Author: Katie Mae

Chapter 1
Marlboros and Jack Daniel's

"Alcohol is the anesthesia by which we endure the operation of life." ~ George Bernard Shaw


Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.

As the words came into her mind, she did each action slowly and deliberately, placing the cancer stick to her lips and taking long, smooth drags. The smoke made its way through the filter on the end of the cigarette and into her mouth, where it deposited its taste and ate away at her teeth; it made its way to her throat and into her lungs, once healthy and alive, now stained with tobacco, cyanide, formaldehyde, ammonia, and arsenic.

It was a slow, cruel death, and she knew it. She knew what she was doing, killing herself with the deadly cocktail of poisons, oils, and tobacco leaves, but part of her didn't care. It was the last thing she had to remind herself of him, of the man that had broken her to pieces. He had ripped her apart, limb by limb, and she had been forced to put herself back together again, but things weren't the same. Under close examination, anyone could tell that she was the same broken woman that she had been six months ago. Like Humpty-Dumpty, she had sat on a wall and fallen, and when she was put together again, all those little cracks and scars still remained.

Her left hand traced slow, smooth circles onto the bar while the other hand held the cigarette between index and middle fingers. She drew it to her mouth again, took another long drag, and pushed the end into the ashtray below. Another cigarette down, she had smoked three in the last hour, more than her usual two or three smokes a day, but tonight was different. Tonight, she was making a conscious effort to be someone, to be someone else. She had grown tired of herself, and she needed a change.

The woman still hurt inside. She didn't take up drinking until she met him, and she hadn't even given a thought to smoking. The drugs followed shortly thereafter. When he left, the drugs did, too; she even rarely touched alcohol now that he wasn't in her life. The cigarettes, though, were the one bad habit she hadn't been able to kick. At the beginning, it hadn't been because she was addicted. On the contrary, she had quit and started up again on more than one occasion, but the smell, the taste, it all lingered; it all reminded her of his presence and, over time, she welcomed the cancer sticks with open lips and a conscience so cut off from the world that half the time she didn't recognize her own name.

She loved the cigarettes. The smell, the taste, the way they felt between her fingers and her lips, the memories they carried on with them. She could remember the first time she had met him, when he had given her that subtle smile and coolly asked her if she had "a light." Slightly annoyed at the thought of being disturbed from reading Pride & Prejudice for the fiftieth time, she kindly shook her head and told him that she didn't smoke. He nodded and said it was okay; he had a lighter in his back pocket, and he had just been looking for a reason to strike a conversation. She didn't think he was a charmer then, but he grew on her - and she later referred to him as the tumor she couldn't get rid of. Over time, he was able to convince her to enjoy alcohol, test out different drugs and hallucinogens, and take the first drag of a Marlboro cigarette. She had been so bright, had such a promising future, and she threw it away for him. For a chance at love. Six months ago, he had been her entire world; six months ago, he had left her and told her it was over, said it was time they both faced the truth and moved on. The bad habits, however, tended to linger.

She had given up everything for him, including her schooling and a possibly promising career. Despite all of this, she wasn't stupid. She was a lot of things, but she had never been accused of being stupid. She just couldn't let go of the memories that consumed her. She had tried to stop, tried to let go of what once was, but it all hurt too much. He was the love of her life, and no man had ever been the kind of lover that he was. She was convinced no one else would ever live up to the kind of expectation she now held for anyone else who wanted to enter her life. The one person that she had loved had left her, and she had been a broken woman for six months now.

She needed a change.

Holding a hand in the air, the brunette flagged down the bartender, waving a finger at him menacingly, her face devoid of any emotion whatsoever. He was young, possibly no older than nineteen or twenty, and she remembered that was about the age she was when she met the man who had changed her in so many ways - and she quickly put it out of her mind. Her face was planted near his and she pointed to a bottle of whiskey, moving her finger about as if she couldn't think of the words.

"A shot of that," she ordered, taking another long drag of her newly-lit cigarette as the bartender fiddled with a tiny little glass and the bottle of Jack Daniel's. He poured until the amber liquid had nearly touched the top, just the way she liked it. Giving him a small smirk, and without so much as a quick thanks, she took the glass in her hand and stared at it for a few moments. Finally, she placed the glass to her lips and tossed her head back, swallowing the liquid with a wince, and she nearly broke the glass slamming it back down upon the bar top.

"Another!" she yelled, and when the bartender looked at her with a stunned look, she gave him a smile. "Keep 'em coming, my friend."

The bartender reluctantly obliged, occasionally looking at the woman with a strange look on his face. He kept the shot in front of her full; moments later, much to his dismay, he would have to refill her glass. She reached a point where the words coming out of her mouth were slurred, and he could barely understand her. He allowed her to drink shot after shot of whiskey until closing time, at which point she was unable to sit up straight on the barstool.

Another person at the bar, a woman in her thirties with vivid red hair, had warned the young man throughout the night about the customer's alcohol consumption. He assured her, promised her with that confident smile he pulled off so well, that he would make sure the woman at the bar would get home safe and sound. The redhead, who rarely doubted the young man's judgment, was now ready to leave. The bar was closed and the two of them had just rounded up the last few patrons and forced them to leave. The brunette, who was half hunched over the bar in a drunken stupor, didn't know what time it was and didn't realize that everyone else had left. The other woman was leaving, and the bartender made his way over to the brunette.

"Hey," he said quietly, leaning toward her as if she couldn't hear him speaking. "Hey, what's your name?"

All he got out of her was a quiet moan. He realized he should have paid more attention to her driver's license - at least then, he'd know what to call her. He couldn't very well keep using "hey" for the rest of the night, right?

"Come on," he said, grabbing her arm and slowly lifting her off the barstool.

He had done this a million times before, and each time seemed a bit different; this was, perhaps, the first time he couldn't get someone to talk. His boss had been right. He should have stopped giving her alcohol hours ago, should have told her that she'd had enough for the night and if she wanted to continue, she'd have to go home and give herself some liver disease. The problem was, he couldn't bring himself to tell her "no." She smiled when he came over, she was halfway polite, and she seemed like she was okay, but her eyes betrayed the pain she was feeling. The truth was, she had been self-medicating because she was hurt, and he couldn't bring himself to say "no." He had enabled this, and he was going to have to help her. This was his fault.

"You got a name?" he asked her again, awkwardly propping her up on his arm, trying not to let her fall to the floor. He grabbed her little black purse off the bar and looked at her again. "How about an address? We can get you a cab."

She let out another small moan.

He nodded, realizing he was going to get nowhere fast with this girl. She was half-conscious, and he couldn't very well throw her in a cab and expect her to get home in one piece. Instead, he made the decision to take her home himself, as though she was a lost little puppy. In a world of low standards and nonexistent morals, he was taking this pretty brunette home, and his intentions were completely honorable; he felt responsible for what she was like in her current state, and he didn't feel right making her fend for herself in this condition. He didn't feel right at all.


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