Thursday Thriller – Smoke

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Read Part 1 – Wallflower

2002

I was 17 years old, weeks away from high school graduation.  The air was fresh as I rolled down the windows of my old beat up Vega, purchased with my fast food job earnings. I turned up the radio and let the early summer wind blast through my hair.  I was on my way to my very first high school party.  A weekend-long extravaganza at Tommy Frazier’s parents’ house at Lake Lanier.  My best friend Cat Fiore had gotten us in.

It had been just her and me, since the first day of freshman year. Cat-n-Casey.  We were never in the popular clique, but we had each other, creating a sort of exclusive world of our own.  But, though neither of us admitted it, the rejection from the popular kids had always stung.

Charles Macklin, who was Tommy’s best friend, and Cat had some sort of unofficial thing going, though I wasn’t sure of the details.  Whenever I asked Cat about it her eyes went dead and she turned away, refusing to answer.

Cat was already there, she’d ridden up with Charles right after school let out, but I’d gone home to get my things.  Alma, my foster mom, saw me packing and assumed I was planning to run away, refusing to listen when I tried to explain, screaming at me not to return.  It was okay.  It wasn’t as if Alma, my 15th foster parent, and I had exactly bonded.  Plus, my 18th birthday was on the horizon and I had a standing invitation to crash with Cat through the summer.  Cat’s mom was never home anyway.

I picked up the VHS I’d just rented from the passenger seat and dumped it in my backpack with the rest of my things.  I actually thought Cat and I would curl up in front of the television at the end of the night with a bowl of popcorn and gab about all the fun we had as we watched Britney Spears go to prom.  How naive I’d been.

Getting out of the car, I saw the party was starting to get in full swing.  Delia and Tiff were laid out on the lawn, sipping beers with guys I didn’t recognize, laughing raucously.  Clearly, they were already wasted.  I went inside, passing Meredith and Laura in the hallway.  They looked at me as though I didn’t belong, ignoring my friendly hello. In the living room, Cat was on the couch, sitting so close to Charles she was practically in his lap.  There was a vacant look in her eyes and I wondered if she was high.  I saw Tommy through the back window, tossing a football with on the back lawn with some fellow jocks.  My heart lifted.  The lake expanded behind them, shrouded in fog, mysterious and beautiful.

I asked Cat if we could talk in private, and we escaped into one of the many upstairs bedrooms, where I dropped my backpack.  Despite Cat’s not-really-there expression, she was gorgeous, with her wide chocolate eyes and jet black hair, olive skin sprinkled with freckles across her nose.  She was more beautiful than Meredith or Laura or any of the other populars, as we called them, but that’s the trouble with living in small, close-knit community.  For years, she’d been classified as the daughter of the town drunk, relegated to lower-tier status for the rest of her high school career.

“So, did Charles talk to Tommy for me?”  I asked her, bobbing on my tiptoes like an excited child.  I’d crushed on Tommy for years from afar and I had an opening.  He and his long-time, off and on girlfriend Laura were currently off. With Cat and Charles getting closer – this was my chance.

Cat nodded, looking away from me.  “He’s gonna come talk to you.”

“Really?”  I squealed, grabbing both of her hands, but she quickly backed away from me.  I was too excited to worry about her bizarre behavior.  The rest of the night was a blur.  Cat’s leaving.  Tommy’s finding me.  A lingering kiss that made me swoon, my first ever.  A red cup.  Me quickly downing all its contents, wanting to impress him.  Darkness.

My next memory was waking up alone, the sky an inky black outside my window, wracked with pain, smoke filling my lungs.

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