"You ready for this sis?" Minsk asked with a smile.
"Yep - let's do it!" I replied. What was 'this' exactly? Our eighteenth birthdays of course! Okay so the cakes were a little cheesy to usher us into young adulthood but Mom would have her way.
And it's not like anything was going to change overnight! We still had five months until graduation, our birthdays just happened to be in the middle of the school year.
"You first..." Minsk said motioning toward the candles on my own cake.
"Nope, you were born first..." I argued. "Besides I don't know what to wish for."
"Uh-huh, right. You've known what to wish for your whole life Vi!" he teased but he leaned forward and made a show out of considering his wish before blowing out his candles.
Then he turned toward me expectantly and I looked at the bead of wax working it's way down the side of the candle.
I always thought I knew exactly what I wanted but now? Now I wasn't so sure...
Still I leaned forward and sucked in a small breath. 'I wish Nepal was here...' I thought to myself before blowing out the small, flickering flame.
Mom swooped in to remove the cakes and take them inside. We would only need to cut up one cake tonight - the other would be saved for later - there was always cake in this house.
Minsk hooked his arm with mine. "Feel older?"
"Um - not really, am I supposed to?" I asked.
He shrugged. "Let's go change, you know Mom expects it. She'd send us to the salon for a full makeover if she could I bet." It was a silly tradition and I have no idea how it started but it was supposed to be symbolic of growing up or something so I trailed behind Minsk to change before I could have my cake.
When we came downstairs, Nepal was sitting at the table with a slice of cake in front of him and a present set on the desk behind him. "Happy birthday." he said steadily. I wavered a second on the step before Minsk took my hand and led me the rest of the way down.
Things between Nepal and I had been unsteady since the play...since the pills. I threw them out the next night - I realized Nepal had been right and I flushed the few that remained. But the damage between us had already started and it was like a crack in the glass - slowly but steadily growing over time. I never even got a chance to tell him he was right.
Had it really only been a month since then?
After the cake was gone, I scooted through my family toward Nepal and he reached out for my hand. "Can we talk?" he whispered.
"Sure..." I said. My stomach was doing somersaults but this seemed to be encouraging. The front door was the closest so I motioned toward it but we didn't make it far before Mom grabbed my free hand.
"Let's open presents!" she said eying the gift Nepal had brought. "It's so sweet you brought Vi a gift!" she said to Nepal.
I looked over at Nepal apologetically but he was grimacing and trying to tell me something without words.
I raised my eyebrows in confusion but he could offer no explanation before Mom dragged me away, plucking up the box with her other hand. Minsk had a small pile of family gifts to open as well and we both waited, gifts in hand, for everyone to settle around the couch.
"Vi, why don't you open Nepal's first?" Mom said.
Nepal was looking at the ground shaking his head. "Um, I think..." I started to protest but she cut me off and insisted - it was tradition! Somehow I no longer wanted to see what was in the box. Slowly, I pulled off the bow and the lid. The box was deep enough that only I could see the contents at first and all I wanted to do was slam the lid back on but it was too late now.
Mom looked over my shoulder and then dropped back on the couch with a gasp. The magazines - tabloids mostly - felt heavy in my lap. All of them had Bloss and I on the cover somewhere; though only one was a large picture the graphic headlines were enough to give my parents a heart attack.
'Does teeny bopper Blossom Sakura have a new drinking buddy?'
'Bloss headed back to rehab!'
'Underage Blossom Sakura and entourage hit the party scene! Details Inside!'
I could imagine the imagery the writers would use to describe our week of partying. Sure Blossom was their headliner - I was just collateral damage. It may have been a tabloid but the pictures were real enough and both my parents knew that.
My thoughts whirled through my head in the few seconds I had before all hell broke loose. In an instant everyone was shouting at someone it seemed like!
All I wanted to do was cry but Nepal was trying to lie for me - saying it was just a gag gift or something. No one believed him and Minsk very nearly threw him into a wall. Haiti was now standing at my back as Mom and Dad alternated between glaring at me and yelling about how disappointed and angry they were. How I'd abused their trust.
"You're grounded!" Mom shouted in a fit.
It was completely just but the childish side of my smirked. "You can't ground me! I'm eighteen now remember?!"
"Oh we can and you are!" My dad said firmly. "As long as you live in this house..."
"I have to live by your rules right?" I said smugly. Why was I arguing with their completely just punishment?! I should just shut up!
But I didn't shut up.
"You know what? Screw that! I'd rather move out!" I threw my hands up and stomped past all the stunned faces of my family. Nepal started forward but I brushed him off. When I reached the stairs I paused with my hand on the rail and turned toward them. "I drank and I partied and I even had sex...." I looked at Nepal. "I think the sex is the only part I regret now." And with those insanely stupid and hurtful words, I ran upstairs and slammed the door shut.
I heard movement and more yelling downstairs as I threw a few things into a bag but I didn't go back downstairs until I had my overnight bag packed. Nepal was gone and there was a heavy silence in the room. I could feel all their eyes tracking me but I didn't look at them. Minsk started to get up but someone stopped him and he slowly sat back down. The cool night air stung against my tear stained face.
And there he was. Sitting on his motorcycle in our driveway.
"I'm sorry Vi - I didn't mean for that to ever be seen by your parents..." Nepal said.
I closed my eyes and looked down at the ground. "Why did you do it? What good could come out of humiliating me like that?" The tears were in my eyes again.
"I-I wanted to get through to you...I was going to give it to you privately, I swear Vi..." Nepal fumbled over his words some but he was passionate about his intent. "Partying it one thing but...this? The drinking the drugs? It's bad news and I don't want you to get hurt..."
"Too late." I whispered, biting my lower lip to try and stay the tears a moment longer. After a long moment of silence I looked up and steeled my face so I showed next to no emotion. "Consider the message delivered."
I walked away from him then, though I honestly had no idea where I planned to go. The reality of my childish dramatics hit me when I heard his motorcycle roar away in the night. I couldn't go home. I couldn't go to Nepal. Where was I supposed to go now? "Happy birthday to me." I muttered and kicked a rock across the road.
I ended up at Amethyst's house a few blocks away. She took me in without question so I suspect Mom and Dad called her to warn her. We stayed up watching television and talking about everything except what had happened. When I woke up in the morning she took me home.
I didn't argue with her.
Mom and Dad hugged me when I walked inside and I sobbed on Mom's shoulder for a long time while she patted my hair. The punishment still stood but I didn't argue this time.
I haven't heard from you in awhile and I could really use a friend right now. Are you okay? Email me back kay?
It was short and simple. Communication with Bloss had been limited since the summer visit but in the last few weeks she'd completely stopped replying to emails, calls and letters. I thought she might be busy or something but mostly I wanted to be sure she was okay.
And I sure could use a friend right now. I was running on low in that department.
My grounding didn't include my job at the studio thankfully. I had a contract that would have been a legal nightmare to break and my parents allowed me to keep it provided I came straight home and kept my grades up for the rest of the year.
Not that I particularly loved my job lately. It seemed to revolve almost entirely around Mirage Kashmir - the male star of the medical drama filled at the studio. That's how I found myself standing outside the Sugar Valley police department early Saturday morning.
It wasn't the first time I'd been called to pick him up. I suspected it wouldn't be the last time. He liked to drink and fight - usually at the same time.
I sat on the bench outside the station with my math homework and waited for them to finish all the paperwork. Inside was just too dingy and chaotic - even for me. I jumped up when I saw him coming out and smirked at him. "What this time?" I asked.
He grumbled something about Lugi's, a dive way outside of town and I shook my head.
"Your car in impound?" I asked. He shoved the stack of paperwork in my hands and settled onto the bench. Clearly it was MY job to retrieve the aforementioned car. "Fabulous." I said with a fake smile. I walked around to the building to where the impound officer was already waiting for me.
We were on a first name basis by now. His name was Nova.
He barely glanced at the paperwork before handing me the keys to Mirage's car. I fantasized about smashing the window or at least keying it but I didn't want to get Nova in trouble. When I pulled back in front of the police station, Mirage had a hot cup of coffee in his hand and looked a little more sociable.
Maybe a little TOO sociable.
Shortly after my birthday I'd become Mirage's second assistant - or something like that. Really I was just a glorified gopher but it was work so I didn't complain, too much. Anyway, my "promotion" had brought me to his attention and like he did with everyone else, he flirted.
All. The. Time.
I can't say that it was unwelcome, I mean he was the star of his own TV show and famous! But I wasn't ready for this, not that there would be any "this" to be had. He was essentially my boss and a world-class jerk most of the time.
Oh but he was fun to look at!
"Keys." he said, snapping my attention back to this particular Saturday morning where we were standing outside the police station.
"You sure?" I asked. The Lieutenant said he'd been there since about four in the morning so he would have slept off enough of the alcohol by now to drive.
"Unless you wanna come home and tuck me in." he winked at me and leaned in closer. I took his hand and pressed the keys - a little forcefully - into it.
One exceptionally good thing came out of the new found attention from Mirage! On screen time!
I was in the midst of scouring the town for his latest craving (deep fried strawberries! Um eww!) when Baby Boy Director (that's Mr. Melon to most) called me over. Mr. Melon had the smoothest, youngest looking face of anyone I'd ever met. He was at least thirty but didn't look a day over twelve to me.
"Yeah?" I said, stowing the phone in my pocket.
"Can you act?" Baby Boy asked impatiently.
"What does she need to act for? She just needs to lay there!" Mirage interjected before I could speak. With a flurry I was whisked into make up where my face was rubbed raw and my hair was yanked clear out of my head.
In thirty minutes they had me in a flimsy hospital gown that showed off all my rear assets just like the real thing. "How realistic." I muttered, holding the back closed as I was walked on set.
I was tucked into the bed thankfully (for my exposed rear end). "Now just...you're in a coma. Don't move, don't speak and don't smile. Just don't do anything!" Baby Boy shouted. "Action!"
The only way I could maintain the rigid lack of facial expression they expected was to tune out most of the scene so I had no idea when my "part" was done but it felt like I laid there for hours. Finally I felt someone shaking me and saying me name. My eyes fluttered open and there was Mirage.
"You did perfect." he said. "You can get up now."
I got to my feet and scampered off the bed - completely forgetting about the exposure of the gown. I heard him whistle and then chuckle before I grabbed the flaps of the gown and blushed.
Both high school and the first season of the show were coming to end and I was still grounded. I didn't mind that much really. I couldn't bring myself to talk to Nepal and I was so busy with work at the studio I really didn't have time for any friends at school. I thought about going to Prom alone and cringed. Maybe I'd just bail on prom all together - not like I'd be able to get permission from Mom and Dad anyway.
Or so I thought. Just days before the Wrap Party the studio had planned, my sentence was lifted. I'd settled on not going to anything so I had to scramble to put together an outfit for the studio party. Mom looked a little disappointed when I headed for the door but she didn't say anything.
"Just a water please." I said to the bartender at the party. He looked skeptical but slid me the drink. I took it in hand and looked around the studio as I sipped. I'd already been approached by Baby Boy and Mirage about coming back as an assistant next season and I tried to feel good about that but I'd also submitted applications to a few fine arts universities. Universities that were out of this small town...Merlot Studios was my back up plan though.
Mirage slid up next to me and smiled his flirty smile - it was sloppy and I wondered how much he'd been drinking already. "Hey you...V-Vi!" he looked triumphant that he'd remembered my name.
I shook my head and laughed a bit. "Hey." I said. A silence fell between us and I gulped back some more of my drink to fill the awkward silence.
"Let me get you another - what are you drinkin'?" he asked, pulling my glass from my hand before I could object.
"Just water." I said. "I can get it..."
He laughed. "Sometimes I forget how young you are!" he said and sauntered to the bar. I turned toward the edge of the catwalk and looked down into the sets. There were people - crew mostly - partying in the middle of the fake ER and other sets. "Here you go." he said slipping the glass back into my hands.
One drink was enough to tell me it wasn't water and I very nearly spit it back out. "This isn't water Mirage!" I said after I swallowed it back.
"Nope." he said with a mischievous grin. "Don't worry, it's a party Violet!" he stared at me intently until I took another drink from the glass.
If I were smart I would have put it down and walked out.
Unfortunately I'm not that smart.
He refreshed my drink again, I tried to drink it slowly while I thought of an escape plan but my brain had trouble focusing on why that would even be necessary. In fact focusing on anything at all....
"I-I..." I shook my head and looked around. The mirrors on the walls were confusing my already fuzzy mind. How many drinks had Mirage brought me? One? No, at least two?
He cut my words off with his lips on mine. Well that felt good, and why shouldn't it? He was hot...with hot lips...
"You were saying?" he asked, his lips still dangerously close to mine.
"I was?" I asked. "What was I saying?"
"That's what I thought." he had a sexy smile on his face as he pressed his lips to mine again. Mmm, he tasted good.
The pillows were super soft; as I fell back into them I felt like I was laying on a cloud. That might be the drinks though - how many drink had there been again?
He was closing in again and for a fleeting moment I pushed back at him. Something about this wasn't quite right...I closed my eyes tightly trying to remember but the memories of only an hour ago were so fuzzy it was like trying to see through a violent fog.
"You alright?" he asked. He seemed genuinely concerned! Maybe there was nothing wrong and I was just...just what? Drunk? On two drinks?
"Yeah I-I'm fine..." I said with a fake smile. That was all the encouragement he needed.
When I woke up a few hours later I had to climb over him to get out of the bed. I realized with alarming clarity that we were both naked and I almost collapsed in panic right then. Delicately I extracted myself from him without disturbing him and searched around from my clothes while trying to piece together the last few hours.
Cloudy, disjointed memories came back to me as I got dressed and I shuddered. I felt very dirty as I looked down at his prone form and just wanted to run away. One glance at the clock on my phone told me it was nearly four in the morning...
He stirred for a moment and opened his eyes to look at me. He smiled and crooked his finger at me but I backed away with a sick, fake smile plastered on my face. "I gotta jet." I whispered.
I looked at my phone again and considered my options for getting home. Calling home? Smartest option maybe but I nixed it quickly. Walking to the subway? At this hour? Suicide! No buses running now. I could call one of my siblings but then they'd just call Mom and Dad probably...I flipped through the contacts in my cell again before I pressed the talk button.
This was a really bad idea.
I knew that as soon as I heard the phone ringing, but I didn't hang up. I should have but tonight didn't seem to be the night for smart decisions in life.
Thankfully he didn't say no or hang up on me so I waited at the guard shack of the studio in the dead of night.
I heard the roar of his motorcycle approaching and my stomach twisted. Mixed with the alcohol - I assume there had been alcohol in those drinks Mirage had been serving me anyway - I was at great danger of throwing up.
He hopped off the bike without a word or sound and came over to me. "Are you okay?" he asked, looking over all of me for...something? I couldn't be sure what but I guess getting called in the middle of the night by your ex is enough to make someone nervous.
I shook my head and looked away from him, unwilling to meet his eyes as the tears started to well up again.
Without a word he pulled me close in a hug and simply held me while I cried. He didn't ask questions or demand answers about what had or hadn't happened. That was good since I was still trying to piece that together myself.
After several minutes, the sobs turned to sniffles and those soon went away too. He pulled back when I'd been quiet for awhile. "Thank you." I whispered.
"I'll always be there for you Vi." he said as if I should have known this incredibly common knowledge. He looked down toward the ground and we may have shuffled our feet for a moment. "We should get you home though - I imagine your parents are gonna flip..."
"They knew it would be a late night...I warned them about that..." I said. That much was true but I don't think any of us had been planning an overnight thing.
"Ah right." he said weakly.
"Let's...go I guess." I said reaching out for his hand out of months of habit. He reached back and for a second our hands brushed each other.
Then he pulled away and stepped over to his motorcycle. He pulled out the extra helmet and handed it to me. I put it on and carefully climbed onto the bike behind him.
The chilly evening air brushing over me was helping to clear away more and more of the haze I felt I was swimming through. More and more fragments came back of the night and I gripped Nepal tighter, wishing the memories would blow away as well.
Wishing the whole night - except for this right now - would just blow away...
"You're home Vi." Nepal said softly.
We said goodbye awkwardly and I fumbled with the key in the door for a moment. Mom was asleep on the couch and I thought about sneaking past her but if I'd learned anything it was that honest was the best policy. I woke her gently and when she saw me she hugged me tightly - as if she was afraid I wouldn't come back.
"I'm sorry Mom." I whispered into her hair. She hugged tighter.
The day I got my acceptance letters to St. Cloud Fine Arts University AND Frappe University of Fine Arts was the best and possibly worst day of my life - up until that point anyway. I'd been feeling ill for several days at that point and was at the end of my rope. I spent the first day blaming the seafood at Prom - yes I'd gone, alone. Yes it had sucked.
And it had given me food poisoning.
Of course everything on the internet suggested that food poisoning should have passed after a day or so. And Minsk wasn't throwing up either.
So it must be the stomach flu.
After five days of that I was beginning to doubt that as well. My mom finally suggested going to the doctor. I think my dad smirked a bit when he heard her say that. Apparently my mom didn't "do" doctors.
There was one other possibility, one I was terrified to admit was possible.
But then there were those two little blue lines, taunting me from the edge of the sink.
I was torn between melting into a sobbing puddle and throwing up again.
I sided with throwing up.
Then I cried.