Her glass is slick with condensation or sweat.
It’s not hot in here.
Why am I sweating?
The contents of the short cup are a muted orange. But the drink burns, full-fledged fire, as it slides down Mia’s throat.
She doesn’t like the sensation or the taste. It fogs her once sharp wit.
Her eyelids are lead. She shakes her head. The movement rattles black-framed glasses slipping down the sweat on her nose. The fog in her brain becomes a swirling vortex. Nausea threatens. She closes her weary eyes and swallows churning bile and orange juice acid.
Her arms attempt to float free of her body, but she wills them to stay. She wants to be solid.
She likes control.
In the back of her mind, she wonders why she’s so calm. Her body feels as though it has been shot with an unhealthy dose of Novocain. Not calm, then. Numb.
She squints, but her vision is shrouded.
Not that there’s much to see. A small crowd of strangers—mostly men, drunken and hungry—grope for the nearest female form. Everyone is flopping their extremities to the beat of synthetic dance music. The room smells like a mixture of yeasty burps, man cave and cheap cigarettes.
Is this what a party is like? Is this it?
She notices her co-worker, Jenna, hanging limply from a guy who is not her current boyfriend. Her movement is clumsy and loud. She flips her ponytail and laughs at some mumbled joke a tall man yell-whispers.
Mia tries to call out to her, to tell her she wants to leave, to tell her she should’ve never come. She doesn’t know anyone. But her voice tumbles out as a groan. The glass slips from her fumbling fingers.
She tries to step toward Jenna, who flashes a worried look at the yellow spill on her carpet. She sighs and mutters something about how orange juice stains ‘like a bitch.’
Mia cannot stand on legs she cannot feel. She perceives the moment she falls apart, falls forward, falls from grace.
But two rough hands force her up, painfully pinching her breasts. She shifts her failing gaze to the five o’clock shadowed face of Jenna’s stocky roommate, the one who made her drink.
Her first taste of vodka and orange juice…and something else.
She knows that now. Something medicinal coats her tongue like iodine. He pulls her down a dark hall. Black shadows stain the walls. A picture of fake lesbians, naked and entwined, decorates his door. He shoves at the exposed ladies impatiently, forcing his way in.
“I am a virgin.”
She pushes the words from frozen lips, wanting to add the weight of panic. But she has not the potency to panic.
In response, he licks his lips against her ear, and promises to try to be gentle. His breath smells like the bathroom of a busy bar. She wants to scream,
“That’s not what I mean! Leave me alone. I want to be the same, to stay who I am.”
But he stole away her ability to say, to fight, to be.
He drops her on his bed, her weight wafting a cloud of stench into the air. The odor is distinctly diesel and beer. She forces her eyes to cooperate, to bore into his hungry gaze, to scream the “NO” her lips cannot form. But he isn’t looking at her face.
His eyes consume her at the opening of her thighs, at the peeks of her humble breasts. He unzips his stained work jeans, pulls ragged boxers to his knees and leans his bulk over her flaccid body.
She succumbs to the bitter tang that fills her cotton being. He thrusts her into a nightmare she will never remember, either because of the daze or the pain. Neon letters pound her dull brain: N-O, N-O, N-O!
When she wakes it is to the aroma of beer and forced sex, and a pain no pill will erase.
But her mind is now clear, she cannot be forced into silence. And her words conjure a match. And her rage fans the flame. And the power he held over her shrivels in brilliant orange. And his screams, real or imagined, feed her new form.
And she builds a ladder with his bones to climb out of the gloom.