A man’s voice called her name. Nola was chilled to the bone as she sprinted down the endless dark alley, wheezing and breathless. Her heart thumped faster than her feet carried her through the stench of rotting garbage and stale urine. She feared for her life. Terror gripping at every muscle in her small frame.

Don’t look back. She fought the urge to glance backwards over her shoulder. It came again more aggressive than before, Nola! She wasn’t sure, but those mere steps behind her told her she wasn’t alone. The closer he got to her, the weaker her legs became. Then suddenly, she stumbled and fell, air rushing from her lungs, leaving her gulping for breath that wouldn’t come. She was falling, screaming, dying!

     Loud music blared from the next room, vibrating through the walls, awoke Nola in sweat. She hated go-go music, but it saved her from the nightmare. Feeling disoriented, she lifted her head from the pillow and did a double take when she glanced around the room. It looked strange until her eyes brought in familiar things.

“A dream,” she murmured, breathing out the last of her dread. Then, she sat still for an eternal moment, threw her head back on the pillow, and listened with irritation to Elle’s rattling subwoofer.

     Damn. Another failed attempt at decent sleep. She had tussled with the clammy sheets and jerked awake every few minutes to look at the clock, stare at the dark ceiling, or at nothing at all. It was hard to truly blame Elle for her chronic insomnia, but when she woke Nola up in the quiet early morning hours – the only time when sound sleep came if it ever came at all – the sin was hard to pardon.

She managed to sit up, and in one move, swung her legs round so that her feet hit the floor. She grimaced. The cold wood sent a frisson up her legs. Shit. What time is it, she asked herself for the umpteenth time.

What better way to calm jumpy nerves than a dose of nicotine. She snatched her pack of cigarettes from the nightstand and lit one. She took several greedy pulls, feeling an instant bit of pleasure from the Salem. The taste was smooth. She felt her heart slow, as she struggled to force that terrible dream from her mind.

     Nola’s eyes rolled unhurriedly to the brandy bottle near the foot of the bed, and she thought. Monday. She thought back to a girl who reached the pinnacle of her existence on an academic scholarship at Alcorn State University, doing a Bachelor’s degree in journalism. A girl who was an Alpha Kappa Alpha and a cheerleader who dated a star football player. And also editor-in-chief of the campus newspaper. All of which wasn’t bad for a girl who had grown up dirt-poor.

She’d been an underachiever until the ninth grade and then spent the next fourteen years compensating for it, working harder than anyone she knew. The goal was always simple: to fit into a world from which she once felt so detached. Success, she told herself, ought to be open to everyone, not just to those lucky enough to be born into old money.

     An easy breeze through her first year and a half of college, she was one of the popular students on campus. Well-liked, too. So in the fall of 1989, she ran for student government president. She never considered herself diplomatic or political, but she wanted for all she was worth to win that election. She had a competitive nature so the loss seemed impossible to shake off. Long hours, she recalled, had consumed nearly all of her time. She ran a great campaign, canvassing the seventeen-hundred-acre campus and debating issues. Had constant lovers’ quarrels because she was hardly available for the love of her life. All for what? A painful defeat by Fabian DeLord, a Political Science student who hadn’t put in half the effort. So much for the theory that hard work brought success.

     DeLord was one of the campus rich kids. He drove a sports car, a Jag, and dressed like Idris Elba on the Red Carpet. Nola couldn’t help it: she hated him. She hated that entire world, couldn’t suppress her resentment of over-privileged rich people who hauled in enormous incomes, lived in magnificent mansions, paid their kids’ college educations in full, and gave them cars whose insurance premiums alone could have bought her a perfectly serviceable old Dodge. Fabian DeLord was a case of silver-spoon advancement through life. He had it all. She, on the other hand, had more problems than a mathemetician.

     A mild jolt forced her eyes open again. More staring at the bottle of Sazerac, full of kick and depth. More lamenting the impossibility of sleep. She picked up the bottle, popped the cork, and took a swag. The liquid scorched her throat as it slid down. She half-filled the cocktail glass from the night before and tossed back another blast.

     “Get to AA,” her friends told her. “You need help.”

     She smirked at the thought of how her friends saw what they wanted to see. Her friends knew nothing about her life full of secrets… cast in darkness. Even on the brightest day, she felt like a caterpillar in a cocoon, trapped in her painful childhood. The nightmares reminded her of this. Why can’t I just get over it, she wondered. She continued to nourish the past–a past that came more vividly, certainly more vivid than the present…