Chapter 1

10 hours earlier

Saturday 10:23pm

How much cocaine can I get up my nose in one snort, do you think? Let's find out.

Apparently a lot. I swipe my finger across the scattered powder on the glass of the coffee table and pop my finger into my mouth. Not delicious. But effective. The rush is near immediate. And it feels fucking awesome. I feel like I could pick up this table and throw it out the window, or fuck a hundred people, or write a thousand songs. Shit. I should've done the blow before the show. Why didn't I again? Right, right. Fucking Kim. We don't play high, we don't play drunk. It's a crutch. I can fucking hear her in my head like she's right next me. Well, I didn't play high and I didn't play drunk, Kim, so fuck off out of my head. I said fuck off out of my head! Why can I still hear her?

"Kaleb, jesus!" She is surprisingly strong for such a little girl. She pulls me bodily to my feet, where I wobble and glare back at her. The disappointment in her face is infuriating. It's not like I'm a junkie, I'm just having a little fun. Celebrating. I'm allowed to fucking celebrate. I'm about to let her know this, in no uncertain terms, when she cuts me off. "You gotta get your high ass out there. Sing's about to beat the shit out of James."

That's sobering (almost). I follow her out of the den (or study, or sitting room, or whatever these fancy people call it), through the living room pulsing with vibrant partygoers and vibrant music and vibrant weed, out to the crisp Marin air, wind from the water whipping my over-long black hair into my eyes, cutting through my thin white T-shirt and making me break out in goose pimples. At the bottom of the steps, mercifully out in the street as opposed to disrupting the glorious after-party going on upstairs, Sing shoves James backwards with all his might. James staggers, but apart from that he doesn't budge much. Sing is deceptively weak. It must be racist to assume that all Asians know Martial Arts, but I can't be bothered right now. "-motherfucker!" I hear him cry out, the tail end of what was likely a lengthier insult.

"Hey!" I shout as I bound down the infernally long stairs, taking the steps two at a time. Sausalito cliffside bungalows with their fucking exterior stairs. I nearly kill myself tripping over the last couple of steps and stumble to a halt somewhere between Sing and James. I can hear Kim taking the stairs far more slowly, in her ridiculously high heels, behind me. "Hey," I reiterate, catching my breath. My heart's beating like a motherfucker. Drugs. Stupid drugs. Good for fun, not for physical exertion. "The fuck's going on?"

"He's a fucking liar and a thief is what's going on!" Sing shouts more at James than me.

"I'm not a liar," James defends, as unperturbed as always. "Or a thief. I'm just forgetful. Everybody knows that. It's not news, mate."

"I don't give a shit about your Alzheimer's, mate," Sing retorts scathingly. "You've ruined my life. The least you can do is give it the fuck back."

"Ruined your life?" James scoffs. "Trust me, you don't need any help with that."

Sing lunges forward again and I only manage to catch him due to my chemically enhanced reflexes. He might not be strong, but he is fast.

"Okay, okay." Sing shrugs out of my grasp but doesn't make another move, just folds his arms over his chest sulkily. I turn my attention to James, because clearly Sing isn't going to be rational about this. "So? What did you do?"

"Why is it always me that has to have done something?" James sniffs and pulls out a pack of cigarettes. I steal the pack from him and pull out a cigarette for myself.

"Because it is always you," Kim retorts, having come to stand beside me as an extra barrier between Sing and James.

"This shit bag promised me, fucking promised me he was gonna give our demo to Mark. But of course he didn't. Cause he's a fucking liar. Now he's keeping it for himself, so I can't give it to anyone else, because he's fucking jealous. He's always been jealous of me -"

I groan around my cigarette and exhale the smoke through my words. "Don't start that shit again, Sing. No one's jealous of your -, wait, what demo?"

"My demo tape. My fucking band's demo tape."

"Your band made a demo tape?"

"Don't be a prick, Kaleb," Kim hisses.

"I'm not being a prick! I didn't know!"

"Yeah, well, now you know," Sing concludes bitterly. "My band made a demo tape. And I gave it to this fucking moron because he promised he could get it to Mark before he and the Founders left town. I gave it to you a fucking month ago, asshole!" Sing makes an aborted lunge, which has the desired effect of making James back up a step.

"I said I'm sorry!" He whines, in a rare display of any emotion aside from stoned. "What more do you want from me!"

"I want you to give me the fucking tape back and eat my fist, bitch!" It's Kim who has to catch Sing this time because I'm laughing too hard.

"'Eat my fist, bitch'?" I quote. A high-pitched shriek of laughter escapes me. Shit. I sound really high. I think I am really high. "Who the fuck even says that? What is this? A Tarantino movie?"

Kim, ever level-headed, picks up where my attempted mediation left off. "Where's the tape now?"

James scratches his bristly chin for a moment. "Dunno. I think I left it in Cody's car."

"You left it in Cody's car?" Sing echoes shrilly.

"Okay. Sing." Kim holds him by the shoulders, forcing him to face her and look into her earnest face. "We're going to get you your tape back."

"You are?" Sing's anger drains away to relief.

"We are?" Kim shoots me a warning glance. It isn't that I'm not totally into helping out a friend in need, but there's a rager going on inside. And I deserve a little R&R. We played a killer show tonight. It's not every day that you old college buddy who happens to be the lead singer of a suddenly successful band calls you up and asks you to open for him. We've been struggling for years to get our little shit band off the ground and tonight I finally got to see it, big bold black letters on a brilliantly lit marquee: "The Founders" and, in much smaller but no less impressive letters, "Primary Colours". Kim used to say the British spelling made us sound like hipsters, to which I countered that we are hipsters, in a purely objective way, and that it's not pretentious because James happens to be British. Problem solved. Anyway. I digress. We're hitting in the big leagues now. Five years of hard work are finally starting to pay off. I damn well earned this rockstar after party. But Kim's giving me those eyes. The ones that say I'm your conscience, let me be your guide! Except Jiminy Cricket would never punish Pinocchio by confiscating his XBOX. Pinocchio was so lucky Jiminy Cricket wasn't both his conscience and his roommate.

"Yes, we are," Kim concludes with finality.

"Thanks, Kim." Sing gives her an awkward but heartfelt little hug. "At least one of you has some decency left."

"Two," I correct. "Two of us have some decency left. I'm getting the tape too, y'know."

Sing snorts. "Right, Kaleb. You're a fucking angel."

"Hey. Rude."

"Come on, Kay. Let's beat it." Kim grabs my hand, the one not currently holding a cigarette. and starts dragging me in the direction of her car. I look over my shoulder and find James heading back upstairs while Sing sticks around to loiter and check his phone, as if he's the Most Interesting Man in the World.

"The fuck? It's his tape and his fuckup, how come we're the ones who have to leave?"

"Because they're infants," Kim announces, without so much as a backwards glance. "And it was time for us to leave anyway. Maybe cool your heels a bit."

Kim's car is some kind of mid-sized Hyundai - I don't really know anything about cars, we're lucky I could even identify it as a Hyundai - in a mundane silver. I've always felt that its dullness is completely at odds with Kim's passionate and colorful disposition. Colorful in a literal way, seeing as I've seen her hair in so many different colors I'm not even sure what shade she was born with. At present it's a rather nauseating shade of neon green. On the bright side, she won't get hit by a car when she's crossing the street at night.

After opening the passenger door I stand mutely for a second, aghast at her implication. I climb inside and bang the car door shut hard enough to rattle the frame (though not hard enough to rattle Kim). "Cool my heels off? Cool my heels off?" I repeat incredulously. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

As she puts the car into drive she explains with measured calmness, "I mean maybe there's such a thing as having too much fun."

"I don't have a problem, Kimberly." I take pleasure in her cringe at the use of her full name as we peel out into the winding streets of Sausalito. "Not everyone who engages in recreational drug use is going to turn into Sam."

It was a low blow and I know it. Sam's a touchy subject for all of us, but I know it's him she sees whenever someone lights up a bong or snorts a line or swallows a pill. Honestly, I see him too. But I've learned to ignore it over time. One simply cannot be a musician in the Bay Area and not partake of some illicit substance or another. Even Kim smokes the occasional joint. I get where she's coming from, though. I also get that I might've been overdoing it at the party. I just don't appreciate being scolded like I'm fifteen again and my mom's caught me with beer on my breath. I'm a twenty-six year old grown ass man. I think I can handle myself.

I watch Kim stew in silence for a while as she maneuvers through the dark mountains, the tightly clustered trees illuminated only by our headlights. I'm silently grateful she's barely had anything to drink tonight.

When we make it onto the highway and she still hasn't said anything, I chuck my cigarette butt out the window, rolling it back up to block out the biting wind, and steal myself to the fact that I fucked up (no surprise) and am going to have to make it right.

"I'm sorry, okay? I didn't mean it." She doesn't look at me. She's pitched forward, gripping the steering wheel like she's trying to throttle it. I try a different tact. "You're right. I should be more careful. I was being stupid." I see her hands relax on the wheel, knuckles fading from paper-white to her only slightly less white normal pallor. I take this as an opportunity to explain myself. "I just don't get why you don't trust me. I was there too, y'know, when everything went down. You don't think I shit myself too when I think about ending up like him? 'Cause I do. We all do. And yeah, sometimes I get carried away, I fuck up. I'm human. But I'll never let it get to that point. I'm smarter than that. You know I am." She glances sideways at me. It's too dark to read the look in her eyes so I barrel on. "You don't have to keep looking out for me, you know. We're not kids anymore."

"I'll never stop looking out for you, Kay," she says fondly and I know our "fight" is over. She's always been a mother hen. Even in high school. I was the weird kid, the skinny one with too long hair who walked around with a notebook full of emo poems clutched to his chest, always getting pushed into lockers by jocks and getting my head shoved into toilets (the word "faggot" may have been abundantly used, not inaccurately I might add). She was even smaller then than she is now, but no one would mess with her on account of her shaved head and Soviet boots. She became my micro bodyguard. I took up guitar and started putting music to my poems. She took up bass just so she could play on stage with me at the school talent show and no one would laugh at me. Kim started dating Sam, the reformed jock with a heart of gold, and he became my friend by default. We were the three musketeers, if one of the the musketeers was fucking one of the other musketeers. All in all, high school turned out to be not so bad.

Sam and Kim ended up going to the same college, you know, the kind for smart people, while I wound up at community college just to get my parents off my back. Sam and Kim broke up, so it goes. Kim went on an exchange program to Barcelona, met James there. James and Kim dated briefly, so it goes.

I tried and failed to get a band started with my best friend (at the time) and roommate Robbie. Robbie took off to LA and Kim returned, with James in tow, in time for my brief period of mental imbalance (I'm all better now, I swear - and it had nothing to do with the fact that I was in love with Robbie, I have no idea what would make you think that). I dropped out of school, wouldn't leave my apartment, shit got bad. Kim evolved into her next form: Super Mother Hen. She convinced James and my college friend Cody to form a band with me as a sort of "therapy", to help my "recovery". It worked. I got better. I started writing songs again, lost myself in the music, like I always do. We had fun, we partied, we played small gigs around the Bay. Our music was surprisingly well received. We started gaining a modicum of popularity. We started taking the music seriously. Cody dropped out, he's never been able to take anything seriously. It didn't matter though. The three of us, Kim and James and me, we were the creative ones, the driving force.

We put our stuff online, made a Facebook page, recorded a whole album in my parents garage with shitty, second-hand audio equipment. A little San Francisco indie record label approached us. We cut a record. A real record. It's on Spotify and everything. Things were really looking up for us. And then fucking Sam happened. Kim didn't fall apart though. Kim never falls apart. She's the strong one. She evolved into her final form: Super Mega Ultra Mother Hen. She made us dump any and all drugs we had down the toilet. She made a bonfire on the beach and made each of us, our whole group of friends, me, Cody, Ellen, James, Glenn, Sing, swear "the pact". To this day, none of us have broken it. We're all too afraid that one of us will end up like him, or one of our friends will end up like him. It's a sobering thought.

A/N: Don't forget to comment and tell me you love me because I'm unbearable narcissist!