Fading Into Nothing Chapter One


“Lip, are you home?” I say, opening the door of our small apartment on the third floor. The white sheer curtain is blowing inward from the outside shelf balcony.  I know he’s out there when I see a puff of cigarette smoke float inside the window.

I lay down my purse and the Styrofoam container full of delicious smelling goodies on the kitchen counter.  I kick off my shoes and join him out on the small ledge. 

“I brought home some baked goods.  The owner of the bakery said if I would do some odd jobs for her that she would let me take home the leftovers,” I say as I sit down beside him, letting my legs dangle from the railing.

“I’m not hungry,” he says between puffs on his cigarette.

“You never eat. You’re thin as a rail.” I brush my hand through his hair, and he moves his head away.

“You’re not my mom, Mags. You don’t have to take care of me.”

“We take care of each other,” I say, laying my head against the rusted railing.

“Don’t you get tired of this shit—begging for food, doing odd jobs?”

“Well, if you’d lay off the drugs and the cigarettes, maybe we would have a little money.”

He stands. “You’re as addicted as I am,” he says, climbing back through the window.

He’s right. God, I wish he wasn’t. Our own mother overdosed on drugs when I was twelve years old. Lip was thirteen.  Our father is rotting in prison for dealing drugs. I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.  We’ve been on our own for five years now.  I’m seventeen, and I’ve barely managed to stay in school.  Lip bailed on it when dear old Dad got arrested.  We were both placed in shelters but ran away.  A friend of Lip’s lets us stay in this run-down apartment.  It’s not much, but it’s all we have.

The sheers blow outward, and I scrape them off me as I follow him back inside.  “We could try to quit, you know?”

The torn bean bag makes a squishing noise as he plops down on it.  “I don’t want to quit.  It’s the only time I feel remotely good. It helps me to forget about my miserable life.”

I sit down on the floor across from him. There is a wooden coffee table with a broken leg that we’ve duct-taped together sitting between us.  “We could quit. You could go back to school and make something of yourself.”

“I’m never going to be any more than what I am.”

“That’s not true. You’re so smart. When you were in school, you tested at genius levels. You could be anything you want to be.”

He leans back in the bean bag and locks his hands behind his head.  “Dr. Phillip Harper,” he says sarcastically.  “I can see it now.”

“You could be a doctor,” I tell him.

“You’re kidding yourself, Mags. Nobody will ever take us seriously.  Look around”—he motions toward the peeling wallpaper and stained carpet—“this shithole is our life.  We don’t even have beds to sleep on.”

“All I’m saying is that it doesn’t have to be this way.”

He reaches beside him and opens a cigar box full of needles and a small bag of heroin.  He places it in a spoon and sparks the lighter underneath it to melt it before he can draw it up into a syringe.  “This is the only life I know, Mags.”

“Well, what if I want things to be different?  What if I don’t want my life to fade into nothing?”

“Then you’ll do it without me. Fading into nothing sounds perfect to me.”

His words tear at my heart. He’s the only family I have, and I could never leave him behind.  I used to swear I’d never do drugs after seeing what it had done to our parents, but things got so hard and Lip said that it would make me feel better, so I gave in.  I wish I would’ve never started. Now, the pull is too strong to resist.  I long for a normal life, but he’s right; I’m as addicted as he is.

He takes out another needle and draws up another dose.  “Are you joining me?”

I want to say no, but I find myself rolling up my sleeve without a second thought.  “One last time, Lip. I really want us to quit.”  I need convincing as much as he does.  “Please tell me we can try?” 

He nods, but his face says something different. He takes off his belt and throws it at me, and I tie it around my upper arm and pump my fist. He taps my vein a few times before he inserts the needle.

I feel the rush of the heroin warming me and then dulling my senses.  The familiar burn bleeds through me as my blood circulates in my body. The weight of the day lifts, and I feel light as air.  Euphoric is the only way to describe it.

Lip smiles, knowing that the high has already begun. He flicks the tip of the needle and inserts it into his own arm. He throws the used needles in the box and lies back, waiting for the drug to ease his mental pain.  My vision glazes over as I watch his eyes roll back in his head, and his body relax into the bean bag as some of the white beads spill out through a tear in the bag.

Something is different this time. Instead of feeling like I’m still floating, pain sears through me like lighter fluid is scorching me through my veins.  My heart is racing, and I’m gasping for air as I clutch at my chest.

“Phillip!” I try to scream his name, but it only comes out in a whisper. He makes a gurgling noise as a foam starts to bubble out of his mouth, and his head falls backward. I try to reach for him, but I’m in such excruciating pain I’m paralyzed in place. I breathe out trying to focus, forcing my body to move.

I fall over on the floor and try to crawl over to him, but my limbs are flailing on the musty smelling carpet.  “Lip,” I cry out for him as I see his last breath leave his body.  It drifts toward me, and I try to grab it, but it slips between my fingers.  “No!”  Tears stream down my face, soaking the carpet beneath me.

I manage to roll to my back, and all I can see is the water-stained ceiling above me.  I’m gasping for air when the room suddenly goes dark. A bright light flashes in front of my eyes before growing dim.  Air is flowing back into my lungs, and the pain is all gone.  I can feel my body floating through the air, being pulled to the soft glow of light.  It’s the figure of a man hovering over me, and he has the most beautiful eyes that I’ve ever seen. They are a bright gold color with a brim of orange around them.  His brown hair is perfectly in place, and he’s dressed all in black.  His outstretched wings match the color of his hair.

“Who are you?” I ask.

“Who do you need me to be, Mags?”  He extends his hands toward me.  

“How do you know my name?”

“I know everything about you.”  His words are like music to my ears. His voice soothes something in my soul.

“I need someone to save me. A knight in shining armor.” I float in front of him.

“What you need is someone to give you hope.”  His smile draws me closer.

“Are you an angel?”  I look around in the darkness. “Somehow I thought there would be a bright light to walk into.  There’s only a dim light around you, and you’re dressed in black.”  I gasp, and I’m suddenly afraid of him. “Are you the devil?”

“No, Mags, I’m not.” He reaches out and touches my hand.  

It feels comforting, and all my fear is gone.

“Will you follow me?” he asks.

“What about Lip? He needs my help.”

“It’s too late for him, but you still have time.”

“Time for what?”

“A life, love—it’s your choice, Maggie.”

Chapter One

My breath fogs the window of the train as I lay my forehead against it.  The land rushes by in a blur, kind of like my life.  One minute I was a child, the next, an adult, somehow blurring out my teenage years.  My childhood was rough, so I don’t miss being a kid, but I don’t remember how I got to where I am now.  At twenty-eight years old, I feel lost and don’t know who I am.  Sometimes I don’t even feel like this body is mine. I raise my hands in front of me and stare at them as if they are a foreign object.  A flash of light shines through my fingers, distracting me.  It’s a dim glow that seems familiar, but as quickly as it came, the vision is gone now.

“Excuse me, is this seat taken?” a man asks.

I say “no,” without even looking up.  I hear him sit and the sound of a newspaper being unfolded.  Expensive-looking black shoes slide on the floor in front of me.  My gaze travels from his shoes up his black slacks.  The newspaper is hiding his upper body except for his fingers that are gripping the paper.  I can hear the ticking of his watch that is peeking out from under his white sleeve.  The passage of time is drowning out all other noises.

His laughter finally dulls the sound. The paper dips down and uncovers his gorgeous face, displaying a huge smile surrounded by dimples in his cheeks.  His smile radiates all the way to the corners of his eyes.

I lift my head for the first time off the glass window to get a better look at him.  I squint, trying to determine the color of his eyes. I can’t tell if they are amber or just a really light shade of brown with green flecks.

He catches me staring at him, folds the paper and places it on the seat next to him.  “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to disturb you.  I love the comics.” His face is still lit up, but I can tell he’s studying me.

I blink owlishly a few times.  He’s so good-looking it almost hurts to soak him in.  “You weren’t bothering me,” I finally say as I play with the collar of my pale pink blouse.  I inspect him further as he crosses one leg casually over the other.  He looks to be in his early thirties and from his suit, I’d say a professional of some sort — maybe a lawyer or an accountant.

I force myself to quit gawking at him and look back out the window, but I can feel his gaze still on me.  I look down at my freshly pedicured toes that are peeking out of my navy sandals.  I rub my hands over my dark jeans and pick off a piece of imaginary fuzz — anything to not look back up at him.

“Where are you headed?” I hear him ask.

I glance at him from under my long eyelashes.  “To the coast for the summer,” I respond, fiddling with my perky pink nails.

I hear a low chuckle come from him.  “That’s pretty nonspecific being that this train is traveling the east coastline.”  He gets up from his seat and sits next to me.

“Southport, North Carolina,” I finally say as he stares into my eyes, forcing me to answer him.  Sitting this close to me, I notice a dimple in his full bottom lip. I want to reach out and run my fingers over it.  It has to be the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen.  This, coming from an elementary school teacher.  What would I know about sexy?

I clear my throat and tear my gaze away.  “I’ve rented a house there for the summer.”  I don’t know why I told him that. I guess it beat saying, I really want to taste your lip.

“Savannah, Georgia.”

I peer up at him, confused.

“Not that you asked, but that’s where I’m headed for a few days.”  A sudden darkness fills his eyes.

“Are you going there on business?” I point to his suit.

“No. I’m going to a funeral.” He runs his hand through his neatly groomed jet-black hair that has curls laying over the collar of his shirt.

“Oh, I’m so sorry.” I instinctively touch his arm like I would trying to comfort one of the children in my classroom.  “Is it for family or a friend?” 

“My older brother.”  He rests his head back on the seat.

He looks quite different than he did just a few minutes ago laughing at the comics. His pain was hidden by his lightheartedness; now he’s wearing it on his sleeve.  “Do you want to talk about it…” I realize I don’t even know his name.  “My name is Maggie.” I stick out my hand to shake.  The warmth of his strong hand envelops mine, and I see a tattoo peering out from under his buttoned sleeve.

“Will Taylor.” His smile is back.

“Harper. Maggie Harper.”

“Is that like, Bond, James Bond?” He chuckles, causing a laugh of my own to escape.

“No. You gave me your last name, so I thought I’d give you mine.”  A lull of silence falls between us.  “How did your brother die?”

“Apparently, Patrick took one too many pills this time.”

“He committed suicide?”

“No. I don’t think it was intentional. He was a hardcore drug addict. He never knew when to stop. I knew one day it would catch up with him.  I lost count how many times he had been in rehab, and every time he’d swear it was the last.”

I get an instant pit in my stomach and rub the inside of my arms, making sure my sleeves are rolled down.  “I’m sorry,” I whisper, “for your loss.”

He snatches the newspaper off the seat across from him.  “Now that I’ve been a downer, how about I read you some of these funny comics to put a smile back on your beautiful face.”

I blush at his words and swipe a lock of my earthy long brown hair from my face and rest it on my shoulder between us.

“I like this.” He picks up the lock I brushed away.  “It reminds me of autumn. I bet the darker strands of gold catch the sunlight when you’re out in the water.”

He makes my mousy brown hair seem gorgeous.  “Um, thank you?” His praises create an uneasiness that brews deep inside of my chest as my face burns with embarrassment.

He laughs, knowing that he’s embarrassed me.  “It’s a perfect match for those big round brown eyes of yours.”

“How about a drink?  They do serve alcohol on here, right?”  I’m getting up out of my seat.  I could use something to relax me if I’m going to continue to sit by him. I’m not a drinker, but suddenly I crave one.

He grabs my hand. “I’ll get it. What would you like?”

I sit back down. “Cranberry and vodka, if they have it.”

He stands, and I can’t help but look at his ass as he moves into the aisle.  He looks back and winks at me.  I know he knows that I was ogling him, and I can feel the flush that is still staining my cheeks.

He’s taller than I thought — lean at the waist with broad shoulders.  He’s rather striking to look at. I may even say his godlike appearance is intimidating. I wonder why he’s not married.  There are no signs of a ring on his finger, not even a hint of where a band might have been.

Who am I to talk? I’ve never been married, not even close.  I didn’t have time in high school or college. I was too busy fighting for everything I had.  My brother Phillip and I were on our own from a pretty young age.  We fought for survival, not boyfriends and girlfriends.

Since college, I’ve been working at an elementary school in the not-so-nice section of New York City.  I chose to work there because I could relate so well to the kids who come from nothing.  I want to be a positive role model for them and teach them that anything is possible.  Phillip fought his way through medical school and now has a practice not far from where I teach. I’m so proud of the man he’s become.

“They were out of cranberry juice, so I had them mix it in orange juice.  I hope that’s okay,” he says as he hands me a short glass and sits across from me this time.

“That’s fine, thank you.” I want to take a sip as soon as it’s in my hot little hands, but I don’t.

“What is that you’re drinking?” I frown at him.

“Ginger ale.” He takes a long sip.

“You don’t drink?” I ask.

He holds his wrist up to look at his watch.  “Not generally at ten thirty in the morning.”

I pause my drink at my lips. I completely lost track of time and evidently my good senses when he sat next to me.  I hardly ever drink, and now he probably thinks I’m a lush.  “I didn’t realize it was still that early.”  I place my drink in my lap. I really want it, but I get the feeling if I start drinking, I won’t want to stop, so I refrain from even tasting it.

“I can come on a little strong.  I think you needed it to relax a bit. Plus, we were talking about some pretty heavy topics.”  He swirls the ice in his glass.

I don’t know if I like that he’s aware he made me so nervous.  I lift my chin and straighten my posture.  “Not at all. I asked you if you wanted to talk about your brother.”

A slow smile builds on his face. “I meant the topic of how beautiful you are.”

“Stop,” I whisper and look away.  My hands automatically clutch the inside of my elbows, trying to hide from him.  I don’t deserve to be beautiful. I don’t remember the things I’ve done, but the evidence is scarred on my body.  The track marks don’t lie when it comes to the life I once lived.

I don’t hear him get up and sit next to me, but I feel his breath against the delicate skin of my neck.  “You don’t like being told how beautiful you are?”

“I’m not.”

“Well, if you don’t believe it, then maybe you need to be told more often.”

I shut my eyes because I can’t look at him. “It’s much easier to believe the bad things about yourself.”

My eyes fly open when he laughs out loud and sits across from me again.  “Tell me, Maggie, what about you could possibly be bad? Are you a serial killer?”

“No.” I almost laugh.

“Are you a thief?”

“No.” I cross my arms over my chest.

He leans forward. “Are you a sadist and like a little kink?” he says with a wink.

My jaw nearly hits the floor.  I look around to see if anyone heard him. “Now you’re just being ridiculous,” I whisper.  I find myself not only flustered by his question but strangely turned on.

He sits back against the bench and drums his fingers on his chin.  “So tell me, Maggie Harper, who are you?”

“I’m an elementary school teacher.”

“Ah, I see, the provincial spinster. Is that why you see yourself as not beautiful?”


“But that didn’t answer my question?  I want to know who you are, not what you do.”

He’s staring at me, waiting for an answer that I don’t have.  I decide to turn the tables on him.  “You first. Who are you? But unlike you, I want to know what you do for a living too.”  I glare back with the same fierce look.

His face lights up like sunlight.  “I’m a lawyer.”

“Ah-ha! I knew it. I pegged you for a lawyer or an accountant the minute you sat down.”

“No you didn’t,” he retorts.  “You didn’t even look at me when I sat down across from you.”

My brows draw together. He’s right; I can’t argue the fact.  “Do you notice everything?”

He chuckles. “Just everything about a beautiful woman.”

“There you go again. Quit saying that.”

“You need to be told a million times until you believe it.”

“And you think you should be the person to do that?”

“I do.” His smile fades, but his expression is filled with something I can’t place.

“Okay, mister lawyer, tell me who you are?”

“I’m a man that knows what he wants when he sees it. I’m a man full of passion and love to give.  I’m the man that wants to make you believe you are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”  He takes my hand and leans toward my ear.  Lowering his voice, he says, “And yes, I’m a man that loves a little kink.”

A shiver of pleasure runs through me, and my dry mouth becomes moist. I’m suddenly very aware of my own heartbeat for the first time in my life.  This stranger has lit something inside of me I didn’t know existed—lust.  I’m not a virgin, but sex has never been that great. I’m not that girl. I dream of falling in love, having children of my own, sharing my life with the perfect man, but sex has never been my drug of choice.

I pull from his grasp and gaze out the window, again, watching the world speed by.  He sits back and sizes me up, waiting for me to respond.

I begin to speak without looking at him.  “I’m a woman who has no idea who she is or what she wants.  I’m a woman who’s been shattered yet survived.  I’m a woman who has no idea how to love a man.”  I turn to look at him straight on.  “I’m certainly not a woman that has known any kind of kink, nor have I ever thought about it.”

In all the seriousness between us, he starts to chuckle. He gets so choked on his throaty laughter that I join him.  I’m not sure what’s so funny, but it feels good, almost euphoric. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard other than at some of the things my second graders say.

This man is a complete stranger, yet I’m drawn to him. Maybe it’s just curiosity. He goes from funny to serious and back to funny within seconds.

When he recovers from his fit of laughter, he points a finger at me.  “You know, you’re even more gorgeous when you’re flustered.”

“Gah, are we back to that?”

“Let me prove it to you.”

“How do you plan on proving to me that I’m beautiful?”

“I don’t know yet but come with me to Savannah.”

“What? Are you crazy? I don’t even know you.”  I can’t keep my eyes from rolling.

“When is the last time you took a chance on something?”


“Then do it. Don’t think about it.”

“I can’t.”

He crosses his arms this time exposing more of his tattoo.  “I bet you plan everything out, even sex.”

He keeps saying things to make my jaw drop.  “I do not.” It’s a lie, but he doesn’t need to know that.

“I dare you to come with me.”

“I’m not some second grader that needs to accept a dare.”

“But you want to — don’t you?” He wags a finger at me.

There he goes, smiling at me again.  I do want to.  “No.”

He moves next to me again.  “I promise to be on my best behavior.” 

Now he’s pouting like my school kids, and it’s charming.  I reach down into my bag sitting on the floor and take out my laptop.  I open it, turn it on, and connect with my hotspot.

“What are we looking for?”  He slips his arm around my shoulder.

“I’m Googling you.”

“I like kink, but I don’t put any photos on the internet.” He laughs, and I know he’s teasing me.

“I want to make sure you haven’t escaped from an insane asylum,” I poke back at him.

He takes his arm from around me and leans over, placing his elbows on his knees and his hands under his chin.  I get the sense that he’s feeling vulnerable.  I’m curious now as to what I will find.

I type his name into the search bar.  Several William Taylors pop up.  He puts his finger on the pad and scrolls down. “It’s actually, Wills Taylor, not William.”

He stops on a link titled addictedtohealing.com. I take over and open the link, and his handsome face pops up in the corner of the screen.  Pro bono attorney and volunteer services, is what it says under his name.  I place my finger on volunteer services.  “What exactly is it that you volunteer to do?” 

A deep chuckle rumbles through him, and he clicks on a photo.  “I volunteer at an addiction center. I help men and women get back on track with their lives.  Actually, I do more than volunteer. I own the center.  I hire doctors and teachers to come work with each individual.  Most of them are kids who’ve had a hard upbringing and need a way back.  They need to know someone cares to give them hope for a brighter future.”

Hope.  The word rings through my ears and vibrates in my soul.  I’m not sure why, but the word pierces me. I want to hold on to it, but the feeling passes as quickly as it ran through me.  I look back at him, and I swear his eyes have a glistening of tears behind them.  I’m betting he started this for his brother, but he couldn’t help him.

I slowly reach over and lay my hand on his. “So, you are a good guy.” It’s a statement, not a question.  “I’m sorry about Patrick.”

He sits back and blinks rapidly, trying not to let his tears fall.  I now, more than before, want to go with him to Savannah. Not only do I feel the need to comfort him, but I want to get to know him.

“I’ll go with you to Georgia.” His face shows as much shock as I feel about doing something totally out of the ordinary for me — completely unexpected and unplanned.

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