3 HAZEL

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I drive without any sense of direction. My mouth is dry and my hands are shaking. I need a drink.

Shifting in my seat, I crane my neck and study the smeared neon sign and the crowd gathered outside an industrial-type building. My fingers tap-dance against the soft fabric of the wheel cover. Eight hours on a lonely highway turned me into a neurotic mess. The thought of driving myself into the nearest tree to end the torture once and for all did cross my mind. Yet the rational part of me stopped the sadistic one from doing the stupid thing. Sometimes it feels like I'm two different people. They're fighting each other over my sanity because some days I know what I'm doing and some I don't. Today is the latter.

I circle the block, thinking about getting a drink in a bar I just passed. Owen and I had partied hard before River came to us. I had my first fake ID at seventeen. Loud places with hundreds of strangers never made me uncomfortable. I just haven't had a reason to go anywhere of the sort lately. There was never a shortage of wine and liquor at home after we buried our baby.

After the third loop, I pull into the busy lot and thrust my Prius between two SUVs. My heart thumping inside my chest threatens to demolish my rib cage. I shut the engine, roll down the window, and take in the sounds of rock music blasting from inside the building. Owen and I used to go to lots of concerts before my pregnancy. Coldplay, Foo Fighters, Linkin Park, My Chemical Romance, Disturbed. My husband had a soft spot for loud, angry, unconventional music. All that stopped when River was born. We were suddenly buried under a pile of medical bills and insurance paperwork. There was very little time left for entertainment.

The moment I step outside, cold air crawls under the sleeves of my sweater. Trying not to pay attention to the catcalling and the stares of the local crowd, I clutch my fingers around the straps of my purse and beeline for the entrance. The bouncer's face gives away no emotion as he studies my driver's license. My outfit doesn't seem to bother him as much as it bothers the guys on a sidewalk who won't stop the immature whistling. For a second, I think wearing the skinny jeans was a mistake. Or coming here was a mistake.

"The cover is twenty," the bouncer barks, returning the ID.

"To get into a bar?" I ask, scanning the neon sign above his head as if the answer is going to magically appear there. "Is this a male striptease night?"

"Live music."

Drawing a deep breath, I search my purse for some cash and hand the money to the bouncer. Unbelievable.

Inside, the floor is packed with the clouds of white smoke consuming the sweaty bodies ramming against each other to the wild beat of the song. The place is dark and moody. I slowly make my way to the bar and take one of the only two empty seats left. The music blaring from the vicinity of the stage is aggressive and vulgar. Not my first choice if I were looking for a live band to see, but I don't care. The desire to get anesthetized is stronger than my aversion toward the offensive lyrics that make no sense.

The bartender approaches me with a lopsided grin. After requesting a shot of tequila and a food menu, I take a few moments to study the anarchy on stage. The singer's longish dirty blond hair sticks out in all directions as he violently shakes his head like he's been possessed. He is young. Nineteen, maybe twenty. Wearing a simple black t-shirt and a pair of jeans. I find his performance and particularly his gut-wrenching screams somewhat disturbing, but I suppose if the place is this busy, the band must be popular.

The bartender is back with my drink shortly. Wrapping my fingers around the shot glass, I scan the list of the food items on the menu. It's strange; hunger is the first feeling that has awoken in me after two years of complete numbness.

As soon as the song comes to an end, I use the opportunity to order a burger and fries, then down my shot and ask for another. By the time my food comes, the familiar lightness has already taken over my body and mind. The band is about to wrap up their set when someone very unsteady snatches the stool next to mine. Slamming his massive hand against the counter, the stranger demands a drink. His slanting body invades my personal space. His elbow starts making its way in the direction of my plate.

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