© Ruslan1117 | Dreamstime.com – Two shots of tequila with lime and salt on a wooden table bar on the background of bright lights of the bar
By Christopher Opyr
Thick strips of bacon crisped and bubbled, popping in an ocean of grease, their smoky aroma mixing with that of the scrambled eggs and glazing the kitchen in the scents of breakfast. Teagan breathed deep, the strength of the smell forcing itself past her clogged sinuses, and sliding inside. It felt warm and comforting, then suddenly it didn’t.
Her stomach lurched, the taste of the previous night’s pad thai and whiskey surging up, along with what tasted like tequila, though Teagan could not remember having any. She burp-vomited in her mouth, wobbled, and lost her balance as her nausea took center stage. Attempting to right herself she flailed out at last catching onto the corner of the stove.
“Son of a whore!”
She yanked her hand back, her index finger throbbing from the sudden heat of the gaslit burner. The room spun, a whirling kaleidoscope of sensory overload. The sizzle of the bacon. Elder meowing incessantly, planted beside the cabinet with his treats. The window fan sucking in thin wisps of cigarette smoke from the ashtray. A metal band blaring over the surround sound, mingling with the raised voices of the television.
Teagan winced fighting back the remainder of her pad thai and struggling with the throbbing migraine playing the drums in her brainpan. How many shots did I have last night, she wondered for not the first time that morning.
After they had left Toi she and the rest of the gang had pinged a Lyft and caught a ride to the Whiskey a Go Go. The house had been packed and they had pushed their way past the reserved tables to the back bar under the balcony, ordering the first round of shots. They began with decent standards, ordering up an 18-year Glenlivet Single Malt, followed by a round of Johnny Walker Blue. After that they had hit the floor, and explored further options between sets, gradually regressing until they were down to the house whiskey. From there the night got fuzzy.
Usually after a night of hard drinking Milly checked in with Teagan in the morning. They had been friends since childhood and had moved out to Los Angeles together eight years prior. Now they each had their own lives, but they were still close as sisters. When things got blackout crazy, they watched out for each other.
Teagan checked her phone. No missed calls. It was only 11 am, but Milly always rose at the ass crack of dawn. She should have called or at least texted by now. Something didn’t feel right. Teagan considered calling and reached to dial.
Before she could, an alarm rang out! Teagan refocused, pocketing her phone. The bacon grease bubbled black, the strips shriveled and burnt. She dialed off the heat and scooted the pan onto a stack of dirty plates covering the back burner. As she scraped at the charred mess, she shouted into the living room over the cacophony of the peeling alarm, music, and TV.
“You like your bacon charred, right?”
Teagan received no response. She turned, but couldn’t get a good look into the living room. Her world swiveled some as she shifted for a better vantage. Sinuses, my splitting head, and a case of the dizzies, she thought. This is going to be a fun hangover.
“Henry?” she called again. The least he could do was respond. Instead she received still more nothing beyond the hideous racket drilling into her frontal lobe – not even a single acknowledgment that she had spoken.
“Hey, a little help here, damn it!” Her head pounded as she screamed, but Henry was starting to piss her off. When he still didn’t answer, Teagan finally dropped the spatula into the pan and charged into the living room, dizziness and spinning rooms be damned.
“Hey, cock hat, you could at least get the smoke detector?”
Henry shot her a pained glance from the couch, where he lay with a beer in one hand and his tablet in the other. He looked about as grisly as she felt. He tilted his headphones back to hear.
“What was that?”
“You dick!” She braced herself against the wall, fighting the pain of the headache, and screaming through it. Bad move, bad move, bad move, she thought, but continued anyway. “You can’t possibly be paying attention to all these screens.”
Teagan clicked off the television.
“Hey,” Henry shouted, then stopped and jammed his palm into his eye socket. Good, at least if she had to suffer so did he. “Not cool,” he continued more softly.
“Get off your lazy ass and do something about the smoke detector.”
“Why don’t you do it?”
“Because I’m busy cooking your breakfast and trying not to die from this hangover. Where the hell did we end up last night?”
Henry casually glanced about the apartment, his eyes squinting together with concentration, as if truly considering Teagan’s question. His scan complete, he shrugged. “Here, I guess.”
“No shit. Before that.”
“I don’t know.” He winced again, covering his ears, as the detector continued its warning shriek.
“What about Milly or Aaron? Have you heard from either?”
“Milly or Aaron?”
“That’s what I said.”
Henry shifted, blinking and wincing at the light as he tried to wake from his deadened state. As he did, he shifted, and his hair flopped into his face. He flicked it aside, and flashed a questioning, half-asleep look at Teagan.
“Why would I have heard from them?”
“Never mind.” Teagan turned to leave. “Just do something about that smoke detector.”
Finally, Henry sat up, downing the last of his PBR as he did. “Wait… what? Did you burn the bacon?” The PBR done he slouched back into the couch.
“Oh, I’m so done.”
Teagan left and grabbed the broom, which was leaning against the kitchen table from the last time she had used it. Properly equipped she stormed down the hall and inspected her adversary. It continued its shrill ring, its red light flashing mockingly at her.
She tapped at it with the broom handle, trying to find a stop button. No luck. She shouted back down the hall. She knew it would hurt, but it couldn’t be as bad as this stupid ringing alarm.
“Where’s the off on this thing?”
Oh hell, it was worse. Much worse. Don’t scream. Gotta stop doing that. She held her head. It hurt so bad she could almost cry. What’s more, Henry had gone back to not answering her, most likely having finished that slouch taking it to its natural conclusion and shifting back down for a nap. Faintly, she could hear voices from the TV, again, which had been turned back on. She shook her head.
Another bark sounded from the smoke detector and another ripple of pain shot through Teagan’s skull. She tried to focus, but between the headache and the rest of the hangover, the whole world had gone muddled, soft and linty, like a worn blanket had been laid down over it. Well, soft other than the relentless din turning the apartment into a sonic hellscape. Unable to focus, Teagan decided to go with her gut.
She smacked the smoke detector with the broom stick, and smiled as she heard the plastic crack. She took another go, slamming the handle once more into the interminable offender. Caught in the moment, propelled by an irresistible drive to kill that ringing before it did her in, she swung again and again, a child with a piñata, only her candy was silence.
“What the hell, Teagan!” At last Henry had come stumbling drunkenly and bleary-eyed down the hall.
“I couldn’t reach it.”
The smoke detector dangled lifelessly from the ceiling as Teagan, smiling victoriously, supported herself with the broom.
“You’re buying me a new one,” Henry said, then covered his mouth and ran to the bathroom.
The alarm let off one last defiant squawk, and Teagan bashed it in retaliation, snapping it from the wire tendons that held it to the ceiling like a poorly severed limb. It clattered against the wood floor and settled at last to a silent stop.
Teagan breathed a sigh of relief. As she did, Elder rubbed against her leg.
“What do you want?”
He meowed back at her, his eyes set angrily.
“Fine, I’ll get your damn treats.” She tapped on the half-open bathroom door before heading to the kitchen. “Henry,” she said softly (she had learned her lesson on screaming). “Your cat’s a jackass.”
“I know,” he muttered, then waved for her to walk away as he kneeled by the toilet.
Elder fed, Teagan plopped into a chair in the kitchen, gulped down a glass of water, and shoveled her breakfast down, burnt bacon and all. The breakfast helped settle her roiling stomach, but did little to dissipate her headache or her worries about Milly and the night before. It nagged her, something begging for her attention, but simultaneously forgotten. She had to get rid of this hangover and focus. It had been years since she felt this terrible after a night of drinking. Well… weeks, anyway.
Try as she might, she could only recall flashes after the last shot at the Whiskey a Go Go. After the final band had finished its set she, Henry, Milly, Aaron, Erika, and, and… oh hell, who else had been there?
Whoever it was, the lot of them had hit the street. She remembered another Lyft. She could picture the signature pink mustache on the dash lit up as it had pulled to the curb, but she couldn’t picture the driver or getting in. Then another flash. She could see her, Erika, and some dude in the backseat. Those last two were doing some heavy petting and she could remember pressing herself tight against the passenger side trying to get away from the makeout session. Then a heavyset bouncer. A jukebox. Dancing. Shots. Nothing clear, just snippets.
Teagan fumbled in her pocket and pulled out her cell, tapping over to Milly. She waited, her phone held just far enough away that she could hear it without it wailing in her ear. It rang again and again, then clicked over to voicemail. She hung up and tapped over to Aaron. She wanted to talk to Milly, and where one went the other always followed. She also figured it was best to talk to one of them before calling Erika. She didn’t know who that guy was that Erika had been groping, but she felt fairly positive it wasn’t her boyfriend.
Aaron’s line rang unanswered as well. Teagan tapped out a quick text asking where they’d gone after the Whiskey, then slumped deep into her chair.
“Our friends are useless,” she yelled, slipping right back into the same mistake again. She sat her head in her hands, massaging her temples. This time she cried.
Her phone rang, Henry’s picture flashing onto the screen. In the photo he had one arm draped over a plastic statue of Scooby-Doo, while he leaned forward, mid full-rocker headbang, hair whipping every which way.
She tapped it to speaker.
“Yep,” Henry said, his voice soft and weak. “Completely useless. Can you grab me some water?”
“It hurts to yell.”
She couldn’t say he was wrong.
“Sure. Anything else?”
A long pause, then Henry chimed in his voice half question, half serious.
“You’re going to die of liver failure, you know that?”
“Yeah, but I’ll take you with me.”
“Well, that’s sweet.”
“So can I get that beer?”
Teagan clicked off the phone and reluctantly hauled herself up and over to the sink. She pushed a few discarded dishes aside, turned on the tap, and filled up a glass. Done, she drank that one, then filled it back up, grabbed a PBR from the refrigerator, and made her way down the hall past the remains of the smoke detector.
The things I do for love.
Teagan sniffed, trying to breathe through her clogged sinuses. It didn’t go so well, snot rolling back down into her throat. She gagged, the feeling of bile on the rise returning, and paused to resist the also returned urge to vomit.
Finally, reaching the bathroom, she toed the door open and held out both drinks to Henry. He was hugging the toilet. The water was clear so she figured he hadn’t vomited yet, though the porcelain was covered in muck. We should probably clean that, she thought absently, then thrust the idea to the bottom of her discarded mental to-do list.
Henry reached for the beer. That done Teagan set the water glass on the sink and perched on the edge of the tub.
“Your allergies acting up? Mine are wreaking havoc right now.”
“Eh…” Henry grunted.
“Is that a yes?”
“They ain’t great. Probably the weather change. It always does this crap.”
Every time they shifted out of a hot spell in LA the allergens killed the both of them. Sometimes Teagan thought it was enough to drive her back to the east coast, but those were always idle daydreams. She liked the music scene here. Though New York could be fun, too. Come to think of it though, it was hot as balls out.
Teagan squinted into her phone and opened up the weather app.
“It’s supposed to be 94 today.”
“I don’t know. I’m not a weatherman.” Henry shrank his head back into his neck, holding something in. “Oh God. Can I get some privacy?”
“Yeah, no one wants to see that. Yell if you need anything.”
She shut the door on her way out, Henry mumbling behind her.
“I’ll call. Thanks.”
She sniffed again. She needed some meds – something to kill the pain, and something to fix her allergies. A glass of water wouldn’t hurt either.
She stumbled back into the cramped kitchen, almost tripping over Elder. He scattered, then assured she wasn’t going to step on him, returned and meowed pleadingly.
“I already fed you.”
He meowed again, unphased.
“Damn it, Elder.” She hadn’t meant to raise her voice, but when she did the world flickered and it felt as if a searing hot poker had just stabbed through her eye.
“Holy shit, mother, cock, ass!” She fell to her knees grabbing at her head, tears streaming and let out every obscenity she could think of, which was a long litany. She had learned from her grandfather and he’d been a swearing pro.
She continued, muttering through a second and third verse and rocking back and forth on her knees until the pain subsided. When she opened her eyes, Elder had bristled up, tail straight and back arched. She reached out to calm him.
“I’m sorry, buddy,” she started. “I didn’t mean to –”
He hissed and swiped at her face. She heard the skin pop first, then felt the flesh tear and flare as he caught her upside the cheek.
She shot back banging against the washer. Her head hit first, as she had fallen as she went back, and as it jolted into the wash the jenga set of dishes clattered to the floor. Elder dashed off down the hall.
Holy hell, this is a shitty morning, she thought, then fumbled to her feet, avoiding the broken plates and glasses. Still rocking to a stop from the fall, she spotted the bottle of aspirin. At least she could do something about that headache. She tapped out two pills, paused, then tapped out three more.
Carefully tiptoeing around the disaster that was now the kitchen, Teagan made her way to the sink and filled up another glass of water. She gulped it down, and the pills with it, then tried to sneak a look at the scratches on her cheek off the glass of the window. She couldn’t see herself. The daylight streaming in whited out everything else. It hurt her eyes, so she made her way back into the darkness of the living room.
The TV and music were still blaring. That had to be fixed. Teagan shut both off and melted down into the couch. Half dead and her cheek now stinging in addition to her headache, she poked her hand over the end of the couch, casting about the floor until she gripped a discarded shirt. Satisfied, she pulled it up and pressed it to her bloody cheek.
The sounds diminished, her headache eased off ever so slightly and she shut her eyes. At first a comforting blackness met her behind her closed lids, then pops of light, and finally more snippets from the previous night.
Henry had his arm flung over her neck and was trying to cop a feel. She brushed him aside. Stupid drunk Henry was a pain.
“But…” he muttered pathetically and motioned to their friends across the table. Erika and the mystery guest were buried in each other’s faces with way too much PDA for even the most desperate of couples, let alone two perfect strangers.
Time lurched forward.
People laughing. People leaving.
Just the four of them now, Teagan and Henry, and Erika and what’s his face. More laughter. Then Milly and Aaron slam into the booth beside them, Aaron missing his seat entirely and taking a few beers down with him.
A bartender shouting. Telling them they were cut off.
That stranger, finally unlocked from Erika, trying to calm the man down. That pale, weird stranger. Dapper clothes and effeminate features, but something so charming. At last the bartender relented.
“Fine. It’s last call anyway.”
The stranger nodded to the others.
“Take a seat. I got this round.” His voice rang with a lyrical quality and a tinge of reverb. His face skipped forward, then back, like the flicker of a film reel, or another jump of time. They really needed to stop drinking.
Teagan opened her eyes. Last call. The words stuck with her. She tried to picture that mystery man, to get a firm grasp on his face, but it would never lock in. Just something evocative and pale, and fueled by nightmares. It didn’t make sense, and her thoughts seemed to worm around him, sloshing about in either direction unable to hold. Somewhere deep down her mind connected him to an abstraction, an idea more than a physical thing, but that had to be the alcohol talking. His face flashed one more time, a stretched and distorted nightmare pulled from the fuzzy edges of her vision.
Last call, she thought again. She needed to reach Milly, and she needed to reach her right now.