Jay Diaz-Jackson’s T-shirt featured a giant blue robot on the moon. Japanese symbols spelled LuLu’s Space-Time Acceleration over the stars. Dan puzzled over the kanji and Beatrice took the chance to surreptitiously join Faith on the couch, sitting on her left.
“Can you read it?” asked Dan.
“Of course,” said Jay. “It’s my favorite show. I learned its name the first time my dad took me to Japan: RuRu no Jikuu-Kasoku.” The symbols had complex sub-parts made of multiple strokes. “Plus I know some Chinese, and lots of symbols carry over.”
Dan nodded and counted four pilots in their cockpits. When Dan and Jay stood face-to-face a mirror seemed to stand between them: Dan was pale and Jay was dark, but they had similar haircuts, identical jawlines, and indistinguishable builds. “Here, Jay, sit down. Faith has extra centipede dust if you’d like to try some. Beatrice and I could trip-sit both of you. Oh, and happy birthday! Faith brought us a cupcake!”
“Oh! Thanks, Faith.” Jay sat on Faith’s right. “And, hey, Dan… On the bus ride over here, Beatrice told me she might need to leave early. She’s on-call at the hospital today.”
Beatrice refused to touch Leo, the water-pipe, as Faith taunted her with it. “It won’t bite, BeatBax.”
“You promised you would cut down on crickets.”
“It’s not cricket, it’s centipede. And from now on I’ll only smoke my home-grown crickets. They’re organic!”
“Does ‘organic’ even mean anything?” Beatrice smelled the powder in the bowl. “Ick. Do you know what you’re getting yourself into, Faith?”
“Nope! You’re the nun, tell me.”
“I’m a nurse, not a nun.” Beatrice used her phone to show Faith the homepage for her hospital, which warned users about various drugs. “The psychedelic high from centipede dust lasts only half an hour, but it can feel like ages—and some people have lifelong psychological problems after one dose.”
Dan placed three glasses of orange-juice on the coffee-table and sat right-most on the couch, farthest from Beatrice. “Who would like to partake? Drink some orange-juice now and more right before you hit the centipede dust. Afterward you’ll chug the rest of the glass.”
Faith and Jay sipped orange-juice. Beatrice did not.
“Allow me to demonstrate.” Dan held the pipe at an angle. “I’ll light the centipede dust with my blowtorch and cover this hole. Slowly breathe in until I uncover the hole.” He mimed activating the blowtorch while plugging and unplugging a hole near Leo’s stem with his thumb. “Then inhale as fast as possible, in a gasp. Hold it, exhale, and chug your orange-juice.”
Dan inhaled through the pipe. The water in Leo rumbled quicker when he unplugged the hole. Faith leaned close. “Neat!”
“Who wants to go first?” asked Dan. He held the pipe to Jay, then Faith.
Jay folded his arms like the robot on his shirt. “I’ll go first. Let’s get this over with and see if I like it.”
“Thanks JayJay.” Faith wiggled her shoulders. “He knows I’m nervous,” she said to Beatrice.
“Don’t be,” Beatrice chastised. “You should remain calm. Panicking is the worst option on a psychedelic.”
Jay nodded and sipped more orange-juice. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
He inhaled through Leo. Dan lit the centipede dust with his black blowtorch. White smoke slipped through slotted glass fingers and burbled through ice-water to gather near the ten glass buboes. Dan shut off the blowtorch but Jay’s slow inhalation stoked the embers until the smoke chamber looked like milk.
“Alright.” Dan released the hole in the pipe. “Now.”
Jay gasped the smoke into his lungs. His coughs spilled orange-juice onto the carpet. He threw his head back to quaff the rest of the juice.
When he put down the drinking glass he froze, staring through the walls, muscles rigid.
“Wow.” Faith couldn’t pry the pipe from his grasp. Dan gently rubbed Jay’s knuckles until he released his grip. “Maybe I should wait until he comes down to take my toke?”
Dan cleared ash from the pipe with a paperclip and poured the last of the centipede dust into the bowl. “Take it now. I’ve heard it’s better with company.”
Beatrice watched Faith put the mouthpiece to her lips. Faith met her gaze and kissed one of the glass buboes. “Can BeatBax light it for me?”
Beatrice shook her head. “No. I can’t.”
“It’ll be romantic!”
“I don’t think drug use is romantic,” she said. “I’m barely comfortable watching.”
“Okay. I’m sorry, BeatBax. Thank you for being here, for me.” Faith sipped orange-juice. “Light me, Dainty.”
Dan scorched the centipede dust. Faith inhaled just like Jay had and smiled at the cloud she caught in the chamber. “Alright, now.” Dan released the plughole. She gasped up the cloud and coughed it into her orange-juice, spilling everything. Dan handed her the extra glass. “Sorry, Beatrice, I guess that’s means there’s no orange-juice for you.”
“Hm,” said Beatrice. She watched Faith chug the orange-juice and sit stock still. “Now what?”
“We’ll have to amuse ourselves for about half an hour.” Dan rearranged the pillows to let Jay relax into the couch. “We should make sure they don’t drown in vomit or bite their own tongues, but otherwise they should be fine.”
Beatrice sighed. Faith still held a vice-like grip on the pipe. Beatrice rubbed her knuckles like Dan had Jay’s and put the pipe on the coffee-table.
The four friends sat on the couch. None looked at another.
“I like your dress,” said Dan.
“Thank you,” said Beatrice. “It’s what all the nurses at Saint Mary’s wear for work.”
Dan smiled and chanced a glance at her. She fiddled with her phone. “It looks good on you.”
“Thank you,” said Beatrice, definitively.
Dan shrank. “Faith told me sometimes I make you uncomfortable. I want to apologize.”
“There’s really no need.”
“I know. She told me that too. But I apologize when I hurt someone. Can we still be friends?” He extended a hand for her to shake.
She considered it, and finally shook hands without eye-contact. “I need to go,” she said.
“No, it’s not you. I just got a text from Saint Mary’s. You know I’m on-call today. I have to go to the hospital.” She stood and picked up her purse. “Goodbye, Dan. Take care of Faith and Jay. Make Faith text me when she’s able. I want to know how she feels. If she can’t read within the hour, call an ambulance and I’ll try to be on it.”
Dan watched Beatrice shut the door behind her. He gathered the empty glasses of orange-juice and carried them to the kitchenette to wash them. Through the window he saw the 1:00 Bluebird Line strike Beatrice and smear her across the intersection.