Go here for Scene One.
"Do your parents know you're here?" His voice is quiet. Non-judgemental. Designed to invite my confidence and trust.
Too bad I already know what lies beneath the sugar-soft syllables.
I rip the corner of a Splenda packet and watch the tiny crystals slide from their paper home, arc through the air, and plummet to the bottom of my Styrofoam coffee cup. "They checked out of my day to day life a while ago."
Six years, four months, and twenty-eight days ago, to be precise. Courtesy of a patch of wet highway and a faulty guardrail. Every day since then had felt heavy. Like trying to breathe underwater.
"Hm," he says and takes a cup of coffee for himself. Two sugars. Three creams. "Would you sit with me for a moment? I'd like to get to know you a bit more to better understand how I can help."
I wonder if he fed my sister the same line last year when she first visited this barren space carved out of the community center's basement. I shrug and follow him past small groupings of other attendees to the steps leading up to the dusty stage, it's once-graceful hardwood surface now beaten and scarred. We sit side by side. The warmth of his body brushes against my skin, and I hold myself still, waiting for the fury scorching my insides to subside.
It doesn't. I clench my cup and bring it to my lips, letting the bitter bite of scalding coffee wash away the acidic words lingering unsaid on my tongue.
"So. Meaghan, right?" He holds his cup loosely with steepled fingers.
I nod, though it isn't my real name. He'll know who I am seconds before he closes his eyes forever. I draw in a shaky breath as I rehearse my story. My sister's story. The one I know will entice him to pursue me. Stalk me. Kill me.
"If your parents aren't aware of your addiction, I can assume they didn't send you here."
I nod again, still staring at my coffee.
"So, who did?" His voice is still quietly sincere, but beneath it lurks something darker. Hungrier. Faint and blurry around the edges, but I know what to listen for.
"No one. No one knows what I do. What I've done." I sweep a glace at his face, hoping he sees fragility and fear when he looks at me. "I saw an ad for this group on the YMCA board months ago, but ..."
He speaks into the quiet, already eager to finish my sentences with what he thinks he knows of me. "But you didn't scare yourself enough to find the courage to come until now?"
The hand holding my cup shakes, though not from fear. I've got him now. Months of research. Planning. Existing on a steady diet of grief and rage and he's about to fall for me hook, line, and sinker.
"I'm just so tired," I say and finally hold his gaze. I don't have any trouble delivering the next line with absolute honesty. "I'm sick of my secrets. My lies. Everything I have to hide. I wish I had someone who knew all the things I'm afraid to say. I wish I had someone who could tell me how to fix this."
His eyes glow, and a slight smile quickens his face before dying in the wake of an expression far more sober. I wonder how long he spent training his inner predator to lie in wait beneath the still, calm waters of what he shows the world. How long he stood in front of a mirror, mimicking the face the rest of humanity wears with ease. Hiding the killer within takes time.
I hope I've spent enough time hiding mine. I'd hate for him to have the chance to put up his guard.
"I understand your secrets, Meaghan. Your lies. I've done the same." He puts his cup on the dusty step beside him and reaches to steady my shaking hands, encasing my ice-tipped fingers in strong, smooth warmth. "I can help you fix this, if you want. I can help you transform your life."
I look at our joined hands, wrapped around my cooling cup of coffee, and bite my lip as if undecided.
"Will you let me help you?" His fingers squeeze mine, a light pressure designed to reassure me.
My arm muscles burn with the effort to keep from wrenching my hands from my cup and wrapping them around his throat instead, but I give him a tiny smile of relief and nod. "I'd like that," I say softly, as if the weight of my secrets has just been lifted.
He smiles back, and I memorize the moment. I want to revisit it while I watch his lifeblood seep out of him and onto my sister's grave.