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I feel like I’m going to crawl out of my skin.

This is maddening. It’s only been 12 hours since the last pill and I feel like it’s been months.

My hands are shaking. I walk out onto the balcony to let the air cool my face and listen to the rush of traffic on the street below. I can’t stand still for long, so I pace back into the living room and walk in circles, feeling like nothing so much as an overanxious dog awaiting his master’s return with pathetic over-eagerness.

I can’t do this. There’s no way I can do this. I need something. NOW.

I head to the kitchen and start rifling through cabinets … cabinets that I know are empty because Grace and I cleaned them out as soon as she came over with dinner 6 hours ago.

Grace. She’s asleep in my room, curled up on my bed, too tired from work and an evening of bolstering my flagging self-esteem to drive back home. I should go in and check on her but I can’t bring myself to do it … as much as I love her I also hate her right now, too, hate her because she’s going to make sure I go through with it this time; staying clean. She’s doing it because she loves me but also because she needs me… and that realization is what makes me shake my head sharply to clear it out.

Grace is going to need me to be strong for her and she’s going to need it sooner rather than later. She keeps saying everything’s fine, that she’s getting along okay without Morgan, but I know it’s not true. I know that she’s depressed, for all that she puts on a show of bravado and breezy confidence. I know she’s angry and confused and hurt that her husband who once loved her so much could leave her so alone and vulnerable. And I know that she’s in physical pain, too … I’d seen her draw up short and lay a hand on her stomach several times when she thought I wasn’t watching. She’s going to need me to be a rock for her as the pregnancy progresses and I have to be able to rise to that challenge.

But I can’t tonight.

I continue rifling through cabinets that I know damn well are empty of anything other than the most basic of pills. Advil and antacid … the FBI agent’s best friends.

There HAS to be something! I head for the trashcan before remembering that she’d emptied all the pills into a bag and taken it to the dumpster.

The dumpster. It’s not a bad idea. Not if it’ll make me feel normal. Normal enough to get some sleep. Normal enough to stop shaking.

I’m pulling on my jacket. Putting on my shoes. I WILL go to the dumpster. I WILL. I need something to take the edge off.

“Don’t touch that door.” Grace’s voice, sharp. “I know what you’re thinking.”

Nope. She doesn’t. Because she’s never been that desperate.

“You’re not going down to that dumpster,” she says, exhibiting, yet again, her penchant for being able to read my mind.

“Who says I’m going down to--”

“Knock it off,” she says sharply. “You think I don’t know that look in your eyes? You’re dying for a pill. I’m not letting you leave this apartment to go dumpster diving for one.”

“Look, I was just going to go for a …”

“What, a walk around the block? At 2am? I don’t think so.” She gives me the evil eye. “Take off your shoes and come sit down. We’ll play cards.”

CARDS? She wants to play fucking CARDS? I’ve got to get out of this apartment.

“No, not really feeling like cards. I want to take a walk,” I insist.

What’s she going to do—barricade the door?

“Then I’m coming with you.” She slips her shoes on and gives me a smile that manages to be both sweet and utterly vicious.

She isn’t going to give in. Okay, time for another tack.

“It’s late and you need to rest. Go back to bed, Grace. I’m fine.”

“No, you wanted to go for a walk, so let’s walk.” She grabs my jacket from the back of the couch, puts it on, gives me that knowing smirk … and I lose it.

“Grace, goddammit, leave me ALONE!”

I storm toward the door, showing her that I’m damn well ready to shove past her if I have to … and then I DO have to shove past her because she’s not moving out of my way.

She’s not expecting me to bull my way right through her. She stumbles, slams shoulder first into the closet door, and cries out sharply.

That’s what brings me to my senses. That cry. That and the thud of her body hitting the closet.

I hurt Grace. Jesus God, I HURT Grace. My best friend. My pregnant best friend, which makes me even more of a lowlife than I’ve already become, seeing as how I’m thinking about diving into dumpsters for drugs.

“Oh god. Grace. I’m so sorry!” I feel all the blood draining from my face as I catch hold of her. The expression on her face sears itself into my brain … anger, hurt, recrimination … and fear. Dear god. My best friend, for even just a few seconds, was afraid of me.

I take her hands in mine, clumsily tug her over to the couch, and sit her down on it. My eyes are brimming with tears as I lightly run my fingers over her right shoulder.

“Grace, I …”

I’m done for. The tears start and I can’t stop them. Huge sobs wrench their way out of my chest, folding my body in half. I bury my face in my hands and cry.

“I’m so sorry,” I burble through tears. “I’m so sorry, Gracie, please forgive me.”

“Shhhh.” Her hands are on my shoulders, my back, stroking gently. “It’s okay. George, it’s all right.”

“I hurt you. Jesus Christ, I hurt you. How could I DO THAT to you?!” The look on her face keeps playing behind my eyes and I cry harder, so ashamed and so terrified.

“I’m okay,” she soothes, rubbing circles into my back. “Honey, I’m fine. You just startled me. I’m not hurt.”

I can’t stop crying now that I’ve started. The shame and the terror and the awful shaking inside combine into a gale-force storm system that has me in its grip and won’t let me loose. I sob so hard I start to choke.

“Just breathe, sweetheart,” Grace murmurs, stroking my hair. “Breathe. It’s okay.” I feel her fingertips gently brushing against the nape of my neck. “Calm down.”

She sits there alongside me, rubbing my back and my neck, murmuring soothing phrases that don’t really register until I’ve cried myself out. Finally she leans back against the cushions and tugs me back with her until we’re both slumped against the couch, fingers intertwined.

Pobre bebe,” she murmurs. “I’m so sorry, George, it didn’t even occur to me you were going to have such a hard time getting through the first 24 hours. I should have cut you back first, not cut you off.”

“No, I’m sorry.” I try to turn my head to look at her but it feels like so much effort after crying so hard that I can barely manage it. “I’m sorry I’m not stronger.”

Grace lays a hand against my cheek. “It’s not about strength, doll. It’s having the right people on your side to help you through it. Didn’t we just have this conversation a few hours ago?”

I nod. “Yeah, and I fucked up all ready.”

“How did you fuck up? We’re both okay.”

“I tried to bulldoze you to go dumpster diving for a pill.” Even saying the words makes me flush with shame. “And I hurt you.”

“You didn’t hurt me, doll. I’m fine. No bumps, no bruises, no premature labor.” Seeing the look on my face at that last, she laughs. “That wasn’t even remotely a possibility. I’m not a china doll. You’re not going to break me.” She strokes my lank hair away from forehead, her eyes both tired and sad. “Oh, George. Come on. Let’s get some rest.”

I’m about to say that I don’t think I can sleep when I realize that, actually, yeah, I probably could sleep. I’m so exhausted I can barely keep my eyes open. I take her hand and let her lead me, unresisting, to my bedroom.

“Get ready for bed,” she instructs. “I’m going to clean up the kitchen and lock your balcony.”

I meekly obey … I feel like a wrung-out washcloth. I hear her replacing items in the kitchen cabinets and drawers, sweeping up things I’d spilled in my haste to find something—anything—to take. She’s finishing up when I appear in the kitchen doorway.

“All finished. I’ll sleep on the couch so you can get some rest.”

Grace raises an eyebrow. “As if I’m going to be able to rest knowing I’ve taken your bed.” She brushes past me and catches hold of my hand. “Come on. Your bed is big enough for the two of us.” She turns and gives me a deliberately teasing smile. “Unless you have a problem with a woman in your bed.”

I can’t help grinning back, especially when I think about the number of smart-ass comments John would no doubt make to that remark.

“No problem here.”

It’s time to take control of the situation again and go back to being a George I recognize. I pull back the comforter and the sheets, plump the pillows, and tuck HER into bed, though I can tell from her expression that she had been seriously considering doing the same thing for me.

I switch off the light and slide in on my side of the bed. I turn onto my side and lightly touch her right shoulder.

“I’m sorry.”

“I know.” Her hand finds mine in the dark, holds it. “But it’s all right now. The worst is over.