It feels like I just died.
I choke out the breath that was stolen from my lungs as I look around the room in a haze. I see Nikkee hunched over a body lying on the ground. She’s flashing her badge at the people surrounding her.
There’s a sinister darkness all around me.
I try to stand up, but my hand slips off the table, sending me flying towards the floor. Before I face-plant into the checkered linoleum, a hand grabs my arm. I look up to see who stopped my fall. A pair of striking blue eyes, like the color of the deep end of the Caribbean, are staring down at me. His grip is tight, and I can feel the full weight of my body in his hand.
I want to speak, but my vocal cords are inconveniently impaired. Bizarrely, it seems the longer he touches me, the hotter I become, until I feel like I’m covered in flames. I struggle from the intensity, and the stranger forcefully drops my arm. Then he shoots me the most abominable look I have ever seen, as if he disgusts me. He vanishes out the door a second later, leaving me just a glimpse of a man with the word Affliction tattooed down his forearm.
As soon as my body catches up to my mind, I jet out the door after him. What just happened? I look around frantically, but the slivers of morning sun blind me through the apartment buildings. He is nowhere to be seen, like he just up and disappeared. Which is what I feel my sanity slowing doing. I stand on the busy sidewalk, totally mystified.
“Liv! Are you ok?” Nikkee asks, as she grabs my shoulder.
I want to tell her what I thought just happened. But I’m afraid one of my worst fears will come soberingly true, and she will strap me in a straitjacket right where I stand.
“I’m fine,” I lie, still dazed from all the excitement of my death and subsequent cremation. “It just got a little heavy in there for me.”
“Come back inside, the police are on their way. That girl is dead,” she says gravely. But I already know.
We go back into the café where there is a confused, tumultuous energy in the air. I walk by the dead girl, whose body is covered by a white table linen. I can see her shoes peeking out from under the cloth, pink flip flops with rhinestone flowers. The sight makes me shiver as I have a Wizard of Oz moment.
“I don’t want to scare you,” Nikkee whispers into my ear, “but this has been happening all along the coast.”
“What? Girls have just been dying?” I ask in disbelief.
“Yup, and no one knows why.”
“I haven’t heard anything on the news?” I say curiously.
“You wouldn’t have,” Nikkee shakes her head. “The Governor’s office doesn’t want to start a panic during the high season, so they are keeping it out of the papers.”
Summer is the main tourist attraction all along the East Coast; sun worshipers from every direction travel to and from the Shore for three glorious months, making parking in my little waterfront town a nightmare. It is also Fourth of July weekend, which means an extra influx of travelers, and the worst possible time to trifle with tourism.
Before I know it, the quiet café, where we are having coffee is swarming with police officers using the words ‘crime scene.’ Yellow tape is stuck everywhere, and a chalk outline is all that is left of a deceased young girl.
They’re not letting anyone leave without giving a statement. Luckily, Nikkee is able to push me to the front of the line. She knows every minute I’m exposed to turmoil, the closer I come to my emotional threshold.
“Full name?” the officer asks, in a strict, detached tone.
“Purple,” I say sheepishly.
The officer glances up from his pad with an irritated expression, annoyed I’m not taking his questions seriously, until he invests a moment into my face. Then he gives me one of those looks - Freak.
I’m used to it. My eye color isn’t the only thing that’s off. I’ve lived my entire life on the edge of sanity, constantly walking a fine line between emotionally distraught and off the deep end. And every day I fight them, the violent swirls of emotions that jack hammer all around me. Taunting me to scream, to plead, to beg for some peace; the peace that never comes, no matter how much I pray for it.
“Did you notice anything strange?” he goes on.
Strange? I wonder how literal he’s being. I keep flashing back to a pair of Caribbean blue eyes, still trying to figure out what happened there. But it’s not that encounter to which he’s referring. I was just sitting there, suffocating, like I normally do out in public, when suddenly everything went black. The air in my lungs ripped viciously out of me, leaving me grasping for life. It was a disturbing experience, as if I lived that poor girl’s death. Is that strange enough, I wonder?
“I didn’t notice anything. I only turned around when I heard the commotion.” I decide that is the best answer, straight and to the point, and non-incriminating.
“I wouldn’t leave the state on any last minute vacations,” the officer says, in his consistently detached tone. “We may have more questions down the line.”
It’s obvious this man doesn’t know who he’s talking to; I barely leave my apartment, never mind leaving the state.
I sit back down at the table with Nikkee.
“Do they know how she died?” I ask quietly, glancing back at the coroner, who is packing up his things.
“No, they’re going to do an autopsy before they release her body, but I have a feeling it’s going to be the same as all the others. Inconclusive.”
She looks up from the napkin she is gliding through her fingers. “Do you know how she died?” she asks, and then wiggles her nose like Samantha from Bewitched.
“No,” I immediately snap. “How many times do I have to tell you? I’m not psychic,” I hiss. “I don’t talk to the dead, I don’t read palms, and I don’t see the future.”
“Maybe not, but you do pick up more signals than a cell phone tower.”
Only Nikkee could put it so eloquently.
She’s referring to my little ‘disorder’; at least that’s what the doctors call it. I call it my mental plague, a disease that lingers through my mind, through my heart, and through my soul, creating a social handicap for my body. It’s the reason I knew that girl was dead before anyone else, it’s the reason I could feel
the confused and tumultuous energy in the air. And the reason I was knocked half off my equilibrium.
Nikkee takes a deep breath and stands up. “Let’s go, I’ll walk you to Les Mis before I meet Davis for lunch.”
Davis. Nikkee’s new flavor. Surprisingly, she has a genuine liking for this one. I’m still trying to figure out why.
Nikkee is the cliff diving, bungee jumping, hang gliding type, and Davis is so, not.
People have always mistaken us for family because of our heart-shaped faces, medium skin tone, and honey highlighted hair, but she’s always been a bit of a wreck loose as opposed to me, the recluse.
Nikkee has been my best friend since I was eight. I wasn't much for social activities as a child. I kept to myself mostly. So when my mother told me that she joined the local beach club so my brother and I could make some friends, I had an internal panic attack.
I played by myself, making sure to stay as far away from any other children as possible. It was solitude, and it was safe. Enviously though, I watched the broods frolic together in the sand and sea, secretly wishing I could be one of them.
On a breezy afternoon, while minding my own business, constructing sand castles, a boy started taunting me. The loner child is always a target, and he had been stalking me for weeks. I
could feel his persecution every time he looked in my direction, and one day he finally confronted me.
“Hey freak!” he yelled. There’s that word again. I tried to ignore him, but he was persistent. I could feel the anger bubbling inside him, and I was the outlet for his frustration. He stormed towards me after I wouldn’t entertain his pursuit, which had only made him madder.
He destroyed my castles in a fit of rage, sending sand everywhere. I tried to take cover, but by the time he was done, I could have been confused for a sand castle myself. I remember looking up at him with horror. How can anyone be so cruel? I hadn’t hurt him in any way, so why was he treating me like this? It was just a child’s misunderstanding of feelings that made him act the way he did, but his measures still upset me. I relive the tears every time I picture the boy standing over me, winded from the obliteration.
Suddenly, a voice yelled out from behind him.
“Leave her alone you big dummy!”
She was small in body but huge in heart. She also had a handfull of wet sand. She hurled it at the boy, whose name I still don’t know, and hit him square in the face. I watched astounded. This little person with blonde ringlets and big green eyes was so fierce.
As the boy tried to wipe the pasty sand from his face, Nikkee grabbed my hand and pulled me away. When we touched, there was an immediate connection. It’s one that has kept us joined until this day.
I still see that same ferocity in her eyes. It’s no wonder she chose the career path she did. She’s the only person who really understands me; she’s never critical or judgmental, and when everyone else sees an anti-social introvert with weird eyes, she just sees me; a struggling young woman who hides behind habitual sarcasm, has a love for labels, and a terminal soul.
Nikkee gives me a kiss on the cheek, “Try not to have a nervous breakdown while getting your highlights,” she says like a mother telling a child to have a good day. I look into the busy salon; if I am not falling off the mental rafters yet, there is a good chance I can make it through this appointment in one piece.
I walk into Les Mis to find my stylist, Eunique, salivating. When I sit down in his bedazzled chair, he spews immediately.
“Oh. My. God. Did you hear some girl died at Prime this morning? I heard she expired while she was in line, waiting for coffee.”
“Now how can you possibly know that already?” I ask.
“Occupational hazard. I work at the hub of the gossip information highway.”
This was so true. Gossip grows like mold in hair salons.
“How do you know?” he asks intrigued.
I blow out a hot breath. “We were there, Nikkee and me, having coffee when it happened.”
I see Eunique’s face light up in the mirror. “It’s about time you saw some action.”
“I don’t really consider witnessing some poor girl die as action.” I grimace.
He waives his hand casually, “You say potato…”
I shake my head astonished at his lack of regard for human life. Mine or anyone else’s.
Eunique grunts as he parts my hair. He is clearly annoyed that I let my appointments lapse. Eunique has been my stylist for five years, which is exactly how long it’s been since I’ve seen my natural color. So I know when I’ve frustrated him to the point of root overload. His motto is ‘no roots no boot.’ He’s a little obsessive when it comes to his reputation. But he has a soft spot for me. He may act annoyed at my lackadaisical attitude towards appointments, but I know he’s happy I just show up.
“So, what are you doing for your birthday?” he asks as he foils.
“Happy Birthday!” Honey and Serena, his assistants, sing in their melodic unison. They always talk in unison, and I swear they are a package deal. Some people in the universe were just meant to meet, and here were two of them.
“Nothing,” I demand. “Having a piece of cake if I’m lucky, and after what I just went through…” I stop myself before
elaborating any further. Most people know I have a problem, but very few know the full extent. Really only Nikkee, my family, and a few dozen therapists know the gory details, and I want to keep it that way. Eunique thinks I’m just bipolar or something, when in reality it’s way more complicated than that.
“What did you just go through?” Eunique asks, more intrigued than concerned.
“Nothing, it’s nothing.” I look away, wanting to keep the inquiry at bay. How do I explain what just happened, when I myself have trouble understanding it?
Eunique sighs, knowing full well I’m hiding something, but he lets it go. Out of pity? Mercy? I don’t really know, nor do I care. Instead, he changes the subject to something even more depressing than my impending mental doom.
“Liv,” he says bluntly. “You need more of a social life.”
“I have a social life,” I lie.
“Sweetheart, Rapunzel has more of a social life then you.”
“She does not,” I groan, but he’s right. My social life consists of a shower. It’s pathetic, but there is nothing I can do about it. This is my reality and I live it to the best of my ability.
“You’re starting to sound like my father,” I glance up at him. “I suppose next you’re going to tell me my life is passing me by through the windows.”
“If the shade fits,” he shrugs as he combs through my tangles.
I start to feel inconsolably dire; I can’t help it if the world hurts and I can only take being social in small doses. Why am I hassled for suffering from a debilitating disease?
“Liv, you were born on one of the most partied holidays of the year, and you’re really just going to have cake?” Honey asks disappointed.
“Hey, cake is exciting when it’s seven layers of chocolate fun,” I try defending myself.
“Ugh, you should be boozing it up! You’re only young once,” Eunique presses. “Besides, you’re totally going to piss off the party gods by not visiting one of their temples this weekend.”
He’s referring to the many legacy nightspots the Shore covets. Clubbing is like a religion here, and people journey from all over to worship.
“I know, but I’m just not feeling it,” I say despondently. Truth of the matter, I wanted no part of feeling it.
“Ok,” he shrugs thwarted, and then goes back to foiling my hair. When he’s finished, there is so much metal sticking out of my head, it looks like I’m trying to find life on other planets. As I sit under the dryer, I think about what Eunique said. I really do want to worship like every other parishioner my age; I just need some divine intervention.
I suddenly feel my body temperature spike. It is the exact same sensation as in the café when ol’ blue eyes touched me. My attention turns immediately towards the front window, and I think I see him, but by the time I lift the dryer and attempt to stand up, whatever I thought I saw, is gone.
My heart is beating a little too hard in my chest when Eunique asks if I’m alright.
“I’m fine,” I gulp. “I just think my meds are messing with me.”