Crazy For You (PG-13)

I reluctantly moved in with my mother after losing my job in the "downed economy" just before my wife left me, running off to California with another man.

We had been living outside of Buffalo New York for fifteen years but here I was back in Hillsboro looking for work while sleeping in my childhood bed. My widowed mother was supportive and nonjudgmental knowing my life was in the crapper and she gave me my space to try to heal and recover from my disappointments and failures.

I was surprisingly resentful and bitter about losing my job and that bugged me even more than losing my wife. I had worked hard moving up the corporate ladder and I was vying for a promotion that would be the pinnacle of my career but instead of getting the job I was given the ax and it left me disillusioned and depressed. I came home to Hillsboro to recover from the indignity and to try to figure out what I was supposed to do with the rest of my life.

When I wasn't at the Department of Transitional Assistance Office job searching and networking, I was piddling around the house catching up on odd jobs and minor repairs in exchange for my room and board. Alice had taken me to the cleaners in the divorce settlement, forcing me to sell our house at a loss and with a limited unemployment payment and dwindling savings, I was tight for cash.

It was nice to be home again but every time I glanced across the street I shook my head with sadness knowing that the Mr. Swanson had to be rolling over in his grave. The Swanson place had been the best looking house in the neighborhood when I was a kid. Mr. Swanson took pride in the upkeep of the property and he spent most weekends mowing the lawn, trimming the hedges, and painting the porch rails He died a few years after his wife and my childhood friend Charlie Swanson moved away years ago. That left Charlie's sister Jessica alone in the house and she was certainly not in the proper frame of mind to keep the property up which was why it was looking so shabby now.

Jessica was a year older than Charlie and me, a pretty girl with the blackest hair I'd ever seen. She was good humored and fun to be around growing up. She had an interest in theater and she took dancing lessons. She was a popular neighborhood babysitter and I liked hanging out with her because she was peppy and full of energy.

Jessica broke her leg skiing while on a school trip freshman year and Charlie attributes that incident as the beginning of her difficulties. I also remember Jessica complaining about the way she was treated by an unidentified high school teacher and I wonder if something happened there that affected her emotional wellbeing.

But even before those two incidents, Jessica had particular traits that were noticeably odd. Her bedroom was always clean, neat and organized in a state of perpetual perfection. If you moved anything, she insisted that it be returned to the exact spot and position. Her bike always had to be parked in the same place in the garage. Her food on the plate had to be placed in just the right order. She wouldn't drink from other people's soda cans or share anything she had to eat. She showered at least six times a day. She had to sit in the exact same place in the car no matter what. We had to go the same way to various places, never deviating from the route.

As she got older, Jessica began to exhibit other bizarre behaviors. She was eventually diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Major Depression, Anxiety Disorder, Agoraphobia, Panic Disorder, and Avoidant Personality Disorder. I had no idea what any of that meant, but Charlie was quick to explain it to me.

"My sister's crazy," he said bluntly.

I found out that Agoraphobia is anxiety caused by situations or environments, basically a panic attack and the person goes to great lengths to avoid such situations, including becoming house bound which was Jessica's survival mechanism of choice. She dropped out of school because of her social anxiety and she refused to travel even short distances. She was easily embarrassed and she became distraught in public, no matter how briefly she was out of the house.

Charlie explained that his sister refused to return to any place that she previously had a panic attack at and that she stopped leaving the house because the fear of being outside her comfort zone was too great.

"She's irrational," Charlie complained. "But there's nothing we can do about it."

Ironically, Jessica also suffered from separation anxiety so she wouldn't let her mother leave the house without throwing a fit. It became so bad that Mrs. Swanson actually quit her job to stay home with her anti-social housebound daughter.

Jessica's OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) symptoms interfered with her ability to live a normal life. She became rigid and resistant to change and it only got worse when her primary caretaker mother got sick because her father didn't have the same level of patience, understanding, or compassion as his wife when it came to dealing with Jessica's "condition".

Jessica never held a job. She insisted she was working on her GED but it was obvious she had no interest in completing it. I felt sorry for her and I tried to be the same friend to her I always had been but I must admit she was very hard to please or understand.

I attended Blue County Community College after high school and then moved on to nearby Green College where Charlie was but as far as I could tell, Jessica had no friends or intimate relationships. Whenever I stopped by to hang with Charlie, Jessica was either squirreled away in her room or sprawled out on the living room couch in her pajamas and robe.

Sometimes when I'd stop by Jessica would be noticeably absent. Her mom would say she was "on Respite" or "having a break" and Charlie explained that was code for Jessica was on the mental health unit of some hospital, first Blue County Medical Center for two weeks and then two stays at the Brattleboro Retreat in Vermont, the first for two months and a second for two weeks.

I visited Jessica at the hospital a few times with Charlie. She looked depressed and she was clearly showing obsessive compulsive traits like always having her bed made and habitually brushing her hair. I couldn't believe some of the obsessive compulsive stuff she'd do (according to Charlie), like making excessive lists, staying up all night completing bedtime rituals, and keeping magazines hoarded and stacked around the house in inconvenient places but she also used her mother as a cleaner to a compulsive degree.

Strangely, Jessica usually denied the depth of her compulsive behaviors although she sometimes admitted that she felt depressed. Every time I saw her, she was generally listless and unproductive and it was clear that her parents had adapted their lives to service their daughter's needs.

"She'd probably commit suicide if there wasn't a television in the house," Charlie noted, commenting on his sister's excessive television watching and fantasy life in which she developed unhealthy relationships with television actors and characters.

I noticed a drug store worth of pills around the house but I couldn't keep track of what they were for or count the number she took on a daily basis. I was usually warned of Jessica's 'condition' whenever I entered the house, informed of her level of functioning and mood and whether she was having a 'good day' or a 'bad day.' On a good day, she was reasonably pleasant and responsive, almost 'normal' acting. But on most (bad) days, she exhibited marked anxiety and she required prompting to attend to basic tasks, which she was extremely slow in completing.

As far as I could tell, Jessica was totally dependent on her parents for even the most basic of tasks. She saw a "motivator" (code word for therapist) for many years at her mother's insistence knowing that Jessica was suffering from depression and was "not able to function very well," as Mrs. Swanson put it.

"You think?" an annoyed, frustrated and disgusted Charlie would complain.

Jessica seemed to be in a sad mood whenever I saw her, fatigued with a lack of interest. I'd try to have a conversation with her but she'd stare at the television or look blankly out the window. She also continued to demonstrate obsessive compulsive symptoms, often on a bizarre level. She needed to know on Tuesday what was planned for supper on Friday. She went nuts if the regular television schedule was interrupted by breaking news or other unanticipated specials. She was usually intense to the nth degree.

Charlie had enough by the time we were done with college.

"Jessica dominates the house with her needs and it's driving me crazy," he moaned when his mother missed our graduation ceremony because Jessica refused to leave the house and forced her mother to stay home too.

Charlie took a job in Texas, mostly to get away from his sister, sadly enough. I also moved on with my life, marrying Alice who I met at Green and we moved to Buffalo so I could start my new career as a Human Relations Consultant with a management training team.

We'd come home on visits and my mother kept me informed on the latest news at the Swanson house, especially after Mrs. Swanson became gravely ill and my mother had concerns about Jessica's ability to care for herself. Jessica stopped bathing and she had no interest in doing some of the stuff her mother had done for her.

Jessica refused to let my mother into the house when Mrs. Swanson was hospitalized or rehabbing at the nursing home and Mr. Swanson was at work. She'd open the front door a few inches and tell my mother that she was too afraid to let her inside.

Charlie and I both came home when Mrs. Swanson died after her long illness and we had to literally drag Jessica to the services. Mr. Swanson even had the wake at the house just to alleviate some of Jessica's anxieties and fears. With Mrs. Swanson gone, Jessica's relationship with her father became even more conflicted. My mother tried to act as mediator and peacemaker but both Mr. Swanson and Jessica would complain to her about the other. The house fell into disarray and Mr. Swanson became overwhelmed and burned out trying to take care of his dysfunctional adult daughter living at home.

Jessica's high level of need and inability to adapt to any sort of daytime structure became increasingly problematic. She struggled with anxiety, often refusing to bathe or eat meals, especially with her father. If she got up and got dressed before noon it was a good day.

I would receive weekly phone calls from my mother giving me the latest low down on what was going on at the Swanson house. I know mom needed to rant and rave and vent so I didn't mind being her ear piece although it depressed me to hear how mentally ill Jessica had become. She demonstrated an inability to work through anything she found disagreeable especially if she perceived someone being demanding in any way. She was rudely impatient with people who were unable to meet her requests in the exact way she wanted.

"Things need to be on her terms and she needs to call the shots or she refuses to do anything," Mom would grumble with frustration. "How can you help a person like that?"

Jessica's idea for resolution was making direct and indirect threats and refusing to deal with those involved in the situation which was mostly her father who had given up on her. Jessica would tell him that she was too nervous to do anything even when he asked her to carry out the simplest of tasks. More often than not, she would refuse to engage with others and nobody was allowed into the house except for her father and occasionally my mother.

I came home for Mr. Swanson's funeral when he dropped dead from an aneurism and Charlie was pretty stressed out about what to do about Jessica and the house. Charlie was married with three kids, happy with his life and career in Texas and it was obvious he had no interest in moving back to help out with his sister.

Fortunately, Mr. Swanson had made provisions in his will to ensure that Jessica could stay in the house. She was also collecting disability which would cover her expenses and once Charlie buried his father and made sure Jessica was set in her new routine, he was back on the plane and he hasn't been back since.

My mother was the one person Jessica turned to and relied on for assistance and help after Mr. Swanson died. It was my mother who did Jessica's grocery shopping and ran other errands. I became concerned about the amount of time and energy my mother was spending on Jessica because she was receiving no compensation or considerations for her involvement and I wasn't sure if it was fair to her, especially at her age.

Mom reported that Jessica's competence with bill paying and other responsibilities of daily living was extremely lacking and it was my mother who tracked most of Jessica's banking needs and other routines. The house stayed a mess because Jessica ignored or avoided cleaning, doing laundry or performing other tasks. Mom reported that Jessica managed her schedule many months in advance and that she was adamant that she would only welcome my mother into the house on certain days and certain times. If my mother altered the pre-arranged schedule even in the slightest, Jessica became overwhelmed and stressed out.

"She's very rigid in her thought patterns, obsessions, and compulsions," Mom told me and I could tell that even she – one of the most patient, understanding, easy going and accepting people I had ever met – was getting burned out by Jessica's needs and issues. "She takes a black and white approach to situations and she expects me to take care of all her needs," my mother noted. "She expects her needs to be met exactly as she requires with no compromise or alteration or she becomes obsessed, anxious, and aggressive. She's very difficult to deal with."

I told my mother to disengage herself from Jessica but she would sigh and ask me who else was there to help "the poor girl" out.

"Maybe the court can appoint her a guardian," I suggested. "A lawyer or something."

"That would be cruel," Mom said.

So my mother continued to act as Jessica's semi-quasi official care giver and it wasn't until I moved home that I realized just how time consuming, structured, and controlled it all was. Jessica had my mother jumping through hoops and it greatly annoyed me.

"This has got to stop," I told Mom a few weeks after my return. "She's got you programmed."

"Trust me, dear, it's easier this way," my mother replied. "You want that girl content and happy otherwise she'll be calling over here twenty times a day."

"About what?"

"Anything and everything," my mother replied. "Wait until there's a thunderstorm. Or she thinks she sees someone in the backyard. Or she wants to know what day Christmas falls on three years from now."

Even though I was fond of Jessica, I resented her for using my mother and I avoided visiting her for several weeks upon my return. One Saturday, I mowed our lawn and I decided that maybe I should cut Jessica's yard too. The grass was long and shabby and if I let it go any longer she'd need a professional machine to cut it.

"Oh, you can't just go over there and mow it unannounced," Mom warned when I mentioned what I was planning.

"What do you mean?" I frowned. "I'm doing her a favor."

"She'll get nervous, anxious and upset if you do it without telling her," my mother explained. "Go over and ask her first."

"Ask her if I can mow her lawn?"

"She probably won't let you do it today," Mom said. "She'll need time to think about it and get ready for it."

"Get ready for what?" I asked with disbelief.

"The noise. The interruption. The change in routine."

I shook my head with disgust. "She really is nuts, isn't she?"

"People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, Bill," My mother commented.

"What's that supposed to mean?" I asked with annoyance.

"You're not exactly Mr. Normal yourself lately, are you?" She charged.

"I'm fine," I said defensively.

"Yes, you live with your mother, you have no social life or friends, you don't go anywhere or do anything, but you're perfectly fine," Mom said sarcastically.

"I'm spending time with you," I reasoned.

"Just go over and ask her if you can mow her lawn," Mom advised patiently.

I left the mower in our yard and walked across the street to Jessica's house, which always had all the shades pulled as if it was some sort of fortress. I stepped onto the familiar front porch and rang the doorbell. There was a long delay, so much so that I thought maybe she wasn't home but how could she not be home? Finally, I heard her voice from the other side of the closed door.

"Who is it?"

Jessica had a high pitched voice, almost as if she was singing her words but she also spoke in a halting hesitant fashion too.

"It's Bill Newton," I replied. "From across the street."

"Billy?"

I heard the clicks of several locks and chains and finally the door opened a crack of an inch. I could barely make out Jessica standing behind it. I hadn't seen her since her Dad's funeral nearly seven years earlier. Her hair was still night black but it looked frazzled and unkempt. Her face was as white as a ghost's and her eyes had a sunken look.

"What do you want?" She asked tentatively.

"I'd like to mow your lawn," I informed her.

"Oh?" She seemed surprised. She considered it for a moment. "Okay, how 'bout Monday at eleven?"

"I was hoping to do it now," I said gently.

"Oh no," she said with concern. "You can't do it now."

"It's supposed to rain on Monday," I told her.

"It is?" She asked with surprise. "Well…" she paused for a second. "How 'bout tomorrow at four then?"

"Tomorrow at four?" I frowned. There was no reason why I couldn't to it tomorrow at four but I couldn't understand what the delay was all about. "What's wrong with doing it now?"

"I'm just not ready," she said forcefully. "Come over tomorrow at four and you can mow the lawn."

The door closed in my face and I stood there for a long moment, not sure if I should laugh or swear. I thought about firing up the lawn mower and cutting the grass now just to see how Jessica reacted but I decided there was no reason to be an asshole over something so stupid.

I mowed Jessica's lawn the next day at 4:00 as requested and I hoped Mr. Swanson would approve. The yard looked great but I hadn't seen a peek of Jessica so I went to the front door and rang the bell when I was finished.

"Who is it?" I heard after a long delay.

"Bill Newton again," I said. "I just wanted to let you know that the lawn is done."

"Oh, okay," she said, not opening the door even a crack this time.

"How 'bout I mow it every other Sunday at 4:00 from now on?" I suggested, hoping to avoid future eyesores.

There was a long pause. "Okay," she finally replied. "I guess that would work."

I hesitated for a moment when I realized she hadn't even thanked me for my effort. "Jessica?" I asked, but apparently she had already left. I shook my head and headed home.

"Does Jessica ever thank you for all that you do for her?" I asked my mother who was sitting on the back deck reading a book and drinking iced tea.

"Oh, I know she appreciates my efforts," My mother replied.

"So, you mean no," I frowned. "Who does she think she is? Queen Elizabeth?"

"She's just used to be taken cared of," My mother explained. "Go shower, dear. You're all sweaty and messy."

"Yeah, from mowing her lawn," I complained.

"You did a good thing," Mom assured me.

I glanced at her and grinned. She was nearly seventy but she was still the same Mom I always had. She didn't look seventy either and I was grateful to have her happy and healthy in my life.

I didn't think too much about Jessica during the next few days except when I saw my mother scurrying across the street at her scheduled times to perform her scheduled routines and tasks.

"What's she going to do if something happens to you?" I asked Mom with annoyance.

"Good question," My mother realized. "We should probably talk about that."

"Don't get me involved," I protested. "She's not my responsibility."

"We're doing God's work, Bill," My mother reminded me.

We were watching the local Channel 32 news a few nights later when the meteorologist forecasted severe thunderstorms for a few nights later.

"Uh-oh," Mom sighed.

"What?" I asked.

"Jessica is hyper vigilant about the weather forecasts," my mother replied. "She gets very anxious about thunderstorms."

Just then the phone rang and my mother answered. Ironic enough it was Jessica and Mom spent ten minutes on the line assuring Jessica that the thunderstorms were still two days away and that she had plenty of time to prepare for them.

"Sometimes I have to go over there and stay with her when the storms are bad," Mom told me when she finally wrapped up the phone call.

"Jesus, Jessica is almost forty years old for God sakes," I groaned. "She really needs to get her act together."

"I don't think that's ever going to happen, Bill," my mother sighed. "She's set in her ways and she has her issues."

"Is she even competent?" I wondered.

"She can function," My mother assured me. "Within her limits and with structure."

"What a way to live," I sighed with pity, remembering the girl of my youth.

Two days later, the skies were dark and threatening most of the day with static electricity hanging in the air and it was only a matter of time before the real boomers arrived. Jessica called the house several times and my mother assured her that the storms hadn't arrived yet. Jessica had the Weather Channel on and was concerned with what the radar was showing.

When Channel 32 announced that a severe thunderstorm warning was now in affect, Jessica called again, this time in a panic. My mother calmed her on the phone and told her that I would come over and stay with her for a while.

"Me?" I protested when Mom hung the phone up. "Why me?"

"You're a contemporary," my mother explained. "Maybe a new face will be of help."

"She probably won't even let me in the front door," I remarked.

"She will with a severe thunderstorm warning in affect," Mom replied. "Just be present and calming and do what she asks," she advised.

"Is there anything else I need to know?" I questioned.

"Probably don't mention Quinn Blake," Mom suggested.

"The actor?" I asked with surprise.

My mother nodded but didn't elaborate. I left the house and walked across the street with the feel of rain in the air and the sound of thunder in the distance. I knocked on Jessica's door and it took a few minutes before she finally opened it, but only a crack.

"So, your mother has finally had enough of me," she said unhappily.

"I'm here to help out both of you," I replied.

Jessica studied me for a long moment.

"You can trust me, Jess," I said gently, using her old pet nickname for the first time in many years.

She thought about it for a moment and then stepped back, opening the door wide enough for me to enter the house. She quickly closed it behind me as soon as I was through the doorway. All the shades were pulled and the curtains drawn but there were plenty of lights on and both the television and the radio were both blaring, probably to drone out the sound of thunder. I noticed how cluttered the place was with stacks of magazines and newspapers everywhere, and cardboard boxes on the floor full of various junk.

I glanced at Jessica who was peering at me with suspicion and uncertainty. She was wearing a pair of sweats (even though it was the middle of summer and about 93 degrees outside) although the house was comfortable enough with plenty of cool air conditioned air circulating through the house.

"Thunderstorms make me crazy," Jessica let me know.

It was the perfect set up line, of course. I could have said "Only thunderstorms?" or "Among other things" or "You're crazy all the time" but I didn't. Instead, I said: "They can be a little nerve wracking."

She sighed and made her way through the piles of junk to the living room and then into the kitchen which, I noticed upon my entrance, wasn't as cluttered as the rest of the house, probably because it was the one room my mother had some presence in.

Jessica took out a pitcher of Lemonade from the refrigerator. "Do you want some?" She asked.

I shook my head no so she poured herself a glass.

"I'm too nervous to eat supper," she said. "There's some sandwich meat if you want to make a sandwich."

"I'm okay," I told her with a smile.

She drifted out of the kitchen, this time into the dining room and I saw that the table was covered with magazine articles, publicity shots and posters of the actor Quinn Blake.

"What's all this about?" I asked, remembering her fixation with television and movie celebrities and not heeding my mother's warning.

"Don't you know who Quinn Blake is?" Jessica asked as she glanced at some of the stuff on the table.

"An actor," I said.

"They filmed part of his last movie around here," Jessica told me in a bragging fashion. "It's called The Ball Player and they shot some of it on Green College and at Beano Field. It's about a college ball player and a young professor."

"Did you see any of it being filmed?" I asked.

"No," she said with defeated disappointment. "But I wanted to."

"I read they might have a premiere of the movie at Beano Field in August," I said.

"I read that too!" Jessica said with wide eyes. "God, I'd love to go to that."

"I'm sure it will be hard to get a ticket."

"I've been a big fan of his all the way back to The Mackin Family which is still on TV Land," Jessica sighed. "I heard he hid out at some college professor's house when he was here filming. I would have loved to have him stay here. Nobody would have found him!"

I laughed knowing that was the truth. "He's kind of young for you," I noted.

Jessica rolled her eyes. "I'm not that old," she said as she headed for the living room.

She was wearing baggy gray sweats so it was hard to tell what kind of shape Jessica was underneath them but she looked thin in the face almost to the point of malnutrition and the sweats hung from her as if she had no body shape or tone. She gave me a ten minute recap of Quinn Blake's career and a full synopsis's of the movie The Ball Player, speaking about the actor as if they were close intimate personal friends, calling him by his first name and relating stories as if he had told them to her when she read them in some magazine. It felt awkward and slightly embarrassing to listen to her go on and on about a person she never met.

My eyes began to glaze over as Jessica rambled on from where she had thrown herself across the couch with me sitting in an easy chair. She had the interesting ability to focus on the television screen while she talked almost non stop in that high-pitched halting singing voice of hers.

Suddenly Jessica stopped in mid sentence and she looked at me accusingly. "You think I'm crazy, don't you?" She charged.

"No," I said, unconvincingly, I'm afraid.

"Tell me what you see when you look at me," she ordered.

I studied her for a long moment. "I see the same girl I remember from our days of youth," I told her.

"But you know there is something wrong with me," she insisted.

"Are you still seeing your…..motivator?" I asked cautiously.

"I stopped after Mom died," Jessica revealed. "Daddy didn't make me go so I didn't."

"Do you miss it?" I wondered.

"I don't need to be reminded of my phobias," she sighed.

I raised my brow. "Why not?"

She looked at me with surprise. "Do you think the storms are over yet?" She asked, changing the subject.

"No," I replied. I could still hear the booming even with the television and radio blasting.

"Anyway, I've survived this long," Jessica said, switching back to the previous conversation I assumed. "Even if I'm nuts."

"You're not nuts," I said.

"You were always nice to me," Jessica recalled with appreciation. "I always valued that about you. Even when you came to see me in the loony bins. You acted like I was perfectly normal."

My voice caught in my throat when I sensed the incredible sadness in the room.

"What happened to your marriage?" Jessica wanted to know.

I shrugged, surprised that I actually hadn't thought about Alice in a long time. "She found somebody else."

"I thought she had found you," Jessica remarked.

"I guess not," I realized.

"I liked her with you," Jessica told me. "But now she's just a twat."

I burst out in laughter at the honestly of her crude remark. Jessica smiled too and for a moment if felt like we fourteen again and that got me thinking about her skiing accident and the mystery teacher at school.

"What did he do?" I asked quietly.

"Huh?" Jessica looked at me with confusion.

"The teacher," I practically whispered.

Her face turned green. "I….I don't know what you're talking about," she stammered nervously.

"I remember you referring to one of the teachers with distain and disgust," I told her. "You never mentioned his name but I'm thinking that's why you eventually dropped out."

"No it's not," she said quickly, her voice squeaking even more than usual.

"Oh," I said. "My bad then."

There was a loud boom that lifted Jessica off of the couch followed by a sudden downpour that could be heard bouncing off the roof and windows.

"Oh my God!" Jessica cried. "I hate this shit."

I went to the window and peered out through the shade and curtain. "There's no wind," I reported. "Just heavy rain and lots of lightning."

"It's still scary as hell," she said.

She was sitting up on the couch now so I went to her, taking a seat next to her on the sofa. "You'll be fine," I assured her.

She sighed and rested her head on my shoulder. We sat like that for a long time.

"Do you remember Mr. Mapleton?" Jessica finally asked after a terminal passage of quietness.

"The theatre guy," I recalled.

"I really wanted to be an actress in high school," Jessica sighed. "I had him for English Freshman year."

That was Mapleton's first year, a young guy fresh out of college. He looked baby-faced and more like a student than a teacher, especially with his long blond hair, hip clothes, and easy going nature.

"Weren't you in Bye Bye Birdy?" I asked.

Jessica nodded affirmatively. "It was a small part but I felt important."

"I remember going with Charlie and your parents," I said.

"One night we were working on sets," she said, as if in a trance. "I painted a bunch of flats and I got all covered with paint and sawdust and I was kind of sweaty because of the hot flood lights over the stage. Before I knew it everybody was gone except for me and Mr. Mapleton."

"Oh?"

"He told me I should go take a shower to get cleaned up so I went into the girl's locker room proud of myself for being part of the theatre group and for being noticed by Mr. Mapleton even as a geeky Freshman."

"What happened?" I asked quietly.

"I was in the shower naked when he came into the community stall, naked too," Jessica said, her voice shaky. "I was afraid to turn around so I kept my back to him and he came up behind me, wrapped his arm around my waist and started slowly bumping his penis against my butt."

"Oh, Jessica," I sighed.

"I was panicked but I didn't know what to do." Her voice broke. "I was grossed out and afraid and I thought for sure he was going to penetrate me but luckily there was noise down the hall and just like that he disappeared."

"Thank God," I said.

"I avoided him and I never took a class with him again or did theatre either," Jessica sighed with disappointment. "I was always looking over my shoulder wondering if he would be there, lurking or grabbing or rubbing."

"You never told anybody?" I asked.

She shook her head no.

"Not even your motivator?"

"Well, I didn't tell her who it was," Jessica said. "But I did tell her what happened. She wanted me to report it but I was too afraid and ashamed."

"I'm sorry that happened to you," I sighed.

"I definitely felt abused and weirded out but he was married a newborn kid and he was my teacher and I just couldn't tell." Tears were rolling down her cheeks. "It was confusing. I never got over it. I always felt vulnerable and I flailed around until I finally dropped out."

"He was only there a couple of years," I recalled. "Maybe he tried something with somebody else and got caught."

"I hope he rots in hell," Jessica said bitterly. "I was only fifteen. It sent me over the edge."

I wasn't sure what to say in response. "It was a long time ago," I offered.

"He took away my innocence," she complained with anger. "It never goes away."

"I understand," I said calmly. "What about the skiing thing?" I pondered.

"You mean my accident?" She frowned.

"Charlie seems to think that caused you some problems too," I said diplomatically.

"Kids laughed at me," she grumbled. "I wasn't a very good skier and I fell down a lot and everybody was making fun of me and then I go and break my leg practically standing still and it was humiliating to be carted off on a stretcher from the baby trail," she complained.

"I guess it could be a little embarrassing," I agreed.

"I don't want to talk about this anymore," Jessica decided

"Okay," I agreed.

Jessica let out a long sigh from deep within her lungs as she wiped the tears from her face. "I guess I should be grateful I wasn't permanently locked up in the psych ward," she said. "My mother never gave up on me."

"None of us did," I said.

Jessica rolled her eyes. "Oh please," she said. "My brother is in Texas and that yellow rose is never coming home. Mom and Daddy both died on me. You married and left too."

"I'm back now," I reminded her.

She peered at me with a blank look. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing," I said innocently. "Just that I'm back now."

"To save your mother from me?" She asked sarcastically.

"To help out," I clarified.

"Oh, I don't blame anybody for hating me," Jessica moaned as she sprang from the couch and began to pace around the room, careful not to trip over all the hoarded items on the floor. "I've been isolating for years, cutting myself off from the real world."

"Maybe you should go back and see your motivator," I suggested.

"You mean therapist, Billy?" She growled. "Shrink. Psychoanalyst. What for?" She demanded. "I made so little progress."

"Maybe you're in a different place now," I suggested.

"I'm still scared of the outside world," Jessica sighed. "Every time I try to convince myself to go outside I have a panic attack. My legs try to move but my mind says no. So I stay in here, defeated, paranoid and anxious."

"I'll walk with you," I offered.

She looked at me with surprise.

"Just to the corner," I said gently.

"And then what?" She frowned.

"And then we'll take it from there."

She sighed heavily and glanced down at the floor. "The frustrating part is that I really want to go out," she confessed. "I'd like to be around other people but I'm captive to my fears and paranoia."

"Maybe it's time to break out," I said.

"I'm mental," she told me.

"No you're not," I assured her as I watched her continue to pace back and forth across the room.

"The world outside scares the holy shit out of me and I can't be a part of it," Jessica explained. "God, I hate Agoraphobia. It embarrasses me. It frightens me. It reminds me of all my faults and fears."

"You deserve a better life," I said.

"People just don't understand," she sighed. "I've had agoraphobia for years and I still don't understand it. I wish I wasn't so scared of leaving this house."

"You're right," I agreed. "I don't understand what is feels like and I've watched you struggle for years but I really want to be supportive and help you get through it a little better now."
"Why?" Jessica challenged, stopping her pacing and staring at me. "What do you care? Why would you want anything to do with my intense and horrifying social anxiety?"

"Because we're friends," I told her.

"We are?" She seemed surprised by the suggestion. "Maybe a long time ago," she reasoned.

"We still are," I assured her. "Tell yourself that there will be a payoff at the end of your struggle and maybe that will give you the motivation to get out of here."
"I'm sure your mother has already given you all the gory details," Jessica remarked, falling onto the couch. "I can get stressed and I'm obsessive and overly anxious. I'm self-absorbed and don't pay attention to anybody else."
"Life is always changing," I said. "Every time things get chaotic or stressful just take it as it comes. Think about your feelings and what's driving them."

"It's just too hard to deal with sometimes," Jessica sighed. "I'm usually really hurting when things seem so low."

"But things get better no matter what struggles lie ahead," I argued. "That's life."

"That's not my life," Jessica grumbled.

"You know, all of us can re-write our story at any given time," I remarked. "Look at me. I lost my job and my wife but here I am, still breathing, still functioning."

"Sitting with a middle aged deranged home trapped woman who's deathly afraid of thunderstorms," Jessica pointed out. "How is that any better!?"

"I'm getting reacquainted with a good friend, I'm spending quality time with my aging mom, I'm back home which is always sentimental and nostalgic and I've been given a chance to reexamine my life and decide if I want to go in a different direction," I told her.

"What kind of different direction?"

"Maybe a different career path," I said with a shrug. "Who knows?"

"I think you're even crazier than I am!" Jessica exclaimed.

I smirked. "Maybe," I agreed. "But I'm willing to reframe the narrative. What if this experience is really a good thing? Maybe we can both grow from all of this. I accept what's happened and I'm living in the now, fully present with my heart, brain and gut all unified to give me wisdom with purpose, passion and power while appreciating my responsibility to the bigger picture."

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Jessica admitted.
"Ah, that's just some of my human resources speech," I laughed. "I'm just saying that here we both are," I said. "The past is gone and the future hasn't happened yet and so we deal with today."

"If I were you I would run as fast as I could from here," Jessica advised. "Just like Charlie."

She was probably right. I knew what my mother had been going through for several years when it came to Jessica's needs and issues but who was I to ignore her, avoid her, condemn her, judge her, abandon her, or deny her? Maybe I really did lose my job and my wife so life's karma could bring me back to Hillsboro to help out my mother and get to know Jessica again. Maybe this was my purpose in life. To help out an old friend.

I stood from the couch and went to the window, realizing I hadn't heard any thunder boomers in a while. Glancing through the shade and curtains, I saw that the rain had stopped and so had the lightning.

"I think the storm is over," I informed Jessica.

"Oh." She almost sounded disappointed that our conversation was coming to a close.

"I'll be over at noon tomorrow," I let her know.

"What for?" Jessica asked with surprise.

"We're going to start our walking exercises," I said.

"Huh?"

"Every day at noon," I announced, knowing how important scheduling was to her. "We will leave the house and take a walk."

"How far?"

"As far as you can go," I replied. I glanced at her where she sat on the couch and she had a look of wonderment on her face.

"I'll see you tomorrow, Jess," I said as I started for the door.

"Okay," she agreed, sounding encouraged for the first time since my arrival.

And that's how it all started. The next day at noon I walked a very tentative, uncertain and anxious Jessica Swanson slowly out her front door, down the front steps and to the end of the front sidewalk. The next day it was to the edge of the Grandison's property next door. A few days later, we got two doors down before Jess had to turn around in a panic. The following week, I convinced Jessica to walk across the street and have lunch with me and my mother. She looked like she was Dorothy in Oz when she walked through the front door of our house!

It took several weeks, but Jessica eventually made it completely around the block. We got her in the car for a cone at Red's Tastee Freeze because that was one of her father's favorite activities when Jessica was a kid. She found a therapist she liked and she allowed me to drive her to her weekly appointments.

I convinced Jessica to let me start getting rid of the clutter and junk that had been collecting in the house for years. She even let me pack up her shrine to Quinn Blake. Jessica slowly became less rigid about schedules although she remained very methodical about her daily routine. I still got easily annoyed at her inflexible attitude but my mother insisted that Jessica had improved in leaps and bounds.

"You're a miracle worker, Bill," Mom told me several times.

I'm not sure why I was able to get Jessica to change some of her behaviors. Maybe it was our common link to the past or that we were both damaged people but she did seem to trust me enough to try to break out of her cemented mode just a little bit. I also think she liked having me around. She had to be lonely living a life of isolation for so long and maybe my presence gave her a reason to be a little more optimistic and hopeful. I didn't have to be scheduled for a visit anymore and it got so I could pretty much walk through the back door unannounced and she was okay with it.

I didn't push Jessica to do anything she didn't want to do but I did give her gentle nudges, sometimes just a suggestion or an offer or an invitation. Some days she would say no, other days she was willing to give it a try – a ride to the grocery store, a walk along the river, going out for pizza instead of having it delivered. It felt good to be with her in public. Most people had no idea who she was or what her problems were, of course, but occasionally we'd bump into somebody from the old neighborhood or school and they would be pleasantly surprised to see Jessica.

She was looking better than she did when I first came home. There was color to her skin, she was wearing a little bit of make up, she had her hair styled, and she was wearing actual clothes when we went out instead of her standard sweats. If you didn't know she suffered from severe anxiety, you would think Jessica was a normal attractive woman in her late thirties enjoying life.
I landed a thirty-two hour a week position at the Division of Transitional Assistance as a job coach and interviewer and I was amused that Jessica was actually disappointed knowing it meant I wouldn't be around as much but I promised that I would spend time with her after work and on the weekends. Actually, I had come to value and enjoy my time with Jessica. I had gotten used to her quirks, phobias and insecurities and there was something almost endearing about her in a strange way.

Jessica and I had developed a trusting relationship over the months, sharing some of our intimate secrets and discussing our biggest fears and failures. I told Jessica about how devastating it was to lose a job I loved and how out to lunch I was when it came to Alice.

"When did you know she was cheating on you?" Jessica asked one night as we sat at her kitchen table.

"I guess it had been going on for a while but I just didn't realize it," I sighed. "She always had plausible reasons when she'd come home late or whatever. I really didn't think much about it. She had her friends and work and activities so her being busy wasn't unusual. Plus I was wrapped up in my own career and not really paying attention. I travelled a lot and I was vying for a big deal promotion. Then one day a coworker told me that she had seen Alice at a bar with some guy."

"Uh oh."

"I didn't think she was cheating on me or anything," I continued. "I trusted her but after a while I started getting suspicious when some of her stories didn't add up and I caught her in a few lies about who she was and what she was doing on a particular night. I'd call her and she wouldn't answer the phone and then one night a good friend of hers wouldn't cover for her when I confronted her about where Alice was. I found her at a bar I knew she liked hanging out with some guy and we had a real big drag out fight and she admitted she was sleeping with the guy."

"I'm sorry, Billy," Jessica said with sympathy.

"I couldn't get over her actually having an affair but even then I was willing to forgive her," I said. "We were going to go to counseling and all that but then I lost my job and it wasn't long after that when Alice announced she was leaving me for this guy so there wasn't much point trying to keep our marriage going."

"I'm really sorry," Jessica offered again.

"Seems like a different life time ago now," I admitted. "I'm ashamed to admit that I was actually more upset about losing my job than I was losing my wife."

"Well, your job didn't cheat on you," Jessica replied.

"When I first came back here I didn't think I'd ever feel again but it's turned out all right." I smiled at her and Jessica looked embarrassed.

Jessica confined with me over time about her own transgressions. "It's tough to have a normal sex life when you're agoraphobic," she revealed.

Jessica told me that she had sex a few times while she was in the hospital, either with a fellow patient or with one of the orderlies. Occasionally, she'd invite some delivery guy into the house or the handyman or some other visitor. She met a few guys on line and some came for visits.

"It never lasted because eventually they'd figure out I was crazy," Jessica sighed.

She confined in me that it had been a few years since her last sexual relationship, a strange affair with a guy down the street who Jessica hired to hang her flat screen television on the wall. He agreed to come back every second Saturday of the month for sex between four in the afternoon and eight o'clock that evening.

"I'm sure you're disappointed in me," Jessica remarked.

Who was I to criticize her for her decisions and choices? I couldn't even keep my wife happy.

We didn't talk about that sort of stuff much after that. I didn't mind listening to Jessica go on about her favorite television shows and movies and the actors she admired, including Quinn Blake. I'd tell her stories about the people I met at the Transitional Assistance Office and Jessica talked seriously about maybe finding a part time job herself once she was stronger in her slow but noticeable recovery. She started studying for the GED again and it was the proudest day for all of us when I took her to the local community assistance center so she could take the GED test which she passed.

"This is the first thing I've accomplished in twenty years," Jessica noted as she held up her GED Certificate. "What have I done with my life?"

That was the first time I actually held her hand. I took it mine and walked her out of the assistance center while telling her how proud I was of her. Jessica smiled and I noticed that she seemed much more relaxed than usual even though she was out of the house. I took her to lunch to celebrate her big achievement and she made it through the entire meal without getting anxious or self-conscious. It was a good day.

A few days later, I was eating dinner with Jessica at her house when she looked up from her plate of food and gave me the eye. "I want to thank you," she said softly.

"For what?" I asked.

"For making me feel comfortable, a rare thing for me," she said sheepishly. "You also make me feel safe."

"I like being with you, Jessica," I smiled.

"I usually feel paralyzed by these types of situations," she admitted. "I've never been around someone for this long other than my family in my entire life."

"It's nice," I said.

"You don't mind spending your time with someone who's under house arrest?" She sighed. "We spend all our time in this house or I start to hyperventilate."

"We've been out plenty of times," I reminded her.

"But we haven't been out plenty of times too," she worried.

"We're doing okay," I assured her.

"You're the first guy in my life I've really talked to," she noted.

"I'm honored," I replied.

"I had such big plans for my life when I was a kid," Jessica told me sadly. "But all of those hopes and dreams went down the tubes."

"It's never too late," I reminded her.

"To do what?" She frowned with defeat.

"Anything you want," I smiled. "Just focus on today and deal with today's reality."

"It's hard."

"I've noticed that your symptoms have been greatly reduced," I noted. "You're living life on your own terms more now instead of on your anxiety's terms."

"I do feel better," she said, smiling for the first time in a while even though there was an incredible sadness to her too.

Jessica and I continued to spend time together, usually at her house although she did venture out some. My mother cooked a Sunday dinner every week and Jessica joined us at our place. I'd get her out of the house on occasion, but never for anything that involved large crowds. The movies, a play, a ball game, and the county fair were all out of the question but I did get her to go to the outdoor movie theatre one Saturday night, even though she only made it through the first feature.

Quinn Blake was returning to Hillsboro for a special screening of his new movie The Ball Player at Beano Field and I told Jessica I could probably get tickets through some of my late father's old connections but she had a look of hurt panic on her face.

"As much as I love Quinn Blake, there's no way I could stay there with all those people around," she sadly admitted. "Just when I think I'm getting better something like this happens and I'm reminded just how screwed up I really am." She sounded wounded.

"You're going to be okay," I assured her with confidence.

I liked my new job. It was only four days a week and it was a by the clock gig so there was a lot less stress than my previous 60 hour a week job with lots of on the road travelling involved. I was home by 5:30 every day and I had quality time to relax, help out my mother, and spend time with Jessica who now obviously looked forward to my visits instead of hiding from them like in the beginning.

My undefined relationship with Jessica kept me out of the bars and saved me from the awkwardness of having to try dating again after so long. It felt like Jessica and I were dating in our own bizarre way even though we hadn't done anything more than hold hands a few times. Although I enjoyed Jessica's company and companionship, I was still lonely and I missed the physical intimacy of a healthy sexual relationship, although when I looked back on it Alice and my sex life had pretty much died out in the many months before I learned of the affair.

I frequently felt horny but masturbating like a desperate teenager hardly felt normal so I kept my urges under control though I missed having someone in bed beside me at night and when I awoke in the morning. I respected Jessica too much to put the moves on her but I often wondered if our friendship would go anyplace else now that we had been together for these many months.

We were sitting on the couch together watching some cheesy romantic movie on the television one Saturday night when Jessica glanced at me, almost as if she had been aware of my thoughts all along.

"How come we haven't slept together yet?" She wanted to know.

"We've been taking things slow," I reasoned.

This brought a laugh from Jessica. "It's weird being turtles when I've always been a rabbit," she said. "I've slept with guys before I even knew their names."

"You already knew my name," I pointed out.
We looked at each other for a few moments with uncertainty but longing.
"So," I said slowly. "Are you comfortable with my name?"

"Yes," she whispered.
I looked at her wondering if I should make the first move. We stared at each other for the longest time, it seemed.

"Would you like to stay tonight?" Jessica finally asked.

"Yes," I let her know, feeling as nervous as I did when I was fourteen and was about to experience my first kiss.

Jessica turned off the television and she led the way upstairs. I was surprised at how excited I felt thinking about experiencing such pleasure after so long and I hoped it would turn out alright between us afterward. Her bedroom was reasonably clean and uncluttered and we undressed silently in the dim light of the room. It was the first time I was getting naked in front of a woman other than Alice in a very long time. I felt surprisingly shy all of a sudden but Jessica didn't seem to mind showing herself to me and I let my eyes take in her naked beauty.

Jessica was in fine shape for a woman in her late thirties, with just a slight bulge around her tummy. Her breasts were firm with pert nipples and her pubic hair was just as dark as the hair on her head. I could tell that Jessica was looking at me too and I hoped she trusted me not to be the kind of jerks she had met in the past, either molesting perverted teachers or guys who were happy to get laid with no strings attached. I definitely felt attached to Jessica.

I felt myself go hard as she looked at me across the bed and she smiled with approval.

"Are you sure?" She asked with hesitation in her voice. "I can't remember the last time a guy actually spent the night with me."
"I'm crazy for you, Jess," I let her know.

She rolled her eyes but I could hear a giggle escape her throat.
I smiled, happy at how relaxed it felt between us even now, like this, naked, exposed, and vulnerable.

"Are you anxious?" I worried.
She shook her head no as she slipped onto the bed on her stomach, exposing her lovely buns to me. I lay next to her facing her on my side as my cock stood straight out. Jessica rolled onto her side too and she looked at me with dancing eyes before reaching out with her hand and softly placing it flat on my stomach (which is not where I thought she was going to go!). I smiled as I gently placed my palm on top of the back of her hand.
Jessica smiled too before she slipped her hand out from under mine and slid it along my stomach, only upward instead of toward my throbbing penis, rubbing across my chest as I continued to throb between my legs. I wanted to beg her to touch me there but she needed to do what she was comfortable doing.

Jessica looked me in the eyes before letting her fingers move toward my groin.
The tips of two of her fingers finally touched my tip and my penis waved in contented response. Then she wrapped her fingers around my cock as she leaned in and kissed me on the lips. Everything after that was a wondrous happy blur.

"Are you okay?"

It was hours later and we were both exhausted from our long night of lovemaking. I was holding Jessica tight under the covers, guessing that it was around three in the morning.

"Yes." She sounded happy and surprisingly not anxious. "Shouldn't I be!?"

"Undoubtedly," I assured her.
"I know it was unwanted sex that caused me so much trouble but I always hoped I could still find pleasure in it," Jessica told me. "I've suffered much to long to deny myself a natural urge to be with someone."
"I agree," I said quietly.

"You're not the one who tried to molest me so I'm not going to freak out being with you like this."

"I'm glad."

"Everything is very difficult for me even though I'm feeling much more relaxed right now than I ever expected to be," she confessed.

"Thank you," I said in a happy whisper. "It's been an amazing night."
"You're very welcome," she giggled. "I enjoyed it too!"
I felt Jessica's naked breasts rub against me as she leaned in and gave me a gentle kiss. I wrapped my arm around her waist and held her tight against me. She kissed me again and then we fell asleep.

It was morning when I awoke, although I had no idea what time. Jessica was burrowed into me, lying on her stomach half on me and half out. My hands were snuggling her ass cheeks while her hands were on my chest. Her eyes popped open and she looked into mine.

"Everything okay?" I asked, nervous that she might freak out now that it was the morning after.
"Yes, everything is fine," she replied sincerely. "Very fine."

"Good," I smiled with relief.
"I think I'm going to be okay now," Jessica remarked with confidence. "For years I've envied people with a normal sex life and now mine is gong to start. No more one night stands with nameless strangers bribed into my house."
"We finally made it," I told her happily as I felt her shimmy all the way onto my body.
"Yes," she agreed, and then she stared into my eyes. "Do you think the past is finally buried and my future can begin?"

"I think we were meant to be together," I told her.

"Even though I'm crazy?"

"I'm crazy for you," I said, kissing her smack on the lips.

I had no idea if we would make it or not. I had no illusions that Jessica was going to go to the movies with me that night, or take in a baseball game, or make it through dinner in a crowded restaurant without suffering a panic attack, but the one thing I had learned from my time with her was that I was willing to give it a shot. I didn't care how crazy she acted because of her anxiety because I really was crazy for her!