Start reading Are You Sara? by S.C. Lalli and enter to win!
A smart, twisty novel about wealth, ambition and dangerous longing, in which the layers are peeled back on two young women desperate to break away from the expectations placed on them, leading to devastating results.
Thursday, September 29
"There’s a dead girl in the bathroom.”
I look up. Gavin is staring at me, a tray of empties balanced on his left hand.
“Dead?” I ask.
“She’s a corpse. Who the fuck was serving her?”
I shrug. Although the place was packed earlier tonight, only Gavin and I were behind the bar. One of us had served her.
“Deal with her, would you?” he says.
“I was just about to leave.”
He gestures behind him. “Get her out of here, and then you can go.”
“Just fucking handle it, Sara.”
Gavin takes off before I have a chance to protest. He’s chivalrous like that. Annoyed, I make my way through the bar toward the bathrooms. It’s just past 2 a.m. and last call was half an hour ago, but there are still a few dozen stragglers finishing their drinks or falling asleep at the tables.
I push open the door to the women’s restroom and find two denim legs sticking out of the far stall. I sigh.
“Hey,” I say. “You.”
I let the door click shut behind me. The girl doesn’t respond and I take another step forward.
“I need you to get up.”
Literally, I need her to get up. I’m five foot three and sure as hell can’t carry her.
The girl groans and I soften. I wonder how young she is. Gavin tells us not to check IDs on weekdays. It’s the reason he’s still afloat.
“Are you OK?” I drop to hands and knees and peer under the stall. The girl is flat on her back, her head resting against the base of the toilet. She’s sporting a dark-wash jean jacket much like the one I’m wearing, and her long, chocolate-brown hair is all over her face.
I reach my hand out and brush her hair away, and when she still doesn’t move, I crawl under the stall. She’s petite, too, and there’s just enough room for both of us on the ground.
“Hey,” I say, more gently now. I shake her arms. “Let’s get you out of here, huh?”
She lets me peel her off the ground, my arms supporting some of her weight. I flip the lid down and manage to get her on the toilet seat. Her Marc Jacobs bag knocks against my hip.
“Who are you?” she asks groggily.
I smile, thankful she’s waking up. “Sara.”
“Really? My name is Sarah! With an H?”
“No H for me.” I pause. “Where are your friends? Can I get them?”
“I don’t have any friends.”
I open my mouth to speak, but then she continues.
“My friend went home with my other friend,” she says, her voice singsong. “If you catch my drift.”
“So you’re here by yourself?”
Sarah giggles, as if I’m ridiculous. “I’m here with you.”
With my arm wrapped around her waist, I help the other Sarah out through the kitchen exit that backs onto a quiet residential street. It’s a chilly autumn night, and when she starts to shiver, I button up her jacket.
“You’re a fox,” she slurs. We’re eye to eye, and I laugh.
“So are you.”
She leans forward and kisses my cheek, softly. “Do you want to smoke?”
“I’ve got class in the morning.”
“We’ve all got class in the morning,” she says.
“Do you want me to call you a Ride?”
Sarah doesn’t answer me as she fetches a joint from her back pocket. I’m tempted to ask her if she’s sure that’s a good idea in her state, but I’m not her mother, so I stay quiet. Instead, I watch her lean against the brick wall of the building, one foot tucked up beneath her as she lights up the joint and rests it on her bottom lip. She looks impossibly cool. I haven’t smoked in ages, and I don’t even like pot, but when she gestures for me to take a hit, I do.
Within minutes, I’m high. Sarah is an open book and I’m laughing at something I don’t remember her saying. A cloud is enveloping me, pleasant and hot, and I am only vaguely aware when the street lights seem to start flickering to “Hey Jude” by the Beatles. When a black car stops down the road and its lights go off. Then, when Sarah takes my hand.
She seems to think we’re friends. She is speaking in earnest, and I can hear her but I’m not listening. My head lolls back, the night air on my face. There are stars winking at me through the trees.
“Shit,” she says suddenly. “I’m going to go.”
I realize I’m sitting on the curb, and I stand up to join her. She’s fumbling with her phone, ordering a Ride. I’m a twenty- five minute walk from home, but I’m way too out of it to make the trek, and so I do the same.
Our phones ping at the same time. Our Rides are close.
“Do you ever wish you could be somebody else?” I hear her ask. I look up and find her gazing down the street.
“Yes,” I say. “All the time.”
“Who would you be?”
I don’t have an answer for her. Words are hard to come by; they feel lodged deep in my throat.
“I’d be Lady Macbeth.”
I’m about to tell her Lady Macbeth is a fictional character when a car inches around the corner and pulls up in front of us.
Sarah wraps me in a hug. “This must be me.” My reflexes are all off, and before I manage to lift up my arms in response, she’s gone.
I vaguely consider going back inside to tell Gavin I’m leaving, but then another car approaches. I stumble in, my eyes closing as soon as my ass hits the seat.
“Are you Sara?” a voice asks from the front.
“Yes,” I say, and a beat later, I’m asleep.
The driver wakes me up, grumbling at me to get out. I attempt to sit up straight, but my head spins. The driver yells at me again.
“I said get out!”
“All right, all right.” I fling open the car door. “Thanks a lot, man.”
It’s dark and I’m cold. I pull my jacket tighter around my body as I try to figure out on which side of Hillmont Road the driver has dropped me. The street is tree-lined, but nothing feels familiar. The trees are taller, leafier. And the houses . . .
I blink at the one in front of me. It’s three stories high with a cherry-red door and window shutters to match. It’s what rich people might call colonial. I swivel around, as if my small, shitty house will magically appear across the street. My heart sinks. It’s another mansion.
“Fuck!” I squat on the curb, more awake now. The cold is clearing my head. Was the driver screwing with me, or did I get into the wrong Ride? I open the app, and sure enough, my Ride is on its way to Hillmont Road, probably with the other Sarah in tow. I scroll outward on the map. The little blue dot tells me I’ve been dropped off in a rich suburb on the other side of Windermere.
I try to order another Ride, but the app locks me out and tells me my credit card has been declined. Just my luck to max out when it’s after three in the morning and I’m miles away from home.
Suddenly, a light turns on in the house and there’s a buttery glow from behind one of the shutters. When I think I see a shadow move past the window, I admit defeat and start walking. I wind my way through the suburb, the first of autumn’s leaves crunching beneath my sneakers, and finally, I find Main Street.
At this end of town, the stores are all selling baby onesies made out of organic fibers and kitchen gadgets that zest lemons and other fruits I didn’t know could be zested. I rarely come out this way, and I find myself staring through the windows at all the things nobody needs but everybody wants. At a women’s clothing shop, there’s a cardamom-green gown on display. I wonder who in this sleepy university town would need to buy a cardamom-green gown.
Slowly but surely, the streets change. There still isn’t a single car on the road, but now Main Street is lined with a mix of coffee shops and restaurants, used book stores, gyms, grocers and other businesses, like the movie theater, that rely on students. I cut through the intersection that would lead toward campus or back to Gavin’s bar, but I keep heading north. It’s quarter to four in the morning, and I still have a way to go.
I walk block after block, and finally I’m getting close. Not much has survived in this part of Windermere. Besides the occasional nail salon or convenience store, most storefronts are shuttered. When I get to Hillmont, I head east. I’m only two blocks away now. I pass a block of rundown apartment complexes, then a daycare, and then I stop. Something feels off.
I look up. There’s an odd hum coming from up ahead. Lights, too. Are they flashing? I squint, trying to make it out. I can’t tell if one of my neighbors has left their headlights on or if I’m still high.
I cross the final intersection before my house, slowly. I’m only fifty feet away now, and the flashing lights come into focus. It’s a police cruiser.
The word comes out as a croak, so I clear my throat and keep walking forward.
“Hello?” I try again.
My house is tucked away beneath a broken street light, and it’s dark as hell. A shadowy figure emerges from my front walkway, and I tense as it draws closer.
“Who are you?”
“Ma’am, I’m going to need you to stay back.”
“Ma’am, my name is Officer Reynolds, and I’m going to need you to stay where you are.”
“But that’s my house. I live there.”
The officer comes into full view. He’s blocking the walkway with his large frame.
“You live here?”
“72 Hillmont Road.” I pause. “Why?”
Just then, somewhere in the distance, a police siren wails. And then another one. And another after that.
My heart pounds as I realize they’re getting closer, and I step off the pavement and push past the officer.
He grabs my arm, but it’s too late. I see her.
The familiar denim jacket. The mess of chocolate-brown hair dripping down the stoop.
I buckle. I feel two arms catch me as I slide down to the pavement.
“Do you know her?” Officer Reynolds ask.
“Yes,” I say, right before I black out. “Her name is Sarah.”