Prologue: Innocent Guilt

"You're not a bad person." Joey said softly. "You know that, don't you?"

Carelessly, I shrugged, avoiding any real eye contact.

"Don't give me that, Set. Now's your chance ta prove you've got what I think ya do."

"What's that?" I asked dully.

"Honesty."

"Oh."

"Not 'oh'. I want more than some half-assed try at duckin' questions."

"Like...?"

"The truth." he said simply. "That's all I want from ya. Some explanation for why ya are the way ya are, why ya do these horrible things to yourself."

I looked up sharply at him. Hazel eyes regarded me with a silent sense of wonder, studying my reaction, waiting expectantly for a reply. Would anything I had to say serve as a suitable excuse for my behavior? What could I possibly tell him that wouldn't be cross-examined or analyzed to death? I wanted to spill my deepest, darkest dilemmas to him, cry on his shoulder, just bawl like a baby until every last gruesome detail was revealed, but I couldn't do it. I just couldn't. Nobody wants to listen to my problems about keeping anything down, the binges I go on after starving for days on end, the bad habit of jabbing my fingers down my throat, jerking forward, puking into that ever-hungry toilet bowl. How could I disclose that to a therapist, much less someone I know from school? Would I be able to flush out my whole story-laxative abuse, severe depression, obsessing over weight loss, measuring myself in the mirror, counting the bones showing through my skin, spitting out half-chewed candy-without being hated or judged?

Sick to my stomach, my head began to dip in shame, but a hand under my jaw prevented me from going into hiding.

"I wanna know, man." Joey urged. "Why?"

Absently, I shook my head.

"You don't know, then?"

"No, that's not it. That's not it at all."

"Then what? What is it?"

Could I trust him? Will I be doing myself a favor if I do? Figuring I'd be no better off keeping my history in a vault, my fingers, as if finagling a combination on a lock, circled round and round on top of the arm of the park bench. One imaginary number went by, then another registered, drawing close to the third and final digit in the password to my personal files, each containing the sick, sad episodes I experienced. Dehydration, self- mutilation, spitting up blood while vomiting, nasty mood swings, attempts at suicide, creating death wishes-every morbid action was strategically played, carefully thought through, the dominoes all lined up and ready to fall into place. All they needed was my command, the last and ultimate order to drive the stakes into my wrists, crucifying me for my multitude of mistakes.

For what, though? What were these sequences of self-inflicted misery geared towards? Is that my primary focus, to win an early funeral? Was that the only way I could obtain peace in my warring head? Once I perished, would the voices stop, be quiet, die with me? No. They would follow me wherever I would go, my immortals succeeding over a tragic hero's valor-unless I triumphed over them. Everything that has a beginning has an end. This will have an end. Not decades, weeks from now, or even tomorrow.

Tonight.

It all ends tonight.

Opening the door to my chamber of secrets, I unleashed a lifetime of pain, regret, remorse, and every imaginable feeling of ill will designed to tear myself apart.

"I hate myself." I divulged, looking him in the face, my words dead serious and devoid of humor. "I've never liked myself. Never."

His expression changed from calm and collected to sad, upset, and even slightly disturbed. He couldn't bring himself to speak, but rolled his hand in a nice, easy-going loop. The gesture was an odd, shaky way of telling me to continue. For reasons I didn't understand myself, I did what he wanted me to do. Licking my dry, cracked lips, I resumed the terrible tale of my existence, one that I not only hoped would have an end one day, but would also make me innocent of the eating disorder that caused me such great guilt...