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Distilled Spirits: Ch. 7 — Caitlyn

September 2, 2013

What is Distilled Spirits?

Episode 2:  “Troubled Times”

Caitlyn

           The air had a buzz that only ignorant and loud freshman could generate when they gathered in great numbers.  Cait passed a boy with a map in one hand, phone in the other, trying to navigate the paths that veined the treed campus quad.  Cait stuck to the right so the eager bikers could easily pass, and she saw something she didn’t recognized: weird, artsy bushes spelling out the letters ‘NPTU’.

Cait hadn’t stepped foot on the south side campus in nearly two years.  She hadn’t been a student for a lot longer but she remembered where the library was.  The university encircled a small park at its center that separated the academic and residential sides, and the nearby library towered over it all.

The university library had its air conditioning on and the sweat on Cait’s face chilled immediately.  She spotted her friend working at the reception desk.  It was a slow day, and only one confused-looking girl was asking the other receptionist questions.

Eri had her nose buried in her monitor and didn’t see Cait approach the desk.

“Hey,” Cait said, “still working here?”

“Caitlyn Hash,” Eri said, not looking up.  “It’s been over a year, and you show up at my work?”

“This place is all the same,” Cait said, taking off her sunglasses.  “You’re not finished yet?”

“I’ll be a student as long as they let me,” Eri said, squinting over the monitor.  “It’s a post-grad program, if you cared—they give me a stipend.”

Cait held her hands against her stomach and looked away when her friend examined her body.

“You’re so skinny.  Skinnier, even.”  Eri eyed Cait’s hands fidgeting on her stomach.

“I’m fine,” Cait said and forced her arms to the side.  “Take a walk with me upstairs, will you?”  She glanced at Eri’s coworker, still giving directions to the freshman.  “I need your help.”

Eri asked her coworker to cover the desk and stepped away.  Standing, Eri only came up to Cait’s chest, but as an undergrad, the small Asian girl out-drank most boys.

“Well,” Eri said, “what floor?  Where?”

“2nd floor.  The art book section.”

Eri smirked.  “Shoulda guessed.”

In another minute, the two were standing amid the stacks in a deserted section.  From somewhere, a keyboard clattered, but that might’ve been the only other person on this floor.

Cait’s finger started trailing down one row of tall books when her friend touched her arm.

“It’s over here,” Eri said.  “Someone even checked it out last month.”  She slipped a book off the shelves and handed it over.  “Did you get your check last week?”  She laughed, swapping two other books that were out of order.  “Every cent counts, I guess.”

Cait wiped the book clean of dust and read the cover—Paint the Patriarchy, by Caitlyn Hash, Sara Powers, Vallerie Hart, and Eri Tsunemoto.

“I’m still pissed my name came last,” Eri said, shaking her head.

Cait grinned and opened the book to a random page.  “That was your idea.”

“Using the Life game spinner to decide was my idea,” Eri said.  “Losing wasn’t.”

The page was one of Vallerie’s pieces and the centerpiece of her published collection.  Vallerie was probably the best out of the four of them.  It was a watercolor on a huge canvas, but she had swapped the water for red wine.  Cait remembered that night well—it was a painting party, and no one expected Eri to come home with three boxes of wine.  The painting was in an exaggerated Soviet-style that satirized the blocky, masculine figures.

“You know,” Eri said, “that book is carried by like every leftist bookstore on the coast.  If you hadn’t dropped out of—”

Cait snapped the book closed.  “Listen,” she said, handing the book to her friend.  “I know you don’t anymore—whatever, that’s fine—but you know people who still use, right?”

Eri paused while restocking the book, and then slammed it all the way in.  “If you’re looking for—”

“No.”  Cait glanced around, arms unconsciously wrapping around her stomach.  “I’m trying—I’m trying to get rid of some morphine.  We need the money.”

“Caitlyn . . .”

“You know people though, right?  There’s no way Elliott and Joan quit,” Cait said.

“Yes.”  Eri crossed her arms and looked up at Cait.  “I know people.”

Cait took the nondescript bottle out of her bag and handed it to Eri.  She had been able to sell a bit more than half so far.  “Do you think you can take all of it?”

“Jesus, Caitlyn.  I don’t know if—”

“We’re short this month, and it’s due right now,” Cait said, rubbing the back of her neck.  Her sleeve came away damp.  “You know I wouldn’t ask if—”

“Christ,” Eri said, “you look—when was your last dose, Caitlyn?”  Eri tried to take Cait’s hand but she backed away.  “You’re fucking withdrawing, aren’t you?”

“It’ll pass.”

“No, you’re smarter than that,” Eri said.  She unscrewed the bottle’s cap and took out two tabs, forcing them into Cait’s hand.  “You know you have to taper.”

Cait pocketed them.

“I’ll buy them, okay?  Relax,” Eri said.  “Hell, I’ll probably make a profit.  But, can we not do the thing where we don’t talk to each other for a year?”

Cait nodded.

“You said ‘we’ earlier, right?” Eri said, a childish smile forming.  “You still living with Sidney?”

“What?”

“Is he single?” Eri asked.

“Yeah,” Cait said.  “He’s still hung on his ex, but probably won’t admit it.”  She saw the look on her friend’s face.  “You should call him—shit, I think he had a crush on you or Vallerie at one point.”

“I might,” Eri said.

She led Cait down to the lobby and outside, and they said ‘goodbye’ at the ATM, making promises to have dinner next week.

Walking off campus, Cait’s phone vibrated—it was Drew.  She didn’t answer it.  It was Monday so they were supposed to drop out tonight at his place and fuck, but two tabs wouldn’t do it.  And he’d ask questions.

At the bus stop she turned her phone off, and in less than an hour Cait had crossed the bridge and was back home in the Flats.  After she climbed the four flights of stairs her heart was racing like she had run all the way back and all of her clothes felt damp.

Sid was working at the kitchen table when Cait walked in.

“Hey,” Sid said, glancing up from his laptop.  “I’m gonna talk to the landlord tomorrow.  I thought you were gonna be at the Nurse’s tonight.”

“Don’t call him that,” Cait muttered, heading straight for her room.

“Wait.”  Sid stood up.  “Are you hungry?  I was gonna cook with Geno.”

“No,” Cait said, opening her door and closing it quickly.  Her heart still hadn’t slowed.

“Cait?”  Sid’s voice was close—he had walked over.  “What’s wrong?”

“Sid, I need—” She slumped her body against the door.

“What?”

“If Drew comes by—don’t . . .” Cait ripped her shirt off and wiped her forehead, then rubbed her body down.  “If he comes by tonight, don’t let him in.”

“Okay,” Sid said.

“Okay?”

“I’ll take care of it,” Sid said.  “I’ll be up late tonight writing e-mails, anyway.  Someone’s gotta be hiring even a job-quitter like me.  I’m gonna tell Geno that tonight’s no good.”

Cait threw open the window above her record player and turned the power on.  She peeled off her jeans and found the two tabs before throwing her clothes in the corner.  A glass of water was left next to the player and she chewed one tab before taking a big gulp and dropping the player’s needle.

She opened the closet so the mirror didn’t face her.

“Cait?” Sid called, knocking lightly on the door.

A breeze came in from the window and cooled her entire body at once.  She stretched her arms out and stood on the tips of her toes, staring at the brick wall view the window provided.

“What?” she said

“Last stop for a resolution,” the vocals began.

“Are you gonna lock your door?” Sid asked.

He wanted to check on her later, Cait knew.

She slid the bolt closed on the door and heard Sid walk away.

“I’ve got no new act to amuse you.”

Cait found an envelope and stuffed the rest of the $1,153 inside, hoping that Sid could cover the rest of the rent.  She slipped it under the door.

“If you can’t help it then just leave it alone.”

Cait stared at the lock.

“Leave me alone.”

She slid the bar back to unlock it and put the other tab and water next to her bed, trying to unhook her bra with one hand before deciding it wasn’t worth it.

“Yeah, just forget it.

It’s really easy.

I’ll just forget it too.”

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