“So tell me about this step nine thing,” Liam said, his hands worrying at a sugar packet.
Menchú sighed and put down the file he was reading. Liam stared at him earnestly over the coffee he’d insisted they get together.
“Step nine is the making amends step in the twelve-step program. As part of the healing process, you have to approach the people you harmed and apologize, acknowledge the harm you did to them, and ask for forgiveness. They are under no obligation to give it to you, but for your own healing, you must ask for it.”
“And you have to go through the other eight steps to get there?” Liam asked, frowning. He pulled out a battered pocket notebook and flipped through it.
“Not necessarily,” Menchú said. “While step one, admitting you have a problem, is crucial to the beginning of the process, the other steps you can do in pretty much any order.”
“Well, I’m powerless, that’s for fucking sure,” Liam said. “We’ve established that.” He held up two fingers. “I’ve accepted God into my life and handed my problems to him. Long time ago.” He looked at his hand. “That’s two and three, I think. Not sure I understand the difference between them.”
“That’s because you’re already a practicing Catholic,” Menchú said. “You know who you are in God’s eyes and asked him for help before this process.”
“So I’m ahead of the game!” Liam said, smiling.
Menchú picked the folder back up. “Recovery isn’t a race, Liam. Or a checklist. And I don’t think your problems are connected to addiction, per se.”
Liam leaned forward, his hands grasping the table. “But you see, that’s where you’re wrong, Father. I am powerless when confronted with the dangers of the Network. I need God’s support to keep me safe. I’m ready to call myself a worthless worm in His eyes, and that’s like three steps right there.”
“That’s not—” Menchú started, but Liam continued.
“The big thing I’m missing is making things up to people. I need to apologize. I know I’ve hurt people. It’s, uh.” He blushed and paused, then continued. “It’s mostly women I dated while I was with the Network. So that’s step eight, making the list.”
Menchú frowned. “Your cavalier attitude makes me worry that you’re not taking this seriously enough to actually heal. I’ve not guided many people through this program, but I know that it’s not like crossing off a to-do list. There’s a lot of revealing of self and inner demons—metaphorical, in this case, as you’ve already faced your literal inner demon.”
Menchú had tried to make a light joke, but Liam stopped smiling. “Father, I finally found the courage to show my face to Frances and apologize to her. When I did it, I felt free for the first time. I’m remembering other people I hurt, and I want to apologize to them. I think it’ll help me heal. Why are you trying to stop me? Do you really think I’m not serious?”
Menchú’s chest cramped with shame. Liam was right. If he approached his recovery honestly but with a smile on his face, who was Menchú to chastise him that he wasn’t properly somber enough? God knew that the team had too many somber faces these days.
His mind went to Grace, and then slid off her like water from a duck. It landed instead on his upcoming meeting with Asanti, and he almost preferred to think about Grace.
“You’re right. You must heal, Liam, and I’m sorry I was resisting the path you chose to walk.” He smiled at possibly the only person on the team who still trusted him. “I’ll help you however I can. But for now I need to see Asanti. Go and approach step eight. Make your list, and I’ll talk to you later.”
Liam’s face fell when Menchú mentioned Asanti and his upcoming meeting, reminding him that Menchú had withheld information from them all about Hannah. Menchú gave Liam a strained smile and exited the booth, leaving some money on the table for their coffee. “Good luck.”
Liam watched him go with a strange look on his face, and Menchú had the sickening feeling that Liam possibly didn’t trust him as much as he’d hoped.
It was pouring rain that night, and Sal sat reading a book, wrapped in a blanket. She was getting to the good part when a knock sounded at the door.
Through the peephole she saw Liam standing, shivering and soaked.
“Jesus, Liam, what’s wrong?” she said, opening the door and ushering him inside.
“Why should something be wrong?” he asked.
She fetched a towel from the bathroom and tossed it to him. He caught it and started toweling his head off. “Because you didn’t text. Or call. It’s not your style to just drop by. What’s wrong? Did Grace leave us again? Does Menchú have more secrets? Is that angel attacking again?”
“I just wanted to see you,” he said, rubbing the towel over his head. “It’s not Team Three business, so I didn’t think to text.”
That had to be a lie. Liam would always think to text first. He looked nervous and avoided her eyes.
Sal gestured to the couch and sat on the other side, turning to face him.
“What’s going on?”
He sighed. “All...