Sour Candy and Vodka

by L Robin

'm sitting on the bus, watching the scenery pass by through the window, like watching a movie on a mud-splattered TV screen. The woman beside me keeps talking about her grandchildren, and I keep smiling at her in a I-don't-really-care-would-you-please-shut-up kind of way. But she doesn't really take the hint and pulls out a bundle of pictures. There one of a girl who's about sixteen. She's holding a bouquet of flowers and there's a boy beside her waving at whoever is taking the picture.

The dark hair and happy smile remind me of an old friend who's been gone in all ways but one for awhile now. I can't help but think of the small house with the white picket fence where I used to spend countless hours making pointless dance routines and singing to Madonna and the Spice Girls.

***

"Put it right in between the side of your tongue and your teeth, it's so sour it'll burn like hell," Lexi says, and her eyes are bright, burning with the excitement of the acid in her veins. I throw back my head and laugh, tossing the sour candy into my mouth and positioning it with my tongue.

Madonna is playing in the background and we're downing Vodka like it's juice and popping Listerine breath strips like candy. Then, with a serious tone contrasting all we were doing before, I tell her to dump him, that asshole, that high-school dropout who can't even find himself a job. But she just tells me how great he is and it was probably meant to be.

There's banging on the door. Lexi screams and tells me to go into the bathroom and lock myself in. I'm crying, my eyes are burning and I'm dragging her with me.

"It's him, he's not going to hurt me, just let me go," she's screaming at me now, and all the hate I feel for him, and all the love I feel for her combine and I slap her.

"He'll hit you again. Don't let him touch you, it's your choice to walk away, but if he ever gets you pregnant after he rapes you again..."

"He doesn't rape me, we make love," I can see that she knows I'm right. "He wouldn't hit me if I made time to see him more often."

"Listen, we're going out through the back door, and we're going to run. I'll get you away from him, don't worry."

***

The woman is still going through the pictures. She's happy that I seem so attentive. Maybe I should shut up like this more often, it makes people happy apparently. She shows me a picture with the same girl. This time she's sitting on a rock beside a pond. The shadows on her face look like bruises, and her heart is crying, you can see it through her smiling eyes.

I ask what her name is.

"Maria."

***

I can hear him behind us. Lexi is dragging her feet on the pavement, and the ninty degree fahrenheit sun is burning the back of our necks. My cell rings and I can't help but wonder why I haven't called the cops yet.

"Mom, I can't come home right now, Lexi's in trouble." She can tell by the tone of my voice that something is very wrong. She offers to pick me up, and I tell her to be at the seven-eleven on fifth in ten minutes or she won't see me until tomorrow or later.

Lexi keeps looking back, asking me to go talk to him. I just tell her that she's being stupid and needs to move faster. When we turn the corner onto fifth, we're both covered in dust and our bare feet are raw and bleeding in some places. Lexi's bare back is blistering from a sunburn.

My mom's car is in the parking lot, and when we get in, Lexi grabs my cell.

"I have to apologize. And tell him where I am."

***

The old woman is asking how old I am and where I'm off to.

"Twenty one," I reply. "I'm heading to California to see my friend. I'm going to live by her while I'm in University taking Dentistry."

"Why not with her?"

"Well, she's in rehab right now. I told her I'd take care of her son while she's getting better."

The old woman's eyes widen and all she says is, "Oh".

When I walk into the rehab center, I see a deteriorated version of my once vibrant Lexi. Her eyes light up when she sees me, and I can almost see the former brightness flash in them. She grabs my hand and pulls me into the chair in front of her.

"How are you doing hun?" I ask, trying not to cry.

"They give me pretty much what I want, except drugs. It's a really strict time frame too. It's all right though, getting back into routine and stuff."

I feel like yelling, "I told you to stay away from him, away from the coke and the sex. All it gave you was an addiction, a son, and a broken heart." But I don't. I just talk with her about what she'll do when she gets out, and how she'll move in with me and get her grade twelve done.

When I leave, she gives me a hug and hands me two CDs. Madonna and the Spice Girls.

"You forgot these at my house the first time you saved my life," she says. "I thought I'd give them back, maybe they'll be playing when I first save yours."

I walk out, trying as hard as I can not to look back, because I'm afraid she might see me cry, but I finally do. She's sitting there, fragile as a flower, and her heart is crying, you can see it through her smiling eyes.

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