Chapter 3

“Mer, I need you to help me!”

Even in a call at four in the morning, I was oblivious to the stress in Lena’s voice; she tended toward dramatic explanations of even the most mundane events.  Just last week she had called me crying because someone had snatched her pair of designer jeans while she had been debating whether to pay full-price or wait until they went on sale.  Naturally, that incident had been a crisis of epic proportions.

“What’s wrong now, Lena?” I croaked, my voice weary with exhaustion, dreams still clouding my vision.

“I’ve had an accident.”

A frustrated sigh escaped my lips, sounding closer to a feral growl than genuine concern.

“Calm down,” I hushed even as I rolled out of bed.  We both knew how this conversation was going to end; there was no point in delaying my inevitable response.  “How bad is it?”

“On a scale of one to ten?”

“Sure.  Ten being catastrophic.”

She hummed as she calculated a solution to the mental-math problem.  “Seven.”

The last seven had occurred at the beginning of the fall semester last year.  I had hoped to never deal with another seven as long as Lena and I occupied the same state.

“Have you been drinking?”  Silence served as my confirmation.  “How many DUI’s is this for the year, Lena?”  Although I sounded like a scolding mother, there was a hint of humor I had trouble concealing.  Lena wouldn’t hear the set down; she would focus solely on the unintentional smile in my voice.

Technically this is just the first one since the year started in January.”

“Let me rephrase the question.  How many does this make for this school year?”  I had lost count in November.

“Does it matter? I. Need. Your. Help.”  The clear punctuation informed me that she was finished with all the preliminaries of our conversation and ready for me to swoop in and save her from whatever trouble she had gotten into.  “Are you going to come or not?”

She already knew I would; I always did.  “Where are you now?”

“Bowery Street.”

“North or South?”

“Ummm….”

The question was beyond her current mental capacity; even on a good day—a sober one—Lena’s sense of direction wasn’t what I would deem accurate.

“Toward campus or Main Street?” I clarified as I searched my floor for abandoned clothes that would shield me from Frostburg’s harsh winter winds.  The wooden planks felt frosty beneath my bare feet.

“Campus.”

“You’re sure?”  The last time we’d had a similar conversation I had ended up cruising around Frostburg’s abandoned streets for an hour.  Of course I hadn’t been specific enough in my interrogation so the entire ordeal had been my fault.
“Definitely.”

“I’ll be there in five,” I promised and hung up.  I threw on yellow sweatpants and the first hooded sweatshirt I could get my hands on—a staple in all college wardrobes.  It was too dark to tell if my outfit matched or if it was clean.  It really didn’t matter either way; most normal people were at home in bed by this hour.

Why couldn’t my roommate be normal?

She would say that I wouldn’t love her as much if she were boring (her word for normal).  What she didn’t know was that I would love her twice as much if only she would stay home for one Thursday.

By the time I reached my Nissan the first stage of frostbite had taken root in my extremities.  I held my cramped hands toward the vents; the frozen airstream blasting through the car felt warm in comparison to the frigid wind swirling outside.

Flurries fell acrobatically onto my fogged windshield.  Each tiny flake floated to the earth, too careless to pound invasively like the rain.  Intelligent citizens avoided the treacherous roads, but the silence extended beyond the absence of commuters.  Fresh white drifts created a layer of soundproof foam, insulating the earth and soaking in every stray ambient noise.

My Sentra crept down Bowery Street at a toddler’s pace.  To onlookers—if there were any—I probably looked like some seedy child abductor searching for her next victim.

After five minutes of probing the frozen darkness for my annoying friend, I gave up and called her.

“Where are you, Lena?” I growled, effectively halting what was bound to be a drawn-out greeting.

“Just a sec.”

“Why are you whispering?”  My own voice matched her low volume in the silent car.

“Because if I don’t whisper then he will hear me.”

“Haven’t you left yet?”

“Yes… Oh!  I see you!”

“Well, I still can’t see you.”

She giggled.  Of course she would be laughing; I couldn’t find any humor in our situation at present.

“Look up!”

Sure enough, my best friend was climbing through a dark window and scaling the roof of a generic apartment building.  She slid agilely down the tree next to the brick structure and hit the snow-crusted ground running.  When she reached the car the lights in the room she had recently vacated flicked on.

“Go! Go! Go!” she squealed, half hanging out of the door as I stepped on the gas pedal.  The entire ordeal felt more like a prison break than a salvage mission.

“Lena!  What were you thinking?” I shouted.  This would be the first and last DUI of the semester, I vowed silently.  There had to be some way to keep my friend from dating under the influence.

She responded without taking the time to infuse any sincerity into her apology.  “Sorry.”

“I can tell,” I murmured.

I waited until we were home, safely tucked away from the dying blizzard, before saying anything else.

“I thought you had a test in the morning,” I said sternly as I flipped the light switch, igniting her bedroom.

“I do,” Lena said through the pillow over her face.  Her words were appropriately down-muffled and weary.

“Then why were you out?”

“Because it’s Thursday.  Well, technically it’s not Thursday anymore, but it was when I left the apartment tonight.  I mean last night.”

“I thought that since you had an exam in the morning that meant you wouldn’t be going out.”

She removed the pillow and glared at me.  Despite having been applied hours ago, Lena’s makeup still looked as fresh and flawless as it had at seven o’clock.

“I fail to see a correlation between the two.”

“Whatever,” I grumbled, turning to catch a couple more hours of sleep.

“Do you know what I think?”

My voice trembled with irritation.  “What?”

“Men should come with warning labels, like the listing of side effects on a prescription bottle.”

I laughed reluctantly.  “Like: may cause minor irritation.”

“Exactly.”  She chuckled.  “Or: may cause drowsiness.”

“Goodnight, Lena.”

I had barely crossed the threshold of my sanctuary when my roommate called to me.

“Hey, Mer, what time do you work tomorrow?”

I closed my eyes, telling myself that murder wasn’t worth the life sentence that accompanied the pre-meditated crime.  Instead of shouting a response, I trudged back to her doorway.

God only knew what thought was burning in Lena’s mind at this hour.

“Today.”

“What?”

“I work today.  In two and a half hours to be exact,” I pointed out, wincing at how quickly the hands on the clock were racing.  Where had the last hour gone?  Wait! That was an easy question to answer: Lena had stolen it from me.

“Why don’t you ever put someone else on the schedule to open Friday mornings?  That would be the intelligent thing to do.  You never get to sleep early.”

It would do no good to get mad at Lena; every snide comment and derogatory remark bounced off her rhinoceros-thick skin.  Besides, she was intoxicated and wouldn’t remember the conversation in the morning.  The same way she didn’t remember the exact same conversation—verbatim—from last weekend.

“I actually got to sleep at nine last night.”  But waking up at 4AM to once again collect my perpetually drunk and “accident-prone” best friend tended to cut into my much appreciated—and sorely needed—beauty sleep.

“Good for you.”  She smiled and replaced the pillow, allowing only her mouth to peek out.  “But you never answered my question.”

“Which was?”

“Why don’t you put someone else on the schedule to cover Friday mornings?”

“Because most of the people I work with go out on Thursday nights.  I don’t.  Besides, I usually don’t mind going to the shop early.”  Especially on the rare occasions when my best friend decided to temporarily abort her mission to destroy her liver, which meant I enjoyed a dreamless, uninterrupted Thursday-night sleep.

“Why do you call it ‘the shop?’”

“Would you prefer ‘the salon?’” I shot back, my patience wearing dangerously thin.

“I would prefer a possessive pronoun or two thrown in there,” she commented.

“Two would be redundant.”

“You are dancing around the point,” she insisted.

At this moment I longed for the blissfully self-absorbed Lena who took my vague answers at face value.  My best friend was extremely inconvenient.

“Well, it’s not just mine.  I consider it everyone’s shop.”  And truthfully I did.  My salon was only as successful as its stylists, of which I made up only a small part.  In the past year I had chosen to focus on the business side, slowly removing myself from direct contact with our customers.

“That’s crap.”

“Thanks,” I accepted, praying she had finished.

“Anytime.”

“So, did you have a good time tonight, minus the accident?”

She grinned mischievously.  If her eyes had been opened and not covered by pillow frills, they would have been sparkling with barely contained secrets.  “Oh, Mer.  I wish you could have seen the men at the bar!”

“Why?”

“It was like there was a physical requirement to rush.”

“Cute guys?”  Of course there were cute guys.  Lena seemed to bring them out of the woodwork in droves.

“A whole frat full of hot, hot boys.”

“Wow.  I’m sorry I missed out.”

She missed/totally ignored the sarcasm in my tone.  “You could always come out with me next time.”

And we were back to this tired argument.

“Lena, I have a boyfriend.”

“I didn’t say I wanted you to come so you could steal all of the men out from under me.”

“Like that’s even possible.”

“You could come to keep me company.”

I grunted a noncommittal response.  No matter what I said at this point, Lena would twist it to get an affirmative answer from me.  Instead of pushing the issue, she pulled the pillow to cover the rest of her face.

“Are you going to sleep now?” I asked unnecessarily.  She was probably already dreaming of her next conquest, without a care in the world.  I envied the way she could just switch off.  I would be lucky to get another half hour of sleep before my shrill alarm decided to sing me awake.

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