Chapter II

Ann opened her eyes immediately as the alarm rang on the other side of the spartan room. A quick look at the clock reassured her that she had not overslept as she got up, grabbed her garb and headed for the showers across the hall. She enjoyed this quiet time in the morning, when the convent was slowly waking up, and the sun had not yet come up. She knew she had an hour before the 6 a.m. short mass, and liked to use the time she had to herself by writing in her journal.

She quietly greeted two others sisters she met in the corridor and stepped into the bathroom. The small bathroom contained three shower stalls and Ann stepped into the furthest one. With twenty other nuns living in the house and only three showers, no one could allow themselves the luxury of taking a long luxurious shower. Ann quickly finished up, dried herself and put on her black robe. She watched herself in the foggy mirror adjusting her coif and smoothing her eyebrows, and then walked back into her room.

She always felt like a different person when wearing her uniform, and she had jokingly written in her journal that she understood how Superman must have felt every time he slipped into his superhero uniform. She sat at her small desk and opened her leather- bound journal, slowly closing her eyes, and running her hand across the smooth white page. The young nun opened her fountain pen and as a habit nibbled on the end until she gathered her thoughts together and started writing.

The church bell rang and Ann quickly closed her journal. She stretched her neck and cracked her knuckles before smoothing out her black robe and readjusting her cross. She knew she had a few minutes before the mass started so she decided to wake up her patient before she went to the church. Maxineís room was located in the corridor perpendicular to Annís room. She knocked lightly at the door and quietly pushed the door open. To her surprise, Maxine was sitting on her bed huddled against the wall and hugging her knees. The room was still dark, the early morning light not enough to brighten the bedroom through the small window.

"Good, youíre awake. Breakfast is at 6:30. Iím going to mass, but come meet us in the dining room in half an hour. The bathroom is at the end of the hall on your left." Ann finished blurting out her speech and stopped, surprised not to get an answer from Maxine. "Miss Johnston?" she called, taking a step toward Maxine.

Maxine looked at her with glossy eyes. Her chin was resting on her knees, and she silently rocked back and forth like a crazed woman. Her body was covered with sweat, her hair was glued to her temples and forehead, and dark circles surrounded her eyes.

Ann walked slowly toward Maxine, almost scared by her lack of reaction and her wild appearance. She gently touched Maxineís arm and softly asked "Miss Johnston, are you all right?"

Maxine jerked away from Ann. "Donít touch me!" she growled, rocking harder. She seemed as if she was trying to roll herself into a ball and disappear.

For a brief instant, Ann didnít know how to react, but quickly regained her composure. "You need to talk to me if you want me to help you." She sat next to Maxine, not too close, but still at armís length. "The way you feel at the moment is normal. Youíre in need of a drink or even a fixÖitís going to get worse before it gets better."

"I know," growled Maxine between her teeth before starting to tremble. Her tremors turned into convulsions in matter of seconds. She fell onto her side and hugged her knees to her stomach while her body shook and she started vomiting. The sharp stomach pain she felt every time, her body tried to reject what was left in her stomach brought tears to her eyes.

Ann had run out for help at the sign of Maxineís first convulsion. She came back quickly with Mother Clarice. "I came to tell her about breakfast and she started convulsingÖI didnít know what to doÖ" explained Ann as they rushed into Maxineís room.

"She is in withdrawal. She has to get it out of her system," said Mother Clarice, taking only one look at Maxineís folded body. Her convulsions had stopped and she lay inert on her bed. "There is nothing we can do for her. In a few days, sheíll start feeling better." She smacked her lips together. "Sister Ann, she is your patient, youíre free to stay with her and skip mass this morning. For my part, I have no pity for people like her. They do the damage to themselves. The best I can do is pray for them to see the light." She took one last look at Maxine and left the room.

Ann only hesitated a moment before deciding to stay with the sick woman. She rushed to the bathroom and brought back a wet cloth. Maxine was now lying on her side, beads of sweat forming on her forehead. Ann pulled a chair up to the bed and started slowly wiping Maxineís sweat off. She spent a few minutes, running the wet cloth over Maxineís skin before another wave of nausea sent Maxineís body into another set of convulsions.

"Please give me something for the pain," Maxine begged, her arms wrapped around her stomach, her face getting paler and paler every time a convulsion hit.

Ann felt helpless in front of the actressí obvious pain, and she wished briefly she could give in to Maxine, but she reminded herself why Maxine was in this position and her compassion ran away. "Iím sorry, I canít give you anything."

"I thought nun were supposed to be kind," said Maxine through clenched teeth.

Ann looked at Maxine, not knowing how to answer. "Youíre not here to be pampered Miss Johnston, but to get over your drug and alcohol habits." She stood up abruptly and picked the basin where Maxine had been emptying her stomach. "Iíll go empty that out."

Maxine growled her answer, folding herself into a ball and wishing she could be dead.

She is so arrogant, Ann thought as she made her way to the bathroom. She stopped by the kitchen on her way back and grabbed a tray of food for herself and her patient. She reentered Maxineís room in silence, surprised to find her asleep. As Ann set the tray on the table, Maxineís eyes fluttered open.

"I didnít mean to wake you," apologized Ann. "Iíll let you sleep and come back to check on you in a little while. I brought you some food in case you feel like eating." She mindlessly swept off an imaginary speck of dust from the table and turned to walk out, only to be stopped by Maxineís whimpers.

"Please stay."

"I would only bother you while you sleep," she tried to explain.

Maxine ignored Annís answer, took a deep breath and tried to sit up, the effort almost unbearable. In a flash Ann was at her side straightening her up. "What are you doing?"

"I need to go to the bathroom."

Ann nodded and helped Maxine up.

Maxineís dizziness doubled as she stood. She briefly closed her eyes and tried to concentrate on the doorknob, so she could regain her balance. But suddenly, she put her weight on Annís shoulder as she felt her legs soften under her. Keep on taking deep breath and focus on one point she reminded herself as she tried to hold herself up, using Ann as leverage.

"Iíll help you to the bathroom, but I canít carry you." Ann was trying to keep Maxine in an upright position, her black robe getting in the way of her movement.

"Iím doing my best," answered Maxine sarcastically. "I thought you were my private nurse anyway." Her tone of voice still held a note of sarcasm, but was clearly intended as a power struggle.

Please give me patience, Ann said in silent prayer before walking slowly toward the door with her arm around Maxineís waist. "Yes, you are my responsibility Miss Johnston, but donít think Iím here to wait on you hand and foot."

They made it painfully to the bathroom and Ann removed Maxineís arm from her shoulders once she was sure the dark hair woman had a good grip on the sink. "Iíll wait outside, call me when youíre finished."

Ann left Maxine to her predicament and left the door slightly open as a precaution. She nodded her head as a sign of greeting toward a nun walking by. Daylight was finally here and the corridorís lights had been switched off to let the natural light in. Outside the sky looked gray and cloudy. Probably a sign of rain thought Ann as she got closer to the windows. A smile crept across her young features at the sight of a few squirrels running on the grass near the trees. The winter had been particularly harsh and cold in this region and the sight of wildlife in the convent garden warmed up Annís heart and gave her the hope that spring was near. She had never liked the cold and dryness of the winter. Her favorite season was the spring, when she could sometimes sit outside under the blossoming trees and read or write. She had always loved the outdoor life, and was always the first one to volunteer for garden duties. The squeak of the door opening broke her reverie.

"Ready?" she asked, reaching to help Maxine.

"I think I can handle it." Maxine straightened up to prove her point, grimacing slightly as her stomach stretched.

"All right then." Ann stepped away from the actress. Maxine looked extremely pale, and obvious discomfort showed in her eyes. She had tried to comb through her tangled hair with her fingers while in the bathroom and had splashed some cold water on her face. The coldness gave her back some of strength and the need to regain her stature and pride.

They had made it half way back when Maxine turned to Ann. "I think I need your help now," she said before her legs gave out.

Ann leapt to action and caught Maxine before she hit the ground. Using all her strength, she helped her back up and wrapped Maxineís arms over her shoulders. "Thanks for all the warning!" she said through her teeth.

Maxine ignored her and took a deep breath. "Thanks for catching me."

The young nun helped Maxine back on her bed. "Iím not an expert, but I believe you should eat something."

The idea of food sounded less than appealing to Maxine. "No thanks."

"When was the last time you ate?" Ann walked to the tray she had brought in earlier and touched the bowl of soup to check its temperature.

"Donít knowÖday before yesterday," answered Maxine, covering her eyes with her arm and trying to relax.

"Iíll go and have the soup warmed up. Youíll never get better if you donít eat." She picked up the white and blue porcelain bowl. "Can I ask you something?"

Maxine lifted her arm away from her face and turned on her side before nodding.

Ann looked at the sprawled form of her patient, and wondered for a brief moment if she should forget about her question and mind her own business, but her deep curiosity pushed her into asking. "Why?"

"Why what?" Maxine stared at the nun, a strand of hair had escaped from under her coif and was rebelliously dangling on her left temple. The darkness of the room stopped Maxine from determining its color.

"Why destroy yourself? I read you files. You are rich and famous. Live in a luxurious apartment, have millions of people admiring you. Why couldnít you enjoy the gift God gave you instead of destroying it?" Ann had blurted out her question and was now looking anxiously at Maxine, wondering if she had gone too far.

Maxine was stunned by the audacity of the young woman. But after a moment of uncertainty, Annís question went from acceptance to annoyance. "Have you ever worked so hard for something and had it taken away because suddenly your physical appearance wasnít good enough anymore? Have you ever felt as if you had been robbed and betrayed by your most intimate friends?" Maxine looked menacingly at Ann. "You wouldnít understand the feeling of loss and how far it can drive youÖyouíre just a nun," she said before resuming her previous position.

Ann stood in silence for a few seconds, memories of loud sirens and pain came rushing back to her. She pushed them away and opened the door. "Donít underestimate me, Miss Johnston. You know nothing about me," she said with a shaky voice before walking out of the room.

To be continued

copyright(c)malaurie barber 2001

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