Between Love and Hate

an excerpt

Chapter One

"We used to be friends," Pauly whined.

Si nodded, but didn't move away from where he stood next to the front door. It was the only exit out of the apartment, and Si wasn't willing to lose that feeling of freedom. He needed to get his stuff and get out because the heroin was calling to him. He knew Pauly would have a bag or two hidden somewhere in the place.

His hands shook as want tore through him. Christ! It'd been eighteen months since his last hit, yet the addiction clawed at his stomach and soul, demanding to be fed. An addict might go through rehab and get the drugs out of his system, but the craving was always there under the surface.

"How come we ain't friends no more?" Pauly asked, his yellow-tinged gaze almost eating into Si's resolve.

"I don't shoot up any more, Pauly. Can't stay clean while hanging out with the people who hooked me in the first place."

Prison hadn't taught him that. An ex-junkie who befriended him at NA--Narcotics Anonymous--had warned Si about the pitfalls of old friendships.

Pauly grunted as he staggered to his feet. Si dodged his grasping hand, knowing if Pauly touched him, he'd be sucked back into the love/hate relationship he had with H. Si snorted softly. Hell! All of his relationships were love/hate, even the one he had with himself.

Before Pauly could corner him, three women walked into the apartment. Jambrea, Lila, and Angela took in the scene.

"We got worried," Jambrea informed him. "Do you need help?"

More than you'll ever know. He simply nodded, then said, "Keep an eye on Pauly while I get my stuff."

Pauly looked confused. "What stuff? I sold all your shit."

"I figured, but I hid the important things before I went to jail."

Lila glared at Pauly. "Don't worry. We've got this."

Knowing the girls could take care of themselves, Si headed toward the room that used to be his in this shithole apartment. He'd created a hiding place in the ceiling of his closet when he realized he was going to jail. It was where he'd stashed the only two things it would've hurt to lose. After prying the tile out, he slid his hand into the hole, praying no one had found it. He breathed easier when his hand encountered a piece of fabric.

Si pulled the items from the ceiling, then, without looking at them, he left. He gathered the ladies with a glance, and they walked out of the apartment. He didn't look back, not even when Pauly called his name. Pauly and that apartment were things of the past.

"You can't get clean if you're always looking back," Kip, the ex-junkie, had told him.

Si remembered the night Kip had told him that. Need for H had been riding him hard, and when Kip had called to ask him to meet for coffee, Si had jumped at the chance. By the time the sun rose and it was time to go their separate ways, Kip had talked Si down. Si had gotten the desire to shoot up under control.

That night had been the last time Si had seen Kip. The next day he was gone, and Si worried Kip had fallen back into the same old habits and crowds that had strung Kip out and nearly destroyed him in the process. Yet some part of him hoped Kip had left town and started a life somewhere else.

It was something Si should do, but he couldn't afford to leave the state, so instead he moved to a different part of the city, got a better job, and made new friends. All of which were helping him stay on the clean side of the addiction line.

"I really want to go see that," Jambrea said as they approached the bus stop.

Si looked around and spotted what she pointed at. It was a movie poster for the next "Summer Blockbuster" movie. It starred a new, up-and-coming action star, and Si gasped when he saw the star.

"What's wrong, Si?" Angela glanced behind them, obviously checking to make sure Pauly hadn't followed them.

"I know him." He gestured to the man featured front and center on the poster.

"Everyone knows him. That's Kipper James. He was a big child star, but when he hit his teens, he fell out of sight. People were shocked when he reappeared last year, having been cast in this role." Lila shrugged. "One of my friends who's in the film business says this is going to be a great movie. He hasn't lost any of his acting ability."

Si shook his head. "It's not from TV or anything like that."

"Where do you know him from then?"

All three ladies stared at him, and suddenly Si realized he couldn't tell them the truth. He didn't know if Kip was open about his addiction, and if he wasn't, Si didn't want to be the one who outed him to the public. Sometimes it was hard to find sympathy from people when they discovered you tried to escape your life through drugs.

" know what? You were right. I must've seen a movie he was in when he was younger and remembered the name." He cleared his throat. "Oh, here's the bus."

He could see none of his friends believed him, but they weren't going to push the question. Thank God for good friends. Si boarded the bus behind the girls and sat with Angela as the vehicle pulled away from the curb. They knew Si was lying about how he knew Kipper James, but as long as his lie didn't include him using, they were going to let it slide.

"Hey, you want to go to the premiere?" Lila peered at him from over the back of her seat.

"How? Can you get tickets?" His heart skipped a beat at the thought of getting to see Kip, though he figured the man wouldn't acknowledge him now that he was hitting the big time.

"There's nothing to stop us from showing up and hanging out to see the stars when they show up. They're actually having it here at the Prince Theater since the movie takes place here." Jambrea smiled. "It would be fun to hang out and maybe get a close-up of Kipper James."

After thinking for a few minutes, Si nodded. "Sure. I'm up for that, though it depends on what day and time. I can't take time off just yet."

"I'll find out the deets and get back to you." Lila faced forward, along with Jambrea, and they put their heads together. He was sure they were planning their outing.

Angela reached over to poke Si's arm. "You know him from rehab, don't you?"

Si jerked, then shot a wild look around, hoping no one had overheard her. Of course, he wasn't concerned about himself. He didn't want Kip's reputation to be damaged if someone figured out he was a heroin addict.

"Don't worry. It's not like I shouted it, and no one has an idea what we're talking about," Angela said quietly.

"Yeah. He was my sponsor in NA," Si replied just as softly. "He disappeared over a year ago, right as I was leaving prison and figuring shit out. I was afraid he might have backslid, but it looks like he was getting his life back on track."

"You should totally see if you can get hold of him or something. Maybe see if he could meet you and talk. It would be nice for you to have an example of what you could achieve if you stay clean." Angela grinned.

Si snorted. "I don't need an inspirational moment to keep my head on straight, Ang. I struggled every day not to go, get a deuce, and shoot up. I know I'm never going to be cured of this addiction, but I've done what I could not to be tempted. Seeing Kip doesn't matter in my recovery."

"Sorry." She studied him. "You liked him."

"He was nice to me. I'd call him in the middle of the night, and he'd meet me wherever I wanted. I didn't know he was Kipper James. He was a friend when I needed one." Si rubbed his hand over his jeans, then he checked his pocket again to make sure his package was still there.

Angela patted his hand. "I'm glad he was there. So we'll go to the premiere, and you can see that he's okay. Then we'll go see the movie because, damn, that man is fine."

Si laughed. "Yes, he is."

He let Angela change the subject to a project they were in the middle of at the coffee shop where they worked. It was one of two jobs Si worked to pay his bills and help him get through mechanic classes. It might not have been the job his parents were hoping for when he was younger, but it was the one he liked and knew he could be good at. Plus, he was more likely to get a job, even with his criminal record.

He already worked at a garage, and once he finished his training, he would be able to go full time there. It would be less stressful not to have to try to organize three different schedules.

Checking his watch, Si made sure he had enough time to get back to his apartment, change, and make it to work without being late. He let the ladies' chatter surround him while he relaxed for the first time since he'd decided to return to his old life for one last visit.