Sim gritted her teeth and hauled herself up a couple more stairs before having to stop. Her already raw palms burned against the freezing handrail. The 'you shoulda' seen the other guy' thing- yeah, that didn't really apply in this particular situation. She'd gotten her ass handed to her, not that it was at all a fair fight. Randall was twice her size, and he had huge steel-toed boots, judging by the bruising on her ribs. She took a few breaths - it hurt to breathe - and finished her journey to the fourth floor balcony, leaning heavily on the rail and trying hard to ignore the pain in her gut to walk normally. 408, 409... home. Lights were on, so Nazanin was still awake. She banged on the window, unwilling to twist around and fumble in her backpack for keys, and leaned against the door jamb.
Nazanin was in her sweatpants, hair loose and wet. She gave Sim a troubled look, and reached out to help her roommate inside.
'Oh, honey,' she said. Nazanin was fully aware of what had been going on with Sim and Randall, and disapproved on the basis of morality and danger, but Sim knew she was too good to say 'I told you so.' Instead, she guided Sim into the bathroom and sat her on the toilet seat while she fussed and turned on the shower.
Sim hated this. Nazanin was twenty-six, an up-and-coming industrial architect who had her life on track and made regular money in a city that was always building. She was principled and dignified, as well as beautiful and gracious. Much unlike Sim, who at twenty-three worked a job at a print shop that had erratic hours and terrible pay, ran her own ferociously unpopular t-shirt store online, and sold coke on the side to pay for the nice (for East Harlem) apartment and the design school tuition. Sim was rotten and corrupt, Nazanin good and compassionate. Sim didn't deserve help from someone who'd never asked to be part of some criminal's fucked-up life.
'Are you bleeding anywhere else?' asked Nazanin, breaking out the first-aid kit and cleaning the cut on Sim's face with a sterile wipe as the shower heated up.
'I don't know. No. Naz, please, just go relax, I can take care of it.' There was understanding in Nazanin's eyes as Sim pushed her away, ashamed of herself.
'Take a hot shower, you'll feel better.' Nazanin closed the bathroom door on her way out.
With some effort, Sim stood and undressed, shuffling into the shower stall like an old person. She wanted to cry out of pain and bitterness, but she worked hard not to, and instead pushed her bloodied face under the hot water, rubbing it with her hands.
'Fuuuuuck,' she sighed, needing a whole breath to accurately describe how terribly she'd screwed herself- and she really had. She hadn't been able to front her supplier, Randall, for the next couple ounces, and she already owed him money. The guy was a bit of a hair trigger. He beat the living crap out of her for asking for a loan, but the brick of cocaine was by her head when she came to.
It was in her backpack now, radiating guilt from the hallway. When Nazanin left, she'd portion it and do her rounds. Her customers were all fairly good people, wealthy types who paid extra for discretion and Sim's clean appearance. Her days off from her actual job were spent cruising around the suburbs in her understated Honda, looking like the exact opposite of a coke dealer. At this point with her regulars, she could get away with charging a little extra, just so she had a better chance at paying off her debt while still making rent. It wasn't really a plan, but it was all she had.
Sim didn't drink much when she was with Nazanin, since her roommate was Muslim and it was no fun to drink alone, but it seemed like one of those exceptional times. In one hand, Sim held a bag of ice to her puffy eye, and the other clung to the neck of an open bottle of Jim Beam. She was sitting with Nazanin on the couch. She had changed into sweatpants and a t-shirt from the fun run her high school hockey team had done, featuring a tiger who was also wearing sweatpants, and she was already a little drunk, so she felt a bit better. Nazanin had connected her laptop to a projector, and they were watching old Friends episodes against the wall in order to forget what a shit show life had become.
Both Sim and Nazanin were 20-somethings living in New York City, but they were finding it a bit tough to relate to the television show. Eventually they stopped paying full attention.
'What are you going to do about Randall and the money?'
'Keep paying him off like I have been, I guess. Keep selling.'
'Simone, you have to get out of there.'
'I know, but in the meantime I don't see myself winning any lotteries.'
'You've got your job at the print shop. And your t-shirts.'
'They can't afford to pay me a living wage. I'd have to find a cheaper place to live. The Y, perhaps.'
'At least they've got a pool.'
There was silence between the roommates as Rachel said something vapid.
'Sim, you need a job that doesn't entail getting beat up and arrested. I can cover you for rent until you find it." Nazanin reached for Sim's hand. Sim was reluctant to let go of her liquor bottle, but welcomed a gesture of tenderness after such a crappy day. She stared at their hands, comparing hers, calloused and ink stained with scraped and bruised knuckles, to Nazanin's, soft, clean, elegant, utterly feminine.
'I'll find something new, but I have to push what I have now. You know I don't like it, but the money is solid.' Finding something legal to do would definitely mean a safer life for an incredibly tolerant best friend, and in the end Sim cared more about Nazanin, who would amount to something and who deserved to have the best life, than herself.