This is it! The last excerpt before publishing! I’m being generous, really; the excerpt is quite lengthy. Help Wanted is due to be published by the end of the month, so you won’t have long to wait to read the rest.
5. IN THE FLESH
The next evening, Amy picked up Maggie before going to Karen’s house. She didn’t know how much chatting and small talk would be involved in picking Paul up, and she didn’t want to charge up late fees at the day-care. Amy wasn’t entirely uncomfortable going to Karen’s house. She’d met Karen and Josef a few months ago at a yarly party, and had gone on a double date with them when she was dating SeeNoEvil. They were both very nice and had an earthy sense of humor that delighted her. She rang the doorbell with as much confidence as she could muster. Karen opened the door with a smile and bade her enter, then quickly slipped out of the way, so that Paul and Amy could hug and make “so happy to finally see you” noises. Paul had acquired a duffel-bag at some point, and all his worldly belongings fit in it with ease.
Karen said “I took him clothes shopping today. If we ever find that box you shipped to Sara’s house, he’ll do all right.” The amazing traveling box! Nobody knew where it was. At this point Amy expected it would show up on her doorstep having accomplished more traveling than she had herself in her whole life.
There was no long production made of things after all. Karen verified when they’d take Paul back and Paul, Amy and Maggie went to the truck. Maggie hardly wanted to look at Paul, so he was trying to play peek-a-boo with her.
Then they were in the truck. Maggie in her car-seat in the back, and Paul and Amy up front. It felt surreal. She examined her heart and then her gonads in the tiny pauses in conversation. Was she attracted to this man, now that they were face to face? She wasn’t sure. He was reasonably good looking and had the cutest accent. Hugging him had felt wonderful. There weren’t any traces of any of the bad behavior others had warned her about. He was excited but polite and a little nervous to be in such an alien place. “You’ll do fine,” she reassured him.
They were soon back at Amy’s apartment. She lived less than five miles away from Karen and Josef. They went in through the sliding glass door, as Amy always did. When introduced, Jennifer managed a polite greeting, then pretended to go back to reading, while watching Paul out the corners of her eyes. Amy showed Paul where he could put his things, where the bathroom was, where he would be sleeping, where he could find snacks. All the important things. She had planned lasagna for dinner, but had forgotten to phone ahead to get the lasagna started. The extra wait wouldn’t be that extreme, so she stuck with the plan.
Paul said repeatedly that dinner was delicious. Amy could see Jenny failing to warm to him, and wondered why. Maggie, on the other hand, was opening up like a blossom in the morning. She still wasn’t talking much and was very shy. When feeling particularly gregarious she would “speak”, but not even Amy had any idea what she was saying. She didn’t “talk” to Paul that night, but she favored him with the several smiles.
Not too long after dinner, it was bed time for the kids. Jennifer got ready for bed silently and without complaint – which was not entirely usual – but Maggie took a little longer settling down than she sometimes did. Now that she was weaned, getting her to go to sleep wasn’t as easy as it once was.
Coming back into the living room, Amy saw Paul had poured himself a hefty portion of her expensive tequila. She just stopped and stared at him for a minute, not having the faintest idea what to say or do. Paul looked up and saw her and unselfconsciously said, “I needed a drink. Karen didn’t even offer one after I flew across the country.”
Words continued to fail Amy. Hadn’t she made it clear many many times to Paul that she didn’t like him when he was drunk, that drinking was, for him, self-medicating and it only added to his problems. She blinked as she realized that he had in no way taken this the next logical step and considered that she might not want him to drink in her presence. She had told him “mi casa es su casa” and “make yourself comfortable”.
Finally she found her words, “I’m sure you felt like you needed to relax after that flight. And I know that things have been very difficult for you recently. But I’m not comfortable with you drinking in my home. We’ve talked about self-medicating, and you said you understood and agreed with me.”
For a split second a black look crossed his features but then he said, “You’re right. You know about these things. I’ll just have this one drink. Okay?”
Well, it was already in the glass, and one drink probably wouldn’t hurt. “I suppose so.” Amy started making up a bed for Paul on the couch. She intended to stay up and tuck him into it, so that his first drink – if it was – would be his last. She had a feeling that he knew what she was doing, but didn’t fight it. He was done with his drink and was out on the patio having a smoke when she finished. He came in, reeking of smoke. She wanted Febreeze him, but thought he’d find that rude. She excused herself to the rest room to give him privacy in getting into bed. She came out and gave him a kiss on the head, and then she went to bed.
She was pleased to see that her booze seemed to be intact when she got up in the morning. Jenny was giving Paul reproachful looks as she got ready for school around him. He wasn’t really in her way, just a little bit in her space. Amy suspected it was his freedom to lie about that was bugging her daughter. Jenny left for school while Amy was getting Maggie ready for day-care. Soon it was time for them to leave. She told Paul to just relax and hang out, apologizing that there wasn’t much to do and for not having a spare key. “We’ll get one made ASAP.” She hefted Maggie on her hip, and set out for work.
Nothing unusual happened at work. Amy had half her mind working on what Paul would need to do to get the help he needed. He would need to get “in the system”, and fast. He needed to be seen by a doctor, a psychiatrist by preference. He was taking Zoloft, and had refills, but Amy knew it wasn’t working for him and in any case it was a bad idea to take psychiatric drugs without medical supervision. He probably needed therapy, but that wasn’t a top-of-the-list priority. He was technically homeless, which meant he was almost certainly eligible for food-stamps. It was tricky as all get-out to understand the system as a new-comer. The bureaucracy made it that way on purpose, intending to “scare off” those who weren’t serious about getting help. Unfortunately it did nothing to deter a determined con-artist, and was extremely daunting to anyone with the slightest cognitive deficiency. Paul fit into this latter category, as he had anxiety and agoraphobia. He could and did have panic attacks just dealing with being in public. He also had depression, which can slow down the mind.
Luckily for Paul, Amy knew the ins and outs of the system fairly well. She was not actually a social worker herself, but she worked with them closely in her job. Anything she didn’t know, she could find out in a heartbeat.
She was out the door just a hair before five o’clock, but getting through the traffic was pretty much as miserable as it always was. There was something that drove Amy wild knowing she was just blocks from her apartment and it was still going to be another fifteen minutes.
With profound relief she turned left off Watt – resisting an urge to shake her fist at it in parting – and turned right onto Richmond Street, where Maggie’s day-care was. She held Maggie in a one-armed snuggle as she read the day’s review. Nothing new, normal one year old stuff, no bad behavior, nobody could understand a word she said but everybody thought she was adorable. Amy nuzzled her daughter, tickling her neck to make her giggle.
Back in the car, it was just the next right and her complex was on the left. Sometimes Amy went home first, got the stroller and walked over to get Maggie; but today she didn’t want to deal with the extra conversation involved due to having a house-guest. Oh lord, Amy thought, I guess we’re having Pizza for dinner, I haven’t given it a thought all day. She could throw something together, but this evening she would rather spend the time visiting with Paul than cooking.
She came in through the sliding glass door. It was hardly ever locked. It wasn’t so much that she lived in a particularly safe neighborhood as that her gate and door were very visible; a thief would have quite an audience.
The first thing she noticed was Jenny’s dark mood. She was sitting on the couch that faced the door, though mostly because that same wall had the television. She had the look of one who was determined to watch television and not anything else. She did not look up.
Amy was dumbstruck. This was completely unprecedented behavior. Temporarily speechless and not knowing what else to do, she looked to her left, and saw Paul sitting at her computer. She knew that he hadn’t smoked indoors, but to her he still reeked of cigarette smoke. She was a reformed smoker, and she couldn’t stand the smell now. In his hand was a half empty bottle of Jack Daniels that hadn’t been opened when she left for work. At his feet was the empty tequila bottle.
This stunned Amy at least as much as Jennifer’s behavior. In the back of her mind she laughed at herself. She was generally considered a chatterbox, and now her mind was as empty of words as a Mensa convention is of humility. She hazarded a guess that there was a connection between the drinking on this side of the room and the bad mood on the other side of the room. She realized she was stalling.
It was Paul that broke the silence. “Amy! I missed you!”
His New Hampshire accent was much stronger after all that booze. It was almost hard to understand him.
“Here I am!” She replied with false cheer. “Have you eaten anything today, darlin’?”
“I didn’t want to impose,” is what Amy thought he said.
“Oh don’t be ridiculous. You’ve drunk like a gallon of my booze! Honey, whether or not you were supposed to be drinking, you have to eat!” She frowned at him. “You’ve eaten nothing at all?”
“Oh, I had some oatmeal this morning. I washed up after myself. I’m very clean.”
It was rude, but Amy couldn’t help glancing over her shoulder to the tiny kitchen. It was, in fact, spotless. Cleaner than it had been this morning. “Thank you,” she said.
“Of course!” Paul replied with a grandiose gesture.
Amy sighed. “Well, I was going to order pizza tonight!” she said, trying to make her words exciting. There was no reaction from Jenny. Paul smiled and said, “Great!”
Paul wanted meat, but didn’t care about specifics.
Jenny refused to answer. Amy stepped to the patio door and said in a low growl, “Jennifer Wilson, you come here right now.”
Jennifer went. Amy pulled her gently out onto the patio and shut the door.
“Baby, what is wrong? Why are you acting like this?” Amy asked. There was no anger in her voice now.
“I don’t like that man,” Jenny answered.
“His name is Paul Fournier, Jennifer. You may call him Mr. Fournier, or if he doesn’t mind you may call him Paul. But it is rude to call him ‘that man’.”
“Yes, mama. I don’t like Mr. Fournier.”
“Why not, baby?” Amy asked gently. Then, suddenly intent, “He didn’t hurt you did he?”
“No, mama, I’m okay.”
Amy’s legs suddenly felt like water. She felt like such an idiot for not ever considering that this person she hardly knew – she’d “known” him online for more than two years, but still… – might hurt her child. She felt like she’s been granted a reprieve and vowed to never be that trusting again.
“But mama,” Jenny’s voice interrupted her thoughts, bringing her back to the present moment. “He just drank and drank. He was friendly, but it was hard for me to understand his accent and he thought weird things were funny. He makes me uncomfortable.”
“Ah, baby, it’ll be okay.” Amy put her arms around Jenny. “Paul isn’t going to drink anymore. He’s just got to get used to a new place. Believe it or not, he was probably a little nervous around you!”
“Me, mama? Why? That’s silly.” Jennifer laughed, thinking her mother was teasing her.
“Because he’s actually really shy, honey,” Amy told her.
“Yeah, really.” and Amy thought ya rly the way she always did ever since it became an internet meme. “Let’s go inside and order some pizza. You don’t have to be nice to Paul, but you do have to be polite.”
They went inside and Amy asked Paul if she could use her computer. It was odd phrasing it like that, but she preferred it to straight up asking him to move. “I’ll hold that,” she said, taking the bottle of Jack as Paul balanced precariously to rise. She noted that it was still further depleted. It made her angry. She did not hand the bottle back to him, and, even as drunk as he was, he realized what she meant by that almost immediately.
She sat down, putting the bottle between herself and the wall. She pulled up the local pizza joint’s website and ordered a couple of large pizzas. She looked across the room and saw that Jenny had scooted over to the loveseat and Paul was on the couch, trying to play peek-a-boo with Maggie. It was good enough for Maggie, but it made Amy very uneasy.
Amy’s father had been a drunk of the worst kind. Controlling and abusive primarily to Amy’s mother, but sometimes he abused Amy and her sister as well. As she studied psychology, Amy came to understand the different methods that her father used to mentally abuse and control her mother. It was a difficult part of her studies, but she felt like she came out of it stronger.
Now she wasn’t sure how much stronger she really was. If she was cured of all of her issues, would seeing someone drunk bother her so much? Or was it simply maternal? Afraid he might trip and fall on Maggie? I’m probably over-thinking this. I’m just angry because I thought we had an understanding, and I’m disappointed.
Keeping one eye on the scene across the room, Amy checked her email. Then with some reluctance, she emailed Karen about Paul’s drinking. Paul was to go back to Karen’s house the next day; Karen ought to know what she was getting into. The email ended up much longer than she had intended; she needed to get it all out of her system.
I feel awful talking about this, but I don’t know who else to talk to.
Since Paul has been here, he has drained every drop of alcohol he could find and has stayed drunk the whole time.
I was married for a brief time to an alcoholic and it was just horrible. I mean, it was easily the most miserable time of my life. This is reminding me of that. I had no idea it was this bad with him.
What should I do?
He says after this “weekend” he is cleaning up his act, but I’ve heard that before. I am conflicted and confused and angry and just downright miserable.
Now that I’m writing, I am so relieved to talk to you about this. I was really feeling like a bitch, because I have known Paul about the same amount of time as you have and I know his circumstances and have talked firmly to him about this, even shedding tears without trying to, about how upset I am, but he continues down this road.
He said in his drunken rambling that he would go to a shelter and I was saying no, that you are being handed a golden ticket, all you have to do is take it and not be a retard. He was talking on and on last night about how much of a change this all is and how he is out of his element, and I asked him straight up if he wanted to return to NH because I don’t mind putting him on the first flight back. He said emphatically no, so I asked why is this change so hard because it’s all positive…..it’s not like he’s alone and homeless, he has a huge network of people pulling for him. I could feel myself tearing up again, so I dropped it and he looked like I kicked his puppy. But I can’t fall for that, I have seen that before and been played by too many alcoholics.
The worst part has to be that Jenny is upset. She too, lived through that time with my abusive alcoholic husband, and is freaked out.
I am worried, and upset. He needs to get into a treatment center ASAP. I will find all the numbers I can to get him the help he needs. He needs inpatient care because he can’t function on his own, it’s obvious.
I wanted to give you and Josef a heads-up, but felt so bad and horrible and guilty about doing it. I need to formulate some plan of action because I just can’t tolerate this at all.
I had a serious talk with him and he was all the things that a drunk usually is: remorseful, sorry, all that.
He says he will never do it again, and I told him that right now, I know that is how he feels. But, as a clinical therapist (which I am) I would be remiss if I didn’t remind him that the next step is inpatient treatment. It is the psych stuff that is the problem, more than the alcoholic behavior, and that needs to be addressed before the healing can begin.
Also, he’d been saying some awful things about Sara and I reminded him that he needed to think back, think about Sara, about me, and about you and Josef and see if he can spot a pattern and a constant. That made him pause for a moment. He started to paint the picture like he didn’t realize we were all so sensitive and how we were reacting to what he thought were his own private thoughts and actions, but I stopped him right there. I told him that what he was saying was textbook addictive personality disorder reasoning. I said I needed him to honestly look back at NH, at Sara, at me and at you guys and really really LOOK. The constant is not the people around him, but he himself. That really made him pause, but he was drunk, so who knows what he’ll carry over.
Let’s hope he can see it, but I highly doubt it. He’s pretty deeply entrenched in his denial at this point.
Love and hugs,
Wow, that was long, Amy thought. She decided that the parts that were primarily therapy for herself, melodramatic exaggerations and all, could be cut; then she re-read what remained. She thought it seemed coherent and covered the important things. She clicked “send”.
Paul was nodding off in front of the television now. If it wasn’t so early, she’d push him over, make his bed over him and call it a night. But the pizza hadn’t even arrived.
As if on cue, she heard the delivery girl calling over the fence. Even the delivery people knew better than to bother with the front door, but they drew the line at coming through the patio without the tenant’s express permission. Amy jumped up and scurried to the door. She went out and dealt with the delivery girl in the courtyard. The girl looked askance at her – she’d been here many times and usually was invited into the apartment – but didn’t comment. She thanked Amy for the tip, and shut the gate behind her as she left.
Amy carried the pizza in and set it on the coffee table. She got plates and napkins from the kitchen. Three plates in case the enticing smell of pizza woke Paul. Maggie didn’t need to use a plate; her highchair tray was a better choice. A plate could turn into a makeshift Frisbee without warning.
Amy sat down next to Jenny on the love seat, reluctant to disturb Paul. Drunk was bad enough; drunk, sleepy and disoriented was far more than she wanted to deal with. Jennifer caught her mood and kept casting nervous looks towards the other couch while she and her mother squished together on the loveseat. Paul seemed to be down for the count, however.
They ate as quietly as they could, though Maggie emitted the occasional happy squeal of the one year old with pizza. When they were finished Amy quietly gathered up the evidence and took it to the kitchen. She put the plates in the sink, the napkins in the trash and the leftover pizza in the fridge.
She glanced at the clock. It was only half past eight. From the far side of the living room, she beckoned to Jennifer. Jenny came over curiously.
“I know it’s early, honey, but I think we should all go to bed,” Amy said. “I don’t think any of us wants to be here if he wakes up.”
Jenny was indignant at first, but as her mother explained, her face transformed into a very adult expression that was grim and accepting.
Jenny picked up her school things and shoes and headed off to her room. Amy declared Maggie done with dinner, wiped the sauce off her face, and picked her up out of the high chair. Amy carried her straight to her play-pen in their room. Maggie was surprised and not altogether pleased by this unexpected curtailing of her freedom, but was jollied out of a melt-down.
Then Amy went back to the living room and found every bottle that still had booze in it and moved it as quietly as she could to the back of her bedroom closet.
Finally, she brought out the bedding for Paul’s couch bed. He was starting to slump to one side, so she put the pillow under where his head would land. He’d get there eventually. She did her best with the rest. When she was done, she stood and stared at him for several moments. Poor little lamb, she thought. She’d send him off to Karen’s with a list of agencies to contact to set him on his way so he could get help ASAP.
To that end, she took up a note pad and wrote down some names and numbers, indicating which was for what and which to do first. Karen would be able to drive him around and felt motivated to accomplish these things. She could encourage him to get his unemployment from New Hampshire straightened out and find a new job. In other words, Karen could bully and/or babysit Paul into getting things done. Amy felt confident, despite her long email of warning.
Paul was awake when Amy emerged from her room in the morning. To her surprise, he had made coffee. She thanked him sincerely. His voice was somewhat rueful as he said, “Yes, well, I needed it.”
“I hope you don’t expect sympathy from me,” Amy said bluntly.
Paul flinched slightly, and looked the other way. Then he said, “Do you have aspirin or something I could take? My head is killing me.”
Amy was half-inclined to let him suffer, but she didn’t really want to turn him over to Karen in this condition.
“There’s aspirin, Motrin, and Tylenol in the medicine cabinet; take whichever works for you. You could take a shower, too. That always makes me feel better.” And smell better, she thought, but kept to herself.
He took her advice rather than offense, to her relief. Amy didn’t want to deliver him knuckle-dragging hungover and smelling like the floor of a bar. She found – again to her surprise – that at some point he had gotten most of the way through a laundry cycle. The clothes had gotten dry, but had been left in the dryer. For something to do while he showered and Maggie made war on strained carrots and cheerios, she got his clothes out of the dryer and folded them, putting them next to his duffel bag.
Paul looked almost chipper when he emerged from the bathroom and he thanked her for her help with the laundry with a smile. Amy cleaned Maggie up and got her dressed for day-care.
Then Amy asked Paul to sit down on the couch with her, where Paul had already tidied up his bedding. She explained that they would drop Maggie by day-care first and then proceed to Karen’s. Then she got the sheet of note-paper she had written the night before and explained everything on it. She assured him it would be easy and he would be able to start using medical benefits within a few days. He took the paper with a dubious look.
“Karen told me she’s able to drive you around; you can do it! It’s a lot of paperwork, but, really, it’s not that bad.”
Jenny had gotten ready for school as inconspicuously as possible. Now she kissed her mother on the head and said “Bye everybody! Off to school!” And left without a backwards glance. Amy watched her go, but repressed her sigh. It didn’t matter, Paul was leaving. He would probably be back, because Karen and Josef would need a break, some time to themselves. But hopefully by then Paul would be on the road to recovery and not bother Jenny the same way.
Amy said, “It’s time for us to go, too. Have you got all your stuff, Paul? It’s no biggie if you forget something, Karen lives very close by.”
“I have everything,” Paul said.
“Okay,” Amy said. She opened the door and aimed her remote at her truck, unlocking the doors. “You can go on ahead if you like, I just have to grab Mag and my purse.”
“Do you need any help?”
Amy blinked. Such a different man this morning. “No, hun, go on ahead, or you’ll be in my way.” She smiled as she said this, so he would know it wasn’t meant unkindly. He went.
Amy put her large bag over her shoulder, and Maggie on her hip, and followed Paul to the truck, shutting doors behind her automatically. With Maggie in place, she started the truck and said, “You’ll be surprised how close Karen lives,” forgetting momentarily that she’d brought him to her house from there in the first place.
They dropped Maggie off, and Amy sent Karen a text message saying that they were on their way. Then she drove down Watt for about two miles, made a left on Marconi and after a short distance turned into a quiet residential street. Karen’s house was about halfway down. A smallish home, built in a tract in 1950, but that was so long ago that the houses all had their own personalities at this point. Karen’s house had a charming bench swing on the front porch.
Karen answered the doorbell promptly with warm smiles for both of them. She stepped back from the door so they could enter, but Amy didn’t follow Paul inside.
“I’m already late for work. I told them I would be, but best not to push it.”
Karen nodded, and put her arms out for a hug. Amy hugged her and said “Good luck,” in a voice too low to carry. Karen’s countenance was somewhat amused as she pulled back from the hug, her mouth trying not to pull into a smile. Her eyes flicked behind her and she saw that Paul had left the room – probably to go to “his” room – and she whispered, “Thanks. I might need it.”
Then, at a normal volume, she added “Well, have a good day! I’ll be keeping in touch!”
“Great! You too!” Amy had misgivings as she turned back to her truck. She couldn’t quite put her finger on them. That was all right, because they were entirely off track.