By Audrey Epling

Ava sat on the edge of the sidewalk waiting for Valerie– a coke in one hand, cigarette in the other, the bottoms of her black corduroy pants brushing against the street. As Valerie pulled up, Ava began to rise, her heart pounding from her chest. This was the first time she would meet the people that Valerie hung out with every day after school. She got in the car, giving Valerie a nervous smile. 

“What’s wrong?” Valerie asked, clearly noticing the hesitation in Ava’s features. “Nothing… How was your day?” Ava asked, trying to change the subject. She didn’t want Valerie to think that she wouldn’t like her friends or was too scared to meet them. Valerie chose to ignore Ava’s anguish, instead, the girls joked and laughed throughout the car ride like they did as kids, sitting in the back of Ava’s mom’s minivan. 

Valerie stopped in front of what looked to be an old, abandoned art warehouse in the middle of the art district. The girls walked in, Ava’s heart began to pound once more. The room was dimly lit, and there hung a musk in the air. Valerie walked to one side of the room and a man came forward from the shadow. 

“What’s up, Skip?” Valerie casually said. There was no answer. Skip didn’t talk, instead, he handed Valerie a package, for which she handed him a small envelope. There was no dialogue following the transaction, nonetheless, their actions seemed natural. 

As the girls backed out, Ava asked about their interaction, trying to hide her apprehension.

“Oh… Don’t worry about it, it’s no biggie,” Valerie said, shrugging it off. Ava gave her a glare but decided not to push the subject any further. The girls walked along the sidewalk towards Club Congress, where they were supposed to meet Valerie’s friends. 

“So, what do your friends like to do?” Ava inquired. A worried glance swept across Valerie’s face. 

“Oh you know, the usual teenager stuff… party, hangout… Why are you asking?” Valerie seemed worried. 

“Just wondering if they’ll like me,” Ava shrugged. As the girls approached the old hotel, Valerie began to wave maniacally. A group of people waved back, summoning her to come closer. There were three boys dressed as though they were homeless– shirts that hung below their knees with the phrase “SUPREME” emblazoned across their chest, tattered jeans, and beanies that covered their scraggly hair. Another girl peeked from behind them, her fishnets peeking out from above the waistband of her mom jeans, her baggy black shirt layered over a tight fitting red long sleeve. 

“Hey, guys! This is my friend Ava that I’ve been telling you about!” Valerie exclaimed. Her friends gave Ava a brief nod of approval and began to walk off. Valerie followed in haste, telling Ava to keep close behind. They walked behind a building, where they found a small alley. Valerie pulled out the package from her front pocket, opening it to reveal a small ziplock bag of Xanax. Ava got up, holding back tears as she realized the path that her friend had succumbed to.

“A street rat is a person who is comfortable wherever they are. This story took reference from Tucson teenagers– those that are typically found downtown, hanging out, and are seemingly free. The story references drugs and the idea of losing friends to addiction, focusing on the changes we go through in adolescence and the people we choose to be as a result. The story ends abruptly to allow the reader to come to their own conclusion about the characters and what they ultimately decide to do.”