Mother Clarence smiled at the young man sitting across from her desk. "Thanks for coming."
"Thanks for calling," answered Gregor, uncertain of what to expect from the older woman . "Maxine has been here for a little more than two months...I...I am surprised to hear from you already." Gregor ran his hand through his brown hair, brushing his bangs away from his eyes.
"Your sister has been doing really well. She had a rough start, but seemed to have now acclimated to the life around here. I even have to say that she has become quite a good barn help." She paused amused by Gregor's surprise expression. "The truth is Mr. Johnston, our convent is having financial trouble and as much as I have enjoyed seeing your sister recover from her addiction, our focus now needs to be on raising money for our convent, not taking care of patients."
Gregor shifted in his chair, and moved closer to the desk. "Is she really ready to be back in the real world?"
Mother Clarence nodded. "Yes as ready as she is ever going to be. She is clean, as not had any alcohol or drugs in over two months. Now, all she needs is will power."
Gregor sighed and for the second time in a few minutes ran his hand through his hair. "I hope you're right." He looked briefly around the room as if to give himself time to think, and turned his gaze back to Mother Clarence. "When would you like her to leave?"
"Today," she stated simply. "Mr. Johnston, I have seen in my career many substance abuse cases. Your sister is strong, if she has the will to make it she will. Do not fear."
Before he had time to answer a knock at the door was heard. Mother Clarence called the person in and Laurence popped her head trough the door.
"I was told I have a visitor." She spotted her brother in the corner of the room, slammed the door open all the way and in two strides was right by him. She looked at him with a smile and hugged him tightly. "Gosh, it's good to see you."
"Good to see you too sis. You look great." He meant it, she looked healthier, and her eyes had regained their shine and happiness. While hugging her, he even realized that she had also gained a little weigh. He smiled to himself, and released her.
"What brings you out here? I thought I was under house-arrest," she joked, poking him in the ribs.
"Mother Clarence asked me to come. From what I understand, you're ready to go home."
Maxine took a step back and turned towards Mother Clarence who had watched the interaction between the two siblings with amusement.
"Miss Johnston, there is nothing else we can do for you here. As I explained to your brother, what you need now is will power."
Maxine looked at the nun, stunned. She had not expected to stay forever, but she has not prepared herself to be thrown back into the real world so fast.
"Max, Jerry has been talking to some producers. I think he is even working on getting you some auditions. You'll have to prove yourself again, but Hollywood hasn't forgotten you." Gregor was exited about the prospect to reinsert his sister into the acting world.
Maxine shook her head strongly. "No...no...I'm not ready. I'm just relearning myself, I need more time." She walked up to Mother Clarence and leaned her hands on the desk, bringing her face close to the older nun.
"Why? I'm not creating any problems. I'm even helping around here. Why?"
Mother Clarence pushed her chair away from her desk as to put some distance between her and Maxine. "Miss Johnston, you were there, you know the convent is having financial difficulty. We have to concentrate on raising funds, not on patients."
Maxine took a step back and looked at Mother Clarence more intensely. "I told you I can help with that."
"No," answered the nun a little to quickly. "You need to concentrate on staying healthy," she tried to explain in a patronizing tone. "Raising the money for the convent is our responsibility."
"Argh." Maxine's eyes had turned black with anger and frustration. Obviously the nun had already made up her mind, and it was obvious to Maxine that she was using the convent's money issue as a way of getting ride of her. What boggled Maxine's mind was that she couldn't understand why. "When?"
"I beg your pardon?" asked Mother Clarence, not understanding the question.
"When do you want me to leave?"
"As soon as possible."
"The end of the week."
"I don't know if..."
Maxine jumped in and interrupted the nun's sentence." Since you seem to be kicking me out, the least you could do is be civil and give me a couple of days to finish what I started here. I promise Sister Grace to finish fixing the barn and I intend on doing so." Her tone of voice meant business and it was clear that Maxine wasn't going to take no for an answer.
Mother Clarence paused for a few seconds and nodded. "Until the end of the week then."
"Thank you." Maxine turned around and motioned for Gregor to follow her.
"I can't believe that," she fumed once out.
"Why not? You didn't think you were going to stay here forever, did you? You look great, I think you're ready to come back."
Maxine stopped and turned suddenly to her brother. "What do you know? Have you even bothered asking me about my life here, and what I have gone through?"
not being fair. You weren't allowed phone calls."
"What about mail? I was never forbidden to receive letters. Never mind," she said, cutting Gregor off as he opened his mouth to answer her accusation. "I'll see you on Sunday Gregor," she said dismissing him, and walking angrily away from him. Once she reached the end of the corridor she turned around. " And tell Jerry to stop planning auditions without consulting me first." She then turned around and walked away. She took the stairs two by two almost running Ann over at the top on the stairs.
"Be careful. What's..."
"Not now," interrupted Maxine, brushing passed Ann without an apology. She rushed to her bedroom and slammed the door behind her. Maxine paced her bedroom, angry and frustrated, she felt as if Mother Clarence was using the convent's money problem as an excuse to make her leave. She couldn't put her finger on what it was, but she felt as if there was another reason for this sudden action. She sat on her bed and took her head between her hands, The truth is that she was scared, yes she had not taken any drugs or had any alcohol in two months, but would she have the strength to do it in the outside world? She had gone down that road too many times to fool herself. It was too soon, and she didnít feel ready.
"Come on in," she called answering a knock on the door.
Sister Ann slowly stepped in. "Are you all right?" she asked with concern.
"Yes...yes. I'm sorry I almost ran you over." Maxine smiled lightly at the young nun. "What can I do for you?" She asked almost too politely.
"Nothing. I was just concern about you. I know your brother came to see you, but he didn't stay very long."
"Yeah and what a visit that was," she said sarcastically.
"Is it true?"
"What?" Maxine sat back on her bed.
"You're leaving." Ann felt very uneasy, almost scared of hearing the answer.
"Seems like it." Maxine felt defeated. Two months ago, she would have braved below freezing temperatures and two feet of snow to get to the nearest town and out of the convent, now she would give anything to be allowed a little more time inside its protected walls.
Ann didn't know what to say. "I'll miss our time together, Miss Johnston." She tried to keep her tone neutral and polite.
"Don't Miss Johnston me now." Maxine got up and walked toward Ann. "I don't want to go. Don't act as if I just committed a bloody murder." She had gotten very close to Ann and her green eyes were riveted to Ann's pale ones.
"I'm not, and I don't appreciate the accusation. I'm sorry to see you go, but I knew you wouldn't be staying here forever."
"What is it with everyone telling me 'you weren't going to stay here forever'. What do you think I am, an idiot? Of course I knew that." Maxine sighed and forced herself to regain control. "I just don't know if I am ready yet." She walked back to her bed and flopped herself on the mattress.
"Why don't you think you're ready?"
"If today someone were to come to you and tell you, pack up you've got to go, would you be ready to face the world?"
"It's not about me, it's ab..."
"Just answer the question. Would you?" Maxine propped herself against her pillow and waited for an answer. Ann stood there, trying to decide the best way to answer. "And please be honest. Remember 'tho shall not lie'." The last sentence was filled with sarcasm.
Ann shook her head. "I don't know. I've been here for so long, I forgot how it is out there. But you, you have a future, a career, you have something to look forward to."
out a loud sarcastic laugh. "You have no idea what you're talking about Sister
Ann." She ran her hand through her hair nervously and. "The truth is, I'm scared
senseless. I've been down that road before. I get clean, I go back and get right
back to square one."
"Why?" Ann sat down on a chair near the bed.
"It's easier to say Yes than No. It's part of the life style in Hollywood. Drug and booze are what drive the entertainment business." Maxine swung her legs over the edge of the bed and kicked her tennis shoes off before laying back down. "It's more than will power I am going to need, it's a freaking guardian angel." She suddenly sat up and looked at Ann. "I got it. Come with me!"
"What?" Ann looked at Maxine incredulously.
"Come with me. You don't have to give up being a nun, but you could continue serving by making sure that I stay out of trouble."
"I don't know..."
"I told you that before, and I'll repeat it, I don't think you are ready to spend the rest of your life in this place. You said it yourself, your aunt didn't ask you if you wanted to come here or not, she brought you here."
"Yes, and if she hadn't I probably be dead by now. I owe her everything I am." Ann stood up, indicating the end of their conversation.
"You don't owe her your life."
"That's enough," said Ann irritated. "I refuse to have this conversation with you. I think I'll go now." She walked quickly toward the door.
"Wait...wait...I'm sorry." Maxine had sprung on her feet and caught up with Ann before she reached the door. She fixed her eyes into Ann and took a deep breath once she felt that Ann was going to listen. "I didn't mean to insult you. How you live your life is none of my business."
"You're right it is not." Ann took a step and put her hand on the knob almost turning it, but once again stopped by Maxine.
Maxine put her hand on top of Ann's stopping her. "Please let me finish. I need you. You are the only reason why I made it in this dump." Maxine withdrew her hand slowly once she was assured that Ann was not going to run. "Listen, I'm not asking you to change your life for me, I'm just asking you to think of a different way to serve. I need your help."
Ann whose eyes had been riveted on the floor during Maxine's monologue, looked up and sighed. "Why do you need me? You can afford to hire someone to come and keep you out of trouble...I'm not fit for that job."
"Yes, yes you are. I need you help," repeated Maxine. She didn't know how to reach the young nun, and out of despair grabbed her hand and dragged her out of the room and down the corridor.
"Let me go, where are you taking me?" Ann complained, trying to free herself from Maxine's grip.
"Do you guys have internet?"
"We have one phone line. How could we have internet access?"
Maxine stopped and looked at Ann. "For someone who has been cut from the world for so long, you know what Internet is? Caught you...now where is it?"
Ann gave up, seeing the look of determination in Maxine's eyes. "In Mother Clarence's private library. Why do you need to know?"
"Because I want to show you what could happen to me out there."
Ann shrugged her shoulders and directed them to the North aisle of the second floor, and opened a small room, which Maxine had always thought was a broom closet. The room was not bigger than ten feet by twelve feet, it contained three bookshelves filled with leather bind books and a desk on which stood a computer. Maxine sat at the desk. "How do I log in?" Ann reached around her and typed the password. "You obviously know enough to get around," smiled Maxine surprised at the young nun's computer literacy. She quickly typed in her name in the search engine, and waited a few seconds before a dozen of web sites urls with her name on them came up on the screen. "Take your pick, " she said sarcastically before clicking on the first link.
The web page unveiled and a news page popped up with the headline.
"Maxine Johnson was reportedly arrested last night for drug possession."
The date was October 2000. Maxine closed that page and clicked on the following link.
"The star of the 1996 Blockbuster Saving My Friend checked herself into a rehabilitation center over the weekend. This is the third attempt for Maxine Johnson to live her drug and party life behind." Maxine closed the last link and clicked on one more. This one contained a picture of Maxine with handcuffs on, her eyes red, her pupils obviously dilated and her hair disheveled. The caption read, "Maxine Johnson was arrested last night for driving under the influence..."
"Should I continue or have you seen enough?" asked Maxine turning toward Ann who had kept silent the whole time.
"I've seen enough," answered Ann softly. "Maxine...I am sorry you had to go through all of that, but there is nothing I can do for you."
Maxine got up and grabbed Ann gently by the shoulders, forcing her to look at her straight in the eyes. "I'm not strong enough yet. Yes, I'm better, and yes I want to stay clean, but I need someone to help me achieve that goal. Someone who is going to stand by me and help me be strong. I can't do it alone. Not yet. If I could stay a few more weeks then maybe, but Mother Clarence made it clear that she wants me out by the end of the week." She stopped and let go of Ann. "I'm not ready Sister Ann, I'm not." She ran her hand through her hair and rubbed her neck, feeling suddenly exhausted. "Just tell me you'll think about it." She looked expectantly at Ann.
"Thank you." Maxine smiled at Ann, and brushed by her leaving her alone in Mother Clarence's small private retreat.
copyright(c)malaurie barber 2002
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