Fiction

Shut up brain !

She grabs an ice cold green tea from the subzero. It’s 3am now.  Everything dark outside her windows, her reflection in the glass all she can see.  She has become almost unrecognizable in the past year.  Round.  Ugly.  Aged. She turns her back to the outside. Not proud of the new look.  Sipping her green tea and debating turning on all the lights so she wont have to look at herself again.  She’s not scared of the dark.  She’s just scared of the dreams.  The memories.  They haunt her in the daylight just the same as the night.  Her brain is her worst enemy. Replaying it over and over again.  Trying to fix what cannot be fixed.  Trying to understand what she will never comprehend. So many intrusive thoughts.  She knows its the PTSD.  She’s had it for four years now.  Festering in her prefrontal cortex.  A nightmare. One that grips her while she showers, makes dinner, drives her car, takes out the trash, records her patient’s vitals, grocery shops, vacuums the carpet, mows the lawn, talks to the teacher, zips up a coat, writes out a check, changes the sheets on her bed, vomits up her dinner…so intrusive that she screams out sometimes “Shut the fuck up brain!! Oh my god SHUT UP!! I don’t want to think about it anymore! I don’t want to think about it! Stop thinking about it! God dammit STOP THINKING ABOUT IT!” she shouts. Then she cries.  She’s always crying.  Or eating.  Crying and eating.  Trying to stay sane.

The flashbacks subside for a moment but her gut tells her he’s up to something.  She can tell by his texts.  Manufacturing evidence. He’s ready to attack again.  Carefully biding his time until he files his next court case. Abuses her by proxy.  The American court system is his patsy.  His arm – the law.  She’s never going to be rid of him.  Not in this lifetime.  But still she fantasizes about love.  About a handsome man with ocean eyes.  He’d protect her.  Hold her at night.  Stroke her hair while she shivers.  Be her rock when she breaks down.  Sing to her. Make her laugh.  Try to impress her with his stories.  Remind her that life is worth living.

His mere presence would knock her ex off his game.  Force him in to submission.  His intellect…his success…his desire for her proof that she’s not worthless. She’s somebody if she can catch Jared’s eye or better yet, his friendship.  But it’s all just a fantasy really – one Jared refuses to fulfill anymore.  He’s so distant.  No longer a good escape.  And the PTSD is so bad – so intrusive that she cries most days.  In a place thats closed off from the world.  Where she no longer listens to music.  She just exists.  Waiting for the next attack. Praying the next ten years fly by.  Wishing her children’s childhood away so her ties to him will be over quicker. Not going to concerts.  No trips with friends.  Doing nothing because she feels like nothing.  Just a punching bag filled with bad thoughts.

Her friends all abandoned her, in the worst time in her life.  But she can’t really blame them.  There’s only so many times you can say “Oh wow, he’s such an asshole!” before you start questioning her.  And she feels all that.  She knows thats what you’re thinking at the other end of the line.  She must be exaggerating.  She’s stretching the truth….he cant really be doing all the things he has done. He can’t keep getting away with it. But he did, and he does.  And she’s angry at god, but he’s not listening either.  He abandoned her too.  Left her with these thoughts in her brain. Thoughts she doesn’t want to think. Memories she’s forced to relive.  Puzzles she’ll never sort out.  She prays for relief – assumes it will come when her children outgrow her.  When her boys become men. There’d be no way left to hurt her then.

But she dreams nonetheless – of finding the California sun and starting over again.  Pick up where 1992 ended and find herself.  Find peace.  Find Jared.  And for a moment – just one – she’s ok.  Until the next time her brain tells her to duck an imaginary fist.  Until the next time a police officer is at the door.  Until the next time she’s summoned to appear.  Until the next time….and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time……and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…

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Jared and Lucy

They had no idea, on that bright sunny morning, that the birth of their first child, a son they named Noah Joseph, would open the door for such unbelievable heartache.  How could they?

Lucy’s labor was predictable.  The birth, smooth. And she was recovering well.  Within an hour or two she was up and about. Shuffling her slippered feet back and forth from the bathroom to the layette to her hospital bed again without complaint. She felt well enough to shower and now the happy couple were receiving their first visitors.

The perfectly pink full-term boy was exceptionally alert for his first hours on earth. Delighting well wishers with his big blue eyes that seemed to focus intently on each relative as though he recognized each and every one of them from some other time and place.

“They can’t see much yet?  Right?” Jared’s friend Raj asked as he rocked baby Noah softly in his arms. “It’s like he’s checking me out.” he added sweetly.

“He’s probably fixing on the reflection coming off your glasses. He can only see a few inches in front of him right now.”  Jared said as he held his arms out to receive Noah.  “That’s your Uncle Raj.” Jared whispered to Noah once he had him snuggled in the crook of his arm again. “He was born yesterday and you were born today.” he teased.

Lucy watched Jared show Noah around the room. Beaming with pride at their creation.  Their friends and loved ones leaning in to peek at Noah’s bright face or cradling him for a moment in their own arms.  Jared either had Noah or a bottle of hand sanitizer in his hands.  Ready with a squirt for anyone who wanted to so much as touch the blanket Noah was bundled in.  Protective new Pop.  Lucy felt her love for Jared grow deeper in those moments there.  She had made him a Daddy. And he was good at it. So far at least. It was a special morning for everyone.  Jared’s first child, a son no one ever thought he’d have. Born almost 9 months to the day after Jared married Lucy on a cliffside in Capri.  She’s almost 20 years Jared’s junior but his equal in many other ways.  A career of her own.  A name too.

Every one who held Noah that morning commented on his beauty.  A perfect blend of his model mother and his handsome Oscar winning father.  Blue eyes.  Bright blond tuffs of hair.  Pink skin.  Amazing temperament.

“Does he ever cry?” someone asked kindly.

“He’s just chillin'”

“My kinda kid.”

“You would end up with a baby that never cries wouldn’t you?”

“He’s an old soul.” Grandma Constance added and everyone agreed.

What a blessed addition to the world.  Ten fingers, ten toes.  A life full of promise and good health just waiting for him.  Jared and Lucy were so proud.  Look at what their love created.  A perfect little boy.  That everyone is immediately in love with.

Lucy yawned big and then quickly laughed at herself.  “Sorry guys.” she said through a smile. “It’s not you, it’s me.” more giggling “I haven’t slept in like three days.”

Grandma took Noah from the arms of one of the couple’s friends and placed him softly into Lucy’s outstretched arms.  “I think he might need lunch and then you both should rest.” she said kindly.

Everyone took the cue and shuffled out of the room with pats on Jared’s back and well wishes to Lucy.  Once everyone was gone, Constance helped Lucy get reading for the feeding, propping a pillow beneath her elbow and a pillow at her waist..  Jared stayed back, watching the girls bond over Noah’s first latch.  It was a sight to see.  So precious.

“Ouch.” Lucy said as Noah latched on “Is it supposed to – Ouch! ….hurt?”

“Sometimes it’s because they latch on wrong … let’s try and reposition him.”  Grandma Constance slipped her finger in to the side of Noah’s mouth to break his suction and his eyes snapped up at her as if he were chastising her.  Constance was taken aback for a moment, not quite sure what in the hell she just saw.  As quickly as the expression appeared, it disappeared and Constance scolded herself for assigning such a grown-up expression to the face of a newborn. He wanted his boobie back.  That’s all.  She gently repositioned Noah’s head and he latched back on to Lucy.  But she couldn’t stop thinking about that quick shift in his eyes.  Too weird.  Too grown up.

“That’s a lot better.” Lucy sighed looking down on her boy. “Thank you.” She said before she looked up at Constance.

“Are you ok?” she asked Constance a moment later. “You’re white as a sheet!”

“Oh! I’m fine. Maybe I need a little rest too. I’m seeing things.”

“Seeing things? That’s not good.” Jared joked.

Constance shook her head as she spoke, fully aware of how nutty her words sounded “I think Noah was just mad at me…”

“What?” Lucy responded. “Mad at you?”

“Yeah Ma.  I think you do need some sleep. He’s not mad at anyone.  He’s like six hours old.”

“He gave me this look….”

“Sure he did.” Jared ushered his mother over to the couch in their hospital suite.  “Maybe you should take a nap too.”

“Yeah.”

Lucy starred down at the bundle in her arms and watched him feed. His eyes were shutting slowly and her nipple was falling out of his mouth.  In a moment he was fast asleep with a full belly.

“Do you want me to put him in the bassinet so you can sleep?” Jared whispered.

Lucy nodded quietly but when he went to grab Noah, Noah’s eyes flipped open quickly and he let out his first cry.  A painful wail that upset everyone all at once.

Sarah LLoyd (6 – end)

Somewhere on the other side of the country, where the sun perpetually shines, Sarah Lloyd’s Hollywood honey was filling his modeling portfolio quickly. Luckily for him, there were an abundance of calls for baby-faced, blue-eyed heartthrobs.  His look was TeenBop approved. Totally California. He modeled for CocaCola and Noxzema while he waited to hear if a network would pick up the off-beat pilot he shot when he first got out there. He was hustling and making actual money. Sharing an apartment with four other guys in the business. He kept his entire life inside a black duffle bag he’d hide whenever he left the house.  He was making it work and hardly thought about Sarah at all.

To be fair, he did ask her to come with him, but she refused. She was such a mess. He thought a change would do her good but she was too content in their shitty apartment with the drippy faucet and a torn shower curtain.  Co-dependent on everyone but him.  She had potential – could actually act.  But she wouldn’t listen to reason and she started smoking too much pot and not doing much else.  He resented her and then one morning he simply left.  He wasn’t going to rot away beside her.  He had dreams and a level of confidence (and God given beauty) to maybe pull it off.   So far he was right.

There might be room for Sarah somewhere in his future.  She was very much the love of his life.  The one he assumed he’d spend forever with.  But not today.  She has a lot of work to do on herself and until she becomes self-motivated to change, he’s going to leave her exactly where she is ….in the past.

The morning of Sarah’s abortion, three days after she was kicked out of the half-way house, Sarah stood in front of the mirror in her room at the Traveler’s Lodge.  She pulled her t-shirt up to reveal her belly and she turned sideways to gauge whether she looked bloated.  There was a slight curve to her once flat stomach.  Sarah winced.  She looked newly pregnant and by this afternoon, she would no longer be.

It felt like the wrong thing and the right thing to do all rolled into one impossible decision.  She knew she was in no place either mentally, physically or even financially to bring a baby in to the world but it still was just that: a baby.  She had a million reasons to justify the procedure but also a lot of guilt.  She wished time would speed up.  She needed it to be tomorrow so badly.  Gabriella was going to sneak over as soon as humanly possible.  But they both knew that probably wouldn’t be today.  Sarah would have to fend for herself today.  And tonight.  But she’d have her best friend by her side tomorrow.

She thought about trying to find him.  To tell him what she was about to do.  But she didn’t even know where to begin.  He didn’t leave a forwarding address or anything. And she knew he wouldn’t be listed in the phone book.  Not yet and if his dreams became reality, hopefully not ever.  She was truly alone.

Sarah rubbed her belly once more.  Said aloud “I’m sorry.” and grabbed her cigarettes and wallet off the dresser.  “I’m so sorry.” she said.

The door to Sarah’s hotel room slammed shut behind her.  She didn’t look back.

Sarah Lloyd (5)

“Shit. Shit. Shit!” Sarah said as she came out of the upstairs bathroom at the half-way house.

Gabriella was waiting in the hallway just on the other side of the door while Sarah took an at-home pregnancy test.  “Oh, damn.” she said as Sarah showed her the pregnancy test.  Two pink lines. “Damn.”

Sarah retreated in to her room and flumped down on her bed. Tears started to fall from her eyes in spite of her effort to quell them.  She tossed the pregnancy test in the air, aiming for the end table beside her bed, but it fell to the floor dramatically.

“What the fuck am I going to do?” Sarah asked.  She looked around the room as if the walls were closing in on her.  “I can’t have a baby!”

“I know.”

“No, you don’t.  I seriously mean it.  I. Cannot. Have. A. Baby.  I can’t!”

Sarah was panicking.  Gabriella wasn’t sure exactly what to do.  She was just staring at Sarah wringing her hands.  A pregnancy is not tolerated at the half-way house.  In fact, it’s something Sarah should have been tested for before she was even accepted to the program.  Gabriella couldn’t figure out how it was even possible they missed it since she came right from the rehab here.  There’s no way she got knocked up in rehab.  Well, that is entirely possible but it would have been with another resident, not with her Hollywood honey like she had said.

Gabriella sat down on the bed next to Sarah and pushed a tendril of hair out of Sarah’s face and tucked it behind her ear tenderly “You don’t have to have it.” she nearly whispered.

Sarah and Gabriella have become fast friends.  Sarah has been a resident at the half-way house for only a week but in recovery terms, that’s practically a year.  They bonded on day one and have been inseparable ever since.  Gabriella is at a higher step than Sarah so she’s doing her best to mentor the new comer. Sarah’s receptive to her advice.

The girls are from two entirely different worlds but they have come to learn that they have almost too much in common. It feels good to have a best friend again.  Sarah is very grateful for Gabriella.  Especially right now.

“G?  What the hell am I going to do?”

“You got two choices.”

Sarah rubbed her belly tenderly.  “I’ve never had one.”

“Well…I’ve done both.” Gabriella said carefully not entirely sure if Sarah meant a baby or an abortion “The abortion absolutely sucked.  I’m not going to lie.  But it was better in the end than having the kid.  That’s for sure.” she closed her eyes as she spoke “The abortion is behind me now.  And I don’t gotta deal with the Father or none of that.  The kid I kept, I don’t even have custody of her. I probably fucked her up for life. I’m in court all the damn time for shit I didn’t even do. You know what I’m saying?”

“I can’t even process this …” Sarah said.

“I’m sorry. I’m talking too much about my shit.  But girl, you do have a choice.”

Sarah put her hand up quickly in a gesture meant to silence Gabriella. Both girls quieted when they heard a floor board squeak outside the room somewhere in the hallway.

“Someone is listening?” Gabriella whispered.

Sarah got up quickly to shut the door and watched the top of someone’s head descend down the stairs quickly.  By the time she got to the top of the stairs, it was impossible to figure out who it was.  Friend or foe.  Sarah didn’t know but she suspected it wasn’t a friend.  A friend would have come to her instead of fleeing.

“Fuck.” Sarah said when she came back in the room. “That’s not good.”

“You’ll get kicked out!” Gabriella said. Stating the obvious.

“I don’t need this shit!” Sarah practically shouted.

Gabriella stood up and embraced Sarah tightly. “I know honey – I know.”

“I just…”

“We’ll figure it out.  You’re gonna be ok.”

 

Sarah LLoyd (4)

“They already stole my money.”

Sarah plopped down on a couch in the dayroom, right next to Gabriella, and grabbed a slice of cucumber off the paper plate in Gabriella’s lap. Gabriella shifted the plate away from Sarah playfully and laughed as some of her food tumbled to the floor.

Family Feud is on the television. The sun is almost set outside. Gabriella is eating what is left of her dinner and watching the game show all alone.  Sarah has no idea where the rest of the housemates are.  She doesn’t really care.  Her first day with these people isn’t going so well.

Gabriella shouted out an answer to Steve Harvey’s question then acknowledged Sarah’s dilemma. “Damn.” Gabriella laughed again  “They didn’t even wait 24 hours.”

“I guess I shouldn’t get too attached to any of my things …” Sarah said “They’ll be after my toothbrush next.”

“Naw, you don’t gotta worry about that.  It’s just money these people snatch.”

“Great.” Sarah lamented.  At least there’s a limit to what she’ll have to endure.

“Don’t sweat it too hard. You’re not really gonna need any money for anything for a while anyway.”

“I actually need money right now.” Sarah said sternly. “Any idea how I can snatch my money back?”

Gabriella gave Sarah a nasty look and scooted away from her just a bit.  Enough that it was noticeable. “Listen, ya ass, I’m trying to stay sober and out.  You’re on your own with that shit.”  She started to stand up.

“Not for thaaaaat.  I’m sober too.” Sarah swore.

“Then what?” Gabriella sat back down.

“I need to take a pregnancy test.”

“No shit?”

“No shit.”

“Well …” Gabriella mumbled “I might be able to help you with that.”

“How?”

“I have block privileges and might be able to grab you one from the bodega.”

“I thought you’re trying to stay ouuuuutt.” Sarah teased.

“Shut up or I aint grabbing you shit.”

“I’m sorry.  Seriously though, it would mean the world to me.”

“I got you girl.” Gabriella promised to do her best to procure a pregnancy test for Sarah and both girls returned their attention to Family Feud.

Steve Harvey: It’s the first day of the new year. Name a reason you’re not getting out of bed.

“You’re dead!” Gabriella shouted.

“Someone’s in it!”  Sarah offered.

“See now, that shit is what got you in to this mess…” Gabriella teased.

“Yeah…” Sarah said.

“Who the Daddy?”

“This guy I was dating for a little while last year.  We broke up before Christmas but then he came back around, you know, to say goodbye officially before moving to California to pursue his dreams and well…you know how that goes.”

“That’s when they get ya.”

“Yeah.”

“So he’s out in California?”

“I think so.”

“Why? What’s he doing out there?”

“Trying to get famous.”

Gabriella laughed. “Well then I guess you will be needing a lot of your own money then.”

“Right?” Sarah laughed too “He did get a gig though.  Some show about teenagers.”

“Teenagers? He’s a young buck then. You nasty girl.”

“No – he’s twenty-two.  He just looks 15.”

“Oh ok. Go ahead girl.”

“Ha-ha.  Thanks.”

Sarah lloyd (3)

Back in Sarah’s room, in the middle of her unassuming twin bed sat a thin black binder and a plastic bag filled with toiletries. On the floor were the contents of Sarah’s duffle bag. Not much was it in to begin with, but it had been stripped of anything useful probably by someone doing their due diligence and then once again by someone stumbling across an opportunity to fleece the new girl.  A pretty journal she hadn’t yet written in and, of course, all of the cash Gabriella was coveting.  Hell, she tried to warn her.  Sarah made a mental note to listen to Gabriella next time.

Sarah plopped down on the bed with the binder in her lap and the bed let out a squeak and a groan (of course it did).  She opened the binder and found a list of house rules.  Privileges and proposed punishments.  Chores.  An invitation to visit the clothes closet.  A reminder to return what she no longer used. Laundry rules. Kitchen rules. Rules upon rules upon rules.

In the plastic bag she found a toothbrush. Tampons. No-name brand toothpaste and Suave shampoo. A comb.  Hair ties. A bar of soap. Plain underwear.  She was thankful the underwear was in a sealed package.  Hanes.  Women’s briefs.  Microfiber.  It felt like Christmas.  Christmas in hell.

She flipped the binder open again.  There was a schedule on page two.  A guide of where to be and what she should be doing during specific blocks of time.  The schedule was similar to the one she had in rehab.  But it looked like she’d have more free time on her hands living here. Therapy happened on your own time. But ‘Rap’ was mandatory for all housemates and happened promptly at 7pm.

Sarah heard a knock on her door and a male voice say “Come eat.”  She didn’t respond.  She was still miffed about someone stealing her $27 dollars.  She was sure it wasn’t Gabriella but it could have been just about anyone else.  Including the friendly male voice. What asshole steals the change too?  Fuckers cleaned her out.  She’s too tired to play the “wasn’t me” game with everyone in the house.  She’s tired all the time lately.

Sarah tore the house schedule out of her binder and tacked it up on the cork board next to the business card.  She was due in Rap session in about 45 minutes according to the schedule.  She’d rest her eyes until then. Fuck dinner.  Fuck this place. And fuck everyone living in it.

Sarah fell asleep quickly but unfortunately couldn’t stay asleep very long.  The nap was a mistake.  She felt terrible and she was starving.  The breeze that was flapping the curtain earlier was long gone.  Her tongue felt gummy.  She was on fire.

Sarah sat up and the room spun.  She braced herself  with two hands on either side of her hips.

“Oh my god.  I’m going to throw up!” she shouted.  She barely made it to the tiny waste basket beside her desk before heaving and hurling up everything she has eaten since the day she was born.  Well, not quite, but it certainly felt that way.  Just as soon as the wave of nausea came, it dissipated.  Sarah sat on the floor of her halfway house room and cursed herself.

“Fuck me.” she mumbled.  “I’m pregnant.”

 

Sarah LLoyd (2)

Sarah is better off dead than sober. She knows that. Sobriety opens the wounds that pills used to heal.  Wide open and vulnerable now.  Her mind easily accessible.  Her thoughts … Sarah shut the door to her room behind her, hard.  It echoed as she marched down the hallway & passed the other closed doors.  Four.  Downstairs she found two women lounging in front of a television.  Splayed out across worn-out sofas.  Feet up. Shoes on.  They were ignoring each other.  So Sarah ignored them.

On a table in the corner was the house phone.  Sitting on top of a stack of phonebooks.  She felt a ping of dread fill her empty stomach.  All of the phone numbers she knew were programed in to her cellphone.  The same one that disappeared 45 days ago.

“Nope. Nope. Nope. Noooope.” one of the women said without turning around as Sarah cradled the telephone receiver in her hand.  Sarah paused then started pressing buttons anyway.  She was hopeful she had his number right.

“I said not to.” the woman said angrily as she rose from the couch.  She came around to where Sarah was crouching, beside the telephone, and wrenched the receiver from her hand.  She replaced it in the cradle dramatically.  Sarah popped up.

“What the hell?” she asked wildly.

“Phone ain’t a privilege you have.” the woman announced.

“So?”

“So don’t use it.” she started to walk away but whipped back quickly when she saw Sarah grab for the phone handle again.

“You’re new so I’m gonna let this slide cuz maybe you don’t know.  Or you’re just fucking stupid. But there are rules here. And calling yo man is something you can’t do.  Not yet.”

Sarah tried out her acting chops “What makes you think that’s who I was trying to call?”

“I’m not dumb.”

Sarah shifted tactics. “Well, how the hell am I supposed to know what I can and cannot do here?”

“Read the manual.”

“What manual?”

“The one in your damn room.”

“I didn’t …oh forget it.”

Sarah pushed past the woman.  Not entirely sure where she was going but she stomped down the house stairs and stepped outside onto a bustling boulevard. Right in the middle of Shitsville.  Not ghetto fabulous.  Just ghetto.  The halfway house sits above a bodega.  There’s a City Wireless cellphone store to her left.  New York Fried Chicken to the right.  Gum, shit, piss, trash and remains of some kind of dead animal were in front of her on the sidewalk. Across the street was more of the same.  A dry cleaner.  Suki Hana Chinese.  A daycare.  More apartments and row homes.  It was fucking hot outside.  Just like Hell.  And my god did it stink.  Like backfiring cars and hopelessness.

Sarah looked upward towards the building and picked out her window.  Third floor.  The curtain was clinging to the screen.  Like it wanted to escape too.  A moment later the other woman from the TV room joined Sarah on the stoop.

“Sit.” she suggested and Sarah agreed when she saw the woman was holding out a cigarette.  A peace offering.  “I hear you met our house mother.” the woman said “Her name is Daijo. And I’m Gabriella.”

“Sydney.” Sarah sighed “And I didn’t know.”

“Of course not.  She likes to sneak up on people.  She’s an asshole like that.”

Sarah and Gabriella smoked in silence for a few minutes.  People watching and enjoying their tobacco. As people passed, it stirred up the air.

“So I gather I’m not supposed to use the phone?” Sarah said eventually.

“You caught that, eh?” Gabriella laughed.

“Are there more rules I should know?”

“Not really.  You just gotta earn your privileges first. It’s easy. Do 30 in 30 and you’re golden.”

“I’m already 45 days clean.”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“So where do we go? You know – for meetings?”

Gabriella laughed. “Upstairs.  In the day room.”

“You’re kidding me?”

“Nope.”

“So we don’t leave for anything? Not even NA?” Sarah whined “This is more like prison than a sober house.”

“It’s how they keep us sober.  And besides, most of us could be in prison instead of here so we just shut up and do it.”

“Ok.” Sarah said. Then she added  “Thank you for the advice … and the cigarette.”

A loud group of kids passed by Sarah and Gabriella.  They were laughing loudly about something on one of their cellphones.  Being rowdy.  And happy.  Sarah felt a ping of jealousy.

“You gotta give me your money by the way.” Gabriella said.

“What the fuck?”

“You’re not allowed to have any.  And if you turn it in, it’ll just go missing.  If you give it to me, I’ll help you spend it.”

“Relax yourself.  I have like twenty bucks.”

“That’s fine.”

“I’m not giving you my money.”

“Suit yourself.” Gabriella said and she flicked her cigarette butt out on to the sidewalk and let herself back inside.  Sarah shook her head back and forth.  Getting hustled for cash was a new low.

After about an hour people watching on the stoop, Sarah picked herself up and quite literally dusted herself off and climbed the 16 steps up in to the halfway house.  Someone was cooking.  The place almost smelled welcoming.  Her stomach gurgled happily.  Signaling to Sarah that it wanted a nibble of whatever she was smelling.  Sarah rubbed her hand across her belly like she was calming her babe.  All in due time perhaps.