Hollow

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Sammi Parks was one of those friends who was perfect to be around with at the worst possible times, and sometimes, even the best of times. He was there for you when you needed someone to make you feel better, or feel good about yourself, even if only for a few hours. He knew exactly what you needed, told you what you wanted to hear and was always there for you whenever you needed him.

But Sammi wasn't exactly a friend though he considered you like one, especially when you had something he wanted. He simply sold drugs. The appearance of friendship was just part of the business for some of his customers, if not all of them. It encouraged trust, making his customers believe that what he was selling them was prime stuff, the best. And it had always been the best. Why else did Riley get addicted to his stuff over every other dealer in the Upper West Side?

Riley had known all this before she'd started buying from Sammi three years ago because Gareth had to do some research for a guest role as a drug dealer for a TV series, and Sammi had let him in on his secrets. By the time Gareth left her, she knew where to find Sammi on her own, and when she did, she had the money to burn.

And now, two years after she'd almost died from her overdose, Riley found herself standing in front of Sammi's apartment building. It was late afternoon, and the only thing Riley wanted to do was drown her emotions, to un-see what she'd seen in Paige's garden office and un-hear Gareth's words. She didn't care if she had to go back to heroin. Maybe just a little to take the edge off, help her go through the rest of her day. Surely Sammi would help her there, she thought, if only to escape from the feelings that filled her now.

Riley wished she could start the whole day again, or at least that part where she thought going over to Paige's house was the best way to spend an afternoon, where they'd chat about life over glasses of white wine and wait till the triplets returned home from pre-school. Then they'd all pile on top of her, and she'd tickle them one by one. She'd start off with Thomas before moving to Trey, and all the while Trevor would scream, 'My turn! My turn!' and squeal with unbridled glee when Riley finally got to him.

Maybe they'd ask her to help them build a boat out of all the throw pillows they could find, shaped into an oval on the rug. Paige would lay a large blanket over their intricate arrangement so that Riley and the triplets could pile into it, pretending it was their boat and that they were adrift in the ocean. Trevor and Thomas would go fishing, and Trey would snuggle up next to Riley.

"Yo, Riley," Sammi said, emerging from the lobby. "You coming up or you just gonna stand there and be a stranger? There's a party upstairs. Come on in."

Riley took a step forward, the words refusing to come out of her mouth. Just for a little bit, she would have said. Just to take the edge off. But as she gazed at Sammi's face, she could only see her nephews' faces, jolting her. She shook her head and apologized. "Sorry, I thought I was free, but I have to be somewhere."

"What?" Sammi held out his arms as Riley walked away from him, her head hung low. "C'mon, baby, don't be cruel. Where's my hug, baby girl?"

"Sorry, Sammi, gotta go!" She called out, forcing a smile as she looked back at him, wishing she were as far away as possible from the past that she'd almost welcomed back. "I'll call you, alright?"

Hadn't she learned anything from that awful night more than two years ago, when she lost control and injected too much? When, after reading something Gareth had reportedly said about his success, that he could only credit sheer determination and luck to get him, a relative unknown, to star in an upcoming super-hero movie, she lost it and thought of ending her life with a push of a syringe?

She'd denied it—that she'd tried to kill herself—even when it was true. But she had nothing to live for then, or at least that's what she'd thought then. No one understood how going back home to live with her father had been the worst thing for Riley, how listening to his taunts about what a failure she was pushed her to find solace in heroin. She had no one to turn to who'd have listened, not when everyone told her to just move on.

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