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Nicotine

A short story

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Most mornings are blurry. Most nights are faded. It doesn’t feel like his eyes are his own anymore. Everything seemed foreign, as though, by some chance, he was looking out a pair of unadjusted lenses. Everything felt like it was drifting away, moving a great distance from all he’s ever known. Everything, all the bits and pieces that make him who he is, gradually turning into ash, floating with the air.

Noel woke up on his couch, ripped and rugged with white padding peaking out of some patches. Noel accesses that it’s morning, judging by the bright sun rays reflecting on his skin. That’s what he had to do — access time by the sun. The clock on the wall, one with printed tree leaves and ravens, needed a battery change that he was too lazy to make, and after a drunken fit — one that left anger bubbling in his stomach — he threw his phone to the wall.

A knock to his door comes eventually. Noel ignores it.

All his life he never felt particularly special. But it wasn’t until college did he feel like he lacked relevance — felt like that guy in the background — never the main character, merely just a person, an extra; the one with a grey face and dull eyes.

In his senior year of college, it got significantly worse. Everyone says it’s the drugs that destroyed him. He thinks they’re right, sometimes, though, if you get him drunk enough, he’ll admit to you that it’s no one’s fault but his own. Noel had no meaning to strive on, only breathing but barely living, waiting for the nicotine that demolishes his lungs to spread over the entirety of his body, so he can finally collapse. Self-destruct. Become nothing but a spark that blew out.

The knob on the front door clicks. Damn it, he thinks. She has a key. She’s coming in. She, being Mae, a friend, a friend Noel didn’t deserve. And more importantly, a friend Noel didn’t want.

When the door bursts open, revealing Mae with her pointy nose and defined eyebrows — she stares. Staring was weird. The look Mae gave him was confining, making him want to growl in annoyance. He didn’t want her bright eyes looking into his tedious ones. He didn’t want her to question how much lack of sleep he must’ve gotten to have such purple bags drowning his eyelids. What could she possibly want? When will she realize that it’s too late, that he doesn’t want her around?

“You’re killing yourself,” Mae looks at him, hushed and sorrowful. “You don’t even care that you’re literally just — offing yourself.”

Noel ignores her.

The thought doesn’t shake him, doesn’t stop him from the crave to feel the high, the urge to feel the warmth of smoke flowing, as it seeks into his veins. It doesn’t stop him from digging through his pockets for a lighter, placing a cigarette in-between his dirty, stubby fingers — inhaling the bad, exhaling the good. The only good parts of him left, gone in an instant each time, leaving him with nothing but despair.

When you aren’t around people for so long, it feels like your senses heighten the next time somebody’s near you. Noel doesn’t have to look at Mae to hear her steady breaths as she sits next to him, careful not to make him move an inch from the impact of adding weight to the couch, like he’s a piece of glass that’s on the verge of falling over.

“Why are you doing this?” Mae asks in her most pleading tone, and he can feel her eyes on him as he stares at the walls. His plain walls. She places one of her cold hands on his stripped arm, causing a shiver to run down his spine. He nudges her away after two seconds.

“You’ll have to talk to me eventually,” Mae whispers. He can tell she’s trying to be patient.

He looks to her incredulously. “I — I don’t want,” he swallows, voice hoarse, throat dry. “I don’t want to talk. I don’t want you here.”

Noel can see the skin on Mae’s face tighten. “You want me to give up. I won’t.”

He doesn’t know how to tell her that he’s already gone. That it’s pointless. Because telling him it wasn’t healthy, that he needed to stop, that he was killing himself; those words have no affect on him. Not anymore. And sometimes he wonders, late at night, whether two months ago, two years, even — if it was too late. If Mae hadn’t befriended all those people in her sorority those dreaded years ago, leaving him in the shadows. If somebody had heard and understood his raging call for attention earlier, before he went off the rails — if it would have helped.

Noel supposes he’ll never know.

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Written by Kat Marielle

Kat is a writer, avid reader, and constant dreamer. Her likes include fictional characters and the occasional musical. She wishes to publish novels one day.