Chapter One: Pick Your Poison

"It's like a floodplain out there."

"Oh? And did you almost suffer from a water overdose?"

"That dangerous hydrogen monoxide poisoning."

"If my feet could drown."

It was always like this. The days and the nights started to blend together and every second ticked by with the endless agony inspired by the knowledge that she'd never get out.

The words the flowed so trippingly from the tongues of her friends caught in her throat and she couldn't add to the banter.

"Excuse me," she said. "I need some fresh air."

The hallway had been suffocating, but the outside was unpleasant in its own way. Zara had been right about drowning, and besides the rivulets of water streaming down the sidewalk there was a chill to the air that took her breath away. The scenery was consistent, in that the school looked the same at night as it did every day, except that the darkness hid a few of the irregularities and enhanced the already sketch look of the place to the point where she wanted to flee inside, back to the safety of numbers, suffocating as they were, so as not to get kidnapped or sucked into an illicit drug deal.

It was with sullen resignation that she looked around the outside world, aware that she was about to give up and go back inside and deal with the people she liked to call her friends.

In the dark she could make out two shapes, one touching the other, and she moved closer, until she could see a boy holding a girl as if she was fragile and precious to him.

Feeling vaguely immoral, she crept closer. She recognized him from at least one of her classes, although she'd be hard pressed to put a name to the face. The girl was an unknown.

Never mind, she thought to herself, sparing the couple a withering glance and walking back toward the building. Couples were none of her business. Tenderness wasn't her domain. Whispering sweet nothings wasn't her forte and, she told herself fiercely, she wouldn't want it to be. She had a modicum of self-respect. She was an independent person, and she liked it that way. It would do her no good to have a boy to follow her into the cold and not understand why she had to get away.

She returned in time to watch the actors come out to greet their friends and receive compliments, deserved or otherwise. The play had been good; she didn't have a complaint with the performance, only the aftermath, the pleasant chatter and polite smiles.

Maya came to stand with them. She'd had, as per usual, a lead, and she'd done a good job. "So, Elaine, how did you like it?"

She answered. "It was good." She tilted her head just so, and she thought Maya understood her. She often did.

She thought Maya was going to go on when her mother appeared, carrying flowers. Maya looked dismayed and asked her to hide them, looking unconcerned but managing a degree of rudeness Elaine might have previously assumed unattainable. She clenched her hands into fist, thinking furiously, 'be grateful, be grateful.' She could feel her heart breaking for Maya's mother, who had always been kind to her, and wondered what the chance of her own mother bringing her flowers was. It wasn't that her mother was negligent or unsupportive in any way. It just wouldn't have occurred to her.

Maya's mother seemed to be taking it surprisingly well. But Elaine wanted to cry, and it frightened her as the overreaction of someone emotionally unstable.