Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language.
Petra guided me into her room, still holding my hand. The feeling of her warm, rough skin against mine quickened the hurricane of emotions in my head, so I quickly tugged my hand away, struggling as it was to string together coherent words to make a thought. She let me pull away, eyeing me curiously.
I allowed myself to drop shakily onto her bed, and pictured what a mess I must be. Damp, frizzy bob of hair, tear stains running down my cheeks, soaked clothes, muddy shoes, eyes rimmed in red. Gods, what a dragon crash. I couldn't even hold myself upright to stand.
Petra sat down next to me. "Frieda?" she said softly. "What happened?"
"My life," I muttered sarcastically.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
My eyes wandered her room, taking in the disorganized pile of clothes on her chair in the far corner, and the colourful rug she had made herself that softened the splintered wooden floor. Her carving of a sailboat from that morning lay on a small table beside her bed, nearing completion.
Following my gaze, Petra smiled. "Do you like it? I made it for you, actually."
"Oh Pietro," I said, using my nickname for her. "You didn't have to."
"Of course I did! It's to commemorate your six month anniversary of not living with your family!"
I paused, roughly reminded of why I was such a wreck in the first place.
"Petra...they fired me," I said abruptly, unable to think of another way to say it.
She paused, taken aback. "What? Oh Frieda, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I--is there anything I can do?" She scootched closer, concern wrinkling her usually lighthearted face.
"I don't know--it's not like I love the job, it's just that I needed that money, and I was so close, literally a month away, from finishing my apprenticeship--and, I just thought that for once in my life things were gonna work out, you know? Ugh, hell! He didn't even tell me why, he said he was unable to disclose the details or some such idiotic nonsense." A curly lock of hair fell across my forehead and I let it veil my eyes.
She listened to me vent, patiently, waiting for me to finish before speaking. "That's really horrible, Freddie. It's their loss, firing you. They don't deserve you if they treat you like shit and fire you with no explanation."
I bit my lip and frowned. "I'm sorry Petra, I shouldn't be bothering you with my problems. I'll find another job, figure something out... I won't move back home, that's for sure." I felt a weight lift off the bed as Petra stood up.
"Frieda, you're not bothering me. We're friends, so I want to help you."
We're friends? Why did that sound odd?
"Do you want something to drink? Some coffee, perhaps?"
I squint up at her, letting a smirk play with my mouth, despite the turmoil of feelings crashing through my head. "How about something stronger, say... rum and coke?"
Petra pursed her lips, but didn't argue. I heard her footsteps recede softly down the hallway towards my bedroom, the only room in the apartment with any alcohol in it. I sat on her bed, feeling stupid and immature. My muddy boot prints had made an unforgiving path across the carefully woven carpet, and my hair was dripping sadly onto the clean bedding, slowly trickling away just like my self-respect. I never let myself fall apart like this, never let my emotions take control of me, yet here I was a complete and awful wreck. People got fired regularly, it wasn't a phenomenon, and it wasn't the end of the world. Get a grip, dejamari! I yelled at myself, clutching my face. Hearing Petra returning, I smoothed my hair and pasted fake serenity onto my face.
When she returned to the room, bearing two bottles and a glass, I was propped on the edge of the bed, looking, I hoped, like a picture of calmness and logic. "Look at you," she said, sarcasm riffing through her voice. "Already managed to hide her emotions, has she?"
"I'm fine," I answered, though she hadn't really asked a question. "Just a bad day, nothing a small drink and a moment to recover won't fix."
Shaking her head, which ruffled her thick black hair, Petra handed me the glass. "Say when," she muttered, as she slowly poured a feeble stream of rum.
"Petra, that's a baby's dose. Fill it up a little more."
"Babies don't drink rum."
Ignoring her, I watched the amber liquid fill the glass. "That's good." She quickly topped the glass with coke, eyeing me worriedly.
"You could try talking about stuff, instead of drowning things in virulent alcohol barely fit for a human."
I stood up, disgusted with myself and fed up with her. "I'll see you later."
"I"m sorry?" Her forehead wrinkled at my abrupt change of mood, but I didn't care to be polite.
Leaving quickly so I wouldn't have to feel her disappointment, I retreated to the safe isolation of my room.
The hallway to my room seemed less pitiful and more malevolent than that morning. I paced my room, stumbling through suffocating minutes like heavy drifts of snow. I didn't know how many minutes gathered on my shoulders like snowflakes, slowly accumulating, but eventually I fell onto my bed in exhaustion. My mind felt frozen, my ears seemed filled with the white powder, and my hands were numb and clumsy. Is this what death feels like? I wondered, only half-conscious. Then I passed out in a haze of sparkling white.
I awoke to the soothing feeling of someone rubbing my back in a circular motion. Bells were clanging relentlessly in my ears, and I could've sworn someone had dropped a grand piano on my head.
"Freddie? Are you awake?" Petra brushed a ringlet off my face.
"Petrrra?" I moaned, closing my eyes as soon as I opened them. "Deje', Petra, close the blinds!"
"They are closed, you dimwit, and the only thing lighting your room are stars in the sky."
"I feel awful."
"I hope you don't vomit, this time," she said, with false sympathy slicing through her voice.
"You have no heart, Pietro."
"Not for you, I don't."
"What happened to being a good friend who listens?" I asked with mock distress.
Petra stood up and crossed to my side of the bed. "I'm going to work now, I hope I can trust you not to do something stupid?"
"I'm not your responsibility," I groaned. "And you can't mean it's already 10 pm?" I hadn't really registered that Petra had just mentioned stars in the sky; I thought it was some symbolic way of criticizing my morals or something. But since she worked night shifts, if she was going to work then it had to be getting late. She repaired wands for the government, so that if someone important broke their wand while being heroic in the middle of the night, they could get it repaired immediately. Ironic, considering we lived above the sketchiest wand shop in the city.
"Yes, you lethargic koala. You slept from yesterday afternoon through to tonight. So I reckon it's high time you get up and try being productive." She dropped several sheets of paper onto my bedside table. "Work wanted ads." Offering me an encouraging smile, Petra grabbed her bag off the floor and strode out of my room.
I stared absentmindedly at the papers, my brain still swishing within my skull. I slid them towards me, though the letters were blurry and seemed to flutter under the cool moonlight. "Bakery chef needed!" one heading announced in looping letters. I was a lumbering elephant in the kitchen, so that was pointless to pursue. "Dragon trainer desired immediately at Jover Zoo!" another section begged with agitated font. Below was a picture of a Tsqali-Shui dragon, who let out a lonely roar when I made eye contact with it. My ears filled with the excruciating echo, I quickly stuffed the sheet under the stack of papers. This was pointless, I realized. As long as my head was pounding and my eyes were blurring the world into an indistinguishable smudge of colour, I might as well have been asleep.
I gathered the pages to tuck into my drawer, but one slipped away and wafted across the room, riding the evening breeze that drifted through the drafty window. Sighing, I balanced my way across the room in dizziness, reaching the paper that had slid against the far wall. Leaning down, I glanced at the title. "Foot soldiers wanted for the Forces of Jadian Offense. If you wish to rise in the ranks of the army, this is the place to start!" Bold script slanted across the page, begging me to read it.
Stumbling back to my bed, I pictured myself standing in a line of valiant knights, prepared to vanquish our enemies. I shivered, trembling with frustrated aspirations. I would never get into the army, and the sooner I accepted that, the sooner I could get on with my life.