Lead Me Not

By: A. Meredith Walters

prologue

maxx

just this once, I swore as I felt the needle kiss my skin. I grimaced as the sharp tip slid beneath the surface and connected with the waiting vein. The prick of pain bothered me. The sensation made me feel sick to my stomach.

Given how eager I was for the release, it was almost comical how squeamish I was when it came to the methods I had chosen to get my fix.

I don’t want this.

If only it were true. Too bad want and need were two entirely different things.

Sure, I didn’t want this. But my body sure as hell needed it. My veins burned as I unloaded the drug into my body. I picked at the skin around my nails, waiting for the high.

I had never gone to this extreme before. I had always kept myself perilously close to the edge without actually going over.

But this was different.

I was different.

And the need to drown out the chaos in my head outweighed the inherent fear I felt of the needle that now hung limply between my fingers.

I was a goddamned mess. I sat there, squatting in the stall of the nastiest public toilet I had ever been in, when I could be out there, doing anything else but this.

What the fuck was wrong with me?

My phone buzzed in my pocket, but I didn’t bother to look at who was calling me. Because I already knew it would be her.

Aubrey.

In a moment of stupidity I had called her. I had let my obsession with her rule me. Now she was worried.

I wish she would stop fucking worrying.

Christ, now I felt guilty. Because I should feel guilty for what I was doing to her.

I fisted my hand over my heart, ready for the pain that resided there to go away. I checked the time on my watch. Five minutes.

Five freaking minutes already. It felt like five fucking years.

Any second and I would forget about all of this.

My phone buzzed again, and this time I pulled it out and stared at the screen. Aubrey’s name flashed bright in the dimness.

Like a beacon.

Or my salvation.

Before I was too blissed out on the high to care, I felt the fear.

A deep-in-my-bones sort of panic that not even the smack could erase. It all had to do with her.

Aubrey.

And the consequences of my selfish choices on the two of us.

In my sudden clarity, I wished to God I could take it back—the moment when I had let the shameful taste of oblivion mean more than the peace I had found in her arms. I wanted to suck the poison from my veins and go back to those minutes before I had thrown my life away for a chance at drug-induced nirvana.

Because she was my nirvana. My quiet in the storm. And what I felt for her was a hell of lot more real than anything I could experience at the sharp end of a needle or through the chalky taste of pills in my throat.

But it was too late, and soon I wouldn’t care about any of it. And for the first time I hated it. I hated the high. I hated the relief. I hated me.

And then, finally, my limbs became heavy. My heartbeat began to slow. My mind, which was just a second ago debating whether to let her save me, clouded in a haze.

Who needed salvation when I had . . . this?

My phone buzzed again, and in a fit of anger, I threw it against the bathroom stall and watched with an encroaching indifference as the pieces fell to the floor.

My eyelids drooped, and my knees buckled. I slid down the wall to sit on the piss-stained floor as the air around me vibrated from the bass of the music playing in the club just beyond the door.

My mouth hung open, and all I felt was the euphoria. I fell to my side and pressed my cheek into the filth, pieces of my phone cutting my face.

Guilt. Fear. Panic. Even love . . . it was all gone.

All I had was . . . this.

And for now, that was enough.





chapter

one

aubrey

“here are the dates and times for the addiction support group on campus. We coordinate with the local substance-abuse treatment center in facilitating the twelve-week program. The BS in psychology program here at LU requires fifty volunteer hours in a certified program to ensure your eligibility for graduation.” Dr. Lowell held out the list, and I took it with a smile.

Dr. Lowell smiled back. She was a small woman with short brown hair and serious eyes behind wire-rimmed glasses. She exuded a no-nonsense persona, which is why I gravitated toward her so easily in my early days at Longwood University. I had craved her rigid demeanor to counterbalance the tailspin in my head.

“Aubrey, I know this will be tough for you, but I think it’s extremely courageous and downright awe-inspiring the way you’re using your history to help others. The group will be lucky to have you.”

I blushed at the compliment and tucked the paper into my bag. Compliments had always made me uncomfortable because I knew, without a doubt, that I didn’t deserve them.

“Thanks, Dr. Lowell. I’ll have a look at the times and check my schedule. I’ll let you know what days I can sit in.” I got to my feet and slung my bag over my shoulder. Dr. Lowell came from around her desk and followed me to her office door.

“I’ve already let Kristie know you’ll be assisting with the group. I’ll e-mail you her contact details; that way you can communicate with her directly,” she said, holding the door open for me. “Now, this will be a lot more than you simply sitting in the group and listening while taking notes. You’re going to be an active facilitator. You’ll be working with Kristie in preparing for the sessions. She’ll want you to lead discussions. Do you think you’re up for it?”

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