• Junkie

    The streets are a dangerous place for anyone, but for a kid, they’re particularly brutal. If you don’t learn this and learn it fast, you don’t survive. Of course, the idea of the street-wise homeless kid has been much romanticized in literature and television. You know, the kid who’s always plucky and clever enough to outsmart any oppressive adult. They’re pickpockets, scam artists, and they never get caught—unless it’s by the rich, childless man or woman who then takes them in and raises them as their own.

    Yeah. Guess what? It doesn’t work like that.

    A street kid’s life is brutal and short, especially if you have no one to watch your back. The only reason I didn’t die within a week was Connor, another street kid four years older than myself. He was a junkie. Heroin. It was by watching him, watching the things he did to himself—whether it was shooting poison into his veins or the other things he did just to get a fix—that I decided that I would never let that happen to me.

    “Heroin is like love, Mimi,” Connor told me once, his eyes dreamy and far away. He smiled. “You fall into it, and you’ll do anything to feel it again. Anything. Because it feels so damn good.”

    I could believe it, looking at his face as he rode his high. And I also believed that I would never fall in love if that was what love did to you. That brief sensation of pleasure was so not worth the hell Connor put himself through to get it. Besides, the drug itself—his love—drained the life out of him, leaving his face gaunt, pale, and his eyes glassy. Love seemed horrific.

    I would never fall for it.


    I met Aiden at Daily Grind, which is ironic. Coffee—even the smell—nauseates me, but sometimes the lady who worked the closing shift would give me the stale pastries that were left, and Connor and I would have our version of a feast.

    So I was waiting just inside the door, holding my sleeve over my nose and mouth, beyond irritated because the last patron just refused to make his order and leave. He wanted coffee, he said. The plain kind. None of that cappuccino, latte crap. No cream and sugar. Just coffee. But, he said, he wanted to know what kind of coffee it was. Were the beans freshly ground? Were they from Brazil? Everyone knew the best coffee was from Brazil. Why, pray tell, would you even bother to buy coffee beans from anywhere else?

    The woman behind the counter kept her pleasant I’m-listening-and-agreeing-with-everything-you-say smile on her face, but her shoulders were visibly tense. She was losing patience fast.

    Finally he sighed. Shrugged. “Fine, forget the coffee. I’ll take two of those.” He pointed at two of the more freshly made pastries, the cream cheese filled, chocolate drizzled kind, and my mouth watered.

    The woman’s shoulders slumped with relief, and she took the pastries out of their glass case, put them in a paper bag, and passed them over the counter.

    The boy took them without saying thank you, and immediately dug into the bag. I looked away, thinking he was going to eat it right then and there, and the stale pastries waiting for me no longer seemed as appealing as they had a moment before.

    Then there was a cream cheese filled, chocolate drizzled pastry right in front of my face, and I looked up, surprised to see the boy looking at me with a raised eyebrow. “You want it or not, kid?” he asked, and I snatched his offering without a second thought, consuming the entire thing in just a few seconds.

    He grinned. “C’mon, kid, I’ll buy you a real meal.”

    He gave me a home that night, too, a bed for the first time in two years. Security in who knows how long. Who can blame me for loving him?

    Who can blame for breaking Connor’s first rule?


    “Trust no one,” Connor said, glancing at me quickly, then away. We were sitting on the sidewalk, leaning back against the brick wall of a church building, and there were a few crumpled bills in the hat Connor had placed between us. When I didn’t answer him, he looked at me again. “Do you understand what I’m telling you, Mimi? That is the first rule of the street. Don’t ever trust anyone.” He sighed and looked back out at the people passing by. “Not even me.”

    I said nothing.

    “When you trust someone,” he continued, “you give them a little piece of yourself, and they can take that bit of you and do whatever they want with it. They can make you do things you don’t want to do. They can hurt you. Kill you.”

    “You wouldn’t do that,” I said. “You take care of me.”

    He looked at me for a long, long time, and then finally he leaned his head back against the building and closed his eyes. “I’m not always myself.”

    I wondered then if love, like addiction, changed you to your very core. It was an awful thought. And I determined in my heart that I would never let myself fall into the trap of trust, because trust and love were equally dangerous. I would always be Mimi, and Mimi didn’t fall for stupid things like that.


    Connor was furious with me when I moved in with Aiden. “You know nothing about this guy, Mimi,” he said, and there was a note of desperation in his voice that I usually only equated with those times when he was craving his next fix. It was odd hearing it in reference to me.

    I shrugged and gathered up what few belongings I possessed. “He’s going to take care of me.”

    “Yeah? For how long? Until he gets bored or fed up like your parents did?”

    I spun to face him then, my teeth clenched. “b*****d,” I hissed.

    “This guy could kill you.”

    “The streets could kill me. You could kill me.” I jabbed my finger into his chest. “Remember?”

    His eyes widened, and he took a startled step backward. “No…”

    “That’s what you said. You said not to trust you. So I’m not.”


    I slung my bag over my shoulder. “I’m leaving, Connor. I want a home, and I want—” I broke off. I was going to say that I wanted to trust someone, that I trusted Aiden in a way that I had never trusted Connor, but I didn’t want to admit that to him. I didn’t want to admit that I had broken the first rule. I shrugged. “I want more than you can give me,” I said, and then I left.

    I never saw Connor again.


    Obsession is like a pill. One Aiden takes daily, so ingrained into his habits that he doesn’t even think about it. Not anymore. Sometimes I think that if maybe I could just get him to miss a dose—one single dose—he’d stop looking at her that way he does. Expel her from his system, like purging a poison that has been injected under his skin.

    He thinks he loves her. Convinced himself of it, in fact. But obsession isn’t really love, is it? Not really. She’s like a drug he keeps swallowing down, consuming her until his vision blurs and his mind reels in a never ending cycle of Lucy. Lucy, Lucy, Lucy. And when he doesn’t see her for a day or two, he goes crazy. He gets this look in his eyes then, a tormented I’ll do anything, anything desperation as he lurches from withdrawal.

    He’s a junkie. There is no other word to describe him, and sometimes I hate him for it. He’s just like Connor in the end, except love is his heroin instead of the other way around. He’s yet another kid willing to sacrifice anything and everything for just one more dose of whatever poison his soul craves.

    And Aiden craves Lucy.

    It isn’t a natural craving like hunger or thirst or—hell—even lust. He’s just another junkie whose drug of choice happens to cost him nothing—except for peace of mind.

    I hate Lucy, just as I used to hate the drug dealers who haunt the street corners, though I suppose that I’m not being entirely fair. After all, Lucy means no harm, probably doesn’t even realize what she’s done, the horrible, wonderful misery she’s caused Aiden.

    But I can hate her for that, too. Is she blind? How can she not see the delirious fever in his eyes when he looks at her? But, ha! They’re just friends!

    Stupid girl.

    She’s exceptionally pretty, I suppose. Very sophisticated. Very put together. Aiden likes order, and perhaps her blatant tidiness played a hand in his addiction, but how silly is that? Order is boring. Pointless. Just like Lucy and all her silly fears and docile demeanor. But Aiden enjoys her absolute uselessness, her naïvety. He told me once that Lucy is innocent and easily broken and that she needs someone to protect her from the evils of human nature. I had asked if I needed to be protected, too, and he just laughed.

    “You? My wild little street girl? C’mon, Mimi, you should know better than that. Maybe you’re here to protect me.”

    He was kidding, probably. Most likely. But I latched onto that idea desperately. It sustains me to think that perhaps, when everyone else fails him—even Lucy—I will be the one to save him.

    Lucy could never save anyone.

    I mentioned that to her once, feeling a little smug, and she had thrown me a startled look, her dark blue eyes wide. “I don’t expect to even be put in such a position.”

    I waved a hand dismissively. “But if you were, could you?”

    She was silent for a long moment, her expression far away and vaguely tragic. “I don’t know,” she said finally, voice soft. She gave me a careful look. “I would try.”

    “But you couldn’t,” I snapped, wanting her to admit it.

    Aiden joined the conversation then, sensing Lucy’s distress and attempting to ease it like the addict he is. “Shut up, Mimi,” he said.

    I frowned, looked away. “I’m stronger,” I whispered, mostly to myself, but Aiden heard me.

    “Yes, you are.” He glanced at Lucy as he said this, gauging her reaction, and she smiled easily, not bothered.

    She makes me sick.

    Aiden grinned back at her and continued. “You are strong, Mimi, a rock in this sea of corruption that is humanity. People will cling to you and you will keep them from drowning. But, Mimi, remember this—you should never use your strength as a weapon against the innocent.”

    I blinked, glanced at Lucy, then back at Aiden. “Okay,” I said, because I wanted Aiden to smile at me the way he does at her, and he did, so quickly that I nearly missed it, and joy filled me with warmth.

    Someday, I thought. Someday I would repay him. Someday I would save him. And I will. Because I am a rock. A savior. But mostly I will save him because I crave
    Aiden like he craves Lucy. Like Conner craved heroin. Because I fell into love and trust. I'm addicted.

    In the end, I’m just another junkie.