He stared unflinchingly at the starched pillow in his lap, regarding it as if it might acknowledge him in return. It didn’t.
The hard porcelain of the toilet seat was comfortable, and he was getting pretty tired of sitting there with his pants down like an idiot. Like a woman. Adrian lifted the cotton to his mouth, pressing the pillow against a pair of parted lips as if it was the sole remnant of a lost lover, pausing to feel its feathery-soft ticklishness against exposed skin whilst inhaling the nostalgic scent of sweat and bed hair. It was a transcendent pillow, deemed worthy to serve as the vessel for a voice unheard. Adrian opened his mouth, and he screamed into it.
It was not exactly a stifled shriek. The sound tore from a gaped cathedral mouth, breath hot and sticky trapped against fabric. The sound was suffocated and strangled by layers of insulation, trembling to break free of softness clutched in a pair of wrung hands like claws against it, face flushed and eyes clenched for the duration of the scream. He surfaced to gather oxygen, and it repeated, again and again, and another time until his throat rebelliously refused to produce sound; then all that emerged were broken, wispy vocalizations that sounded more wraithlike than human. Adrian yielded only when there was no other option.
“Are you all right in there?” sounded a woman from behind the bathroom door, accompanied by several jarring, intrusive knocks. “What’s going on?”
The twenty-something man dragged colorless eyes in the direction of the words, fingers idly caressing his comfort with slow, eased strokes. “I’m fine. Just screamin’ into a pillow.” He rasped back, voice crinkled from exertion and defined by a brassy southern drawl, seemingly snatched straight from a sun-drenched bayou. “Is there a problem with that?”
A quiet interlude resounded until the disembodied tone answered. “Group starts in five minutes.” It told him chastely, followed by muffled footsteps and then a tranquil span of silence.
Adrian stood, pillow tucked loyally into the crook of his arm as he pulled his jeans up, finding vision anchored to the plastic mirror upon the adjacent wall—an exasperated redhead stared back at him, pale skin sprinkled with a scattering of embarrassing freckles. His countenance was mostly poetic, draped with halved eyelids and a sturdy brow, perhaps ruined by a characteristic bucktooth that peeped out when he smiled, which admittedly wasn’t often. Another face peered back at him from his pilfered shirt—Les Miserables. He had no idea what Les Miserables was, and had no earthly intention to find out. Adrian had the unfortunate habit of appearing despondent and rather woebegone when he thought no one was looking, juxtaposed against a floral tone and dialect carried from Louisiana trailer parks.
He missed the South. Arizona was dry without the humidity that wrapped him up at twilight, offering strange rock formations instead of the sprawling flattop architecture, and the horizons that looked as if a palm had been pressed down against them. Or maybe it was the fact that Louisiana held memories, recollections of ambrosia from orange plastic bottles and glass pipes, all finished off with a cheap shot of whiskey to rock him to sleep after an ethereal night. He’d let the narcotics cradle him, days and evenings dominated by the high and only occasionally interrupted by a sickening sobriety, swept away as quickly as possible with a swallow or a puff. And on it went.
He had been good, but it had come to bite him with serrated teeth eventually. Adrian had surmised he could only go so long, pressed against the flimsy boards of a trailer and screwed from behind as the thrusts and sweat all mixed into a heady concoction, exchanged at dawn for a bag or a bottle. He had pretended to enjoy it, and maybe sometimes he even did, but most of the time thinking about it just made his ass sore. Yet he’d get fucked a thousand times for just one xanax or oxy, even a measly valium…
Dragged from prostitution and forced into a sudden lucidity hadn’t gone well for him. He had lost count of the temper tantrums, slung like wild tempests from a blazing red mouth at anyone who would listen; eventually Adrian had learned to swallow whatever the hell he was given, subdued like a broken beast in some abandoned corner of the facility. He would brood and scream into pillows, spiting whoever was unfortunate enough to be the focus of his fire—he had broken doors, thrown hollow insults and slurs, gotten into fights with other patients—the redhead had tried everything, yet he was still engulfed in unwanted sanctuary. It surrounded him like malediction and refused to let go.
If it ever did, he would be sure to beeline for his solace; a 2002 Oldsmobile Alero, sleeping in a coma at the airport, stocked with enough drugs to put him back on his feet. Adrian would find a way.
With that optimistic thought in mind, he strolled quite leisurely from the bathroom with his pillow towards the group therapy session. River Heights Rehabilitation Center was not one of the high-end luxury facilities he had hoped for; it was a renovated stockhouse, painted in serene pastelles and suicide proofed with little charm to spare. The therapy room was no different. It was a pokey refuge, circled by a ring of folding chairs sat awed by the morning sunlight that poured through the northern bay window; most were occupied by drained patients, all of which Adrian was rather fond of, but kind of loathed at the same time.
There was Clarissa, the middle-aged alcoholic gas station attendant, then Daniel the Meth Cook from a Cherokee reservation in North Carolina—Jade, a teenager who hadn’t explored past weed, and Kyle from Quebec, who most people had trouble understanding, so naturally little information was known. Most was left to speculation.
The resident therapist was Marie, a worn flower child from another era who was the type to put on a friendly face even when she didn’t mean it. She simpered at Adrian as he collapsed aimlessly into a folding chair next to Jade, giving her his usual asshole flirtatious glance.
“Good morning Adrian.” Marie chirped in a sing-song tone. “I was just telling everyone we have a new intake this morning, so she'll be opening our session for us. She should be here soon.”
The redhead kneaded the pillow on his lap, not quite motivated enough to give an acknowledging response.