I sat in the waiting room with Darren, my legs crossed and tucked underneath me. I think it’s some sort of defense mechanism—reverting to a more child-like posture because I felt vulnerable, that kind of shit. In better days, Darren would have been quick to point it out and advise me as to the psychological significance of it. I couldn’t wait for him to be done with Intro to Psych.

He was there because I was there and I was there because of my mom.

He saw this as a two-fer: a fascinating opportunity to be close to a real-life case-study and the chance to woo me by playing the part of the supportive male friend, all at the same time. I was just too exhausted to tell him to fuck off, so he came.

He sat down next to me and flipped the end of my ponytail, a particularly annoying habit of his. I scowled. He smiled sheepishly.

“She’s going to be fine,” he said.

I glared at him. I was in no mood for anyone to be blowing sunshine up my ass. He didn’t seem to get the hint though and playfully nudged me while leaning in conspiratorially and whispering, “I mean it, Kourtney. She’s going to be just fine. You’ll see. I have a—”

“A what, Darren? A sixth sense? Jesus.”

“Okay, okay,” he said. He rose from his seat, looked back at me with a pathetic, please-ask-me-not-to-go look on his face and then shuffled off toward the vending area. I should have told him to let me come alone. He would have put up a fight and I would have had to endure the agonizing wait for information by myself, but there are worse things.

I don’t know why I let her talk me into living with her. One semester, she said. Just one. I’m a junior now. She’s no more mature, no more grown-up than she was when she left me with my grandmother on my fifth birthday so she could try her hand at cocktail waitressing in Reno. The biggest difference is that she’s graduated from the small time to bigger, badder, meaner, messer, harder things.

These days it’s snow.

Call it whatever you want. Blow, coke, c, nose candy. It all means the same thing. Cocaine.

I got home from study group to find her strung out, laying in a puddle of her own vomit in the middle of the goddam living room floor. There was a dimebag on the coffee table next to what had recently been 4 or 5 lines of coke. She’d been smoking and sniffing. She barely had a pulse.

Snow. It sounds so pure, so natural, so wonderful. Children play in it. It feeds rivers. It is a beautiful thing.

But that’s what she does, my mother. She perverts the beautiful, profanes the sacred. It’s what she’s best at. My curse is that I cannot bring myself to just let her die alone.

I knew Darren was right, knew she would pull through. And she did. This was just the first of many storms. And it would be a long, brutal winter.

*Written for the 500 Club.

My mind is reeling. That sickly dizzying feeling crashes over me again and I wretch, heaving. But my feet don’t stop.

It hardly makes any sense to me. I don’t know what’s going on, don’t know why it’s happening. He was so insistent, though. He told me to run. “Run away with ya’self,” he said. “Run into them woods and keep on ‘a runnin’ until one of us gits ya or ya git away.”

I had met these bizarre instructions with a blank stare.

“Time’s a tickin’,” he said through a toothy grin and then he laughed, a hacking guffaw, his big belly rolling under his too-tight shirt and his whole frame rocking back and forth until tears formed at the corners of his eyes. He patted his gun absently and that’s when I decided to run.

That was some time ago. At least I think it was. It feels like it was hours ago, though it couldn’t have been. The sun is still high in the sky.

My back is soaked, my shirt clinging to me. My temples ache with lack of water. My feet have blisters, I can feel them. With each step I imagine them expanding until they grow so large and tender, so full that they will pop right there in my shoes, the juice inside them absorbing into my socks.

To my right and some distance back I hear the laugh. It’s hearty. Happy. It chills me to my bones.

I was just asking for directions, for crying out loud. Just stopping to ask where I was. I was lost. I didn’t see the gun until he had me cornered with it. I didn’t understand when he shoved me into his truck. I still don’t know when or why he called the others, but I can hear them, their dogs barking, their footfalls in the brush. They are coming.

And I run.

Up ahead there is a small creek bed. It is nearly dry, only a sliver of a stream weaving its way along the broken path that once ran much deeper. I imagine water, hoping that in seeing it, in wanting it, it might somehow appear.

I make it to the edge of the creek when I hear a sound, a twig breaking, a stone crunching, some other such woodsy indicator, and it is alarmingly close. I turn to my left abruptly and there he is. The bastard with his gun. He has it leveled on me.

“Knew you’d come to the creek,” he says. He was smiling but there was no joy in the smile.

I raised my hands. “Please,” I say. “I don’t know what this is about, but please. There is no reason to be rash.” My breath is winded. I struggle to speak in smooth sentences.

“Rash?” he says. “I ain’t bein’ rash. I been plannin’ this for a while, mister. Just ease on down to the ground.”

I kneel. He flips the safety. Oh God, I think.

Run.

*Written for the 500 Club.