She stepped into the shower and tried to imagine the warm water washing the stress away. It was another trick her therapist taught her. Some days, though, there just wasn’t enough hot water to accomplish it. She closed her eyes while she washed her hair and tried to visualize her blessings…all listed out on a chart in front of her, resplendent with photos as well. She was alive…that one was always on top. It was a miracle she’d lived through her late teens and early twenties. She had done so many drugs over the years, taken so many pills, smoked whatever was handed to her, drunk whiskey by the bottle…the very fact that she was still breathing was enough to give her hope on her good days. On the bad ones, she still added it to the list, but she wondered if anyone was really any better off because of it.
Chelsea came from a good family. She’d graduated high school and started community college six years earlier. She had plans to go there for two years and then transfer to a university…hopefully in New York. Her parents were not rich, but they were helping as much as they could. She had a job in a diner and she was determined to save enough money so her move to New York wouldn’t be a hardship on anyone. She had everything mapped out…until the day she met Wayne and took a long and harrowing detour.
That night started with a party she hadn’t wanted to go to. It was there she first laid eyes on Wayne. He was a few years older and he was hotter than any guy she’d ever been with. He told her he worked as a mechanic and took her outside and showed her his Camaro. Every girl at the party wanted him…but to her delight, Wayne only seemed to have eyes for her. Chelsea fell hard and fast, and by the time she realized Wayne had a little problem holding down a job…a big problem with telling the truth…and a thirst for alcohol and sex that bordered on the insatiable, they were already living together.
Her parents didn’t approve, but Chelsea believed she loved him. She loved her parents, though, so she was determined to keep the peace. The stress of pretending to her parents that everything was okay, while she supported Wayne and his bad habits, and tried to carry a full load at school, quickly became overwhelming. By the end of her sophomore year in college, she was nowhere near ready to transfer to a university, and she had to take a summer school course to make up the classes she’d dropped mid-semester, because she had to work. That was when Wayne decided to “help” her. He had one of his friends hook her up with some pills that would keep her alert so she could stay awake while she worked and/or studied around the clock. Chelsea knew she could have said no, and she was way past blaming Wayne for all her problems, but she didn’t say no. She took the pills, and then she took more. She stayed up for days at a time, and then she took another pill to come down. She started skipping classes and skipping work. Her days became a blur of partying with Wayne and his friends during the day, and having wild, uninhibited sex at night. She was usually so wasted that she barely remembered it the next day. She knew Wayne was kinky and sometimes he let his friends watch, but as long as she wasn’t sober, she didn’t care.
As the months and then years went by, Chelsea’s dependence on the drugs and Wayne, who supplied them to her, became complete. She drove away her old friends and ultimately her parents who were devastated by what she’d become. But still, she couldn’t leave Wayne. She needed him, or so she thought. He kept a roof over their heads somehow, despite not having a regular job. He never hurt her and he always made sure she had what she needed to feel good. It wasn’t until one night of extreme partying that it suddenly hit her what she had become. She woke up feeling sick and pulled herself out of bed, naked and obviously well-used, and ran for the bathroom. While she was on her knees in front of the toilet, snippets of the night before started playing in her head like a home movie. She saw herself in the center of the room, surrounded by men…most of whom she didn’t know. Wayne had brought home some fucking awesome X that day, and she’d taken it…maybe more than one. She remembered dancing and taking off her clothes, and fucking. A lot of fucking, but as the spasms in her stomach started, and the sour alcohol left in her gut from the night before began to resurface, it dawned on her that all of that fucking hadn’t been with Wayne, and worse yet…it hadn’t been with only one man at a time.
She sat in front of the toilet that afternoon for hours, naked on the cold floor, shaking and sobbing, and hating who and what she had become. When she finally pulled herself together, she tried to talk to Wayne about maybe getting into a program and getting clean. She told him she wanted to go back to school and get a respectable job and maybe even have a kid someday. Wayne laughed at her. He told her that she had been worthless to him while she was going to school and working at the diner. In the heat of their argument, he let it slip just how much money he’d made off her over the past year. Chelsea had been supporting them all along; she just hadn’t known it. It made her sick, and her self-loathing was complete. Someone hearing her story might be thinking that her chapter with Wayne ended there. But drug addiction is a monster that grabs on and holds tight. It makes you forget about everything and everyone else, and Wayne knew how to control that monster.
Over the next year Wayne made sure he was in complete control. He was the only one there for her in Chelsea’s mind, the only one that hadn’t walked away. Chelsea might have gone on like that until she woke up dead, if not for the day Wayne dropped her off at the abortion clinic. That was the day she decided to take her life back. It was almost three years ago, and she was sober. She had a job at a coffee shop and she was drawing and painting again. She’d even sold a few of her drawings to the guy in the tattoo shop in town. He did most of the ink for the Southside Skulls. Some days she was proud of that, and other days she reminded herself that her “art” was being viewed by old ladies, club girls, and gang task force members…and on really bad days, the guys in the morgue. It was something, she supposed, but still a far cry from a gallery in New York.
She was sober, though, and despite being broke, depressed, and alone most of the time, she did have her parents back in her life. They’d been there for her during her recovery, every step of the way, and had gone above and beyond even after that. She had to keep in mind that things could always be so much worse. It was the only thing that kept her from sliding backwards and making the same mistakes that had almost cost her life.
When she got out of the shower, she debated starting a new project. She wanted to drive out to her parents’ house, but she was already expected for dinner the following day, so she didn’t want to overstep. She got out her sketchpad and her charcoals and set the easel up in front of the window. She’d worked the late shift the night before, so most of the day was already gone; the light of the late afternoon wasn’t great. She started to move the pole lamp over, but watching all the people walk by outside of her apartment building made her antsy. She rarely went out. What was there to do for a girl who didn’t have any friends, didn’t drink, and had given up sex along with the drugs and alcohol? But she couldn’t quell the feeling that she needed to get out, if for nothing else than to take a walk down to the harbor.
She pulled on a pair of ripped-up jeans and her leather jacket and boots, and without even checking her hair or make-up, she left the depressing little apartment. Some fresh air would probably do her mood good. She didn’t want to still be in a funk when she went to her parents’ house the next day. Her twice-a-week visits to the little ranch where she’d grown up were all she really had to look forward to lately.
Chelsea walked along Washington Avenue until she came to the aquarium. It was a Thursday night, but the city was still bustling with people, headed home from work or already on their way out for a night on the town. She walked next to them, in front of and behind them, but always alone. When she got to the harbor, she sat on one of the metal benches and looked out at the boats. She wondered if the people on them ever worried about the mundane things in life like she did. Did they have money problems? Did they ever wonder if they were good enough?
“Well, hello there, beautiful.” Chelsea, was startled at the sound of the voice, and looked up into the face of a man. He had dark hair that hung down low over his eyes and although he wasn’t a bad-looking man, there was something about him that instantly put her on edge.
“Hey,” she said, trying to return her attention to the boats and give him a hint that she wasn’t in the mood for conversation. When she saw him sit down next to her out of the corner of her eye, she knew that hadn’t worked.
“How’s your day going?”
Chelsea sighed. “I’m sorry. I’m not really looking for conversation.” She forced a smile at him and stood up. “You have a nice day, though.” She started walking away, glad that it wasn’t dark yet. She hadn’t gotten far when she heard hurried footsteps behind her. She turned and saw the man chasing after her. He smiled at her and that made him look even more sinister somehow.
“I’m not really looking for conversation either…Chelsea.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. She didn’t think she knew him, but there were a lot of things, and people, she didn’t remember from the years she’d spent in a drug-induced haze. “Do I know you?”
He licked his lips and then ran his eyes over her body and said, “That doesn’t matter, babe. I know you…”
Chelsea didn’t wait around for any more. She turned and started to run. The man called out after her, but she didn’t look back. She was gasping for breath as she dashed across the busy intersection and almost took a few people out on the sidewalk in front of the Harbor Hotel. She made it all the way to Charles Avenue before she dashed out into the street directly in front of a chopper. The guy driving it hit his brakes as she froze like a deer in the headlights. He stopped short of hitting her by only inches, and as soon as the bike came to a stop, Chelsea was on the run again. Now she had another guy yelling at her and chasing her down the street, only this one was quicker, or she was just tired from all the running. She felt a hand grab her by the shoulder and spin her around. She was face to face with the most incredible pair of brown eyes she’d ever looked into, but that didn’t matter, she didn’t want any man touching her.
“Let go of me!”
The guy did let go of her and he put his palms up in the air. That was when she noticed he was wearing a black leather Skulls vest. Fucking great! When would she learn to stay the fuck at home and out of trouble? “Whoa there, I just wanted to make sure you were okay. You ran right out in front of me like the devil was chasing you.”
Chelsea suddenly remembered the other guy. He hadn’t been chasing her to make sure she was okay. She looked up the street, but although some people were staring at her and the biker, the creepy man wasn’t anywhere in sight. “I’m sorry,” she said, in a shaky voice, “I didn’t see you.”
“I figured that. Are you okay?” He turned and looked back where Chelsea’s eyes kept searching the people on the street for the man’s face. “Is someone chasing you?”
“No. I’m fine. Thank you.” She tried to turn away again, but the man put his hand on her shoulder once more. “Do you mind?”
He moved his hand again. He looked genuinely concerned for her well-being, but trust wasn’t something that came easily to her any longer. “Maybe I could give you a ride wherever it is you’re going,” he said. “It’s starting to get dark.”
“No. I’m fine,” she said again. This time the man smiled. He had a sexy little crooked grin and a dimple on one side of his mouth. That wasn’t all that was sexy about him, but she was trying hard not to notice. He was smoking hot. So hot, in fact, that her racing heart skipped a few beats and her pussy might have throbbed just a little before she remembered she’d sworn off men. But damn, this guy had messy brown hair that begged a woman to drag her fingers through it. He hadn’t shaved in a day or two, and the stubble gave him an edgy look. His t-shirt clung to his biceps and shoulders, and the black leather vest that announced to the world he was a part of a 1% MC should have turned her off, but it only made him that much more interesting. She almost shook her head, trying to get the image of her tongue tracing those full lips out of her mind. She cleared her throat and said, “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be rude. I should really get going before it does get dark.” This time when she turned away he didn’t try to stop her. Chelsea was shamefully disappointed by that, until she reminded herself that panty-melting hot was what had started the downward spiral of her life.
She had walked about block and a half, and was trying to figure out the best street to turn on and head back toward her apartment, when she heard the sound of the Harley. Looking out into the street she saw the guy in the Skulls vest, on his chopper, slowly following her. He was hot, but maybe he was just as creepy as the other guy. She turned into the first place with an open door, and found herself standing in the middle of a dank, dark pub. She chuckled to herself morosely and whispered, “Fuck my life.”