There was smoke before his eyes, and then there was not.
Sometimes he had to remind himself to breathe. In, out, deeply or you'll pass out. In, out. Soothing? Not really, but holding his breath for long moments, until he could feel the beating and weight of his heart in his chest, made him realize he was awake.
And he had to remind himself he needed to stay here, and now.
His walk to his job at the convenience store was slow, he took his time. The cold settled in his bones until he shivered from inside, the white smoke of cold an uneven company to his anxious thoughts. Right, tap tap, against his collarbones, tap tap, with his right index and middle fingers, the tips hitting bluntly against both prominent bones - tap tap. It didn't work, but it had become almost a reflex, an instinct branded with anger and confusion at the back of his head.
He walked into the store and said goodbye to his coworker, one who still asked how it was that he handled the night shifts and early classes, and he always dismissed her with the best smile he could form, a poor rendition of a half broken smirk. She looked pleased with the answer and laughed, 'ah, to be young'.
Ah, yes, young. Did it even matter when he felt that he had lived twice too long?
He went to his boss's office and said hello, the older man hurried a wave, gave him the keys to the cashier register and doors and headed out quickly, mumbling how he had to go and pick up his daughter from practice; he never mentioned what kind, and he never asked. The shifts at the 24/7 store were unconventional, but they could afford that since it was a family owned business; he thought his hours suited him fine, from ten o'clock to six in the morning. Plenty of time to sleep before his classes, or in his case, try and fail to sleep before his classes.
He put on his blue and black vest with a little nametag that read: Davi. He sighed, Friday was a busy day because people came in to buy alcohol, ice and all the shit they could use for last minute parties. For one or otherwise, he wasn't judging. He licked his lips and sat down, pulling a book from his backpack under the counter and settling on a playlist to fill the room of the somewhat spacious store. Fill the space, fill the silence, only way to keep his thoughts at bay, on a frequency that became lethargic static. Music as an anesthetic. Could be worse, anyway.
He could've liked booze to make himself sleep, but he hated the thought of being drunk, out of control; he could've liked the fake relief of nicotine, but he'd always found the smell revolting, and it could become a bothersome and expensive addiction.
Music and books, however...They always paid off in their own way. They left a piece of themselves on his skin, a small plaster to try and put some of himself together. He ran through the cracks, eventually, but it still brought the same comfort of a pause, an extended moment in space where he forgot that the man made notion of time existed - he was alone, with melodies swirling and voices kind enough to let him in and paint him a story as he ceased to exist, or with inky trails of silent voices dancing in his mind, dusty fingertips that ran through second hand, already well loved pages.
He felt himself shiver, the cold refusing to leave his body. He made himself coffee and sat down again, checking the security cameras were recording and the alarms were on. The playlist stopped for a few seconds until it changed and started shuffling again. He remembered to check those things, it was important, he thought.
He remembered how just six months ago someone had came in, pointed a gun to his face, and he hadn't moved a single inch; he'd stood behind the counter almost motionless as a statue. He could recall the angry and frustrated face of the robber, once more pointing the gun right at his lips. He had noticed that the gun wasn't shaking, but the man's eyes had looked scared. Had he been scared? The psychologist had said 'you're in shock', that he should keep going to sessions in case there was some post traumatic stress disorder they had to deal with later. Right. He had nodded along, wondering how appropriate it would be if he said how much he wouldn't have minded the gun firing a bullet through his face, but he had stayed silent. They didn't need to know that...Besides, he had wanted to keep his job, prolonging stuff like that would have been a bother for everyone. Not worth the money at all.
His stomach burned, an angry reminder of meals skipped and forgotten. He took an old packet of cookies out of his backpack and bit slowly, washing the sweetness with bitter coffee. When was the last time he had eaten? Well, no use in caring now. The cookies settled heavily in his stomach, it made him cringe and chew faster, eat more, until his stomach ached. He should've realized he wouldn't be able to throw up here. He downed the rest of the coffee and hoped to be able to have some of it in his stomach to bring up later.
He felt sick, so he made himself physically sick to stop the rotting food from settling deeper. It was a constant push and pull, sometimes food didn't make him feel disgusting, but more often than not he had to put plasters over his cut up knuckles, his skin almost too tender from the stomach acid constantly washing over the thin surface, teeth sunk deep. His pale hands were often cut up and bruised, spidery fingers stinging with a new burned layer of skin. Pink over blue, a painting he appreciated in the light. Hurting himself inside out, at least he couldn't call himself a hypocrite.
The sound of the bell at the front doors made him look up, the customary greeting at the tip of his tongue.
"Good evening," he managed to sound a little bit alive, even though his tongue was reluctant and his muscles lead heavy.
The figure was wrapped in a thick, black scarf that covered half of his face, but his pink nose came out as he smiled, brown eyes slanting softly.
Davi changed his playlist, lowering the volume so he wouldn't bother this and other customers, keeping an eye on the little screen under the desk, 'always aware, Davi, be careful, Davi', his boss had said sometimes. He complied, still confused, but not wanting to cause any more trouble. He followed the customer with tired eyes, the guy took two tea bottles and three bags of sodium free chips.
Davi charged him, gave him his change and looked up to again be faced with starry brown eyes, happiness wrinkled in the corners. He expected the sickness that came with that picture, uncomfortable and unfamiliar. But it never came. Happiness, sometimes, suited someone. This stranger wore it like a delicate layer of paint.
"Thank you, have a good evening," his monotone drawl was received with another smile, the scarf falling slightly down his costumer's face, tan skin and curved lips red against its previous warmth.
"Thanks, uh, you too."
He walked away and the bell rang loudly inside Davi's head. He thought of church bells in the morning - deafening, demanding attention. His hair might have been a light shade of sky blue, but even against that brightness, his eyes stole the show. Davi smiled as he saw the undercut of his hair - it was colored in pink.