"My name is Meaghan Callahan, and I'm an addict."
The room stirs briefly as visitors sitting scatter-shot across the uneven rows of orange and silver chairs murmur greetings, offering placid acceptance of my statement as if it's an everyday occurrence to hear a sixteen year old girl admit to being one of the hungry. The lost. The broken who've managed to scrape their way up from rock bottom to cling precariously to a tiny foothold in the ranks of polite society.
Maybe my admission is nothing more than a ripple across the hard-won surface of the tranquility they fight to keep. Maybe they see themselves as they look at me. Cocaine Addict, the Younger Years. A few meet my eyes, boldly identifying with the pain they think they see in mine. Offering solidarity. Brotherhood. Hope.
It would be touching. If I wasn't lying through my teeth.
"Why don't you tell us your story, Meaghan?" He asks, his voice softening the syllables of my name with hints of his Louisiana roots.
I glance at him. He's taller than I thought he'd be. Dusty gold light from the bulb hanging above us sinks into his red-brown hair and lingers. His eyes, full of sympathetic patience, are green.
Somehow, I thought they'd be black. Or as close to black as a devil in human guise could manage.
"Meaghan? You're safe here," he says and a smile peels his lips from his teeth.
I am safe.
But he isn't.
I clear my throat and try to mimic his smile. I don't think I succeed because his expression moves from sympathy to guarded curiosity. Turning away from him, I face the handful of expectant faces waiting to hear yet another tale of misery and woe.
I could give it to them. And every word of it would be true. But the truth won't give me what I want. What I need. What I've lived for since the moment I stood beside her grave, the seams between solid soil and the freshly laid sod covering her still unmended, and promised his life in return for hers.
"I started using last July." My voice chokes as images of bitter-dark nights full of humidity and grief threaten to close my throat. I look at him to see if the memories of July spill acid through his veins the way they do mine, but his expression remains unchanged. Fury uncurls within my stomach, sharp and hungry.
"Why did you start?" he asks.
My hands clench, and I bury them in the pockets of my hoodie. "I'd lost ... a lot."
Everything. I'd lost everything.
"I needed something to fill the spaces, you know?" I address this question to the crowd, who nod in assent, but I'm watching him. The way his thumbs hook into the belt loops on his jeans. The way the shadows carve his face in half and slide beneath the collar of his polo shirt. The way his eyes stay riveted on me.
"We know," he says and smiles again. His sincerity is palpable.
But then, so is the dirt on my sister's grave.