A Billionaire for Christmas
How many times?
    No. Never again.
    She couldn’t go back. She wouldn’t be in that place again. No high was worth the self-abuse she had heaped upon herself with that life. Shelly pulled on her boots and stood. Her gaze landed on what had once been her favorite picture, her and Vinnie and Anthony standing outside of Nonna’s house with their arms slung over each other’s shoulders.
    Pain cut through her chest. Thinking about all she’d lost only made the need to forget slide deeper into her gut. She turned, walked from her bedroom and down the stairs.
    “Nonna, I’m going out for a while.” Shelly grabbed her coat from the closet and was out the door before she heard a response. The cold air smacked her face and snapped her out of the past. To now. To this moment. The open expanse of the street swept away the memories. Her lungs filled.
    She walked to the end of the block and stood on the corner. She could turn left and go to Joey’s, the dive bar that had sat on the corner at the end of the street since forever, or she could go right to Saint Bernard’s and find that meeting. At Joey’s she knew she’d find a drink and a high to take away the pain. Wasn’t that where she’d scored her first oxy anyway, in those horrible days after they’d learned of Vinnie’s death but before his body had been shipped home?
    But at Saint Bernard’s? She’d walk through the front doors of the church around the corner where she’d received three of the seven blessed sacraments, into the church hall to a NA meeting. There’d be cigarettes, and lots of addicts, just like her, trying to make certain they didn’t head anywhere for a fix and a fall. She looked both ways. The choice was hers. There would be coffee at Saint Bernard’s. Really really hot coffee. Shelly filled her lungs and looked up at the dark night sky scattered with clouds.
    “Dammit, Vinnie, I miss you,” she whispered and started to walk.

Chapter 5
    “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Shelly recited the words at the end of the meeting, a prayer offered by her and the twenty-some other addicts assembled in the church basement. Her gaze swept the room over the group of formerly pill-popping, coke-snorting, heroin-shooting ex-addicts. As the meeting closed, most drifted toward the exit, many yanking packs of cigarettes from their purses and pockets. Shelly empathized. Her final addiction was nicotine, and she doubted that she’d ever entirely kick that substance. Some days it felt as though a cigarette well smoked was all that stood between her and a syringe of H.
    The coffee had been good. The coffee was always good. The topic: thankfulness through the holidays. The speaker had been a woman not too different than Shelly. She’d ended up homeless, strung out, and turning tricks after losing her three kids. Now she was the grandma of three and a social worker. Clean for twenty-three years.
    “Please God, please,” Shelly mumbled as she walked out the door, past the clumps of NAers who smoked cigarettes and sipped their final cup of NA coffee before making the pilgrimage back home to their sober lives. Deep breath. She reminded herself that she was building a new life, one day at a time.
    The pain, the shame, the doubt, and the anger still crept through her chest and constricted her heart. But now, instead of numbing all those feelings, she tried to let them pass through her. She breathed deep and allowed the feelings to slip around her. Each time the process grew easier. What had once been giant waves of emotion swamping her, careening her toward a fix, now only tossed her for a bit.
    Shelly flicked her lighter and lit a cigarette. Once cigarette smoking had been as normal a sight as someone hailing a cab in Manhattan. Now when you lit a cigarette, people looked at you as though you were an addict, or worse. Fuck it. She’d been a drug

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