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          Go to Sleep, Go to Sleep           The smell of damp, decaying wood and mildew proliferates the air; the stale, malodorous stench wafting unpleasantly throughout the entire building, permeating every inch and corner of the two-tier with its foul, obnoxious presence. It’s

 

I lie here in this incredibly soft, cushioned California King Bed, draped by navy blue silk sheets in a room illuminated only by the dim glow of scented candles.   The blended aroma of lavender and jasmine fills the warm air, but despite the pleasant, therapeutic scent, I am hardly relaxed.   The sound of my shallow breathing fills my ears, and it becomes even more audible as I feel it getting slightly labored, no doubt with sheer anticipation.

KIAShit. I can't feel my legs. It sounds so damn cliché, but I really can't. My feet are suspended in mid air, hanging next to each other like two wooden planks. My body is immobile and it also feels unusually heavy. Nothing is in focus, and I'm desperately struggling to stay awake. I'm insanely light headed, and right now, my brain feels like a huge chunk of boiled Play-Doh. I feel like shit.

ANNIEI place the gold medallion in my hand, holding it like the prized possession it is. It fills my entire palm, and its metallic, tetragonal outline is wonderfully cool against my skin. I lightly run my index finger over the intricate details of the emblem, feeling the tiny ridges and furrows embedded in it like I always do. I've probably examined the thing a million times now, and every single time I see it, I can't get over how beautiful it is. I think now I'm starting to see why Henry, my best friend, collects stuff like this. He's been talking my ear off left and right about this particular medallion for a while now, making it no secret that he wants it in his collection. And, today, I'm going to make that happen.

“Are you sure you’ll be fine by yourself, Tina?” my best friend, Alexis, asks for the millionth time, and I can almost see the apologetic pout on her face.   “Oh my God, Lex, for the last time, yes!” I say into the receiver, sounding as exasperated as I feel. I know she’s trying to be thoughtful and probably feels guilty that I’m at home by myself tonight, but her empathy is starting to sound a lot like pity; something I can honestly do without, especially today. It's Valentine's Day. It's also my birthday.

Lights.

 

I see nothing but lights.

 

There are vibrant, colorful lights everywhere.

 

There are lights to my left, lights to my right, lights shining from above me in all forms; from electronic billboards and party glow sticks, to disco ball confettis and artificial illuminators, sprinkling and splashing in every direction, bombarding my eyes from every angle imaginable.

        My fingers still around smooth, lengthy stalk, my gaze trailing between it and the group of its kin. Slowly, almost apprehensively, I slide the lone office rose in the vacant flute.   A perfect fit.   Twenty-three roses.   One for every year I've never received

      I toss my phone with an exhale that's simultaneously charged and deflated, exiling it to the plush embrace of the comforter. The impromptu three-way with my cousin and best friend served to only drain me further instead of calm my

      I lie awake, eyes cast to the ceiling, sleep-deprived brain cells imbued with the past twenty-four hours on repeat, my body still humming from last night. The grueling lapse since my charity date with Zane hasn't tempered the erratic state

        In the fullness of fractured time, the biting resonance in my head begins to wane, the pounding in my chest gradually subsiding until I can finally manage to suck in some semblance of a breath.   I grapple to get a hold of

      Strained eyes swell through immobility, bulging in their locked position.   I go static. Every last part of me collapsing. My body unable to bear its own weight. Even the most basic, anatomical movements become obsolete.   One moment rolls into another. And then

        I exhale.   Mostly by default.   But the sense of relief that takes shape doesn't feel remotely as satisfying as it should with the sheer ignominy twisting alongside it.   Readily averting my gaze, I reach for the 21 Questions game, the urge to stick

        Tight.   Everything feels tight.   My chest.   My limbs.   Even the air around me.   A woman with any semblance of worth or moral standing must be adequately covered up. Decent at all times. All my existence, through childhood, adolescence and insipid teenage years, the lesson of