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“Would you like me to leave?” she asks, face turned towards mine, eyes hidden underneath a pair of Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses like she’s afraid of seeing what’s really out there. Some days I wonder if she dreams in sepia-tinted images, light filtering through her drug-addled mind in the same way sunlight falls on plastic screens.

“That’s all right, Maddy,” I say slowly, but at the same time I almost do want to be alone. It’s hard to be around her, it’s hard to be there for her 24/7, even when she’s trying to be there for you. We’re a little broken, all of us, but she’s damaged beyond repair.

“You don’t sound so sure. James, I can–” she starts. I lay a hand on her arm, effectively stopping her tirade of self-pity that she doesn’t even know she’s started. That’s the thing about Madison. She needs to be needed. It’s like a parasite is lying dormant in her brain, and he’s only roused when nobody seems to want her. I’ve diagnosed her with abandonment issues, privately of course; she’d throw a fit if I ever mentioned it.

“It’s all right, Maddy. Please stay.” I sound robotic, but it’s done the trick. The storm’s been abated. Now it’s time to move onto the next one.

“Will you sing me a song, James?” So childlike in her pleading, her face lifts up to mine, filled with raw hope. It breaks my heart to see her like this. I can never refuse.

“Of course,” I say softly.

Down by the river lays a table set for two;
Table set for two;
There’s a napkin set for me,
And a napkin set for you.

Down by the river lays a basket made for two;
Basket made for two;
There’s a sandwich just for me,
And a sandwich just for you.

Down by the river lays a blanket down for two,
Blanket down for two,
There’s a place on it for me,
And a place on it for you.
Down by the river lays a pastor there for two,
Pastor there for two;
He’s here to marry me,
And he’s here to marry you.

Down by the river sits an assassin there for one,
Assassin there for one,
He’s here to laugh at me,
And to kill you for his fun.

Down by the river lays a vigil set for one,
Vigil set for one,
There’s a knife set for me,
And then there were none.”

“That’s depressing,” Madison whimpers softly, biting on her bottom lip as she always does when she’s upset.

“So’s life. Come on, Maddy, you know it’s not all kittens and roses.”

“Why can’t it be?” She’s so innocent, God, her face is an open book of sadness and doe-eyed beauty. She can’t understand it, any of it. For her it is all rainbows and butterflies. Her childlike beauty casts a rosy sheen on all of life’s dark alleyways. She is as sweet as spun sugar and a thousand times more fragile. Sometimes I find myself holding my breath around her, afraid the slightest puff of wind will blow her over. Should I tell her? Yes. But who am I to take away her innocence like a thief at midnight, to steal the child she grasps as herself? Who would she be without it?

“You want another song?” I say gruffly, but I mean it. I would sing her all the songs in the world if it could fix her.

“Yes, please,” she says eagerly.

I sing her something sad and sweet, a song that tastes of regret and forgiveness, lonesome sorrow and tears that you’ve shed too many times. It describes me like no other. I am all cried out, I am all dried up. There is nothing left that I can say. There is nobody left I can endeavor to be. I have been everyone and no one. I am everything and nothing. And like matter, I cannot become something entirely new. I can only change my manifestation and my shape and my size.

She falls into a deep slumber after I’ve finished singing, my voice low and deep and not at all mine. I hesitate, then lean down and gently kiss her on the very tip of her nose and whisper a promise into her ear. It’s the same promise I whisper every time.

“I will stand by you forever,” I murmur, my voice scratchy and unsure, but I get it out. Is it a lie? Perhaps. But aren’t lies what everyone wants to hear? I have had my share of honesty; I have spoken out and, in and of itself, the truth is the only pure thing we have. Take it out of its box and you see it for what it really is; darkened smoke and blackened hate. Sometimes I find myself asking if truth and lies are really different or if they’re just the same word with different spellings. They both burn and rage. We covet one and condemn the other, but which one is actually the ideal? Is there one? Or do we covet both... or none?

But, regardless of the internal, I lie to her. Again. Just like I have done since the disaster at the Cove, and just like I will continue to do, every day of my life, until I am buried six feet under with nobody to hear me scream my deceits.

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

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