Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Chapter 31: In which Eoin and Katie ALMOST find Anne. And Katie feels awkward about the homeless.
She knocked. No one came. Katie pushed on the front door, and it creaked open.
"Hello?" Katie called, stepping inside. The house was cold, dark. "Anne?"
Somewhere from the back of the house, there was movement. A door opened, shut. There were footsteps moving toward them. Katie and Eoin held their breath.
“Hello?” A woman called out. Was it Anne? It didn’t sound like Anne. But maybe it was Anne!?
“Hi!” Katie chirped. The steps came closer, and a woman appeared in the doorway.
She was young, she was pretty, but she wasn’t Anne.
And she was carrying a baseball bat.
“Who the fuck are you?” Her voice was angry, gruff. She held the bat over her head. Eoin raised his hands, palms out.
“Sorry. Sorry. We did knock. We know this is your home, and we don’t mean to intrude. It’s just that we’re looking for someone.” He jerked a thumb towards Katie. “Her sister. We heard she was living around here.”
“And my grandmother loved African violets,” stammered Katie.
“What?” The young woman still had the bat over her head, but it sagged a bit. “African violets?”
“They’re in your window. And so we thought maybe Anne was here.”
“Anne Christensen?” the woman asked. “Because she does live here. Sometimes.”
Katie’s knees buckled. “Are you serious?” Katie began to sink to the floor. “I need to sit,” she said, and the woman, dropping the baseball bat (violet-loving fainters probably didn’t pose much risk), rushed forward and led Katie towards a rather worse-for-wear sofa. Eoin sat next to her, while the woman pulled up a straight-backed wooden chair. Katie put her head between her knees. She wanted to faint, or cry, or something. Anne lives here. Sometimes.
“So you’re saying her sister lives here?” Eoin asked as he held the hair out of Katie’s face.
“Yeah, on and off for about four months now. We moved in at the same time -- I met her at a … a thing.”
Katie raised her head. “A thing?" Katie wondered what that meant. An orgy? A break-and-enter? A kegger?
“Yeah, just a thing. You know. I can’t really talk about it.”
“You mean AA.” Katie said, quietly, and the woman frowned a bit.
“We can’t talk about it, you know. Anonymous. I shouldn’t have said anything,” she looked worried, anxious, all of a sudden. She was so young, not even a woman, more of a girl, really. She pulled her hands into her oversized hooded sweatshirt.
“It’s okay,” said Eoin. “We won’t tell anyone,” he promised, though Katie knew she would have to tell Aunt Angela. (And maybe her parents. And probably Melissa. And Jason, though she doubted he’d care.)
“What’s your name?” Katie asked. The girl had such a delicate face, all pale with nearly see-though skin. Her blond hair was cut so short, she looked newly shorn.
“I”m Becky,” she said. “Do you want some water? Our taps don’t work but we get it bottled.”
Katie was going to say okay, but she wondered how hard it was for them to get clean water. She didn’t want to drain them of their meager supply. “Thanks, but I’m alright.” Then she worried that might have offended Becky. She didn’t really know what was proper etiquette when visiting a homeless person's squat.
“So listen, will Anne be back soon?” Eoin asked.
“I don’t know,” Becky shrugged. “To be honest, she was doing really well, she even had a job and everything. She was working as a dog walker.” Which Katie actually laughed at, a little. Anne hated dogs. At least, she used to. She called them overfed flea magnets. Oh, well. Katie supposed that dog walking was better than selling meth. Or her body. Or fake Prada purses out of the back of a station wagon. Anne must have come to this same conclusion.
“And we were going to meetings,” Becky continued, “but then she, well, a few weeks ago she just snapped. Something must have happened, or maybe nothing, it doesn’t take much, you know, to get you drinking again. And she kind of disappeared. She’s been back, of course, but there’s no, like, schedule.”
“But she’s okay. She’s alive,” Katie affirmed. “And she’s been trying to get her life back on track,” she said, choosing to remember that part of what Becky had been saying.
“Yeah, yeah, she’s definitely okay,” said Becky. “Misses her little boy, though. And you. She talks about you all the time.”
“Yeah, she says that you’re an artist. She says you’ll be famous one day.”
Katie sighed, breathing out, and then in, and then out again. Deep, cool breaths. She’d been holding her breath for hours, for days. “Thanks, Becky.”
“Do you want to see her room?”
Becky led them up creaky stairs into a dark, musty hallway. At the end was a room, the door off its hinges, with patchy wallpaper and a cracked, stained ceiling. The room itself was pretty clean, there was not yet an accumulation of dust or dirt. Her sister had always been a OCD about cleanliness; Katie was relieved to see that though her sister may have dropped out of life, she was still cleaning.
There was a pile of blankets in a corner, with a plastic shopping bag filled with what looked like some clothes, folded up neatly. A pair of cracked Doc Martens that Katie was pretty sure her sister had worn, like, 20 years ago were there, as well. “No one takes her stuff?”
The minute Katie said it, she felt like a jerk. “I don’t mean -- it’s not that I think you guys, I mean, people who.... I mean... I didn’t mean to insinuate that you’re thieves.” Katie’s face was growing red. She wished she’d taken that bottle of water, now. “ It’s just...If she’s not around a lot....”
“I keep an eye on her stuff.” Becky said, levelly. “We’re pretty respectful in this house. We’ve all been through a lot.”
“So it’s like an unofficial group home,” said Katie, and worried that sounded jerky, too. Maybe she should just keep her mouth shut.
But Becky just smiled and said, “Yeah, I guess it is.”
Then Katie noticed some pictures tacked to the wall by Anne’s stuff. She went towards them. There was a photo of Anne’s son Jonah, when he was a baby, and there was a photo of Anne and Katie, from Christmas a few years ago. And there, tacked up next to them, was one of Katie’s caesar drawings. “Oh, Eoin....” She ran her hands over the picture, feeling her knees buckling again. This was it. This was her. They’d found Anne. Kind of. Almost. Mostly. They had never been this close.
They hung around for about half an hour, but Anne didn’t come home. In the end, Katie and Eoin left behind a couple of the postcards, Katie’s contact information, and a note that said Anne was to call her sister or her aunt urgently. She didn’t actually come out and write, “Your husband is divorcing you and claiming full rights to your child so you’d better get your shit together and come claim your son”, because she wasn’t sure how that would read in a note. She just hoped the “please call” would be enough.
Becky walked them to the door, Eoin reaching awkwardly into his pocket. He pulled out his wallet. “Listen, Becky,” his voice was rough, nervous. “I’ve got ... Can I leave you some money? For whatever. You can share it with others, or use it for yourself. Is that okay? Is that terribly inappropriate?”
Becky shook her head, but when she reached out to take the money her smile was kind of forced and sad. “Thanks. I’ll share it with Anne, when she gets back.”
“That’d be nice,” Katie said. “Maybe you could go to Little India, for a meal? Anne loves butter chicken.”
“I didn’t know that.” Becky folded the money into her pocket.
They all sort of stood there, staring at one another, until Eoin finally said, “Okay, well, we’ll get out of your hair. Thanks for the info.”
“And thanks for looking out for my sister,” said Katie. “I really appreciate it.”
Katie waited until the door was shut behind them and they were halfway down the block before saying, “Well, that was freaking crazy.”
She felt exhausted. She hauled herself into Eoin’s truck and slumped against him. “Can we just go home? I kind of want to go to sleep.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Sleep, eh? Is that what you’re calling it now?” Man he was sexy, even if Katie didn’t particularly want him to be at this particular moment.
“I mean it, just sleep. It’s not that I don’t want to...”
Eoin cut her off with a gentle kiss. “It’s okay, Kate.” (There it was again. “Kate”. So thrilling!) “I’m only kidding. Home for an early night it is.” He started the engine.
Just the Katie’s phone beeped; she had a text message.
Hey, girl, just wondering if you’re bringing Eoin tonight? We’ve got the VIP room booked but they want a firm number. I guess they’re providing champagne??? C U soon! <<Nora>>
Shit. Shit. Shit. “Shit!”
“What? Bad news? Not Anne.” Eoin’s eyes darted from the road towards her.
“No, it’s that party. It’s tonight.” Katie checked the time on her phone. “Damn. In, like, three hours.”
“That’s plenty of time,” Eoin reassured her. "Even time for a nap.” He raised his eyebrows again, and grinned.
Katie swatted his arm, playfully. “I still have to get her a present. I’ve been such a terrible friend. I forgot her birthday!”
“You’ve had other things on your mind,” Eoin reassured her. “You’ve nothing to be worried about.”
“Yeah, well, from now until noon tomorrow, I’m all about Melissa.”
“Yeah. Sometimes these parties can get a bit wild.”
“Sounds like fun.”
“So, you want to come?” Katie asked. “Nora needs a firm number. It’s cool if you don’t want to. I mean, a lot of these people are even my friends, really. And maybe you have other plans?”
Does he come to the party or not?
1. He says yes, he’d love to be her date to Melissa’s party.
2. He has plans with a group of his own friends so he can’t come with her.