"Has anyone seen Jason?" The girl asking was ignored, as she struggled to push through the crowds of people milling about the Maple Grove College. Students everywhere littered the campus, lounging on the grass under the shaded trees, sitting on the steps to one of the old stone buildings. Talking in loud, hushed murmurs excitedly in the quad. Spring break was on the horizon, midterms had just finished & everyone was busy planning their week long break. No one had time for a girl who looked like she had just stepped out of Strung Out Goth magazine. "Excuse me!" She grabbed the arm of a petite blonde. "Do you know Jason? Jason Mroz?" She asked hurriedly, half slurring his last name. The blonde made a face. "Ew! Let go of me!" She shook her arm out of the girls limp grip. "Jason! Do you know him?" She asked again. The blonde gave her another disgusted look. "Look, I don't know you or Jason..I think you need to leave me alone now." The girl turned back to her friends with a silent "what the fuck" look, as they chuckled. The girl felt her heart sink lower then it already had. Didn't Jason say he knew people who went to Maple Grove? Maybe she had heard wrong? The drugs sometimes made her think one thing or even see something & it wasn't true. She shook her head, trying to clear the fog creeping in, her black dreads slapping her cheeks, reminding her of spider legs & she cringed inwardly. She couldn't have a bad trip, not here, not right now. She needed to find Jason. Or at least someone who knew him.
I was smoking a cigarette on the outskirts of the main quad. Trying my best to avoid the crushes & swirls of students. Everyone was buzzing about a trip to Cabo, a trip to Palm Beach. If it wasn't that, it was speculation how on well or bad someone did on their midterms. I don't like people & I do my best to avoid them, I had just run the gauntlet of midterms myself & was in no position to surround myself with the population of Maple Grove. Talking about spring break or pretending like I gave a shit about who was going where with who was not my forte. I planned to spend my spring break on the sofa with six blunts or more, a thirty rack of beer, Netflix & call it a fucking party. A girl caught my eye. Not only was her clothing a stark contrast from most of Maple Grove, in black, ripped fishnets, a short black skirt & black tank top with dreads coiled like snakes hanging down, but so was her jerky, erratic behavior. She seemed to be going in circles, trying to gain attention from different people. Most ignored her, a few laughed, the poor girl looked like she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I inhaled sharply on my cigarette as I watched this girl. "Midterms tend to crack some people up." A voice next to me caused me to start. "Jesus fuckin' Christ! Lupin.." I snarled. He held up his hands in mock surrender as he shook his head, to move the shaggy brown hair from his eyes. "My bad, my bad.." Lupin Kristoff said seriously, but his blue eyes sparkled with unshed laughter. Lupin was about the only student at Maple Grove College I could stand. We met freshman year when a couple of upperclassmen decided to give him a hard time. He was dressed in his usual skater boy gear & that was a far cry from the usual preppy attire. Lupin was pansexual & proud of it, which also set him aside from the norms at Maple Grove & had made him a target freshman year. We became fast friends when I had stepped in between him & those upperclassmen. In turn not only did Lupin supply me with some of the best weed, but he was a lot more social than I was, Lu as I sometimes called him kept me up to date with most of the gossip. "She doesn't go here..does she?" I asked as I glanced at him. "Already two steps ahead of you.." Lupin leaned against the tree next to me. "I was over on the other side of main when I first saw her, asked around..turns out she's been on campus for an hour..my boy Tristan said she was looking for a guy..named Jason Mroz." He let that hang in the air as I felt my entire body stiffen at the mention of a ghost from the past.
"I thought I should find you when I heard who she was looking for, also she does not go here." Lupin finished quietly. I could feel Lu's eyes on me, he was trying to see how the name Jason Mroz affected me. I had years perfecting a poker face & body when things bothered me, but Lupin had an almost uncanny ability to read me. "Maybe you should talk to her." Lupin continued when I said nothing. I went to inhale on my cigarette, grimacing when I realized there was nothing but filter there. I flicked the butt into the gutter. "Why? She's clearly on drugs anyways, look at her." I tried to motion flippantly towards the girl who was still in her own world, trying to gain someones attention. Lupin sighed & it was all I could do to not turn around & tell him to mind his own fucking business. "Look, I don't know exactly what happened to you & Jason, this was before my time & you don't talk much about it, I've only heard you mention the name & something about not talking to him anymore when we were drunk that one time, so I know there's pain there...maybe talking to this girl...can help, who knows?" He shrugged. "Plus she seems to really need to talk to someone who knows Jason.." He trailed off. "Some shit needs to stayed buried." I snapped at him. "This girl, whoever she is, is clearly fucked up she probably only knows Jason through I don't know..but it's not my business, not anymore!" Lupin gave me a sad look. I shook out another cigarette from my pack & wedged it between my lips as I slipped the bic out of my hip pocket. I lit up & inhaled the sweet poison. "You should slow down on the smoke." Lupin half joked. "Oh shit, I got class last one of the day, we can meet up later if you want? I got that new herb." He winked at me, I nodded. "Sounds good man. Give a text." He shook his head in agreement. "Aight, later!" I watched him walk away, disappearing into the crowds of students. I watched the smoke from my cigarette curl up into the warm air & was suddenly lost down memory lane.
"It's not your job to save me! I like her! You can't tell me who I can & can't talk to!" "Jason please! Listen to me! It's not okay! What you're doing, it's going to hurt you!" "What are you my mother?!" "Jason! Please, you need to think about this!" "I did think about it! Just because you don't like it or approve of it doesn't mean shit! This is MY life!" "I am trying to help!" "You can help by staying the fuck out of my life, you know..everyone was right about you..you're nothing!" "You don't mean that.." "Yeah I fucking do." The door slams shut.
The girl was wild-eyed with fear now, the drugs were slamming through her body, but she couldn't give up, not yet. "Hey." A voice spooked her, as she whirled around her heart banging against her rib cage. "Whoa..easy..I'm not going to hurt you.." She looked at the guy in front of her, her vision slightly blurry. He was cute. "I hear you're looking for Jason Mroz." The voice sounded distant a bit. She shook her head yes. "Look, I didn't know the guy, but..I know someone who does." "Who?!" She pleaded & she hated the fact her voice sounded so desperate. She watched him point a finger towards the edge of the quad they were in. She saw a girl around her age, dressed dark blue jeans, black combat boots & a black hoodie despite the warm spring air. The girl was standing stoic, she could see the smoke from a cigarette swirling around. "She knows him..she might be able to help you." the guy responded. "Thank you!" She blurted out but the guy was already gone. Had she imagined him? She shook her head, trying to clear her vision as she walked towards the girl. She had promised Jason, she wished he had given her a name to help him, but the phone call had been so short & she had already dosed.
"Excuse me..I hear you know Jason..Jason Mroz." The shaky voice snapped me back to reality, gone were the voices & the slamming of a door. Standing in front of me was the girl I had been watching. God damn Lupin. I knew he had sent her my way.
"What's it to you?"
"We need to talk about Jason, he needs your help..he's in a bad way."
I looked at the girl standing in front of me, her pupils were tiny pinpricks, even in the glaring sun. She was juiced up pretty good & talking about a boy who was too painful to even mention by name for me. "He's in a bad way." The words, slurred a bit by the drugs that I knew were coursing through her blood had a sharp, singular twinge to them. It unnerved me. I saw her eyeing my pack of smokes greedily but too polite for a junkie to ask for one. "You want one?" I asked suddenly. Her eyes, a pretty hazel-green with thick, clumpy mascara gobbed on the ends peered at me anxiously. "Here." I had slid two smokes out & offered her one, surprised at my seeming kind behavior; I usually had no tolerance for junkies let alone those who bummed smokes off people to ease their highs. She snatched the cigarette from me, like a small child stealing a candy bar. "You're welcome." I snorted. "I'm sorry.." Her voice cracked at the end as she swiped at a thick, black dreadlock moving it out of her face. I said nothing as I offered her my Zippo & watched as she expertly flicked it open. She was no stranger to using one or smoking, or injecting things into her body; I saw the tiny track marks on her arm. Little holes where venom had been pumped into her tiny body, wasting a life that could have been so much more. She lit up the cigarette & inhaled a lungful of smoke as if her life depended on it. She shakily returned my Zippo & I followed suit. Once we were both smoking like two little chimneys, I finally said it. "Why are you here? Asking about Jason Mroz?" I could barely get his name out, the stab of pain lodged in my heart. She flicked the ash from her cigarette & whispered "Jas said you were his friend, said you went here, asked me to find you, said you'd help him..said you help people like him.." I gave her a look. "Jas is it? That was another life okay? I don't know what exactly he told you but we aren't really friends..not anymore." I swallowed the growing lump in my throat. She glanced at me, even with her eyes pinned to hell I saw an earnest longing there, the longing to be believed. "I know what you think of me." She spat suddenly & I was taken back by the harshness that tumbled from her black painted lips. I remained nonplussed, I had years of practice to remain as calm & neutral no matter how someone reacted to me. "What exactly do I think of you...?" I let it be a question, hanging in the smoky air between us, taut as a steel cable. "You think I'm crazy or just a whacked out junkie, I see how people stare at me here, like I don't belong..like I'm trash. How I was asking for over an hour about Jason & no one cared, no one paid me any mind." She finished bitterly, flicking the ash from her cigarette again, letting a small breeze blow it away.
I sucked hard on the inside of my cheek before responding. "Well, as you said you are a junkie & people here..well, they're all assholes anyways, I wouldn't take it personally..it's a college full of well-to-doers & upper middle class douchebags. I don't even like most of them." "So why do you go here?" "They have a good psychology department." She glared at me as if she knew I was full of shit. I had chosen this college because it was the last place anyone would think to look for me. Anyone except Jason. She threw down the still smoldering cigarette & stomped on it with a black Doc Martin, scuffed & used from years of wear. "You don't care about Jas do you?" She said this in accusing tone, as if I had come right out & said it myself. I blinked. "The fuck makes you think that?" I asked, using the same tone only less accusing & more threatening. I don't take kindly to any accusation someone can't back up with fact. Her eyes turned a dark green as she hissed "Because I finally found someone who knows him, someone who could help him! & all you do is question who the fuck I am, why do I care? Well, Jas is MY friend okay? & he needs my help & my help was tracking down YOU I guess & if I could, I would march the hell away from you & tell Jas you don't give a shit about him--" She stopped talking as I slammed her little junked out body against the tree I had been leaning on. Her eyes cleared back to their regular hazel-green as they registered shock & even a sliver of fear. "What are you doing?!" She managed to gasp out as she reached a hand up to claw my arm that I had pressed against her throat. I released my arm against her throat but quickly grabbed her hand. "Hey!" She yelped. I roughly turned her arm over exposing the track marks that marred her pale skin. I looked at them, the angry black holes, some raw & red around the edges begging for a good dousing in rubbing alcohol & a body that didn't use.
"Listen up you junkie skank, Jason or Jas as you call him..you know nothing about how I feel towards him, you know nothing of our past. How dare you come here, smacked to fucking hell & tell me how I do or don't feel towards him. You wanted someone who knew him? Well I DID. I did know him..past tense, but it looks like you know him better now..tell me, is he as strung out as you?" I let the words fall cruelly from my lips, not regretting a single one even as I watched fat tears well up in her eyes. I looked back down to her arm. "You dance with the dragon long enough, you become nothing but smoke & bone." I whispered. She finally yanked her wrist out of my grip. "Fuck you!" She yelled loudly. A few people milling around the quad glanced in our direction, I flipped them off. "Fuck me? Didn't you come to me, asking for my help--no Jason sent you & you're surprised by my reaction which tells me that you might know our precious Jasssss as much as you think you do." I sneered. She swiped a tear from her cheek, smearing the mascara along the way. "You're a bitch..I can't believe Jas said you were his friend!" "Were, again past tense." I sniped. I was being a bitch but I didn't care, this girl, this stranger had come out of nowhere, stirring up the past..old wounds began leaking blood. "Did you love him?" She blurted out. This time the mask slipped as I stared at her. "You did..you fucking did." She whispered. God this girl, as junked out as she was managed to slip under my skin & tear apart the soft insides. I picked up my messenger bag. "If you ever loved him..you'll help him!" She begged, gone was the angry girl, replaced by the pleading desperate girl, the one who comes out when her high has vanished; only she was still skyrocketing toward oblivion. "I can't fucking help him." I replied as my body sang with adrenaline, fighting with itself in panic mode. "Why! What happened with you two?" That was the final straw, I whipped back around & looked at her, she shrank back in fear. "You want to know what happened? YOU happened." "Me??" Her voice raised an octave as she questioned it. "Yeah, you & people like you..with your smack, with your promises of making shit better, here take a hit, take a snort, line it up, it makes the pain better. Your daddy can't hurt you anymore, your uncle can't touch you, it blurs the lines--this world beats the other one & no one can save you." Her eyes widened as she took in what I was saying. "Jas..I met him under the bridge a year ago..he was trying to score from these guys, they beat him up & took his money..I was hiding in a cardboard box..I saw the whole thing..when it was over, I..I shared my hit with him." "Well, aren't you a god damn fucking saint." I whispered. She licked her lips, the black lipstick was fading to a dark, angry purple, the color of a bruised plum.
I turned to leave. I was done. Jason's problems were his own not mine on top of it I couldn't quell the buzzing under my skin, it was hard to breathe. I flinched when I felt her grab my arm. "You tried to save him..from my world didn't you?" Her nails dug sharply into my skin even through the hoodie. I shook her hand away. "You can't save those who don't want to be saved. He was my best friend & yeah, I fucking loved him. The nights when his father beat him, I picked him up & we'd spend the entire night just talking. Until he met a girl like you, a girl with gold hair & cornflower blue eyes, skinny, rotted out inside but on the outside she was perfect. She made his pain go away in a fashion I guess I couldn't, no matter the hugs or kisses or love, her junk was what he craved. Jason chose your world, he chose it & he left me behind because I wouldn't follow him into the abyss." She was silent. "I think he's lucky to have had you..I didn't have anyone to try to save me from this world..maybe if I had, maybe it be different." I shrugged. "Or maybe you'd just be another Jason..a fucking wannabe lost cause, who chooses a life that kills." Her eyes flicked to below my collarbone where a crudely etched J was inked on my flesh. After a brutal night at the hands of his father, both Jason & I inked our first letter of our name onto each other, a silent symbol that no matter what happened..we wouldn't be lost to each other. "He still has your, I assume it's your first letter of your name on his chest..I ask him about it & sometimes..back when, he'd talk about you...said you were the most kickass girl he ever knew..said he was sorry things turned out the way they did. My insides were cold mush, I had no idea Jason still spoke of me, I rarely did of him. "Will you please help him.." She asked again. This time I found myself nodding my head because as much as I wanted to let the past go, it seemed I was forever shrouded in it. "What happened?" I watched her eyes dart around as if spies lurked within the leafy tree above us. "I..I don't know exactly what happened..he called me earlier, it was so short, he said to find you, said you went here, said you'd help..then the line went dead." She shivered. "How'd he even know I was here?" I wondered out loud. She gave a half smile "Jas always said how smart you were, how your..talents for the criminal world could always be used for good, how he..would try to get you to take classes..I guess maybe..he assumed you took him up on it?" I bit my lip hard, tasting blood, warm & metallic. "I know Jas got in pretty deep with some guys..he was trying to sell the..the smack.." She winced as she said it, as if I would clock her for even saying the name. "But he's a user.." I replied. She nodded, her black dreads swinging heavily against her face. "They worked him over real good the first time some stuff went missing..they assumed he had skimmed it.." "Did he?" She shrugged her thin shoulders. "I don't know, I mean a junkie is a junkie.." I sighed. "So you have no idea what trouble he's in, just that it's bad?" She nodded again. "Alright, I'll help him, whatever it is..I'll help him..but I'll need your help too, this is your world..I need the ins & outs of it..you'll be my guide understood?" She nodded vehemently in agreeance. "Also, I'll be bringing in a close friend of mine, his name is Lupin..he's good people, in fact you two met earlier." I could see her brain working backwards through the heroin soaked haze as her eyes lit up. "Oh! He must have been the boy who told me to talk to you!" I rolled my eyes. "Yeah, that was Lupin. Also one last thing, if I do this..if I help whatever he got into..that's it. His issues are his own, you don't ever find me again..you don't speak my name, you don't look for me..it's done do you understand?" I watched her as she mulled this over. Finally, she agreed again to my terms. "Can I ask why though?" She looked at me under her thick lashes.
"Because there are worse people out there than whoever Jason is dealing with.." I whispered.
"How do you figure?" was her response.
"Because..monsters are real." I replied.