Chapter Nine: Apology Girl Returns, Part 2

Saturday finally arrived. Jane departed the rehab facility to a round of "The change begins with you," and "Remember, recovery is a journey, not a destination." She smiled as pleasantly as possible at the counselors' clichés, but admitted to herself they weren't without some trace of truth. This backslide had been rough, but it was liberating now to walk outside into the fresh air, not crippled with cravings or wondering where the next fix would come from.

A horn honk drew her attention to a familiar Escalade in the parking lot, with Donald waving from the driver's seat. Suitcase rolling behind her, she made her way to the passenger side and was met with a quick hug from her father when she embarked.

"Happy belated birthday," he greeted.

Oh, yeah. She had had her 27th birthday in rehab. It had passed by without much fanfare, though one of the counselors had given her a card. "We're so proud you joined the other 27 Club," it had read.

Donald reached between the two seats and produced a gift bag stuffed with blue tissue paper. Jane looked at him reluctantly, as he set it in her lap. "Y-you got me a…?"

"Well, don't look at me; look inside."

Gingerly, she pulled out the tissue paper until she could see a black hardback sketchbook within. She retrieved the book and thumbed through the blank pages, all begging to be drawn on. "Nice. Thanks, Dad."

"You said you filled yours," Donald recalled. "If you want to use this one to keep designing tattoos, it's up to you. I won't stop you, but stay smart."

"Hey, some of the NA folks are regulars at ABQ Ink," she reasoned. "I'll be in good company."

"I'm sure you will. …I may have underestimated the company you keep," he conceded.

As he spoke she retrieved her cell phone, newly returned to her, stared into its blank screen and pressed the power button. It wouldn't have surprised her to find it had been left on in storage and the battery was dead. Fortunately, it flickered to life instead.

"I better check my messages real quick," she mused aloud. "They've probably been blowing up my phone looking for me at the parlor."

Donald started the car and began to roll out of the parking lot. "Well, your boss will want to know why you haven't been showing up to work."

She hesitated. When had she stopped showing up to work? After the relapse? After her Dad had caught on? She thought back to the events of six weeks ago. They were a blur on her memory, altered state that she'd been in.

The desktop screen revealed several missed calls from ABQ Ink. But, surprisingly, there were only two voicemail messages. She pressed Play. The first message was from her Dad.

"Now how did I know you wouldn't be answering your phone?" his six-week-old recording chided. The message sounded surreal, like it was from a whole different era, meant for a whole different person. "I'm on my way, and I expect you on the porch, bag packed. No excuses."

That's right. He had wanted her to go to rehab. She'd packed her bag—all ready to go—then gotten weak and went out in search of one last hit, right? Or, at least that was what she had told him. But there had been more to it, she was almost certain.

She pressed Delete, and listened to the next message.

"Yo, Jane."

Her face fell. Jesse.

"Yeah, uh, I just got out of line, and the guy at the counter says we need, like, passports and stuff before we can get tickets."

Their plans to run away to New Zealand. It all came back to her. He must have called her from the airport before realizing she…

"And there's not actually a plane that goes the whole way from here; we have to switch flights in, y'know, Honolulu or some weird place like that. Hey, maybe we could even chill there a day or two. I mean, that's where Piña Coladas come from, right?"

An image flashed through her mind of a sunset-drenched shore in Hawaii's capital. The two of them sipped Piña Coladas in beach chairs on the pale sand, herself in a string bikini, him in luau surf trunks with that dragon tattoo-adorned bare chest for all the South Pacific to see. She hid a wistful grin. It never would have happened, sure…but it sounded pretty nice.

"So, yeah. Soon as you get back inside, we'll check out this travel agency thing the guy told me about and, I guess, get everything taken care of. See you in a few." Jesse's voicemail concluded.

Jane shut her phone and looked at it in silence for a second or two. The hazier memories of six weeks ago started to come into focus. A very heavy encumbrance bore down on her. She knew that feeling. It was guilt.

Oh, God. Those things she'd said back at the hospital.

She hung her head against the heels of her hand, hair draped down around her face. Jesse had been hanging onto this silly little fantasy like an answered prayer, and she'd tore it down ruthlessly for him. And for what? To get high.

"What's wrong?" Donald asked.

She squinted her eyes in stubborn refusal to let anything escape them and sat back upright. "Nothing, I just…I just got your voicemail," she responded in half-truth. "You know, from when you were on the way to pick me up that day."

"Oh…Jane, that was six weeks ago. Don't even think about that now," he advised her. "It's in the past, and the important thing now is that you got well, and that you stay well."

That was fair enough. But what she had done to Jesse couldn't remain in the past. Because apparently, even after she'd stolen and squandered that money…he had still cared about her. He'd cared enough to go looking for her in some drug-addled dive, then to scoop her up and rescue her from it. After all that, her only act of gratitude had been to rebuff him, to push him away from her. All she'd wanted to do was forget everything and watch TV.

He probably hated her now, and she wouldn't blame him.

"Where would you like to go for lunch?" Her father's voice lifted her out of her remorse.

Jane didn't care where they went—anywhere to keep her away from the apartment for a little while longer. "Anywhere's fine," she murmured. "Olive Garden work for you?"

At least she had a nice lunch—and maybe a glass of wine—to look forward to. At home, a pair of blue eyes that once lit up with enthusiasm at the sight of her would now be glaring in contempt. She dreaded having to face them.

(***)

Elsewhere in Albuquerque, Jesse was receiving a similar farewell from the counselors at Serenity. After a procession of a few hugs, some claps on the shoulder and parting words of encouragement, he ventured outside to find Mr. White waiting for him in the parking lot.

Several weeks ago, he would have imagined when this day came he'd be hand in hand with Jane, getting in his car, cranking up the tunes and turning over a new leaf together in sobriety. Now, finding none other than Mr. White waiting for him, he realized he felt no regret at all.

After the way he'd timidly stood back and let Jane extort his pay cut, he expected Mr. White to be the last one to come through for him. But as it turned out, it was thanks to him that Jesse had been able to find Jane before she wasted all the money. It was thanks to him that Jesse had gotten clean. When he had no one else in the world, he owed everything to his former schoolteacher and drug-running partner.

In lieu of confessing all this, however, he simply got in the passenger seat and acknowledged the shiny finish to the exterior of the vehicle.

"New wax job?"

"Yeah," Mr. White affirmed stoically. The two began to roll away.

"Listen, uh, money," the driver spoke up. "Saul has got it for you, so as soon as you're feeling better…"

"I'm better," Jesse assured him.

He glanced aside off the road, as if pleasantly surprised. "You're better? Really? What, the rehab? It helped?"

A shrug. "Yeah. I'm done using."

"That's excellent. That's very good, Jesse, very good," Mr. White commended. Although Jesse had practically been inundated by such compliments at Serenity, somehow it meant more coming from the person in the seat beside him. He smiled.

At a stop sign, Mr. White turned to face him. "Just presenting this as an option…it's entirely up to you," he began. "But if you need someplace to crash awhile, consider the door to my condo open."

"Condo?" Jesse repeated uncertainly.

"…Little friction in the marriage right now," his counterpart explained. "Strictly temporary. We're just taking a little break." He seemed, himself, to be the one in need of convincing. "My point is, I'd understand if you wanted to be away from her."

As his checkout date had loomed in the past few days, Jesse had wrestled with the idea of going back to the duplex. No other property in town would rent to him, as he'd learned forcibly after his parents threw him out. And what little money remained from Jane's spending spree wasn't enough to buy a place by a longshot. He didn't know what to expect from her after a month and a half apart, but it was tempting to take Mr. White's offer up, if only to avoid her.

"That's cool, Mr. White," Jesse remarked appreciatively. "But if there's one thing I learned in rehab, it's you either run from things, or you face them."

"What's that mean?"

"It's all about accepting who you are," Jesse relayed the recurring theme from many of his sessions. "I'm not gonna run away from her. I accept who we are. She's just the manager, and I'm just the tenant."

(***)

Home at last. This was it.

After Donald dropped her off, Jane discovered a white trash bag full of her belongings slumped unceremoniously at the front door. Swallowing hard, she knocked on the door next to hers.

"Jesse? Lemme talk to you. …Please?" Then, in a softer voice, "I…I'm s…"

There was no answer. Maybe he was just out. But his car was here. What did you expect? She berated herself mentally. He's avoiding you. She tried the doorknob and found it locked.

With a sigh she headed on into her flat, leaving her suitcase and the trash bag in the living room with the resolve to unpack later. She ventured through the bedroom—still a shambles from her hurried packing last month—and out the back door to her patio. Craning her neck over to his side, she saw the door with the hole had been replaced. "Inviting" herself in wasn't an option.

Closing her eyes momentarily, she thought of all the awkwardly strained smoke breaks they'd be having out here soon. …Come to think of it, she could use a smoke now, while she still had a moment alone. She disappeared inside and returned with her pack, and her new sketchbook.

After the first deep inhalation of smoke vented out her nostrils and mouth into the air, she opened the book to the first page. Determinedly, she started a sketch. Apology Girl's head began to take shape, complete with a contrite pout on her face. In her hand waved a billowing white flag…

Jane tore the page out, crumpled it up and dropped it onto the ground where she promptly squashed the paper wad under her foot. Then, for good measure, she put her cigarette out on it.

Apologies were always so much easier for her to draw than to say. But she wouldn't be able to scribble her way out of this. It wasn't just another misunderstanding, like when she'd introduced Jesse to her father as "the new tenant" and not "the street pusher I'm fooling around with." Nothing short of looking him in the eyes and producing her least favorite words in the English language-"I'm sorry"—had any remote chance of fixing this. But how could she do that, if he wouldn't even let her talk to him?

After a smoldering hole had been born through the discarded sketch, she stood up abruptly out of her chair. This was ridiculous. She was the manager of this duplex; she had a key. Nothing prevented her from letting herself in next door and insisting to talk to her tenant.

Striding back into her room, she opened a sock drawer. At the back hid a small wooden box, which slid open to reveal a spare key on a rubber band. She emptied it into her waiting palm.

The band pinched between her thumb and forefinger, and the key dangled before her gaze. She stopped and looked at it for a moment.

No. Not like this.

She dropped the key back in the box, returned the box to the drawer and closed it. She'd betrayed his trust as a girlfriend—this wasn't the time to betray his trust as property manager, too. He had to want to see her. He had to come to her, or let her come to him. All she could do was wait…which was precisely what she was going to do.

Heading outside a final time, she sat down and got comfortable with her sketchbook and another cigarette. Her pencil busied itself with the latest fruits of her imagination…fruits that someone would later pay to have engraved into their skin, if all went well.

Jesse would talk to her when he was ready. She could wait for him. Jane Margolis had all the time in the world.