When I arrived at home, Amy was cooking dinner. She did not seem to notice me coming in, so I went into the kitchen to say hello. She did not look up.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“Nothing much. I just told someone that I was in love with them, and they stomped all over my heart. No big deal.”
I went to the cabinet out of habit to pour a drink and found it empty. It occurred to me that this could be harder than I expected. I needed some relief.
“You don’t want to be in a relationship with me, Amy.”
“I’m already in a relationship with you, James.”
“You know what I mean.”
She went quiet and stirred the chili on the stove.
“Look, I need to make a call,” I said.
I grabbed a pack of cigarettes and my lighter, went outside, and started looking for my phone contacts for George. I found it, but I hesitated. It was around dinner time; I didn’t want to disturb him. Instead, I lit a cigarette and took a few drags, hoping for some sort of relief. I hadn’t smoked all day, and the buzz came on strong, but it didn’t last. It wasn’t the same. I thought of the pills and realized that I hadn’t thrown them away with the booze. My arm had pretty much healed, and I was no longer in any pain from the accident, but it was medicine. How could medicine be bad? I thought, but even in my thinking, I could see the flaw. These were the same pills that got me into the hospital just days before. I finished up my cigarette and stamped it out on the sidewalk, then walked inside. Amy was not in the kitchen. I found the bottle of pills, and there were only a few left. Not enough to do any significant damage. I thought hard for a moment about what it would feel to take them. It would take the edge off my discomfort; give me some relief.
“What are you doing with those?” Amy said, walking into the kitchen.
“Oh. Yeah, just throwing them away.”
“Good,” she said.
I tossed them in the kitchen trash and said, “Yeah, I actually went to an AA meeting today.”
“Oh yeah?” she said, dropping the subject of our relationship.
“Yeah. It wasn’t all that bad.”
“I’m really glad you are doing that, James. That shit nearly killed you. GOD, you’re such an asshole,” she said, turning back to the stove.
“Look. I’m really sorry about all that. And while it’s on my mind, where were you the last month?”
“Please, let’s not. I was somewhere safe, and that’s all you need to know.”
“Ok ok. Just glad you’re ok. So, are you going to be hanging around, then?”
She didn’t answer. Instead, she checked the cornbread in the oven and closed the oven door, her back to me. When she turned around, she was crying. “James, you don’t understand. When they called me, they made it seemed like you might die or something. You don’t fucking get it!” she shouted. “I thought you were going to fucking die!”
“Look, I’m sorry, but I’m trying to make it right. I’m trying to get sober and get my shit back together. I wasn’t really trying to kill myself, you know. I just went a little overboard.”
“Whatever,” she said, turning her back to me. “I don’t know what happened to you in Oklahoma, but you’re going to have to deal with that shit before it kills you.”
I didn’t have an answer to this.
“So,” she said, back still to me, “What’s the deal with this Kyra person? Are you…like…a thing? Did you fuck her?”
“I met her in a bar a couple of months ago, but nothing happened. Then after you left, I needed to be with someone, so I called her. She saw me through the night.”
“But did you fuck her?”
“I don’t really see how it is any of your business, Amy,” I said, landing on her name a little hard.
“So that’s a big, fat, fucking yes,” she said.
“Ok, so maybe I did. Look, I care a lot about you, Amy. You’re the best thing I have going right now, but it would be wrong to have anything other than a friendship with you. Can’t you see that?”
She turned on me and looked as if she was going to yell at me, but then she took a deep breath, walked over to me, and wrapped her arms around my waist.
“Amy, I can’t—”
“Just hold me. I don’t need anything from you.”
I put my arms around her and held her. I could feel her hot breath against my chest, her tears dampening my shirt.
“I’m just glad you’re ok,” she said. “and I think it’s like really cool that you went to AA. I’m sorry for yelling at you. You just really scared me, and I’m all mixed up right now.”
I stroked her back and said, “It’s alright. I understand. It was really scary. But it’s gonna be ok.”
For a moment, I thought about telling her about Heath’s guru and what he said about me never drinking again. It had given me some hope, but I decided to keep it to myself.
“It’s gonna be ok,” I repeated.
She pulled away and wiped her nose on her sleeve. “Why don’t you sit down and let me bring you some food? It’s almost ready. It will make you feel better. Are you like supposed to call somebody?”
“Yeah, I actually got somebody’s number. I’ll call him later.”
“Ok. Good,” she said.
“Amy, you know I love you, right?”
“Yeah. I know,” she said, “Now, go sit down. I’ll be right there.”
I sat down in my leather club chair. I received a text from Kyra.
“Hey. Are you getting settled in?” it said.
I switched my phone to silence and replied, “Yeah. Amy’s cooking me dinner. Went to AA today.”
She responded, “That’s great! I’m so glad you’re doing that.”
Then she texted, “Hey, wanna come over tonight?”
My feelings for Kyra were complicated. I was grateful to her and very attracted, but I could feel her trying to reel me in, and I didn’t want to end up on the grill over the charcoals like those bass I caught back on the lake with Laura.
I texted back, “Thanks, but I’m staying in tonight.”
“Sure thing, cutie!” she texted.
“Chili’s ready,” called Amy.
I put my phone away, walked into the kitchen, and sat down in front of a bowl full of chili. The smell made my mouth water. It was my first hunger since the hospital.
“Wow, this smells delicious,” I said.
“Thanks, it was my mom’s recipe,” she said.
“Well, that makes it extra special,” I said, and then I scooped up a spoonful, blew on it a few times and tasted it. “Tastes great.”
“Glad you like it.”
“Hey,” I said, “thanks for taking care of me.”
She ignored this and began eating her chili.
“Are we good?” I asked.
“Yup,” she said, without looking up.
“Ok…good,” I said, and that was all we said for the rest of the meal.
After dinner, I washed the dishes, and Amy stored the rest of the chili in Tupperware in the fridge.
“Hey,” I said, “Let’s go out for a smoke and a walk.”
She nodded, and we grabbed our coats. We walked outside and pulled out cigarettes. I started to offer to light hers, but she stopped me and said, “You really suck at that. I’ll light my own,” she said, scoffing.
For a moment, we stood outside my apartment in the late December cool. It was still; nothing like the windiness of Oklahoma. I could hear a trolley come up the hill, humming and dinging here and there. We watched it as it came back, a few commuters and tourists on board.
“Come on,” I said, gesturing, “I’ll buy you a Twinkie.”
We began to walk down to the corner store with nothing but the sound of our feet on the sidewalk. Then she said, “I saw my dad.”
I stopped and turned to her, “You what? Where? When?”
“Soon after I took off,” she said, lighting another cigarette. “But he sure as shit didn’t see me—at least I hope not.”
“Huh,” I said.
We walked a little further until we reached the store. The bell dinged as I opened the door for Amy.
“Hey, Li,” I said.
“Good evening, Mr. Robert and Miss Amy,” he said, with his thick Chinese accent…no “s” at the end of my name.
I picked up a couple of packs of Twinkies and put them on the counter with a ten-dollar bill. I eyed the bottles of liquor on the wall behind the counter.
“How was your Christmas?” he asked.
“Um…it was interesting. I’ll leave it at that.”
“Ah, I see. Interesting,” he repeated. “Did you need anything else? Whiskey maybe?”
“Umm,” I said, looking at Amy.
She shrugged, and I turned back to Li, “No thanks. I’m stocked up.”
“I haven’t seen you for a while, Miss Amy. Have you been in school?”
“Um…yeah,” she said, turning to me. “Yeah, I’ve been working very hard in school.”
“Keep the change,” I said.
“You are too kind, Mr. Robert,” said Li, accepting the money.
“You take care. See you later,” I said as we walked out.
Outside we unwrapped our Twinkies, and I scarfed mine down while Amy took a few nibbles.
“You know?” she said. “These Twinkie things. They really taste like shit.
“You’re welcome,” I said.
“And they should really update the name. Ya know?”
“Oh? Why is that?”
“It’s this whole big gay thing.”
I stuffed the wrapper in my coat pocket and turned back toward my apartment. Amy followed. All I could think about was a tumbler of scotch; my obsession growing with every step. I thought of George and of Sri Ravi, but it gave me no relief.
When we reached the apartment, I let Amy in, but I stayed outside and lit another cigarette, fumbling a little with the lighter. “You go on in; I need to make a call.”
I found George’s number, took a deep breath, and dialed.
It rang three times, then four, then five, and just as I was about to end the call, the dial tone stopped, and a voice said, “Hey, James.”
“Hey, I’m sorry to bother you, but I just needed to talk a little bit,” I said.
“It’s not a bother at all. I just finished dinner and am stepping outside to have a smoke. What’s on your mind?”
“I don’t know. I just can’t stop thinking about drinking,” I said, feeling like a failure.
“Yeah, well you’re just getting started. Your cravings are not just going to go away because you went to one meeting. You have to work this thing for a while.”
“Yeah,” I said, “I suppose you’re right, but what do I do?”
“You’re doing it right now. You called another alcoholic. Each time you do that, your chances of taking a drink are going to go down. And come to a meeting again tomorrow.”
“Yeah, I can do that,” I said, and I took a drag on my cigarette.
“So, I’ll see you tomorrow, then?” he said.
“Yeah, ok. I’ll be there.”
“Is there anything else you want to talk about?”
I thought for a moment about Amy and our odd arrangement, Kyra late at night with her in her apartment in Russian Hill, and my time in the hospital.
“No,” I said. “I think I’ll be ok.”
“Good deal,” he said. “Glad to hear it. Ringer’s on if you need to talk anytime.”
“Ok, thanks,” I said. “See you tomorrow.”
“Yep, I’ll be there.”
Then I hung up. I felt a little better. I took one last quick puff of cigarette, dropped it on the ground, stamped it out, and walked back inside. Amy was watching reruns of “Friends” on the television.
“Ah, yes. I used to watch that,” I said, and I immediately flashed back to Laura and how we’d watched every episode rooting for Ross and Rachel to get together and throwing food at the TV every time they broke up or missed the opportunity.
“Are you ok?” she said.
“Ummm…yeah. I just needed to talk to someone.”
“Like a sponsor?”
The truth is, I didn’t know what he was other than another drunk.
“I don’t really know if he’s my sponsor, but he gave me his number, and I called it.”
She watched the TV for a moment or two, and then said, “Is it hard?”
“Is what hard?”
I sat down next to her. “Yeah, but I feel better after talking to him. I’m gonna go to another meeting tomorrow.”
“You know? I’m kind of proud of you. I think this is a good thing. You might become less of an asshole,” she said.
Then she pulled the blanket over herself and to my chair.
“Are you ever going to sleep in a bed?” she asked.
“It just seems like you’d be a lot more comfortable.”
“It’s not that bad,” I said, putting my feet up on the ottoman.
But that night, after Amy went to bed in my guest bedroom, I struggled. Going to sleep had been easy because I could drink until I was unconscious, but now without that alcohol, I couldn’t seem to get comfortable. I turned many times, but it was no use, so I went outside to smoke. It was after midnight, and my neighborhood was quiet. I could hear the burning tobacco and paper crackle with each drag. I wondered if Kyra was up. I had slept well in her bed. I texted her.
“Hey, you up?”
After a few minutes, I got a response. “Kind of.”
“Sorry. Did I wake you?”
“No worries. I’m glad you did.”
“Look, I’m having trouble sleeping. Maybe I could come over?”
“Sure. You know the way.”
I went inside and grabbed a toothbrush and the bottle of Librium and left a note for Amy saying that I’d be out.
I managed to hail a cab at the next intersection down the hill and was at Kyra’s door in fifteen minutes. She buzzed me in, and I took the elevator to her floor. I knocked, and she greeted me in a Ramone’s tee shirt and blue cotton panties.
“Hey you,” she said sleepily.
“Are you sure this is ok?” I asked.
“Of course I’m sure. Come on in.”
I walked in and closed the door behind me.
“Hey, do you mind if I take a shower?”
“No, let me grab you a towel. Do you mind if I join you?” she said, putting her hand on my chest and smiling at me.
“No,” I said, and she led me back to her bathroom.
She grabbed a couple of towels from the head knocker and laid them on the bathroom counter then started the shower. I began to take off my clothes, but she said, “No, let me.”
She unbuttoned my shirt, then unbuckled and unzipped my pants, taking moments to look up at me with her caring eyes. When I was completely naked, she said, “Hop in, I’ll be right in after you.”
I tested the water; it was a little too hot, so I adjusted the knob until it was just right. I stepped in and let the water pour over my face. Warm hands and arms wrapped around me from behind, and she held me for a moment. Then she began washing my back and arms. When she was done, she turned me around. She rubbed soap over my chest and arms. Then my abdomen and my penis. She turned me around again and began to wash my buttocks and then between them. The warmth of her hands and the slipperiness of the soap was arousing. I turned around and pulled her toward me. Her nakedness, wet and slippery against me caused me to get hard, and she began stroking me, but I stopped her.
“Is everything ok?” she asked.
I hadn’t come there for sex. I didn’t want to get any more involved with her than I already was.
“Can we just get dried off and go to sleep? I’m just not up to this tonight. I think I just need to get some sleep.”
“Sure,” she said undeterred.
I let her touch me for a little bit longer, but then took her hand away from me and turned off the water.
“Ok, ok. At least let me dry you off.”
She dried me off, and my arousal decreased. I put back on my boxers and went back into her single room. Her bed was disheveled. I figured she’d already been in bed when I texted. I slid in and pulled the covers up over me. She had put on her t-shirt and panties again and slid in next to me. I turned over, and she spooned me from behind, her heat permeating through my body until I was too warm. I turned to my back, and she whispered, “Are you comfortable?”
“Yeah, just a little restless.”
She ran her fingers over my chest and then began to hum an unnamed tune softly until I faded away into oblivion.
When I awoke, it was morning, and Kyra was still sleeping peacefully beside me. I felt a rush of gratitude for her immediately followed by a craving for the whiskey I knew was in her kitchen. I could sneak in there and get a drink while she slept. No one would need to know, but instead, I got up and went to the bathroom to pee. When I came back, she was setting up the coffee maker. I could smell the roasted coffee grounds, and my cravings were quelled.
“Hey, you. Did you sleep ok?” she said,
“Yeah, I think so.”
“Good, are you hungry?” she asked, pouring in the water.
“Maybe some toast?”
“Sure you don’t want something a little more; maybe some scrambled eggs with that?”
“Yeah, just toast is fine. My appetite comes and goes. Don’t think I could eat much more than that.”
“Yeah, I guess so. The medicine helps, though. I’m not shaking anymore.”
I picked up the bottle of Librium that I had set on the kitchen counter the night before and took one.
My stomach growled a little when I began to smell the toast cooking.
“Maybe eggs would be ok,” I said.
“Anything you like, baby,” she said.
I wanted to say, “I’m not your baby,” but her tenderness was welcome. Instead, I said, “Why?”
“Why do you put up with me?”
She cracked a couple of eggs into a mixing bowl and began to whisk in a little milk from a half-gallon carton. When she was satisfied, she laid the whisk in the bowl and wiped her hands on a kitchen towel.
She turned back to me and said, “James. I watched my dad drink himself to death. You can’t really imagine what that is like. Look, I care about you more than you know. When I see the way you treat Amy, I just know you are such a great guy. You really care. She may think she’s in love with you, but what she really needs is a man in her life who doesn’t hurt her. Someone she can trust. You are giving that to her.” She slung the towel over her shoulder and pulled up a chair close to me, sat down, and took my hand. “But you need something, too, James. I don’t know what happened with Laura, and I hope maybe one day you will tell me. I sense that you loved her so much, maybe more than you ever loved another person.”
I averted my eyes. I could feel tears welling up.
“I know you will probably never feel the same about me, but I am here for you…even if all you really want is comfort and friendship. I can’t let you go down the same path as my father. I won’t let you.”
“I guess I just feel like I’m taking advantage of you, Kyra.”
“Well, I don’t see it that way. Everybody needs love, James. You are so convinced that you don’t—or maybe you think you don’t even deserve it.”
“I—” I began, pulling my hand away.
“No listen!” she said, grabbing it tighter. “Just let me love you.”