Today's Reading


I slam the shot glass down on the table. The amber liquid stopped burning on its way down my esophagus three swallows ago. I'm on my sixth shot. I think. I blink, and the room tilts. I cling to the latest shock of euphoria that floods my system. Triple-distilled Mareenian whiskey with legalized boosters is a glorious thing.

I don't wipe the miserable look that steals onto my face in time. My friends glimpse it.

"You good?" Selene asks.

I snicker at the irony. Usually, I'm the one looking after her when we're partying.

"We should call it quits," Zayne slurs. He stands up, adamant, only to sway and flop back onto his barstool.

Selene snorts into the ale she's been sipping alongside the shots. "Lightweight."

She's not wrong. Zayne is only drinking so much tonight to indulge me. I insisted we celebrate with one last hurrah before Commencement in the morning busts up our trio. And they leave me behind.

Selene and Zayne will be declaring Praetorian, throwing in their bids to become two of the most fearsome and respected soldiers of the Republic. I'm not declaring anything. I'm doing what the psymedics who conducted our exit evals suggested and taking a year off. It's been three months since my grandfather's death, and according to the professionals, I'm still struggling at finding healthy ways to cope. Unprovoked brawls have become my friend. I've stopped attending most classes and combat-training blocks, filling that time with parties and drinking.
I grip the edge of the table, cursing the fact that while I still have a nice buzz, my euphoria is gone. The extra, numbing punch that boosters pack is fleeting, until you reach a certain threshold, and then the boosters drop you into oblivion. Oblivion is what I'm seeking tonight. The crooked room means I'm almost there.

Our waitress, a petite girl with red hair a shade lighter than Selene's, saunters up to the table. "Can I get you another round?" Her green eyes framed by short, dark lashes don't stray from Zayne. She's been eyeing him all night. She angles her body so he gets an eyeful of her cleavage.

He grins, taking notice and flashing twin dimples. "Sure, Leslie." The way her name slips off his tongue is both an assertion and invitation. Selene and I roll our eyes at the same time. Zayne's ash-blond hair, blue gaze, tanned complexion, and boyishly handsome features make him more than attractive. They make him gorgeous. He knows it, and every girl he comes across knows it.

Leslie blushes while nibbling coyly on her bottom lip.

Ha! She's coy, my ass. The slow way Zayne's half-lidded eyes rove over her curves is exactly the thing she was angling for each time she came over.

"What time does your shift end?" he says.

She pauses, pretending she has to think about it. "One."

"I'll wait on you. Escort you home."

I roll my eyes again.

She blushes redder and emits a breathy "Okay."

"Drinks," I butt in with the demand. "We'll take two more rounds." Two should get me to where I want to be.

"How about one more and we call it quits?"

I stare at Selene like she's sprouted horns. "Since when does Selene Rhysien, party girl of our academy class, cut a night short?"

She and Zayne exchange a look. I bristle because the look is about me. "Commencement is tomorrow," Zayne says, slipping into his usual rule-following form. "We all need to be coherent, upright, and not nursing head-splitting hangovers in the morning. It's probably wise to cancel the drinks and head to the barracks."

Fuck that noise. I hiss in a breath at the pounding that kicks up in my head. The tilted room starts spinning. A glum, victorious smile twists my lips. "I think it's too late for me to avoid any of that." I laugh like it's no big deal. "It's not like tomorrow is as important for me as it is for you guys.

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