Jay’s T-shirt featured a giant blue robot on the moon. Japanese characters spelled LuLu’s Space-Time Acceleration over the stars. While Dan puzzled over the kanji, Beatrice surreptitiously sat left of Faith on the couch.
“Can you read it?” asked Dan.
“Of course,” said Jay. “RuRu no Jikuu-Kasoku. I learned the pronunciation the first time I visited Japan. I always check whether the final volumes of the manga were released when my work sends me to Asia.” The symbols had complex sub-parts made of multiple strokes. “Plus I know Chinese, and lots of characters carry over.”
Dan nodded and counted pilots in their cockpits. When Dan and Jay stood face-to-face, it seemed a mirror stood between them: Dan was pale and Jay was dark, but they had similar haircuts, identical jawlines, and indistinguishable builds. “Here, Jay, sit down. Faith has extra centipede-powder if you’d like to try some. Beatrice and I could trip-sit both of you. Oh, and happy birthday! Faith brought us a cupcake.”
“Oh! Thanks, Faith.” Jay sat on Faith’s right. “And, hey, Dan… Beatrice told me she might need to leave early. She’s on-call at the hospital today.”
Beatrice refused to touch Leo, the water-pipe, as Faith taunted her with it. “It won’t bite, BeatBax.”
“You promised you’d cut down on bug-sticks.”
“It’s not cricket, it’s centipede! And from now on I’ll only smoke my home-grown crickets. They’re organic!”
“Does that really mean anything?” Beatrice sniffed the bowl of powder. “Ick. Do you know what you’re getting into, Faith?”
“Nope! You’re the nurse. Tell me!”
Beatrice used her phone to show Faith a website warning of various bugs. “The psychedelic high from smoking centipede lasts minutes, but it can feel like ages—and some people have lifelong psychological complications after one dose. It’s not just a big bug-stick.”
“I didn’t peg you for a bug-head, Dan,” said Jay.
“With anxiety like mine, you have to be.” Dan set three glasses of orange-juice on the coffee-table and sat right-most on the couch. “Who’s partaking? Drink a little juice.”
Faith and Jay sipped orange-juice. Beatrice did not.
“Allow me to demonstrate.” Dan held the pipe aloft. “I’ll light the powder and plug this little hole with my thumb. Breathe in slow until I unplug the hole.” He mimed igniting the blowtorch while plugging and unplugging a hole near Leo’s stem. “Then inhale, hold it, exhale, and chug the rest of your orange-juice.”
Dan inhaled through the pipe. The water in Leo rumbled quicker when he unplugged the hole. Faith leaned close. “Neat!”
“Who wants to go first?” asked Dan. He held the pipe to Faith and Jay.
Jay folded his arms like the robot on his shirt. “I’ll go first. Let’s get this over with and see if I like it.”
“Thanks JayJay.” Faith wiggled her shoulders. “He knows I’m nervous,” she said to Beatrice.
“Don’t be,” Beatrice chastised. “Panicking is the worst option on a psychedelic.”
Jay nodded and sipped more orange-juice. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
He inhaled through Leo. Dan torched the centipede-powder. White smoke slipped through slotted glass fingers and burbled through ice-water. Dan shut off the blowtorch, but Jay’s inhalation stoked the embers until the smoke looked like milk.
Dan unplugged the hole. “Now.”
Jay gasped the smoke deep into his lungs. His coughs spilled orange-juice on the carpet. He threw his head back to quaff the remaining juice. When he put down the orange-juice, he froze and stared through the wall.
“Wow.” Faith couldn’t pry the pipe from Jay’s grip. Dan rubbed Jay’s knuckles until he released his grasp. “Maybe I should wait until he comes down to take my toke?”
Dan cleared ash from the bowl with a paperclip and packed the last of the centipede-powder. “Take it now. I’ve heard it’s better with company.”
Beatrice watched Faith put the mouthpiece to her lips. Faith met her gaze and coyly kissed the glass buboes around the mouthpiece. “Can BeatBax light it for me?”
Beatrice shook her head. “No. I can’t. I’m barely comfortable watching.”
“Okay. I’m sorry, BeatBax. Thanks for being here for me.” Faith sipped orange-juice. “Light me, Dainty.”
Dan scorched the powder. Faith grinned at the cloud she caught in the chamber. Dan unplugged the hole. “Now.” She gasped the cloud and coughed it into her orange-juice, spilling everything. Dan gave her the extra glass. “Sorry Beatrice, I guess there’s no orange-juice left for you.”
“Hm,” acknowledged Beatrice. She watched Faith chug the juice and sit stock still. “Now what?”
Dan rearranged the pillows to help Jay relax. “We should make sure they don’t choke on vomit or chew their own tongues off, but otherwise they’ll be fine.”
Beatrice sighed. Faith still held the pipe like a vise. Beatrice rubbed Faith’s knuckles like Dan had rubbed Jay’s and put the pipe on the coffee-table.
The four friends sat on the couch. None looked at another.
“I like your outfit,” said Dan.
“Thank you,” said Beatrice. “It’s what all the nurses wear for work.”
Dan smiled and chanced a glance at her. Beatrice fiddled with her phone. “It looks good on you.”
“Thank you,” Beatrice said definitively.
Dan shrank. “Faith told me sometimes I make you uncomfortable. I want to apologize.”
“There’s really no need.”
“I know. She told me that, too. Can we still be friends?” He extended a hand for her to shake.
Beatrice considered it. She finally shook hands without eye-contact. “I need to go,” she said.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to chase you away.”
“You know I’m on-call today. I have to go to the hospital.” She stood and picked up her purse. “Goodbye, Dan. Take care of Faith and Jay. Make Faith text me when she’s able.”
Dan watched Beatrice shut the door behind her. Through the kitchenette window he saw the 1:00 bluebird-line strike Beatrice head-on and smear her across the intersection.