at that party, she’d thought it was funny as hell. The uptight little girl dropping her inhibitions, getting drunk for what was probably the first time in her life, and going way too far. Putting the video on the internet had been Victoria’s way of showing the world that everyone had a wild side. And if it got little Miss Marsh to lay off her religious bullshit for a while, then all the better.
Now the video made her sick.
So why the fuck am I watching it?
Victoria clenched her fists, her nails digging into her palms until it hurt, as she watched Kate make out with Zach Riggins, clearly unaware of where she was or what she was doing.
She should’ve known better. Nobody got that trashed off one glass of wine.
Victoria couldn’t watch anymore. She slapped the laptop closed, the sound cutting out abruptly and leaving her in a dark and silent dorm room.
Her phone vibrated on the desk again. Probably Taylor, wondering where she was. The blonde had knocked on her door several times throughout the day, though Victoria hadn’t answered. She wasn’t in a mood to been seen by anyone right now; all she wanted to do was sit in her room and remain as invisible as possible.
It had been less than ninety-six hours since her best friend had killed that girl in the bathroom. That blue-haired skank… what she was even doing on Blackwell grounds, nobody could say. Victoria had been in the hall nearby, and had heard the sound of Nathan’s gun going off. She’d heard that little Seattle hipster, Max Caulfield, screaming. The security guard, what’s-his-face, howling in despair; she hadn’t even known that the little delinquent was his step-daughter.
Everything had come crashing down after that. Nathan confessed to the murder of that other bitch, Rachel Amber. And how Mark… Mister Jefferson was some kind of fucking serial killer. By the end of the next day, the rumor mill was flying with stories of the secret bunker on Prescott’s land.
And as week progressed, everyone found out about the photos of Kate Marsh. Taken by that fucking psychopath, time-stamped from the night of the party. Where Victoria had taken video of her while she clearly was not sober. And spread all over the internet and social media.
Victoria reached into her desk drawer and retrieved the bottle of Grey Goose. It was sitting right on top; she never bothered to hide it, since no one was brave enough to go through her room. She unscrewed the cap and took a long swig, feeling the burn of the alcohol going down her throat.
She wasn’t even sure what she felt.
Remorse? Fuck that. She hadn’t dosed Kate. Nathan had admitted to doing it.
Pity? No goddamn way. She was certainly no stranger to doing stupid stuff while drunk.
I didn’t fucking do anything wrong.
The world disagreed. She didn’t even want to get on Facebook. The hatred and vitriol was filling her inbox faster than she could delete it. Her Twitter and Instagram were more of the same. She couldn’t remember the last time she spent so long away from social media.
Even worse, there was nothing she could do. She’d deleted the video from her YouTube channel, but it had spread beyond her control. It had been re-posted a couple of times, and while she had tried to report it to YouTube, they hadn’t done anything about it yet. And other sites had picked it up as well.
She took another drink of the vodka as she sat in the dark.
Her phone buzzed again.
Another drink. And another. And another.
Victoria had drained a quarter of the bottle before she finally screwed the cap back on. She stood on shaky legs and made her way to her bed, flopping on top of it with her clothes still on.
The cops had talked to her on Thursday. Well, they’d tried. As soon as her father had heard about what happened, he’d hired the best defense attorney in Oregon to come down to Arcadia Bay and keep his daughter out of jail. The police had spent a few hours frustrated by her lawyer’s refusal to allow her to answer questions.
Of course, the entire school had heard about that, too.
When she’d finally gone back to her room, the dry-erase board next to her door was covered in angry messages. Phrases like “fuck Victoria Chase” and “way to hide behind your money” hadn’t hurt as much as the bold text in the middle that stated, simply, “you’re just as bad as he was”.
Fuck them. I didn’t kill anybody.
But she’d come close. She knew she’d come close. Just because everyone hated her didn’t mean she was out of the loop. She knew that the school psychologist had gone to see Kate, after the pictures had become public knowledge. And she’d heard about the suicide note he’d found in Kate’s trash can. Her next-door neighbor had been in the hospital since Wednesday.
As she lay in bed and tried to stop thinking, she heard footsteps outside her door. She lay still, not making a sound.
“You think she’s in there?”
Stella Hill. Mousy little girl from Jefferson’s class.
“Probably not. I bet Daddy squirreled her away to some country in Europe or wherever.”
Brooke Scott. Nerdy girl who had a crush on Warren.
“You think so?”
“Who knows? Nobody’s seen her in two days. And at this point, I don’t give a fuck. She can rot in hell for all I care.”
“Hey, I’m not gonna complain either. But that’s not why we’re here. Come on.”
A knocking sound reached Victoria’s ears. Not on her door, though. On the door across the hall.
Nothing happened. The knocking repeated.
The other door finally opened. “Hey guys,” a small voice greeted them.
“Hey, Max.” Brooke’s voice adopted a kinder tone, like she was talking to a wounded child. “How are you feeling?”
Max had barely left her room, either. Plenty of people had knocked on her door, though.
“Have you been eating, Max? You don’t look good.”
“I… yea. Sure.”
“Max, come on. We’re worried about you.”
“I’m not very hungry, Stella.”
“Right… look, Max, we wanted to come get you for the vigil.”
“Dana organized a candlelight vigil in front of the main entrance,” Brooke explained. “For Chloe. A bunch of people are over there now. We figured you’d want to be there, too.”
Victoria glanced across the dark room at the phone on her desk. I wonder if that’s what Taylor is texting me about?
“That’s… really nice of her.”
“Yea. They just started. And Kate’s there, too. She just got released from the hospital, and was asking about you, if you were okay.” Stella paused. “We’re worried about you, Max. Please come with us.”
Nobody spoke for a few seconds.
“... yea, okay.”
Brooke and Stella both sighed. Victoria could hear rustling, presumably from Max getting ready, then the door closed.
“Oh. Yea, fuck her.”
“Is she at the vigil?”
Brooke snorted. “That bitch? She knows better than to show her face around there. At least, she should.”
“Where is she?”
“Nobody knows. Or cares. Come on, forget about her.”
The footsteps retreated down the hall, and Victoria breathed again.
Fuck it. I need a pick-me-up.
Victoria got up and went to her closet, reaching up to the top shelf and moving a few photography books before pulling down a small cigar box. She set it on her desk and opened it, retrieving the small baggies of white powder.
She normally saved it for when she went out with the girls. Especially on a Friday, after she’d gotten up early for classes and was in the mood to party all night; nothing got you pumped like a little bit of coke. But now…
Just a little bit.
Victoria dumped a small amount of the powder on the table, careful not to use too much; Frank had most likely been arrested, or had skipped town, and she didn’t want to run out before finding another supplier. She worked the razor blade with a practiced hand, forming the powder into a line before she retrieved the small straw from the box.
Plugging her other nostril, she lowered her face to the table and quickly snorted the line of cocaine.
Her nose burned, for a minute. She moved to sit back on her bed as the drug hit her system, and she started to feel better. Her eyes closed as she let the effects of the drug wash over her, and she felt like less of a piece of shit.
Victoria lay back down. There was no sleeping, that was for sure; nobody used coke to get a good night's rest. But the euphoria elevated her mood somewhat, and she could appreciate that for a little while.
Until she heard the knocking on her door.
God damn it, Taylor, not now.
“Vic, I know you’re in there.” Taylor paused. “Your car is in the lot, and I saw the movement in your window when I was outside.”
“Come on, Vic, please open the door. I’m… look, don’t make me get security to see if you’ve hung yourself or something.”
Victoria sighed, as she glanced at her desk, the baggie and razor still sitting out. The last thing she needed was Blackwell security to see it. Or find her in the state she was in. She slowly got to her feet and unlocked the door, pulling it open.
Taylor stood on the other side, a look of relief coming over her face as she lay eyes on Victoria. “Finally,” she breathed. “Vic-"
“Just come inside,” Victoria interrupted.
Taylor hesitated, then followed her into the room, shutting the door behind her. She glanced around the darkened room, her eyes settling on the desk. “Vic…”
“I’m fine, Taylor.” Victoria sat back down on her bed, rubbing her eyes. “What do you want?”
“You’re not fine.” Taylor crossed her arms. “How long has it been since you left your dorm room?”
Victoria shrugged. “Since I got back from the meeting with my father’s lawyer?”
“That was yesterday.” A worried look came over Taylor’s face. “I know you don’t keep food in here. Have you eaten anything since then?”
“What do you WANT, Taylor?” Victoria repeated in an annoyed voice.
“To make sure you’re sustaining yourself on more than vodka, Vic!” Taylor shot back. “I’ve barely seen you. I want to make sure you’re okay, and that you aren’t starving to death.” She gestured angrily towards the desk. “Come on. Put that shit away, and let’s go get some real food.”
Victoria glanced at her door. “Has the lynch mob gone to bed yet?”
“There is not a lynch mob after you, Vic.”
“You clearly weren’t paying attention to my board when you knocked on my door.”
“Ooh, people don’t like Victoria Chase.” Taylor waved her hands sarcastically. “Do you think my dry-erase board isn’t covered in the same shit? Or Courtney’s? We’re still walking around campus.”
“You two didn’t shoot that video.”
“No, we just stood right next to you and laughed. And shared it on social media. And called Kate a bible-thumping whore when the teachers weren’t looking. You’re not the only one who feels like a cunt.”
Victoria didn’t reply.
“Come on.” Taylor extended her hand. “Let’s go get some real food. We’ll go off-campus and get away from everyone for a little while.”
Victoria sighed. “Fine,” she muttered. She was pretty hungry. Something to soak up the vodka would be nice, too. She let Taylor drag her upright, and she quickly put away the cocaine. Taylor didn’t say a word as she stashed the cigar box back in her closet, before she left her room for the first time in over 24 hours.
Her board hadn’t gotten much better, that was the first thing she noticed. If anything, it had gotten worse. New messages were written in the corners. “I, uh, tried to wipe it off…” Taylor started.
“They used permanent marker.” Victoria gave a half-hearted shrug.
“Oh.” Taylor didn’t say anything else as they walked out of the building.
The cool weather felt nice on her skin. Victoria took a second to breath in the evening air, before she looked around. “Is everyone at that vigil?” she asked, noting the empty campus.
“Yea.” Taylor nodded. “I figured we’d run into less people this way. Come on, we’re going to the side parking lot. We won’t see any of the others.”
Victoria nodded as she followed Taylor, the two girls walking the paved pathway towards the smaller parking lot behind the dorms. As the got to the corner of the building, though, two familiar shapes appeared, walking back towards the dorms.
Alyssa. And right behind her was Juliet, talking her ear off. “... pictures would be nice, to put them in the school newsletter.”
“That’s a…” the conversation trailed off as Alyssa noticed the other two girls. Taylor and Victoria hesitantly stopped, to avoid running into them.
“Oh, look, the great Victoria Chase has chosen to grace the campus with an appearance,” Alyssa sneered. “I guess I owe Brooke twenty bucks.”
“Fuck you,” Victoria snapped, her cheeks coloring. The previous week, she knew that Alyssa wouldn’t have dreamed of talking to her. She only had balls now because hating her was the cool thing to do.
“Sorry, I try not to fuck things that don’t have souls,” Alyssa countered.
“Alyssa, come on.” Juliet took the other girl’s bicep in her hand and tried to pull her away. “We need to get our cameras.”
“Ignore them, Vic, let’s go.” Taylor tried to pull Victoria away, too.
“Oh, yea? Go where?” Alyssa scoffed. “I’m sure it’s not to the vigil, to remember the girl your boyfriend killed. Or to apologize to the girl you almost drove to suicide.”
“I didn’t make her do anything!” Victoria turned, trying to fight out of Taylor’s grip. “Don’t put that shit on me! I didn’t do anything!”
Alyssa’s eyes narrowed. “Are you fucking for real?!” she snapped. “Are you so far up your own twat that you don’t even think you had anything to do with Kate almost killing herself?!”
“Come ON!” Taylor pulled at Victoria’s arm, trying to get her away from the other girl.
“The whole fucking world knows that Kate was drugged at YOUR fucking party!” Alyssa kept yelling. “You were fucking happy enough to tell everyone before! You bitches were the ones that almost pushed her onto the roof!”
“I didn’t make her drink anything!” Victoria yelled back. “I didn’t dose her! I had nothing to do with that!”
“That we know of,” Alyssa replied angrily. “How sloppy was the blow job you gave your boyfriend to take the fall for you?”
Victoria snapped. She surged forward, tearing free of Taylor’s grip, and swung her right hand straight into Alyssa’s face. Juliet and Taylor both screamed as her fist made contact with Alyssa’s nose with a solid CRUNCH. The larger girl rocked back, falling onto the ground with a yell of pain.
The blonde wasn’t finished. Fueled by the anger, and the cocaine, Victoria leapt on top of Alyssa, smashing her fist into her face over and over. She got several good hits in before she felt Taylor’s arms wrap around her waist and yank her free, as her friend carried her away from Alyssa.
“ALYSSA!” Juliet ran over to check on her, shaking the larger girl’s shoulder. Alyssa only moaned in response. “Alyssa, don’t move, I’m going to get you some help!”
“FUCK YOU!!” Victoria yelled as she struggled against Taylor.
“Victoria, shut the fuck up!” Taylor yelled. “Come on!”
The last Victoria saw as Taylor dragged her around the corner was Juliet with her phone to her ear, as she called 911.
“This is COMPLETELY unacceptable, Victoria!”
Victoria was sitting across from her parents on the couch in their Seattle loft two days later. She didn’t speak, letting them yell themselves out.
“Do you have ANY idea how much trouble you’re in?!” Her mother exclaimed. “The lawyers have been on their phones all week, trying to keep you out of jail!”
“That girl wanted to press charges for assault and battery,” her father added angrily. “You can consider yourself very lucky that she took our settlement instead. Do you know how much that cost?!”
“I’m sure it was a terrible hit to your precious bank account,” Victoria muttered.
Her father’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t want to hear a single word out of your mouth that isn’t ‘sorry’, young lady.”
Victoria bristled. She hated when her parents called her that, and they knew it. She chose to stew in silence.
“Members of this family do NOT get into fights,” her mother lectured. “But that isn’t even what we’re the angriest about.” She glared at her daughter. “The lawyers told us what they found in your room, when they had the movers go get your stuff. Do you want to tell us where you got the drugs they found?”
“It wasn’t mine,” Victoria replied confidently. “It was a friend’s.”
Her father scoffed, crossing his alarms. “Victoria Maribeth Chase, exactly how stupid do you think we are?” he asked. “You know what circles we move in. How much money we make. Do you think your mother and I can’t tell when someone’s using drugs?”
“Even if we didn’t, it doesn’t matter,” her mother continued. “The doctor tested your blood when he fixed your hand.”
Victoria jerked her head around towards her mother, her hand tightening through the cast; in her fight with Alyssa, she’d fractured two bones in her fingers. “You had me drug-tested?!”
“You’re goddamn right we did!” Her father retorted. “There were drugs in your room, so we asked Doctor Greene to check. He found cocaine, marijuana, Vicodin, and OxyContin in your system.” He glared. “We sent you to that school to learn, NOT waste our family’s money on narcotics!”
She changed tactics. “I was just trying it!” Victoria objected. “I was experimenting! Everyone in high school does it!”
“You’re a Chase,” her father shot back. “We’re not ‘everyone’.”
“And Doctor Greene said the levels in your system are evident of a habitual user,” her mother added. “Is this an issue we need to deal with, young lady?"
“NO!” Victoria immediately yelled. “I do NOT have a problem!”
Her father sighed. “It doesn’t matter. You’re not going back to that school.”
“We’ve worked out an arrangement with Principal Wells,” he continued, ignoring her outburst. “He’s going to send your classwork to us here, in Seattle. A private tutor will help you with your lessons, so we can keep a closer eye on you. You’ll still graduate from Blackwell Academy with honors.”
Victoria seethed. “What the hell?! I didn't do anything wr-”
“We know all about that girl and the video you posted online. And we know what the student body thinks about you." Her mother folded her arms. "We’re not going to put you in a position where we have to pay MORE out-of-court settlements.”
“This decision is final.” Her father glared at her. “Your belongings were brought back from Arcadia Bay this morning. I suggest you go unpack them. Your tutor will be here to start your lessons tomorrow.”
There was no use arguing with her parents. Once their minds were made up, there was no deterring them. Victoria silently stood and left the room, making her way upstairs and slamming the door behind her.
Several cardboard boxes were on the floor in her rather spacious room. She ripped them open, rifling through their contents until she found what she was looking for; her books on fashion.
She selected one of them and opened it, revealing the neat cutout she’d made for her emergency stash. Two small balloons were tucked neatly into the small hole near the spine.
Fuck them and their elitist upper-class bullshit, she thought angrily as she took one and dug her pinkie finger inside. She carefully lifted it, the white power dusting the inside of her nail, brought it to her nose and quickly snorted it.
Some of you might have come here straight from my last chapter of We Were All Affected.
I'll be real here. When I started posting the First Light fics, they were already something like 90% done. That was why they updated so frequently; most of the chapters were written months in advance.
That's not the case here. This fic is MAYBE 50% done. So updates are going to take longer. Don't expect to see chapter two for a couple of weeks.
Pricefield is my jam, but Chasefield is a close second (Thirty-Two Rejection Letters, anyone?). So I thought I'd try something new for this one. Hopefully I don't disappoint anyone.
Chapter 2: UCLA
The blonde struggled to peel her eyes open. “Huh? What the fuck is...” her voice trailed off, as her eyes started drooping again.
Two hands grabbed her shoulder and shook fiercely. “Vic! You need to get the hell up!”
Victoria finally opened her eyes and looked up at Courtney’s frustrated face. Her dorm roommate at UCLA stood with her hands on her hips, glaring at her as Victoria checked her alarm clock; it was just after eleven in the morning. “Why?” she muttered, yawning and rubbing her eye. “It’s Sunday. I don’t have anything until-”
“It’s MONDAY!!” Courtney yelled. “Our Mid-Term exam was two hours ago!”
Shit, what the hell? Victoria struggled to sit up. I swear it was Saturday night when I fell asleep.
“Damn it.” Victoria slowly swung her feet off the side of the bed, taking a deep breath as she tried to ignore the pounding in her head. She looked up at her roommate with angry eyes. “Why the hell didn’t you wake me up?!”
“Because I was at the library studying all night!” Courtney retorted. “And I’m not your fucking servant!”
I liked her a lot better when she was doing all my homework and trying to impress me.
“Do you have any idea how pissed Professor Jenkins is?!” Courtney continued on her rant. “He’s already given you more extensions and make-up work than the students who actually bother to show up! I don’t think he’s going to let you take the Mid-Term at this point!”
“Sure he will.” Victoria scoffed as she put her fingers on her temples and started rubbing in small circles. “With the amount of money my family donates to this school, he’ll let me do it if he values his-”
“You didn’t see him when the test was over,” Courtney fumed. “I don’t think your father’s money is going to help you this time. You’ve got enough absences that he can mark you as ‘incomplete’. You need to go see him right now and work something out.”
Victoria sighed. “Yea, yea,” she muttered as she reached for her night stand and grabbed her purse. “Fine, I’ll go take care of it.”
“Good. And you’d better hurry, because he was really-” Courtney stopped speaking as Victoria pulled out a small baggie. “Oh, come on, Vic! What the fuck?!”
“Not now, Court.”
“You said you were done with that shit!”
“I also said not now,” Victoria snapped as she opened the bag. “My head is killing me, and I’m tired.”
“Let me guess, is it because you spent yesterday coked out of your fucking mind?!” Courtney snatched the baggie from Victoria’s hand. “Get your shit together and maybe try going to see a professor sober for once!”
“I am NOT going to beg for an extension looking like the second half of the Hangover movie.” Victoria glared at Courtney. “Give it back.”
Courtney held it behind her. “Tell Jenkins you were sick or something. You’re not doing blow just to wake the fuck up.”
Victoria stood up, her face flushing in anger. “Give it the fuck back, Courtney!”
“No.” Courtney glared back. “I’m not letting you cram more shit up your nose so you can turn into a functioning coke-head. Maybe if you-”
Like a flash of lightning, Victoria grabbed Courtney’s arm, twisting it to get to the baggie behind her back. Courtney reacted by lowering her shoulder and shoving against Victoria’s chest, switching the baggie to her other hand while she continued to hold it out of the blonde’s reach. The two girls quietly but furiously wrestled for several minutes, Victoria struggling to reach the bag while Courtney did her best to keep it away from her.
They finally ended up on the floor, Victoria’s height giving her a slight advantage. She wound up sitting on Courtney’s stomach, using both hands to try and pry open her friend’s fist. Courtney, however, had the baggie gripped tightly, fingers white with effort to keep her hand closed.
Finally, exhausted and mad, Victoria let go of Courtney’s hand for a moment and delivered a sucker-punch to her friend’s face.
Courtney cried in pain, finally loosening her grip on the baggie, allowing Victoria to take it from her and scramble to her feet.
Victoria stood, panting with exertion as Courtney curled into a ball on the floor and clutched her face with both hands. The dark-haired girl let out a quiet sob, eyes squeezed shut as blood seeped from between her fingers. Victoria finally dug her pinkie finger into the bag, quickly snorting a pinch of the white powder.
She took a deep breath, immediately feeling better. “I’m gonna go see Jenkins,” she stated, grabbing her shoes and sliding them onto her feet. She didn’t bother changing out of her wrinkled clothes. “Don’t touch my shit.”
“Fuck…” Courtney drew in a ragged breath. “... you…”
“Whatever.” Victoria stuffed the bag into her pocket, slamming the door as she let the dorm room.
Derek Chase rubbed his forehead as he listened to his lawyers.
His day had actually started out well, with good reports from the VP of Sales. He’d be able to announce another consecutive quarter of substantial earnings. And he’d gotten word from the British company they’d been in negotiations with, to let them know that they’d accepted their offer.
Then his personal attorneys had asked for an unscheduled meeting in his office.
Victoria. It was always Victoria.
“Then what?” he asked wearily, not wanting to know the answer.
“After Professor Jenkins told her that he would not allow her to make up the exam, Victoria shoved his laptop off of his desk and started screaming at him,” one of his lawyers continued. He stopped talking briefly, examining the email on his phone. “Jenkins told her to leave, which is when she grabbed the coffee mug off his desk and threw it at his head. The hot liquid gave him some mild burns to his face. He was treated at the local ER and released.”
“What about Courtney?”
“X-Rays confirmed a broken nose.” The lawyer shook his head. “Victoria apparently hit her pretty hard, because the doctors think they might have to perform a procedure to fix it. She’s still in the hospital.”
“Christ.” Derek exhaled slowly, turning to the other lawyer. “And the school?”
The woman shook her head. “I’m sorry, Mister Chase, but UCLA is standing firm. They were willing to look past her academic performance, but they won’t turn a blind eye towards an assault on a teacher and another student.” She paused. “They do, however, recognize your contributions to the school and your patronage. So they’re offering the opportunity to voluntarily withdraw Victoria from classes, rather than moving forward with expulsion proceedings.”
“Please do so.” Derek rubbed his face. “Have you made settlement offers to the professor and Courtney?”
“We did. Professor Jenkins accepted, and signed the non-disclosure. Miss Wagner did not.”
“How much more does she want?”
“Nothing,” the woman replied, “Miss Wagner doesn’t want anything, and she refuses to let the lawyers meet her in the hospital. She is very adamant that she wants nothing more to do with Victoria, or your family.”
“And who could blame her?” Derek sighed as he stood, walking to the window. The lights of the Space Needle blinked through the evening sky as he took in the view from his high-rise office in downtown Seattle, hands clasped behind his back. “Where is Victoria now?”
The first lawyer checked his phone again. “Still in custody of UCLA Police, as of an hour ago,” he informed him. “She’ll be released to another attorney soon, after which we’ll put her on a plane to Sea-Tac.”
“It’s Blackwell all over again.” He turned back around. “If we withdraw her, will she still be able to take classes here in Washington?”
“Possibly. She may have avoided an expulsion, but there will still be a record of the incident. Significant... persuasion,” he said, emphasizing the word carefully, “would likely be necessary to get a school to accept her.”
“Online classes might be best, for now,” the female lawyer offered. “Maybe have her do some school up here, where you can keep a closer eye on her. Once she accumulates an acceptable number of credits, she can easily transfer to WSU.”
Derek nodded. “How long do you think that will take?”
“It depends on her, and what she keeps her GPA at.” The second lawyer scratched her nose. “She has a few credits from UCLA, they’ll transfer well enough, but her GPA is barely above a two-point-oh.”
“Won’t that put her too far behind for her age?”
“Not necessarily.” The lawyer shrugged. “She’s only twenty. She has plenty of time to make up for her work. Especially if she wants to be a photographer.”
The first lawyer leaned forward. “Mister Chase, if I can address the elephant in the room…”
“I know. The drugs.” Derek looked at him. “How much trouble is she in?”
“She was only holding a small amount; not enough to be worth a prosecutor’s time, thankfully. But possession alone would be an automatic expulsion.” He nodded. “We got her out of that, since she’s leaving anyway. UCLA will ignore it so long as she doesn’t come back. And the California lawyers will make sure there won’t be any criminal proceedings.”
“Rehab might be the best course of action, at this point,” the other lawyer added. “I know you’re not a fan…”
Derek sighed. “Is there another option?”
“We can get a private counselor, to help her at home. Do you want her to stay at your penthouse?”
“No. I bring clients there. I don’t want them to see her.”
“Then I suggest the condo in Georgetown.” The lawyer gestured out the window. “It’s a pretty drug-free area, very low crime. Perhaps we can hire a Sober Companion to live with her.”
Derek nodded. “Make it happen.”
A phone buzzed. “She’s been released,” the lawyer said as he read the message. “She’s being brought to the airport right now. Do you want to see her when she lands?”
“Not today.” Derek looked back outside. “My wife and I have a dinner we can’t miss. Just… get her to the condo. I’ll see her later.”
The two lawyers stood silently, leaving the office and getting on the elevator. Neither of them spoke as they rode the car down to the parking level and got into their company car.
“You know that a Sober Companion isn’t going to work,” the man said as he buckled his seatbelt. “Not for her.”
“It might,” the woman replied, not as convincingly as she would have liked. “And in any case, it was the only other option to offer him. Why wouldn’t he want her in rehab?”
The man scoffed, as he started the car. “You’ll learn quickly, when it comes to these one-percenters. None of them really know how to deal with problem children.”
“Think about it. Mister Chase has spent most of his life hard at work, getting to where he is now. He’s on the road three weeks a month. How well do you think he REALLY knows his own kid?”
The woman hummed as she considered that information. “You think we should have pushed him for rehab?”
“No. That wouldn’t have gotten us anywhere. These people gossip like crazy, they think sending a kid to rehab makes them look week, and he doesn’t want the hit to his reputation.” The man shrugged, as he shifted and pulled out of the parking space. “We’ll do as he asked. Get her to the condo, and try to keep her out of trouble. Fair warning, though…”
“Victoria’s been in a holding cell for about twelve hours now. Which means it’ll have been at least that long since she’s had a fix. That girl is going to be a ball of anger when she gets off that plane.”
Chapter 3: The Necklace
Victoria rubbed her eyes, trying to ignore the throbbing in her head as she stared at her computer screen.
Just one more page, she thought miserably. One more page. Marcus will be here in an hour. I can be finished before then.
She hated her online schoolwork almost as much as her classes at UCLA. But at least she could sleep in. Her stupid “sober companion” wasn’t too much of a hard-ass, now that he didn’t live with her anymore. Victoria sighed internally as she hammered out a paragraph for the essay she’d spent the past three days writing.
Two years later, and I’m barely done with the electives, she griped to herself. A few more classes to go, before I can try to transfer to WSU. If I can manage to salvage this GPA, anyway.
Whatever. Just because your dad got Magna Cum Laude doesn’t mean you have to.
She stretched, sipping from her coffee cup and savoring the taste. It was almost empty, so she took a few moments to re-fill it.
Fifty minutes. She closed her eyes and took another slow sip from the cup. God, I hope Marcus is on time. Last week was fucking-
A knocking at her door interrupted her thoughts. What the hell? She frowned as she glanced over. Marcus was a lot of things, but he was never early. Victoria picked up her phone and activated the doorbell camera, checking to see who it was.
A familiar head of blonde hair filled the screen as Taylor pounded on the wood again. Victoria had gone to her old friend’s apartment to visit with her yesterday; unlike her, Taylor had actually done well in school and graduated on time with a degree in business management. They’d talked for close to three hours before Victoria had left.
“Vic! Open up!”
Oh, Christ. Victoria stayed silent. She was always happy to see Taylor, especially since they didn’t talk that much. Not since Blackwell. But Victoria didn’t want to talk to her right now. Not when she was expecting Marcus in fifty minutes.
“VIC!! I know you’re home! Open the door!”
Please, God, go away.
Taylor didn’t leave. She glanced around, flipping the welcome mat up and checking inside the potted plants outside Victoria’s door.
Oh shit, oh shit, please don’t find it…
She finally lifted the pot and felt underneath it, producing Victoria’s emergency key.
Victoria scrambled to get to the door, to throw the dead bolt, but it was too late. Taylor unlocked the door and shoved it open just as Victoria got there.
Yesterday Taylor had been happy to see her. It had been several months since they’d caught up, and they’d spent the visit laughing and chatting. Today, though, Taylor’s face was a mask of fury.
She immediately grabbed Victoria’s shirt and yanked her close, so she couldn’t run away. “Where is it?!” she demanded. “I want it back!! Where the FUCK is it?!”
“I-” Victoria struggled, but Taylor had an unbreakable grip. “I don’t know! Tay, what are you-”
“Don’t lie to me!” Taylor’s eyes flashed angrily. “Where the fuck did you hide it?”
“What? I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“MY MOM’S NECKLACE!!” Taylor screamed in Victoria’s face. “I know you took it! Where is it!?”
“What- I didn’t take anything!” Victoria said desperately. “Tay, I would never-”
“I put it in my drawer before you came yesterday! Nobody else has been in my apartment! It was gone this morning! I know you went through my room, you fucking liar!”
“Tay, I didn’t-”
“FUCK YOU!!” Taylor shoved Victoria. Hard.
She flew backwards into the wall, the back of her head slamming into the drywall hard enough to see stars. Victoria slid to the floor in a heap as her vision swam around her.
“Tay…” She tried to push herself upright, but her strength failed her as she tried to recover from the blow to the head. “Tay, I swear…”
Taylor ignored her. She stormed towards Victoria’s purse, sitting on the desk next to her laptop, and ripped it open. The contents fell on the ground in the middle of the room; makeup, a wallet, a comb, some tampons… and in the middle of the pile was the gold necklace and crucifix, glinting amongst the contents.
She barely looked at Victoria as she snatched it from the floor. “I FUCKING knew it,” she fumed angrily as she inspected it, before she glared at Victoria. “You fucking…”
Victoria grunted in pain. “Tay, I swear, I just-”
“It’s my MOM’S necklace, you fucking BITCH!!” Taylor raged. “Jesus Christ, Courtney was fucking right about you!”
“Don’t fucking ‘Tay’ me! Not after I defended you to her! I told Courtney you were doing better! And now this?!” She shook the necklace in her hand. “The ONLY fucking thing my mom didn’t sell to pay for her chemo! Let me guess, you have a dealer coming and you don’t have cash, since your parents cut you off?!”
That hit like a punch in the chest. Victoria still remembered the disappointed look on her father’s face when he found out she’d ditched her companion a few times to get loaded. He decided to make it harder by limiting her access to his money, since she didn’t make any of her own.
Victoria sniffed, her eyes getting wet. “Taylor, I’m-”
“Yea, you are.” Taylor looked at her, disgusted, her eyes flashing at the coffee cup. And the half-empty bottle of Grey Goose sitting next to it. “Don’t fucking call me again.”
She didn’t wait. Her friend stormed out of her apartment, slamming the door behind her.
Victoria wanted to get up. To go after her. But her head was still thumping, exacerbating the burning need within her. She struggled to get up, but failed, so she settled for momentarily resting against the wall.
... fucking fuck.
“Girl, you said you was good for this.”
Victoria crossed her arms, trying to look intimidating to the man standing in her condo an hour later. “I AM good for it.”
“No, you’re not.” Marcus scoffed, far from impressed; not much fazed her dealer. “You said you’d have enough. I told you before, I don’t do IOUs; cash or gold, that’s it.”
“Take the TV,” Victoria offered, gesturing towards it. “I don’t watch it anyway.”
“Fuck that. I can’t offload shit with serial numbers, either.” Marcus shook his head as he straightened the Seahawks hoodie he always wore. “I’m out of here.”
“Come on, Marcus, you know I’m good for it! When have I ever not paid?"
“Today, apparently.” He turned and made to leave.
“What do you want?!” Victoria was desperate. She hadn’t gotten a fix for a few days, and she could feel the familiar headache. “Come on, Marcus, I’m not fucking around here! I need something! What's it gonna take?!”
Marcus looked back at her, glancing up and down.
“How desperate are you?” he finally asked.
“‘Cause I’m gonna be honest, snowflake.” He gave her a half smirk. “You only got one thing I want.”
Victoria didn’t reply as he lowered the fly on his jeans.
She furiously brushed her teeth half an hour later. She’d been brushing for almost twenty minutes, while she pointedly didn’t look in the mirror.
Victoria finally stopped, feeling her bloody gums with her tongue as she put the toothbrush aside and grabbed the bottle of mouthwash, taking a swig. She swished it around a few times, finally spitting it back out, before she grabbed either side of the sink and took several deep breaths with her eyes closed.
Then she flipped up the toilet lid and threw up.
When she was finished, she sat down on the edge of the bathtub, spitting into the toilet before she flushed it. She grabbed the bottle of vodka on the floor and took a sizable gulp. Then another. Then she got up to brush her teeth again.
A baggie of white powder from Marcus was sitting on her counter as she left the bathroom. All she could think of was the pounding in her head as she sat down and grabbed a razor, before she stopped and looked at herself in the mirrored surface of the coffee table.
The bags under her eyes were incredibly noticeable. So was the state of her hair; she hadn’t brushed it recently, so it was pretty rats-nested. And she could only pretend not to see the irritated skin inside her nostril from that angle.
“Fuck you,” she muttered to nobody in particular. She poured out a little bit of the powder before she started working the razor.
Chapter 4: Overdose
June 2nd, 2019
Mary Chase hadn’t moved more than a twitch in hours.
She sat her chair like a statue, staring morosely across the hospital room. Her eyes were focused on the bed and it’s occupant. The only sounds being made were from the machines, and the occasional movement from outside.
The door opened and closed quietly. The curtains slid open a few seconds later. “Mrs. Chase?"
She looked up at the doctor. “… how bad is it?” she asked quietly.
“Not as bad as it could’ve been.” Doctor Greene nodded sympathetically. “She’s a lucky girl.”
Mary looked back where her daughter lay. Victoria had several IVs sticking in her arms, as well as an oxygen mask over her mouth. And she was incredibly frail; the nurses had measured her weight at just over a hundred pounds, when she’d been brought in. “She’ll be okay?”
“She will,” Greene assured her. “The heart attack was very mild, as far as heart attacks go. There’s slight damage to the muscle, but she’s young; she should make a full recovery. We’ve got her blood pressure back down, as well. We’re keeping her sedated for now, but we’ll wake her up tomorrow.”
Mary heaved a sigh of relief. “Thank God,” she murmured.
“Mrs. Chase…” Greene removed his glasses, placing them in his pocket. “I have to tell you, her blood work is very alarming. As were her scans. There is a lot of damage for a woman who’s only twenty-three years old.”
“We thought she was getting better.” Mary looked at her daughter. “We took away her access to our money. My husband had her on a strict allowance. I have no idea how she was still affording the drugs.”
“Whatever happened, however she got ahold of them, it needs to stop,” Greene said forcefully. “It looks like the cocaine was cut with some other substance, or was way too pure. If she hadn’t been brought in when she was…” He let the sentence trail off. “She got extremely lucky, this time. But her continued drug abuse could be life-threatening.”
“We… my husband hired a Sober Companion-"
“Mrs. Chase, we are past half-measures. This is a problem that has to be taken seriously. Victoria needs to go to rehab, and get off this habit, before it kills her.”
Mary nodded meekly after a few seconds. “Where?” she asked hollowly. “Where can we send her?”
Greene exhaled slowly through his nose, looking very relieved. “There’s a good one, just outside of Portland,” he informed her. “One of the best on this side of the country. Very discreet, and they specialize in habitual addicts like Victoria. She should be sent there as soon as she’s well enough to move."
“What do we do?”
“I’ll send you the details. But she needs to be registered as soon as possible.”
June 4th, 2019
The sign greeted her like it did every morning, as she drove through the Oregon countryside.
Resting Willows Center. God, I don’t think they could have chosen a more hipster-sounding name. The woman snorted as she passed the sign, and the second one behind it, welcoming visitors to a place of peaceful serenity. We’re one tye-dyed shirt away from the seventies.
The name was her only complaint about the center, though. They actually did good work, for the people who could afford it. And they paid well enough, provided you could be discreet and were good at your job. The number of trust-fund babies she saw was staggering.
She shrugged as she pulled into her spot, on the far side of the building. It was a very beautiful place to work; she often wished she could take pictures, though cell phone use by employees was strictly forbidden on the grounds. She left her phone in the center console of her car before she got out and walked inside.
“Hi, Julia,” she greeted the receptionist.
Julia barely looked up as she handed her a note. “Director wanted you to go to his office first thing.”
Her brow furrowed. “Did he say why? Is it about Scott?”
“No, I think you’ve got a new one to take care of.” Julia shrugged. “He met with an older gentleman as soon as he walked through the door. He made sure you weren’t working with anyone else today and told me to send you in as soon as I saw you.”
“Okay.” She turned and walked towards her boss’s office, down a long hallway. He was talking to someone behind the door as she stopped in front of it, peeking through the glass. The director noticed her and waved her inside, though he didn’t stop talking as she slipped in quietly.
“But she’ll be fully supervised the entire time she’s here,” the director, Mike, was saying to the older man. “I’ll tell you now, she’ll have very little privacy, and we’ll check her bags and all her personal effects upon her arrival.”
“Fine,” the man said, giving a tired wave. “Whatever you have to do.”
“Very well. We also believe heavily in working with our more difficult patients one-on-one. Victoria will be assigned one of my best counselors.” He nodded in her direction.
The man turned to look at her, and she realized that he looked familiar, though she couldn’t place him. “She looks young,” he said quietly.
“Yes, but she’s very good.” Mike smiled. “Mister Chase, this is-”
“Chase?” She interrupted, glancing back at the man and feeling a pit develop in her stomach. “Your last name is Chase? From Seattle?”
“Yes.” The man looked at her. “Do I... know you?”
“Victoria Chase? That’s the new patient? Victoria Maribeth Chase?”
Derek Chase looked her up and down, and she swore he deflated a little bit. “You know my daughter, don’t you?”
“I should think so.” Max Caulfield folded her arms. “Her best friend killed mine right in front of me back at Blackwell.”
Mike’s eyebrows shot up, though he didn’t speak as he looked between Max and Derek. The other man was also silent for a few minutes, as he appraised Max while she stood in front of him.
He finally sighed. “Talk about a small world.”
“No kidding.” Max turned back to Mike. “You should find a different counselor. One who-”
“Maxine, right? Maxine Caulfield?”
She blinked, surprised that Derek knew her name. “I prefer Max. But yes, that’s me.”
Derek gestured at Mike. “He said you’re one of his best?”
Max shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. I know your daughter. I shouldn’t be involved in her recovery.”
“Is that actually a rule?” Derek turned to Mike. “It seems like she’d know her pretty well already.”
“It’s… not a rule.” Mike pursed his lips. “But that’s mostly because this center hasn’t had a situation like this before. I’m not sure how good of an idea it is.”
“Have Richard take her,” Max told him. “He’s just as good of a counselor as I am.”
“I can’t. He’s with another patient that came in yesterday.”
“On vacation for two weeks.”
“He’s got juggling Erica’s patients, and his own.”
Derek cut in before Max could continue. “Miss Caulfield, please. I want Victoria to have the best. And your boss says that it’s you.”
Max unfolded her arms. “Let me guess. Cocaine?”
“You know she was doing that at Blackwell, right?” Max held eye contact. “Hell, she used to brag about it. That she could always score the good stuff before a Vortex Club party.”
“I know what my daughter used to-”
“She should have been sent to rehab five years ago,” Max interrupted. “Cocaine is one of the most addictive drugs in the world. It’s not something you can will away with money.”
“Max-” her boss tried to interrupt her, but Max ignored him and continued.
“Did it have anything to do with her getting kicked out of UCLA?”
Derek’s eyebrows rose. “How did you know about that?”
“I still talk to people from Blackwell on Facebook. Your daughter’s misadventures are a great source of gossip. I know she voluntarily withdrew, rather than face expulsion, though assaulting a teacher and breaking Courtney Wagner’s nose should have gotten her arrested, charged, and expelled automatically.” She tilted her head. “I’m assuming that you used your money to fix everything, like you did at Blackwell?”
“Max, that’s enough!” Mike said sharply. “Mister Chase-”
“I did.” Derek looked down at his lap, ignoring Mike. “I… didn’t want to ruin her future.”
“Did you send her to rehab afterwards?”
“I hired a live-in Sober Companion.”
Max hummed, disapproval clear in her tone and facial expression. “So, every time her drug use became a problem, you paid the check and hoped really badly that the money you threw away solved everything. Am I interpreting that right?”
“Okay, Max, I think we’re done here.” Mike stood up from behind his desk. “I’ll find a new counselor to help Victoria.”
Max didn’t turn from Derek. She held eye contact, waiting for an answer.
“I thought I was helping.” Derek finally replied morosely. He averted his gaze. “I thought I could handle my daughter myself, without getting her in trouble or risking her future.”
“And when did you figure out that wasn’t working?”
“When she overdosed a couple of days ago.”
That caught Max off guard. She hadn’t known about that.
After several seconds, she sat down in the chair across from Derek. Mike sat back down as well, though he kept a close eye on Max. “What happened?” she asked, in a gentler tone of voice.
“Her dealer sold her some bad drugs,” Derek rubbed his eye with one hand. “I think the doctor said they were mixed with something else… I don’t know, exactly. She had a heart attack.” He sighed. “She was lucky one of her neighbors heard the noise. She almost died.”
Max shook her head. “It happens. Dealers usually step on their cocaine with stuff like baby formula, but some customers like to have it cut with other drugs instead. Sometimes the baggies get switched around, and if you don’t know what you’re snorting...” she left the sentence unfinished.
“My wife and I still don’t know how she got ahold of them.” Derek shrugged. “We cut her off financially last year, except for what she needed to buy food. She sold everything of value in the condo we were paying for, but there wasn’t much there to begin with. We don’t know what happened.”
Max could guess. But she certainly wasn’t going to do it out loud in front of Victoria’s father, so she remained silent.
“Please.” Derek looked back at Max. “My wife and I are desperate. I just want Victoria... I want her better.”
She leaned back in her chair, not speaking for several seconds. “This isn’t a problem you can just ‘fix’,” Max started. “Cocaine addicts struggle every day for the rest of their lives, not to go back to using. And it’s not a simple process. Or an easy one. Especially for a girl like Victoria. You know she was a bully in high school, right?”
“Then you can guess that she’s definitely not going to be happy when she finds out that I’m the one working with her.” Max folded her hands neatly in her lap. “Exactly how much interference do you plan on running here?”
“I’m sorry?” Derek furrowed his brow. “What does that mean?”
Mike leaned forward in his seat and cleared his throat. “Sobriety programs are marathons, Mister Chase, not sprints,” he explained. “Victoria needs to be here until she’s ready to leave, if you want this treatment regimen to be effective. We really need you to understand that you cannot have any expectations of this being a fast or easy process. It may take her a few days just to detox, before we can actually get to work.”
Derek sighed, before he looked back at Max. “Do whatever you have to do. Anything you need, let me know. Just...” he paused, an incredibly sad look on his face. “Please, Max, just help my daughter get better.”
Max pursed her lips as she glanced between him and Mike. “... okay.”
“I’ll do my best.”
June 7th, 2019
Misery. Pure, agonizing misery. That was mostly what Victoria was feeling.
She had essentially been dragged to some hippy retreat in the middle of nowhere, back in Oregon. Which was appropriate, since she could barely muster up the will to move. She wasn’t sure, but someone might have carried her into the building she was in now. The bed she was laying on was a least comfortable, but it didn’t make anything better.
And the fever she’d come down with certainly didn’t help matters.
“Looks like a mild bug,” the man standing over her said as he removed his hand from her forehead. “You probably picked it up before you left the hospital. How do you feel?”
“Like a big bag of Fuck You,” she snapped weakly while trying to ignore her headache. Even her voice was subdued, lacking its usual bite, and she hated it.
Christ, I need a hit...
“Yea, you’ll be fine in a few days.” He ignored her insult as he poured a glass of water from the pitcher on the nightstand, dropping a straw into the plastic cup. “Keep drinking, and try to relax.”
Victoria shivered, pulling the blanket tight around her as the pounding in her head increased. “Can you at least give me some NyQuil? A fucking aspirin, or something?”
“Sorry, no painkillers or fever meds allowed on the grounds.” The man stood. “Try to get some sleep. Your counselor will check on you this afternoon.”
“Well, fuck you very much.”
He smirked before he left the room, which left Victoria infuriated. But she didn’t have the strength to get up and go after him, to try and kick his ass.
She also couldn’t sleep. Or get comfortable. Every time she tried, she failed. And there was no TV or clock in the room, so she wasn’t sure how long she was there, trying desperately to relax. And when she finally did sleep...
The dream didn’t stick with her. All she remembered was waking up gasping, in a cold sweat; from the fever or the nightmare, she couldn’t say.
A new woman was sitting on a chair beside her bed: She lifted her head from the file she’d been reading. “Are you okay?”
“I...” Victoria grimaced as her head pounded. “I’m... ow.”
“What the fuck do you think?” she retorted, as she tried to reach for the water. She missed, her hand colliding with the side of the cup and knocking it off the nightstand. “Shit.”
“I think the next few days aren’t going to be very pleasant for you.” The woman stood and made her way over, picking the cup up from the floor. “Cocaine withdrawal symptoms usually last for a week or two. It’s only been six days since you overdosed, and serious addicts always take longer to detox.”
“Well aren’t you a ball of fucking sunshine.” Victoria shivered again, turning her head into her pillow to wipe some of the sweat off.
The woman didn’t respond, as she poured some more water into the cup. Victoria’s irritation level rose even more as the woman put the straw back in and held it near the edge of the bed. “Here, drink up.”
Victoria hated her. And the guy from before. And her parents, her friends, and especially Marcus. Fucking asshole, selling me bad shit... oh, Christ, I could use some right now, though...
But she was incredibly thirsty. Even though she felt like a child, she turned and grabbed the straw between her lips, eagerly sucking the water from the cup until it was empty. She exhaled slowly, as she let go. “Are you going to-”
She finally got a good look at the woman’s face for the first time, and the recognition smacked her into silence. The freckles, the brown hair, the blue eyes...
You have got to be fucking kidding me.
“You...” Victoria worked her mouth, but her head throbbed, and she winced, closing her eyes.
“Yes, me.” Max refilled the water cup. “Do you want another drink?”
“What the fuck are you doing here?” Victoria said through gritted teeth, as she slowly re-opened her eyes.
“Working.” Max smiled as she set the jug back down.
Victoria glared up from her pillow. “Working? What the fuck does that mean?”
“I work here. This is my job. It’s how I make a living.” Max nodded. “I’m an addiction counselor. Have been for a couple of years.”
“You’re...” Victoria’s voice trailed off.
“Yes, I am.” Max held the cup of water down. “Drink?”
Victoria reached out and backhanded the cup from Max’s hand, sending it to the floor and spilling water all over the carpet.
“Is that a no?”
“Fuck off,” Victoria growled. “I don’t want you here.”
“Really?” Max picked the cup and started to re-fill it again. “I figured you’d be happy to see me. We’d sit, and talk, and catch up on old times.”
“We’re not friends,” Victoria snapped. “Go piss off.”
Max set the cup back on the table before she returned to her chair. “You’re right about that,” she said as she settled back into it. “We’re definitely not friends.”
“Then why the fuck are you here?”
“Because your father begged me to help you get clean.” Max crossed her legs. “Literally, by the way, not figuratively. His exact words to me were ‘do whatever you have to’.”
Victoria shivered, and her level of fury rose. She hated feeling like she was, weak and sick in front of someone who actually knew her. She was both extremely tired and wide awake.
She was also desperate for a line of coke. The desire felt even worse that her fever symptoms.
And now this fucking hipster thinks she’s going to twist my arm and make me her lackey?!
“How fucking thoughtful of him.” Victoria growled. “I don’t care. He can hire a proper sober companion or something, not some little hipster bitch who still dresses like she shops the clearance aisles at Wal-Mart.” She glared as she looked over Max’s jeans and blue polo shirt. “Addiction counselor. Christ, what a fucking joke. What, was a real degree too hard for a piece of Seattle trash?”
Max got back up, walking over and taking the water cup in hand. She held it back at Victoria’s level, the straw extended. The blonde hated that she was still thirsty, but she didn’t move, her glaring eyes focused on Max. “Did you not fucking hear me or something, you deaf little bitch?!”
The brunette smiled sweetly. “And what makes you think I’m going to value the opinion of a coked-out junkie in the middle of withdrawals?”
Victoria flinched like she’d been slapped. Max continued to smile. “Drink your water,” she added, shaking the cup so Victoria could hear the sloshing inside. “It’ll help with the fever.”
The blonde hated Max. She wanted to yell, scream, something, to take back the high ground.
But she had nothing.
So she took the straw in her lips and drank some more.
“Good.” Max reached into her back pocket, produced a small white bottle, and unscrewed the cap. She tipped two white pills into her hand. “Here. Don’t tell anyone I gave them to you. We’re not supposed to have any meds on the property, but a couple of Tylenol won’t set you back.”
Victoria hated her so much. But she accepted the pills and popped them into her mouth, washing them down with a final sip of water. “Keep drinking,” Max ordered, as she placed the cup back on the table. “I’ll come back to check on you later.”
Max glanced over at Mike, as he strolled up to her desk. “How did it go?”
“She’s asleep.” Max looked back at her computer. She had a window open on her desktop that was linked to the camera feed in the Detox room, where Victoria was sleeping. “I’m gonna head home in a few minutes. Dexter said he’d keep an eye on her overnight.”
“How are her symptoms?”
“Acute, and the fever isn’t helping her irritability.” Max shrugged. “She’s probably still got a couple more days before she’ll be in a place to focus on recovery.”
“Did you give her something?”
“Couple of Tylenol, for her headache.” Max smirked. “We’ll see how much she appreciates it later.”
“Good idea. Establish some trust quickly.” Her boss smirked back, but it faded quickly. “Are you still good to do this? Even with your personal connection?”
Max shrugged again. “We’ll see, I guess.”
I feel like I have to make a comment.
A couple of you guys have said in the comments that you’ve got firsthand knowledge of addiction. I have to confess that I do not, nor any experience with illegal drugs; I’ve never even smoked pot. I had to do a fair amount of Googling for this story, which I’m sure put me on a watchlist somewhere.
What I’m getting at is that if I mess up in my depiction of the topic, I’m sorry. I’m doing my best.
Chapter 6: The Steps
June 12th, 2019
Victoria’s fever broke after a few days, and she felt better.
I hate this bitch so much. Victoria snuck a glance at Max across the table, though she was trying to avoid looking at her. Which was easy, since they were in the cafeteria; she could focus on her lunch. She turned her attention back to her food, taking another forkful of what apparently passed for mashed potatoes. Ugh.
Victoria looked back at Max. “Huh?”
Max nodded at the tray. “The food here is okay, but I don’t know if it’s THAT good.” Victoria blinked as she looked back at her plate, and realized that she’d polished off most of her meal in less than five minutes. “Then again, I’m guessing it’s probably been a little while since you had the stomach to eat that much.”
“Shut up.” Victoria ate the last bit of her lunch before she put the fork down. “When do I leave?”
The brunette checked her watch. “Well, the cafeteria is open for another hour, but we can go back to the common area if you-”
Victoria silenced Max a glare. “When do I leave this place?” she clarified. “You did your job. I’m feeling better. Is there a sign-out time or something?”
Max sighed “You’re not ‘better’ yet, Victoria,” she admonished. “There’s a full regimen to help addicts who are-”
“Congrats, you’re a miracle worker.” Victoria waved her hand. “I don’t want to do coke. I’m not addicted anymore. Can I go now?”
“The craving is going to come BACK,” Max cautioned. “Cocaine withdrawal is measured in months, not weeks. You need to stay here until you’re-”
“I’m sorry, did you say MONTHS?!” Victoria exclaimed incredulously. “I’m not staying here for months. Unlike you, I have a life to get back to.”
Max scoffed. “Do you really?”
“What does THAT mean?”
“I mean, what did you actually DO, besides make a half-assed attempt at online classes and get loaded?”
Victoria’s nostrils flared. “Maybe you can’t comprehend what it means, but I have a social life, you fucking-”
“With who, your dealer?” Max interrupted. “Because from my understanding, that’s probably the only friend you have left.”
“I have- no. Fuck you.” Victoria stood. “How do I get out of here?”
“Victoria...” Max looked at her, not getting up from her seat, before she sighed. “Fine. You know what? Go.”
“I can’t force you to stay; this isn’t a prison. We’ve got a hundred addicts here, and only thirty counselors. I’m not going to waste my time as a one-on-one for someone who doesn’t want to be here.” Max pointed. “Take that door, and the second right. It’ll bring you to the front desk, and you can sign out there.”
Victoria looked at the door, then back at Max. She took a breath after a few seconds. “Well, this has been fun. Let’s never do it again.” She turned and began stalking towards the door.
“Hey, can I ask you a question?”
Victoria stopped and glanced back over her shoulder at Max. “What?”
“Where are you going to go?”
She blinked. “Uh, home. Duh.”
“My condo in Seattle.”
“Georgetown, right?” Max watched Victoria nod. “Yea, your father sold it.”
“Excuse me?” The blonde girl turned and narrowed her eyes. “No he didn’t. That was my place.”
“Oh yea? Your name was on the property records? You paid the rent and utilities?"
Victoria didn’t answer.
“That’s what I thought.” Max took another bite from her food. “Shockingly, your dad didn’t want to hang onto a property that his daughter almost died in. He had it cleaned up, fixed everything that you broke, replaced what you sold, and put it on the market. He told me a couple of days ago that he accepted an offer; it’s in escrow as we speak.”
“Then I’ll...” Victoria paused for a second. “I’ll just find a new place, and-”
“Do you have money for first and last month’s rent? And a security deposit? And with zero credit history and no references, do you really think a landlord will accept your application?”
The smirk on the brunette’s face made Victoria seethe. “I can understand if you don’t seem to remember, Caulfield, but I’m rich.”
“No, your parents are rich,” Max corrected her. “You’ve been cut off. I would offer the suggestion to sell some of those expensive clothes and purses you waltzed around Blackwell in, but we both know those are all gone. All of your worldly possessions fit in the duffle bag that came here with you. And I went through it; there isn’t much.” She tilted her head. “So what are you going to do for money?"
“My parents aren’t just going to kick me out on the street. I’m their only kid.”
“Yea, and what do they have to show for it?” Max put the fork down and planted her elbows on the table. “An entitled and spoiled little brat who hasn’t contributed anything to society, pisses away all their money, barely has any education, and floats from one line of cocaine to another.”
The blonde bristled. “I am not-”
“You’re here because your parents are done with your shit, Victoria.” Max interlaced her fingers. “Don’t believe me? We’ll call your father, if you want, and you can ask him what your options are if you leave this place before I say you’re ready. See how sympathetic he’s going to be.”
She wanted to. She REALLY wanted to. Victoria fumed as she glared daggers at the brunette. Everything in her itched to pick up the phone, and get ahold of her father, to have him tell little miss fucking Caulfield that she was full of shit.
But a small piece of her mind gnawed at her.
… what if she’s right?
Have they given up on me?
“Like I said, that door, second right.” Max pointed. “Or you can sit back down, so we can have a more productive conversation.”
Victoria didn’t move for a few seconds as she debated with herself. Finally, accepting her fate, she slowly made her way back to the table and sat across from Max.
“Why did you search through my bag?” she asked quietly.
“To make sure you didn’t have any drugs,” Max answered simply. “Standard practice for newcomers.”
Victoria shook her head. “Whatever,” she muttered. “I really don’t feel like doing blow. Like, ever again.”
“Good. Try to remember that over the next few days.”
June 15th, 2019
Fuck, I could use a line right now.
Victoria sat in the chair, bouncing her leg up and down as she tried to focus on anything besides the pounding in her head. Though she would never say it aloud, Max had been right; it had been a few days, and the craving was killing her. She fidgeted with her hands, feeling the imaginary razor blade dance in her fingers.
She tried closing her eyes and imagining herself someplace calm. Hiking in the forest. Admiring snowy mountains. Watching blue ocean waves wash over a pristine beach.
Snorting a line of coke off her old coffee table.
God damn it.
Victoria opened her eyes and looked up to see Max, holding out the snack while smiling. She took it without a word, grateful for something else to think about as she opened the package and took a bite.
“How are you feeling?” Max asked, as she sat down across from her.
“Wonderful,” Victoria replied snidely as she chewed. “Like a million bucks.”
Max studied the blonde. “Victoria, you know I actually do have a degree in Addiction Counseling, right?”
“That’s a thing?” she snarked before taking another bite. “Sounds like a fallback degree from a community college. God, you must have been desperate to graduate.”
“I’ve worked here for a couple of years now,” Max continued, ignoring the insult. “I’ve helped people through cocaine withdrawals before. Quite a few people, in fact.”
Victoria rolled her eyes. “Congratulations. I’ll sign a letter for the Nobel Prize committee.”
“What I’m getting at is that I can tell when someone is Jonesing.” Max leaned forward, her elbows on her knees. “How bad is it?”
“I’m fine,” Victoria repeated brusquely. “Go find someone else’s problem child to bother.”
Max pursed her lips, not moving for several seconds. “Do you want to go for a walk?” she asked unexpectedly.
“A walk. You know, outside.” Max stood, motioning towards the window. “You haven’t really left this building since you’ve gotten here. I’m sure you’d like some fresh air. And you can check out the grounds; they’re actually really pretty, this time of year. Would you like to see?”
Victoria glanced at the window. It... does look nice, she allowed. And fresh air wouldn’t hurt.
“Fine,” she muttered, grunting with the effort it took to stand up and follow Max into the hallway. After a couple of turns, she opened the door for her, letting Victoria exit the building.
Max hadn’t been lying. The grounds were incredibly beautiful. The entire center was surrounded by the pine trees that were ubiquitous to Oregon, but the large clearing behind the building had been professionally landscaped around a well-kept pond. The grass and bushes were neatly trimmed, and the path following the water’s edge was free of obstruction; several people were walking and jogging around it.
What really stood out were the Weeping Willows. Several of the unique trees stood around the pond, the branches hanging low over the grass. “Those don’t look native to the property,” Victoria commented.
“They’re not.” Max smiled. “They transplanted them when they built this place. Pretty, right?”
Victoria begrudgingly nodded.
The two girls walked towards the pond, and by unspoken agreement followed the walking path. Other than the occasional jogger, they weren’t disturbed. Victoria spent most of the walk looking around, taking in the scenery. “This place is pretty nice,” she finally admitted.
“It is,” Max agreed. “One of the reasons I like working here.”
“How are you doing?” Max asked, concern in her voice. “You tired or anything?”
“It’s okay if you’re not feeling a hundred percent, Victoria.”
“Okay, what do you want to hear, Caulfield?” Victoria looked back at her, as they walked. “That I feel like shit? That my headache won’t go away? That I can’t fucking sleep?”
“I want to hear the TRUTH,” Max emphasized. “I can’t help you if I don’t know what’s-”
“I don’t want your help,” Victoria snapped. “I want to go home.”
Max sighed. “Why don’t you want my help?”
“Because I don’t need it.”
“You don’t need help, or you don’t need it from me?”
“Either. Both.” Victoria crossed her arms. “I don’t want to be here. I just want to leave.”
Victoria didn’t uncross her arms as they walked around the far end of the pond. “Are you cold?” Max asked.
“A little,” Victoria admitted before she could stop herself, glancing down. Between the shade of the trees and the cold water, the temperature had taken a noticeable dip. Goosebumps were prominent on her thin arms, and she hugged herself tighter.
Max unzipped her thin hoodie and took it off, holding it out. “Here, put this on.”
“I don’t want your fucking jacket.”
She didn’t take it back. Max kept the hoodie extended towards Victoria.
After a few seconds, the blonde accepted it, wrapping it around her shoulders without sticking her arms in. “Thank you,” she muttered, her eyes at the ground.
“You’re welcome.” Max nodded at a nearby bench. “Come on, let’s sit for a minute.”
They sat down, facing the pond, neither of them speaking as Victoria pulled the grey hoodie tighter. Neither of them spoke as they looked out over the pond.
“You know admitting that you have a problem is an important part of fixing it, right?” Max asked after a couple of minutes.
“I don’t have a fucking problem,” Victoria replied. “I made one mistake.”
“Uh, isn’t it obvious?”
“Not really.” Max leaned back into the bench. “Was it when you broke Alyssa’s nose at Blackwell? When you assaulted Courtney and your teacher at UCLA? When you ODed?”
“I- wait.” Victoria looked at Max. “How did you know about Courtney?”
“We’re friends on Facebook. She told me the story.”
“You two are FRIENDS?” Victoria exclaimed incredulously. “Are you kidding me? How the hell did that happen?”
Max snorted in amusement. “I don’t think anyone is more surprised than us,” she allowed. “We talked a few times on the Blackwell Facebook group, just catching up. Then she found out I was working here, and we got to talking about my job, which lead to talking about you.”
Victoria scoffed. “Make for good gossip, do I?”
“Yea, pretty much. Anyway, she told me what went down in the dorm room. And that Taylor won’t speak to you either. I’ve talked with her a couple of times, too, though she won’t tell me what happened.”
“Lovely.” Victoria turned back to the pond. “I’m sure you all have a great time, trashing me on social media. I can only imagine what they said about you being my fucking counselor; they probably think it’s hilarious.”
“They don’t know.”
“They don’t know what?”
“That you’re here. Or that I’m your counselor.” Max tilted her head. “I don’t gossip about my job. I’m not even sure if they know you ODed.”
Victoria didn’t reply. She kept her eyes caged forward.
“Do you miss them?”
“Fuck you,” Victoria replied, though the bite was gone from her voice.
“Christ,” she breathed. “Can we talk about literally anything else?”
Max nodded after a couple of seconds. “So, do you really not think you have a problem?”
“Are you gonna harp on that?” Victoria shot Max a glare. “Why is it so important that I say that I have a problem?”
“Because it’s the first step on the path to sobriety.”
“Seriously? We’re doing this Twelve Step bullshit?”
“It’s not ‘bullshit’, Victoria,” Max chastised. “And it’s an important step. You can’t start to fix a problem unless you acknowledge that you have one.”
“Fine. I have a fucking problem. Can we move on to step two now?”
Max sighed. “It doesn’t work if you don’t believe it.”
Victoria grit her teeth. “What do you want to hear, then?” she bit out. “What will make this process go faster?”
“Will you tell me why you don’t think you have a problem?”
“Because-” Victoria stopped, her mind suddenly going blank. She had no idea what to say. Max looked at her expectantly, waiting for her to finish her sentence. “... I just don’t.” she finally muttered.
“Mm.” Max pursed her lips as she pulled a laminated card out of her pocket. “You’re an Atheist, right? You don’t believe in God?”
“Okay.” Max handed her the card. “Why don’t you read the top line?”
Victoria examined the white card as she took it. “Are these the 12 Steps?”
“Yes.” Max hesitated. “Well, sort of. The original 12 Steps are pretty religious. Those were re-written by an atheist addict and posted online, so I stole them.” She nodded at the card. “Read the first one.”
“Acknowledge that...” Victoria paused as she read silently, finally snorting in amusement. “Acknowledge that I cannot safely do drugs at any time, and bad shit happens to me when I do.” She glanced back at Max. “Nice.”
“I thought so.” Max flashed a smirk. “Do you disagree?”
Victoria took a few seconds as her mind flashed back over the past few years. Beating up Courtney, assaulting her professor, stealing from Taylor... and Marcus.
“No,” she muttered.
Max nodded. “Now we’re making progress.”
“Bite me.” Victoria leaned back, her shoulder touching Max’s as they watched the water. Neither of them said anything for a few minutes. “What now?”
Max looked up in thought. “What do you want to do with your life?”
Victoria frowned. “That doesn’t sound like one of these Steps.”
“It’s not. I’m just asking a question.”
Max rolled her eyes. “I don’t have an ulterior motive for everything I do, Victoria. I’m just asking what you always saw yourself doing, you know, once you graduated college. I know you never picked a major.”
Victoria huffed in irritation. “If there anything my father DIDN’T tell you about me?”
“Yes. What you wanted to do with your life.”
She sighed. “Fine. I wanted to be a photographer.”
“Yea? Me, too.” Max nodded. “Is that why you went to Blackwell? To learn from...” her voice trailed off.
“Jefferson?” Victoria shook her head. “No. Him showing up the year before you got there was just a bonus.” She glanced at Max. “Isn’t that why YOU transferred to Blackwell? To learn from him?"
Max nodded. “He was a good teacher,” she allowed. “I did learn a lot from him. But after everything happened... I never really picked the camera back up.”
“Me, either.” Victoria leaned back, a small smirk on her face. “I have the most worthless portfolio in the photography world, I’m sure.”
“At least you have one.” Max looked at her. “So, that is still your dream?”
“... yea.” Victoria looked down at her lap. “Kind of hard to follow it without my camera, though.”
“You sold it?”
“I sold a lot of things.”
“Yea.” She sighed again. “Talk about rock bottom, right?”
“Well...” Max leaned forward, catching the blonde’s eye. “You know what the good part about being at rock bottom is, right?”
“There’s only one way to go; back up.”
Victoria blinked, then scoffed as she rolled her eyes. “That’s some real fortune-cookie shit there, Caulfield.”
“Well, you know, a large part of being a counselor was learning all the catchy proverbs.”
Victoria had to snicker at that. “What, did you get a handbook or something?”
“Or something.” Max chuckled. “Why don’t we go back. It’s almost lunchtime.”
“I’m not really hungry.”
“I don’t really care.” Max stood. “You’re almost thirty pounds underweight, Victoria. You need to eat.”
Victoria eyeballed Max. “What if I happen to like being skinny?”
“Then you can keep borrowing my hoodie when we go outside.”
“... hell.” It took some effort, but Victoria managed to get back on her feet and follow Max inside.
Chapter 7: Group
June 20th, 2019
“My name is Henry, and I’m an addict.”
“Hi, Henry,” Victoria muttered, mimicking the chorus of people sitting around them.
Max had insisted on bringing her to the group session, a few days after their walk around the pond. “It’ll be good for you,” she’d told her. “You can talk to some of the others, and listen to what they say about getting over your addiction.”
“I thought YOU were the one who was supposed to make me better,” Victoria had pointed out crossly. “Isn’t that why my father is paying you a shitload of money?”
“I’ve never been addicted to drugs,” Max replied. “I can only give you third-hand knowledge about getting over the cravings. The group therapist that comes on Thursdays spent years on meth. He knows what he’s talking about.”
Victoria found herself hating that she could never get Max to rise to the bait. “What, does he give a discount to his old rehab clinic?”
“He quit on his own. Cold turkey. Hasn’t touched the stuff in twenty years.” Max spoke of him with a very respectful tone of voice. “He’s not somebody you should ignore.”
Since Max basically had Victoria over a barrel, so to speak, she wasn’t really able to refuse the suggestion. So the next day, Victoria found herself in an uncomfortable folding metal chair, sitting in a loose circle with the other patients while an older man in glasses spoke to them.
“It’s been twenty-one years, three months, and nineteen days since my last fix,” he continued. “And I still miss the pipe every day.”
You have got to be kidding me. Victoria groaned internally, as she looked away. She was willing to admit that Max was right; her craving came and went. But she couldn’t imagine still wanting it after being clean for twenty years.
“You know what the worst part is?” Henry glanced around all at all of them. “Just how easy it was to get hooked. It snuck up on me without realizing it.”
Victoria blinked, turning back as she listened.
“The first time I smoked, it was awesome.” Henry grinned. “I mean, I felt amazing. I cleaned my entire house in four hours, so well that my wife thought that I hired a maid. Folded laundry, vacuumed, everything. She was so happy. And we were going through a bit of a rough patch, so it felt nice, to do something for her that made her smile.” He glanced around. “So, I did it again. Same result. I felt amazing, and I was so productive. I was the best husband and father ever. And I was so sure I had it under control; I never once thought that I was getting addicted.”
He reached down and took a bottle of water from under his chair, taking a sip. “One morning, I woke up after barely getting any sleep. My toddler had been awake all night with an ear infection, so I was up all night, too. And I needed a pick-me-up, so on my way to my office, I pulled into an empty lot and smoked a quick bowl. And you know what?” Henry paused. “It was just what I needed. My boss even gave me a compliment, at the end of the day, that he was impressed with the amount of work I got done. So, I did it again, the next day.”
“Before long, my boss was so impressed with my performance that he gave me a promotion.” Smiling, Henry shrugged sheepishly. “It was a lot more pay, for more work and responsibility. I certainly couldn’t stop smoking; otherwise my performance would have suffered. I didn’t realize that every time I smoked, it was taking more and more to have an effect.”
Wow. Victoria couldn’t turn away. The guy’s story felt eerily similar.
“After a while, I was doing so much that my co-workers were starting to notice my really odd behavior. Outbursts of anger, erratic moods, the whole nine yards. My boss decided to do a no-notice drug screening for the entire office. I popped positive, of course, and I was fired. My wife found out, and we got into a huge fight when we got home.”
Henry sighed. “I’ll spare you the details, of when I decided to smoke a little bit to calm down right before my wife started arguing with me again. The long and short of it was that I got arrested for domestic violence. I was able to bail myself out, but my wife had a restraining order in place, so I had to live in my car while I went through the divorce process.” He smirked, shaking his head. “And if you think that was what convinced me to kick the habit, boy are you guys wrong.”
Victoria and the others couldn’t help but snort.
“The money ran out, of course. I wasn’t paying any of my child support anyway, but meth goes through your wallet pretty quickly. And I had been doing it for so long, that I was terrified of actually getting clean and going through withdrawals. I told myself, when I broke into someone’s house to rob them, that it would be a one-time thing, just to get myself through the week.”
He took a deep breath and exhaled. “That was where I had my moment of clarity,” he told them. “I shattered the sliding glass door, went inside, and was going through the master bedroom of the house when I found a really nice Rolex watch. I was happy, until I saw that the back of it was engraved with a message I still remember.” He smiled sadly. “It said ‘To Walter, to remember your wedding day’. And I stared at it, and that was when I really realized what I was doing. I was robbing someone of their wedding gift to fund my habit.”
Victoria’s mind went blank, and her gut twisted. She averted her eyes, staring at the floor as she remembered what Taylor said when she had found her mother’s necklace in Victoria’s purse.
Don’t fucking call me again.
The physical pain that went with the memory was worse than what she felt when she overdosed. And look of disgust on her friend’s face was burned into her brain. She felt nauseous as she tried to forget what had happened.
She blinked as she realized she’d been thinking about the incident and missed what the guy had been saying. He sat down, taking another sip of his water.
“So.” Henry glanced around. “I see we have a few newcomers. Willing or not, it doesn’t matter. This is a good place to talk and listen.” His eyes lingered on Victoria, before they moved past her. “Does anyone else want to speak?”
Several people did. Victoria barely paid attention. She mostly looked away, unable to lose the memory of her last conversation with Taylor. She tried several times, to forget it and focus on the group session... but she couldn’t.
When the session ended, everyone slowly got up and started to disperse. Victoria stayed in her chair, waiting for the others to leave so she didn’t have to talk to them.
Henry didn’t leave with the others, though. He came and sat next to her. “Are you okay?” he asked gently.
Caught off-guard, Victoria nodded.
“You’re one of the new ones.” He rested his elbows on his knees. “I saw you, drifting in and out. I hope I wasn’t boring you.”
It sounded like a barb, but he smiled while he said it; Victoria was pretty sure he meant it as a joke. “No,” she said quietly, sighing. “Um... sorry. I was thinking about something else.”
“Ah.” He nodded. “Can I ask what it was?”
She hesitated. “I... don’t really want to talk about it.”
“I understand.” Shifting, he leaned back in his chair. “Sometimes I think about the stuff I did, when I was still on the drugs, and I just fade out. My wife usually has to drag me back.”
Victoria looked at him, confused. “I thought you got divorced?”
Henry snorted. “I guess my story is getting less and less interesting.”
Her face flushed in embarrassment. “Sorry,” she muttered. “It was. I... what did you say happened, after you found the Rolex?”
“Well.” He crossed his legs. “I left the watch there and ran out of the house, back to my car. And I found someplace nice and private, and stayed there while I went through withdrawals. It was the worst experience of my life.”
“I bet. How long did it last?”
“About six days or so. The really bad symptoms went away, but I felt the aftereffects for weeks afterward.” He looked at her. “How long have you been sober?”
“Um..." she paused, trying to count. "It's the twentieth, so... eighteen days, I guess."
Victoria raised her eyebrows. “How’d you know?”
“In my experience, when girls your age end up in rehab, it’s usually because of either meth or cocaine.” He smirked. “You look like you were well off enough to afford coke. And your teeth are in good shape.”
“So are yours,” Victoria pointed out.
“I’ve had a few grand of dental work done. About a third of my teeth are false.”
Victoria hummed. “I couldn’t tell.”
“Thank you. Anyway. Once I was well enough to try and find some work, I got a job in retail. I met another addict, who introduced me to a local Narcotics Anonymous group. They hooked me up with a proper sponsor, and he helped me get my life back on track.”
“And now you do this for a living,” Victoria summarized.
“This is a side gig. I’m the manager of a grocery store in town most of the week. Which is where I met my second wife.”
“What about your first?”
Henry sighed. “She didn’t want anything to do with me for a long time. She re-married, and since I was absent for a good chunk of my son’s early life, her second husband adopted him. I’m still back-paying child support. And I’m still trying to rebuild my relationship with my son.”
“Oh.” Victoria looked at her feet. “Sorry.”
“Well, I’m alive, and it’s better than nothing.” He nodded, then glanced over her shoulder. “Ah. Is that is your counselor?”
Victoria turned, and saw Max entering the room, closing the door behind her. “Yea,” she sighed begrudgingly. “Or my prison guard.”
Henry laughed. “I’ve known her for a little while,” he told her. “Max is one of the good ones. You can consider yourself lucky.”
Megan: Are you almost here?
Max: ... crap. I’m still at work.
Megan: Are you serious?! We’ve been waiting for almost twenty minutes!
Max: I’m sorry.
Megan: I’m trying to introduce you to my sisters, Max! Do you have any idea how embarrassing this is?!
Max: I just got a new patient. She needs more time than my others.
Megan: They ALL need more of your time. How much of your time do I get?
Max: I’ll leave in a few minutes.
Megan: Oh, good. I have to wait another half an hour for you to get here.
Megan: Actually, closer to forty minutes, with traffic.
Max: I will be there as soon as I can.
Megan: Don’t bother. We weren’t staying here long.
Max: I’ll meet you guys later tonight.
Megan: And how late were you planning to stay out?
Max: … I have to be back at the center at eight tomorrow.
Megan: It’s Saturday night!
Max: I have a new patient!
Megan: Yea. Again.
Max: I really am sorry, Megan.
Megan: I believe you. But I’m tired of being the second runner-up to your work. It’s not endearing more than one or twice.
Megan: Don’t worry about meeting me tonight. But tomorrow, we need to talk.
Max: ... okay.
Chapter 8: Progress
June 24th, 2019
Max sat in front of the rehab center, taking slow breaths.
It’s not a huge deal.
Come on, let’s be honest, you kinda saw this coming. You weren’t exactly the greatest girlfriend. We hadn’t been in a real date in weeks, and you backed out of three last month.
… still sucks, though.
Stop. You can’t take this in there. Max squeezed the steering wheel tightly, sighing heavily while looking at the entrance. Personal shit stays in the car. In there, it’s about the patients, not us.
She took a sip of her coffee, savoring the flavor before she swallowed. Let’s just see if we can make some real progress today.
Victoria groaned, as Max sat down across from her. Her counselor seemed cheerful, with her to-go coffee mug and upbeat demeanor.
She hated her all the more for it.
“I don’t see what’s so good about it,” Victoria mumbled, as she leaned back into the couch and massaged her temples. “Or why you’re so happy this early in the morning.”
“The coffee helps.” Max took a sip. “Do you want some? I know the stuff they have here isn’t very good."
“Okay.” Max lowered the cup. “So. How did you sleep?”
“Wonderful.” Victoria threw her a big, phony smile. “Like a dream. Best sleep I ever had.”
“Really?” Max raised her eyebrows. “Usually by this stage, that’s not the case.”
“I was being fucking sarcastic, Caulfield,” Victoria sneered. “Christ, how did you become a therapist without being able to pick up on audible clues?”
Max shrugged. “I’m not a therapist.”
“You think that if you had tried a little harder in your community college, you might have been?” Victoria snapped. “Or did they not offer that high of a class level?”
“They did. But I actually wanted this job.” Max smiled. “I liked the idea of helping people who actually needed it.”
“Aww. That’s so fucking hipster of you.” Victoria rolled her eyes. “Is society not rosy enough for your fragile mind? Or are you so dead-set on making this pathetic world a better place that you cut your busted-ass education short to work with a bunch of other half-trained retards, cleaning up after the one-percent’s problem children?”
Max tilted her head, as she listened to everything Victoria said. Her facial expression didn’t change from its half-smile for the entire spiel. “Can I ask you a question?” she finally said after a few seconds.
“Why are you always such a bitch?"
Victoria blinked. “Excuse me?"
“You did this a lot at Blackwell, too. Always trying to cut people off at the knees.” Max took another sip from her cup. “I remember you making a couple of the other girls cry. What, exactly, does it get you?”
“Is it satisfaction?” Max continued, unabated. “Gratification? Validation? I really do want to know.”
“Go fuck yourself.” Victoria stood and started walking away. “I’m going to get breakfast.”
“Sit down. We’re not done.”
“Well, I am.”
“Sit back down,” Max repeated. “Before I call your father.”
Victoria hated that that sentence made her stop. She glanced over her shoulder back at Max, who was no longer smiling, but staring at her with a fixed expression. “Seriously, Caulfield? You’re going to tattle on me like we’re in fucking kindergarten?”
“Yes.” Max’s smile returned. “I don’t think I’ve told you, but your father gave me his personal cell phone number. You remember, the one that he hasn’t given you since UCLA?” She sipped from her cup, before she continued. “The one that bypasses his secretary and goes straight to the phone in his pocket? I understand he doesn’t hand it out very often, but he told me that he wanted a phone call if you were giving me any trouble.”
Victoria turned to face her. “You’re full of shit,” she said, her voice not as full of conviction as she would have liked. “He wouldn’t give that number to some hipster bitch like you.”
“Why is that so hard to believe?”
“Because he’s a busy man,” Victoria retorted. “He hands that number out to other billionaires. And senators. And my mother.” She folded her arms. “He doesn’t give it to people that aren’t worth his time.”
“Hmm.” Max leaned back. “Well. I guess that’s a piece of the puzzle.”
“What the fuck does that mean?”
“You don’t think you’re worth your father’s time.”
“I-” Victoria stopped. “... fuck you.”
“Yes, you’ve said that.” Max sighed. “Is it really so hard for you to believe that your father loves you, Victoria? That he doesn’t want you to throw your life away chasing the next line of coke?”
“He’s got a funny...” Victoria blinked and folded her arms. “No. I’m not doing this. Especially not to some counselor that couldn’t hack becoming a therapist.”
“Would you like one?” Max gestured to the door. “We have one on call that I can-”
The glare Victoria shot her was enough to shut that idea down. “I’m not talking to a fucking head shrink,” she snapped. “And I am definitely not spilling my life story to some hipster that thinks she knows me because my father is paying her.”
“Your father is paying the center, not me.” Max pointed out. “Are you going to sit back down? Or do I need to make a call?”
Victoria continued to glare at her for a few seconds. Then she dropped her gaze, and slowly made her way over to the couch and sat back down.
“I really fucking hate you,” she muttered.
“I know.” Max finished her coffee and tossed the cup into a wastebasket. “Now. Let’s do this again, and I want a real answer.”
Victoria looked up. “To what?”
“Why you always try to make people feel like crap and tear them down.” Max crossed her legs. “You’ve spent most of your stay here belittling me and my job. Back at Blackwell you took shots at everyone, including Courtney and Taylor, who were supposedly your friends. You manufactured evidence of Dana Ward sleeping with Juliet Watson’s boyfriend. And you were absolutely merciless when it came to Kate Ma-”
“I remember high school,” Victoria interrupted. “The refresher isn’t necessary.”
“Okay...” Max paused. “Then what was it? Were you trying to be funny?”
“Some of it was pretty funny.”
“Dana and Juliet didn’t think so. We lived across from each other, and I don’t remember hearing a lot of laughter from your room. So, what did you get out of it?”
Victoria didn’t have a good answer. She just stared at the floor between them while she chewed on her lip.
“You know, a lot of people from Blackwell think that you acted the way you did because you’re a shitty person.” Max leaned forward. “Do you want to know what I think?”
“Not really,” Victoria muttered.
Max ignored her. “One of the most common theories about bullies is that they act out to mask their own low self-esteem,” she said. “Or as a result of a difficult home life. I think for you, it was both.”
Victoria shot her a look. “Have me all figured out, do you?”
“How often were your parents around, when you were growing up?”
“You can avoid hard questions all you want, Victoria, but you’ll have to answer them somehow. Why were you so mean to everyone back in high school?”
“… okay. Fine.” Victoria took a deep breath. “I fucking hated Blackwell.”
Max blinked. “You did?”
Victoria fixed Max with another glare. “I’m from Seattle. I grew up in a mansion on Mercer Island. I used to go to a private school with friends from my own income bracket, where we could all talk about the same problems and we all understood each other. Why the FUCK would I trade that all in for a school in some hick town in the middle of fucking nowhere, Oregon?”
“I never thought about it like that.”
“Of course you didn’t.” Victoria sighed. “When I was in the eighth grade, my friends and I were already talking about wealth management, for fuck’s sake. Then I went to Arcadia Bay, and the other girls only talked about boy bands and what kind of bargain-brand clothes they would spend their allowance on, thinking a hundred bucks is a lot of money to spend on shoes.”
“It is, for us mere mortals.”
Victoria looked disdainfully at the Converse sneakers on Max’s feet. “I see that. At least Chuck Taylors are fashionable.”
“So you hated Blackwell,” Max stated, getting the discussion back on track. “I’m assuming you went because your parents made you?”
“Yea,” Victoria muttered. “I begged them to let me stay in Seattle. But Blackwell was one of the highest-rated schools in the Pacific Northwest, and that was all they needed to know; my desires were irrelevant."
Max frowned. “I’m surprised there wasn’t anything comparable around Seattle.”
“There is. Like I said, I begged.” Victoria shrugged. “They still said no.”
“Did they say why?”
“Nope.” Victoria shrugged again. “Par for the course with my parents. Once they make a decision, there really isn’t any way of talking them out of it. And I was only fourteen, so there wasn’t much I could do, but try to tolerate the rest of you.”
“What about Courtney and Taylor?” Max asked. “You seemed pretty close to them.”
Victoria scoffed. “Because they were the only girls in the whole school that I could talk to without wanting to slit my wrists.”
“Hm.” Max pursed her lips. “Still. You guys seemed like you were good friends. Even if you were the ringleader. I know you helped Taylor a lot, when her mother was going through chemo.”
“Yea.” Victoria fidgeted with her fingers. “We were.”
“Do you miss them?”
She bit her lip, glancing at her feet. “... yes,” she muttered quietly.
“Did you ever think about trying to contact them?” Max asked. “To try and apologize, for beating up Courtney and... whatever you did to Taylor?”
“Sometimes.” Victoria glanced back at Max. “Courtney, maybe. I know that Taylor won’t talk to me.”
Max raised her eyebrows. “Was it really that bad?”
Victoria leaned back into the couch, her eyes on her lap. “I stole her mother’s necklace last year,” she said quietly, shame evident on her face. “I visited her apartment, and I used her bathroom. I saw that she’d left a drawer kind-of open, and I peeked inside and... just...”
“Mm.” Max nodded. “You needed it for drugs.”
“My dealer only took cash or jewelry. And I didn’t have cash.”
“Cocaine makes people do things they regret later,” she said gently. “How have your cravings been?”
“Pretty bad,” Victoria admitted. “I didn’t sleep well last night.”
“I figured. You still remember the First Step, right?”
“That bad shit happens every time I do drugs?” Victoria snorted in amusement. “Not an easy one to forget.”
“Do you believe it?”
“... there’s plenty of supporting evidence.”
Max smirked quickly, before she leaned back in her seat. “What do you want, Victoria?”
“You asked me this already, a couple of weeks ago.”
“I don’t mean ‘what do you want to do in life’,” Max clarified. “As far as I can tell, with very few exceptions, all of your relationships with people are based on demeaning and insulting them to make yourself feel superior and less insecure.”
Victoria bristled. “You don’t have a-”
“Tell me I’m wrong.” Max folded her arms. “Aside from Courtney and Taylor, how many actual friends did you make at Blackwell?”
“I was in charge of the Vortex Club.”
“Yea, I remember. Do you?” Max raised an eyebrow. “Dana and Juliet certainly hated you, after your shenanigans came out. Zach, Logan, all the other football players, they were putting up with you because you were attractive and didn’t mind spending money on booze. Do you honestly think that any of them were actually your friends?”
Victoria looked frustrated, as she tried to formulate a response. “Nathan was a friend.”
“Is that the thread you want to pick at right now?”
Max nodded. “What about UCLA? I know Courtney was your roommate in the dorms. Did you make any other friends while you were there?”
“Most of those knuckle-draggers weren’t worth befriending,” Victoria shot back.
“Over forty thousand people attend classes at UCLA,” Max countered. “I refuse to believe you couldn’t have made friends with at least one other person.”
Victoria sighed. “What’s your point, Caulfield?”
“That you’ve wrapped yourself in this Mean Girls attitude, where you think your shit doesn’t stink and you’re better than the rest of us,” Max stated. “It’s all you have to cling to, now that everyone’s pretty much given up on you. And look where it’s gotten you.”
The blonde girl didn’t have an answer for that.
“You can do better, Victoria,” Max emphasized. “Have you looked at the second and third Steps?”
“... not enough to memorize them.”
“Well, they’re full of a lot of that fortune-cookie shit you don’t like very much. But they both talk about recognizing destructive patterns of thought and behavior, and how you have to be willing to do things differently.”
Victoria scoffed. “Are you telling me I should change who I am?” she asked. “Wasn’t it Marylin Monroe, who talked about handling women at their worst?”
“Around a rehab center, we try not to quote the woman who killed herself via drug overdose,” Max commented. “Marylin Monroe is not exactly an ideal role model to begin with. And Victoria, being who you are hasn’t gotten you anywhere but here.” She gestured around. “Would you actually say that it’s working for you?”
“... I really hate you, Caulfield.”
“You wouldn’t believe how often I get that. Do you think you’d be willing to try and change?”
Victoria didn’t answer.
“It’s your life, Victoria. I can’t force you to fix anything about it,” Max admitted. “But you can’t sit here and tell me with a straight face that your behavior has gotten you far.”
The blonde rested her elbows on her knees, as she kept her eyes to the ground. Max waited for her to respond silently.
“Good enough.” Max smiled. “Even small progress is good progress.”
“Yea.” Victoria sighed. “... sorry I’ve been such a bitch.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’ve heard much worse.” Max leaned back into the couch. “For the record, I went to University of Oregon, not community college. And I was asked to consider their graduate programs after I got my degree.”
Victoria raised her eyebrows. “Seriously? Why didn’t you?”
“I had already received the job offer for this place.” Max shrugged. “And like I said, I wanted to help people who actually needed it, not rich people dealing with parental issues.”
“Yes, I can see the irony.”
“Is she really that bad?”
“You have no idea.”
“I mean, I heard the rumors, about her almost dying. I didn’t know they were true.”
“It was a very close call.”
“That’s terrible. I certainly don’t like her, but... I never wanted to see her dead.”
“I’m pretty sure that put you in the minority, back then.”
“I want to argue, but you’re probably right.”
“Does that mean you’ll help?”
“... I don’t know.”
“I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important.”
“I’m sure. And if it was anyone else asking, I would have some very choice words for even suggesting it.”
“I still don’t like her very much.”
“I know that, too.”
“Does she really need this?"
“That, I don’t know. But it could help. And at this point, I’ll take whatever I can get.”
“... fine. I’ll do it.”
“I can’t promise that I’ll be very nice to her.”
“I didn’t say you had to be.”
“And part of me would like to punch her in the face.”
“Fair enough. Though I would rather you didn’t.”
“What DO you want me to do, exactly?”
“I’ll explain when you get here. I promise, it won’t be hard.”
Chapter 9: Amends
July 6th, 2019
I think this crap is actually growing on me.
A little over a month into her stay at Resting Willows, Victoria had to admit it was not the worst place she’d ever been. Despite the fact that she was essentially stuck there, she did enjoy some aspects.
Like the food. Max had been right, it wasn’t the greatest. Certainly beats sandwiches and ramen though, Victoria figured, as she picked at her pot roast and mashed potatoes. She did notice that she was gaining weight back; her jeans were fitting her better, instead of hanging off her frame. And max had mentioned that she was looking much healthier.
The door across the room opened, and Victoria looked up to see a familiar brunette walk into the room. Speaking of...
“How are you feeling?” Max asked, as she sat down.
“Okay.” She ate another bite of her food. “Tired.”
Max nodded. “To be expected. Did you see the doctor yesterday?”
“He says I need to keep eating more.” Victoria poked at her food. “Can you guys do, like, burgers? Or is everything here well-rounded and healthy?”
“Let’s put a pin in calling that ‘healthy’.” Max smirked. “I’ve seen the amount of salt and butter our cook uses. He’s not exactly a four-star chef.”
“Well, he’s got the market here cornered.”
“Fair enough.” Max drummed her fingers on the table. “I’m glad to see you putting that weight back on, too. You look a lot better than you did when you came here.”
Victoria raised an eyebrow. “You know, most women don’t like being told that they’ve put on weight.”
Max rolled her eyes. “Most women don’t get medically ordered to.”
“... I guess that’s true.” Victoria sighed, as she took another bite of her food. “And compared to what I was scrounging for myself before, this stuff isn’t that bad.”
“No, I imagine not.” Max nodded. “Hey, do you still have the card I gave you?”
“The twelve steps? Uh, yea, I think so. Hang on.” She dug into her pocket, producing the plastic card. “Why?”
“Have you read it since we talked?”
“A couple of times.” Victoria shrugged. “Like you said, there’s some really hippy, feel-good shit in here.”
“Well, that is the point.” Max gestured towards the card. “I’ve actually been thinking, about the steps in there. And how they talk about making amends to those we’ve wronged.”
“Yea, I saw that.” Victoria sighed. “I really don’t want to.”
“It’s important, Victoria.”
“I cannot think of a single person that would hear what I have to say,” Victoria muttered. “I know for sure Taylor wouldn’t. She was very clear that I never speak to her again.”
“You didn’t piss off everyone that badly,” Max reminded her. “There are a few people who would probably appreciate an apology.”
“And what am I supposed to do?” Victoria asked. “Just call them up? Be like ‘hey, Alyssa, sorry I busted your face while I was tweaking’? Or ‘hi, Juliet, I know it’s been five years, but I’m sorry I made up evidence that Zach was cheating on you for shits and giggles’?” She paused. “He really was, by the way, I don’t know if you knew or not.”
“Couldn’t care less.” Max shrugged. “And you could do a phone call. We find that letters work better. Face-to-face is usually best.”
“Yea, right.” Victoria rolled her eyes. “No way am I standing toe-to-toe with Alyssa. She’ll probably try to kill me.”
“Maybe. I would recommend the letter for her.” Max sighed. “Are you sorry, for what you did to the others?”
“I mean...” Victoria hesitated. “Yea. I was kind of a bitch, back then. I’ve never tried to claim otherwise. I just... I’m not sure if what I say will be worth anything to them.”
Max nodded and slowly stood. “I get that. Are you done eating?”
Victoria ate two more quick bites. “Yea.”
“Good. Come on."
“Where are we going?” Victoria asked, as she got to her feet.
“I thought that you might want to get some practice in,” Max said. “As far as making amends goes.”
“Practice? How?” Victoria raised an eyebrow, as she followed Max out of the cafeteria. “You gonna critique my letters or something?”
Max didn’t elaborate. She led the way down the hall, taking a couple of turns; Victoria noted that they were getting close to the entrance of the center, an area she wasn’t very familiar with. She didn’t ask any questions as she followed her counselor.
They finally stopped at a room just off the entrance. “Inside,” Max said, as she held the door open.
Victoria walked in ahead of Max, glancing around. The room was small, not much bigger than her bedroom back home. It had a couple of couches and some chairs around a coffee table, alongside some potted plants. On the far side, a large window overlooked the front of the building.
And the room wasn’t empty. Victoria blinked as she noticed the woman sitting on one of the couches, looking at her impassively. She glanced over her quickly; black skirt, white shirt under a grey sweater, blonde hair done up in a loose bun, gold crucifix around her neck...
Victoria’s blood ran cold as she realized who it was, and she froze after taking two steps into the room. Her mouth opened, but no sound came out.
“You remember Kate, right?” Max asked, as she closed the door behind them.
“No,” Victoria whispered, as she turned back to Max. “No, Max, no, I don’t want to do this, I-”
“Victoria,” Max started firmly. “Steps eight and nine are about making amends to the people we wronged. This is-”
“I can’t.” Victoria shook her head. “I can’t, Max, please don’t make me-”
“Yes, you can.” Max took her shoulder and tried to turn her around.
Victoria refused to budge. “I don’t want to do this. I want to go,” she breathed as she reached for the door handle behind Max.
The brunette moved quickly to block it. “Victoria, you’re being very rude. Kate drove a long way to see you.”
“Max, I’m not.... I can’t do this.”
“You CAN do this,” Max implored her. “Come on. Sit down, at least.”
A sigh from behind her interrupted whatever she was about to say. “Should I go?” Kate asked.
Victoria stiffened at the sound of her voice.
“No.” Max glanced over Victoria’s shoulder. “Just... she needs a minute. Victoria, come on,” Max continued. “Just sit down.”
Victoria let Max pushed her further into the room. Before she knew it, she was sitting on the couch across from Kate.
“Now.” Max took a seat in one of the chairs, sitting between Victoria and Kate. “For starters, Kate... I really do appreciate you coming all the way down here from Tacoma. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Kate looked across the coffee table. “How are you, Victoria?”
She couldn’t answer. Victoria didn’t look at Kate, keeping her eyes on the coffee table between them.
Kate sighed after a few seconds. “Max?”
“Just… we’ll get there.” Max turned to Kate. “How are you? It’s been a couple of years. I heard you got signed by a publisher?”
“The second one I talked to. The first does background checks into new authors.” She glanced at Victoria. “That video from senior year is still on the internet. They saw it, and decided not to sign me."
Victoria’s gut clenched, as she focused on the table.
“I’m sorry,” Max said sincerely.
“It’s fine. I spoke to another agent. She liked my book, and was sympathetic when I explained what happened. She agreed to work with me so long as I used a pseudonym.”
“Still.” Max glanced at Victoria, before looking back at Kate. “When is your book getting published?”
“Later this year.” Kate smiled. “I have to admit, I do like the name she picked for me. ‘Stacy Anderson’ has a nice ring to it. I got signed for a three-book deal, with an option for more if they sell well enough."
Max smiled. “That’s pretty cool. All children’s books?”
“Yea.” Kate looked back at Victoria. “They deal with social issues that kids face. The agent really liked the first one, about bullying.”
Victoria bit her lip, remaining silent.
“I can’t wait to read it.” Max paused. “I’m actually kind of surprised the video is still on the internet, to be honest. You couldn’t have YouTube pull it?”
“I tried, trust me, but it’s not on YouTube. It’s on a server overseas, that has a bunch of other... well, they’re not very nice videos.” She shook her head. “I sent them a message, to get it off their web site. They replied back asking for money, in really broken English. Pretty sure it’s a scam.”
“Jeez.” Max winced. “How much did they want?”
“Five thousand dollars.”
Kate nodded. “Yea. Even if I did have that lying around, I don’t think they’d take it down.”
“You can’t sue for it to be removed?”
“I asked a lawyer. Complications of international law aside, the web site is hosted in a country that’s known for ignoring American court orders.” Kate sighed again. “It’s just something I’ll have to deal with.”
“I’m sorry.” Max frowned. “What country is it in?”
“Oh...” Kate looked up. “Belgium? No, that’s not right. Bermuda, maybe? I know it begins with a ‘B’, but for the life of me I can never remember-”
Max and Kate both paused, glancing at Victoria. The blonde still refused to look at Kate. “Huh?” Max asked.
“It’s in Belarus,” Victoria repeated quietly.
“... yea. That’s it.” Kate tilted her head. “How did you know?”
Victoria sniffed. “You’re right. It is a scam. They would have taken your money and asked for more.”
“Victoria?” Max asked carefully.
She finally looked up at Kate, and they saw that her eyes were moist. “I’m sorry.”
Kate blinked in surprise. “V-”
“I tried,” Victoria interrupted, looking back at the coffee table. “I went back and forth with those cocksuckers a bunch of times. They got me up to ten grand before my father told me to stop. They won’t take it down no matter how much you send them.”
Kate stared in disbelief. “You… really tried to get it taken down?”
“I’m sorry,” Victoria repeated. She sniffed deeply, rubbing her nose. “I just wanted to bust your balls, and push you off your high horse. I hated all that religious bullshit you were shooting off, and your fucking abstinence club, and I thought you were just so fucking annoying...”
Her breath caught, and she wiped her eyes before she continued. “I had no idea Nathan dosed you.”
The statement ended on a high note as Victoria’s voice cracked. Her lips started trembling, and she hastily wiped her eyes again. Max and Kate stayed silent, letting her regain her composure.
“I just thought you were drunk,” Victoria choked out, after a few seconds. “I thought it was funny, that the good catholic girl had finally tossed her inhibitions in the trash and was making a fool out of herself. I didn’t know what Nathan and that... shithead, Jefferson, were going to do.” She swallowed forcefully. “I wanted to take you down a peg. I didn’t... I didn’t mean to make you want to...”
Victoria paused, and tried to take a breath. Instead of exhaling, she coughed out a sob. She quickly hung her head, squeezing her eyes shut and struggling to control her breathing as she tried, very hard, not to cry.
She was so focused that she didn’t notice Kate get up. It wasn’t until the other girl sat next to her that she opened her eyes, looking beside her. Kate laid a gentle hand on Victoria’s shoulder.
“It’s okay, Victoria,” she said quietly.
“Oh, Jesus.” Victoria sniffled, wiping her nose; she could feel the snot starting to drip down her face. “No, it’s not. That video is still out there, and I’m a fucking bitch for putting it online.”
“Maybe.” Kate paused. “But... that means a lot, that you tried to get it taken down. Especially for that much money.”
“I...” Victoria sniffed deeply. “I’m so sorry, Kate.”
Kate rubbed her shoulder, not speaking for a few seconds. “Are you doing better?” she asked. “Since you came here? I know your life hasn’t been... you know, easy.”
Victoria scoffed. “I fucked up your life, Kate. You don’t have to pretend to care about mine.”
“You really didn’t,” Kate replied. “My book is getting published later this year. I have an amazing fiancé named Hector. We live in a very nice house in Tacoma.” She smiled. “And he doesn’t know that I’m six weeks pregnant.”
Max leaned forward in her chair. “You are?!” she exclaimed.
“Yes. Please keep that to yourself. I haven’t told him yet.” She looked back at Victoria. “You didn’t ruin my life, Victoria. You can stop kicking yourself for that.”
Victoria was staring at her, blinking through her tears. “You...” she sniffed. “You’re pregnant?”
A small smile crossed her face. “Outside of marriage?”
Kate rolled her eyes. “The irony is not lost on me, I assure you.”
“Sorry.” Victoria wiped her eyes on her sleeve. “Congratulations.”
“Thank you.” Kate squeezed her shoulder. “And I really am glad to see that you’re getting help. I’ve heard the stories about you, and... well, they’re a little scary.”
“Yea.” Victoria looked down at her lap. “I’m told I make for good gossip.”
“Some people seem to think so.” Kate paused. “Seriously, Victoria. How are you doing?”
Victoria shrugged. “Better,” she answered, sniffling. “Max keeps kicking my ass.”
Kate smirked, as she glanced back at Max.
“She needs it,” Max said defensively.
“Yea.” Victoria sighed. “Kate, I’m just... I’m so sorry, for what I did.”
“I know.” Kate squeezed her shoulder. “I accept your apology.”
“... thank you.” Victoria wiped her nose on her sleeve again.
“What have you been doing?” Kate asked. “I don’t mean to pry, but all the rumors floating around on Facebook...” she hesitated. “Somebody, I think it was Logan, posted last week that you overdosed.”
Max furrowed her brow. “I didn’t see that.”
“It was in a comment on one of Zach’s posts.” Kate shrugged. “I don’t know how many people actually read it.”
“Yea.” Victoria nodded. “My asshole dealer sold me coke that was mixed with something.”
“Oh, no.” Kate looked at her with wide eyes. “Are you okay?”
“Sure. One heart attack won’t kill me, right?”
“That’s not funny, Victoria.”
“All I can do is laugh about it.” Victoria looked back at her lap. “You don’t have to pretend to feel bad for me, Kate. Not after what I did.”
“I don’t want to hear that,” Kate scolded as she tightened her grip on Victoria’s shoulder. “You’re not trash to throw away, Victoria. You need help.”
Victoria sighed. “That is why my father sent me here.”
“Well.” Kate sat back. “What can I do?”
“I...” Victoria hesitated. “I don’t know.”
Kate pursed her lips. “Does anyone come see you?”
Victoria shook her head. “You’re the first. My parents haven’t even made their way down.”
“Then I’ll come visit.” Kate looked at Max. “That’s okay, right?”
Max nodded. “Once a week,” she said. “Sundays, for lunch.”
Victoria frowned. “It’s Saturday.”
“I got my boss to bend the rules.” Max shrugged. “This isn’t really a social visit anyway.”
“Okay.” Kate looked back at Victoria. “I can’t come tomorrow, I have plans. But I can come next Sunday and see how you’re doing.”
“Kate, we’re two hours away from Tacoma,” Victoria said. “You can’t drive all the way out here just to see me.”
“I can, actually.” Kate smirked. “I drive a Prius, so I get good gas mileage. And it’s only ninety minutes from my house. I will come see you next Sunday.”
Victoria opened her mouth to argue, but couldn’t come up with anything to say. She finally sighed, and glanced down at her lap. “Thank you.”
“Hi, Max. I’m very sorry to bother you so late.”
“Oh, Mister Chase. It’s okay, I was still awake.”
“I just wanted to check and see how Victoria was doing.”
“Better. She’s been making progress.”
“I’m glad to hear that. Is there anything you guys need?”
“Not really... but, um, while I have you, is it okay if I ask you a couple of questions?”
“Well, Victoria mentioned that she didn’t want to go to Blackwell, and that you and your wife made her.”
“Is she still angry about that?”
“I don’t think so, it was just something that came up. Can I ask... why did you make her go?”
“Well... my wife and I thought it was best for her.”
“It’s a little complicated. Did she mention that she was going to a private school in Seattle?”
“Her classmates were all children from families that came from money comparable to ours. Many of them were... well, I’m sure you can imagine that children from our tax bracket can be somewhat entitled.”
“I’ve heard. Was that the problem?”
“Partially. The rest of it was the other students she was hanging out with.”
“They were bad influences?”
“Not how you’re thinking. Our daughter... she didn’t play with any of them. She planned.”
“She... I’m sorry, she planned? What does that mean?”
“They were fourteen years old, and already discussing markets and stocks. Investments. How to handle money they didn’t even have yet. Talking about high-end purchases, and whether Louis Vuitton was a better status symbol than Gucci.”
“I’m not sure I understand why that bothered you.”
“We wanted Victoria to have a regular childhood, Max. Not one that was dominated by our wealth.”
“So you sent her to Blackwell to... what, exactly? Get a taste of a lower social class?”
“No, nothing so insulting. She was still a child; we wanted her to make friends, not future business partners.”
“I know that doesn’t sound particularly... parental. But my wife and I didn’t want her to be like us, constantly trying to determine if our friends are actual friends or just people who find it convenient to be in our social circle. I’ve no doubt some of them would stab me in the back if it benefitted them.”
“Does that answer your question?”
“Yes. Though it certainly wasn’t the answer I was expecting.”
“What were you expecting, if I can ask?”
“Honestly, I’m not really sure. Victoria seems to think you sent her just because Blackwell was a good school.”
“Well, that was part of it. Your old high school is rated among the best in the Pacific Northwest. There were others near us, of course, but we didn’t think it best for Victoria to stay so close to Seattle.”
“Fair enough. May I ask another question?”
“Have you thought about coming down to visit her?”
“I have. I... I do want to see her. But...”
“... Max, I doubt this will surprise you, but my wife and I don’t consider ourselves to be very good parents, at the moment.”
“What are you worried about?”
“Honestly... I don’t know if Victoria cares for us very much.”
“Mister Chase... I want to ask another question that might sound kind of bad. Or condescending. But I don’t want it to be taken like that.”
“I won’t, then.”
“When was the last time Victoria heard that you loved her? From you or your wife?”
“You can call me Derek, Max. And... I honestly don’t know.”
“Like I said. My wife and I don’t consider ourselves to be very good parents right now.”
“I’m not judging, Mi- uh, Derek. I promise. But... I do think hearing it would do Victoria some good. Especially since...”
“Victoria didn’t believe me, when I told her you’d given me your personal phone number. She doesn’t seem to think that you believe she’s worth it.”
“... I never realized she thought we cared so little for her.”
“You and your wife visiting could go a long way, Derek.”
“I’ll... I’ll see what we can do, Max. We’ll call you back.”
Chapter 10: Letters
July 8th, 2019
Victoria sighed, as she scratched the back of her neck. “I think I’m finished,” she said quietly.
“Oh?” Max looked over at the notepad in front of Victoria, and the names she’d listed. “Wow.”
“Yea.” Victoria shook her head sadly. “I guess you don’t realize how many people you pissed off until you have to write their names down.”
Max looked over the list. She recognized a few of them, but the others were a mystery. “Who’s Jenkins?”
“The teacher I threw a cup of hot coffee at, back at UCLA. He had to go to the ER for burns.” Victoria looked at Max. “That was also when I punched Courtney, for trying to keep my stash away from me.”
“Ah.” Max kept reading. “That’s longer than I thought it would be.”
Victoria smirked. “Sorry to disappoint you.”
“It’s... yea. I got nothing.” Max sighed. “Um... not to tell you who you have or haven’t hurt, but there are a couple of people you should consider adding.”
“Who?” Victoria frowned, looking at her list. “I don’t think I missed anyone.”
Max leaned forward. “I know your relationship isn’t... well, it’s not very good. But do you think your parents deserve some kind of apology?”
Victoria didn’t answer for a few seconds, as she stared back at the paper. “… probably.”
Max studied her face. “You don’t sound very sure.”
“Sorry.” Victoria leaned back in her chair, setting her pencil down. “I did put them through a lot of shit. And I know they spent a small fortune, trying to keep me out of jail and in school.” She paused. “Plus, it was their cash I was spending on drugs.”
“But...” Max prodded.
“I... don’t know.” Victoria placed her elbows on the table, as she looked back at her list. “It’s just... I did bad shit to all these people, and they really didn’t deserve it. I was angry at my parents before I spent all their cash on blow.”
“Because of Blackwell?”
“That, too.” Victoria sighed. “Sending me away from my friends and Seattle definitely made me hate them a lot. And then there was the missed holidays, birthdays, vacations where I was essentially by myself...”
Max nodded. “Your parents weren’t around very much.”
“No. My dad was always off making more money, and my mother had various social engagements.” Victoria shook her head. “The summer before Senior year, I spent four weeks basically running around Europe by myself.”
“Your parents didn’t go with you?” Max asked incredulously. “How did you manage that? You were a minor.”
“I was with a ‘guardian’.” Victoria held up her hands and gestured with air quotes, at that last word. “Some employee of my dad’s who couldn’t have given less of a shit. I did whatever the hell I wanted. I spent most of that month drunk out of my mind.”
“Wow.” Max paused. “You’re still angry at your parents for all that?”
Victoria bit her lip and averted her eyes. “Maybe,” she conceded. “I... never mind.”
“It’s stupid. And juvenile.”
“My favorite kind of movie.” Max leaned forward. “Spill.”
“Jesus.” Victoria shook her head. “It’s... sometimes I wonder, if they had bothered to pay attention when I was younger, would they have noticed that I was always drinking? And smoking pot? And buying cheap prescription meds in Europe, to smuggle back in my luggage?” She paused. “And maybe... fuck, I don’t know. Done something about it?”
Max pursed her lips. “... do you blame them for where you are now?”
Victoria sighed. “I know it’s my own fault that I’m here. But... sometimes I wonder if it’s not a little bit theirs, too.” She looked back at Max. “Is that narcissistic, or what?”
“Maybe a little,” Max acknowledged. “But it’s not narcissism if you recognize it.”
“That doesn’t make me feel better.” Victoria looked back at her list, then slowly reached out and picked the pencil back up. “But I guess I at least should apologize for all their money I spent on drugs.”
Max nodded, as Victoria wrote her parent’s names at the bottom of her list.
I want to start this by saying how sorry I am for what I did.
Hopefully that gets you to not toss the rest of this letter in the trash, assuming you haven’t already. I know you have no reason to accept any apologies from me, and just saying it doesn’t make up for breaking your nose back at Blackwell.
If I was trying to weasel out of it, I would just tell you that I was high. I snorted a line of coke before I left my dorm room, and what you said really hit home. Not because I disagreed, but because I knew you were right, and I didn’t want to hear the truth from anyone.
But the drugs don’t matter. I don’t want to use them as a crutch for this. My behavior at Blackwell was horrendous, even before everything happened. I just want you to know how sorry I am for what I did. And if we ever meet face-to-face again, I understand if you want to return the favor.
I would appreciate a couple of seconds to prepare, though.
July 10th, 2019
“It sounds very sincere.”
Victoria blinked. “You think so?”
Kate nodded, as she folded the letter and slid it back across the table. “Was it hard to write?”
“A little,” Victoria admitted. “Max says I suck at apologizing.” She sighed. “In my defense... I didn’t really do it very often, before.”
“No, I imagine not.” Kate smirked. “Who else are you writing letters to?”
“Everyone.” Victoria looked up as she tried to remember everyone on her list. “Dana, Juliet, a few teachers, Chloe Price’s mother, and a bunch of the other students from Blackwell.”
“Hmm.” Kate nodded. “What about Taylor? And Courtney?”
“... them, too.” Victoria averted her eyes. “I don’t know if they want it, though. I was really shitty to both of them.”
“There’s nothing lost in sending letters, Victoria.”
“You sound like Max.” Victoria leaned back in her chair. “I am. I just have no idea how to even begin to apologize for what I did. Saying ‘I’m sorry’ just doesn’t cut it for breaking Courtney’s nose. Or trying to steal Taylor’s dead mother’s necklace to sell for coke.”
Kate nodded sympathetically. “I’m sure that fact that you really are sorry will mean something.”
“I hope so.”
“How are you doing?” Kate asked, changing direction. “With your recovery, I mean. I did some research online, and it said that full withdrawal symptoms could take a while to go away.”
Victoria nodded. “It’s... better,” she admitted quietly. “I sleep through the night, sometimes. And Max is pretty good about pulling me out of a funk. But...” she hesitated. “I still miss it. Like, really, really badly.”
Kate raised her eyebrows. “Even after everything?”
“Even after all of it.” Victoria glanced down at her lap. “If you dropped a dime-bag in front of me, I couldn’t promise that I wouldn’t do a line right here on the table.”
“God.” Kate shuddered. “I didn’t know cocaine was that addictive.”
“It’s amazing, Kate. I can’t even begin to describe it.” Victoria looked at her. “The feeling you get... I never felt anything like it before, the first time I tried it. I was feeling like a real piece of shit, and just hated everything. Frank Bowers, back in Arcadia Bay, told me that coke was a good pick-me-up, so I tried it. And he undersold it. It really felt that good.”
“That’s actually pretty scary.” Kate shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “I would hope that a drug like that would have a negative effect, or something, to keep people from enjoying it so much.”
“But I don’t think you give yourself enough credit,” Kate added. “You’re a pretty headstrong woman. I think you could resist the temptation, if it came down to it.”
“I wish I had your confidence.” Victoria shook her head. “Can we talk about something else?”
“How about your fiancé?” Victoria smirked. “Does Hector know he’s going to be a dad yet?”
“He does.” Kate smiled. “I put the pregnancy test in a gift bag, and gave it to him. The look on his face was priceless.”
Victoria snorted. “Oh, God, that’s awesome.” She paused. “And a little unhygienic.”
“Why is it- oh. OH. Ew, gross, no.” Kate shook her head vehemently. “Not the stick, Victoria. I went to my OB/GYN and had the test confirmed. I gave him the paper results.”
“Nice. Does that affect your guy’s wedding planning?”
“Yea, we talked about that after he calmed down. We’re gonna push the date back a few months. We haven’t paid any money yet, so it should be pretty simple.”
“Good thing.” Victoria wiggled her eyebrows. “Can’t walk down the aisle with a baby bump. Imagine the scandal.”
“I’m a Catholic woman who’s about to have a baby as a result of pre-marital sex,” she pointed out. “We passed the point of scandal a long time ago.”
“True.” Victoria nodded. “What changed your mind?”
“About what?” Kate looked confused.
“I mean... you tried to start an abstinence club, back at Blackwell,” Victoria reminded her. “Not to bring back old memories, but I figured you had sights set on joining a convent or something.”
Kate rolled her eyes. “I never planned on becoming a nun, Victoria.”
“Okay, but you know what I’m saying, right?”
“Yea.” Kate shrugged. “Well, I still had that mindset, when I first went off to college. But it wasn’t quite as fulfilling, I guess, as it was at Blackwell. My faith bought me a lot of comfort back then, but after everything happened... I don’t know. It just wasn’t the same.”
Victoria felt her gut clench, as her gaze fell to her lap. “I’m sorry,” she said quietly.
“Honestly, Victoria, I’m not that upset about it,” Kate assured her. “It did help me come out of my shell, a little bit. I actually went to a few parties, following my friends when they went pub-crawling... it was a good experience.”
Victoria tried to ignore her guilt, as she absorbed what Kate said. “You actually went pub-crawling?”
“I did. And I had a lot of fun while I was doing it.” Kate nodded. “I met Hector at a dive bar in Eureka.”
“Oh, I haven’t shown you his picture, have I?” Kate pulled her phone from her pocket, quickly bringing up an image and showing Victoria.
He was pretty handsome, she had to admit. He towered over Kate, easily six feet tall, and was wearing a polo shirt with well-worn jeans and boots. His black hair was not excessively long, but it was slicked down with gel, and he had a fashionable amount of scruff on his face. The arm he had around Kate’s shoulder was heavily tattooed.
“He looks nothing like what I imagined,” Victoria commented.
“You should have seen my mother’s face when they met.” Kate smirked. “She doesn’t like him. Thinks he’s a terrible Christian because he has tattoos and drinks alcohol.”
“I thought you guys met in a bar. Do you not drink?”
“I do, but my mother doesn’t know that.”
Victoria smirked back. “What does he do?”
“He’s a lineman. Works for the local electric company back in Tacoma.” Kate put her phone away. “He was actually celebrating when we met, because he’d just been promoted to Journeyman.”
“That’s pretty cool.” Victoria nodded. “I’m happy for you. And...” she hesitated. “It does feel good, to know that I didn’t totally screw up your life.”
Kate smiled. “Little bit of a load off?”
“Something like that.”
I’d really, really like to hope you don’t remember me, but I’m pretty sure I left enough of an impression.
When you last spoke, you told me that I had a problem. I know you were probably talking about my abysmal academic performance, or my terrible attendance record. I’m sure you know what my problem really was, by now.
I was high when I went to see you. I did drugs right before I left the dorm room that morning. I don’t want to blame them for what I did; I know it was my fault, for taking them in the first place. But that was why I reacted so badly when you told me that I wasn’t allowed to re-schedule the mid-term.
I know my father paid for your expenses, and had you sign a non-disclosure. I wanted you to hear, from me, that I am sorry for what I did. And I’m sorry it took so long for me to say that to you.
Chapter 11: Replies
July 17th, 2019
Victoria licked her lips, as she slowly stood from her chair.
“My name’s Victoria,” she said quietly to the rest of the group. “And... I’m an addict.”
The chorus of “Hi, Victoria” that followed her statement made her tense up a little bit. She tried to ignore all the eyes that were on her.
“It’s been...” she hesitated. “Um... crap. I, uh, forgot to count this morning.”
A handful of chuckles rang out. Max, standing at the back of the room, held up four fingers, then five.
“Oh. It’s been forth-five days since the last time I got high.” She paused. “I, uh, keep waiting for the craving to go away, but it doesn’t. Even though it almost killed me, I still miss the coke. Really, really bad.” She glanced at Henry, watching impassively. “No offense, but I’m really hoping I still don’t feel like this after twenty years.”
“My counselor’s been doing a pretty good job of pointing out what a piece of shit I was,” she continued, to a few more chuckles. “I’m trying to do better. I’ve been writing letters to a few people. I have no idea if they got them or not. And I really don’t know what to say, to a few of them. I mean... ‘I’m sorry’ doesn’t feel like enough, for breaking the nose of my friend when she tried to take away my stash.”
She shook her head. “This sucks,” she finally said with a sigh. “I really wish, some days, that I could go back in time to the moment I snorted that first line. And just start beating the shit out of myself for being so fucking stupid.”
Not feeling like she had anything else to say, she shrugged silently and sat back down.
“Hearing you speak was a nice change of pace.”
Victoria glanced over at Henry, as the meeting ended and the others left. “How bad was I?” she asked. “I don’t really have much of a way with words.”
“Not as bad as you think you were, I assure you.” He smiled. “I’ve seen much worse.”
“I bet.” Victoria sighed. “It doesn’t feel like it really did anything.”
“Talking about your addiction is important,” Henry stressed. “Communication with others helps you stay sober. People can’t help you if they don’t know how you’re feeling.”
“What, like shit?”
“Hopeless.” Henry looked pointedly at the wall behind her. “You’ve seen that, right?”
She looked over her shoulder. While she’d noticed that there was writing on the wall, she hadn’t actually paid attention to what it said. Big blue letters practically shouted at her, spelling out ONE DAY AT A TIME.
“... I don’t get it.”
“You’re thinking too far out,” he explained. “Don’t worry about how you’re going to feel in twenty years, Victoria. Just focus on getting through today.” He smirked. “Tomorrow is Future Victoria’s problem.”
She scoffed. “Yea, but I’m acutely aware that I’ll still miss the coke tomorrow.”
“Then focus on something else.” Henry leaned back in his chair. “Have you tried to apologize for breaking your friend’s nose?”
“No,” Victoria muttered. “I’m still writing letters. I have been for a couple of weeks. But I really don’t know what to say to her.”
“But you are going to write her?”
“Yea.” She sighed heavily. “Eventually.”
Henry nodded. “Has anyone written you back?”
She shook her head.
“That happens, too.” He shrugged. “Not everyone will reply. But they will read the letter. And I assure you, they’ll appreciate it.”
She was still thinking about doing lines of coke, when she went back to her room. At least, until she opened the door.
Victoria was aware of how mail worked at the rehab center. It had been explained that any mail that came for her would be left on her bed in the afternoon. She hadn’t thought much about it, since she hadn’t gotten any.
But there was now a white envelope on her bed.
She slowly walked across the room, staring at it for several seconds before picking it up. Turning it over, she scanned the return address to see who it was from. And as soon as she saw the name, she felt the blood leave her face.
Victoria left, making her way towards the offices. It took a few minutes to get there, though she was so lost in her mind that she barely remembered the journey. She came out of her daze when she found Max at her desk, typing on a computer.
Max looked up as she sat down in the chair across from her. Victoria wordlessly put the envelope on the table, sliding it towards her.
“Someone wrote back,” Max stated.
Her counselor picked up the letter, turning it over to look at the name. She glanced back at Victoria with arched eyebrows.
“Why haven’t you opened it?”
“... I don’t want to.”
Max put the envelope down. “Why not?”
“Because my best friend killed her daughter.” Victoria exhaled slowly. “I’m not sure if I want to know what she said to me.”
“What did you say, exactly, in your letter to Joyce?”
“That, uh...” Victoria licked her lips. “That I was sorry. For what Nathan did. And not knowing what he was doing. And I told her that if I had known, I swear I would’ve stopped him.” She paused. “And that I regret, every day, what happened. That I’d do anything to fix it.”
“Do you want me to see what she wrote?”
Victoria nodded. “Just... I don’t want to know if she calls me a piece of shit, of something.”
Max retrieved a letter opener, cutting through the envelope and producing a folded hand-written note. She opened it and started reading it silently. Victoria forced herself to take shallow breaths, as she tried not to think about everything Joyce Madsen would have said to her.
After a few minutes, Max put the letter down. She took a deep breath, before she started speaking. “She accepted your apology.”
Victoria blinked. “She... did?”
“Joyce said the she appreciated what you wrote. And that she’s heard about the trouble you’ve been having.” Max pushed the letter back towards Victoria. “She said that she hopes you’re getting better. And that she’s going to keep you in her prayers.”
Victoria took the letter back, reading it for herself. She glanced back at Max after she was done. “... I don’t get it.”
“Is something about it confusing?”
“No, but...” Victoria put the letter down. “Chloe’s dead. And she just...”
“Victoria, Joyce never blamed you for what happened. She certainly doesn’t like Nathan very much; if he ever wrote her a letter, she’d probably chuck it into the fireplace. But you’re hardly to blame for what he did.”
“I could have stopped it,” she muttered. “I knew he was having issues.”
“Did you know he had a gun?”
“Then there was nothing you could have done.” Max shrugged. “Victoria, not everyone is going to appreciate what you’re doing, by sending those letters. But I think you’re underestimating what an apology will mean to a lot of people.”
“Could’ve fooled me.” Victoria glanced at the letter in her hand. “Nobody else has written back.”
Max pressed her lips together. Then she opened a drawer on her desk and reached inside. She came back up with a few envelopes, setting them down on the desk and nudging them towards Victoria. The blonde saw that they were addressed to her.
“What are those?”
“People who’ve written you back.”
Victoria glanced back and forth between Max and the letters. “... you’ve been intercepting my mail?”
“Your mail comes to this office first. I’m the one who put the letter on your bed this afternoon.”
“I- why are- wait, you’ve just been keeping-”
“I knew what Joyce wrote,” Max interrupted. “She called me when she got your letter, and told me what she wanted to say. But I don’t know what these people have said.” She nodded towards the envelopes. “I didn’t want your first letter to be a negative one.”
Victoria glanced at the stack in front of her. After a few seconds, she picked them up and started looking at the return addresses. “... Alyssa wrote me back?”
“She was the first one I got.” Max nodded. “About a week ago. The rest have been trickling in.”
“Professor Jenkins... Dana Ward... Brooke Scott... Kevin Ballard...”
“Who is that, by the way?”
“Another student who went to UCLA.” Victoria held up the envelope. “I crashed my Audi into his crappy Honda while he was pulling into a parking space. Then I got pissed because he wrecked my car, and I tried to fight him.” She sighed. “Another thing my parents had to deal with.”
“You were high?”
“I was high for most of the time I was there.” Victoria set the letter down, looking at the others. “... I don’t know if I want to open any of these, either.”
Max smirked. “If you’re going to limit the letters you open to people you didn’t piss off, it’s gonna be a short list.”
“Yea, okay.” Victoria sighed, plucking one from the stack. “Let’s just get this over with.”
She was silent as she opened the envelope, reading the letter in it’s entirety. And the next one. Max watched wordlessly as Victoria read through all five letters, her face devoid of emotion as she absorbed what people had written to her.
Max finally cleared her throat as Victoria put the last letter down. “Well?”
“Jenkins said he appreciated the letter. And that he hoped I got the help I needed. So did Dana. Kevin said he didn’t really hold a grudge, since the settlement he got from my parents paid for a new car.” She smirked. “Alyssa said the same thing, pretty much. She figured I was on something, and she accepted my apology. But she was gonna decline the offer to punch me back.”
“You offered to let her hit you?”
“I did. But she said she’d already spent the settlement money on her college tuition, and didn’t have enough to pay for knocking me out in revenge.”
“Yea, that sounds like her.” Max paused. “What about Brooke?”
Victoria shrugged. “Nothing worth mentioning.”
“Come on, Victoria.”
She sighed. “She said that she didn’t care. And told me to lose her address.”
“Hm.” Max shook her head. “Well... like I said. Not everyone is going to appreciate what you’re doing.”
“I guess not.” Victoria put the letters down. “Four out of five ain’t bad, right?”
“Exactly. You’re doing the right thing, Victoria. Just stay positive about it.” Max looked back at the letters. “How many do you still have to send?”
“Courtney. And Taylor.”
“Oh. Right.” Max sighed. “Sorry. I’m, uh... still trying to get their addresses.”
Victoria took a short breath. “They don’t want to hear from me, do they?”
Max bit her lip.
Two weeks prior
“Don’t even fucking think about it.”
“She’s just trying to-”
“You know how much effort I put in, to try and stop her from doing coke? All I got for my trouble was empty promises, a total of three hundred bucks that went missing from my purse over a year, and a broken nose. I am DONE with her, Max. That door is firmly closed.”
“Courtney, it’s just a-”
“I don’t want to hear it. I’m glad that she’s not dead. But I have a life here, and a career I’m still working on. I am over Victoria’s shit.”
“She’s CLEAN, Courtney. It’s a letter. That’s all.”
“Yea, she swore to me four times, back at UCLA, that she was done with the blow. You ever read about the boy who cried wolf?”
“This is not like-”
“Save your breath. You’re not going to convince me. And by the way, don’t even THINK about asking Taylor, because she’ll be a lot less fuckin’ nice about it than I am.”
“I have to go, I’m busy.”
“... not right now.” Max shook her head. “But you should still write the letters.”
“Yea.” Victoria nodded with downcast eyes. “I will.”
Max: I didn’t appreciate that.
Brooke: Appreciate what?
Max: You know what. Don’t act dumb, you’re not good at it.
Brooke: Ah. Well, I don’t know what she wanted out of me, but she got the truth.
Max: You seriously don’t care that she’s sorry? And she’s trying to stay sober?
Max: What an incredible attitude for a future doctor to have.
Brooke: This isn’t Future Doctor talking. This is Brooke. The girl who watched Victoria make people cry, and break Alyssa’s nose, and degrade everyone at that school. And then get away with literal murder by hiding behind Daddy’s money.
Brooke: As far as I’m concerned, this is karma catching up with her.
Max: Maybe. But she’s actively trying to make things right and do better. You had the opportunity to be a bigger person, and instead you decided to be a bitch.
Brooke: Gee, Max, tell me how you really feel.
Max: I am. Addiction is a disease. Which is why when people decide to try and beat it, we support and encourage them, not tear them down.
Max: Your letter hurt Victoria more than she’s letting on. You just sabotaged my effort to help her want to stay sober. And as her counselor, I do not appreciate you being a fucking asshole.
Brooke: Oh, please. That ‘disease’ crap is bullshit.
Max: Tell that to the AMA. And maybe pay more attention in your ethics classes, because this explains why your fiancé is doing better than you.
Brooke: Eat me.
Max: I don’t eat rotten food. Tell Warren I said hi.
Chapter 12: Parents
Jul 26th, 2019
“Very good. Certainly much better than when you first got here.”
Victoria smirked, as she got off the scale. “That mean I can start my diet again?”
“No.” The doctor scribbled in his chart. “You’re still underweight. No dieting.”
“But I like being skinny.”
“There’s skinny, and there’s unhealthy. I’ve seen supermodels with higher BMI numbers than you.” The doctor set down his clipboard and pulled the stethoscope from around his neck. “Remove your shirt, please.”
She did as instructed, slightly self-conscious that her ribs were still showing under her bra. The doctor put the stethoscope to her chest, listening for a few moments. “Your heart sounds good,” he told her. “Recovering nicely. But you’re not there yet. Any chest pain?”
“A little, but it’s not bad.”
“Good.” He re-slung the stethoscope and made another note. “No using the gym, either. You’re not ready for strenuous physical activity yet.”
“... okay.” She put her shirt back on. “Can I go now?”
She slipped out of the office to find Max waiting for her in the hallway. “So?” her counselor asked, as she stood from the chair. “How are you doing?”
“Better, I guess.” Victoria sat down heavily. “He says I still need to eat more. And I’m still not allowed to use the gym, which sucks.”
Max frowned as she sat back down. “I didn’t know you wanted to use the gym.”
“I think it’s more about being told that I can’t.” Victoria shrugged. “He said no strenuous activity. Probably bad for my heart if it starts beating too fast. So maybe we should push this meeting back a few more-”
“No,” Max said immediately. “It was hard enough to arrange it.”
“Of course.” Victoria sighed. “What was I thinking, that my father would take time out of his schedule for me.”
“He’s flying down from Seattle to see you.”
“It’s a lot less of an inconvenience when he owns the plane, Max.”
Max paused. “... he does?”
“Last I knew, he owned three of them.”
“Must be nice planes.”
“Very.” Victoria hugged herself as she leaned forward, bracing her elbows on her knees; she was suddenly very tired. “I don’t even know what I want to say. Or what HE’S going to say.”
“He wants to see how you’re doing,” Max said. “I’ve been telling him that you’re making great progress. You have no idea how much hearing that meant to him.”
Victoria scoffed. “So he’s just gonna... what? Come down to make sure I haven’t overdosed again, and jet off back to Seattle?”
“Is it really so hard for you to believe that your parents care about you?” Max asked. “That they want to know that you’re okay?”
“You’re gonna ask me that, after everything I’ve told you about them?”
“Okay. Let me rephrase.” Max leaned forward. “Is it possible that this is just one more thing you’re wrong about?”
Victoria opened her mouth to argue, but stopped short. Max took the opportunity to keep going.
“Look, they’re your parents. You might know them better than me,” she admitted. “But I’ve spoken to your father several times since you’ve been here. He may not really know how to show it, but he does care, Victoria.”
“... right.” Victoria sighed. “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
Jul 28th, 2019
Her father did seem relieved. Victoria was willing to admit that, when she saw him.
When Max lead her into the room, the first thing Victoria saw was her mother. In an eyeblink, Mary had crossed the room and wrapped her in a bone-crushing hug.
Derek was not as spry. He stood, a pained expression on his face as he watched Victoria return her mother’s hug. “Sweetie,” he breathed as they separated. “It’s good to see you.”
“What?” Victoria retorted. “Alive?”
“Okay, sit.” Max took her shoulder, squeezing tighter than she needed to as she guided Victoria towards one of the sofas. Mary and Derek sat in the other one, a coffee table between them. Max took a seat between them in an easy chair.
“Now.” She settled in, as she glanced at Victoria. “Would you like to go first?”
The look Max gave her made it clear that it wasn’t the time for games. Victoria sighed, as she glanced at her feet. “... I’m sorry. For what I put you guys through.” She bit her lip. “And spending your money on coke. And the out-of-court settlements. And the lawyers. And... keeping me out of prison in general, I guess.”
Derek and Mary exchanged glances. “I never thought we’d hear you say anything like that,” her father commented quietly.
“Yea, well, nothing like almost dying of a heart attack to bring out the-”
“Victoria,” Max interrupted sharply. She took the hint and stopped talking.
Derek inhaled. “I know it might be hard for you to believe, Victoria... but seeing you like this...” he paused. “It means a lot.”
Victoria was about to retort, but Max’s look caught her eye. She begrudgingly lowered her head. “... fair enough,” she muttered.
“I know you don’t think very much of us right now, Victoria, but-”
“That has nothing to do with the coke,” Victoria shot back. “I don’t even-”
“No, I’m talking now, Max.” Victoria sat back upright, folding her arms. “I don’t even know why you guys are here. Because given our history, I find it hard to believe that you both decided to all of the sudden be parents, or give a shit.”
Derek blinked, and Mary put a hand to her chest. “Victoria, of course we care about you!” she exclaimed. “Don’t you know that?”
“No. I don’t,” Victoria countered. “Between forcing me to leave my friends, go to a high school I hated, let me run around Europe by my fucking SELF, and then ship me off to UCLA as soon as you could, I have no idea what was actually going through your minds.”
“We were trying to do what was best for you!”
“By what? Never being around?” Victoria scoffed. “I saw you two for maybe three days, between my junior and senior year. I wasn’t even sure if you knew I went to Europe.”
Derek leaned forward. “We sent you with a guardian-”
“Yea, your ‘guardian’ was fucking worthless.” Victoria made sure to use air quotes. “He didn’t even notice when I was filling the suitcase lining with bottles of Percocet. And if he realized that I was getting drunk by myself every night, he didn’t fuckin’ show it.”
“You were- where did you get-”
“And then when I finally got kicked out of UCLA, you stuck me in Georgetown. As far away as you possibly could, while still keeping me on a leash.” She shook her head. “Did you even remember I was there? Because it took you four days to send a driver to fetch me.”
“Okay, Victoria, you made your point.” Max leaned forward, looking at Mary and Derek. Victoria’s mother looked aghast, as she stared at her daughter.
Derek just looked heartbroken, as he sighed heavily.
“I know we failed you.”
She was taken aback at the admission, stunned into silence. It was the first time Victoria had ever heard her father say that he was wrong.
“Trust me, Victoria, neither of us is under the impression we’ve been great parents.” He spared a look at Max. “Your counselor made it abundantly clear when we brought you here, that we had failed you miserably.”
Victoria glanced at Max. The brunette ignored her as she focused on Derek.
“I want to do better. WE want to do better.” Derek glanced at his wife. “But we don’t want you to go back to the drugs, either.”
“Yea. Well.” Victoria leaned back. “That makes two of us.”
“I heard. Max said you were doing very well here, and that you’ve made good progress.” He nodded towards the brunette. “She told us last week that you were ready to leave.”
Victoria looked at Max in surprise. “... I am?”
“You’ve said several times that you were done with the coke,” Max reminded her. “And you have been doing much better. You’ve also been here twice as long as most inpatients.”
“But Victoria, your mother and I are still worried about you.” Derek rubbed his hands together. “We don’t want you to backslide. So... we wanted to talk about how we were going to help.”
“You’re gonna help? I thought I was cut off.”
“And I told you that we wanted to do better.”
Victoria mulled over his words. “... help how?”
He cleared his throat. “Max has told us that there’s a program...” he hesitated before looking at the brunette. “I’m sorry, I don’t remember the name. Was it MA?”
“NA,” Max corrected. “Narcotics Anonymous. Like Alcoholics Anonymous, but specific to drugs.”
“Right. She says there’s a chapter in Georgetown that meets twice a week.” He nodded. “It’s only a few blocks from the condo. We all want you to go, when you move back.”
Victoria’s brow furrowed. “I thought you sold the condo.”
Derek looked just as confused as she did. The pieces clicked in her mind after a few seconds, and she turned to Max, who had a smirk on her face. “... I fucking knew you were bluffing.”
“Hey, it kept you here.”
“Um... anyway.” Derek shifted in his seat. “Narcotics Anon-”
“Fine. I’ll go.” Victoria sighed, waving her hand. “I’ll do the meetings. What else?”
A surprised look crossed Derek’s face.
“Nothing. I’m just... we thought you’d put up a protest.”
Victoria shrugged. “I was serious, when I said I wanted to be done with the coke,” she muttered. “If it helps, I’ll do it. So? What else?”
“Well... we want to trust you, sweetie.” Derek paused. “But we thought that having someone be there for you would be-”
“Oh, God, you hired that fucking Sober Companion back.” Victoria slumped into the couch. “Christ, that guy was such an asshole.”
Derek shook his head. “We didn’t hire the last one, since he clearly didn’t work.” He glanced at the brunette between them. “We offered the job to Max.”
Victoria blinked several times, absorbing what he’d said. “... you hired Max? To be my live-in babysitter?”
“Sober Companion,” Max corrected her.
“I thought you liked this job.”
“I do. I also have student loans. And your father’s paying very well.” Max shrugged. “The director agreed to let me take a year-long sabbatical.”
“… like, a full year?”
Max nodded. “Well, ten months,” she corrected. “To help you with your first year.”
“Great.” Victoria blew air out her nose. “I was looking forward to you not busting my balls every day.”
“You could ask your dad to hire the other guy back inst-”
“No,” Victoria said quickly. “Definitely not.”
“Then get over it. Roomie.”
“Do NOT fucking call me that,” Victoria muttered. She turned back to her father. “Fine. What are the other conditions of my parole?”
Her parents exchanged glances. “We want you to enroll back in school,” Derek said after a few seconds.
“The online school again?”
“Yes.” He nodded. “But we want you to pay for it.”
“Huh?” Victoria blinked. “How am I supposed to...” she paused, the implication dawning on her. “... you want me to get a job.”
“We don’t think it’s unreasonable.”
“Doing what? I have, like, no skills.”
“There’s a restaurant four blocks away from the condo. They’ve agreed to hire you on as a waitress.” Derek looked at Max. “Your counselor was telling me last week, that waitressing helped her pay for-”
“Ugh.” Victoria closed her eyes tightly, pain evident in her voice. “Waitressing? Jesus, I’d rather go be a fucking stripper or something.”
Max snorted. “It’s not that bad, Victoria. Your parents are paying for the condo, utilities, and food; all you’ll have to pay for is tuition and books, which you can do easily. Especially for an online school.” She paused. “Besides, having a job gives you structure, which is important for someone in recovery.”
“Right.” Victoria dragged her hand down her face. “Idle hands do the devil’s work?”
“I wasn’t going to put it like that. But pretty much.”
“Great.” She looked back at her father. “Are there any other conditions to my release from purgatory?”
He shook his head. “We just...” he hesitated. “We love you, Victoria. We want you to get better.”
“... yea. Okay.” She bit her lip, as she weighed her next words carefully. “Can I ask for something that I don’t really deserve?”
“Money for clothes. And a laptop.” She glanced at Max. “You can give it to Max, if you want. But I only have, like, five outfits. And if you guys want me to do online school...” she let the sentence hang.
Derek and Mary looked at each other and nodded. “We’ll give the money to Max,” he told her. “And we’ll make sure you get a laptop.”
“Thanks.” Victoria hesitated, feeling like she should say more. “I, uh... I promise I’ll do my best not to fuck it up.”
Chapter 13: Georgetown
Aug 4th, 2019
“Home sweet home.”
Max looked up at the building, as she drove her car around the block. “Wow. It looks pretty nice.”
“Of course it does. It’s Georgetown.” Victoria scoffed. “Have you never been here before?”
“My parents live in Kenmore. We didn’t have much of a reason to be in this neighborhood.” Max shrugged. “I think we drove through it once, but that’s about it.”
“Then welcome to the nicer part of Seattle.” Victoria pointed to the entrance of an underground garage. “Parking is through there.”
Max followed her directions, taking a free spot near an elevator. They got out, Max pulling her backpack and a rolling suitcase from the back seat. “Do you need help?”
“Maybe.” Victoria opened the trunk, retrieving her duffle bag. And scooping up the bags of clothing she’d purchased on the way up from Oregon. “No, I’m good.”
“Great.” Max closed the back door, locking the car as Victoria shut the trunk. “Which floor?” she asked as they walked into the elevator.
She dutifully pressed the button, and the car started climbing. As they rose, Max watched Victoria shuffle anxiously from foot to foot. “Are you okay?”
“... I kind of left the place in a bad way,” Victoria muttered. “I didn’t bother cleaning it much, before I had my... you know.”
“We can fix it,” Max assured her. “My apartment wasn’t very clean either.”
“Not like mine, it wasn’t.”
Max didn’t reply as the car stopped, and they got out. She led the way to the unit, inserting the key and unlocking the door.
A pristine condo greeted them. Max paused, glancing around. There wasn’t a speck of dust to be found on the tasteful furniture, and the floor looked like it had been professionally cleaned; she could still see the lines from a vacuum cleaner in the brown carpet. The kitchen was practically sparkling, the floor almost looking like it had been polished.
“Yea, a real hovel you left here,” she said dryly as they stepped inside.
Victoria entered behind her and glanced around, blinking in astonishment. “It didn’t look like this before.”
“I suspect your dad had the place fixed up for us.”
“I’ll say. This carpet isn’t even the same color. It was white two months ago; he must have replaced it. There was a dent in the wall over there, and...” she paused, noticing the television mounted to the wall. “... I pawned that TV.”
Max stepped closer and examined it. “Well, you’re not pawning this one.”
“I didn’t plan to.”
“I mean that you literally can’t.” Max tapped a metal label that was affixed to the side. “There’s a corporate asset tag on it. No pawn shop will touch it.”
“Yea, I suppose that’s fair.” Victoria looked around some more. “I don’t think it’s looked this good since I moved in after UCLA.”
“Well, that was nice of your father.” Max nodded towards one of the doors. “Is that the guest room?”
“Linen closet. Guest room is the door on the left, though there wasn’t any furniture when I last saw it.”
Max opened the door. A brand-new bed sat in the room, plastic still on the mattress. A sheet set and folded comforter sat on top of it, as well as two pillows. A dresser was against the other wall, on top of which sat some decorative knick-knacks and a mirror. “I think your father has this place confused with a hotel.”
Victoria snorted in amusement as Max left her bags and walked back into the living room. She noticed a brown box sitting on the kitchen counter and looked over the label. “Your laptop’s out here.”
“Yea.” Max tapped the box as Victoria walked out of her bedroom. “Looks like a decent one.”
“Looks like a mid-range computer from Best Buy,” Victoria muttered. “I miss my MacBook.”
“Mm.” Max checked her watch. “Okay, the NA meeting is in ninety minutes. So we can unpack a little bit, before we head over and-”
“How does this work?”
Max paused. “How does what work?”
“You. Me. Living in this condo.” Victoria turned and sat down on the couch. “You said you’ll be here until… when?”
“Next June. When you hit a full year of sobriety.”
“Wonderful,” Victoria muttered. “And what, exactly, did my father hire you to do for the next ten months?”
“Make sure that you stayed off the coke. Help you get your life back together. Be here in case you need me.” Max frowned. “Why do you not know how this works? You’ve had a Sober Companion before.”
“Yea, but I hated him. I made it a point to ditch him whenever I could. And for someone whose job it was to keep me sober, he was lousy at being able to tell when I was high.”
Max cocked her head. “Do you hate me?”
“I... will tolerate you,” Victoria allowed. “Mostly because I want to make a real effort this time.”
“Glad to hear it.” Max leaned against the counter. “Look, if you want a schedule, there isn’t one. I’m not your boss, and you don’t have to check in every few hours or anything. Just like rehab, we’re gonna take this one day at a time. Right now, we’re focusing on the NA meeting that’s being held at the church in...” she checked her watch. “Eighty-five minutes.”
“Right.” Victoria sighed. “This isn’t something where I have to speak just because it’s my first night, is it?”
“No. It’s a support group, not Fight Club.”
“Right now, that distinction’s a little fuzzy.”
The meeting wasn’t as bad as Victoria thought it would’ve been.
It only lasted for about an hour. She sat quietly next to Max, listening to a few people talk while she drank mediocre coffee. It reminded her a lot of the group sessions at the rehab center, though there were considerably more people; she put the number at forty or fifty.
“I didn’t think there’d be so many addicts in this part of town,” she mentioned to Max quietly, once the meeting was over. “I thought there’d only be a couple dozen.”
“Addicts come from all walks of life,” Max reminded her. “You grew up rich, remember? Drugs don’t recognize social classes.”
“Yea, I know. Georgetown just doesn’t seem like it would have this kind of problem.”
“It’s not a problem, Victoria,” Max admonished. “Everyone’s here to get better, just like you.”
“I know that, I wasn’t...” she hesitated. “Know what? I’m just gonna stop talking, before I make it worse.”
Max smirked. “Good idea. Come on, I want you to meet someone.”
She guided her towards an older man, standing near the front of the room. They waited a few moments for him to finish his conversation, before Max stepped forward. “Hey, Charlie.”
His face brightened. “Max! I thought that might’ve been you back there.” He shook her hand vigorously. “Nice to meet you in person.”
“You too.” Max gestured towards the blonde. “This is Victoria.”
“So it is.” Charlie smiled warmly, as he extended his hand. “It’s good to meet you, Victoria.”
She shook his hand warily. “Uh... you too. Who are you?”
“Charles Brown. I run these meetings. You can call me Charlie.”
“As in... Charlie Brown?”
He chuckled. “My mother was a huge fan of the comic strip,” he explained. “When she found out I was a boy, she saw an opportunity and seized it. I’ve heard most of the jokes, trust me.”
She let herself smirk, as she let go of his hand. “Well, uh... cool meeting, I guess.”
“Thank you. We try not to be too boring.” He nodded. “Max said you just escaped from rehab?”
“I don’t know if I’d call it an escape.”
“We’ll call it what it is. How long have you been sober?”
“Um...” she hesitated. “Shit. I keep forgetting to count.”
“It’s your sixty-third day,” Max reminded her.
“Ah ha.” Charlie reached into his pocket, digging around. He produced a handful of plastic tokens, sorting through them before selecting a yellow one to hand her. “This is for you, then.”
Victoria took it with a frown. “What is it?”
“It’s your sixty-day sobriety token.” He plucked a couple more from his fingers, handing her a red and silver chip as well. “Take these, too, you earned all three of them. We usually hand these out in front of everyone, but since you passed the milestone already, we’ll do it for your ninety-day chip.”
She examined the new chips. The silver one had the number one on it, while the red one was marked for thirty. “What are these for? Like, medals or something?”
“No.” Charlie shook his head. “They’re not a symbol of your commitment to the program; they represent the program’s commitment to you.”
“They show how far you’ve come,” Max added. “Think of them as milestones. You get a new one for each month in your first year, and then a yearly chip after that.”
“Mm.” Victoria looked at them again, then tucked them into her pocket. “... thanks, I guess.”
“You’re welcome. Now, your sponsor...” Charlie looked around. “I think she stepped outside. I’ll be right back.”
Victoria glanced at Max as Charlie walked away. “What is he talking about?”
“My sponsor? I thought that was you.”
Max shook her head. “I’m your sober companion, Victoria. I don’t qualify to be a sponsor.”
“What? Why the hell not?”
“Because I’ve never been addicted to drugs.”
Victoria looked at her incredulously. “You have a degree in getting people clean. You’re probably more qualified than literally everybody here.”
“I don’t know what you’ve been through,” Max reminded her. “I’ll be here as your friend. But your sponsor can help you more than I can with cravings, and urges. She’ll know what it’s like to kick this kind of habit.”
“... okay.” Victoria exhaled. “That... doesn’t make a lot of sense. But whatever.”
Charlie reappeared a couple of minutes later, a younger woman in tow behind him. “Victoria, Stephanie here’s agreed to be your sponsor,” he informed her. “Stephanie, this is Victoria.”
The girl sighed, as she tucked a few strands of brown hair under her white beanie. “For the last time, Charlie, it’s Steph. Not Stephanie.” She smiled at Victoria. “Nice to meet you.”
“You too.” Victoria shook her hand. “So... now what?”
Steph shrugged. “Wanna do some drugs?”
Victoria did a double-take. “Uh… not really.”
“Good. Makes my job a lot easier.” Steph cracked a smirk. “How about a burger instead? I’m hungry.”
Chapter 14: Sponsor
Victoria couldn’t help but watch her new sponsor eat.
Steph went at the hamburger with a gusto she could only, in her mind, attribute to starving orphans. The woman practically inhaled her food, stopping only for the occasional sip of her soda. She’d never seen anything like it, and could only stare in fascination.
The brunette noticed her staring after a few minutes. “Sorry,” she said as she put the remains of the burger down. “I picked up bad table manners after a couple years of living in my car.”
“It’s fine.” Victoria leaned back, wishing that Max was with them; her counselor had elected to leave them alone, and go back to the condo. “So, I, uh… I don’t know how any of this works.”
“I figured. Charlie mentioned that you were fresh off the boat.” Steph produced a phone that had clearly seen better days. “What’s your number?”
“I’m gonna send you a text, so you have mine.”
“Oh.” Victoria retrieved her own phone, realizing that she could hardly judge Steph for hers. She had a battered iPhone 5, without a case, and the screen had a spiderweb crack in the corner. The two of them exchanged numbers quickly, sending confirmation texts.
“Cool. You can call me whenever you want, by the way. Day or night.” Steph put her phone away. “I know you have your sober buddy, but I’m always there, too.”
Victoria nodded. “Thanks.”
“No prob.” Steph took another sip of her drink. “So. What was your controlled substance of choice?”
Wow, talk about being blunt.
“Cocaine,” Victoria admitted quietly. “And painkillers, sometimes.”
“Ah. I’ve heard coke is pretty nice.”
“Yea, until you overdose.”
“Heard that, too.” Steph nodded. “I’m a fan of the prescriptions meds myself. Uppers, mostly, with the occasional anti-anxiety pill to smooth out the rough edges. I tried meth once, but I didn’t like the feeling of snorting powder.”
Victoria cocked her head. “You’re just an open book, aren’t you?”
“Well, I can hide it, or own it. And hiding it cost me my job and my girlfriend.” Steph shrugged. “Did you get hooked at Blackwell, too?”
“At-” Victoria was taken aback. “How the hell did you know I went to Blackwell?”
“Because I know who you are, Victoria Chase. That’s one of the reasons I agreed to be your sponsor.” Steph smirked, as she popped a fry into her mouth. “We were both at Blackwell together.”
“No we weren’t. I knew everyone in my class.”
“I was three grades ahead of you. I’m pretty sure we never spoke. I kept in touch with people when I graduated, though.” Steph leaned back in her seat. “Frank Bowers sold me my first pill. What about you?”
Victoria hesitated, absorbing the new information, then nodded. “I bought a dime-bag off of him; I just wanted to try it. Next time I met him, I bought an eight-ball.”
Steph whistled. “Fell hard and fast,” she commented, taking another bite of her burger.
“Yea I did.” Victoria sighed. “How did you go from popping pills to here?”
“Mm.” Steph chewed and swallowed. “Well, it’s a really long story, so I’ll stick to the highlights. I picked up the pill habit in Blackwell to help study, and stayed with it through college; most of my spending money went to my dealer. Graduated with a degree in Stage Management, but there isn’t really any work for that in Oregon, so I came up here to Seattle and got a job with a big theatre company."
Victoria blinked. “Wow. Sounds like a great job.”
Steph scoffed. “It’s rough. I had to handle the stages themselves, including design and construction, and then costumes got kind-of rolled into my responsibilities. I was also doing some production work behind the scenes and maintaining everything. During performance season, sixteen-hour days were the norm.”
“Right? I was just trying to keep up, so I stuck with the pills. Adderall, mostly, Dexedrine when I could get it, and Valium or Xanax to help mellow out.” She sighed. “I messed up a few times. Got loopy at work, made some pretty impressive mistakes. Someone ratted me out, and the boss forced me to do a drug test. Of course, it came back positive, and I was fired for cause.”
Victoria winced. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be. My own fault.” Steph shrugged. “I was living with my girlfriend at the time, but money got short after I was let go. And I kept popping pills, mostly because I was scared to stop. I started doing some artwork, since I’ve always been pretty good at that, but reputation takes time to build up, so I wasn’t making much. Girlfriend eventually got sick of my shit and threw me out of her apartment. Which kicked off the afore-mentioned two-year period of me living in my car.”
“Wow.” Victoria looked her up and down. “You look better. How did you get clean?”
“Honestly? By accident.” She snickered. “There were three or four times when I only had enough money for food or pills, and I kept choosing the pills. The last time it happened, I was near the church, and I saw that there was a meeting of some kind going on inside. They had donuts, and I was starving, so I figured sneaking in and pretending to pay attention wouldn’t hurt.”
Victoria tilted her head. “An NA meeting?”
“Mother of all coincidences.” Steph nodded back towards the church. “Charlie’s been running that group for about a decade. Pretty sure he pegged that I was tweaking as soon as I walked inside. Him and a couple of the women cornered me afterwards, and spent a few hours convincing me that I could do better. Even volunteered to help me through the withdrawals.” She shuddered. “That was a bitch and a half.”
“Yea.” Victoria itched at her wrist. “I remember.”
“I’ve heard detoxing from coke’s rough. How long did it take?”
“Little more than a week. Didn’t leave bed for most of it.”
“Sounds about right. Anyway, that was a while ago. I got my three-year chip a few weeks ago. Been trying to focus on my artwork, doing online commissions and building a reputation. Finally got it to the point that I can afford rent on a studio apartment that’s a little bigger than a walk-in closet. And I can eat out every once in a while.” She picked up another fry. “So, what’s your story?”
Victoria sighed. “My parents are stupidly rich, and I’ve been spending their money on coke since I was in high school. I OD’d a couple of months ago, and they forced me into rehab. I just got released this morning. And they hired away my personal counselor to be my sober companion.” She paused. “Who, by the way, also went to Blackwell.”
“Really?” Steph leaned forward, her interest piqued. “What’s her name?”
“Mm. Never heard of her.” Steph sat back. “Man, are there any other high schools in Oregon?”
Victoria snorted. “Apparently not. Anyway, now that I’m sober, they let me stay at one of their properties. On the condition that I do the NA thing, get a job, and go back to school.”
“Nice of them.”
“Yea, I know it is. I’m just not a huge fan of having a live-in babysitter.”
Steph arched an eyebrow. “Can you blame them?”
“I guess not.” Victoria picked up one of her forgotten fries, and considered leaving the rest of her meal untouched; she didn’t have much of an appetite.
Doctor’s orders. Eat it.
She popped it in her mouth, chewing and swallowing. “So... other than having kicked an addiction, how exactly are you different from Max? The sober companion that my parents are paying through the nose for?”
“Well, for starters, nobody ever actually kicks their addiction.” Steph smirked. “I know you’re new to this. But there’s a reason we introduce ourselves as addicts before we speak. Having the mindset that you can be cured isn’t helpful.”
“Just because we’re sober doesn’t mean that we don’t miss the drugs. I sure as fuck do.” Steph leaned on the table, crossing her arms. “Do you?”
Victoria chewed the inside of her cheek. “... a little. But, I mean... I don’t like who I was, when I was loaded.” She scratched her nose. “I did some pretty heinous shit to my best friends.”
“Me too. But there’s always a part of me that wants to call my old dealer and have him bring me a baggie of pills. Especially on days when I’m trying to fill commissions late at night. There’s a reason people work the program for the rest of their lives.”
“Wonderful.” Victoria dropped her gaze towards her plate, her appetite definitely gone. “I really, really don’t want to feel like this in a year.”
“I know. And I know how much it sucks.” Steph smiled. “That’s why I’m different from Max. I’ve been where you are, at the beginning, when I couldn’t fathom still feeling the desire to tweak for the next eleven-hundred and thirty-four days.”
Victoria shook her head. “Man, everyone knows their exact number, don’t they?”
“Every day is a victory, as Charlie’s fond of saying. Better to be an optimist than a pessimist.” Steph popped another fry into her mouth. “You should get a dry-erase board or something, to keep track of what day you’re on. And before you go to sleep each night, you erase the number and write down the new one.”
“It gives you something to strive for.” Steph nodded. “When it really, really sucks, you just think about getting through the day and updating that number. Helps you keep the ‘one day at a time’ mindset. Plus, it’s pretty satisfying to write down those milestone numbers.”
Victoria hummed. “I... guess that’s not a bad idea.”
“Well, I have some good ones every now and again.” Steph picked her burger back up and took a huge bite, chewing and swallowing. “What kind of job are you going to get?”
“Waitressing,” Victoria muttered. “At some Italian place down the road from our condo. I start my first training shift day after tomorrow.”
“You sound super-excited.”
“Really? I don’t feel like it.”
Steph chuckled. “Is it your first real job? I get the sense that your parents paid for most of your childhood.”
“Pretty close to it.” Victoria nodded. “And yea, it’s my first job. Not really sure what to expect.”
“I’ve done it before. It’s not too hard.” Steph pointed down at their feet through the table. “Wear comfy shoes. You’re gonna be doing a lot of walking.”
“She eats like a maniac. Like a coyote devouring a carcass. And I think she has that mental condition, where you don’t have a filter between your brain and your mouth.”
Max smirked as she reclined on the couch, while Victoria paced back and forth in front her. “And other than that?”
“I don’t know. I guess it could be worse.” Victoria folded her arms and sighed, as she continued to walk in circles. “I still don’t understand why I need a second support person, or whatever.”
“Because I’ve never-”
“Yes, yes, you’ve been a goody-two-shoes your whole life.” Victoria waved her hand dismissively. “I remember.”
Max crossed her legs. “She seems nice. I don’t understand the problem.”
“I just...” Victoria stopped and looked at her. “Am I really so fucked up that I need two people to keep an eye on me?”
“You’re not fucked up, Victoria. There are two people looking after you because we care about you.”
“One of whom has known me for an hour.” Victoria nodded towards her. “And you’re getting paid.”
“Just because your father is paying me does not mean that I don’t care about your sobriety.” Max uncrossed her legs and leaned forward. “Do you really think I’m that shallow?”
Victoria bit her lip. “No.”
“Thank you. Now, your father told me that his environment and wealth leads him to be constantly suspicious of other people’s ulterior motives. Including those he might call friends. I’m guessing some of that rubbed off on you?”
“Then I want to make sure you understand this.” Max stood. “Sometimes people are willing to help you simply because you need it. Without expecting anything in return.”
Max could practically feel Victoria’s mental struggle with the concept of selflessness, before the blonde finally sighed. “Okay. Fine.”
“So, we don’t have a problem with your sponsor?”
“Good.” Max nodded. “Did you guys at least have a productive conversation? Aside from her table manners.”
“Yea. She told me her story, and we exchanged numbers. She said I could call her if I ever needed her, and that we’d talk after the next NA meeting.” Victoria paused. “She, uh, also mentioned a thing, where people keep track of their sobriety days with a dry-erase board.”
“I’m familiar with the practice.” Max tilted her head. “Is it something you’re interested in?”
Victoria shrugged. “If it’ll help...”
“Well, it doesn’t hurt. And it’ll help you remember what day you’re on, if nothing else.” She nodded. “We’ll pick one up when we get groceries tomorrow.”
Chapter 15: Lunch
Aug 6th 2019
“You said sixty-three, two days ago.”
Max rolled her eyes. “That was your sixty-third day. Yesterday was your sixty-fourth day. But you won’t finish sixty-five days of sobriety until you go to sleep, which is why you update it when you go to bed.”
“It’s six PM,” Victoria objected. “Unless you’re worried that I’m gonna do a line of blow sometime in the next three hours, I think I’m safe.”
“I’m sure you won’t. But I want you to get in the habit of doing things right, not taking shortcuts.” Max turned back to the pot in front of her as she continued cooking, stirring the pasta sauce. “How was your first day at the restaurant?”
Victoria heaved a sigh behind her. “It sucked. I hated it. And if you make me go back, I can’t promise that I won’t burn it down.”
“Oh, come on. It couldn’t have been that bad.”
“I must have walked at least five miles between all the tables and the kitchen.” Victoria pulled up her right foot, taking off her sneaker and wiggling her toes. “Some old bitch send her food back twice because I, her waitress, apparently didn’t make it right. And I didn’t even get a cut of the tips because I’m still in training!”
Max smirked. “That’s a common practice. And you realize that you’re technically making more per hour than the other waitresses, right?”
“How do you figure?”
“You’re getting paid minimum wage,” Max explained. “The other waitresses are getting reduced wages because they get tips.”
“Huh.” Victoria dropped her foot back to the floor, then picked up the other one and pulled her left shoe off. “That’s the most depressing thing I’ve ever heard.”
“Welcome to the world of gainful employment.”
“How is that even legal? Don’t they HAVE to get paid minimum wage, at least?”
“No, they have to EARN minimum wage,” Max corrected. “They generally make above it with their cut of the tips. Which is how restaurants get away with paying them less.”
Victoria shook her head. “Don’t ever tell my dad I said this, but sometimes capitalism sucks.”
“Only when you’re on the short end of the stick.” Max looked at the other pot and checked the spaghetti. “You want to drain this really quick?”
“Sure.” Victoria stood and walked over, grabbing the pot and pouring it into the strainer in the sink. “That sauce smells really good, by the way.”
“Thank you. It’s my mother’s recipe.” She turned down the heat of the burner. “Figured you could use some decent food after your first day.”
Victoria set the pot on the counter next to Max. “I could use a foot massage. And a bottle of vodka.”
Max gave her a look. “In case you’ve forgotten, sobriety means you’re off all behavior-altering substances. Including alcohol.”
“Yea, I know.” Victoria turned around, leaning back against the counter. “Still wouldn’t mind some Grey Goose.”
“Not gonna happen.” Max lifted the pot, emptying it into the pasta. “Grab those tongs and serve yourself.”
Victoria did as she was told, while Max dropped the sauce pot in the sink and ran some water. She made her own bowl as Victoria sat down and took a bite. “Damn, Max. That’s not bad.”
“I’m sure the restaurant makes better.”
“Maybe, but this is a hell of a lot cheaper.”
Max hummed in agreement as she sat down. “Now, seriously. Was the job really that bad?”
Victoria sighed, as she stuck her fork back into the pasta and started spinning it. “No, I guess not.”
“You think you can stick with it?”
“Do I have a choice?”
Max smirked. “Technically, yes. But...”
“Right.” Victoria shook her head. “If you told me when I was a teenager, that I’d be waitressing at twenty-three, I would’ve laughed you out of the room. It’s still hard to wrap my head around.”
“Mm.” Max cocked her head. “What DID you think you’d be doing?”
“Traveling wherever I wanted, taking pictures, and becoming a world-famous photographer.” Victoria shrugged. “It wasn’t ever something I really worried about, when I was younger. With my family’s money, life was supposed to be pretty easy."
“You never considered that you wouldn’t have access to it?”
“Nope.” Victoria took another bite of her spaghetti. “How’s that for a sense of entitlement?”
A buzzing noise interrupted whatever Max was about to say in response. She retrieved her cell phone from her pocket and checked the screen, then put her fork down to start texting. “Sorry,” she muttered as she typed. “One sec.”
“Who is that?”
“My mom.” Max finished and put her phone down. “I’m visiting her and my dad for lunch tomorrow while you’re at work.”
“Well, I haven’t seen them for a few months. Since they’re only a half-hour down the I-5, I figured I’d be a good daughter and swing by.”
Victoria put a hand on her chest. “What if I have a sudden and desperate need to do a line of blow?” she asked dramatically. “How will I survive with my Sober Companion half an hour away?”
Max looked at her crossly. “If you’re really concerned, I guess I could call Steph,” she allowed. “I’m sure she wouldn’t mind hanging out at your-”
“No,” Victoria said immediately. “For the love of GOD, don’t tell that monster to get a table at the restaurant.”
“But now I’m really worried.” Max picked her phone back up. “I’ll pay for her lunch, too, so she can-”
“Jesus, I take it back.” Victoria slumped in her chair. “I don’t need my sponsor tearing through a plate of food like a hungry wolf in front of my new boss.”
Max snickered as she put her phone back. “You’ll be fine. I won’t be in Kenmore for more than a couple of hours, and you’ll be working the whole time. If I hadn’t said anything, you probably wouldn’t even have known I was gone.”
“I know. I was just trying to be funny.” Victoria had another forkful of the pasta. “You gonna tell your folks all about the fucked-up addict you’re keeping an eye on?”
“You really need to stop calling yourself fucked-up.” Max shook her head. “And no. I’m not.”
Aug 7th, 2019
Days Sober: 65
“I’ve signed an NDA.” Max leaned back in her chair at her parent’s kitchen table. “Unless it’s necessary to my patient’s treatment, I’m not allowed to discuss it with anybody.”
Vanessa frowned. “I thought you only signed NDAs for your rehab center.”
“My patient’s family places a premium on privacy. And discretion.” Max shrugged. “Besides, for what they’re paying, I’ll sign whatever they want.”
“They’re paying that well?” Ryan asked.
“Enough that I won’t have any more student loans by the time I finish. Plus expenses, and I get to live in a pretty nice condo, so I don’t have to worry about rent and utilities either.”
He hummed. “I don’t suppose they’re hiring middle-aged lawyers?”
“Trust me on this one, they have more than enough legal representation.”
“I’ll take your word for it.” He took another bite of his sandwich. “You’re not in any danger, are you? From your patient?”
Max rolled her eyes. “No.”
“And you’re being safe? Not leaving valuables where they can get them?”
“What valuables? The most expensive thing I have is my phone. And my laptop, which isn’t worth pawning.”
“Okay, okay.” Her father sighed. “I’m just worried about you. And the work you do. I’ve heard stories of addicts that are dangerous.”
“I have, too. This patient is not one of them.” Max picked up a chip and ate it. “They’ve said several times that they don’t want to go back to the drugs.”
“Which drugs?” Vanessa asked. “Meth? Heroin? Cocaine? Prescription pills?”
Max raised an eyebrow. “You know what NDA stands for, right?”
“You can’t even tell us that? We’re just curious.”
“I’m not even giving you their gender, in case you haven’t realized it.” Max sighed. “They were brought to my rehab center after an overdose, which they barely survived. The patient’s father begged me to help his kid get clean. I obliged, and since the patient and I have a rapport, I was asked to take a sabbatical to focus on them exclusively here in Seattle. The family offered me enough money that I would have been an idiot not to take it.” She paused. “And... well, the patient’s had it rough. She needs the help.”
Max cringed. “Dammit.”
Ryan snorted. “Relax. I think your mother and I both assumed that it was a girl.”
“We won’t tell anybody, we promise.”
“What did you do with your apartment?” her mother asked. “And all your stuff? Is it still in Oregon?”
Max nodded. “I packed a couple of bags with clothes, and put everything else in storage. The family’s paying for that, too.”
She winced, then sighed heavily. “... we broke up two months ago.”
“Really?” Vanessa looked astonished. “Why? You two seemed so good together.”
“I know,” Max muttered. “It was my fault. I just... I don’t know. I was focusing a lot on my job, helping patients, and we weren’t really seeing each other very often. Everything just kind of fell apart.”
“Ah.” Ryan nodded. “Max, I know you’re committed to what you’re doing. And you’re an incredible person for pouring your heart and soul into it. But having a personal life is important, too.”
“Yea, I know, I messed up.” She slouched in her seat. “Can we talk about anything else? Please?”
“Okay.” Her mother leaned forward. “When was the last time you saw your therapist?”
“… I changed my mind. Let’s talk about my love life some more.”
She sighed. “It’s been a while since I made an appointment.”
“Because I don’t want to. Because I’m too busy at work. Because I REALLY don’t want to.”
Ryan raised an eyebrow. “When was your last nightmare?”
Her father pursed his lips and leaned forward onto his elbows, looking at her intently. Max immediately averted her eyes, avoiding his ‘dad stare’. “Cut it out. I hate it when you do that.”
“Are you being honest with us, Maxine Amelia Caulfield?”
She shot him a glare. “Don’t middle-name me. I’m an adult, in case you forgot. I can handle my own mental health.”
“Just because you’re an adult doesn’t mean that we don’t worry about you.”
“You don’t need to. I’m fine.”
Max nodded tightly. “I haven’t had a nightmare about Chloe in months. I don’t even take my sleeping pills anymore. Or the SSRIs.”
“Do you still think about it?”
“Of course I still think about it.” Max paused. “But… it doesn’t affect me like it did when I was a teenager.”
“Max, that wasn’t that long ago,” her mother reminded her. “It’s only been five years.”
“Closer to six.”
“Nevertheless. We don’t want you to backslide.” She cocked her head. “Besides, don’t you tell your patients all the time, that nobody really gets over an addiction?”
“PTSD is not the same as an addiction.” Max folded her arms. “Look, I’m not saying that I’m over what happened. It just... doesn’t affect me as much as it did a few years ago. To the point where I don’t feel that I need to see someone about it once a week. Or take medication for it.”
Her parents exchanged glances, and Max was worried that they would press the issue. But her father nodded after a few seconds. “You’d say something if it ever did, right?” he asked. “Or talk to us, or another therapist?”
“... okay, then.” He leaned back, and finally let a smirk play across his face. “Someday, kiddo, if you ever have children of your own, you’ll understand what it’s like to worry about them.”
“I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.”
Kate: How’s Victoria?
Max: Good. She started her job a few days ago.
Kate: What’s she doing?
Max: Waitressing at an Italian restaurant a few blocks away.
Kate: For real?
Max: Little surprised?
Kate: I figured she’d get an office job, like a secretary. Or something in front of a computer.
Max: It was considered. But waitressing is better for her, I think. Busier, more to do, less time to sit idle.
Kate: Keeping her mind off things?
Max: Exactly. Hard to think about coke when you’re juggling fourteen different tables.
Max: Is something wrong?
Kate: No, of course not. Makes perfect sense to me.
Kate: … is it weird that I kind of want to go see her at work?
Max: What, like, get a table?
Kate: Kind of.
Kate: Look, I really do forgive her for high school. And I want to help in any way I can.
Kate: But after everything she did? Knowing that she’s working one of those minimum-wage jobs she used to demean so much is a little… something.
Kate: Maybe. Am I a bad person?
Max: Nobody in their right mind is going to accuse you of being a bad person.
Max: And I have to admit, the look on her face when she found out was pretty priceless.
Chapter 16: Arcade
Aug 14th 2019
Days sober: 73
“Twenty, forty, sixty... one, two, three, four, five, six. Sixty-six dollars.” The assistant manager laid the bills on the desk in front of her after counting them. “Don’t spend all your tip money in one place.”
Victoria scooped up the stack of bills, folding and sticking them in her pocket. “Thanks. What about my paycheck?”
“I already put your direct deposit info into the system. It should be there day after tomorrow.”
Doesn’t matter, really. Max has my debit card.
One of her father’s other conditions was that Max was responsible for the money in the condo. Her sober companion had been given a corporate card to pay for expenses, and had received the card assigned to Victoria’s new checking account. Along with that, Victoria had agreed to only keep a small amount of cash in her wallet; anything more than fifty bucks went to Max, who deposited it for her.
Don’t have much to spend it on anyway.
“And the schedule?”
“The GM didn’t have a problem with your request. Monday and Thursday nights aren’t really busy for us anyway.” Her boss nodded towards the hallway. “Next week’s is up, if you want to see it.”
“Appreciated.” Victoria walked out and checked the calendar on the wall, noting that as per her asking, she wasn’t scheduled for the nights that NA held their meetings. She snapped a photo with her phone before leaving the restaurant.
She sighed as she started the walk home. I miss my Audi.
And the MacBook. And the iPad. And my Louis Vuitton. She looked at the purse on her shoulder, the nicest one she could find at Target. The poverty line sucks.
Probably shouldn’t gripe to Max. She’ll just remind me that it could be worse.
Victoria made her way home slowly, her mind wandering idly. She was about halfway there when she stopped, noticing that she was standing in front of a pub. The drinks inside were plainly visible as she looked through the glass windows, watching the woman behind the bar make a cocktail.
She could practically taste the familiar burn in her throat, as she felt herself pulled towards the doors.
“... fuck,” she muttered, pulling out her phone.
Victoria: How strict are the rules against booze, really?
She stared at the screen for a few seconds, and was just starting to put the phone back in her pocket before it rang, Steph’s name flashing across the screen.
“Where are you?” Steph asked as soon as she answered.
“Christ, Steph.” Victoria sighed. “I was being facetious.”
“DO you want to drink?”
“Of course I do.”
“Where are you? At a bar?”
“I’m walking home from work. It’s just a pub that’s on the way. I really don’t need you to-”
“Victoria, a desire for booze is a small stepping stone away from the harder stuff. I’m assuming you sent me the text because you’re not with Max?”
“Look, Steph, I just got off a ten-hour shift, and I’m really not in the mood for a lecture.” Victoria paused. “But no. She’s back at the condo.”
“I didn’t say I was going to give you a lecture. How was your shift?”
“Long. And tiring.” Victoria sighed. “But I made sixty-six bucks in cash tips.”
“Let me ask you something; other than work and meetings, have you done anything fun since you left rehab?”
Victoria snorted. “You call the meetings fun?”
“You know what I mean.”
“No. I haven’t really had the cash.”
“Well, it sounds like you do now. You wanna spend twenty bucks for an hour’s worth of fun?”
She hesitated. Mostly because she wasn’t sure if she wanted to know what Steph’s idea of ‘fun’ actually was.
“... I should probably ask Max.”
“Text her really quick. Tell her that your sponsor’s stealing you for a little bit.” She heard a rustling through the line. “There’s only one pub in that neighborhood. Is it Irish Joe’s?”
Victoria glanced up at the sign. “Yes.”
“Wait there. And don’t go inside. I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
Steph looked at her as she parked the car. “What?”
“This is your plan?” Victoria scoffed as she looked at the building in front of them. “An arcade?”
“Yes.” Steph killed the ignition. “I come here when I’m tired of thinking about shit.”
“I don’t play video games.”
Steph nodded at her pocket. “So you have no games on your phone?”
“I mean, a couple, but-”
“Then you play video games.”
“Steph, I really don’t think this is necessary,” Victoria stressed. “It was an off-hand comment after a really long day at work. I didn’t actually mean it.”
Her sponsor sighed. “Let me ask you a question. When you were doing blow, did you drink?”
“Yea. Vodka. Grey Goose, usually.”
“WHY did you drink?”
“I...” Victoria paused. “I don’t know, why does anyone drink?”
“Was it because you liked the taste?”
“Were you drinking socially? With anyone?”
“Did you drink because you liked the way it made you feel?”
Steph arched an eyebrow. Victoria caught on after a few seconds. “Oh, come on. I’m not an alcoholic. My problem was with coke, not booze.”
“More often than not, the two go hand-in-hand. And it’s just as easy to fall down one rabbit hole as it is another.” Steph folded her arms. “I understand that you made an off-hand comment. But you wouldn’t have made it if a part of you didn’t really want to go into that pub and start drinking.”
Victoria silently mulled over her words. “... maybe a little,” she muttered.
“Thought so.” Steph gestured towards the arcade. “Look, there’s worse ways of winding down after a hard day at work. Just try it. The games aren’t that hard, and I think you’ll enjoy it.”
“Fine.” Victoria sighed, as she opened her car door. “But I’m not spending more than an hour here.”
“Holy shit, you’re killing it.”
“Shut up.” Victoria focused on the screen in front of her, as she worked the joystick. The index finger on her other hand mercilessly pummeled the button, as she fired her spaceship’s lasers as fast as she could. “I’ve almost got it.”
Steph sipped from her fountain drink as she watched, impressed, while Victoria guided her ship through a volley of enemy laser fire while shooting at the bad guys. The icon danced around the screen almost effortlessly as she racked up kills and points. “I think you lied. You’ve definitely done this before.”
“Never. But it’s not like this is hard.” Victoria spun the joystick, dodging more enemy fire. “I just have to put the ship where the lasers aren’t. And keep shooting back.”
“And they just stacked bricks over and over, to build the pyramids. Most people have more trouble with this.”
“Maybe I’m just a natural.” Victoria continued to hammer the button as the enemy spaceship got redder and redder, finally exploding in a flash of pixelated glory. She stood upright with a sigh, rubbing the back of her neck. “Finally."
“Congratulations, Miss High Score.” Steph smirked as she took another drink. “Damn, by almost ten thousand points.”
“Yep.” Victoria entered the initials VMC. “I’ll have to find and apologize to SFG.”
“I accept your apology.”
Victoria glanced at her. “That’s you?”
“Steph Fuckin’ Gingrich.” She nodded. “Like I said, I come here a lot.”
“Oh.” Victoria stepped away from the game. “Okay, I guess this was pretty fun.”
“Good way to get your mind off things, too.”
Victoria glanced at her watch. “Shit, it’s late. Max is gonna have my ass.”
“Nah, I told her we’d be late six levels ago. Come on, let’s roll out.”
They made their way out of the arcade and got back into Steph’s car. “Can I ask you a question?” Victoria said as she buckled her seat belt.
“How often do you still, you know, feel the desire to go get high?”
“Not as much as I used to. But it’s there.” Steph started the car and looked over her shoulder as she backed out of the spot. “Why?”
“You said you come here a lot.”
She smirked. “Not always because I miss the pills. Some days work really gets to me, or I’m behind on a payment for something, or I just want to clear my head.”
“Spending money here doesn’t seem healthy if you’re behind on a bill,” Victoria mentioned.
“I keep an emergency fiver in my glove box. Point is, this is a coping mechanism that works for me.” Steph glanced at her. “And you, clearly.”
“This is a little out of my way to be convenient.”
“Well, maybe you should mention that to Max. I’m sure she’d be okay helping you find a nice, time-consuming and mindless activity to clear your head.”
“I’m not buying a video game console.”
Victoria frowned. “Why not?”
Max folded her arms. “Take a guess.”
“Oh, come- I’m not going to pawn it,” Victoria said, exasperated. “Christ, you really don’t have any faith in me, do you?”
“I’m sorry, do you think that’s not fair?”
“Faith, like trust, is earned,” she interrupted. “Over the past six years, you’ve been sober for seventy-three days. You’ve been making great progress, and everyone is proud of you, but you do NOT have anyone’s trust yet. There’s a reason the credit card your father gave us has my name on it, not yours.”
Victoria leaned back in her seat, her eyes dropping towards her lap. “... yea, okay,” she muttered.
Max sighed. “Look, there are other ways to unwind that don’t involve easily-pawnable electronics.”
The brunette stood and made her way to the cabinet under the TV. She opened it and produced a cardboard box, bringing it over and setting it down on the coffee table.
“You have got to be kidding me.”
“It’s scientifically proven to reduce stress, lower your blood pressure, and relax before-”
“A fucking puzzle?! Seriously?!” Victoria looked at her incredulously. “Do I look like a ninety-year-old retiree to you? Are we in a nursing home? Am I a retarded child or something?”
She opened her mouth to argue further, but she couldn’t make any words come out. She stood up and walked off, towards the window, stopping in front of it and folding her arms.
Max walked over and stood next to her after a few seconds. “What is it?”
“I know it’s not nothing.”
“I... fuck.” Victoria inhaled slowly. “I hate this shit.”
“Every time I... God damn it.”
She bit her lip as she thought about how to vocalize what she felt. “Every time I turn around, there’s just another thing in my way reminding me how far I’ve fallen,” she muttered. “Can’t have any nice stuff, because everyone’s worried that I’ll pawn it. Can’t make a joke about wanting to get drunk, because my sponsor will swoop in to save the day. Can’t even have control over my own debit card, because I could cash out my checking account to go get loaded.”
Max laid a comforting hand on her shoulder. “This isn’t permanent,” she reminded her. “The longer you stay sober, and the more you work the NA program, the more trust you earn.”
“Yea, I get how it works.” Victoria rubbed her eye, trying to stop moisture from collecting in the corner. “It just feels like I had to bust my ass, to make it this far. I’ve got a million things reminding me how far I still have to go, and it seems like the finish line keeps moving further and further away.”
“Do you still have your chips with you?”
Victoria nodded as she pulled them from her pocket. She’d used a kitchen knife to poke holes in them, and threaded all of them through a key ring, so they clinked together as she held them in her fingers.
“What do they say on the back?”
“... one day at a time.”
Max smiled. “I know it seems like a lot. You will get there. But thinking too far in the future isn’t going to make this any easier.”
“So I’ve heard,” Victoria remarked dryly, as she put her chips away. “That motto’s a little annoying.”
“Mm.” Max squeezed her shoulder once, then let go. “I did get you something else.”
Max went back to the cupboard and reached into the back, producing a small bag. She deposited it into Victoria’s hands. “Happy Birthday.”
“It’s...” Victoria paused, then checked her phone. “Shit. It is my birthday.”
“I, uh, haven’t really celebrated it for the last few years.”
Max frowned. “Really?”
“Well, between having a shit relationship with my parents and no friends, I didn’t bother making a lot of plans.”
“Ah.” Max winced. “Well... tell me if you like it or not.”
Victoria reached into the bag and produced a square made of grey plastic, almost like a dice. But each side had a different device; one had buttons, another had dials and switches, a third had a joystick-looking contraption... “What is this?”
“It’s a fidget cube.”
“A fidget cube? What’s that?”
“It gives you something to do with your hands, when you want a distraction. Try it out.”
Victoria frowned, but started to play with it. One side had a circle with a nub that she found spun rather easily, and she worked it with her thumb for several seconds. At the same time, she used her other finger to flip a switch back and forth rapidly.
“Okay, this is kind of cool.” Victoria smirked as she glanced back at Max. “... thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Max nodded at the couch. “Come on, let’s sit down. You can play with it while we try the puzzle; I think you’ll find it’s just as good of a time-waster as video games.”
“Fine.” Victoria sighed. “You’re gonna help, right?”
“It’s a thousand-piece puzzle. Of course I will.”
Max wasn’t wrong. Victoria became immersed quickly. Neither of them spoke after she dumped the puzzle out and they started organizing it; Victoria started working on the edge pieces, while Max tried putting together a couple of different segments on their own. As she worked, she occasionally looked over the puzzle mess and picked up the cube while thinking; she found herself liking the feeling of flipping the switch as rapidly as possible, the clicking almost soothing her.
After a while, Max looked at her watch. “It’s eleven o’clock,” she mentioned. “You have to be at the restaurant in ten hours.”
“Oh.” Victoria straightened up. “Huh. I guess this is a good way to kill time.”
Victoria nodded as she stood, making her way towards her bedroom. She stopped at the dry-erase board on the wall and wiped away the number three, then uncapped the marker and drew a four after the seven.
I can do this.
Now I just gotta make it to seventy-five.
Chapter 17: Early Day
Aug 29th 2019
Days sober: 88
“Mother fucker! Fucking mother fucker!”
Victoria winced as she stood in the kitchen of the restaurant, watching the head chef swear as he tinkered with the underside of the stovetop. Two other waitresses stood next to her, all of them silently observing and listening to the banging noises. On the other side of the room, six other members of the kitchen staff kept their distance as the chef became increasingly aggravated.
A fourth waitress walked in behind them and stopped. “My table is wondering where their chicken parmesan and fettuccini alfredo is,” she mentioned quietly over the cursing.
“Join the club,” Victoria whispered. “We’re having technical difficulties.”
The manager came in a few seconds later, stepping past them. “Angelo, what’s going on in here? And why are customers complaining about long wait times for food?”
“I’m fucking working on it!!” the chef snapped, not looking at anyone. “There’s something wrong with the goddamn gas line. All the burners are out.”
“Then fix it!”
“What the FUCK do you think I’m trying to- OW!!” He jerked back out from under the stove, shaking his hand. Victoria could see the blood seeping from his finger. “Fucking cocksucker!!”
“And stop swearing! They can hear you in the dining room!”
Angelo sighed heavily as he pulled a towel from his apron, wrapping it around his hand. “I don’t know, boss. There’s gas, I know there is. But it’s not making it to the burners. I think there’s something wrong with the hose.”
“It was working this morning!”
“I don’t know what to tell you. It’s not working now.”
“Can we replace it?”
“Not really. It’s caulked into the wall, and we don’t have a spare anyway. We gotta call the maintenance guys.”
“So let’s call them.”
“I already did.” Angelo shook his head. “That’s why I’ve been messing with it. All their people are out. Closest one is an hour away, in the middle of a job. Soonest he could be here is three.”
“Son of a...” the manager looked at the clock on the wall; it was just after noon. “We’re in the middle of our lunch rush! How are we supposed to cook food without gas?”
Angelo shrugged. “We can’t. I can make salads, and we’ve got a fridge full of desert, but that’s about it.”
“... dammit.” The manager pinched the bridge of his nose. “This is not very convenient.”
“Hey, I don’t like it any more that you do.”
Victoria cleared her throat. “What do we do?” she asked. “I’ve got four tables with hot food on order.”
The other waitresses made noises of agreement as the manager glanced at them, heaving a sigh of defeat. “Tell that that we’ve had a problem with our stovetop, and we’re not going to be able to accommodate them,” he muttered. “If they start complaining, give them a discount ticket for their next visit and comp their drinks. But unless they want a salad or a desert, the kitchen is closed.”
Victoria’s tables took it better than she would’ve thought. But nobody really wanted to have just salads and desert for lunch. Twenty minutes after word started to spread, the restaurant was devoid of customers.
Ten minutes later, the manager came up to the tables where the waitresses had sat down, most of them using their cell phones. “Who here is scheduled to work after four?”
Two of them, not including Victoria, raised their hands.
“Okay. You two stay, in case anyone actually decides to dine in.” He looked at the others. “I’ll bump up the last hour to meet minimum wage. But there’s no point in you being here if there’s no customers, so I’m gonna let you all go.”
A collective moan rang through the group at the lost hours. “I know, I know,” the manager sighed. “We’ll try to make up for it over the weekend. But you’re all off the clock as of three minutes ago. Grab your stuff and head home.”
Victoria grumbled with the rest of them, but she didn’t really mind the early day. She retrieved her purse and hung up her apron, then left out the front of the restaurant, walking towards the condo. Max said she had some errands to run, so she’ll probably be gone when I get back, she figured. Guess I can put in some more work on that puzzle or something. Long as I don’t work it too much. Pretty sure she won’t appreciate it if I finish without her.
Then again, it’s not like there aren’t two others in the cabinet. She smirked as she came to an intersection, waiting for the light to turn green. Eh, it’s not even half done. I don’t think I’ll be able to finish before she gets home, even if I wanted to.
The light changed and she crossed the street, making a point to not look at the pub as she passed it. She was about to round the corner for the condo when she heard the voice behind her.
“Girl, I thought that was you.”
... no fucking way.
She spun and saw Marcus standing there. Hands in the pockets of his fucking Seahawks hoodie, smirking like he knew something she didn’t.
Her emotions bubbled over. A feeling of intense anger filled her as her face flushed. “You mother FUCKER!” she yelled as she swung her purse by the strap as hard as she could.
Marcus ducked under his arm, the purse impacting his bicep. “Ow! The fuck?!”
“You almost KILLED me, you fucking ASSHOLE!!” Victoria swung her purse again, hitting his shoulder. “FUCK you!!”
“The hell you talking ‘bout, snowflake?! I didn’t do nothin’!”
“You sold me bad shit, you cocksucker!” Victoria swung at him again, but he dodged it. “I had a fucking heart attack!!”
“You... ah, shit.” He grimaced as he maintained a safe distance. “You got part of that bad batch.”
“Bad batch?! Are you FUCKING kidding me?!”
“Hey, it ain’t my fault!” He held up his hands defensively. “My fuckin’ supplier sold me bad shit! I didn’t have a damn clue!”
“I almost died, you fucking prick!!”
“Well, you look better.” He glanced her up and down. “You want another hit? I ain’t seen you in months, you gotta be ready for a line by now.”
Victoria glared as intently as she could. “Screw you.”
“Hey, if you’re that desperate.”
“I don’t want a goddamn hit. Fuck off before I start yelling for the cops.”
“Fuck you mean, you don’t want nothin’? You fuckin’ cleaning up on me now?"
Her face flushed deeper, and she didn’t respond as she maintained her glare. He blinked after a couple of seconds. “Really? The fuckin’ snowflake wants off the candy express?”
“Fuck you,” she snapped. “Go hit up someone else.”
“You one of my favorite customers, white girl.”
“Not anymore.” She turned and resumed walking.
“What?” Marcus called after her. “You think you can just hop off the train? Nobody kicks this shit, snowflake.”
Victoria turned to yell at him again and saw a bag flying towards her. She caught it instinctively against her chest.
“Consider that an apology,” he told her. “Call me when you remember how good my dope is.”
With that, he turned and stalked off. She watched him duck into an alley and vanish.
Then she glanced down at the baggie poking from between her fingers. And the white powder it contained.
A familiar buzzing started to fill her head, as she looked at the bag. A buzzing that she hadn’t felt in weeks. It felt like the whole world slowed down around her, the sound slowly fading away as she maintained a laser-like focus on the white powder.
An eight ball.
… holy shit.
She tore her eyes away after a few seconds and looked up, realizing that she was still standing on the sidewalk.
I’m holding illegal drugs in public.
She shoved the hand holding the baggie into her pocket, as deep as she could.
Need to get off the street.
Need to go home.
She turned and speed-walked the rest of the way, finally shoving through the door of her building with her free hand. Her heart was practically beating through her chest as she got in the elevator and hit the button for her floor.
The doors closed, and the elevator started to ascend with her alone in the car. She took the opportunity to pull the baggie out of her pocket and get a better look at it. Her heart rate increased even further as she rubbed her thumb over the plastic, feeling the powder inside.
Thinking about how it would feel.
The euphoria. The power. The sense of happiness.
It was hard to remember the last time she’d felt that level of satisfaction.
The elevator dinged. Too early. She shoved her hand back into her pocket as the doors opened, revealing a young woman in workout clothes. A purple yoga mat was tucked under her arm, and she looked confused. “Going down?”
“Up,” Victoria breathed, her heart in her throat.
The doors closed again. Victoria squeezed the baggie in her pocket as the buzzing in her head got louder, drowning out the rest of the world.
Get out and throw it down the garbage chute.
You shouldn’t have it.
Just throw it away.
Just get rid of it.
The doors opened on her floor. She turned towards her apartment. Away from the garbage chute.
Victoria felt numb, as she slid her key into the lock and pushed inside the condo, closing the door behind her. Her purse fell off her shoulder as she removed the baggie from her pocket, but she made no move to retrieve it.
It almost felt like she was walking through someone else’s eyes. Like it was a movie, playing in her mind, as she put the baggie on the kitchen counter. The buzzing in her head was almost unbearable now. It was a familiar feeling. Like she’d been too long without her medication. All she could focus on was the baggie. Like it was physically pulling her towards it.
I don’t have to do this.
I don’t need it.
I’m stronger than the drugs.
I can get by without it.
... what’s the harm in one hit?
I can do it and then get better again.
But I don’t want to.
But I could.
But I shouldn’t.
My head hurts.
I can make it go away.
One line won’t kill me.
Nobody else is here.
I don’t have to tell anyone.
She didn’t even realize what she was doing. She blinked, and the cocaine had been dumped out on a cutting board. Someone else’s hand picked up a kitchen knife, because she didn’t have any more razors in the condo, and started working some of the powder into a line.
It was hard. The hand holding the knife wouldn’t stop shaking.
I can’t do this.
I shouldn’t do this.
But I’ve been so good.
I deserve it.
I can do a little bit.
Then I can go back to the program.
It’ll be fine.
It won’t set me back too much.
I don’t have to tell Max.
What they don’t know won’t hurt them.
There wasn’t anything to snort with. She didn’t have any cash to roll up. But she remembered that Max had brought home McDonalds the day before. Victoria watched her hands dig into the trash can and come up with a plastic drinking straw. She even used the knife to cut it in half, to make it easier to handle.
Straw in hand, she turned back to the cutting board. And the jagged line of cocaine. She was hyperventilating; she wasn’t sure whether it was out of fear or excitement.
Just one little line.
Nobody has to know.
Chapter 18: Someplace Else
Should’ve done two trips.
Max winced as she shifted the plastic bags in her hand while she rode the elevator. She was quickly coming to regret buying bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and soap in one visit to Target. And then making a trip to the grocery store. The heavy plastic bags felt like they were digging grooves into her fingers.
I should’ve gotten some of those reusable bags, with soft handles. That would’ve been smart. Or I can do the life-hack thing, where you keep a carabiner in your car. Probably way less painful to hold one of those.
She rolled her shoulders as the elevator opened, and she walked towards the condo. Then grunted in pain again, as she shifted all the bags to one hand while retrieving the key from her pocket to open the door.
The key didn’t budge as she tried to turn it. The door was already unlocked.
Huh. Max furrowed her brow in confusion. I could’ve sworn I locked it behind me when I left.
She pushed the door open and paused, frowning. Victoria’s purse was laying haphazardly on the floor in front of her.
Is she home? I thought her shift didn’t end until four?
Silence answered her as she looked around; the blonde wasn’t visible. Where is she? Max wondered, as she dropped the plastic bags on the love seat. Did she go back out and leave her stuff behind? And why is there trash all over the kitchen floor?
“Victoria?” she called again. “Are you home?”
Still nothing. She was about to pull out her phone and call her when she heard the sniffling from the bathroom. “... Max?” Victoria asked, in the most broken voice she’d ever heard. “Is that you?”
“Victoria?” Max walked over and tried the knob; it was locked. “What’s wrong? Are you alright?”
“Please...” Victoria’s voice cracked, and she heard the blonde sniffle again. “Please get rid of it.”
“Get rid of what?”
“On the counter.”
Max looked at the kitchen, finally noticing the cutting board. And the white powder, next to an empty bag and a straw.
She didn’t say anything as she scrambled towards it, inspecting the cocaine closely; for all her education, and her experience at the rehab center, she had never actually seen it before. Max tried to estimate how much was left, versus how much had been in the bag.
Is that all of it? Son of a bitch, like I’d know. How much was in here? A gram? An eighth? Max looked at the straw, but couldn’t tell if it had been used. Did she snort any of it?
She turned the board over, the white powder spilling into the sink. Then she turned on the faucet and ran water over it, using her free hand to grab the bottle of dish soap and squeeze as much of it as possible over the plastic. It quickly foamed up, and she used the dishrag to frantically wipe it clean.
Max grabbed it and filled it full of water from the faucet, dropping it down the drain. The straw followed. Then she reached out and hit the switch for the garbage disposal. The rotors chewed through everything as she drained the water from the sink, using the rag to wipe up the excess.
She dropped it in the trash when she was finished, then made her way back to the bathroom and grabbed the knob. “It’s gone, Victoria. Let me in.”
The lock clicked after a few seconds, and Max pushed her way into the bathroom. Victoria was sitting on the floor, against the wall, hugging her knees into her chest as she shook like a leaf. Her left forearm was covered in bloody marks, and Max watched her scratch at it with her right hand, the nails digging into her skin. The blonde refused to look at her.
Max dropped to her knees and lifted Victoria’s head. The blonde offered no resistance as Max used a thumb to pull back on her eyebrow. Pupils aren’t dilated. And her nose looks fine.
Victoria sniffled, and Max watched a tear slide down her cheek. From the looks of the runny mascara, it wasn’t her first. “I didn’t do it,” she muttered weakly.
“I know. I know you didn’t.” Max sighed in relief, as she sat back on her heels. Victoria started scratching at her arm again, and Max grabbed it, pulling her hand away. “Come on, up.”
Victoria let Max pull her onto the toilet and set her arm on the sink. The brunette retrieved some hydrogen peroxide and gauze from the medicine cabinet, then set about wiping Victoria’s bloody wounds. The blonde didn’t even wince from the pain as Max cleaned her scratches, then covered the marks in ointment before wrapping the arm.
Max exhaled slowly as she finished, her heart rate finally getting back to normal as she sat on the rim of the tub. After a couple of seconds, she reached over and took Victoria’s hand in hers. “Are you all right?”
“I...” Victoria sniffed deeply, wiping her nose on her other wrist. “I’m sorry, Max.”
“It’s okay. Just breath.” Max squeezed. “Do you want to tell me what happened?”
Victoria took a slow breath. “I saw Marcus when I was walking home.”
“My old dealer.” Victoria dropped her gaze. “The one who sold me the coke that almost killed me.”
Max nodded as Victoria quietly explained what had happened, up to the point where she’d been about to snort the line of cocaine. “It didn’t even feel like it was me doing it,” she muttered. “It was like I was someplace else, watching it happen.”
“So... then what?”
Victoria’s lips trembled, and she swallowed heavily. “I got a look at the board on the wall,” she said wetly. “I saw how close I was, to the ninety-day chip, and I remembered how Kate told me that she wanted to be there when Charlie gave it to me, and...” her voice trailed off.
“You stopped,” Max stated.
“I didn’t want to.” Victoria snorted back mucus, wiping her nose again as she looked at Max. “I’ve never wanted something so bad in my whole life.”
Her voice cracked, and she squeezed her eyes shut as she started to collapse. Max caught her, and Victoria’s head landed softly on her shoulder. She watched the blonde’s back shake as she was wracked with sobs.
“Is it really gonna to be like this from now on?”
She’d finished crying a few minutes prior, but Victoria hadn’t moved, still leaning her head against Max’s shoulder.
“What do you mean?” Max asked.
“Feeling like this.” Victoria slowly pushed herself back upright, her eyes going back to her lap. “Losing my mind at the sight of an eight-ball. You and Steph keep telling me that addicts never get over it, but I don’t want to still crave coke in my thirties. Or forties. Or when I’m playing bocce ball in a retirement home.”
“No.” Max took her hand again. “It’s gonna get easier, with time and effort.”
“Doesn’t feel like.” Victoria rubbed her eyes again. “Fuck. I can’t believe I did that.”
“Hey.” Max squeezed. “Victoria, what you did was amazing.”
“What do you mean, amazing? I almost threw eighty-eight days of sobriety down the shitter.”
“But you DIDN’T,” Max emphasized. “I can only imagine how hard that must have been. Not everybody could have done what you just did. It was incredible, and I am so proud of you for holding yourself back.”
Victoria sniffed. “I don’t feel very incredible.”
“Well, you should.” Max squeezed her hand again, then stood, opening the cabinet and retrieving a package of wet-wipes. “Let’s get your face cleaned up. You look like a War Boy from Mad Max.”
The blonde didn’t react to the joke as she took the offered wipe, rubbing her face clean of the mascara. Max helped get the residue that she missed, then offered a hand.
Victoria didn’t take it, as she looked into the condo. “... it’s gone?”
“Right down the sink. All of it.”
She nodded weakly as she took Max’s hand and stood, letting the brunette lead her into the living room. Victoria didn’t look at the kitchen as she sat down on the couch, slumping over and dropping her head onto a pillow.
“What do you want for dinner?”
“I’m not really hungry.”
Max sighed. “If I put a sandwich in front of you, will you at least try to eat it?”
Victoria shrugged. The promised sandwich appeared in front of her a few minutes later, next to a can of soda. Neither of which she looked at.
“How about some TV?”
Victoria didn’t look at the television, either, when Max changed it to a news station. She tuned it out, lost to her own thoughts as she wallowed in her self-loathing.
After a while, she did start to feel hungry. And she could feel Max watching her nervously. So she sat upright and picked up the sandwich, eating slowly as she drank the soda.
By the time she was finished, she could see the darkening sky outside. “I’m going to sleep,” she muttered, pushing her plate aside and standing.
She was opening her bedroom door when Max spoke up. “Hey.”
“You forgot something.”
Victoria glanced back at Max, who was looking pointedly at the dry-erase board. She sighed and wiped it carelessly, writing down the number 89.
Chapter 19: Ninety Days
Aug 30th, 2019
Days sober: 89
Her alarm was supposed to go off at seven-thirty. But it didn’t. She awoke the next morning, blinking against the sun shining through her window.
That’s... way too bright.
A glance at her alarm clock revealed why. There were no numbers on the display. Likely due to the power cord having been pulled from the wall and coiled on her nightstand.
She was about to call for Max when she heard voices on the other side of her door. Multiple people, talking quietly. And light laughter.
Victoria sat up and put her feet on the floor, sliding them into her slippers. She didn’t change from her pajamas before she opened the bedroom door.
“The fu...” Victoria blinked at the scene before her. “Steph?”
Her sponsor smiled and waved from the kitchen table, next to Max. Across from them, Kate turned in her seat, also smiling. “Good morning!” she said cheerfully.
“Kate?” Victoria looked at all of them. “What are you guys doing here?”
“Eating.” Steph lifted a paper bag and shook it. “Breakfast burrito?”
“What time is it?”
“Little after nine.” Max gestured towards the empty chair in front of her. “Sit down. You must be hungry.”
Victoria frowned and folded her arms, looking at Max. “... did you seriously call in the cavalry to help get me over-”
“All I told them is that you had a really rough day yesterday,” Max interrupted. “None of us had any plans today, so we thought we’d hang out for a little while. Steph brought breakfast, and Kate is gonna show us her books.”
Kate reached into the bag at her feet, pulling out several pieces of paper that were stapled together. “I finished a few first drafts for some new books,” she explained. “I already showed them to Hector, but he’s not very good a critiquing my work. I figured you guys could help me.”
“I’m supposed to be at the restaurant in an hour.”
“I called you in sick.” Max pointed to the chair. “Sit.”
Victoria’s face twisted, but she resigned herself to her fate after a few minutes. She dragged herself over to the chair and sat, accepting the bag as she sat next to Kate. Who was definitely well into in her fifth month of pregnancy. “Wow, you’re really starting to show.”
Kate raised an eyebrow. “Did you just call me fat?”
“No, I- that wasn’t-” Victoria hesitated. “Nothing. I don’t know how to make this better.”
Steph and Max both snickered as Kate smirked. “Relax, I’m kidding. Eat your burrito.”
“Thanks.” Victoria took her food from the bag. “So... what are these books about? More heavy social stuff like bullying?”
Kate nodded as she put the papers down in front of her. “Yes. The first one’s at the publisher, and it’ll start appearing in stores by Christmas. I still owe them at least two others, though.”
Steph cocked her head. “You owe them two books?”
“Part of the contract I signed,” she explained. “I promised a run of three books in exchange for some advanced pay. I’ve got four rough drafts with me.”
“Cool.” Steph leaned forward. “What social issues did you pick?”
“Well, like Victoria said, the first one was bullying. Then I’ve got with me divorce, death of a parent, and low self-esteem.”
“Wow,” Victoria remarked. “You weren’t kidding. That stuff is heavy.” She frowned. “Didn’t you say there were four? What was the other one?”
She’d never seen someone look so uncomfortable, as Kate squirmed in her seat. “Um... well, I kind of...”
Victoria put the pieces together in her mind. “Drugs?”
Kate bit her lip and nodded. “I got the idea to do one on addiction after we started talking,” she admitted. “I’m sorry, I probably shouldn’t have brought it, but-”
“Can I read it?”
She blinked in surprise. “... really?”
Victoria shrugged. “Why not? I’m curious to see what a children’s book about drugs looks like.”
“Are you sure?”
“Why, is there a druggie in the book look like me or something?”
Kate shook her head. “They’re anthropomorphic animals. They don’t look like anybody.”
“Well, I’m sure the behavior is the same.” Victoria shrugged. “Come on, let me see what a furry drug addict looks like.”
Kate complied, handing out the rough drafts of her work. The others began reading them, though their focus was split. Max and Steph would occasionally ask a question, or make a comment, but they also kept an eye on Victoria.
The blonde read her book silently, flipping the pages without making any audible remarks. After about twenty minutes, she finally reached the end and lowered the papers.
“So?” Kate asked anxiously. “What do you think?”
Victoria looked at her. “Can I offer some constructive criticism?”
“Missy the rabbit has WAY too much stuff in her house to be a real addict.” She flipped back a few pages. “She’s got all these extra appliances on her kitchen counter, and there’s a TV on the wall behind her. If she’s as bad as she’s supposed to be, all that would be long gone. Or at the very least, replaced by cheap crap.”
“Why do you think all the stuff in here is brand new?” Victoria waved around the condo. “I pawned everything that wasn’t nailed down. And a few things that were. Also, why are there no drugs in here anywhere?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, it’s clear that she’s on something, but everything you wrote in here is vague. I have no idea what she’s doing. There’s no pill bottles, no needles, no bongs, nothing.”
Kate squirmed. “I mean, I didn’t want to draw a book full of drugs. It’s for kids.”
“Isn’t that exactly why you should?” Victoria countered. “So at the very least, if they see a crack pipe or something in someone else’s house, they know to stay away from it?”
“... hmm. That’s a good point.”
“I mean, you don’t have to do an encyclopedia of drugs. Just the ones that could be dangerous to kids.” Victoria nodded. “So they know that a baggie full of white powder isn’t candy or something. And not to touch dirty needles or meth pipes.”
Kate winced. “I... don’t know what those look like.”
“Yea, but you have access to Google, right?”
Max and Steph both snorted in amusement as Kate smirked. “Yes, I have access to Google.”
“Then I’m sure you’ll figure it out.” Victoria slid the papers back. “I thought it was cool. I liked how the other parents got together to help get Missy help, in the end.”
“Well, I wanted to send the message that just because you’re doing something bad doesn’t mean that you’re not worth anything,” Kate explained. “I don’t want kids to think it’s okay to just abandon people who need help.”
Victoria nodded. “It’s really good,” she agreed quietly. “I think your publisher will like it.”
They spent the next couple of hours talking about Kate’s books. Then Steph broke out a card game she’d brought with her. One that was definitely inappropriate.
“I don’t know what this word is,” Kate objected, at the new card she’d drawn. “And honestly, with everything else you guys are playing, I’m a little hesitant to Google it.”
“Let me see.” Victoria looked over and winced. “Oof.”
“What? What is it?”
“Just draw a new card.”
“Okay, but what is it?”
Victoria shook her head. “Kate, just... know that you really are the best person at this table.”
Steph grinned. “Is it Smegma? Tell me it’s Smegma.”
“Yes.” Kate showed the card to her and Max. “What IS it?”
“Ask your fiancé,” Max told her. “Please, for the love of God, don’t make us do this.”
Kate huffed, but put the card back and drew a new one. Her face promptly drained of color. “I’m not playing this one either. Steph, where did you GET these?”
“Excuse me.” She put her hand on her chest, looking hurt. “It’s one of the most popular card games in America.”
“Why, because it’s full of toilet humor and incredibly offensive?”
“Yea, pretty much.” Steph plucked a new black card and laid it on the table. “Jesus is... blank.”
“Oh, God.” Kate had a very pained look on her face, as she shuffled through her hand. “I don’t have anything that won’t get me sent to hell. Can I sit this one out?”
“Maybe we can switch to something a little less offensive,” Victoria agreed. “Not that this isn’t a fun game, but...”
“Fine, okay.” Steph plucked a white card from her fingers and discreetly showed it to Max. “That would’ve been my answer, by the way.”
Max took one look and her eyes widened. “Dude.”
“What? Too much?”
“You would’ve gotten an EXPRESS ticket to hell.” Max shook her head. “And possibly sent Kate into early labor.”
Steph smirked as she started collecting all the cards. “Well, I didn’t bring any other games with me. What do you guys want to do now?”
“How about we order some lunch?” Max suggested. “There’s a good pizza place a couple miles from here.”
“Um...” Victoria looked at the others. “I appreciate it, but you guys don’t have to hang around here all day just because of me. You can go home or do whatever.”
Steph shrugged. “I’m good.”
“Really, yesterday wasn’t-”
“It’s fine, Victoria,” Kate assured her. “Besides, I don’t want to have to drive all the way home just to return in a couple of hours.”
Victoria tilted her head. “Why would you come back in a couple of hours?”
“For your meeting.” Kate glanced at the others. “Max and Steph said you were getting your next chip tonight, and that it’s a really big deal. I want to be here.”
“You’re... wait, what do you... I’m not getting my...” Victoria sputtered, before looking at Max. “Huh?”
Steph shook her head. “We weren’t gonna tell her,” she told Kate. “It was supposed to be a surprise."
“But I’m not at ninety days until tomorrow,” Victoria protested. “I thought I wasn’t going to get the chip until next Monday.”
Max shrugged. “I called Charlie and asked him to do it tonight instead.”
“Because you deserve it.”
Victoria bit her lip, dropping her gaze to her lap. “... I don’t think I do.”
“Well, I think you’re wrong,” Max informed her. “And in this circumstance, my opinion weighs more than yours. Besides, today is technically your ninetieth day.”
“You’re not even in NA. Steph is my sponsor.” Victoria glanced at her. “Shouldn’t this be your call? Not Max’s?”
Steph inhaled slowly. “Look, Victoria, I don’t know what happened yesterday. Max didn’t tell me, and it’s fine if you don’t want to, either.” She paused. “But Max said you handled yourself a million times better than nine out of ten addicts would’ve. And that you were a badass. That’s good enough for me.”
Victoria sighed. “... I really wasn’t.”
“Well, like Max said, her opinion weighs more than yours.”
“Every day is a victory. Especially in the beginning.”
Victoria sat silently between Steph and Kate, in front of Max at the meeting. She knew what Charlie was leading into and braced herself; she still didn’t feel like going in front of everyone.
“That’s one of the reasons people get so many chips in their first year of the program,” Charlie continued. “Those of us who’ve been here for a while remember the struggle for those first twelve months. I can definitely speak from experience, that there were a few times that I felt like backsliding. Which is why it’s so important to recognize those milestones.” He paused. “Especially when you can’t comprehend what it’ll take to make it to the next one.”
Charlie finally looked at Victoria and smiled. “Whether you got clean willingly or not, ninety days of sobriety is no small feat. And it’s definitely one worth recognizing.” He held up a green chip, the number 90 embossed on the front. “Congratulations, Victoria.”
The whole room started clapping as she stood, practically dragging herself to the front of the room to accept the coin from Charlie. Though it did feel nice to finally hold it in her hand.
“I don’t have to make a speech or anything, do I?” she asked quietly.
“It’s customary,” Charlie answered over the clapping. “But if you really don’t want to...”
She sighed, looking over the rest of the room as the noise died down. And squirmed under everyone’s expectant look.
... fuck it. Hide it or own it.
“I, uh...” She cleared her throat and averted her eyes; she didn’t feel like looking at anyone. “I almost threw this away yesterday.”
Nobody spoke as she fidgeted with the chip and kept going. “I saw my old dealer. The one who sold me the coke I OD’d on. I guess I got a bad batch, so... he gave me a free eight-ball.” She scoffed. “His way of apologizing. And he said that nobody kicks this habit, and to call him when I remembered how much I liked it.”
She took a second to glance up. Max and Steph were watching intently, her sponsor not looking very surprised. I wonder if Max actually did tell her, she thought idly. Or maybe she figured it out on her own. She’s not stupid.
Kate, on the other hand, had wide eyes and a horrified look on her face. Victoria tried to ignore it as she kept going. “I don’t really remember... it’s kind of fuzzy,” she admitted. “Next thing I knew, I was back in my condo, lining it up with a kitchen knife. All I could think was how bad I wanted it. And that I deserved it, because I was doing so good, and nobody needed to know about it.”
She swallowed. “I don’t know how I stopped. I think I maybe just saw how close to the next chip I was.” She shook her head. “I didn’t even get rid of it. I locked myself in the bathroom like a coward and left it for my friend to clean up when she got home. So... yea,” she sighed. “Sorry I’m not very inspirational.”
When she stepped off the stage, she tried to keep the look of surprise from her face as people started applauding again. Why the fuck are they clapping?
Charlie took his place back at the podium, as she sat down. “The strength it takes to stay committed to sobriety is daunting,” he stated. “The strength it takes to stay sober when the drugs are right in front of you isn’t something most people have within themselves. Especially when they’re just starting on their journey.” He smiled at her again. “You’re more inspirational than you think.”
Victoria bit her lip and didn’t reply, as she clutched her new chip in her fist. Kate’s hand found her forearm, squeezing reassuringly; Steph mirrored her after a few second, as she felt Max’s hand on her shoulder.