Jada Ferrari lit the collection of miniature candles along the coffee table. Darkness evaporated from the living room.
As Jada leaned forward, Jesse Barlow admired the curvature of her figure, the way her brunette hair fell in curls past her shoulder blades.
“I just bought these today,” said Jada, who brushed her hand above the flames and sent the aroma of jasmine wafting through the air. Ever the center of attention, she sat on the edge of the sofa beside Cameron and Gavin, friends from an apartment downstairs, as Gavin lit the round of joints.
The scene, once common, had grown less frequent in recent months. Nowadays, Jada, a burgeoning film director’s assistant, sought company with people who could further her career.
Jesse’s career, on the other hand, begged resuscitation.
From the recliner at the far end of the room, Jesse, distant and disengaged, stared out the window at the crisp glow of a streetlight two stories below. At the chirp of an activated car alarm, Jesse leaned toward the sound in time to see a male silhouette emerge from the shadows and wander into the apartment building next door.
An anonymous man. Los Angeles is filled with them.
Then again, everyone is anonymous to someone. And everyone has an anonymous side, a shadow within, a guarded corner where secrets hide.
Gavin passed a joint to Jada. With a puff, she held her breath, coughed a few times, then fell back against the cushions and hung limber, as though she’d craved this all day.
Cameron grinned. “Next time, you buy.”
Spoken like a low-level accountant.
Jada waved her joint toward Jesse in a hypnotic-like motion. “Are you gonna keep staring out the window or get in on the act?”
Years ago, he wouldn't have hesitated. Never an addict or heavy user, Jesse enjoyed a recreational hit when the urge mounted within. But the pleasure had long passed. He’d grown tired of breathing the strange air, the subtle loss of control.
He wished his guests would leave but knew it would be a few hours. Soon the music would start—Beck’s Odelay, no doubt—followed by a raid on his refrigerator. Gavin and Cameron would argue whether “Loser” or “Where It’s At” was the singer’s breakthrough single.
Oh, what the hell. “All right, hand one over.” And with that, Jesse reached out his thumb and forefinger.
“There you go.” Jada beamed as she passed Jesse a joint. “You never have fun anymore. Gotta live a little!” She turned to her couch mates. “Right, losers?”
Lightheaded, Gavin giggled.
With the joint in his fingers, Jesse sank into the recliner once again. He yielded to the sharp herbal fumes that crept like a current through his veins and loosened his brain. The effect seemed immediate, his body no longer conditioned to the stuff. He focused on the array of candles as their flames increased in clarity and the jasmine grew richer.
Gavin exhaled a deep cloud and leered at oblivion, a pensive look on his face, like a stoned Socrates. He waved his joint in front of his face, as if in afterthought. “You know, those Rastafari guys say this stuff helps you get close to God.”
God, thought Jesse. The God who never seemed to give him answers to a lifetime of questions. And as Jesse sat, present yet isolated, those questions resurfaced in a torrent.
Why did she have to die?
Why did I leave them behind?
Jesse leaned back further against the black leather cushion and clenched his jaw.
I’m a preacher’s son, he thought.
So how did my life get so fucked up?