Realism

by Shayla O'Keeffe

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It was another late night for Kat, forcing her to walk home well past dusk, across countless intersections with the streets becoming increasingly quiet. She was finally heading home to her shabby apartment, stacked high with missing bricks that had littered the sidewalk below. The building was tightly squeezed between a warehouse and other apartment complexes. All of the buildings on her loud, underprivileged street were broken down, and her parents would be so upset to know that’s where their little girl ended up. However, what other options are out there for people like her? Still relatively fresh out of college, she had to make her move into the real world, and it was colder and darker than she ever thought it would be.

“Hey, Izz. Sorry, I just got out of work. What’s up?” Kat pressed the phone to her ear while wrapping her other arm around her waist to keep her jacket closed, hunching slightly against the soft but cool wind.

“Just checking on you. Everything going okay?” Her best friend, Isabelle, had been calling a lot recently and asked her the same thing every time. It was getting on Kat’s nerves a little, but she knew it was all in good intentions.

“Yeah, fine. Tired as per usual with no money to brag about,” Kat scoffed.

“Tell me about it,” Izz joked back, trying to keep the mood light. “Work suck like usual?”

“Absolutely. People are such divas. Were we ever like that when we had money?” Kat wondered aloud.

“I like to think no. Wait, hold on,” Kat heard Izz mumbling a retort to someone nearby.

“Parents again?” Kat asked.

“Yeah. They just got home from work and are already asking how many job applications I got done today. I told them five,” she answered.

“And how many did you actually do?” Kat laughed.

“Zero!” Izz whispered and started giggling.

“Well, at least you’re happy about it,” Kat remarked. “I mean, you have how many already out? How many jobs do they think exist?”

“Apparently, there are thousands of jobs out there that fit my abilities.” She could just hear her friend rolling her eyes.

“You’ve applied to way more than me, so what’s their problem? Obviously, they’re fine with you living there for free, so why do they act like they care?”

“Honestly, that’s the thousand dollar question. It’s been two years since I had to move back home. Two painful years with them barking at me to find a job. That’s 730 days,” Izz huffed. Despite saying it was painful being back home, she wasn’t the most proactive person and was completely okay moving back home. Not Kat. She tasted independence in college and couldn’t give it up. It was like a drug to Kat, she needed her freedom and needed the big city life, and if she didn’t get it she would surely not survive. She was raised in a small town, not like one of those farming towns in the mountains. Instead, it was just a flat area of outstretched land in the middle of Florida that would no doubt be built up in a few years. The homes were extremely spaced out with only two plazas of stores within thirty minutes of the couple hundred homes. She had no option but to know everyone, and it was annoying. Kat and Izz were only two of a handful, who graduated high school and took off to the big city for college that summer. She and her best friend set off for New York, finally embracing the four seasons and city life. Most of her classmates, though, ended up going to a college only a couple of hours away, so they could stay as local as possible.

“Why don’t you just move back up here with me?” Kat asked her, tired of hearing her friend complain about being at home.

“You know why,” Izz sighed, equally tired of hearing her friend ask about moving.

“Well, I don’t have money either, but at least we’d have each other.” Kat unsuccessfully tried every few months to get her friend to move in with her.

“I just can’t,” but what Izz really meant was that she was afraid and was content settling.

After a small pause, Izz continued, “Just wanted to see how your day was, you know.”

Kat knew what her friend was really asking. “Yeah. I hardly even thought of him. So that was an improvement.”

“Good! I’m glad. See, I told you it would get easier,” Izz seemed relieved, which is why Kat lied. She had actually thought of him all day, almost going home sick for the fifth time this month.

“Alright, well, get home safely,” Izz said. “I have to go eat dinner with the ‘rents.”

“Have fun,” Kat said sarcastically. “Talk to you later.”

The line went dead, but Kat still held the phone against her ear, pretending to still have a life line to hold on to. Walking home alone at that hour wasn’t ideal, but after her break up with Parker, she didn’t have any other option. She was alone, both literally and figuratively. Finally reaching her building, with her phone now stuffed in her jacket pocket, she hurried inside while the temperature outside was dropping by the minute.

“Hello Mrs. Jacobson,” she said to her landlord, as she checked her mailbox before going through the door to the apartment stairs.

“Hi, sweetie. Another bad day?” She smiled kindly, with that grandmotherly care she had for all her tenants. She sat in a rocker by the mailboxes for most of the day, watching who was coming in and out of her building. Juliet Jacobson had owned the building with her late husband since the 1980s.

“A little better,” Kat smiled hoping to convince Juliet and herself.

“You don’t fool me, child,” Juliet said with a smile laugh. “You go on upstairs and take care of yourself, okay? Eat some good food.”

“Sure thing. G’night,” Kat waved and unlocked the door to climb up to her apartment. She was in the middle of the building, so she had to tiptoe around for her cranky neighbors below while listening to every move of the tenants above her, a passionate couple, who didn’t try to hide their love.

After showering and warming up some day-old mac ‘n cheese, she sat down at her laptop and refreshed her email a few times. Nothing but spam emails shouted at her to spend the little money she had on pointless things. Mouth full of lukewarm macaroni, she paused before typing in the next web address. Finally, Facebook loaded and she instantly regretted it. Both compelled to snoop and afraid to look, she found herself scrolling through the newsfeed, dotted with friends’ engagement announcements or baby bump photos. There were a couple of rants from friends in her journalism classes, predicting the end of the world. She laughed to herself because she really didn’t know how things could get much worse, at least not for her.

 

Sleep was always the enemy. It hadn’t been a few months ago, but now sleep was like pesty acne with Kat never knowing when she would get some. Last night she hadn’t gotten any; her mind wouldn’t shut off. After she found out Parker cheated on her, her world was turned upside down and all the plans of marriage and a life with him were thrown to the gutter. Izz had flown up to be with her and forced her to see a doctor, who merely gave her meds instead of helping relieve her depression. But, maybe tonight would be better. She glanced at her bottle of vodka above the refrigerator, pausing while she mentally deliberated. Losing the battle again, she reached up, unscrewed the top and chugged back a few gulps, feeling the tiny pill slip down her throat. Sleep can’t beat an alcohol-drug cocktail.

 

In the morning, she woke feeling as bad as yesterday but knew she had gotten some sleep at least. It was four in the morning, but that was the best she was going to get. As she laid in bed, staring at the wall in front of her, the outlines of her postcards created a boxy pattern. It was still dark out, but the streetlight outside always lit up her room. Paris, London, Beijing, Tokyo, Bahamas, Hawaii, and more decorated the wall across from her bed from top to bottom. She glanced at her little glass jar of saved dollar bills as she got up to face the day, and thought to herself: one day, I’ll go.

As she headed down the stairs, to trudge back to work, she ran into someone head-on and nearly tripped down the stairs. “Sorry,” she mumbled as she recomposed herself.

“It’s fine, hun,” the woman sighed as she picked up her purse that had dropped off her shoulder.

Kat glanced at the woman and was frozen. She looked so familiar. Dirty-blonde straggly hair hung in her face, with wrinkles showcasing the lack of upkeep. The woman didn’t look that old for so many wrinkles. But, her eyes. Those were what caught Kat’s attention. They were green, as if two emeralds were delicately placed on her face.

“You okay?” The woman had an eyebrow raised at Kat, who was still staring.

“Uh, yeah. Fine, sorry,” Kat was trying to remember to blink. “Are you?”

“Eh, as good as I’ll ever be!” She feigned reassurance so well that it was like she had been practicing her whole life. “You just move in?”

“Um, no about a year ago maybe. Have you been here long?” Kat asked as she thought back to any time she may have seen this woman before. Although she didn’t interact with anyone in the apartment building, she wouldn’t be shocked if this woman was her next-door neighbor.

“I’ve been here forever. Longer than I care to admit,” the woman smiled.

“Well, I’m Kat, nice to meet you.”

“Erin. Likewise, hun,” the woman extended her hand. “I don’t meet a lot of my neighbors either, so it’s nice to actually know one now. What apartment is yours?”

“I’m in #6, on the third floor.”

“Ah right in the middle, yeah. I’m in #12, last one at the top. Seniority gets ‘top’ priority,” Erin cackled at her own pun.

Kat smiled and offered a slight chuckle, but she was still wondering why Erin seemed so familiar.

“I’ll see you around. I’m going to hit the sack! Long night-shift at work,” Erin said as she started trudging up the stairs.

“Ok, bye,” Kat waved but it was lost to Erin’s back as she slowly climbed the stairs, body riddled with exhaust.

As Kat walked out the first door to the mailbox area, she saw Juliet setting up her usual chair to watch her tenants pass by. “Morning, Ms. Jacobson. Finally met a neighbor other than you,” Kat said a little sarcastically.

“Oh yeah, and who else is up this early? Can’t be Ken! That useless man sleeps all day and night, I’m sure of it,” Juliet joked to herself.

Not caring to talk more than she already had at that time in the morning, Kat just smiled and nodded as she continued out the door, hearing Juliet call to her, “For the millionth time: call me Juliet; I hate being reminded by you every day that I’m old!”

 

Work went by as slow as usual, with the minutes lasting hours. Kat was an ‘executive assistant’ but was nicknamed the ‘glorified servant’ by Izz. Kat’s boss frequently made fun of her for being a millennial-letdown, with his remarks on the verge of harassment. Being a sexist prude was apparently part of his job.

“You millennials think you can just jump to the top of the food chain. Well, you can’t! I’m glad you realize that, Katherine, so you won’t be let down later in life,” he once chided her. He often went on rants about how kids these days are so pretentious, not taking a second to think about why they became that way or maybe how they aren’t all so lucky. He was the typical hypocrite of the baby boomer generation.

Kat rolled her eyes at all his narrow-minded assumptions and sat silently at her small desk, listening to his thunderous commands for sixty hours a week. It was finally seven o’clock, and after twelve hours of doing petty work, she was free for the weekend. Trudging back home, she decided not call her best friend that night so she didn’t have to answer the question of how she was doing. Today was better, with her not thinking of Parker as much, but she still felt empty inside. She had always had a boyfriend, so this was new territory for her, and it wasn’t by choice.

She stopped at a tiny café two blocks before her apartment and ordered dinner to go. As she walked into her apartment building, the smell of the food wafted up to her nose, causing her stomach to growl for the first time in weeks. Juliet Jacobson wasn’t at her usual lookout post by the front door, but it was Friday, which meant Bingo night at her church. As Kat started up the stairs, she noticed someone sitting on the steps to the third floor.

“Oh, hi again, Erin,” Kat said, thinking how she never saw this woman before and now has seen her twice in one day.

“Hi, hun. Mm, that smells delicious,” Erin smiled down at her.

“Uh, what are you up to?” Kat wondered, also trying to figure out how she would get passed her to her apartment.

“Just sitting around, watching life pass me by!” She joked but something in her eyes seemed like she was serious.

“Work again tonight?” Kat asked remembering how she had seen Erin this morning after her apparent night-shift.

“Nope, not tonight. Work is pretty spotty for me usually, so last night was a lucky gig.”

“What do you do?”

“Not what I want to be doing,” Erin sighed. Suddenly, “Oh, I’m sorry. I’m in your way! I bet you want to get up there and eat dinner.”

“Oh, it’s fine. I always have to warm it up regardless by the time I walk home,” Kat shrugged, making sure the woman didn’t feel bad. Something in her eyes was sad, like a longtime sadness.

“Do you have dinner?” Kat was shocked she asked this woman, who was still practically a stranger.

“Nah, I skip some meals, usually. Depends on when I make some money,” Erin said.

“Well, you can split this with me, if you want. I can never finish the whole thing,” Kat smiled, feeling sympathetic toward this woman sitting on the steps in front of her.

“Are you sure? I don’t want to eat your food!” But Erin was already standing up and step aside to let Kat get by.

“No, really it’s fine,” Kat chuckled. “Just a warning, my apartment isn’t the cleanest.” She blushed thinking how dirty it actually was; since she was depressed so much, she neither felt like cleaning nor had a reason to with no friends stopping by or company visiting.

“I’m sure it isn’t as bad as mine!” Erin followed Kat into her small, two-roomed and barely not a studio apartment.

Erin glanced around casually but didn’t seem to care enough to snoop. Kat started to divide her food, which was definitely enough for two people, especially since her stomach had shrunk in the last few weeks.

As she set down the plates at the makeshift table made of two crates holding up a plank of wood, she realized how poor she looked. There was only one seat at the table, so she had to drag over the random stool she used as a coat rack.

“Sorry, like I said, it’s a little messy,” but Kat wasn’t really embarrassed in front of Erin.

“I, too, have to get crafty with my furniture. It’s just so expensive these days, and being on the sixth floor makes it hard to cart up furniture,” Erin was already shoveling the food in her mouth like she hadn’t eaten in days.

“So, what do you do, hun?” Erin asked Kat, while Kat just picked around her plate.

“I work for a lawyer,” she mumbled.

“Are you one of those paralegals? Is that what they’re called?” Erin pushed.

“Ah, yeah. Well, I mean yeah that’s what they are called. But, no I’m just his assistant,” she halfheartedly smiled trying to make it seem like it wasn’t as depressing as it really was.

“We’ve all been a secretary at some point,” Erin nodded. “I was one a long time ago.”

“Really?” Kat felt a little better she wasn’t alone in the universe. “How did you get to leave?”

“I didn’t get to leave, exactly. I was in that position for fifteen years with the same boss. The company had to close when the economy crashed, so I was forced to leave.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make it sound like it was so bad,” Kat said backpedaling.

“Don’t worry about it,” she waved Kat off. “I know it’s not a glamorous job, and frankly, I should have tried harder to leave. But, I just sort of got into a routine.” She paused, “And I was probably just afraid to leave,” Erin seemed defeated.

Kat just nodded and picked at her food.

“Not hungry?” Erin asked, eyeing Kat’s plate.

“I can’t eat much lately. Pretty sure my stomach has shrunk,” she said.

“Diet? Or just no money for food?” Erin jokingly asked.

Kat laughed at the question because either of those options would make more sense. She answered truthfully, though, unsure of why she felt so comfortable talking to Erin, “No, actually neither. Just haven’t been hungry for a while, not since my boyfriend – I mean ex – cheated on me.”

“Ah, I see. Sorry to hear about that. You’ll be okay, though, soon enough. I promise.” Erin offered her condolences with a small smile.

“And how do you know that?” Kat said a little too bitterly.

“I know because I’ve never heard of someone dying from being cheated on,” Erin smirked.

“Well, that might be true, but I’ve heard of someone dying from a broken heart, and it’s pretty much the same thing.”

“If your partner cheated, it’s not a broken heart but broken trust. Different things,” Erin had finished her food and leaned back in the seat to look at Kat square in the eyes. “Although, what do I know? I’ve never had a boyfriend.”

Astounded, Kat asked, “Like ever?”

Erin laughed so genuinely that her head titled back. “That’s correct. Never. I mean, I’ve had dates and short-term flings, but no commitment. I think to be honest, I was afraid a guy would cheat on me or never love me, so I just didn’t let it get that far.”

Not knowing what to say next, Kat looked at her hands.

“I didn’t mean to make it awkward,” Erin said disappointed.

“No, it’s okay. I just haven’t met anyone who’s never had a boyfriend. Sorry,” Kat realized how harsh that sounded out loud.

“Yes, I am quite a rare specimen!” Erin seemed fine about it. “I think it was a subconscious fear that I’d have a bad relationship like yours seemed to be. So, I figured I’d just save myself from that.”

Kat pursed her lips, wanting to explain how her relationship wasn’t bad, not until that one night. She and Parker had so much fun together, and he did love her. A huge portion of her life consisted of memories with him, and despite how much he hurt her by cheating, she wouldn’t have wished she never met him. She thought it was sad Erin had never felt that.

“Well, I better get going and let you enjoy your night,” Erin stood up with her empty plate looking toward the tiny sink.

“It’s okay; I’ll get that!” Kat stood up quickly, wincing at the kink in her back from hunching over on the stool.

Erin handed her the plate, said thanks, and headed toward the front door. She glanced above the refrigerator and saw the vodka bottle on top, which appeared much emptier than Kat had remembered. Looking back at her, Erin added, “Be careful, that stuff will crush your dreams.” She smiled and the door clicked behind her.

Kat yelled, “Night!” through the closed door but wasn’t sure if Erin heard her or not.

She stood there with both plates in her hand, staring up at the vodka bottle. It was odd Erin said how it could crush dreams instead of the typical “alcohol will kill you” saying.

That night she decided to not chase her medication with alcohol. She laid awake thinking about her conversation with Erin and how she has never been loved. After Parker, she thought she would never date again, but hearing how sad Erin’s life seemed without any love was making her reexamine that thought.

 

Saturday morning she woke up a little after eight, which was the latest she had slept in in forever. Maybe the medication was finally working. Or it was the fact that she didn’t mix it with alcohol for once. Either way, she felt better that morning, as if things were improving. The first thing she decided to do was to go back on the job hunt. She felt reinvigorated, something clicked into place again.

Her phone buzzed and ‘Mom’ popped up on the screen.

“Morning, Mom,” Kat answered.

“Hi sweetie! How are you?”

The once loaded question was not as annoying to her today, “I’m… good. Yeah, just looking around at some jobs.” Kat was nodding to herself.

“Well, that’s good! I’m sure you’ll find something soon. It’s about time, at least, right?”

“Well, hopefully.” Kat wasn’t too sure, though. The last time she looked for a job was right out of college, which wasn’t successful. “Anyway, how are you? How’s Dad?”

“Oh, you know, he loves retired life. And I’m good, too. Keeping busy at the Humane Society; those dogs and cats can’t find their forever families on their own.”

“That’s true. Have you adopted any more since last time I was home?” She chuckled.

“No, although I was very close to bringing home this one pup, but he got a home at the last minute.”

“Well, that’s good, though.”

“Anyway, just calling to check in on you. Maybe your father and I could plan a trip up, now that we’re both retired and have the time,” her mom hesitantly suggested for the hundredth time since Kat had graduated, over two years ago.

“No, I’d rather just come home,” she responded quickly, even though it was lie. She didn’t want to go home. She did want to see her parents but definitely didn’t want them to come see where she ended up. It took a lot of practice to make sure Izz wouldn’t give her secret away.

“Alright, well try to get off work soon, so you can come home. How is work? Learning anything new?”

“Oh, yeah totally! Learn new things all the time, Mom. I might even consider becoming a paralegal.” That’s lie number two for the morning.

“That’s great, honey. Who figured you’d major in journalism and end up being in law? Anything is possible in the big city, I guess!” Her mom sounded so happy for Kat and her fake luck.

“Well, I better go. Going to meet up with some friends soon,” and lie number three.

“Fun! You have a good day, then, and remember to call. Phones work two ways, honey!”

“I know. Tell Dad hi for me. Love you guys,” Kat smiled.

“And we love you. So proud of you, Katherine,” her mom said as she hung up.

Kat’s stomach twisted out of shame. She knew she shouldn’t lie to her parents like that, but she was afraid of letting them down. There was all this expectation, not from them exactly, but from others, that as soon as she graduated college, she should be working and be successful. Kat certainly didn’t want to end up like Izz and be content living back home; that would be like raising a white flag in defeat. Kat was too stubborn for that and would rather suffer until she can turn her luck around. And suffering she had been.

As she scrolled through the job postings on a recruitment website, there was a tiny knock at the door. Opening it slowly since she didn’t have a peep-hole, she was relieved to find Erin standing there with two coffee cups in her hands.

“I thought I’d return the favor from last night!” Erin smiled and pushed her way in the door.

“Morning,” Kat said and she stumbled back to make room for her guest.

“G’morning to you, hun. Oh and I snagged some doughnuts,” Erin beamed as she pulled a tiny bag from her oversized purse.

“Wow, thank you! Those smell delicious,” Kat’s stomach growled.

“And I’m happy to hear you’re hungry,” Erin nodded toward Kat’s stomach.

“You really didn’t need to bring me anything,” Kat said as she sat down at her stool and grabbed a doughnut from the bag.

“It was no bother. Plus, the baker thinks I’ll give in one day and marry him, so he always gives me free doughnuts,” Erin chuckled.

“That’s a good deal for you,” Kat laughed for the first time in ages. It felt good and genuine and freeing.

“Anyway, just wanted to drop these by and share a quick cup ‘o Joe before I head to a new job,” Erin said still standing near the couch in the faux living room, peering around the corner into Kat’s open-doored room.

“I appreciate it,” Kat said with her mouth half full.

“Have you traveled much?” Erin asked facing back in the little kitchen space at Kat.

“Huh?” Kat looked up at her.

“Do you travel a lot? Can’t miss that wall of postcards. Have you been to all of those places?”

“Oh, no. I wish. Those are my dream destinations,” Kat said looking toward her room.

“I always dreamed of traveling the world, meeting new people, trying new foods! But, life happens,” Erin shrugged. “At least you’ll always have nice wall décor.”

“I guess so,” Kat replied. Suddenly she felt rushed, as if she could hear the minutes counting down until her dreams were gone forever.

“Well, off to an interview at the Italian restaurant down the street. They need a new waitress, so may as well add that to my résumé,” Erin joked.

“Good luck!” Kat called as Erin headed out her door, with a quick: “Thanks again for breakfast!”

 

After searching through the job websites for another couple of hours and fixing up her résumé and cover letter, she was exhausted. Happy that she was actually tired, she curled up on the couch waiting for sleep to overcome her.

 

She woke up to a bright light shining straight above her face. Was it the sun? Had she turned on her couch during her sleep? Blinking a little, she started to get up off the couch, but a beeping sound caught her attention. She turned her head to look around her apartment only to realize she wasn’t there.

“Hello there, sweetie, how are you feelin’?” A small, middle-aged woman dressed in teal scrubs was standing near the bed Kat was laying on while she checked things off on a clipboard.

“Uh, who are you? What…what happened?” Kat started looking around and realized she was in a hospital room, the white light shining on her face was just florescent bulbs.

“You had a little accident, but it’s nothing to worry about. You’re all clean now,” the woman was now checking the monitor and changing some liquid bag hanging on a pole near Kat’s bed.

“An accident?” Kat was really confused. All clean? What did that even mean? Last she remembered, she was falling asleep on her couch. “But I was just in my apartment.”

“What is the last thing you remember, there, Miss Katherine?” The nurse asked finally making eye contact with her.

“I took a nap on my couch. It was Saturday,” Kat’s head was hurting now, and it was made worse by the fact that she was trying to think back to what could have happened. Erin left the apartment and Kat never locked the door behind her. Maybe someone broke in?

“Saturday, you say? Well, today is Saturday, and you’ve been in here since Thursday night.” The nurse’s eyes were full of concern and sadness.

“Wait, what? That’s not possible. I was just in my apartment.” Kat was starting to tremble now.

“Let me get the doctor for you. He can answer everything for you,” she said and patted Kat’s leg. “You just sit tight and relax.” With one last smile, the nurse had slipped passed the thin curtains and walked down the hallway.

Kat couldn’t think straight. Were her chills just because she was freaking out or was she really sick?

The doctor walked in a few minutes later. He was a tall man, as old as her parents, if not older, and wore the typical white coat over his plainclothes: a t-shirt and jeans, like he came in just for her on his day off.

“I’m Dr. Keith, it’s nice to meet you Katherine,” he said with a wide smile.

“Kat,” is all she replied.

“I’m sorry? Cat?”

“My nickname, it’s Kat,” she answered.

“Right! Well, it’s a pleasure, Kat,” he said as he pulled over the rolling chair to her bedside.

“Can you tell me what I’m doing here?” Kat asked.

“Of course.” He looked right at her and continued, “I’m just going to tell you straight: you overdosed.”

Stunned, Kat just stared at him. It wasn’t possible. She was just drinking coffee and eating doughnuts, and then took a nap.

“Thursday night, one of your neighbors heard a loud thump and complained to the superintendent, who came up to check on you and found you on the floor. Subsequently, she called 9-1-1 and you were brought here.”

“Thursday night? But I went to bed, and then Friday I went to work.”

“No, I’m sorry you didn’t, Kat. You were here Friday, resting.”

“No. That isn’t possible.”

“Yes, see when you mix so much alcohol with the medication you were on, it creates this reaction inside of you. It was too much for your body to handle, especially with your small-size. You just couldn’t handle it,” Dr. Keith explained.

Alcohol and medicine? But she only had a sip to swallow the pill. “How much did I drink, exactly?”

He pursed his lips slightly, almost as if he wasn’t sure he should tell her the truth or not. “Well, to get a reaction like that, given no food in your stomach, you probably had half the bottle? The bottle wasn’t brought in, though, so I’m not sure.”

Dr. Keith just stared at her while she looked at her hands folded in her lap.

“Now, I know that’s a lot to process, so I’ll let you rest for a bit. Is there anything I can get you? Food or water?”

“Did someone call my parents?” The fear started to bubble inside of her.

“Yes, we had to because your insurance wasn’t working. They said they were flying up, but we told them to wait until you were conscious. Sometimes with cases such as yours, family members can only trigger further reactions.”

“Cases like mine?” Kat was confused.

“Depression and anxiety. Sometimes the trigger is one’s family life. Since we didn’t have your full records, I thought it was safer to have them wait to visit.”

“Thank you,” and Kat actually meant it.

“Well, you get some rest, and I’ll be back in a couple of hours.”

She laid there, and just as he was about out of the room, she called out, “Could I have hallucinated while I was here? Everything just felt so real.”

He turned back to look at her, with the same pity in his eyes as the nurse. “That is one side effect of such cocktails. Plus, we gave you some other medication to pump out the bad stuff. Completely normal, Kat. Rest up now.”

 

She sat there going over everything she remembered. All those conversations with Erin, going to work on Friday, talking to her mom on the phone. Had she really called her mom? She even ate food for the first time in a long time. And none of that was real? Dr. Keith came back in a few hours and went over everything again. She was found on Thursday night, brought in and was unconscious ever since then. They pumped out the mix of alcohol and medication she had taken, rehydrated her, and she was now clear of any drug. Dr. Keith went over what comes next: going to see her doctor again, perhaps getting on new medication, seeing someone about the alcohol concern, and overall working on getting better. It wasn’t until now that Kat realized how bad she really was. Her depression wasn’t just because of Parker, even though that’s all she contributed it to. It went deeper than that and was its very own lethal cocktail. She hated her job, she lived in a terrible area, she was technically dirt-poor, and she had no hope for the future. She let the world take her down, but the worst part was she hadn’t realized it as it was happening. She needed to turn things around and soon. Kat called a new psychologist and made an appointment for that week. She called her parents and told them everything: the job, Parker, her home. She called Izz to let her know she had hit rock bottom.

 

The next day Kat was released from the hospital. The first thing she did when she finally made it back to her shabby, rundown apartment building was give Juliet a hug. She was in the foyer waiting, as usual.

“It’s so good to see you standing, sweetie!” Juliet squeezed her tight, despite her frail frame.

“It’s good to see you, too, Mrs. – I mean, Juliet,” she hugged back gently.

“I’m so glad your neighbor complained, or else who knows when I would have found you.” Juliet had a tear in her eye but blinked quickly to get rid of the evidence.

“Thank you. I was pretty lucky,” Kat said.

She climbed up the stairs to her apartment and paused just outside the door. She looked up the stairs and decided to see if Erin was home. Kat knew she made up the conversations, but surely she had seen Erin in order to have those hallucinations. Climbing three more floors, she reached apartment #12 and knocked loudly. No noises came from inside, so she knocked again.

The door to apartment #11 opened suddenly, with an older man, half-dressed and half-shaven peering out. “Can I help you, missy?”

“I was looking for the person, who lives here. But I can just come back another time,” she nodded apologetically.

“Don’t bother! No one has lived there for ages,” the man huffed.

“What? What did you say?” Kat squinted her eyes in confusion.

“I said: no one has lived there in years, at least ten!”

“No, Erin said she lived in 12,” Kat said aloud but really was saying it to herself.

“There’s no Erin here, unless she’s a ghost!” The man snorted and shut his door, clearly done trying to convince Kat that no one lived in apartment #12.

She went back downstairs, passed her apartment door and kept going until she reached Juliet again.

“Everything okay?” Juliet asked from her chair.

“Yes, I was just wondering if an Erin lived in this building.”

“Erin? Nope, I haven’t had an Erin live here ever. Why do you ask?”

“No reason, sorry. See you around!” Kat turned quickly and hurried up the stairs, afraid she was going to have a panic attack.

She paced around her apartment trying to think if she had ever seen Erin before. She walked right past the mirror hanging on the wall near her television, and something caught her attention. Her eyes. Green like emeralds. She had seen those eyes somewhere recently. Erin’s eyes! That’s why she seemed so familiar; she had Erin’s eyes. Or rather, Erin had her eyes. That wasn’t possible, though. Further concerned about her mental state at the moment, she sat down on the couch and stared at her kitchen. The coffee and doughnuts! She ran to the garbage and looked for any signs of leftovers or the bag the doughnuts were in. As she peered inside, her heart sank, and all she saw was the macaroni ‘n cheese box from Thursday’s dinner. She turned back to the couch and saw her stool in its usual spot near the wall with a coat hanging off the side.

Could she have made absolutely everything up? Could the drugs have made her hallucinate that much? Suddenly her phone buzzed. It was her mom again. Trying to stay patient and calm, she answered, “Hi, Mom.”

“Hi there! Make it back to your apartment okay?” She sounded like she was in a car.

“Yup, home safe and sound. Where are you? Sounds like you’re in a tunnel,” Kat laid back on the couch.

“We’re on the way to the airport,” her mom hesitated.

“Airport? For what…” Kat answered her own question.

“To come see you, of course. Well, just me. Your father is staying home, so we don’t overcrowd you or anything,” her mom added.

“I’m fine. I told you I’ll be home to visit soon,” Kat rolled her eyes.

“No you didn’t. When did you say that?” Confusion clearly in her mom’s voice.

Realizing she hallucinated that whole conversation with her mom on the phone, too, she covered as best as she could, “Sorry I thought I implied that before.” Then, giving in, she said, “But, that’s fine. I could use some company.”

Almost hearing the smile on her mom’s face, “Okay, fabulous! I’ll leave whenever you want me to. Just say the word and I’m gone. I can’t wait to see you.”

“Can’t wait to see you, too,” and Kat suddenly felt tears streaming down her face. She really couldn’t wait to see her mom. So much had happened since she was last with her, and Kat forgot how great it was to be hugged by her.

“I should be there by dinner, so let’s go out, my treat. Just text me your apartment address, so I can tell the taxi driver.”

“Sounds good, Mom. Have a safe flight,” Kat was feeling tired again.

“I will. I love you, Katherine.”

Something snapped her to full attention. “Say that again,” she said to her mom.

“I said: I love you, Katherine. Is the connection bad? We just drove by a bunch of trees.”

It was the way her mom said her name, though, that caught her attention. She said it like Kath-erin, not Kath-er-in. Erin.

“No, I can hear you now. Love you, too!” Kat said and hung up the phone.

Erin. Erin. Erin. It all came back to her how her older brother would mock her sometimes and mispronounce her name on purpose just to annoy her. He would say “Kath-Erin!” or “Kat-turin” or other wrong pronunciations. It would drive her crazy, and he knew it.

Erin was never real. Erin had her eyes and her name. Erin was an older version of what Kat could have become. She was stuck in a horrible job and never tried to leave. She was afraid to love. She never got out of this broken down apartment. Erin was what Kat could become. But she wasn’t going to let that happen.

Kat’s rock bottom was actually a wake-up call. She was going to turn her life around. Just like in her dream, she was going to look for better jobs, even jobs in journalism, so she finally could do what she’s passionate about. She was going to travel the world and take actual photographs of the places on her postcards. Kat smiled to herself and closed her eyes. Things were going to change; life wasn’t going to win anymore. The world was wrong: she was in charge, not it. She realized that society expects so much of recent graduates and twenty-something year olds. Society expects so much that it will knock you down until it gets what it wants. Recent grads have to find a job right away and start making money to pay back their debts for the degrees they need to get a job. Jobs want experience that only comes from working a job. People expect you to settle down and have a companion, but what if it’s not the right person? Or what if it’s not the right time? So many expectations are thrown at people but so little guidance is offered. Not all twenty-somethings have it as rough, but some have it worse, and all are given the same expectations. Find a job but chase your dreams. Make money but start from the bottom. Have a family but stay independent. Live on your own but come back home. Get a degree but no jobs are available. It might be tough at times, but with a little help and a lot of luck, she’d make it.