In the dark, we heard Harvard’s CD player. The driving deliberate bass, the whine of the lyrics, the sarcastic pop of the drum, barely there at all.

Breathe it in and breathe it out
and pass it on it’s almost out.
We’re so creative so much more.
We’re high above but on the floor.

It’s K’s Choice. It’s a song about drugs, but there is not a user in the room. It’s a song about drugs, but no one is going to partake. Yet everyone in the room knows, they understand and they feel it, because everyone of us is an addict.

We are addicted to the group, addicted to the family. There is no life beyond us that any of us are willing to live.

We are in Heart’s living room, and though it is four in the morning, she is not in bed. Her baby girl will wake up at seven in the morning no matter how loud the music is. Heart will have to be a mom in three hours. Her day will be relentless as a single parent, but she needs us to stay.

Harvard is home from college. It’s Sunday night and tomorrow he has class. But he was failing out before he enrolled. He can’t be there; he needs to be here. He sleeps all day in Springfield when he should be in class, and at night he listens to music, at night he walks the campus looking for us.

Jammy has to be at her high school in four hours. Her mother went to bed hours ago while Jammy was still out because she knows her daughter has good common sense. Her mother sleeps well in the knowledge that her daughter will not stay out too late. But here she sits, in the dark, the music pumping. She wants one more song. She wants one more joke. She wants just one more.

Walleye hasn’t been home in days. He has given it up and will sleep right here where he sits. In the living room at Heart’s, there is no furniture. We are all sitting or laying on the floor. Walleye has no couch to cuddle up on, but he forsakes his bed at home. He breathes here, the rest of the world is stifling. He will go home once this week to get clean clothes. Then he will find us again, and he will breathe.

The deeper you stick it in your veins
the deeper the thoughts. There’s no more pain.
I’m in heaven. I’m a god.
I’m everywhere I feel so hot.

Chanel doesn’t go home anymore. She gave it up for the group. She stays with friends all around the city. She stays here, paying her way with babysitting duty and cleaning around the house. She has to be near her family. She has to take care of us. We can’t get along without her and she knows it.

Katty left six hours ago. She was gobbled up by caring parents. They wanted her home for school tomorrow. They wanted her back so they could see her, talk to her, feed her and see she is safe. But while she lays unsleeping in her bed, she is here with us in the dark, a heart disembodied, beating away from its body. A heart yearning for its home.

“Again,” I said, and Walleye groaned.

“No, not again, play some Pantera,” he said. “Play some Megadeth.”

“We need it again,” I said. “Harvard.”

His finger didn’t fumble when he touched the CD player in the dark. And we were hit with it again. The whining lyrics, the steady drum.

Heart I have known for years. She was older when I was in middle school, but still she came to my house to pick me up. Older and cooler than me, she was not above taking me out into the night with her years back. Not too cool to be family then. I brought them all here to her so she could obsess with us.

Her old man caught me on the phone. “I don’t know the kind of people they are, but I can smell chaos.” He was states away in the Air Force training. He had not seen her in months, but was glad to talk to me. “I need a voice to enforce Heart’s will. They will walk all over her, Jesse. She is too damn sweet. If she says it, you make it happen,” he said. “For that, I will give you the spare room.”

“Wake up, pussies!” Basic shouted as he shoved the door open and slapped the light on. Everyone groaned as a hundred watts smacked us in the face.

“Damn you to hell,” Harvard said.

“I brought food.”

“Bless your soul,” Jammy cried.

We were all sweating in the heat of a busted air conditioner. We ran out of Heart’s iced tea around midnight and none of us were sure when we ate last. Walleye snatched the bag out of Basic’s hands as Jammy hugged Basic. He patted her on the back and she touched the very tip of his nose with a little tap.

Twenty hamburgers from McDonalds. Heart picked two. I chose three, and then the others fell on it like a pack of jackals.

It was six in the morning before Heart went to bed.

“We are done,” I said. “Lights out.”

Jammy cried when Harvard drove her home.

I went back to my room to the beast. She rolled over and pulled me into her thin arms. Her body heat felt good. “What time is it?” Mary whispered.

“Six,” I said.

She jolted up. “It’s six in the morning?”

I nodded.

“Do you know what time I have to be in class tomorrow?”

“I’m hoping deep into the afternoon ’cause Harvard is your ride back.”

She huffed and wrapped her arms around me. “When are you going to get an apartment?”

“Not enough money.”

“If you took more hours at Pizza Hut, you could get your own place and we could leave all of this behind.” She sighed and wrapped me in a tight hug. “You don’t need them. They are trash. You are so much better than they are. Let’s walk away from them and forget we were ever here.”

And this is why I kept her. She would tell me things like this. Tell me of how they were all unworthy. Would tell me I was better than them and that I could be something. I knew it to be lies, but it was so sweet to hear. She said these things to me, but didn’t believe them.

In her heart, she hated me. She cried in her sleep. She pulled away from me most nights when I came to bed, and she wept when we had sex. Deep in her soul, she wanted to run, get away and never think of me again. But she was an addict, too. She craved the looks they all gave me, the way I beat them and commanded them. She loved being the king’s woman. She had dipped her toe in the water of my legend and now she was drowning.

In the back of my mind, the song played again.

It’s not a habit. It’s cool. I feel alive.
If you don’t have it, you’re on the other side.
I’m not an addict.
Maybe that’s a lie.

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