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lovely chemicals

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Elizabeth is twelve when she has alcohol for the first time.

The normally empty dining room is enriched with the bustle of silverware, the light from the chandelier and the murmur of quiet conversation. It's a special day today- Erina and Speedwagon have come to visit Straizo and Elizabeth. Not a common occasion, but a significant one, as it rekindles the vast house of ascetic training with life.

Elizabeth regards those visits with mixed feelings. They usually involve conversations that she's left out of, conversations with beacons of gloom and anxiousness that she can't fully understand. However, the presence of Erina and Speedwagon feels like a missing piece that clicks into place- Elizabeth would call it the completion of a family picture, if Straizo's teachings hadn't resisted such levels of idealism.

Today's dinner doesn't try to differentiate itself from the previous ones. Once again, Elizabeth sits in a corner of the table, trying not to fail her trained posture, as Erina, Speedwagon and Straizo talk amongst themselves.

It's when Speedwagon looks at her that things take an unexpected turn. He must have seen something disheartening in her, sitting so uptight with her face down and her fork stoically digging into the meat. And so, he smiles, and asks her to try some of the wine.

That simple suggestion lights up a whole fire of objections- she's too young, when did you become so irresponsible Speedwagon, says Erina, do not ruin her training regime with careless things, says Straizo. The argument evolves into another loaded conversation, and through it all, Elizabeth manages to drink two entire glasses before anyone notices.

It's too late when Erina finally does, so she can only walk the stumbling, dizzy Elizabeth to her room and place her on her bed.

Outside her room, Erina, Speedwagon and Straizo continue their talk in low voices that drift through the entire house like passing ships. Following their course with shut eyes and open ears, Elizabeth forgets about her giddiness and falls into a peaceful sleep.

*

The night of her first murder, Lisa Lisa has alcohol for the first time.

She can't sleep. How could it be possible? There are police sirens blasting inside her head, even now that she's long outrun them. The blood on her clothes makes them stick to her skin, like a catheter thrusting anger, sorrow and painful memories inside her.

Lisa Lisa didn't take anything from Elizabeth's house before fleeing. Nothing, except one thing- a bottle of wine, the type that her family's been buying for years now for their formal dinners.

A bottle is here with her, while her son sleeps without a mother or a father. The self- deprecating smirk on Lisa Lisa's lips is reflexive. Truth is, she kept the bottle as a potential weapon. The Ripple could work wonders when combined with objects like this, and that was all she could think to take as a precaution as the police was hunting her down.

Ultimately, though, she might have kept it for this very moment. When she couldn't sleep, the familiar taste could become her sedative. Lisa Lisa takes a generous gulp, and waits.

She takes another, and another. It doesn't work.

*

Elizabeth is sixteen when she smokes for the first time.

The wind passes through the flower beds in the backyard, leaving a gentle shake on its way. A dog's howl, echoing through the sleeping streets, comes from a neighboring house. Elizabeth brings her collar closer to her neck. The winter chill is too disagreeable, but she has to stay outside. She has to wait for him.

A drag of footsteps disturbs the quiet night, and Elizabeth immediately tenses and readies her fighting stance. If only Straizo could check her and tell her he approves- wait, no, she's not supposed to be outside at this ungodly hour, he mustn't appear now.

When the vexing sound draws closer, Elizabeth can finally unwind in relief. She feels her mouth smile as she watches George run down the street and jump over the backyard fence.

They sit under the garden's most beautiful tree, a majestic cedar. They're lost in casual, idle talk when George's face changes, brows raising as if his memory kick started. He has something for her, he says, and searches in his jacket until he comes up with a pack of cigarettes and matches.

Elizabeth then realizes she's not too much of the adventurous type. Faced with the packet, she can only find excuses to not take it- Straizo would disapprove, it would mess up her breathing training, they must have cost a lot to George so he should keep them. But to George, who can wreck even the strongest walls she's built around herself, these excuses are child's play- Straizo will never know, it's no big deal, they're all over the place in the military barracks so he didn't even have to pay for them.

Firstly, the silence of the night breaks with Elizabeth's coughs as she takes the first drag, and George's amused laugh that she can only pretend to be annoyed about. But then, the quiet conquers its territory again, as only two burning ends disfigure its darkness.

Elizabeth feels small under the deep endless blue all over her. The nicotine settles heavy in her head, making her sleepy. She engraves George's face on her eyes one last time, and closes them before curling up on his chest.

*

The night of her first murder, Lisa Lisa smokes for the first time.

It isn't exactly true that the bottle is the only thing with her. Before she even entered that monster's office, she had a pack of cigarettes in her pocket. George's cigarettes, the ones he didn't smoke often, yet liked to keep around anyway. Lisa Lisa smiles- he always was like this, doing pointless things because he felt like it.

She takes a stick out of the pack and holds it in her mouth. She has no matches, but a quick snap of her fingers will suffice. The dark room lights up with an unnatural buzz of energy, and then only a faint orange glow remains.

As the smoke slithers all around, Lisa Lisa realizes her mistake. No wine or cigarette would help her make it through this night. The automatic movements of her fingers don't relax her one bit, and the smoke is a rampage of poison straight onto her lungs.

Left alone with smoke and ashes, Lisa Lisa keeps puffing her cigarettes, wishing Elizabeth was still under the cedar.

*

The cigarettes become scads. The bottles become myriads. The first thing she seeks when she wakes up in the morning is a good drag of nicotine, and the last thing she needs before she sleeps is a big shot of red wine.

But there are moments she truly, completely feels like she's stuck on the bottom of the barrel. When her hands and feet tingle in a monolithic mania, as she tries to think of a way to buy her cigarettes without showing even the least bit of her face. When her head and heart feel like ticking time bombs inside her skeleton, as she searches the empty houses she hides in for leftover bottles.

Straizo would be at a loss of words if he saw how she'd disgraced his teachings (maybe not the man who lost his mind, but Elizabeth's master and father). Speedwagon would regret even that little sip he encouraged her to drink back then. Erina would never want to see her again. And what would Joseph think of a mother like this? And George-

She's let down way too many people. And that's why she can't go back- she has to somehow repair the damage she's caused, even when all that's waiting for her at the end of the day is her cigarettes and wine bottles.

Lisa Lisa will suffer, for the sake of all that Elizabeth has lost.

But every time she smokes and drinks, Lisa Lisa hears Elizabeth call out from somewhere within.