was home that evening unexpectedly; she was supposed to be at a girlfriend’s house. But they’d had a fight, and she came in the door calling
the so-called friend a “whore skank bitch”; she was pissed off, but I could
read her: she was pissed off all the time. She called the lasagna gross, said
it was full of dead cow. She shouted that she was a vegan! Jesse and Marlene looked mystified. She stomped off to her room, slammed the door,
turned up some rap music loud enough to fill the small house. The walls
thumped. She was maybe breaking things.
Jesse was oddly quiet. I thought he might be embarrassed. Marlene
was the opposite. Her brilliant blue eyes blazed with rage, and her face
flushed. She wanted to vent her anger; she wanted to call Kayla out. She
kept standing up, heading down the hall. Jesse would firmly tell her to
sit down, wait. Let her calm down. I thought the girl was a hurricane;
there was no calm to her. It was an awkward, awkward evening. I left as
quickly as I could. I hoped no further invitations would be issued. None
After I ask about Marlene’s birthday, some other folks hear the conversation and join in, Reggie, Sharon, Towles. This is something Jesse
normally would have taken to like a preacher at a tent revival. He loves
people. But I can see he’s distracted. He has huge hound-dog eyes, probably his best feature, but I think they look puffy, if not bruised. His eyes
quickly drift away from us to Abby. Abruptly he excuses himself, and
he and Abby go into the side room and close the door. This is the room
for one-on-one meetings. This is the distress room, though nobody says
that out loud. I stand there staring, concerned. The others wander off.
Andy Petryck walks up. I call him “Andy Sloth.” Like Abby and Jesse,
he’s one of the longtimers, considered a venerable elder. He’s earned my
nickname. He’s large, soft, with long brownish-blond hair and a full
droopy mustache that tries to break up his sleepy face and wet-looking
eyes. He moves slow, speaks slow. When he does speak, he has a wonderful deep bass voice that captures your attention. He’s an academic,
a history professor. He also writes a syndicated daily trivia column in
newspapers that I read, then cuss at my own stupidity before I cheat and
Google the answers. We both stare at the closed door where Jesse and
Abby have disappeared.
“What’s going on in there?” I finally ask, because I don’t waste time
and he’s not likely to speak first.
“What we’re here for. Help.” He plucks at his blueberry muffin.
“Jesse’s a badass,” I say. “He’s beat it. He doesn’t need help.”