By Peyton Trout

Click. Click. “Fuck.” Click. Click. “Nice.” The words flowed out in a whisper as the lighter sparked, its flame emerging as a tunnel of yellows and oranges in Violet’s hand. The cigarette stuck under Violet’s top lip felt soft with saliva, making her need to light the tobacco increasingly erratic. As soon as she felt the first plume of smoke hit her lungs, she was put at ease.

Violet’s face stung from the cold coming through Tami’s window. Perched on the corner of Tami’s bed, her back was hunched to blow the acrid smoke out the window. She felt like a gargoyle, frozen in agony far from those who surrounded her, keeping watch over nothing. 

“Your face is gonna freeze if you press it any closer to the window, V.” Violet swept her eyes over to the two girls sitting on Tami’s floor, taking in these friends turned strangers.

“Right, thanks, Tam,” Violet said, straightening her back and pulling away from the window’s screen. She took another drag from her cigarette and blew it towards the icy escape to her right.

“Make sure that smoke goes out, my mom would kill me if she knew we smoked in here,” Tami said while filing away at Mya’s nails.

“Damn, sorry, I forgot.” Violet didn’t forget. She tapped off the grey tower of built-up ash on the cigarette’s end, and it tumbled into the ashtray on Tami’s windowsill. Violet watched the log of ash break apart as it burst with the blow of the ashtray’s bottom.  

“V, are you even listening?” Violet pulled her gaze from the shattered ash on the windowsill and looked over at the strangers sitting on the floor.

“I’m sorry, guys, what were we talking about?” Violet asked, hesitantly putting out her cigarette, letting it lay among the pile of ash, unfinished. She decided to move to the floor, trying to make it seem like she wants to be there. To seem like she enjoyed Tami and Mya. To act like she didn’t feel sick to her stomach.

“Well, we,” Tami looked at Mya, “were talking about Josh’s party this weekend, you comin’?” Tami didn’t look at Violet as she asked, she continued shaping Mya’s nails with vigor.

Violet looked at the hands of her two strangers. Tami violently filed the acrylic on Mya’s nails. She wondered what it would be like if it was her nails Tami was sanding down. If Tami’s hand slipped. If the file’s sandpaper skin slashed across Violet’s shell. How the blood should rush, dripping over Tami’s rug. She wondered if it would bring a sort of clarity, this pain. If the pain could pull her back to reality and out of the fog shielding her from everyone else.

Violet brought a shoulder up to her ear in a half shrug, “Probably not.” She didn’t have a problem with Josh. She didn’t have problems drinking or smoking with people she didn’t know. Those weren’t the problems she had. She didn’t know what problems she had.

“Well, we think it’d be good if you got out of the house. It’s been a while since we’ve all been out together,” Mya said, peering at Violet through her fringe. Violet shrugged again, putting a pin in the conversation and the two strangers discussed what color Mya wanted for her nails.

Violet looked past them at the open door of Tami’s bedroom, the warm light from the hallway seeping into Tami’s pristinely white and clean room. Minimalist. Tami called it. Scandinavian-inspired, even, Tami said. What fucking bullshit.

The memory made Violet snort aloud at its ridiculousness. The alien girl Tami gave her a side-glare but said nothing and continued. Mya scrunched her eyebrows, her gaze lingering slightly longer than Tami’s intense eyes, but she returned quickly to her hands splayed in front of her on a light oak lap desk. Scandinavian-style.

Violet stood and went back to her place on Tami’s bed. She wanted to melt, to flow through the window screen with ease. The thought of liquifying and slipping through the cracks of Tami’s window seemed a much less daunting feat than crossing the room to the inviting doorway.

For that meant she’d have to pass these strangers again. These strangers she would promise to see soon and make plans to meet up again. Maybe at Mya’s next time?

The idea of making these bullshit empty promises froze her in place. Hunched on Tami’s bed, she picked up her smoke and fumbled with her dying lighter, letting the frigid air of winter harden her in place until the strangers were done. Only then would the gargoyle rise from its place.