Whiskey sat upright, gasping for breath. With frantic hands she massaged her left thigh, fingers gripping the tattered material of her cargo pants. No bone-deep pain, no coagulating blood, no injury to be had. She wildly searched the darkness, looking for the green-eyed woman or the unseen attacker. The murky depths of an abandoned building met her examination. No elegant sitting room furniture, no exquisite artwork decorating the ceiling, no cool black marble beneath her. Trash cluttered the corners, and a handful of scavenged mattresses littered the room. In the dim light of dawn, she saw several people sleeping around her. Some had taken up residence on the floor when the makeshift beds had become overcrowded. No overpowering smell of blood met her indrawn breath. Rather, the air was redolent with dust and sweat, greasy food wrappers and urine.
“Hey, you okay?”
She turned at the whisper, seeing Gin beside her, up on one elbow and rubbing her face with the other hand. “Yeah, bad dream,” she whispered back. The rest of Gin’s street family slept on.
Gin sat up further. She yawned. “Same one as last time?”
Whiskey nodded. “Yeah.” She jumped at Gin’s unexpected touch. The desire to cry welled up as she relaxed into her friend’s embrace, welcomed it. She fought the urge to weep. If anyone saw her break down, she’d be fair game for all kinds of shit. She was a guest with these people due to Gin, not because any of the others gave a damn.
“It’s happening more often, isn’t it?” Gin’s words were more a statement than a question.
Whiskey swallowed around the lump in her throat. “Seems to be. Wish I could figure out what the hell it means.”
Gin squeezed her, ran a hand through her hair. “It’s a death dream. Maybe it’s an omen, time for you to get off the streets. You’ve been out here for what…? Five years?”
The touch reminded her of different times, of better times. “Six, same as you, amiga. Maybe you should think about getting out of the life, too.”
Gin rattled off a string of Spanish in response, most of which Whiskey inferred from the tone and the few swear words sprinkled throughout the diatribe. Chuckling, she turned her head to look at Gin, their faces mere inches away. She stared into Gin’s eyes, knowing the brown irises sparkled with affection despite the dimness of the room.
“I happen to like mi vida loca, muchacha.”
Gin’s breath brushed Whiskey’s lips. A different emotion built in Whiskey’s chest, the dream memory fading. Not wanting to analyze her feelings and thereby deny herself, she leaned into Gin and kissed her. For just a second, Gin responded as she’d often done in the past. Emboldened, Whiskey pressed her case, tongue teasing full lips.
Gin pulled away.
Heat blistered Whiskey’s face. She ducked her head though it was still too dark for Gin to see the blush. “Sorry. The dream messed me up. I didn’t mean to do that.” She battled the rampant desire in her chest and abdomen. Extricating herself from Gin’s hold, she sat up, edged off the mattress.
Gin didn’t try to pull her back. “It’s okay, amiga. It’s not your fault. You know Ghost is a jealous gringo. He wouldn’t understand.”
With a shaky sigh, Whiskey retied her second-hand combat boots, tightening what she’d loosened for sleep. The texture of the laces too smooth beneath her fingers, she noted they’d need replacing soon. “Where is he again?” she asked, not wanting to know where Gin’s current boyfriend kept himself. As soon as he returned, she’d have to make herself scarce again.
Gin, taking Whiskey’s cue, rummaged in her backpack. “Still in Portland on business. I talked to him yesterday. He should be back today.” She pulled two cigarettes from a battered pack, and lit them.
Smoke masked the lingering smell of unwashed bodies, and mold from the mattress. Whiskey accepted a cigarette, knowing it for the peace gesture it was. She used that first inhalation to take a bracing breath. “You think you’ll ever leave him?” You think you’ll ever come back to where you belong? To me?
Gin frowned at her cigarette. “I love him, Whiskey. I love you, too, but not like this.”
“Okay.” Whiskey nodded. Fuck buddies since the beginning, she and Gin had both wandered elsewhere upon occasion. They’d dallied with others, both women and men, for variety and experimentation. Whiskey stayed with the women, Gin sampled an even mix. They’d always ended up with each other when the dust cleared, and good sense prevailed. This was the first time one of them had found someone other than a temporary liaison. Since Gin had hooked up with Ghost, she’d drifted further and further away from their friendship.
It surprised Whiskey how much this hurt when all their past flirtations hadn’t. Her heart literally ached with yearning sometimes, missing something she didn’t have. Occasionally, she felt that way even when back in Gin’s arms. For the most part, however, when she was with Gin the wistful longing subsided, became nearly non-existent. Whiskey had always known she felt stronger for her friend than the other way around. Knowing a separation was bound to happen sooner or later hadn’t made this fracturing easier to bear.
“You know I love you. I’m there for you, no matter what happens, no matter how many years go by. We’re the last of Shadow’s family; we got to stick together.”
“I know, mi amiga.” Gin took her hand, gave it a squeeze. She sounded a little breathless. “We will. You’re the best friend anyone can ever ask for. I’m glad we hooked up when we did. ”
The urge to cry redoubled. Maybe this was what the death dream was about, the end of her time with Gin. Ghost had been a fixture in Gin’s life for three months now. The dream had become increasingly intense during that time. “Me, too.”
Nearby, a boy coughed himself awake. He sat up with a groan and a curse, engendering complaints from those he roused from slumber. Whiskey recognized him as one of Ghost’s newbies. He claimed to be sixteen, but didn’t look a day over twelve. His face was partially covered by a large strawberry birthmark. The others had started calling him Spot. Ignoring the complaints of his neighbors, he staggered to his feet, and stumbled into the next room. Moments later, the smell of urine grew stronger.
Whiskey heard further objections from those sleeping in that room as she finished her cigarette. She pulled her pack closer. “I got to go.”
“What’s the hurry? Ghost will call when he gets back in town.”
“And what if he doesn’t?” Whiskey asked with a false grin. “Someday he’s going to put a hit out on me for hanging with you.”
“I know. I should never have told him about us.” Gin leaned against the wall, her short, dark hair mussed.
The sight sent a stab of twisted agony and desire into Whiskey’s heart. Privately, she agreed with her friend. Nothing to be done about it now. She made a show of glancing about the mattress, verifying she’d collected everything she’d had upon arrival. She stood, leaned over, and gave Gin a quick peck on the lips, needing it to be more. “Go back to sleep. You look tired.”
“So do you.”
Whiskey grinned. “See you around.”
Her grin widened. “Hell, yeah. Can’t miss your birthday, can I?” She hoisted her backpack. Her worldly possessions, not nearly as heavy as her heart, settled onto her shoulders. She headed for the door.
Gin’s voice followed her. “I’m holding you to that. You don’t show at Tallulah’s, I get to sic Ghost’s dog on you.”
“Shut the fuck up!” a kid bitched from another mattress.
Whiskey paused at the door to give Gin a thumbs up. Turning, she almost ran into the spotted faced kid as he returned to his vacated sleeping area. Dominick. That’s his name. Moments later, she winced as morning sun blinded her eyes.