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[Ongoing story of two brothers. Here is Merrill, the one trying to stay clean after he’s relapsed. He’s meeting the girl (Shea) he’d started seeing before. His “guy” is his rehab mentor.]

After James found me fucked up, he’d sent Shea a message that I was back in rehab for a tune up and I couldn’t see her for a stretch. That’s the only business I took care of in rehab and now I have to face being out again and I want to see her. My guy said to tell the truth and take it slow. First thing is keeping to your program, like he always says to me.

Shea and I are meeting at the church. Safe ground for me. Pastor Bob knows what happened but he’ll never understand why. I walk slowly and let the rhythm of my legs calm my heart. Some chemical is racing around my heart and makes me feel bad, but walking takes it down a notch.

She’s sitting on the steps to the church and stands up as I get closer. I walk very carefully and softly, not looking at her. Yet.

“Hey.” What else can I say, forcing myself to stay on her soft brown eyes. I want to touch her, but I don’t know if I have permission. “So, now you know. This is me.”

She reaches for my hand and I remember how soft she feels and how her hair smells. I stop myself.

“I’m sorry if I caused you any pain.”

She drops her head the tiniest bit to the side. “But I thought everything was so good.”

“It was the best of ever. You aren’t the cause. Nobody’s the cause. Nobody except me and I don’t have control of that.”

She doesn’t take her eyes off me. “Can we sit here?”

We fold down close but leave a space between us. I find her warm hand. “I really like you and everything we did was the best for me. But now I have to be focused on living my boring life. No looking left or right. Nothing more than getting through the day as calmly as…I don’t know what.”

She laughs. “You’re such a funny guy.”

We laugh, that’s her line about me, that I’m a funny guy. But as I know, I’m not funny. I’m fucked up. That’s what I tell myself. Just to remind me of what’s ahead for me for the rest of my life. The prison of being me.

“But can we see each other?”

“I don’t know. Yes, is what I want to say. Yes, I don’t want to lose this.” But I don’t know. And no one can tell me what to do. I am alone with this monster of me. “I want to be with you more than…” More than is healthy for me. She’s a drug, like all the drugs. I want the drug of Shea. She holds my hand tight and looks across the rock garden in front of the church. I wish we were out hiking and looking across one of those valleys where the rocks could have names.

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