I can’t tell you how many times I screamed I know at that voice. Then I told it to shut the fuck up.
The thing is, at the time, I was so young and desperate. Desperate for money. Desperate for stability. Desperate to keep the only family member I had left under the same roof as me. Not just because I loved her, but because we’d already gone through so much, and I didn’t want her to live out the rest of her adolescence, knowing what it was like to struggle. To live without food on the table every night. To never know where you were going to end up.
When I was working the streets, I saw the desperation that I knew was inside of me in the customers’ eyes. You know, the addicts. The cocaine was like a religious temple to the junkies and they needed to pay their respects once a week. Sometimes more. Sometimes I thought that I could see their eyes sparkle when I handed their bag of blow and they handed me a wad of cash. It’s like they had wet dreams about mountains of white powder and they were rolling around in it, tossing it up in the air like snow, laughing gleefully when it floated down from the air and landed on their tongues.
The guilt never came while I was making the sale. It came afterward when realization of what I’d just done hit me. I just contributed to someone’s death for completely selfish purposes. I’d always thought that. I used to go home after a night on the streets and let the guilt completely drown me. I’d lie awake in bed, fighting off sleep, and hate hate hate myself for what and who I had become.
Until one day right before Murph joined the brotherhood he gave me some helpful advice. “You need to stop beating yourself up over this, Sean. You did not make those people addicts. They were addicts before you came along and they’ll still be addicts after you. They have to find it within themselves to make a change for the better if they want to.” Sometimes I think the big lug is smarter than he lets on.
Even though Murph’s advice was so true and sound, part of me still thought about punching Connie in the fucking face and screaming, What are we? Shouldn’t we be trying to help these people instead of fueling their addiction? Shouldn’t we be trying to clean up the streets to make this city a better place to live?
But I never did. Not because I was afraid of his reaction. Or because I was a young coward. Or afraid of dying even. I never said anything or did anything because I knew, deep down in my gut that the man just didn’t give a damn. And I knew my ranting and raving wouldn’t make a damn bit of a difference.
I hear the door to the four-plex open, but I ignore whoever came in until a soft, feminine voice greets me with, “Hey Sean!”
I snap to attention when I see Hadlee’s roommate, Lara. I nod. “Hey.”
The truth is my mind is too clouded with thoughts of Hadlee and haunting images from my past to have any kind of conversation now. So I stand up slowly, brush past Lara, and say, “Have a good night.”
But she follows me. “Hey wait up!”
I groan and pray that she doesn’t hear me. She doesn’t. I know this because when I stop and face her, she’s wearing a wide smile. “Did you need something?”
She stops a foot away from me, at her door and sticks her key in the lock. “Lee’s birthday is a week from Saturday. A bunch of us are taking her out. She’s been through a lot this past year and I thought it would be a nice gesture. You should come.” She twists her key and the door opens slightly. “I think she’d like it if you did.”
“I can’t,” I tell her as the disappointment sets in and I’m sure she can hear it in my voice. “My title fight is Friday in Atlantic City. I don’t think I’ll be back in time.”
“Oh.” Lara sounds disappointed too. “Well if you somehow
make it back in time we’ll be at C’est La Vie. It’s this new swanky—.”
“I know,” I cut her off. “I’ve been there.” What she doesn’t know is that I’m one of the three owners.
“Oh, cool.” She walks into her condo and hangs out the door. “Well, if you make it back, I’ll see you then.”
She closes her door and I hear the lock click. I walk back to my condo and think about what I can do to make Hadlee’s birthday memorable and happy.
And that’s something completely out of character for me.
I’m at my Tuesday afternoon appointment with Satine.
I’m in my usual seat, staring at the mountain of papers on her desk while I wait for her to come into the office.
My mind wanders.
Trails off down a well-beaten path enclosed by hurdles of uncertainty and fear.
My stomach has been in knots since my last encounter with Sean. I’m not sure what to make of it, but there’s this itching feeling beneath my skin, and I feel like it won’t go away until I see him again.
Which I know will be tomorrow.
It’s Wednesday and I’ll see him when I go to the gym for my self-defense class. There’s a part of me that’s excited by this and a part of me that’s nervous. I’m excited because when I look at him, the tingles start low in my belly, and when I see his beautiful face it draws my lips up into a smile. For the longest time, I felt like I hadn’t smiled in ages and it feels amazing to do it again. But I’m still nervous too. Nervous because he’s brooding and dark sometimes, and his moods seem to change like the wind. I’m also nervous because I don’t know what he’ll say about my random exit on Thursday.