Foto bij CHAPTER ONE

Amber threw her working shirt in the garbage with an angry toss. The fabric, curled up in a ball, hit the target with a satisfying plop. With a deep sigh, she let herself fall onto the old pillows of her bed. A cloud of dust sprang up, making her cough.
This was the third time in six months that she had been fired and right now, she was all through. Almost desperately she ran with her hands through her hair and over her face.
It wasn’t like she didn’t try, it was just that it was extremely hard to make a living out of scrappy little jobs. She had been a delivery girl, had worked in a supermarket as a cashier, had been a dishwasher at a restaurant and right now she was an employee at a McDonald’s… Or at least, she used to be. She got fired today.
And it hadn’t even been her fault! There had just been a budget regression, meaning that some of the more unexperienced employees were told that they basically needed to quit and find another job because they wanted to keep the better employees. Some of her co-workers had come to her, after they had heard the news, to tell her it wasn’t all bad, since working at a McDonald’s didn’t get you anywhere and now she had the opportunity to grow. And that was true: working these kinds of shitty jobs was the equivalent of living in hell, but that didn’t mean that she could just afford to get a job that paid relatively well, or at least enough to not having to worry whether to buy food or clothes. Her dream would be to become a singer, or at least do something with music, but due to her financial problems, that would probably never happen. She was too inexperienced and because she had to make a living, she couldn’t play music. Without a college degree, she couldn’t get a better job but she needed money to go to college. It was just an endless circle of money she didn’t have and it tired her out. It simply drained her.
She was 24 years old right now and all of her old friends from high school had already finished college, were perhaps even working already. Right now she was barely holding it together.
Her body was tired and she wanted a break, knowing fully well that she couldn’t. Right now, she needed to find another job as soon as possible. But God, she didn’t want to. She didn’t want to because it felt so awful to just work your whole life as nothing more than a cockroach, serving people, doing the dirty work. She wanted to live for more than that; she wanted to actually live for something instead of trying to make it through the day and hoping that tomorrow will be better.

In a wave of rebelliousness, Amber decided to go out that night. She wanted to go out and dance and drink until she felt nothing anymore, everything at once or a mix of those two. It had been so long since she had felt the deep base of music controlling her body in the basement of a club. Music had always been her passion and it was almost scandalous how long she had gone without letting the tunes guide her body, making her feel high like ecstasy never would.
The only problem was that she barely knew any good clubs. Her co-workers always talked about a bar called The Safe, but knowing the stories, it wasn’t a place she wanted to go. The Safe wasn’t exactly safe.
Despite loving music, she disliked clubs in which sometimes it got too intense. Fights and sexual harassment were all too common in The Safe and Amber didn’t feel like accidentally getting into a fight or feel insecure because some drunk girls might think she was a boy. It had happened before and it was honestly a pain in the ass for both parties, especially for Amber.
She looked for something that was a bit quieter, something a little more… friendly. It wasn’t like she was looking for new friends or something, but she didn’t want to end up in a fight with some random line-shooter with biceps the size of a soccer ball and the brain size of a walnut. She wanted a club with people whom she didn’t have to hide from.
The problem was: she didn’t know a club like that.

That didn’t stop her from going out though. Amber prepared herself by bringing up her hair – something she rarely did, since she was just too lazy and too laid-back to care – and taking out the clothes she liked best. That meant, just a tank-top with arm holes a little too big, showing just a bit of her sports bra she wore underneath, and shorts with sneakers. The shorts were new and she liked the way they shaped her body. On top of that, they revealed a little bit that she had had these sneakers for the past four years. Their white color had stained and turned gray over the course of the years. But the sneakers had become a part of her, like her short hair and her tattoos.

That night, after kissing Jack Jack and Tuna good-bye, she went out. It was a little bit weird to go to a club completely sober, but she had to take care of herself. First of all, she had to get home by herself too and if she got completely wasted, she’d end up in the gutter somewhere with no one who would take care of her and secondly, the feeling of getting high on the music would be completely taken away if she was drunk. It just didn’t add up.
Amber took her skateboard and just decided to take a skate through Los Angeles and see where it would take her. If anything caught her eye, she’d go in there.

Amber had skated for at least an hour before she found something that stood out. It was a building called The Stairs. The name of the club was shining in brightly colored neon letters above the door, in the colors of the rainbow. There was a line in front of the doors and the security was checking IDs. Amber connected at the back and waited her turn. She showed her ID, paid for entrance and got in. As soon as she set foot in the hall, she understood why it was called The Stairs as well.
There were at least six stairs – more if you happened to be an employee – leading either downstairs or upstairs. Two led up, towards a bar and a lounge spot. There even was a pool table, which enlightened the short haired girl immediately. She liked to play, even with random people. One time, she had even spent a whole evening betting as well.
The stairs whom led downstairs seemed to lead to the dance floors. She could feel the floor vibrating under her feet from the heavy base music coming from underneath her.
Amber gave off her jacket and her skateboard – her board caused the two employees who handled the coat racks look up a bit weirdly – and decided to discover the place, going upstairs first to fetch herself a drink.
It was only eleven o’clock but despite the early hour already quite a lot of people had gathered, albeit only to drink a few drinks before heading off to dance. Amber got whiskey mixed with Coca-Cola. The drink was just strong enough to make her grimace, which, she supposed, was a good thing.

A little lost, she eventually went downstairs, hoping to take a look around and find her way before the crowd started to grow. She managed to find two dance floors, one big, one small. Both floors had another bar, albeit a lot smaller than the one upstairs. The other two additional stairs lead to the toilets.
The smaller dance floor immediately caught her attention. She guessed that most people would go to the bigger one, but Amber wasn’t the kind of person to go there into the crowd all by herself. She didn’t like it the way the human mass was so tight that her sweaty body would rub against those of a stranger because there simply was no way of not touching anyone; she preferred to just dance by herself without having to fear for suffication.

Amber went back upstairs to finish her drink near the pool table, hoping to maybe get someone to play with her. It didn’t take long before more people got into the club and the more people arrived, the more Amber noticed that the crowd was actually pretty strange.
Had she picked out some sort of alternative club, perhaps? A lot of people with strangely dyed hair had come in and she saw more girls with short hair than she had ever seen in her life. The boys wore better clothes than her and she almost couldn’t see any boy who looked like the typical jock.
It was an unusual crowd but Amber didn’t feel threatened by its strangeness. In fact, when she met the eyes of another short-haired girl and she smiled, she felt actually safer than she thought she would feel. In a club, she always watched her back a bit, knowing that you had to be careful with drunk and tipsy people. But this crowd didn’t come off as aggressive at all. It almost felt like she was finally home.

With new-found energy, she gulped down her drink. As the hall started to grow more crowded, Amber started to feel more comfortable too. Whilst she tried to make her way down one of the stairs, her shoulder accidentally bumped against someone else’s. Immediately, she turned around to apologize. The person – a girl, she noticed – also turned around immediately, causing them to bump against each other once more.
“I’m sorry,” Amber chuckled, rubbing her sore shoulder. The young woman laughed, looking up at Amber with twinkling eyes. Her hair was cropped short ‘till her shoulders, dyed dark brown, matching the color of her eyes. Her smile seemed to radiate sunlight.
“I’ll forgive you if you buy me a drink,” she chuckled. Amber shrugged.
“Fine. If you play pool with me,” she replied. The girl nodded. “What’s your name?”
“Luna, and yours?”
“Amber.”
They shook hands, both smiling widely. Amber kept her promise and bought Luna a drink. Her new friend also kept her end of the deal and played pool with her. Amber won – which wasn’t hard, she even had to teach the girl how to hold the pool stick – and Luna bought her a drink as her prize.
An hour had gone by and they kept talking for a bit more but eventually Luna’s friends called and she had to leave. Amber was left alone again.
Now that most guests had arrived and gotten a drink, they all left downstairs. There was barely anyone left upstairs and therefor Amber also made her way down to the dance floors. She tried the bigger room first, wanting to take a look and perhaps dance a little before she got to the smaller dance floor.
The crowd was moving gently along to the music, jumping up and down to the hard base that screamed from the speakers. There was a DJ standing on the stage, creating sets of music based on the latest hits. Amber knew most of the songs and she muttered along.
She got a new drink – just some beer this time – before heading to the dance floor. The crowd was thick and she couldn’t squeeze herself all the way towards the front, but she got a long way. It didn’t take long before she was in the middle of the dance floor, swaying along to the music. In no time she also jumped along and bellowed the lyrics back to the source.
Amber felt amazing. She felt incredible. As if she hadn’t been alive until now. The people around her danced with her and none of them cared who the other was. Knowing that after tonight she wouldn’t see anyone of this crowd was liberating. She could do whatever she wanted right now and there would be literally no consequences.

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