9 // LIAR

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'You are aware your sister's episode was most likely due to substance abuse?'

There was a brief silence, punctuated by the steady beeping from close by. It was the beeping sound that I'd heard first, the insistent noise reaching out to me in the darkness and I'd followed the beeps up to the surface, like I was following a trail of breadcrumbs out of the deepest part of the forest.

I knew what it was. I'd heard it before, after I'd OD'd the first time and Addi had panicked and brought me to the hospital. He'd taken me to A&E and left. Davey's orders. I'd woken up surrounded by strange faces with cold, unsympathetic eyes and that irritating beeping sound which haunted my sleep for days afterwards.

'Yes. She's on a drug counselling program, she's dealing with it. At least trying to anyway. This is just a blip.'

Not Claire. Not my sister. A man's voice. A man's voice that I recognised.

I froze just under the surface, scared to open my eyes.

'Well, Mr. Brogan, I hope for your sister's sake that you're right about that. I'll give you these anyway,' the woman said.

'She has all the leaflets. I told you, she's on a program.'

Another pause. A sigh.

'They're for you, Mr. Brogan. Advice and support services for families effected by addiction and substance abuse. Make sure your sister stays on the program.'

'With all due respect, Nurse, no fucking do-gooder leaflet is going to tell me how to look after my sister. I'm perfectly capable of doing that myself without people preaching at her, or me for that matter.'

I didn't need to open my eyes to know the nurse had taken a step back. I would have backed away from that voice myself if it wasn't for the fact I was pretending to be asleep. I heard her shoes squeak on the floor as she moved.

'Fine,' she said, her own voice cracking nervously. 'One of my colleagues will be along in a short while to check her temperature again.'

The scrape of curtain rings on rails and the whisper of fabric moving told me the conversation was over. Soft footsteps padded away. I waited, muscles tensed.

'You can open your eyes now.'

Fuck.

The mysterious stranger who'd saved me from God-knows-what, stood at the end of the bed, still clutching the leaflets he'd been given.

He was real. I guess I'd always known that he was and that he'd never just been an imaginary creation vomited up by my drug-screwed mind. I remembered too clearly the way his arm had gripped me around the waist, the touch of his hand clasped with mine, the intensity of his stare, the tiny scar on his nose. It would have been easier to accept that the whole thing was nothing but nightmarish make-believe, but I couldn't pretend any longer. He was real, just as all of this was real.

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