Poet (Avenues Ink Series #3) by A.M. Johnson
Melissa Trujillo knows suffering. She’s tasted it, touched it, injected it. Sobriety is a gift, but it isn’t enough to wash away her secrets.
Kieran O’Connell knows sacrifice. He’s owned it, held it between his fingers, and felt it in his knees. Words are his freedom, and they’ve begun to fade.
Two different worlds, one moment and the Earth shifts—granting them a path.
His eyes meet hers. Her hand fits his.
Kieran finds his muse.
Melissa finds her new addiction.
When sin meets virtue, angels fall, and the truth, it becomes a blade. Together they’ll walk the sharp edge, but if her lies cut too deep, not even his words could save her… save them.
The scent I’d always hated clung to the black fabric of my Trujillo’s Kitchen work polo. Grease and onions. The two scents dominated the small space of the confessional as I kneeled down. I’d worked at our family’s restaurant once a week for the last five years. I’d tried everything but I swear, I couldn’t get that fucking smell off my skin for days after a shift. I winced as the priest cleared his throat and immediately felt guilty for cussing, even if it was just in my head.
I made the sign of the cross, lowered my head, and whispered, “En el nombre del Padre, del Hijo y del Epíritu Santo.” I swallowed down the fear that was coating my throat. Hiding behind another language always felt nice, but I was well aware that this priest spoke both English and Spanish. There would be no hiding allowed. “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned, it has been…” Too long. I paused and the weight of all the years bore down on me. Even though the screen obscured his eyes, Father Becker’s stare could be felt all the way down into my stomach.
“It’s okay.” His calming voice opened my eyes. “You can start over.”
I didn’t miss his double meaning. He was young, and my dad wasn’t keen on his “progressive ways” but my mother loved that he was this ‘skinny ass white kid who spoke beautiful Spanish’. I normally attended Spanish Mass with my folks on Sundays, but I wanted to make my own way. After five years… it was time. I had never been one to rely on anyone for too long. I’d always had myself. It was a truth I’d held tight to all my life.
Look where that got you.
“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned, it has been thirteen years since my last confession.” A pound, or maybe fifty, lifted from my spine and I exhaled. “I’ve been attending Mass regularly with my parents, but I’ve been hiding so many things, and I think it’s time to admit my wrongs.”
“The road to self-forgiveness is hard. This is only the first step.” Father Becker spoke and my lips lifted into a small smile.
If I remembered correctly, when I’d been a child, the priest never said a damn word until you listed off every awful sin. You prayed together and then boom, ten Hail Marys and one Our Father.
“Let’s start with the worst of the worst then?” I cleared my throat and settled into the feeling, ignoring the onions and the grease. My history pulled past my lips and trickled down into my lungs with each breath. There was no escaping what I had done. My biggest fear was going back to it all. “I’m a liar… a thief… a user, and I’ve destroyed lives, including my own.”
I waited for him to interrupt me, to ask me how, or why, or when, but he said nothing.
“I stopped using drugs about five years ago. Being clean, off pills, off everything, I can finally see all the damage I’ve caused, and I’m trying to repair it. But…” My throat contracted and tears swelled and spilled down my cheeks. I never cried, but the evil inside of me was fighting, and I had to be honest. I had to. “But, the things I’ve done, Father, I’m not sure if they’re forgivable.”
“You have had many struggles.” It wasn’t a question.
“Stealing, sex, I’ve sold myself for drugs, and I… I…” My worst sin… I’d keep to myself—for now. “Years, I’ve caused my parents to worry. I’ve dishonored my family. I’ve checked off every commandment, except for murder, but I want to be better. I can’t go back to that life. I’m finally starting to feel like myself again.”
I was selfish. Who gave a shit if I felt like me again? My poor mother, my dad, my sister, how would they ever heal the wounds that I’d caused? All that unnecessary burden I’d strapped them with, all so I could get high. So I could pretend to be free, be an adult, be with him. I’d given up eight years of my life, by my own hand, for nothing. Drugs were never my poison, addiction was. Back then, I would’ve done anything to feed the monster that lived inside of me. Lives… the beast was sleeping but always present. I never doubted that. Trusting myself, I had such a long, dangerous road ahead of me.
“I am sorry for my sins, for my past,” I whispered and wiped away the tears from my cheeks.
“Let us pray.”
Father Becker spared me his counsel, at least for today. He was the kind of priest who would most likely seek me out this Sunday and ask me how I was holding up. Every Sunday he would ask me to volunteer, and for the longest time my answer had always been no. Between my job at the bar, and my family’s restaurant, I hadn’t had the time. It wasn’t until this past spring that I finally listened and started donating my time at Lifeline Women’s Shelter. Until then, real recovery had eluded me. I’d been hiding from myself, and my addiction. It wasn’t until I started helping others, some like me—and some not—that I was able to begin moving forward.
We recited the Act of Contrition and he’d assigned me penance, but not before suggesting I attend the Narcotics Anonymous meetings that were held here at the church every Thursday. NA wasn’t for me, though. There was merit to it, I would never deny that, but I’d always been a do-it-myself-kind-of-girl and speaking to strangers, turning myself inside out, exposing all the ugly… in public? I got nauseous just thinking about it.
I was walking on pins and needles by the time I finished praying. The distance from St. Ann’s to my apartment wasn’t too far, but I’d decided to take a detour and enjoy the cool, fall air. October was always my favorite month. The smell of dead leaves, the static in the air, it was like anticipation on tap. Adrenaline in the wind. I loved it. I’d forgotten how much I liked the crisp taste of the city at night. Salt Lake wasn’t huge and, unlike other cities, it hid its underbelly pretty damn good. From the outside looking in, it was beautiful, clean, and almost holy. But when you’re used to seeing all the shit in the creases, it’s hard to see anything else. For the longest time, not even the autumn-colored mountains could pull me from the dirty depths, so I was grateful for this walk, and every one since.
Today was my anniversary. October 6th, five years clean. Every day was a new day, a do-over, and every time the sun set, I prayed that I’d hate myself a little less in the morning.
“Hey, Aunt Mel.”
“Hey, JoJo. Where’s your mom?”
“She’s in the kitchen with Abuela, they’re fighting again.” My nephew, Jordan, rolled his eyes as he wiped down the menus and placed them on the table.
I laughed and ruffled his hair. I lowered my voice to a conspiratorial whisper, “Should I scare them?”
His smile was silent as he shook his head. “No way, Aunt Mel. Abuela threatened the wooden spoon if I went into the kitchen.”
This time my head fell back as I laughed. My mom and her wooden spoon. She’d never touched a precious hair on any of our heads, let alone spanked us.
“I think I’ll risk it,” I said, and he gave me a look that screamed “your funeral.”
I could hear the raised voices as I walked to the back of my family’s restaurant. I grabbed my black apron from the hook behind the drink station and tied it around my waist heading toward the kitchen door.
My hand hesitated on the dark green painted wood as my sister’s voice filtered through. “Mom, it’s her choice, you can’t force it. His birthday isn’t the time to rattle his little world and you know it, and Papa knows it, so just leave it. Jesus.”
“Don’t swear.” My mother’s curt tone would’ve normally made me laugh, but I needed to put an end to this conversation and I needed to do it now.
He was sitting right outside the kitchen, for hell’s sake.
I pushed through the door and fixed my eyes on my mom and sister. “What are you two bickering about?”
I watched as my mom’s eyes fell to the ground. My sister busied herself with nothing in particular on the counter and pretended to look for something.
My voice held no humor as I said, “Shit, Maria, at least try to look innocent.”
“Don’t swear! You and your sister will give me a heart attack, and then where will you be?”
“In a quiet kitchen.” Maria smarted off under her breath, and I couldn’t help the laugh that bubbled out of my throat.
“You girls think you know everything.” Mom pointed at me and then Maria. “When I’m dead, then you’ll see.”
“Mom, you’re fifty-seven, give me a break already. Your guilt trips are getting as worn out as my shoes running across these floors every damn day.” Maria gave me a private smirk. I shook my head, my own lips spreading into dimples.
“What were you guys talking about?” I asked again as I reached into my pocket and pulled out a hair band.
“Jordan’s tenth birthday is coming up and we thought—”
“You thought, don’t drag me into this bullshit,” Maria interrupted, and Mom shot her a glare that could kill.
For the first time ever, I actually thought she would snap.
“Maybe it’s time?” Mom asked as she shifted her gaze back to me, and her eyes filled with a hope I couldn’t grant her.
I was tired of this argument. “It will never be time, Mom. It’s not fair to him.”
“Maria just got divorced—not even a year ago—his life is falling apart enough as it is. I won’t add to that. I won’t.” I lowered my eyes to the old brown tiles.
“He’s your son.”
My sister’s eyes glittered with unshed tears and that anvil of shame split my sternum.
“No, Mom, he’s Maria’s.” I tried to hold back the bitterness.
It had been my choice to let Maria raise him, and I wouldn’t hurt her, or Jordan, like that. It was the only good thing I’d done back then. I’d given my baby a family, and a life away from pain, drugs, and God knows what else. When I’d found out I was pregnant, Chance had left me in the capable hands of my family. He’d left. Drugs—the high—had always been his first and only priority. I’d had my entire family helping me during the pregnancy, through the withdrawals, but I’d never felt more alone, more abandoned than I had when Chance never came back after he’d dropped me off at my family’s restaurant. I’d stayed clean long enough for Jordan to be born, long enough to hand him over to my sister, long enough to go crawling back to Chance. Pathetic and lost, I’d known I’d never be a good mom to JoJo and, even though it was the best choice, the guilt I’d harbored sent me right back into the arms of the beast.
“Mom, leave it.” I heard Maria order as the kitchen door swung shut behind me. I didn’t look at Jordan as I walked past him to the bathroom. I didn’t acknowledge his blue eyes, the same pair of eyes that had once belonged to his father. Chance was another addiction I’d tried to quit, but just like he always did, Chance had taken care of the problem. I should have pulled my life together after his overdose, but I’d chosen to fall deeper, instead. Using his death as another excuse to shatter completely.
The women’s bathroom was poorly lit. The one toilet always leaked, and constantly ran, no matter what my dad tried to do to fix it. I was happy it wasn’t too bright in here. The sight of my deep brown, almost black eyes swimming in tears would’ve pushed me over the edge. I’d cried enough this week. Father Becker’s words about starting over had echoed in my head for the past three days. Starting over with Jordan wasn’t an option. He belonged to Maria, and I was lucky to be in his life at all.
I tugged on my ponytail and ran my fingers through the coarse, black hair in an attempt to tame the frizz. My uncontrollable mane was a gift of my mother’s. She was half black, half Caucasian, and my dad was Mexican. I was born with caramel skin, and enough smartass remarks to land me in the hot seat more than a few times. My mother had always told me I was beautiful, that Maria and I were blessed by God and good genetics. I’d always thought Maria deserved her praise, not me. Somehow, I’d always been the one to end up in trouble. Even as a small child I’d thought something wasn’t quite right inside my heart.
I licked my lips and flicked my gaze to the sink, not willing to look at myself for too long. I’d start to see the ghost of whom I’d been and it scared me to death. I washed my hands and used my wet fingertips to fix any flyaway hairs around my temples and forehead. The restaurant would open soon, I’d work the extra lunch shift I’d picked up, per my father’s request, and then I’d go home and sift through all the memories that had drifted to the surface today before heading to my other job.
It was how I processed. I didn’t hold them back. I let them lift from the dirty sea-floor of my soul. I’d stare right back at them, and then I’d remember how it felt to be five and already a shoplifter, or what it was like to be sixteen and hooked on Oxy, or how, at seventeen years old, I blew my boyfriend’s best friend for fifty dollars, so we could score some pills. These memories would never dissolve into some special place of forgetting, they would scream and kick to the surface, reminding me that I’d owned those choices. These horrible things haunted me, and my skin and bones were a map the monster could use to pull me back into the dark, but I’d never let him find his way.
My fingers trembled as I opened the bathroom door, and my heart lodged itself inside my throat. This was too much for eleven o’clock in the morning, and too much was treacherous. Too much broke the foundations of phrases like never again, and not this time. Jordan turned in his chair and studied me as I lingered in the doorway. The sun poured in from the restaurant windows, illuminating those clear blue eyes, and my foundations hardened, stood strong. I’d won the battle, at least for today.
About the Author
Amanda Marie Johnson was born and raised in Valrico, Florida. She’s now surrounded by mountains with her husband and three children in Ogden, Utah. She attended Weber State University and graduated with her A.S.N. She is a full-time registered nurse. Reading and writing have always been something she is passionate about. She loves to write about the human experience, love and happily ever afters.
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