Dalston Junction

Dalston Junction
a lot of words . June 2012 . This is a work of creative non-fiction


Zanada had said to meet at Highbury and Islington station at 8:50, which I thought was oddly specific, and sure enough, she texted that she was running late. Later she would tell me that she was thinking how she could connect Sergiu and I at the meeting spot since we didn’t know each other. I said even with instructions it wouldn’t have worked out anyway. I’m shit with recognizing people, worse at night.

It was full-on night, indigo blue, when I stepped out at the Tube station. Already the days were getting shorter and shorter, but it was only the 8th of August, so how could that be? I’d only been away from the city a month, actually less than a full month, and when I’d gone you could still see South Bank bathed in fiery, red-rose sunset at nine, light diffusing across the Thames and the spanning bridges even at ten-thirty. You could see it off the clock face when you heard Big Ben chiming the half on the other side of Westminster. Now the time of sunset was nearly the same as Toronto. Somehow the loss of latitude made me feel colder.

I hugged my trench coat closer around myself, suffused with sadness that the summer was coming to an end. I was exhausted and hopeful, wanting to forget my stupid self-imposed anxiety problems, still waiting to be excited about something, and it turns out I got both that night.


Zanada’s friend Sergiu is unassuming when you first see him. I rounded the side of the station and saw Zanada’s mass of black curls. The hug she gave me was tight. I shook hands with the boy standing beside her and remember thinking his handshake was pleasant, not too tight, not too loose. Still he looked quiet, reticent. Mature.

He wore a slate-blue jumper over a collared white shirt, the ends of the sleeves showing past his thin wrists, and as we walked, he shoved his hands in his pockets, tracing out a brisk, nimble stride. He and Zanada are fans of a genre of music called dubstep. They’d been looking for an event to go to for some time after meeting through Helena. We were going all the way to Dalston, though I didn’t know it at the time. I didn’t even know why we were in Islington in the first place. I’m always disoriented.

“I really didn’t think you’d come,” Zanada said, her curls bouncing along as we walked.

I remembered the neighbourhood vaguely, since it was where I first met Helena and Sandra almost exactly a month before. Laura had invited me to dinner at Sandra’s down the road, then we’d met up with Helena at the Overground station and gone to Koko at Mornington Crescent.

She said, “I thought maybe this music wouldn’t be to your taste.”

I shrugged. “Why not? I’m saying yes to things. YOLO, and all that. I’m going to be more fun.” Sure, I was here partially and ostensibly to study for my test, but I wanted to have more and more experiences too. Why couldn’t I have both?

“I forced him to come,” she said, pointing to Sergiu. “Like pulling teeth? How you say?”

“It’s a Thursday night,” he said. “It’s unnatural.”

“He’s also got, what, a lunch with his boss tomorrow?” she said.

“Yes,” he said. “That’s right.”

“And are you excited for this lunch?” I asked. It was a bit awkward walking on the pavement between them.

“Uh…no.” Sergiu looked like he wasn’t really sure what to say to me; maybe we were both awkward around strangers, so I tried not to be too weird and crazy, at least not yet.

I’ve got some weird psychology sometimes — I get so self-conscious about nothing, which is dumb, especially because I’ve flown so far so that I wouldn’t have to keep thinking about who I am and whose standards I have to meet.

We were halfway down one of the spokes leading off of the Islington High Street when Sergiu exclaimed, “Sorry, wrong way. The park’s the other direction.”

“Park?” I asked. “Oh, I was there already. I didn’t want to look like an idiot standing outside the station by myself so I went to the Little Waitrose and then found the park.”

“So, wait, you knew we were going the wrong way,” he said.

“I didn’t know we wanted to go there!” I said. “So it can’t be my fault.”

“Was it nice?” Zanada asked. “I want to be going to a nice park.”

“It’s a big park. And I was still killing time so I was reading about the park on a sign,” I babbled.

“A sign,” repeated Sergiu, looking amused, a smile finally cracking his staid demeanour. “What kind of sign?”

I thought for a moment. “So it said that actually all this land where the park is used to be dairy farming land,” I said. “Then in the 1800s a guy tried to amass the necessary funds to buy the land and transform it into the park, but he didn’t end up raising the money and the project got cancelled. But eventually in the 1900s they got the park built.” God, it sounded ridiculous when I said it out loud.

“Really,” he said.

“Sorry, I’m a big London geek,” I said.

I wasn’t sure how he was going to respond to a comment like that. Maybe he was one of those cool types. Maybe he didn’t like London and thought I was totally lame for letting everything show all the time.

But he just smiled and said, “That’s fine.”

“She is,” Zanada said. “And a Tube geek. She reads books and stuff. She can tell you random facts about the Underground.”

“I just like to read,” I said, blushing.

And then we happened to walk by the sign as we drove deeper into the residential street that hems in the west side of the greenery. I don’t think I’ll ever get over the parks in London, how spacious and well-tended they are.

“Look there it is,” I said. “The sign I was talking about.”

Zanada walked ahead, oblivious, the deep orange streetlights demarcating her shadow across the rough surface of asphalt.

“Wait,” Sergiu said, and turned around, walking back to it, and starting to read. “I’m interested in this,” he said, and it was pretty funny just watching him angle his skinny frame over that damned sign in the pitch dark. Because I have to talk about everything. Including signs. Good job, Effy. Honestly!

Maybe we would all get along just fine, I thought.


We chose a spot in the center of the park. Normally I’d be fussy about the fact that there were probably bugs and gross things in the grass. I can’t stand pests. I’m a real girl about it. I didn’t think about it much in the dark though and sat down Indian-style. Zanada pulled her knees up to her chin. Sergio sat the same way as I did. His shoes were dark and his white laces stood out against them.

They were talking about the EU, and all of us were loosening up from the alcohol. We’d stepped into a small off-licence where he got two tall-boys, can’t remember what of, maybe Kronenberg, Zanada had two beers also, and I bought a pear cider. At the counter the man had ID’ed Zanada so I had my passport ready but then he waved it off. “I trust you,” the man said.

Sergio’s rare smile came out again from where he stood by the door. “I never get ID’ed anymore. Guess I look older than twenty-one,” he said.

“Jesus, you’re twenty-one?” I asked. “You’re just a baby.”

“Born in 1991,” Zanada said. “I don’t even know what to say when people tell me they’re born in the nineties.”

“You don’t look twenty-five,” I said to her.

“Neither do you,” he said.

I grinned. “Thanks? I guess?”

Zanada was saying how much she hated Angela Merkel, and how she doesn’t know how to feel about stereotypes pertaining to Germany. There were ads by The Economist at Canary Wharf arguing two points of view, one of them being Germany is Sinking Europe, complete with a caricature Merkel wearing Devil’s horns and holding a pitchfork. I thought it was in bad taste, but Zanada just thought Merkel herself was in bad taste.

“You’re from Romania, right?” she asked Sergiu.

He was pulling the tab open on the second beer. He was very neat about everything. “Not exactly,” he said.

“Well, you’re either from there or you’re not…”

He hesitated, then said, “I’m from somewhere close by, but it’s just easier to say I’m from Romania.”

“So where you from?”

“Uh, Moldova,” he said.

“Never heard of it,” she said.

“Few people have.” He smiled and I decided then that it was quite a nice smile. His entire face opened up when he smiled, the eyebrows going up, and he had brown, brown irises.

My pear cider diminished slowly as I accustomed to the taste, sweeter than beer, though with a similar undercurrent running through it. I leaned back onto my elbows in the grass.

They say you can’t see the stars in London. As we sat beneath the sky though, Zanada honed in on three points in particular.

She asked, “What is it called, the Big Bear?”

“Ursa Major,” I said. “I think that’s Latin.”

“Cassiopeia too,” she said, working a funny pronunciation into the joints of the word.

“Cass-EE-OH-PEE-AH,” I said. “She was a queen.”

“Not a very good one, I don’t think.”

“Her daughter was Andromeda, who married Perseus,” I said. Now I was just reeling off facts, partially because of the alcohol, partially because I’m just a dumbass who likes to fill spaces in the air with words.

“In New York City you can’t see the stars either,” I said aloud, remembering the first time I rode the bus from Madison Avenue on Manhattan Island north, into The Bronx. It was eleven at night, and the bus driver, a bold black man with an amazing smile, had given me his number on a slip of looseleaf. I was interviewing the next morning at Albert Einstein and the day after that at Mount Sinai on 60th Street between East Harlem and the Upper East Side. A month later I’d be back to interview at Yale. He said for me to let him know if I got into medical school in the City. That I deserved it.

I used to be in love with New York and its starless skies. But that was before Yale, and before a lot of things. Sometimes I think my life has split into two pieces: _before Yale_ and _after Yale_.

After Yale I didn’t know how to be happy anymore.

I was starting to get it back, just a little, first in Tofino, then in Europe, and this was the leading edge of it. I was holding it in my hands.


The best thing about this European trip is just figuring out, albeit slowly, that there are so many lives to be lived, in that there are so many options. You can choose to live differently. It’s not the norm everywhere to shunt yourself into non-stop post-secondary education as soon as you turn seventeen like I did.

Zanada said, “How are you supposed to know what you want to be when you’ve just finished high school?” It was then that I remembered she was the same age as me but only just came out with her baccalaureate. She had lived abroad for close to a year in England and Spain. She had taken another year off. Now she was doing an internship in London Fields that wasn’t even really in her field. Her field is social work. This job was more like charity work.

Sergiu said, “Charity work is all over London. It’s big here. But it’s kind of counterproductive, I think, that the people who fundraise get salaries for doing that shit.”

Sergiu works in marketing. He doesn’t seem to want to talk about it much, not when it’s not exactly what he wants to do either. He’s been in London for about two years. He used to live in the same house as Helena, that was how they met.

Were we all so fed up with our jobs? I thought. I’d a feeling that it just that age, the early to mid-twenties, when everybody’s a bit searching. And everyone feels so young. Many of the people I’ve met haven’t even finished undergrad yet. I didn’t want to think about Medicine, which was hard when I had to study it every day. Most days when I think about being a doctor I just want to vomit into a bin.

The lunch with Sergiu’s boss was going to be weird because he’s thinking of leaving in two months but he doesn’t want to tell his boss yet. I told him I understood. It was just playing games with options.

He asked Zanada where she’s travelled to in addition to England and Spain, and I was envious; she’s been all over.

“Go to Scotland,” she told us. “The people there are so friendly.”

“I’ll go,” said Sergiu. Later he’d say the same thing about Canada to me. He said it was a promise. I don’t know why anyone would want to come to Canada — it’s the most sterile country I can think of. People from other countries ask us what we’re proud of and invariably the answer is “international peacekeeping” and “universal health care”. Boring.

“At the party,” Zanada said to him, “You were talking about your year in Hong Kong, right? But I think I missed most of it. And then it was too late to ask about it. The moment had passed.”

“You can still ask about it,” Sergiu said. “I’m not stopping you.”

“Can you speak any Chinese?” I was wondering because Hong Kong is mostly Cantonese. “Mandarin? Or Cantonese?”

“A little.”

“I was under the impression that over there they’re not very Chinese anyway. I don’t think Hong Kong even wanted to come back to China,” I said.

“No, they didn’t,” he said. “You’re right.”

“Say something in Chinese,” I urged.

“What should I say?” he asked.

“That is always the problem,” Zanada said, who had leaned back to stretch her arms out, glaring closely at the stars in the sky. She looked beautiful, like a curly-haired mermaid, or Solange Knowles gone back to nature.

I turned back to Sergiu.

“Uh, hello,” I said. “I say it like _ni hao_.”

“_Lay-hao_,” Sergiu agreed. “In Cantonese.” He tried out the Mandarin, “_Ni hao_.” His intonations were funny.

I liked the way he spoke English though. Like James, his voice was mild, the syllables lightly touched. Maybe it was a guy thing. I always speak too fast, too emphatically, like I’ll misplace the words if I don’t get them out fast enough.

He said, “Wo hui shuo yi dian putonghua.”

“You know how to speak a little Mandarin,” I translated.

“Fa guo.”


“De guo.”


“_You_ say something,” he said, grinning.

“Uh…_wo jiao Elizabeth_.” I covered my face and peeked out through the interlaced fingers. “Ugh, I’m sorry. My pronunciation’s shit. Don’t try to learn from me!”

“_Wo jiao Sergiu_,” he said.

“You know,” I said. “You’re really good. Man, in Hong Kong I bet you got _all_ the girls…” That was when I remembered what happened with James, and hurriedly tacked on, “Or guys, or whatever.” I can’t assume anything about anybody anymore.

He looked at me kind of funny. Later I’d tell him about Tumblr’s free definitions of sexuality and he’d just say, “Pan-sexual? That’s funny. I’m definitely not…pan-sexual.”

“Well, they just mean that if they like I person it doesn’t matter what they are. They just like people. I thought it was poetic.” I really did. Apparently I learned a lot of PC things from Tumblr.

His eyes softened a little and he said, “It does sound very nice that way. I guess I understand.”

I was happy there in the park, and I already knew it was shaping up to be a good night. I was getting that old feeling again, that the fantastic moment was passing as I spoke, time trickling through my fingers. All I could do was sit there and participate and let it pass. I liked being part of that little triangular formation in the grass.

A police car cruised on one side of the street, the high-beam lights skipping harshly over us at one point, and Sergiu said, off-handedly, “Supposedly we’re not allowed to drink in the park.”

“You’re kidding, then what are we doing?” I asked. “Waiting to get arrested?”

“It’s loosely enforced,” Zanada said, a smile curving at the corner of her mouth. I knew that in Toronto it was definitely not allowed. That’s Toronto, though — Toronto the good, Toronto the blue, the City of Churches, where you used to have to hitch a ride across the US border to Buffalo on the weekend to get a drink.

Sergiu stood up and stretched out his legs. He was wearing tight jeans. A compact camera bag slung around his shoulders and rested at his hip.

“Should we go to the dubstep?” he asked. He had been playing a little for me with his iPhone set up in the grass. I’d never really heard dubstep before, just chillstep, and I was trying to explain it to him, that it was dubstep but “chill.”

I nodded. “Yeah. But I thought it was here?”

“Nope, gotta take the Overground.”

“So…why are we here?”

“He didn’t want to go to Hackney,” Zanada said, laughing, pointing to Sergiu.

He shook his head. “Hackney’s a shit area.”

“Really, I thought it was supposed to be hip?” I asked. That’s all I’d heard. There were these places in East London. They were looking for the new Dalston now; it was getting gentrified like everything else.

I remembered telling Linda, “I read in Buzzfeed that Peckham is the new Dalston,” and she had scoffed, “_Peckham_. Give me a break. All of South London is shit. That’s why the Tube map practically ends below Elephant and Castle.”

Sergiu answered, “Hip to party in maybe, but to live? Nah.”

“So we were just here for the park.” I tried to keep the amusement out of my voice but probably failed miserably.

“Essentially, yes.”

I got up and brushed the grass off my knees. “Alright, let’s go then,” I said. “Lead the way.”


We finally got to the club, FWD, near Dalston Junction. The entrance was like a hole in the wall and manned by like three bouncers. I felt like I had to stoop to get in. They stamped my wrist after checking my ID, in kind of a brown-orange ink that reminded me of iodine. A single set of stairs led past a coat check that couldn’t have been bigger than a house window to the bar and dance floor. It was smoking like crazy. Everybody was dancing facing the DJ.

“What do you drink?” Sergiu asked me. And it was with this question that I realized that with the music so loud we were all going to have to shout in each other’s ears the entire night. It was so interesting and intimate. Maybe this was part of the appeal.

I had to think for a moment. “Gin and tonic,” I said. That was still my drink of choice, but Zanada raised her eyebrow.

“Fancy,” she said.


“That’s like seven pounds or something.”

“Jesus,” I said, blushing. I hadn’t meant for the two of them to pay for me. “I’ll get the next round,” I promised, as she pulled me onto the dance floor with both arms.

In the strobe lights I could see Zanada had a very particular way of dancing, more like a kind of bouncing. She dances from her hips, sturdy and strong, whereas I’m definitely a billion times more awkward. Around us was a sea of tshirts, baggy jeans, and snapbacks. Sergiu’s collar and shirtcuffs glowed bright white from the black lights, the same as Zanada’s light-wash denim cut-offs.

I hadn’t worn any light colors, so I think the only thing lighting up on me was my teeth. I stretched my palms towards the ceiling and tilted my chin, inhaling the smoke to the base of my ribs, soaking up the music. I loved it already.

Two weeks before, my flatmate Zexi and I had gotten wrecked on tequila and scotch (my trusty bottle of Balvenie Doublewood), and headed to the 90s dance night at Monarch Tavern only to be practically the only ones there. The bar and DJs ended up closing the set early. I was so disappointed that my drunkenness had not been put to felicitous use. Well, in Dalston there were no such problems!

When Zanada went to use the toilet, Sergiu offered me some gum, but in the dark, I fumbled with the wrapper and dropped one. Before I could remember it wasn’t good to eat dropped things, I had stooped down and picked it up, spilling some of my drink in the process. Sergiu quickly took it out of my hand and shook his head. “Another,” he said.

“I’m sorry,” I shouted into his ear.

“Don’t be,” he said. “I used to do this all the time. One time in a club I spilled beer on this posh guy’s shoes, lambskin or something. He was not impressed.”

I laughed. “You’re funny.”

“He didn’t think so.” Sergiu grinned.

We danced for a while and then he said maybe we should go out and take a few beers at the shop. I had no idea what they meant at first. First of all, we were allowed to leave the club? And then we were going to drink more at a shop and go back in? London was fascinating. Or I was just a dork.

There was a shop at the next corner and we piled in, searching. Zanada grabbed me another cider.

We went outside to drink near some bike racks. At this time of night, Dalston was hopping with activity, girls in short clingy dresses and full makeup and towering heels, boys half-soused already, a little rowdy and looking to pull. Sergiu left us alone for like one second and a guy was in Zanada’s face. All I remember was that he was dark-skinned and wore an amazing film-reel belt.

When Sergiu came back I was wondering how in the world she could deal with these weirdos and still be so chill with a smile on her face. “Is she okay?” he asked.

“She’s just fine,” I said. But I was really thinking about myself. Whether I could handle this feeling again after so long.

I went to the toilet three times that night in the club and each time, I remember leaning my head against the side of the stall, reading the rude writing there (VAGINA. CUNT. YEAH I’M TALKING TO YOU) with a sort of disinterested unfocus, willing myself to calm down and shut up. Let it flow.

I never make anything easy for myself. Sometimes I think my entire life runs solely on guilt. And I’ve been through graduate school, so I know every kind of guilt there is.


It’s weird; as a medical student I’ve always gotten terrible marks on knowledge and diagnosis, great marks on bedside manner. I’ve been told that I give myself away too easily, that I wear my heart on my sleeve. It’s not a conscious decision — I can’t really help but get swept along in things — but one thing I’ll say about it is I think it also makes it easier for people to share reciprocal intimacy with me. Linda, the last time I stayed with her at Bethnal Green, only said that I should be careful because some people will take advantage of my sincerity and earnestness. I wouldn’t always meet the type of people who would respond well to me, she meant.

So I felt privileged at Sergiu’s response, when, after a few cigarettes, he stood at the kerb, half-on half-off, and told me about his parents.

Earlier he’d said he’d quit smoking, but halfway through our conversation, he looked a bit antsy and said, “I’m going need some cigarettes.” He ducked back into the shop for a pack of Marlboros.

“I’ve only smoked twice,” I said, in what I suppose is my FYI-item-of-interest voice. “That was all only a few weeks ago.”

“Well you’re about to smoke your third,” he said, popping open the top of the box. “Yeah?”

I could do with something in my hands.

“Yeah, alright,” I said.

He bummed a lighter off the same guy who had been macking on Zanada earlier in exchange for one of the cigs, lit both, and handed one to me. I still didn’t know how to hold it properly. Maya used to laugh at me doing this in Toronto. Stinging smoke filled my lungs, and upon taking deeper draws, I coughed.

“About parents,” he said, his head tilting to the side to let the smoke slip out. “I feel guilty about mine. They’ve been working hard so that I can do these things, like travel, and come to school here.”

“You hope to give back to them,” I parsed. I knew only too well what that felt like.

“It’s not even hope,” he said. “I want it to be real.”

“Are you the only one?” I asked.

“In the family it’s just me. The only child.”

“Extra pressure, then.”

“I just feel like I should do something, but I don’t have the ability to right now,” he said, sighing heavily.

“You will,” I said. “You sound like there’s a real intention and plan behind your thought. Maybe you can’t take the action now, but you will. You’ve got to stay ambitious,” I said.

Maybe everything I say is trodden and cliched, but I know that I really do believe it. We are all victims of the stories we’ve been telling ourselves, about things we can’t do, privileges we weren’t born with. I have been listening to the story my mother has been telling me for ages, about how useless I am, how weak, how I’m nothing without her, how God would punish me, and it was the hardest thing in the world to cut her off. Even now that I haven’t spoken to her in nearly two years, I can hear her voice everywhere. I always doubt myself because I know she would.

Standing with Sergiu I could see the gravity and maturity in his face when he said this. I was thinking maybe he didn’t just say this stuff to anyone. I could see traces of the vulnerable side to him, the side behind the dry humor, the unvarying monotone of his voice.

He was still twenty-one, even if he hated my reminding him of it. I guess I trick myself too, the way I speak to him. As though there were a difference between us. I’m just as vulnerable, most definitely more scared, and he’s been in a foreign country for the last two years, alone, doing just fine while I’ve had breakdown after breakdown in my own home, supposedly with everything in the world going for me, a future so bright that I kind of blinded myself with it and now don’t know where to go.


This time when we went back inside I still had my coat with me, which made dancing a bit awkward, so Sergiu leaned in close to my ear and shouted, “Do you want me to take your coat?”

Earlier I’d already let him take my passport. I’d no idea where he put it, maybe in the pocket of his jeans. To be honest I didn’t need someone to look after it for me, since bag check was free. I was thinking differently — that it was an investment in our friendship — I would trust him with something that was important to me. I wouldn’t do that with someone I didn’t trust.

In answer to his question, I shook my head. “No, that’s alright!”

He made a face. “Are you sure?”

“Yes. Don’t worry. It’s fine.”

“I really think you should let me take it.”

“Are you insisting?”

He paused before answering, “If you’re asking, then, yes, I’m insisting,” he said, and pulled it from my arms.

I laughed. “Fine.” What a gentleman.

Then I was free. And this was different than dancing at Koko with the girls, who were far more concerned about who was going to pull that night. I felt more comfortable with these two, and gave myself over to the music. I wanted it to take me away.


After a while Sergiu wanted to go outside for a bit. Zanada wanted to keep dancing. He had asked her if we should take some air and she pointed to me and said, “Effy, it’s up to you. I’m staying here.” At my confused face because the music was so loud she pushed me and added, “Go with him.”

“Do you need your coat?” he asked me as we mounted the staircase.

“Nah,” I said. I was still heated in my dress from the alcohol.

We went back to our old spot by the bike racks. I liked how even though it was coming on one in the morning, the situation on the street had only grown more rowdy and boisterous; this was my kind of town.

I don’t really remember what we were talking about. Probably grave, serious things because I have an awful knack for putting things on that tack. It was really nice to be able to talk to someone so easily. Only one time did Sergiu have to dash for a second because his cigarette had gone out.

“Fuck,” he swore quietly.

“You’re chain-smoking,” I observed, not judging, just amused. “I mean, I don’t care.”

“Just… Stay here,” he told me, pointing to the spot, as though he thought I might leave while he went to get a light.

Right — where the fuck would I go?

Zanada had been inside for ages while we spoke, and when Sergiu came back I asked, “What do you think happened to her?”

“She’s probably looking to pull,” he said.

“You really think so?” I asked.

“Why not?”

“I told her I’d better not find her having sex with some guy on the dance floor,” I said, mock-grumpily. “I may be prepared for almost everything, but I don’t carry any condoms!”

It turned out it wasn’t sex, but she did bring a guy back when she finally came out. He was tall, middle-eastern-looking, with a full beard. He shook hands with Sergiu and then me. Boy, I thought, this guy was polite for someone who wanted to do whatever with Zanada. And then they went back inside together.

Sergiu looked over at me. “Come on,” he said, “Let’s get you some water.”

We had to go farther down the street this time because it was after two am. He paid for the two waters and I tried to ignore how the shopkeeper was leering at me. Sometimes I feel bare. I still can’t get used to being a young woman sometimes. I used to think that I’d always be a sweet little girl like Shirley Temple or something, and older men would act grandfatherly towards me because I reminded them of their daughters. I don’t know when exactly on the way I had to accept the fact that a lot of people just see you as tits and ass. I was glad I was there with friends. I felt taken care of. Linda says that I seem to have this effect on people, that they want to take care of me.

“Another cigarette?” Sergiu had one in his mouth already.

I shook my head. “Not this time.”

“You have to,” he said, grinning.

“I don’t,” I said, earnestly. “That’s the thing. I’m learning how to say no. I can do what I want. You were the one who told me I should do what I want. So yeah.”

He laughed in my face. “You are…winning the most interesting girl award, I think.” His smoke pulsed orange between his fingers. It felt like he was stress-smoking. I wondered what that felt like, the need, the want, the compulsion.

Well, I sort of already knew. I had told Sasha only the day before, “Let this be known as the summer that I became an alcoholic.”

“Cheers,” Sasha had said. “And me-fucking-too, by the way.”

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