Dusti and Jimbo burst into the room with Denise while Charlie is giving a lecture on skin diseases.
An hour earlier Charlie had allowed the two to go to Denise’s place to check-in on her in response to the text she’d sent Dusti.
By the looks of it Denise was alive but to say she was alive and well was a stretch because anyone with functioning eyeballs could see Denise was anything but well.
Her bouncy, shiny chestnut hair was ratty and disheveled. Her smooth and manicured hands were marred with cuts and bruises. Her firm and youthful face was droopy and weary and her normally bright and attentive eyes were murky and lost.
“Is everything ok?” Charlie asks with a look of shock as Dusti and Jimbo steer Denise to a seat.
“We’re fine.” Dusti says.
“You sure?” Charlie asks, walking towards Denise.
“I’m fine.” Denise mutters, holding up a hand to stop Charlie’s advance. “I wasn’t feeling good earlier but started to feel better and wanted to come to school. Sorry if I messed anything up.”
“It’s ok.” Charlie says, hitting the brakes and backing up towards her podium to give Denise space. “Just let me know if you need anything ok?”
“I will, thanks.” Denise says, pulling her jacket around her as if to fight off a chill.
“We’re just finishing up a lecture before lunch so feel free to take notes if you like.”
“Ok.” Denise mumbles.
Dusti puts a pen and piece of paper in front of Denise and she looks at them like they’re foreign objects.
“For your notes.” Dusti says in a hushed tone.
“Right.” Denise answers back, still staring at them.
Charlie takes her place behind the podium to resume her lecture while we try to resume listening and taking notes however that proves to be a challenge because none of us can keep our eyes off Denise.
Her head keeps swaying back and forth like a palm tree on a breezy day and on more than one occasion she nods off and Dusti has to nudge her with an elbow in an attempt to keep her awake and aware.
Charlie notices this too and winces every time she sees Denise fading out, prompting her to cut the lecture short and send everyone to lunch early.
“Be ready to practice shampooing when you get back.” she says as the class leaves the room.
“IS everything ok?” I whisper to Dusti as we walk out behind Denise.
“Well…” Dusti says.
“Oh, hey you.” Denise slurs to me as she turns around then speaks to Dusti. “I need to use the bathroom. Can I meet you out front?”
“Sure, hun.” Dusti says.
As Denise hobbles off to the bathroom Charlie comes up on Dusti.
“What exactly is going on with her?”
“Oh she’s just had a rough few days and hasn’t gotten much sleep so she’s a little out of it.” Dusti says, taking her best shot at damage control.
“What happened?” Charlie asks.
“Her and her boyfriend got into a fight on Saturday night and it got physical.”
“Oh my god, is she alright?”
“I think so. He ran off and hasn’t been back but just to be safe I’m having her stay with me for the rest of the week.”
“Ok, well let me know if there’s anything I can do.”
“I sure will.” Dusti says with a face full of smile and then grabs my hand and bolts for the front door.
“That was only half of it…” she tells me as we make our way out front. “Denise is high as fuck.”
“Wait, what? THAT’S what’s wrong with her?”
“Uh, duh. Haven’t you ever seen someone smacked out before?”
Throughout my life I’d seen a lot of people do a lot of things with drugs.
I’d seen people put a hit of acid in their eye and trip their balls off for 12 hours straight.
I’d also seen people shoot up coke and run around like escaped mental patients.
But in all my years I’d never witnessed anyone doing heroin or being high on heroin except for in the movies and Denise’s behavior looked NOTHING like it did in the movies so…
“Really?” Dusti asks astounded.
“Trust me, I’m just as surprised about it as you are. How’d it all go down?”
“Well like I said, she and her boyfriend got into a fight Saturday night and it got really violent. She said a neighbor threatened to call the cops so he hightailed it outta there but left his stash behind.”
“And so she just said-“
“Fuck it, and as you can see, it hasn’t been pretty.”
“Not at all.”
“And speaking of not pretty, when we got to her place…Jesus Christ, Stuke…”
“It was something straight out of Trainspotting. The whole apartment was trashed and she was wearing nothing but a filthy pair of sweats and a blood-stained tank-top. Jimbo and I had to help her get dressed and told her that under no circumstances was she to take her jacket off.”
“Because of track marks?”
“Exactly. It’s unbelievable how fast she’s unraveled.”
“So what now?”
“Now? Now she’s gotta try and stay coherent enough to get through the day and hope that Rene or no other Learning Leader finds out that she’s high ‘cause if they do she could get kicked out.”
“Yes! Weren’t you paying attention our first day when we had to go over all that code of conduct bullshit?”
“Not really, I was drunk.”
“Well, coming to school high is definitely a crime punishable by expulsion.”
“Then why’d you bring her here in the first place?”
“Believe me, I tried to talk her out of it but she insisted on coming because she didn’t wanna do anything to jeopardize her standing at school.”
“She didn’t see the irony in doing just that by coming to school…high?”
“She can’t grasp the concept of irony at this point.”
“Then can’t you just take her back to your place now?”
“I’d love to but she’s dead set on being at school so I’m just rolling with it and hoping for the best.”
“Yeah but can’t we convince her it’s in her best interest to take a sick day?”
“She’s on drugs. You know as well as I do you can’t convince people to do anything they don’t wanna do while they’re on drugs. At least if she’s here I can keep an eye on her. It’s not the ideal situation but it’s better than her being alone and in harm’s way.”
“Dusti?” Denise says as she shuffles out the front door of the school.
“Can we sit in your car during lunch so I can smoke some cigarettes and chill?”
“Whatever you need.” Dusti says, walking off with her and then doing an about face to tell me one last thing.
“B-T-dubs, don’t say ANYTHING to ANYONE. I already swore Jimbo to secrecy and expect the same from you, for her sake.”
“My lips are sealed.”
“So she’s at school high as a kite.” I tell Bode as we eat our Tofurkey sandwiches, betraying my word to Dusti and making me less than an admirable and trustworthy human being.
“Aww man that’s not good.”
But since I know Bode is an admirable and trustworthy human being I’m certain he won’t repeat any of this to anybody so it’s pretty much like not saying anything to anyone anyway.
“Is there something we can do for her?”
“Not really. Dusti is just hoping Denise can make it through the day without anyone noticing she’s fucked-up so I guess the best way to help her is to…I don’t know…ignore it all?’
“It sucks that we’re powerless over this and the most heartbreaking thing is that Denise is too.”
“Yeah, the next few hours are gonna be dicey but hopefully nothing bad happens and she just goes to Dusti’s and gets better.” I tell him as we head back into the school.
“Alright, everybody, we’re going out to The Floor to practice shampoos so pick a partner and take turns on each other.” Charlie tells us as we all prepare to shampoo another human for our first time ever. “It’s super busy today so please be courteous to all the other Future Professionals out there as well as their clients and remember to be patient and kind.”
“Hey.” Denise says, tugging at my arm with a subtle wobble. “Could you shampoo me?”
“Umm, hold on a sec.” I tell her and then scoot my way over to Dusti.
“Denise wants me to shampoo her, what should I do?”
“Fucking wash her hair then…and take as long as you can. The more time she’s just sitting somewhere out of the way the better.”
“Gotcha.” I tell her and go back over to Denise.
“Let’s get you nice and clean.” I say as I take her hand and lead her onto The Floor.
All 8 shampoo bowls are occupied so we wait in line until it’s our turn.
“This is gonna be so nice.” Denise says as she leans up against my arm.
“I don’t know, it might be a good idea to keep your expectations low.”
“Stuke…” she says with a faint laugh. “You should learn to be more sure of yourself…and I know it’s gonna be good ‘cause I like the way you touch me.”
“That’s nice of you to say.”
We finally get our turn at the shampoo bowl and Denise sinks into the chair as I put a towel around her shoulders. She then leans all the way back as her long, brown, ratted up hair fills the bowl.
Even though I’ve been naked with this girl and have had my hands over every part of her body those hands are still shaking from nervousness because this is the first time I’ve ever washed someone’s hair besides my own.
I turn on the faucet and let it run until the water hits that perfect temperature of comforting warm and then run the nozzle all along her hairline, using my other hand as a barrier between her hair and face so I don’t accidentally water board the poor girl.
I then run the water throughout the rest of her hair making sure every inch of it is soaking, sopping, drenching wet.
Next I grab a bottle of detangling shampoo and mix it with a heavy conditioner, rubbing it into her scalp until it’s frothy and then gently work it from scalp to ends, untangling all the knots it had gotten itself into over the past few days.
Once the hair is loose and free again I rinse it out and then apply another glob of conditioner, working it in until all of her hair is creamy, shiny and slippery.
Then I intuitively start massaging her temples, behind her ears and up and down her neck.
Even though I’ve never done any of this before it all feels natural, healing and makes me feel intimately connected to someone in a way I’ve never experienced.
I come to the conclusion that out of everything I’ve done with hair throughout my time in Core, this is by far my most favorite. It relaxes me, grounds me and makes me feel, without effort, confident and in control.
“That feels so wonderful, I knew you’d be amazing at this.” Denise says with her eyes closed as I continue massaging her.
I look down at her face and feel an overwhelming sense of sadness for her.
Sad that things had gotten so bad she thought turning into this person was the only viable option for her. All her vibrancy, vitality and beauty had evaporated and in its place was a dazed and ravaged victim.
A victim from a misguided sense of obligation to a man that never thought twice about hitting her.
A victim from substance abuse that stemmed from wanting to numb all the confusion, hurt and emptiness that was eating away at her heart.
And a victim of the monster that was now coursing through her veins, eroding everything beautiful about her from the inside out.
I looked at her and saw myself.
Someone so crushed that they said to themselves If I’m gonna get beaten down it’s at least gonna be done at my own hands.
Just then Denise’s glassy eyes pop open and stare up at me.
“I’m sorry.” she says in her most lucid voice yet.
“That you have to see me like this. I know you know and it’s not who I am I just, sometimes, I just don’t wanna be who I am anymore and this lets me forget.”
“It’s ok.” I tell her as I rinse the conditioner out of her hair. “We all have our days and we all have our demons and some days, those demons win.”
“I just wish I could get ahold of things…keep shit together. It’s so hard to build a life when the bottom keeps coming out from underneath you. You get to a point where you get so tired of things falling apart that you just wanna fall with them.” she says as a tear rolls down her cheek. “And that’s what I did, I chose to fall.”
I turn off the faucet and run my fingers through her clean, fresh hair.
“The best part about things falling apart is that some of those things weren’t good for you anyway and now you get to rebuild with things that are good for you.”
“Thank you.” she says as I blot her hair with a towel, help her up out of the chair and then toss the towels in the dirty towel bin.
“Thank you as well.”
“For asking me to wash your hair, I wouldn’t have wanted my first shampoo to be with anyone else.”
She takes a few steps away from the chair then suddenly stops and turns back at me, a look of horror on her face that’s become a pale white.
“Are you ok?” I ask.
She stops her sentence short by covering her mouth with both hands then running to the nearest container, the towel bin, and starts throwing up violently.
Everyone in the vicinity stops and looks on in disgust and repulsion as Dusti runs over and puts her arm around Denise in a vain attempt to try to help.
“Denise, honey, everything is gonna be ok.”
Are the only words Denise gets out before she resumes heaving uncontrollably again.
Seconds later Charlie is rushing over to her as a crowd emerges around what’s playing out.
“Oh my god, Denise…” she says, trying to pull back all of Denise’s puke speckled hair as she goes on vomiting.
Two Learning Leaders dash their way up the stairs leading to Rene’s office and in under 30 seconds Rene is charging down the steps double-time.
She bulldozes her way through the crowd, coming onto the scene of Denise viciously throwing up into the towel bin and her eyes go wide.
“What in the good god-damn fuck is going on here?” Rene roars.