“Alicia, get away from the windows!”
Alicia snapped her head to face her brother.
“Sheesh, what, now I can’t even gaze outside without someone flipping themselves a table?” Alicia questioned in displeased incredulity. “Calm down, already, this whole detox process is making you extra paranoid.”
Nick’s nostrils flared and he urgently glanced out the window that his sister still had not stepped away from. “Alicia. Do as I say. Please.”
Alicia glared at her brother and flexed her jaw in silent irritation. “Fine. If it’ll get you to zip it.”
The brunette closed the blinds, then the curtains, and stomped away from her spot by the window.
Nick looked visibly more relaxed, but still very alert. “Thank you.”
“Whatever,” Alicia muttered boorishly, arms crossed, leaning on the wall. “Just so you know, though… only because Dad is gone doesn’t mean you can order me around. Nobody made you man of the house.”
Nick gulped as he looked down, flexing his fists as he feels another chill, from unease or withdrawals, he’s yet to determine, though most likely both. “I’m not posing as anybody here. I’m just trying to protect you.”
“From what?” Alicia swiftly responded.
“From…” Nick begins, but then promptly stops himself. He glances around the living room, rubbing the cloth of the jacket sleeve that is covering his left hand. He sighs in exasperation. “Look, things are just not safe out there right now, okay?”
Alicia purses her lips and smiles sourly. “See? You’re doing it again. You’re dodging the question. Like Travis, like Mom, like everyone I speak to. Except that everyone else doesn’t seem to know anything, while you all… you’re hiding something.”
Nick sighs again, licking his dry lips. He tries to speak but stutters as another shiver runs through his detoxing body. “I-I-I… can’t tell you anything when even I’m not sure what’s going on.”
“You could share what you do know,” Alicia counters in a no-nonsense tone. “What’s stopping you?”
Nick takes a deep breath through his nose, nostrils flaring once again; he opens his mouth to respond and as soon as the first verbal noise comes out, he’s running to puke into the bucket his mother, Madison, left behind.
Of course, Alicia thinks, defeated, almost humorous, because she can never get straight answers from anybody. It’s almost funny how something always gets in the way—it’s either not the right time, or they’re somehow interrupted, or they just give her the silent treatment whenever she attempts to broach the topic.
She grimaces slightly as she sees her brother practically hurling his intestines out with how loud the squelching noises the metal base of the bucket makes as the contents of his stomach hit the bottom.
She relents in her anger for a moment and strides over to help him, taking off her hairband.
“Why did you grow your hair so long? It’ll only make you miserable while you’re puking all your impurities out,” Alicia nagged, gathering her brother’s hair into a ponytail with her hairband. “I mean, it’s not like you even style it, what’s the point?”
Nick heaves out what sounds like a chuckle. “Aren’t the girls supposed to like the musician-types with the long hair, faraway look, and troubled past?”
“The only instrument you ever played was the recorder in elementary school, the faraway look you get in your eye is when you’re high, and your family is upper middle class so your troubled past only comes from the stupid decision you made to consume drugs,” Alicia mercilessly slayed.
Nick chuckles weakly into the bucket again. “You knock a man when he’s down, Alicia…”
“I just leave no stoner unturned,” Alicia replies wryly. “How are you feeling? You feel some acid crawling back up your throat?”
“Kind of. I’m containing it,” Nick admitted as he grimaced at the aftertaste left in his mouth.
Alicia’s face also scrunched up in mild disgust. She was never very good at caring for sick people, particularly those of the vomiting type; it was part of the reason why she avoided going to parties with her friends, knowing they would engage in underage drinking, and that she would be stuck as the designated driver and de-facto nurse for them should they black out, throw up, get migraines, or suffer terrible hangovers.
So, yeah, parties were not her scene.
“I’ll prepare you some chamomile tea,” Alicia tells him as she stands from her crouched position next to her brother. “Go rinse your mouth at the bathroom; if you need to throw up again, the toilet’s right there.”
Nick bobs his head up and down in acknowledgement. “Thanks.”
Alicia cuts her gaze to the bucket. “Just, uh, leave that there. Mom’s been dealing with our spit up since we were babies, I’m sure she knows how to take care of that.”
She helps her brother up and walks him to the bathroom, where she leaves him leaning against the sink before she makes her way to the kitchen to heat up some water for the tea.
It’s insane to think it only took a week for things to crumble so spectacularly, Alicia thinks to herself as she grabs a mug and tea bag from the cupboard. And I’m not stupid, I’m sure this has been going on for a while now. I saw the leaked footage from the news that my friends showed me on their phones. I know it has something to do with people behaving strangely. The only thing I can think of, though, is that there’s some kind of new drug out there that’s turning people almost… inhuman. I don’t know much about the science but it must be inhibiting some kind of cognitive function that allows people to control themselves.
Alicia hears the water boil. She heads over to pour the bubbling water into the tea bag-containing mug. I wonder if that’s why Mom’s so worried about Nick and his drug consumption. I mean, obviously drugs in general are bad, but if there really is some seriously corrupt snuff going around, I would guess Mom’s trying to keep Nick from getting his hands on some, even accidentally.
She hears keys struggling to unlock the front door to the house. She treads lightly but quickly over to the peep hole, and is relieved to see her mom on the other side of the door.
She unlocks the door and her mom hastily makes her way in, shutting the door closed behind her even more hastily.
She looks around the living room, looking alarmed. “Where’s your brother?”
Alicia finishes locking the door and fastening the chain into the secure position. “He’s in the bathroom, probably puking, probably reading comics, but most likely the former.”
Madison stares blankly at her daughter for too many seconds to be considered normal before she shakes her head and eventually nods. “Okay. Good… Good. The, uh, the drugs—his body—needs to clear itself of the contaminants.”
Alicia nods. “You might want to go see him. He’s looking pretty wretched. It’s a tragic sight, to be honest. And you know I’m no good near people throwing up. It’s like a domino effect, I might puke, too, and I’m sure we got enough problems.”
“Yeah, yes,” Madison says distractedly. “Yes, I’ll do that. I… I brought some drugs to help him.”
Alicia quirked an eyebrow. “Drugs are what we are trying to rid his body from, Mom.”
Madison blinks and shakes her head. “I’m sorry, I meant medicine, some pills to help with his withdrawal symptoms. I have a lot on my mind, Alicia, I’m sorry.”
Alicia smiles wryly and her eyes widen in mock shock. “Whoa, I was just kidding, Mom. No need to sound so earnest in your apology. I’m your kid. I get it.”
“Right,” Madison says softly. “Thank you, sweetheart. For taking care of your brother in my absence. I hope I didn’t take too long.”
“Well, you took long enough for him to fill that bucket over ¾ of the way full,” Alicia informed, shrugging in the direction of the bucket. “I would offer to empty it out but… I really don’t want to. Don’t make me do it, Mom.”
“You have done enough for me, sweetheart, I will look after your brother while I’m here,” Madison responds with tenderness, caressing her daughter on the side of her head, twining her fingers in brunette locks so similar to hers.
“While you’re here?” Alicia questioned curiously, folding her arms in front of herself.
Madison nods tentatively. “Travis. I have been trying to get in touch with him but he’s not picking up his phone, and it’s been several hours since we last spoke, and with everything that is happening, I’m concerned for his safety.”
“Speaking of that,” Alicia begins opportunely, “mind telling me what’s going on now? What fresh hell has America released from the Pandora’s box and unto the world?”
Madison is sifting through items in her purse to find some of the medicine she smuggled from the school’s nursing office. She stops and stares at her daughter, her eyes glossy with a layer of internal conflict. “It’s too early to tell, Alicia. Even the authorities are not fully informed on what the situation is out in the streets.”
Alicia huffs. “But you have to at least know something, Mom. You were just out there. And Travis was rambling about taking us to the desert or something right before he left. And Nick is too pitiful to try and pump information from, so he’s been useless. Why can’t someone just straight up tell me what’s happening out there? I’m not blind, Mom. It’s the information age, and I’ve been reading up on stuff with my phone, but the battery’s almost dead and all I’ve learned is that there are riots and uprisings going on downtown. I don’t know what about, though.”
“Alicia, I have to go tend to your brother, now is not the time to have this conversation. But we will, okay?” Madison placated.
Alicia looks unimpressed. “Or so you said the last three times I asked, but it’s never the right time, is it? This what I call Alicia’s family response scenario 1: now is not the right time.”
“I don’t want to give you any misleading information, Alicia, because when people get bits and pieces of information regarding a situation, thoughts stray and they concoct a story in their heads about what could possibly be the bigger picture, and only cause themselves further paranoia. Do you understand? Now, if you would like to hear what is happening despite my inhibitions, then of course, we can speak about it at this moment—“
They hear a crash in the bathroom, then a pained groan.
“Nick!” Madison shouts, scrambling to her son.
Seriously? Alicia think incredulously as she curses the universe for its timing. She hurriedly follows her mom to the bathroom.
Nick is shivering and mildly convulsing on the bathroom floor. Madison immediately lies him outstretched on the floor, loosens his clothing, and lays his head on her lap to cushion and cranial impact during the erratic movements.
“And this is what I call Alicia’s family response scenario 2: something somehow interrupts us,” Alicia narrates as she leans on the side of the bathroom entrance.
“Alicia, your brother is suffering right now, would you please not make light of the situation?” Madison berates.
Alicia exhales a light huff of both anger and shame. “Sorry. But we were finally getting ready to talk about it.”
“Would you go get me the medicine in my purse?” Madison directs.
“Okay,” Alicia says. She grabs the packaged pills, a bottled water from the counter bulk, and returns tohand these to her mother.
She waits for her mother to pop the pill into her son’s mouth. Madison encourages Nick to swallow it down with water, pouring small sips into his mouth until he accumulates enough to swallow.
When Alicia notices that her brother has stopped convulsing is now only suffering the occasional chill, she picks up the topic with her mother. “Now can we please talk about it?”
Madison is seemingly unhearing as she reads the instructions on how many hour intervals the pills should be taken.
“And this is what I call Alicia’s family response scenario 3: the silent treatment,” Alicia says sourly. “This is ridiculous.”
Madison turns to her daughter, looking exhausted. “Alicia, honey, I’m not trying to antagonize you. Would you like the truth? The honest-to-God truth? I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going on out there. Have I seen things? Yes. But have I made sense of them yet? No. How can I explain things to you when I don’t understand them myself?”
Alicia kneels down next to her mother, realizing the pleading tone in her voice. “I’m sorry, Mom, I don’t mean to be difficult. I’m serious. I’m just very confused and a little mad that no one is telling me anything. Even if you don’t understand, just telling me what you have seen can help me help you. I know you all seem to be burdening yourselves with this knowledge you have, and I know you’re trying to protect me, but you can’t shelter me from this any more than you can save Nick from going through his withdrawals. The sooner you break this to me, the better for all of us down the line. Do you understand where I’m coming from? I don’t like standing around watching you all shoulder this while I remain quarantined in this bubble of ignorance, you know?”
“Of course I understand, darling,” Madison says softly. “Okay, I will talk to you about what’s going on.”
Alicia smiles at her mom. “Thank you.”
Madison nods. “However, can we push this until tomorrow? I am going to put your brother on the couch and try to get a hold of Travis before it gets any later.”
Alicia’s countenance darkens.
“Is that okay?” Madison questions.
“Sure,” Alicia bites acidly. “Then you can go out and forget we ever had this conversation, and continue to dodge the subject. At this point, I should just go and find out for myself, really. Back to scenario 1, are we?”
“Alicia,” Madison sighs pleadingly. “I promise you, we will talk about it tomorrow—“
“Save the excuses for tomorrow, Mom,” Alicia yells over her shoulder. “My bullshit meter’s met the quota for today.”
“Alicia!” Madison scolds her daughter, but doesn’t pursue it further than shouting her name. She is far too tired to deal with her moody teenager—but, she reasons, moody for a good reason.
She is not so out of touch as to not understand what her daughter is going through. She imagines she would feel the exact same way as her if in her position. It is very frustrating when those individuals in your life that clearly know more than you purposely withhold information from you.
Madison imagines that, much like her daughter, she would have reacted in the same way.
Alicia was indeed her mother’s daughter.
Madison let’s Alicia go stew in her room for the large part of an hour as she cleans up Nick, gets him new clothes, lays him comfortably on the couch, cleans up the bathroom, and empties out the bucket. She makes some quick mac and cheese for Alicia, and clear soup for Nick, to settle his stomach.
After two hours have passed, she goes upstairs to let Alicia know.
“Alicia, honey, I’m leaving now,” she says after she knocks on her daughter’s door. She tries to open it, but finds it locked. “I left some mac and cheese in tupperware for you, and soup for Nick is on the stove. If you could please wake him up in an hour and make sure he drinks some soup and takes his pill, I would really appreciate it.”
There was no response from the other side of the room.
There is still no response forthcoming.
“Alicia, I want you to know that I understand what you’re going through, and I apologize if I may have acted insensitively to your perspective, but I do promise you that we will speak about this first thing in the morning tomorrow, okay?” Madison says appeasingly.
Madison nods to herself. “Right. Well, just hang in there for me one more day, okay? I promise, everything will be at least somewhat more clear tomorrow.”
Madison walks away.
She packs some water, a flashlight, her phone, and her house keys to take with her in the valiant effort to find her fiancé amidst all the chaos going down in Los Angeles at this time of night.
She kisses the sleeping Nick on his forehead and heads for the table by the front door to get her car keys.
They are not there.
She glances around, panning her vision from Nick’s sleeping form across the expanse of the room—the couch, the living room table, the TV, the window sills. The key is nowhere to be seen.
Madison’s eyes widen.
She rushes to unlock the door, roughly swings it open, and meets an empty lot where her car is supposed to be parked.
Madison shakes her head and runs fingers through her locks in exasperation and, dare she say, pride.
Like mother like daughter, indeed.
But, pride aside…
It’s that stubbornness that will get her killed, Madison thinks. By me. Alicia, I am your mother, I brought you into this world and, if you cross me, I can take you out.
Madison hurries inside the house to wake Nick up, because now that the car’s gone, the difficulty levels have only increased, and this search party needs more members.
When she finds her, that girl will be grounded into the afterlife, and then some.