"My name's Seth," he begins, the same three words week on week. “And I'm an addict.”
"Hi Seth," the group echoes around him. Like a choir. A cult.
“It's been eight months since I slipped,” he continues. “And it's not been easy. Especially when the temptation to give in is just about everywhere you look.”
A few heads nod appreciatively; it's the same for all of them. Seth knows that if most of them didn't have the group to come to each week, they'd not stand a chance. Strength isn't stopping, of course. It's not starting again. That particular pearl of wisdom, which he spied somewhere on one of the many posters adorning the meeting room, makes him wish he had a cigarette.
“All I know,” he says, keen to wrap up his turn, “is that I wouldn't have lasted these eight months without my wife. She's kept me strong.”
“We keep each other strong,” Mallory tells the group from her seat next to him. He reaches out and she squeezes his hand. He sits down, deflating as the group's attention shifts to someone else.
When it is over, just as Seth and Mallory are about to leave, a skinny youth approaches them.
“Tony, isn't it?” Mallory asks, shaking his hand.
“Yeah,” he nods, and Seth no longer sees a man; he sees a scarecrow. “I just wanted to say... You guys, what you're achieving together? It's inspiring.”
Seth smiles at him, although he really just feels like he's baring his teeth. Mallory is nice enough for both of them. Story of their marriage. She tells Tony that he can find it in himself to be strong too – she knows he can do it. Listening to her words, however empty they might be, makes Seth love her even more.
“I need a drink,” he whispers in her ear as they leave the building.
“You're not fucking kidding,” she answers, and within minutes they are in the nearest bar. It's dark, run down, and more than a little seedy. In other words, perfect.
Mallory orders vodka on the rocks for both of them. They clink their glasses together, no need to toast out loud, and knock them back. Seth orders another round, and tells the barman to get the pretty redhead at the end of the bar whatever she wants too.
The redhead saunters towards them, more than a little tipsy on her high heels, and thanks them both for her scotch and soda with an overly familiar hug each.
“You're more than welcome,” Seth says. “We're celebrating.”
“Fabulous! What are you celebrating?”
“Eight months sober,” Mallory grins, crunching on ice. The girl eyes their drinks and gives them a questioning look.
“Alcohol was never our drug of choice,” Seth says by way of explanation. The redhead nods as if to say she understands completely. Which, of course, she doesn't.
“I could never do that twelve step stuff,” she says, swigging her scotch. “No self control.” That last part is followed by a calculated lick of the lips.
“To many,” Seth says, “total abstinence is easier than perfect moderation.”
“Augustine,” she replies promptly.
“I'm impressed,” Seth says. He can practically hear Mallory rolling her eyes next to him. They all know where this is going.
“I love Augustine,” the girl drawls. “Now there's a saint for sinners.”
“Lord, make me chaste,” Mallory chimes in. “... But not yet.” They all laugh. Then Seth and Mallory invite the charming girl with the coppery hair back to their hotel room.
Her name, it turns out, is Vanessa. She smells like a Rose and tastes like a Penny. When Seth sinks his teeth into her neck, it hits the spot like not even ice cold vodka could. He revels in Mallory's muffled grunts of pleasure from where she dines at the femoral artery. Every couple of seconds, a gargled protest tries to make its way from Vanessa's lips. Then she's just a limp thing in their arms, muted and pale.
“Such a pity,” Mallory says, rising from between the girl's legs, short on breath. “She was so beautiful.”
“Addiction is an illness,” Seth says as calmly as he can through the fog of elation, wiping the last of Vanessa's lifeblood from his chin. “We mustn't be too hard on ourselves.”
Mallory reaches into her pocket, then puts her hand out. Seth takes it, and she drops something into his palm. To somebody who didn't know any better, it might look like a gambling chip. Seth runs his thumb over the letters embossed onto the plastic surface.
Vampires Anonymous: 8 Months Dry
“We'll be better tomorrow,” he tells her. “I promise.”