Miranda groaned when her morning alarm went off, and pulled herself out of bed. When she looked in the bathroom mirror, her face was puffy and unattractive, and every muscle inside her hurt. She felt miserable enough to cry.
Her shower didn’t help as much as she had hoped it would, and she moved sluggishly as she dressed. Her hands trembled too much for her to pin a french twist in place, so she let her hair drop down her back. Then she hesitated before opening her bedroom door, not at all certain if Damon was going to be there.
The smell of coffee surprised her, and she tiptoed to find Damon in the kitchen, flipping a pancake. He looked over at her and smiled.
“Good morning,” he called. “I thought that you could use breakfast. Go on and sit down; I’ll bring it over to you.”
“Are you sober?” she asked drearily, sliding herself onto a chair.
“Mostly.” Damon set a plate of pancakes down in front of her, then a mug of coffee. “By the way, I used up all the eggs and flour you had. You don’t cook much, do you.”
“There’s never enough time.” Miranda went for the coffee first, closing her eyes as she sipped it. “I like you much better when you’re sober.”
“Yeah, I can turn into a real bitch. Consider this to be my apology.” Damon shrugged, then added, “Could you hold on? I seriously need to change my boxers, and all my clothes are in your bedroom.”
Miranda nodded, keeping her eyes closed. She drank her coffee slowly, then began to eat the pancakes, which were a little rubbery but not terrible. Damon was probably a better cook than she was. When he reappeared and sat down to eat with her, she asked, “How do you do it?”
“We go out every single night, then – you know – afterwards, and I’m not getting enough sleep anymore. Last night was too much for me to handle, yet you made breakfast. You’re not getting more rest than I am, so how are you doing it?”
“Can you keep a secret?”
“If it’s something that will help me function more like you, I most certainly will.” Miranda rubbed her eyes, already feeling a headache coming on.
Damon reached into his pocket and pulled out a small bag filled with white powder. “I like to take some of this. It’s kind of like caffeine, only better.”
Miranda looked at him skeptically. “That’s gotta be cocaine.”
“It gives me energy and helps clear my mind.” He put it back into his pocket.
“I’m not going to start snorting anything.”
“You don’t have to. You can put a small amount on your gums, and it will have the same effect. It just takes a little longer to hit, that’s all.”
Miranda turned away from him and quietly chewed on her lip, deliberating what she should do.
Damon, on the other hand, seemed to make up his mind. “It’s better if you don’t try it. I’ve been too much of a bad influence on you already, and I’m sure that no one will ask about the dark circles under your eyes.”
Miranda inwardly shuddered at the idea of having to face her coworkers while she was feeling so awful. “It’s like caffeine, then? All right, give me some. I don’t want to get high, I just need a little boost.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, just a tiny bit. I need to start performing better at work, that’s all. I really don’t want to get high.”
“Suit yourself.” Damon produced the bag again, and gave a small amount to Miranda. Then he said, “You should get moving if you want to get to work on time.”
“Oh crap.” Miranda jumped up and pulled on her shoes, then went for her coat. “So when is it going to take effect?”
“A few minutes, then you’ll have the best day ever. I promise.”
“Goodbye, Damon.” Miranda hesitated, then gave him a quick kiss on the cheek before dashing out the door.
Damon returned to the kitchen to gulp down his cup of coffee, then began brewing a new batch. He wouldn’t be able to pull any more big stunts without being crushed by the resulting fatigue, but it was a good time to stabilize the situation with Miranda. He contemplated the idea of calling in sick to take the day off from work, then decided that it was more important to keep up the image. After an agonizing battle with temptation, he hid his stash back under the box spring, and double checked that the memory card had stayed in place.
The suspension had come as a devastating blow, and when Miranda kicked him out of her car, he had almost given up altogether. All he had to do was get on his motorcycle and go, and everyone would have been happier for it. Out of anger, he had drunk himself into idiocy and picked up the nearest available slut to use as a distraction, all the while making his plans to retrieve his things and leave. But as the hours of the night crept on, he thought of the way Alice had smiled at their baby as she had taken her into her arms, and his heart twinged. He didn’t want the last moment he ever saw his daughter to be nothing more than a glimpse across the room.
So he was going to play along, take the stupid classes, and get the suspension revoked. He wondered if, when all was said and done, he really could be reformed the way Alice had been. Then maybe he could take Alicia out for ice cream on Saturdays, give her dolls on her birthday, and be the father that he himself had never had. From a distance, where he belonged.
He was over thirty now, and he wondered how long he was supposed to keep going the way he was. All the fun had vanished the moment he had left Alice, but he didn’t know how to see himself as anything else. He didn’t know how to keep himself from destroying everything he touched.
And the truth was, as much as he had hated her in the beginning, he had felt something for Miranda when she had confessed that she couldn’t keep going. He wanted to stop, to keep her from suffering more. He was questioning himself.
He wondered why he couldn’t have reached that moment a year earlier, before he had been forced to deal with that undercover cop … before he had abandoned Alice.
Yet despite everything, he was still going down the same path he had always tread.