“So I heard you threw a Hell of a party last night.”
I slide into my seat across from Notlil, and set our drinks down in front of us. Vodka and orange juice for her, mineral water from me. “Where’d you hear that?”
“Desiree and Mona were there. They said by the time they showed up, everyone was already partying pretty damn hard. They said Cat Berry was even there, but I told them it was probably just an impersonator or something. They hung out for a little bit, and then you got into a fight with some dude and kicked everyone out.”
“But it was a good party?”
“Up until the screaming and the violence, yeah.”
“Some people would say that screaming and violence are the hallmarks of a good party.”
“No one says that.”
I sigh, sink a little lower in my chair. “Yeah, I know.” The mineral water is strange and foreign in my mouth. It has all the right notes of something I would drink, cool and carbonated and in seemingly endless supply, but something is missing. A flavor. A sensation. The experience feels hollow now.
Maybe it was always hollow and I’m just now noticing.
“You’re not drinking?” Notlil asks.
“My doctor told me to cut back,” I say with a shrug. “And then, because he knows better than to trust me, he gave me something that would ensure I did.”
“Mind control, huh?”
“Nope. Just a pill that cuts out all the fun parts of drugs and skips straight to the hangover. The worst one of your life. Instantly.” Another sip of water. “I already had the worst hangover of my life this morning, so I’d rather not have two in the same day.”
Notlil stares at me for a moment, light eyes and dark hair and dark skin. A day ago I would have felt naked under her terrible gaze, but things have changed. In my exhaustion and my apathy, I feel stuffed with straw, shape without form, shade without color. My problems are self-inflicted, silly and meaningless. So am I. “Where are all your friends?”
“I don’t know. Out.”
“I started a fight, threw everyone out of the villa, and passed out on the floor. I think they’re a little sick of my shit.”
Notlil shakes her head. “You are the strangest self-loathing individual I’ve ever met. The way you carry yourself and distance yourself from everything, I’d have thought you’d be more spiritual or something, you know?”
I blink in surprise. I smirk. “Wow. You’ve got me really figured out for knowing me for twenty-four hours, huh?”
She shrugs. “You wear it all out in the open. Like a wound you’re deliberately not putting a bandage on.”
“Christ,” I snort. “Is everyone a poet today?”
“Nothing. Never mind. Look, I woke up this morning paraplegic. My legs were utterly incapable of functioning. I dragged myself with my arms to the auto-doc and laid on a mattress while it pumped me full of saline and corticosteroids and citrates. It did everything short of replace my cerebrospinal fluid.
“And the reason my back was fucked up to begin with is because I spent all last night drinking and dosing myself with recreational drugs in an attempt to regulate the hallucinations that have been haunting me for the past year and change.
“You get where I’m going with this? I woke up this morning and I couldn’t walk, and the reason I couldn’t walk is because my brain sees shit that isn’t there and I wind up hurting myself trying to make it stop. So do I believe in mind-body duality? Do I believe my mind and my meat are fundamentally opposite and opposed, yin and yang, cats and dogs, water and fire?
“I believe that both of those fuckers are out to get me.”
She arches an eyebrow, picks up her drink, sips it. “Good God, that’s pretentious.”
I sip the mineral water. Let it roll around on my tongue. Stare into its depths like its a magic mirror.
“Why’d you call me?”
“I don’t know. Didn’t want to be alone.”
“So why didn’t you call your friends?”
“Couldn’t face them.”
“That’s kind of sad.”
I shrug. “I thought you and I got along alright. I’d rather see you than hang out with a stranger. Or anyone else I’ve met on this trip.”
“Did you meet a lot of people?”
“Do you usually?”
“No. So the ones I do meet, I try to hold on to.”
“That doesn’t sound healthy.”
She sniffs. “So. What’s your real name?”
I draw back like I’ve been slapped. There’s that true name dark magic again, but at least this time she isn’t turning into some kind of a demoness before my very eyes. And I know my system’s clean, so whatever I’m perceiving is reality.
Unless there’s something fundamentally wrong with my brain.
I clear my throat. “What makes you think Chad isn’t my real name?”
She smiles. “How do I know, you mean?”
I shake my head. I’m not about to concede that point. “I mean, what makes you think it?”
She rolls her eyes, but she pauses and looks at me. She’s choosing her words carefully. “I’ve known a lot of Chads,” she says slowly, deliberately. “And you don’t look like a Chad.”
“What do I look like?”
She turns her head to the side, and I don’t feel hollow or transparent anymore. I feel naked. “You look like someone who wishes he were a Chad. Who thinks his life would be easier if he were a Chad. But you’re not. You can pretend you are, but you’ll never be one.”
The words hang in the air like fog. I can’t see or hear or focus on anything past their weight. They cling to me, an oily smoke, particulates of rendered fat. Abel’s offering pleased YHWH. Funny how burning flesh does that.
“So what am I?”
“Oh, I don’t know. You tell me.”