“No, for real though,” said the voice, and I woke up enough to realize that it was coming from above me. I cautiously winched down the sheets, face screwed up to protect my eyes as much as possible. Ran my tongue along my teeth - what was that, bourbon? I didn’t drink bourbon. Weird. Aaargh, the light. The fucking light. Make it stop. “Seriously, Audrey, do you want me to call Jackson?”
I squeezed open one eye to see a tall girl standing over me, smelling like too much hair product and coffee (oh, wondrous coffee, yes, a small part of my brain cried out). Layla, I remembered. From the bar last night. And she knew Jackson, my brother. I must have followed her home? Maybe? “No,” I managed to reply from behind fuzzy teeth. “Don’t call Jackson. Jackson bad. Just… where am I?”
Layla rolled her bright blue eyes. “Lord, you didn’t seem this drunk eight hours ago. You’re in Key West, on vacation, on Whitehead Street, a few streets over from your hotel, which is the Secret Garden Inn.” She snapped her fingers. “Any of this ringin’ a bell?”
“Yeah,” I said, nodding and squeezing the other eye open. Now the light only roared at me instead of screaming bloody murder. “I think I knew all that. Whitehead Street. Okay.” I slowly hiked myself up on an elbow. “Did we fuck last night?”
“Did we - oh dear god, girl, no,” Layla says, and she’s laughing now, and I remember, through a haze, her up on stage in some bar, glittering from head to toe. Her voice seems deeper than I remember it, though. Strange. “To put it bluntly, you don’t have the right equipment for me.”
“Oh,” I said, sitting up properly while I tried to figure out what that meant. My shoes, on the floor, seemed very far away. She bent over and handed them to me, and I frowned when her breasts didn’t jiggle in quite the way I was used to breasts jiggling. But I slipped on my sneakers and asked, “Where do you work?”
“I’m a destination wedding coordinator and I sing at 801 on the weekends,” she explained. 801, I knew that name. 801 was the - my brain was heavy like thick oatmeal - drag queen bar that Jackson had talked me into going to last night. Layla had been performing, it was all over town.
“Wait,” I groaned, feet hitting the ground and standing up slowly. The room only spun a little bit, and there was far more purple in here than I thought. “You were there singing last night.”
“That’s right, darling!” she said. “Putting one thought in front of the other now, I see. Good, good. Coffee?” She held out a thermos and I grabbed it, muttered a hurried “thanks” before taking a few gulps. “Keep it,” she said, raising a perfectly manicured eyebrow at me. “You obviously need it more than I do.” Her (very) full lips twitched in amusement. But I was too desperate for caffeine to be embarrassed.
“They’re not kidding about this place,” I said, following her out the door. “Far from normal.”
“But close to perfect,” she countered for me, swinging her purse over her shoulder and patting me on the back. “Mind the cracks in the steps, now, darling. You never know what fascinating horrors you might find in them.”