as·suage /əˈswāj/ verb

  1. make (an unpleasant feeling) less intense.

“Bullseye!” Cameron cheered. She threw up her hands in celebration, absentmindedly dropping the other three darts she'd been holding.

“Okay, how in the world did you do that?! Your lack of hand-eye coordination is legendary,” her friend Ankita bemoaned from one corner of the couch, dropping to second place in their makeshift darts competition.

“I told you,” said Bea, the third member of their trio, crouching to pick up the dropped darts. “Being angry at your ex is a powerful thing.”

The three of them stared at their makeshift darts competition's makeshift dartboard, and the face of Cameron's ex, Vaneza, stared back down at them.

The friends had agreed that Vaneza's beauty mark was the obvious choice for the bullseye, and Cameron had hit it dead-on. Just a week ago, they were making out, and she'd moved up ever so slowly from Vaneza's lips to kiss that beauty mark on her cheek. The memory had just struck Cameron so powerfully that she'd pushed all she didn't want to remember out of the moment and into her dart throw.

Ankita sighed dramatically. “Fine, well next time I'm heartbroken, Bea, you need to get me a poster of my ex's face so I get a boost at darts as well.” Ankita was extremely competitive. She was also happily married, and had been for two years.

Bea laughed. “There's no way Arvin will ever break your heart, so you've just gotta get used to losing darts to Cam.”

“Hey!” Cameron snapped back. “Are you insinuating I'm going to have enough relationship problems in the future that this is gonna be a regular thing?”

“I said nothing of the sort,” Bea said solemnly, then stood and took aim. Her dart bounced off of Vaneza's heavily made-up eyelid and fell to the floor. “I'm also not good at this game, so really, what do I know?”

Cameron eyed the dart's haphazard path to its final resting place at the foot of the wall. She could take a joke. Her friends meant well. She knew this. “Guess you got lost in her eyes too,” she joked back, and Bea cackled.

“See,” Bea said gleefully. “There's the Cam we know and love.”

Ankita whooped, so Cameron took a bow, laughing. “That wasn't even one of my best lines,” Cameron groaned.

“Oh shush,” Ankita chided her friend. “This night is all about you, so your jokes are all twice as good on principle. Even the bad ones.”

Cameron beamed at her friends, but a much deeper weariness cut through her. In a different timeline, Vaneza would be here with them, the de facto fourth member of their group thanks to Cameron, and they'd be ragging on any number of guys Bea had dated that had ended disastrously.

Cameron trudged over to the other side of the couch from Ankita and sat with a muffled thump in the overstuffed cushions. Bea and Ankita glanced at each other worriedly over Cameron's down-turned gaze. Bea headed toward Ankita's side of the couch to lean against the armrest. They both waited for Cameron, giving her space.

“Should we really be doing this?” Cameron asked, motioning to the poster on the wall, to the handful of darts that stuck to it.

“What?” Bea said lightly, trying to get Cameron to crack at least half a smile. “Play darts on your cheating ex's face? I think so.”

Cameron didn't react. “If we were doing this with any of your ex's, Bea, it would be a such a cliche. Ankita, you'd have probably called us out for falling into some kind of chick flick movie trope before we even got started.”

“I don't—” Ankita spoke up, then stopped abruptly. She closed her mouth, opened it again hesitantly to finish her thought, then reconsidered and clamped shut once more.

“Just because it's Vaneza we thought it was okay to do this?” Now Cameron was working herself up, riding the wave of her emotions. “You say you love me but this feels a helluva lot more for you than for me!”

Silence. So quiet you could hear a pin drop. Or a dart, which did drop, out of Bea's slacking grip. Before she could scramble to scoop it up, Cameron shot up from the couch and dropped down to the floor to grab at the dart, pricking her palm in the process. Bea backed off in a jolt, staying upright thanks to Ankita's firm grip on her arm.

Cameron stood away from them, not facing her friends, not facing her ex. She simply examined the dart in her palm, the pinprick of a wound it made in her skin, the achingly slow darkening of red emerging from its center. It was such a small cut, such little pain; It hurt her more that it didn't take enough of the hurt she felt away.

“Cam,” Bea attempted. “We're here for you. What do you need?”

“We can stop,” Ankita offered kindly.

“We can stop,” Vaneza was saying urgently, fiercely. “We can stop. I'll break it off with her. I can make it up to you, I swear.” Her voice was hoarse. She'd been crying. Cameron hated it. She should be the one to cry, not Vaneza. She was the one who had been wronged.

“No, you can't,” Cameron was pacing from room to room in Vaneza's apartment, grabbing anything that was hers: a sweater she left on a chair, an umbrella by the side of the door, a toothbrush next to the bathroom sink.

“I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Cam, Cameron — look at me.” Vaneza whipped Cameron around to face her and held her shoulders tight. “Please. It was dumb. I'm sorry.”

Vaneza's eyes were wild, and Cameron darkly speculated whether it was because Vaneza was sorry...or sorry she got caught.

“It was dumb.” Cameron broke away. “I'm sorry too, that I thought our year together meant anything to you.” She headed for the door, backpack slung over one shoulder filled to capacity with everything she'd grabbed.

“Cam,” Vaneza called out. Cameron whipped around.

“No,” She admonished Vaneza, hand shaking, eyes blazing. “You do not get to call me Cam. Only the people who love me get to call me that.”

“Cam?” Bea tried once more.

Cameron turned abruptly on one heel and flicked her wrist. The lone dart shot out from across the room and lodged into the wall about half a foot under the bottom of the poster, just slightly right of dead center.

No one made a sound, until finally, finally, Cameron took a deep breath. “Let's chuck this thing and do something else.”

She granted her friends a small smile, but it was real this time. Small, but real, and growing steadily as she looked at them.

Ankita tested the waters. “You afraid after that throw you're going to lose to me after all?”

“No,” Cameron said confidently. “That landed exactly where I wanted it.”