I loved you once. A love I thought irrevocable. A love I mistakenly believed could transcend both time and circumstance. Under the influence of my dimwitted, naïve, traitorous heart, I became intoxicated with what I now know was simply a figment of my self-indulgent imagination. So drunk on the feeling, I couldn’t see what was right in front of my face. So foolishly enamored, I blindly followed my heart into the depths of an emotion that would ravage me.
Years later, I know now what I wish I knew then. I am stronger. Smarter. Tougher. I will not allow myself to be broken again.
I loved you.
I raged for you.
I wept for you.
And now, I’m letting you go.
Author’s Note: Under the Influence is the journey of two childhood friends that spans the course of five pivotal years in their lives. It is a story about their discovery of true friendship as it blossoms into first love, their experience of crucial sacrifice and ultimate betrayal, and their endurance of agonizing heartbreak on the way to finding lasting redemption.
I am not a good person.
And I don’t pretend to be.
There may have been hope for me at one point but now, as I stare back at the hardened face and vacant eyes in front of me, there’s no denying the truth. All hope for me was lost years ago, stripped clean from my mind as they broke me. The life I’m indebted to now is one packed with corruption and polluted with lies.
I try to breathe in deeply as I rinse the freshly spilled blood from my hands, but the bitter pang of disappointment begins to compress my entire chest. It seeps along the previously etched grooves that line it, burning the hollow channels that were created with each punch to my stomach and blow to my ribs.
I rarely have these moments of weakness, when I wish I hadn’t allowed myself to be drawn into the darkened path that is this life. But right now, I find myself wishing that I had been strong enough to brave my childhood on my own. That I had been able to fend off the monsters that lurked in dark rooms and reeked of alcohol, able to protect myself from the multitude of broken bones and black eyes inflicted by the hands of those who were supposed to fucking protect me.
But I wasn’t. And now I’m stuck, hopelessly adhered to a life in which I have chosen to forgo conscience for security.
Little did I know the day I met Darius Roe, I would be making a deal with the devil. That I would be forever bound to a life from which there is no escape.
Although I started out as his lackey, I grew quickly—both physically and within the hierarchy of his organization—to become his weapon. Not only his muscle, but a tool which has many uses. His most prized possession.
And now here I am at eighteen years of age, long since graduated from errand-boy. I watch the familiar streaks of someone else’s blood swirling around yet another porcelain sink. Someone who also made a deal with the devil but didn’t deliver on his end.
I always deliver.
After drying my hands, I curl my fingers over the lip of the sink and place my palms flat on the cool ceramic surface, silently watching the reflection in the mirror. Cold, dead eyes stare back at me.
Not a spark of life left in them.
In fact, the only bit of humanity I permit myself is that of Spencer Locke. She’s the one thing, the one person whose mere presence provides some sort of sense of relief from the constant feeling of asphyxiation that encompasses me.
She is my reprieve.
Spencer Locke is the one slice of happy I have in this shit pie I call life. Darius Roe is a ruthless motherfucker.
The two will never cross paths.
I would, with absolutely no hesitation, lay down my life to make sure that never happens. Spencer’s safety has been and will always be my concern—no, my priority. And in order to assure that safety remains, she must never know the real me. The cold, calculated, hardened criminal that I am. She will only know the Dalton Greer I permit her to know.
Just like everyone else that I come into contact with.
To Rat, I’m the entertaining best friend. To Spencer, I’m the overprotective big brother. And to Darius, I’m the lethal weapon.
None of them truly know me.
Because the truth is, there’s nothing more frightening in my world than those who know you—who really know you. The ones who know your deepest, darkest secrets. The ones who know what you’re going to do before you do it. The ones who know not only what buttons to push when they seek your attention, but also the ones that can be used to completely incapacitate you.
They can be your strength.
But they can also be your weakness.
And just as a chameleon changes color to blend for protection, I’ve learned to evolve into the person I need to be in order to survive the situation at hand, all while keeping people at arm’s length.
Yet sometimes I can’t help but wonder what my true colors would have been had I not been subjected to this life. I question what it would be like to just let someone in, to tell them all of your unforgivable truths and discover they still love you in return.
I find myself utterly fascinated, awe-struck even, that there are people actually capable of truly loving someone without wondering when and how they will be betrayed. However, the knowledge of their existence also saddens me because the cold reality is, I will never know that type of love. I will never know the freedom to just be with someone, without pretense or fabrication, without the endless lies and untruths.
Maybe that’s why I keep holding onto Spencer when I know I shouldn’t. When all my instincts scream for me to let her go, to cut those ties and just let her be.
I’m too selfish.
Therefore, I will plaster on my over-protective, big-brother face so that I can see her again, just to get my fix on the relief she provides. And in turn, I will continue the lies.
I will continue telling myself the only reason I insist on my frequent visitation is because I want to see to her protection.
I will continue convincing myself the things I say to her are merely pretenses which accompany my façade.
But in this rare moment, I will also concede that like a moth to a flame, I’m drawn to her.
To her innocence.
To her kindness.
To her ability to love…
To all the things I wish I was capable of but have sacrificed in order to survive.
Because just seeing her demonstrate those capabilities with me and willingly share them with others, the knowledge that the ability to do so actually exists in a world outside of mine somehow frees me—no matter how temporarily—from the chains that bind me here, in this suffocating place.
Yes, Spencer Locke is indeed my air.
I just hope the immorality I’ve chosen to bury deep within my soul doesn’t one day pollute her very essence.
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