Maxine stood on the ledge outside her New York apartment bedroom window, the cold wind whipping her alcohol-red cheeks. She finished the bottle of scotch she had been holding and yelled into the night, "To fame and fortune!" before letting it fall out of her hand. The bottle plunged the fifteen flights down and crashed on the sidewalk beneath. She looked up at the starry sky and wiped the tears from her eyes before taking a deep breath. Her foggy mind barely registered the far away sirens.
Loud knocks resonated throughout the apartment, and a voice called from the other side of the door. "Maxine, come on sweetheart! Come and open the door." Maxine shook her head and sat on the ledge, letting her legs dangle in the air. "Maxine, I have two firemen with me if you don't open the door we're breaking it."
"Fuck you Gregor!" she whispered, shivering under the cold night air.
"Fine, you asked for it." The door came down with a loud crash and Gregor ran into the apartment, stopping when he reached the window. He sat on the edge, holding on to the curtain rod with one hand, trying not to look down.
"Max, please don't be stupid. Come back inside." He tried to act nonchalant, but inside his heart was beating fast.
"Go away, Gregor," Maxine said softly. "Please leave me alone."
His brown eyes scanned the room quickly, finally falling on a left over white powder on the coffee table and a few empty bottles. He sighed heavily and fought the urge to walk away. She had promised him after her last rehabilitation that she would not use cocaine again or touch a drop of alcohol, her promise now obviously broken like the many before. "Max, I'm not going anywhere...you don't want to do this. It's not you, really it's the substance you have in your body that's making you act this way. Please Maxine!"
Maxine looked down and one by one kicked off her shoes and watched them fall. "Gregor, you can't save me this time. Go away. I'm passed my prime, I can't find work...without my work I'm nothing..."
Gregor's eyes settled on his sister. She looked so lost and depressed. "You know it's just a phase. You'll work again."
"I'm thirty-five Gregor! In Hollywood I'm as good as dead," she said with resignation.
Gregor looked desperately at the firemen who until now had been kind enough to wait quietly, but who were now showing signs of impatience.
"Max, I have two firemen and a police officer next to me. They're going to come and get you...don't do anything stupid okay?"
She got up suddenly and her body swayed dangerously. She regained her balance and put her hand on the wall. Gregor had watched her movement with fear, and he let out a breath once she steadied herself. She slowly walked to the edge and closed her eyes. "Please give me strength," she whispered in the wind before taking a step forward, only to be stopped by a pair of strong arms.
"Ma'am, we've got you."
By the time she had time to react the fireman had already dragged her inside and settled her on a chair. She looked around frantically and grabbed her head in her hands.
"Ma'an, are you all right?"
Maxine's green eyes met the fireman's. Her pupils were dilated, and deep dark circles lay under her eyes. She passed her hand through her long disheveled brown hair and fought against a wave of nausea.
One of the firemen turned to Gregor as a paramedic entered the room. "We need ice...lots of it," he said before getting up and letting the paramedic take his place.
Maxine let the paramedic examine her, her eyes unfocused. The examination was brief. "She's stoned and drunk...nothing I can do about it. I've got better things to do than dealing with a alcoholic, drug addict Hollywood star!" he closed his medical case angrily. "What she needs is time and a good dose of reality. Why did she try to jump? Found one more wrinkle on her pretty face this morning?" he asked sarcastically before walking out.
The firemen shook their heads and one of them carried Maxine to the couch and put the ice wrapped up in a towel behind her head. "That should help with the dizziness."
Gregor walked the firemen to the door. "I think I can handle it from here. Thank you." He turned to the policeman who stood in the living room examining the leftover white powder.
"She promised to stay clean this time," said Gregor to the policeman.
"She seem to be out of danger for now, but she tried to kill herself. Sir, with all due respect I think she needs help."
"I know," Gregor whispered sadly. "I know."
The policeman nodded. "Your sister is facing substance abused charges. You know I'll have to report what I saw here tonight." He pulled a plastic bag out of his pocket and poured in the left over white substance. "Proof," he explained with nonchalance.
Gregor nodded. "Do me a favor, can you put a lid on it until tomorrow morning? Once the press get a hold of it..."
The policeman looked at this clean-cut young man, whose face was filled with concerned. "There isn't much I can do Sir. The press is very good at finding things out." He walked back to the entrance. "My shift isn't over for another five hours...I won't be back to head quarter until then."
"Are you going to take her to jail?" asked Gregor, worryingly.
"No, the evidence I have in my pocket should be enough to charge her," he explained walking out.
Gregor sighed and closed the door. He walked back to his sister. Maxine lay on her back, her arm covering her eyes.
Gregor stopped in front of the couch and looked at her, unable to comprehend what could drive someone to such excess. His sister had everything, fame, beauty and money, but in the past two years, her alcohol and drug use had gotten her fired from two movie sets, and built her a reputation of someone impossible to work with. Maxine had blamed everything on her age, and publicly accused the Hollywood producers of having fired her for a younger actress. She had not worked in more than eight months and had sunk to a deep level of depression, which was aggravated by alcohol and drug abuse.
"This can't go on," said Gregor to himself. He picked up a forgotten half-empty bottle of Jack Daniel's from the table and went to pour it into the kitchen sink. After his initial fear from his sister's attempted suicide, anger took over. He walked through the white marble kitchen, opening every cupboard and taking out every bottle of alcohol he found. Once he had assembled a large collection on the counter, he poured each bottle out and disposed of the empty container. As the last drop of alcohol ran down the drain, his anger went with it and was replaced by sadness. He had tried everything to help Maxine, but realized that unless she had the will to stop her fall, no one could help her.
He walked back to the living room where Maxine still remained on the couch, and looked with disgust around the apartment. Everything smelled of success, from the large leather couch to the expensive paintings hanging on the wall. Trophies illustrating Maxine's acting success stood by the dozen on the mantel near the fireplace. Gregor ran his hand over one of the statuettes, and decided it was time to intervene. He had given Maxine too many chances at recovery, and didn't trust her to be able to do it on her own. A quick phone call got him in touch with Maxine's agent and long time friend.
"Hi, Jerry? It's Gregor."
"Gregor! It's 2 a.m. What the hell is going on?"
Gregor didn't even bother apologizing. "She is using again. Tonight she tried to jump from her window. I want to send her to the place you told to me about last time."
"Falcon Recovery Center?"
"Are you sure it's not just a phase?"
"Come on Jerry, you and I both know it's getting worse. She's going to end up dead soon if we don't do something." Gregor's voice broke slightly. "I've got to give her one more chance."
"All right, all right...stay with her, I'll be there in twenty minutes."
"You don't have to come..."
"Gregor!...it's the least I can do."
"Okay." He hung up and walked back to
sit next to his sister's passed out body.
Jerry double-parked his black Mercedes in front of the Manhattan high rise and rushed to push the intercom.
"Yeah, I'm downstairs...hurry up, I'm double-parked. Is she ready?"
"I've packed a bag for her, but I can't get her to stand up. I'm going to need your help."
Jerry sighed heavily. "Buzz me in."
He ran through the large lobby, waving at the receptionist on the way, and pressed the elevator call button. "Come on!" he said impatiently.
"Sir, you have to sign the guest book before you go up," called the clerk from his desk.
Jerry ignored the clerk and got into the elevator. Inside he leaned against the lavishly cushioned walls, and closed his eyes. Jerry had been Maxine's agent for over ten years. Their relationship had evolved from strictly business to a deep friendship over the years. He ruffled his wavy dark hair, opened his tired brown eyes and smooth out his face as the elevator opened to the fifteenth floor.
The door to Maxine's apartment was wide open and debris of shattered wood lay on the floor. Her apartment never ceased to amaze him every time he walked into it. It was always sparkling clean as if no one lived in it. Large mirrors hung on the entrance wall, its marble floor reflecting in them. The corridor walls leading to the living room were decorated with expensive multicolor paintings. As he walked into the living room, its coldness once again bothered him. With its black leather couch, the dead fireplace, and its expensive sculptures and paintings, it looked more like a museum then a living space.
"We've got to hurry, I'm double-parked," said Jerry as soon as he walked in.
"I had her awake, but she dozed off again."
Jerry nodded and went into the kitchen, coming back with a large glass of cold water and poured it on Maxine's face. Her eyes opened wide in terror as she gasped for breath.
"What did you do that for?" she yelled.
"Come on, let's get her out of here," Jerry said to Gregor, ignoring Maxine. "You've got a bag for her?"
"Yes, in the entrance."
"What about the door?"
"The firemen...we'll close it as much as we can and tell the clerk on the way out."
"Fine by me. Let's go." He yanked Maxine into a sitting position. "Maxine, I need you to help us out here."
"Leave me alone Jerry." She tried to lie back down, but instead he grabbed her arms and pulled her up.
"Help me out!"
Gregor rushed to help, holding his sister
up as well as he could. They half-dragged, half carried her downstairs. Gregor
explained to the clerk Maxine was sick and would be gone for a while and asked
for him to send someone to fix the door.
"We're almost there." Jerry had been driving for almost five hours. The sun had been up for quite a while, and the roads were slowly starting to get busy.
"You're sure they're expecting us?" asked Gregor for the second time.
"Stop worrying. If this place can't cure her, nothing can," he said sadly.
He got off the high way and after ten more minutes turned into a rural side road.
"Where in the world are we?" asked Gregor, looking around him.
"Frederick, Maryland. Nothing for miles but cows and horses. I'll be damned if she can find a fix in a place like this."
In the back of the car, Maxine opened her eyes and sat up. "What's going on? Where am I?"
"Good morning to you too!" said Jerry sarcastically. "We're off to try to save your ass for one last time, so sit tight and enjoy."
"We're taking you to a rehabilitation center."
"Gregor, come on! I don't need it. I'm clean now remember?"
"Maxine, you tried to kill yourself last night. You were high on coke and drunk like hell. You need help."
"I don't need help, I need a job."
"If you clean up your act, I promise you offers will roll in. Until then you're just a nuisance," said Jerry dryly, directing the car deeply into a forest.
"Look at yourself!" Gregor forced his sister to look into the review mirror.
Maxine ran her hand along her cheek, not recognizing the person she was staring at. Her clear green eyes had lost their spark, her skin was pale and her face looked cadaverous. She looked everything like a junkie. She reclined against the back seat in defeat as Jerry stopped in front of a closed gate with high walls on either side. He got out to ring the bell, and the gate opened to reveal a large red brick house.
"What is this place?" asked Maxine aloud as the gate closed behind them.
Jerry stopped the car next to an old beat up gray Chevy and got out. The front door opened and one of the house's inhabitants stepped out.
"Jerry, tell me I'm dreaming here!" said Maxine quietly.
"No, this is Mother Clarice," he said with a large smile as he walked toward the older woman.
"He stuck me into a fucking convent!" yelled Maxine turning toward her brother.
"I had no idea!" Gregor smiled at his sister reassuringly and lightly pushed her toward Jerry.
"Mother Clarice, this is Maxine. She'll be staying with you for a while."
Mother Clarice smiled at Maxine. "If you'll follow me inside we'll get the paperwork out of the way, and get you settled."
Maxine grabbed Jerry by the arms. "What do you think you're doing? Take me to the clinic!"
Jerry sighed and looked at his long-time friend. "The clinic doesn't work for you, there are still too many temptations. Here you are far from your friends and the pressure of your life."
"You can't force me to stay here if I refuse." She turned to her brother. "Gregor, take me home," she ordered, opening the car door and getting in.
Jerry sighed, shook his head and followed
the nun inside, motioning for Gregor to do the same.
Maxine sat nervously in the car. A strong headache was beginning to take hold, and a wave of nausea washed over her. She opened the car door, swung her feet to the ground and put her head between her legs, unceremoniously letting out what ever was left in her stomach.
"Is this your bag?" a voice called.
Maxine lifted her head and was momentarily blinded by the sun. She wiped her mouth with her hand and blinked a few times. In front of her stood a young woman in a nun's uniform. The large cross on her chest captured the sun in an intriguing manner.
"Leave it where it is. I'm not staying,"
The young woman smiled. "My question was rhetorical. I really wanted to see if you were all right. There is only one bag in this car. Since you're the only one who seems to need help here, I'll assume it's yours. I'll take it inside now. Please come when you're ready." The young nun turned around and left Maxine alone.
Her vision suddenly doubled and she felt sick again. She slowly dragged herself to her feet and heavily walked toward the house. In the entrance she stopped and steadied herself against the white walls. "Jerry!" she called feebly, feeling miserable.
Jerry emerged from an adjacent room.
"Max, you all right?" he asked, barely catching her as she fainted.
Maxine slowly opened her eyes and looked around. She lay on a single bed. The room she was in contained the bare necessities, a bed with a side table and a lamp, and a chair and table in the corner; the walls were white with only a small window to break the monotony. Maxine sat up, surprised to feel that her headache was gone. She looked on the wall above her head, and saw a crucifix. "That wasn't a dream. It's really a convent," she said aloud, taking her head in her hands. A light knock at the door startled her.
The young nun from earlier walked in the room, holding a tray containing a glass of water, a bowl of soup and a few crackers. "Glad to see that you're awake. How are you feeling?" She asked, putting the tray on the table.
"Like I got run over by a truck. Where are my brother and my manager?"
"What?" yelled Maxine, getting up suddenly, and immediately regretting her abrupt movement. "Gosh, I stood up too fast."
In a fraction of second the young nun was by her side, gently laying her back down. "You've got to take it easy."
"I need a phone."
"Sorry, we don't have phones here.'
"You've got to be kidding!"
"No, I'm not. Now eat your soup and get some meat back on this body of yours." The young nun walked to the door and turned around before stepping out. "Get some rest tonight. We get up early here."
"Wait! It has to be a way for me to get out of here. You guys have a car? You could drive me to the nearest train station."
"Brother John is the only one who knows how to drive, and he passed away a few weeks ago."
"This is a nightmare!"
"Good night Miss Johnston."
"What time is it?" asked Maxine, disoriented.
"8 o'clock. You slept the whole day."
Maxine watched the young nun close the door and got up. A quick look at the food tray made her stomach flip. "Stay away from food...got it!" she tossed down the glass of water, put her shoes on, adjusted her shirt and opened the door silently. The lights had been dimmed in the corridor and Maxine walked carefully toward the stairs, passing numerous doors. She walked down the stone stairs and almost yelled freedom as she saw the entrance door. She looked quickly for anyone, and when not seeing a soul, ran for the door. The cold air of late February grabbed her and she shivered lightly, but her determination was strong and she walked to the gates, rubbing her arms to keep the warmth. She turned the knob to the door adjacent to the main gate and found it locked. She tried to open the gate, but it was secured. Maxine looked around, evaluating her options. The property was surrounded by a high wall with rose bushes planted along its length. She backed up and ran toward the wall, leaping up and trying to grab the edge to give herself leverage to go over. Her hands hooked the edge, but she didn't have enough strength to pull herself up. She fell back heavily and crashed into the rose bushes, she yelped as she was poked by thorns and extracted herself painfully. She knelt in front of the bushes, her hands scratched by the hardness of the stones and bleeding from her encounter with the thorns.
"Nice try," said someone from behind Maxine.
She whipped around. "You again? Don't you have prayers to do?" she asked sarcastically once she saw the young nun.
"If you wanted to get out you could have asked." The young woman reached for a key inside her black robe and opened the door. "Here you go."
Maxine got up and looked at the nun suspiciously before walking toward the door slowly. Once she reached the door, she could almost taste freedom.
"Of course, you're free to go, but it gets down to below freezing during the night, you only have a shirt on your back and nothing in your stomach. Oh, and did I mention that the closest town is 25 miles away?"
Maxine looked ahead of her, a long dark road surrounded by heavy trees seemed to go on for miles. She shivered against the cold. "I'll take my chances." The nun sighed and followed Maxine out. "What are you doing?" asked Maxine, seeing the nun behind her.
"Following you. You're my first assignment, and I promised Mother Clarice that I will take care of you and get you back on your feet."
"Stop being foolish and go back in, sister!" said Maxine meanly.
The young nun looked at Maxine, defying her. "No."
Maxine sighed angrily. "You're one stubborn little thing. Why do you care?"
"I'm not stopping you. I'm just telling you that if you go I'll follow to make sure you're all right."
Maxine looked at the young nun's determination and her conscience won. She was willing to play with her life, but not the life of someone else. "Fine, but tomorrow I'm out of here!"
The nun smiled and moved aside to let Maxine pass. Maxine rushed back inside angrily and stomped back to her room. She flopped herself into her bed and hit her pillow with anger.
"What now?" she yelled after hearing a light knock at the door. The door opened and the young woman stepped in for the second time that evening. "What do you want now?"
"We've got to clean up your hands before they get infected." She didn't wait for an answer and pulled the chair in front of Maxine, taking some disinfectant and cotton swabs out of the bag she was carrying.
Maxine shook her head and gave up, letting the nun gently clean her wounds. She looked at her caretaker's face closely. She had a cute little nose and deep blue eyes with long reddish eyelashes, freckles splattered across her nose and under her eyes. She was probably in her twenties. Maxine couldn't tell her hair color from the black veil she was wearing, but she assumed from her light skin complexion and the color of her lashes and eyebrows that it was red. "What's your name?" she asked breaking the silence, while trying not to wince at a fairly painful tug on her broken skin.
"You've got some gravel stuck in some of your cuts....my name is Sister Ann. Here you go, I think I got everything."
"Thank you Ann," said Maxine gently. "Would you happen to have some Tylenol or any kind of aspirin by any chance? My headache is back with a vengeance," she said, lying down on he bed.
"Sorry, you're under strict rules, no medicine whatsoever." She walked to the door. "Sleep now, we'll talk in the morning." Before leaving she turned around and said strongly, "and by the way. I go by Sister Ann, not Ann. Good night Miss Johnston."
"This place is definitely hell," Maxine growled before closing her eyes.
Continued in chapter II
copyright(c)malaurie barber 2001