Epilogue; book i
Working chapter title: Intellectual Property and weak hearts
Two years. It has been over two years. His face still swims before her eyes like a distant, taunting promise – appearing and vanishing without warning or apology. Pinching her cracking lips around the filter of her cigarette, Eden takes a slow drag and leans her head back to blow the smoke toward the ceiling. She finds it unacceptable that her heartbeat is slowing to a more natural pace; she prefers to see things in the sharp contrast of a world viewed through adrenaline-tinted eyes. It's barely six* o’clock. She has the rest of the night ahead of her, and no one has returned her calls.
“Looks like it’s going to be just me, tonight,” she says aloud. Frowning against the filter of her cigarette, Eden gets up from the couch. Her heartbeat skips with the movement but she ignores it, moving across the floor to the kitchen to pour herself a cup of cold coffee. The smoke floating up from the burning tip of her cigarette burns at her nostrils. She glances at the small baggie she left on the dining table behind her. Her drug of choice hadn’t lasted long, no more than forty minutes, she realizes. She must have built up yet more tolerance. She plops into a chair and sighs as she snatches up the baggie. Nothing could be simple; nothing could ever just stay the same.
Everything changed; like a cosmic joke and she was feeling more and more like the butt of it.
Shaking out the powder and sliding her thumbnail under the razorblade on the table to pick it up, she enjoys the rush of anticipation that surges through her veins. She crushes the chunks and sections off a few lines, smirking to herself as she remembers purchasing a glass table almost entirely for this purpose; she didn’t like wasting and it was easy to do if the surface being used wasn’t clear and smooth. Tucking a straw into her right nostril and pinching the other closed, she counts the hard pounds of her heartbeat as her skin seems to pop and crackle with electric expectations. One strong sniff in, a practiced turn of the wrist; one up, two up, three. Repeat. She sits up straight, pressing her spine against the back of her chair, and shuts her eyes. She can feel the drip in the back of her throat. Eden sips her coffee and inhales only through her cigarette until her breathing comes only in short, uneven bursts. She reaches her arms above her head and stretches out her muscles contentedly.
She can hear footsteps in the hallway of her apartment, familiar clunks coming from the bedroom. The soft graze of fingertips on the back of her neck draws her attention to her right and she smiles up at Pilot. His brown hair, shaggy from the pillow, falls into his sleep-lidded eyes, hiding them from her sight; a lazy grin tugs at the corners of his mouth as he walks to the coffee pot. Steam rises in curling tangles from the mug as he spoons in sugar and stirs. Turning, resting the small of his back against the countertop, Pilot takes a swig.
Like a breeze brushing over her exposed nerves, his voice jolts her heart into a familiar, irregular rhythm. “Morning, Eden,” the words fall from his lips like a quiet purr and she can feel her lungs already working harder than even the cocaine forces them to.
With the euphoria having taken over her brain, she beams uncontrollably at him, less charming and more imbecilic than her natural smile. “How’s the coffee?”
“Hot,” he mumbles, shrugging his shoulders and setting the mug down. “So what did you want to talk about?”
The warm light coming through the small window behind him takes Eden back to Pilot’s first apartment; the fake wood paneling and heavy sunset light spilling in from the blinds to pool on the rough fabric of the couch. A frown pulls down the corners of her mouth as she watches the colors before her distort and shift, and then she's there. Sitting across the room from him, the wood paneling she hated so much lining the walls around her and blocking her escape. The glow of sunset orange tones caught in his uncombed hair, how something inside of him seemed to absorb the rays and radiate them outward. Bathed in gold he looked tanner than he really was; the muscles in his arms twitched with the subtle movements he was making with each jerk and flick of his thumb on the joysticks and buttons. Dropping her gaze, Eden sighs quietly to herself, mulling over the harsh yanking feeling in her chest. Somehow, she still felt close to Pilot, tethered to him in a way. She’s tried to move passed him, continues to try, she supposes. Yet each attempt fails and she ends up back here, fourteen lines of ecstasy laced coke into the night, sitting in the middle of an old memory; swallowed up by the scratchy fabric of his hand-me-down recliner. Neither of them mentions his absence in her life; their routine simply picks up where it left off before the war. Not a hitch, no sign that anything had ever, even for a moment, changed.
“Nothing specific,” she mumbles to herself, shutting her eyes in an attempt to will away the hallucination before her. Once she opens her eyes, Eden finds herself back in her kitchen with her coffee and coke lines neatly arranged on the table. A heaviness settles in her ribcage, a weight hanging from her heart that seems to gather substance with each passing second. Cigarette smoke burning her nostrils. “I’m so tired these days, Pilot.”
A creak of weight being removed from the counter draws her eyes upward and she watches with stilled breath as Pilot moves to her side. He extends his hand, palm up, and waits for her to take it. Even her muscles felt burdened, her motions sluggish with the pressure that smothers her heart and lungs, as she raises her own hand to let it rest in his. Pilot wraps his arms around her waist as she tries desperately to feel him. Her feet falter as she tries to stand properly. “Let’s go into the living room,” he whispers against her forehead. Eden says nothing, instead she clamps her eyes shut tightly against the strange spinning the room suddenly took on. Contradicting the rest of her body, Eden begins to feel unbelievably lightheaded. Turning and leading them into the other room, Pilot walks around the back of the couch to avoid bumping the glass table. Without warning, his movements swift and deliberate, he lets her go, just long enough to be able to yank open the heavy steel door of her apartment and peek down the empty hallway. Seeming satisfied, he turns back to her.
“Wait,” Eden croaks, her voice dry as sand in her throat, her hand already extended out to him. Beneath her, her legs feel like they're made of pudding. She attempts to pull in a breath and her cigarette falls from her lips. “Pilot, I can’t breathe.” She sucks in again, the panic in her chest starting to well up and spill over into her arms and up her neck. She tries again; breathe in, breathe in, breathe in. It doesn’t matter how quickly she pulls in air, the tightness begins building in her chest and she can feel her heart pounding hard against her ribs.
Pilot steps toward her, stopping only when their clothes touch, and lifts her chin so she meets his eyes. So much sadness spills down his cheeks that she’s left to wonder what he could possibly be thinking of. “Eden?” His voice feels painfully loud in her ear canals, echoing and reverberating, as if she were sitting too close to a drum set being played. She scans his eyes, continuing to pant hopelessly, her lungs burning without the necessary oxygen and her heart thudding violently in her chest, searching for the intricate patterns in his irises that she’d come to know so well. Where there should have been bursts of emerald and forest greens, Eden finds murky olive tones and depthless grays. That always was the flaw in her induced hallucinations, she whines inwardly; they never get his eyes right.
She can feel her limbs crumbling beneath her, Pilot’s hands on her arms seem unable to hold her and he falls with her. Her knees buckle and his bend in compliance. Her heartbeat stutters, Pilot leans forward and lets his forehead rest against hers. A thick darkness begins seeping into her vision from the edges, hungrily consuming everything until she is surrounded by darkness and the rushing sounds of Pilot’s breathing to remind her she’s alive. The sick burn of acid seeps up into the back of her mouth and suddenly she’s heaving, retching up bile and acid and blood all over the carpet. Her heartbeat slows dramatically, one thump chased from her ribs by endless seconds of nothing before the next, weaker, thump interrupts the stillness. Pilot’s cool palm raises the side of her face from the floor. His voice parts his lips, escaping in feeble vowels and rupturing syllables that cover up the final, desperate, thump of her heart, “Eden, what have you done?”
Then, for a single, fleeting moment, there was nothing. Peaceful, easy, nothing.