That shift was the longest  Casey’d worked in months. As she watched some sorority girls down the last of their tequila shots and fall onto one another for balance, she decided that maybe taking her dad up on his stipend offer wouldn’t be so bad. (That is if she was willing to cut ties with Darren) She hadn’t seen her parents in-Malachi was nine months, so-a year and five months. They’d tossed her out a month into her pregnancy with a biracial baby she refused to abort. She stared at the cherry juice on the bar, contemplated lapping it up. She finally wiped it and rubbed aching fingertips against her temples, the idea was quickly disposed of. They’d just have to eat out even less than once a month, and Netflix wasn’t worth it when neither of them had time to watch anything other than their sheetrock fall apart and their son soil every diaper he looked at. It would just take time. Malachi would get bigger, Darren would get a better job, and she’d finally get back to school. Her eyes followed a man’s unwarranted hand as it cupped one of the drunk girl’s asses. With a stiff jaw, she shuffled the tumblers. It would just take time.

Outside, she struggled to close the Volkswagen door. It took a firm three tries before the metal separating her from the cold night’s air was secured. Once buckled up, she backed out of the unpaved parking lot, and made her way onto Hwy 76 as she’d done for the past five months. The radio remained untouched as nothing but consistent static played. She passed the What-A-Burger she got fired from for too many absences. Further down on the opposite side of the highway was Elite, a boutique that only sported sizes two and under, something she’d never been even before getting pregnant. She fiddled with the sunglasses she’d shoplifted from there. They still had the tag. $69.99. The exit to her apartment came up on the right.

With shaky hands, she sped past it.

It was a 60 zone that she pushed past doing a steady 85.  It would take time but how much?

Her body knew where she was driving to even if she didn’t want to admit it aloud. It was muscle memory at its finest leading her to old habits.

***

Dylan opened the door with eye boogers and a pair of dingy Fruit of the Looms. “Well. Thought you weren’t coming again.”

She took a wad of cash out of her pocket and pushed it in front of his face. “I’m stressed. Money problems. I need it.”

“There’s a little irony in that, Case. Spending all your money ‘cause you’re stressed about money.”

“Please. One more time.”

He waved her in and turned on the hall light. “Keep forgetting to buy bulbs for the living room,” he said while lighting a cigarette. “You remember what you do, right?” She nodded. How could she have forgotten?

After placing the cash on the table she stripped her clothes and sat in the tattered plaid armchair in the middle of the room. Dylan tied her restraints.

“It’ll last an hour and a half tops,” he said. She nodded.

He injected her arm with the cherry flavor. She was tranquil for a moment before writhing violently in the chair. “Don’t fight it, Casey. Let it do its job.” Foam travelled down from the corners of her mouth to her chin, then stillness.

***

Her trip consisted of cherry picking, sucking ponds of ice cream through a straw taller than her apartment building, larger than life and its disappointments. Everyone she knew in real life had good intentions, but good intentions didn’t and never would have absolved reality’s flaws and inconsistencies. In this building, life was warped off her fantasies. VR in a syringe. If Dylan wasn’t addicted himself, he’d have been a millionaire off his invention. She didn’t know how bad it’d gotten, though, so while he was tripping himself, the cigarette still very alive and broiling with a heinous intent, neither of them felt the fire, only the dessert fields, only the sweets.

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