My Sister Maizey
Ginny sat in the lobby of the treatment center wearing a pair of khaki shorts, a modest blouse, and sandals, staring at her luggage stacked by the door. Today was discharge day and she was as nervous as hell having no idea what waited for her beyond those doors that led to the freedom beyond.
She stood when she saw Dr. Palmer approach from her office along with Karen, a staff member at Recovery in the Pines.
Dr. Palmer handed Ginny her release papers. "Okay, Sweetie, you're taking the next step."
"I don't want to go," Ginny announced nervously.
"You're going to be fine," Dr. Palmer assured her. "You've been clean and sober for six months. You've put on the appropriate weight and you're eating right. You've come to terms with the issues that brought you here. Go to meetings, work on yourself, stay positive, and avoid old habits," The Doctor ordered. "You can do this."
Ginny hugged the middle aged woman for so long that the Doctor had to pry the client off of her. Ginny brushed a few tears away from her cheeks. "I'm scared," she admitted.
"That's good," The Doctor smiled. "That means you're feeling your stuff. Now go do positive things with it."
Karen took Ginny by the arm and escorted her toward the door, helping her with the bags and leading her to the Recovery in the Pines van parked outside the main entrance. Once the luggage was properly loaded in the back, Ginny got in the front passenger's seat and Karen drove to the bus station fifteen miles away.
Karen, a tall woman with long legs and a thin face, a former addict herself who found peace and serenity and a new life in social work, was kind enough to wait with Ginny until her bus arrived in front of the small town general store.
"What if I don't make it?" Ginny asked desperately, throwing Karen a fearful look.
"One day at a time, one hour at a time, one moment at a time," Karen told her, giving her a hug. "Use the tools you learned with us. Keep looking forward and not backwards. Take care of yourself and do what's right."
"Gee, you make it sound so easy," Ginny laughed sarcastically, watching as the older bus driver loaded her luggage into the storage compartment underneath the bus.
"It's going to be hard," Karen acknowledged honestly. "But you can do it."
They broke from the embrace and Ginny reluctantly boarded the bus. She sat in a window seat half way back and waved goodbye to Karen through the glass as the bus slowly pulled away. Once the vehicle was on the road, Ginny rested her head against the window and prayed for the strength, wisdom, perseverance, conviction, serenity, and courage to survive in the real world. She honestly didn't know what was going to become of her and she was scared shitless by the prospects.
The Recovery in the Pines Rehabilitation Retreat saved her life but Ginny knew she could screw that up at any moment. She had been messing up her life for years and she wasn't sure if she had the strength to practice the tools she had been given during her latest respite. The Pines staff promised it would be okay if she stayed calm, grounded, clean and sober, avoided the pitfalls of her previous life, and made a daily conscious effort to change her life. There was no denying that she was an addict, alcoholic, and criminal. The question now was what was she going to do about it?
The last thing Ginny had wanted to do was leave her safe haven but Doctor Palmer told her she couldn't hide out forever and that she needed to get on with her life. So now here she was riding on a bus through the back roads of the Berkshires, three thousand miles from the home she had known for the past thirty years but she knew she wasn't ready to go back there yet. Her plan was to lay low in New England until she was convinced that she could function before deciding what she was going to do with the rest of her life.
Roland was still as high as a kite and she couldn't go back to him. She begged him to come to the Pines with her and get clean and sober too but he refused so she had to let him go. She missed him terribly and she felt guilty for abandoning him but she knew she couldn't maintain her sobriety if she went back.
A few hours later, Ginny disembarked from the bus in a town named Greenville. She had never heard of it but it was the directions Sallyanne had given to her and she had no choice but to trust Sallyanne's plan. Ginny hailed a taxi van outside of the bus depot and once her luggage was loaded into the vehicle she handed the driver a piece of paper with an address written on it.
Ginny viewed the passing scenery as the taxi van drove her across a big bridge into a town called Hillsboro. It looked friendly enough, small and pleasant with attractive store fronts and potted flowers by the fancy street lamps. The taxi went through the downtown and turned onto a dead end side street near Miller Motors. The street featured a bicycle repair shop, a fabric store, and an old warehouse and the taxi turned into the last lot on the small street which was a wooden shop with "Everett's Watch and Clock Repair" painted on the windows. There was a second floor to the business that looked to be an apartment.
The driver removed Ginny's luggage from the van and set them on the sidewalk in front of the store. Ginny handed him a fifty-dollar bill. "Keep the change," she said as she nervously looked into the window of the watch repair shop wondering if there was anybody there.
The driver tipped his cap, climbed into the van, and drove out of the lot. The door to the shop opened and a man about Ginny's age stepped out into the sun of the warm summer day. He was wearing a pair of jeans and a tee shirt with a photo of Big Ben on it. He peered at her for a long moment trying to figure out what in the hell was going on.
"I'm Pepper," she told him when he looked clueless.
His jaw dropped but then he quickly recovered. "You should have called," he said, studying her.
"You would have said no," Ginny responded knowingly.
"I'm assuming this was my mother's idea?" He guessed.
Ginny nodded affirmatively.
"You look good," he had to admit.
"Thanks," she smiled. "You too." She chewed on her bottom lip with worry. "Do you think anybody will recognize me?"
"Well, maybe if you take your clothes off," he replied with sarcasm.
She looked offended but she didn't say anything and he regretted saying it.
"Don't worry," he said with less of a tone this time. "If I didn't recognize you nobody will."
He stepped closer and for a moment Ginny thought he was going to either smack her or kiss her but he walked by her and started loading up her luggage in his arms. Ginny took a couple of the smaller pieces and followed him into the clock shop.
The store was relatively small with a couple of display cases featuring a wide variety of watches and other time pieces inside of them. Dozens of clocks hung on the walls and behind the cash register counter against the far wall was a wide door that led into a workshop with several benches, equipment and clock pieces everywhere. To the right was a door which was open to reveal a flight of stairs and that's where the man headed. Ginny followed him up the stairs and into the kitchen of the second floor apartment. The floor was covered by old and faded linoleum and the appliances looked to be at least thirty years old. There was a bathroom and storage room off the room.
Ginny's host led her into the adjoining room which featured a wide screen television, stereo system and a computer set up. A bedroom overlooked the front lot below and that's where the guy deposited her luggage.
"So, what am I supposed to call you?" Ginny asked as he took the two pieces of luggage from her hand as she stood in the door way of the bedroom.
"I've been using my given name of Thorton since coming here," he revealed as he stepped past her and took a seat on the couch in the living room. "Thorton Belanger."
"Your real name is Thorton?" Ginny asked with surprise.
"It was a family name," he explained.
"Where the hell did Flinder Ferris come from?"
"My mother thought it would sell better," he replied. "And you? What should I be calling you?"
"Ginny," she answered as she collapsed on the couch next to him. "That's my given name too."
"Well, Genevieve actually," she reported. "Genevieve McPearson."
"Where did Pepper Armstrong come from?"
"My agent," Ginny revealed. "I was only eight."
He nodded with understanding.
"So," Ginny sighed. "Long time no see."
"I honestly thought I'd never see you again," Thorton admitted.
"You probably wished you never saw me again," Ginny replied heavily. "I'm sorry to barge in on you like this but I had no where else to go." She glanced at him. "Your mother didn't call?"
He shook his head no, looking annoyed. "You know how she likes the drama."
Ginny glanced around the apartment. "This is different."
"It was my Uncle's place," Thorton explained. "I figured I could hide out here without a problem."
"As a watch and clock fixer?"
"Horologist," he clarified. "My uncle ran this place for nearly sixty years. I apprenticed under him and took a six month Horology course in Pennsylvania. I took over for him when he died."
"You really distanced yourself from Hollywood, didn't you?" Ginny remarked with amazement.
"I knew it was over for me," Thorton explained. "I got out before I went down the tubes."
"Like me," she sighed.
"You're doing okay now, right?"
"I just got out of rehab this morning," Ginny revealed nervously. "I'm like a baby bird just leaving the nest."
"Don't worry, I have worms," Thorton replied.
She looked at him and smiled. "Is it okay if I call you Wilder?"
"Wilder?" He frowned.
"Thorton just doesn't cut it for me," she admitted.
"But Thorton Wilder does?" He asked with amusement.
"Sure," he agreed. "You can call me Wilder."
Ginny smiled. "How long has it been?"
"Almost twenty years, Ginny," he replied. "I think the last time I saw you was at the wrap party."
"You were my best friend in the business," she told him with a heavy sigh. "The worse thing about the show being cancelled was that our friendship got cancelled with it."
"That's show biz," he replied sarcastically.
"So you just walked away?" Ginny asked with amazement.
"I hung around for a year," he revealed. "When I had to audition for a cereal commercial after co-starring in a top ten sitcom for six years I knew I was done."
"I'm sorry," Ginny sighed. "I should have helped out but I wanted to leave everything about Maizey behind me."
"You didn't owe me anything, Ginny," he told her. "It's the nature of the business. We know what it's all about. I could have stuck around and taken bit parts and hoped for another break but I'm pretty sure Maizey was about as good as it was going to get."
"What about Sallyanne?" Ginny asked. "Couldn't she have helped?"
"If I couldn't make it on my own there was no point hanging around hoping for my mother's scraps," he said. "Favoritism and nepotism only goes so far even in the business. Its how I got the audition for Puffer in the first place."
"I'm so glad you did," Ginny smiled.
"Mom had a tough enough time getting her own parts," Wilder said. "She didn't need to carry me after Maizey ended."
"I missed you," Ginny let him know. "I wonder how things would have turned out if I had been smart enough to walk away from it too."
"You hungry?" Wilder asked.
"I had breakfast," Ginny replied.
He glanced at one of the numerous clocks on the wall. "It's after one."
"Well, maybe just something snacky," she agreed.
"Didn't I read somewhere that you suffered from eating disorders in addition to the drinking and drugging?" He asked, giving her a concerned look.
"Make me a salad then," she sighed.
"Okay," he smiled.
Ginny followed him into the kitchen. "Sallyanne told me you're between relationships?"
"I'm known as the clock guy around town," he said with a shrug. "Maybe that's not the most romantic or glamorous reputation to have."
"You should have told them you were Maizey's brother," she smirked. "You would have been getting laid every night."
"The whole point was not to be Maizey's brother," Wilder replied as he made the salad at the kitchen counter.
Ginny was standing next to him with her backside resting against the counter and her arms folded across her chest. "Nobody ever recognized you?"
"By the time I got here people had forgotten about Flinder Ferris as Peter 'Puffer' Morgan, Maizey Morgan's nerdy brother," he said. "I colored my hair, grew a beard and lost some weight so I wasn't Puffer anymore. Nobody knew or cared who I was. So I became the clock guy."
"I think you made out better in the deal," Ginny remarked.
"And I think I liked you better as Maizey Morgan than I did as the adult Pepper Armstrong," Wilder replied.
"Nobody likes seeing their sister naked," Ginny commented sadly.
Wilder finished making the salad, got out a couple of plates, set them on the old Formica table, dug out some salad dressing and some bottled waters from the refrigerator, and motioned for her to have a seat at the table. She did and he sat too.
"So, what are your plans?" He asked.
"Hang out here for a while if it's okay with you," Ginny answered. "Lay low. Do meetings. Find a therapist."
"Okay," he said. "Make a list of what you want me to buy for food and stuff. I'm pretty much around all the time, downstairs in the workshop if not here. I'm flexible with my schedule so I'm available to drive you around, show you stuff, and help you out."
"You don't have to do this you know, Wilder," she said. "You can tell me to leave if you want."
"What are brothers for?" He asked.
Ginny burst into tears, snot flying out of her nose and into the salad from the force of her unexpected outburst. Wilder handed her his napkin.
"You've had it rough, huh?" He remarked knowingly.
She nodded through her tears. "You're the only friend I have, Wilder," she said. "The only person I can trust. I burned all my bridges, ruined my relationships, lost jobs, alienated friends, destroyed my reputation and career and I almost died," Ginny said sadly, shaking her head. "I have nobody to blame but myself, but yeah, it's been rough," she said, wiping her tears and snot away from her face with the napkin. "You're going to have to be patient with me, Wilder. I'm a raw vulnerable emotional mess right now!"
"Stay as long as you want," he gently told her. "Do whatever it takes to get back on your feet."
"Thanks," she said. "I have this after care plan," she said, digging a piece of paper out of her shorts pocket. "Lists everything I need to be doing and not doing. I'll hang it on the wall so you can help keep me honest."
Wilder took the piece of paper from her and read it aloud.
Ginny's After-Care Plan
The disease of addiction is incurable but manageable.
Relapse is a reality no matter how much you think you have a handle on the disease.
Attend 12 Step Programs
Attend treatment programs
Eat Healthy and correctly (three meals a day, appropriate proportions, correct diet)
Attend Outpatient Care
Obtain a Sober Coach/Companion
Avoid Sex and Relationships until you are strong in your recovery
Boredom can be a trigger for relapse.
Addiction is a disease of the mind so stay out of your head.
Stay active - have fun in sobriety (sober friends, hobbies, and choices).
Practice a happy healthy way of life.
Stay focused on recovery.
Deal with life sober.
Find safe environments to express your feelings.
Don't neglect your relationship with your Higher Power.
Avoid the temptations/stressors/behaviors/attitudes that led to rehab.
"That's quite a plan," Wilder remarked as he stood from the table and put the list on the refrigerator door using magnets that were already there.
He opened the refrigerator and took the six pack of beer out, dumping each can's contents down the kitchen sink drain.
"You don't have to do that," Ginny said.
"I'm your sober coach companion," he announced.
She watched as he drained the hard liquor bottles that had been in one of the cupboards.
"This is now a safe house," he informed her.
"Make yourself at home," Wilder told her, heading for the door with the empty booze containers.
Ginny took the dishes to the sink and then slowly walked through the small apartment looking at the various photos, paintings and decorations on the walls and tables. She counted twelve clocks in the place, most of them antiques or finely crafted collectables.
There was no evidence of Wilder's previous life as teenaged television actor Flinder Ferris anywhere to be found. It wasn't until Ginny went into the bedroom to see if there was any room for her clothes that she saw the old TV Guide cover from the third season of My Sister Maizey taped to the wall inside the bedroom closet featuring fifteen year olds Pepper Armstrong and Flinder Ferris in all their sweet innocence of youth.
Ginny smiled at the memory and she wished she could go back to that time when her life was reasonably normal before she went off the deep end of celebrity, popularity, bad personal choices, horrible career decisions, and a whole lot of partying.
Ginny stepped out of the closet, sat on to the edge of the bed and buried her head in her hands to have herself a good cry. Thank God for Wilder was all she could think as she tried to recover from her momentary breakdown.
Ginny was rearranging the closet when Wilder returned from disposing of the booze bottles.
"I hope you don't mind," Ginny said. "Just making room for some of my stuff."
"There's plenty of empty space in the dresser drawers too," Wilder replied as he stood in the door frame watching her.
"Thanks," she smiled.
"So nobody besides my mother knows you're here?" He asked.
"As far as I know," Ginny replied. "Sallyanne promised to keep it a secret."
"Well, she kept my secret all these years so I think you're safe," Wilder smiled.
"You've never gone back?"
"I almost did for Jocko Kelley's funeral," he said. "But I didn't." He sighed sadly with regret.
"I was too drunk to go," Ginny admitted with shame.
Jocko Kelley was the veteran character actor who played their dad Dan Morgan for the six year run of My Sister Maizey. He's the one who gave Flinder the nickname 'Salt' on the set because Jocko thought Salt got along so well with Pepper Armstrong and he loved both of the young actors.
"He was the best mentor," Wilder replied. "Taught me so much not just about acting but the business and how to survive in it."
"I wish I had listened to him," Ginny sighed.
"I called his widow," Wilder revealed. "Told her how much he meant to me."
"What about Sallyanne" Ginny wondered. "Don't you go out there to see her?"
"No," he replied. "We usually meet for a few weeks on Cape Cod in the summer and I'll go down to New York and see her there when she's in town doing something."
"You really did severe yourself from it all, didn't you?" an impressed Ginny remarked.
He nodded affirmatively.
"And you don't miss any of it?" Ginny asked, taking a seat on the bed and staring at him.
"I miss the camaraderie," Wilder freely admitted. "We had fun doing good work, didn't we?"
She nodded in agreement. "It was as good as it gets."
"I definitely missed you!" Wilder confessed, but then he looked away.
"I don't miss the fakeness and insincerity of producers, agents, and other Hollywood types," Wilder revealed. "I hated the sense of entitlement and privilege, the disconnect from reality we experience doing the work and enjoying the celebrity it gave us. And of course I hated waiting for the next job. At least here I'm a real person and the people in this town are real too. I don't have to worry about being someone I'm not or being treated special because I was on TV. Fixing clocks and watches in Hillsboro Massachusetts is about as far as I could get from being a television actor in Hollywood and I'm grateful to have a real life."
"I don't remember you ever being in trouble," Ginny said.
"I avoided the limelight," Wilder replied. "Stayed away from the parties. Did charity work instead. I was always showing up at the hospitals and all that."
"I didn't get in trouble until the show ended," Ginny said.
"Well, dating that moron hockey player wasn't the smartest thing you ever did," Wilder commented with annoyance as he took a seat next to her on the bed.
"Yeah, the team sort of hid his little substance abuse problem," Ginny admitted. "That's when I started getting high and began my bad habits. I guess I started developing my crazy personality when I was with him."
"I saw the change in you the last few months on the show," Wilder told her. "It really bummed me out."
"It was the lifestyle I chose," she sighed. "I knew I'd be stereotyped forever if I didn't break out of the Maizey genre but it was all down hill from there."
"You should have come here with me," Wilder remarked.
"Maybe," she agreed. "Most of the last fifteen years is just a blur. Spent most of it in a drunken dazed high."
"And you became tabloid fodder," 'Wilder said with disapproval.
"That son of a bitch leaking out that sex tape was the lowest of the lows," Ginny complained with hurt in her voice. "Having my pussy lips spread all over the internet destroyed me."
Wilder was caught off guard by her vulgar comment. "We don't have to talk about that," he said with awkward embarrassment.
"I was just another former child star gone bad, a messed up head case drinking and drugging herself to the nut house," Ginny said, tears in her eyes. "All the stupid stuff I did when I was stoned and drunk is humiliating."
"That's all behind you now," Wilder told her.
"You don't think I'm a fuck up?" Ginny asked looking at him with penetrating eyes.
"I think you're the same person I met when we were twelve," Wilder replied truthfully. "My best friend in the business, a blue eyed beauty with a sweet soul and a bubbly personality, a girl who made me laugh and feel good about myself and taught me how to have fun on the set. Do you remember how polished we were by the time we hit the sixth season? We knew each others mannerisms, reactions, styles and methods by heart and our on-screen chemistry was perfect. People really thought we were brother and sister!"
Ginny collapsed against him with a sigh and Wilder wrapped his arms around her waist and gave her a hug.
"I should find a meeting," she said.
"I'm sure there's a list on the computer of the local AA chapters and all that," Wilder said.
"I'll check later," she said. "What color was my hair when we first met?"
"Blond," he answered. "Wavy and curly, down past your shoulders."
Ginny put her hand up to her now straight brown hair that reached the bottom of her neck. "It's been every color," she said. "Blond. Brown. Black. Red. Yellow. Amber. Pink. Orange. Long. short. Shaved. Half-shaved. Mohawk. Spiked."
"I like the way it looks now," he said.
"Fuck!" Ginny groaned. "I really was fucked up, wasn't I? I don't mean just hopelessly drunk and incredibly stoned, but fucked up in the head."
"I wasn't around," Wilder shrugged.
"What was it like witnessing my crash and burn from afar?"
"I tried not to watch," Wilder mumbled. "I really didn't want to know. It was just too sad for me."
"It was sad for me too," Ginny told him with honesty. "It got to the point where I didn't even know who I was anymore. I was such a head case. Near the end I just wanted to die."
"You're better now," he assured her.
Wilder felt her physically shake as he continued to hold her. "My biggest fear is that I'll fall back into that dark place again."
"You won't while you're here," he vowed.
"I worry I'm ready to be let out yet," Ginny sighed. "I'm so fucking scared that I'll fail."
"You won't," Wilder quietly whispered.
"Maybe I shouldn't have come," she realized. "I'd be an asshole friend if I OD'ed while I was here."
Wilder put his hand up against her cheek, "Aren't you supposed to be thinking positive?"
"I guess I'm having a mini-panic attack," Ginny confessed with a nervous laugh. "Sorry if I'm freaking you out."
"It's okay," he told her, kissing the top of her head. "You're safe here."
"I'm fucked up okay?" Ginny told him openly. "You need to know that about me."
"You're being much too hard on yourself, Ginny," Wilder argued. "They wouldn't have let you out if they didn't think you're ready."
"Maybe they made a mistake,"
"I don't think so," Wilder replied. "Just stay calm." He grinned when something came to his mind. "Remember those acting de-stressors Ms. Kulpner taught us?"
"Oh, God, Ms. Kulpner!" Ginny laughed. "I haven't thought about her in years!"
Ms. Kulpner was hired by the studio to work with the young actors adjusting to life on a weekly television show, making sure they were emotionally and mentally prepared for each week's shoot.
"There were the breathing windmill thing and the floating on the cloud thing and something to do with playing with your toes," Wilder recalled with a laugh.
"She really was nuts, wasn't she?" Ginny grinned.
"Whatever it takes to stay grounded," Wilder said.
Ginny stared at the bedroom floor while resting her chin in her hands. "I don't want to talk about this anymore," she decided. "I can't deal with it right now."
"Why don't you take a shower?" Wilder suggested. "Maybe that will help you feel better."
"Okay," she agreed.
Having the bathroom on the other end of the apartment was a hassle but it gave Ginny a chance to set up her personals and toiletries in the bathroom before she undressed and turned on the shower in the old tub.
Wilder did the dishes and tided up the place while Ginny was occupied in the bathroom. Luckily, he kept the place fairly clean but it was a dump compared to the lifestyle Ginny was used to. The building was built in the 1920s and Uncle Everett hadn't updated the place much over the years. Neither had Wilder except for the cable and internet.
Wilder printed out all the meeting lists in the area - there was at least one AA or NA meeting every day of the week in the various towns of Blue County so that would be good for Ginny. She was relieved when Wilder handed her the list when she was done in the bathroom. She was showered and refreshed although she was wearing the same clothes.
"Feeling better?" Wilder asked hopefully.
"Yes," she admitted with a smile.
Wilder took her for a ride so she could get used to the area. He had a thirty year old pick up truck with a faded "Everett's Clock Repair" painted on the side. He pointed out all the local places – Johnny C's Diner, Fontaine's Family Grocery Store, Hillsboro Pizza, Panther's Gym, Serguci's Italian Family Restaurant.
"Everything's within walking distance," Ginny realized. "That makes it easier."
He drove across the bridge to Greenville to show her that larger town and then they headed north to beautiful Sun Rise Lake before heading back to Hillsboro, crossing the bridge over the Blue River.
"This is a nice place," Ginny decided.
"It is," Wilder agreed. "I like it here."
He parked the pick up on the side of the clock repair shop.
"Can we take a walk?" Ginny asked. "I feel like stretching and getting some air."
"Sure," he agreed.
They strolled around the downtown area looking like a happy couple enjoying their time together but Ginny was a nervous wreck. She saw Duffy's Tavern and two liquor stores during the walk and she knew how easy it would be to have a drink if she so desired or needed.
Wilder told her that Johnny C's was the best diner around and Ginny agreed to have dinner there. If felt a little strange to be out in public in plain sight with her former co-star whom she hadn't seen in twenty years and not be recognized by anybody. Flinder Ferris disappeared long ago and Wilder didn't look anything like he did as a teenager. His face was masked by his neatly trimmed brown beard, his matching hair was to his shoulders, and he was at least twenty pounds lighter than Puffer Morgan had been when Maizey went off the air.
Pepper Armstrong never left the news even though she hadn't made a movie in a long time. She had been arrested, gone to jail (twice), was implicated in a drug overdose of a friend, and had been in the supermarket tabloids nearly every week for years.
Only an intervention by a progressive and sympathetic judge prevented Pepper from going to jail for a third time. She avoided a potential five year sentence for various parole and probation violations by agreeing to another rehab stint, this time at the Recovery in the Pines Rehabilitation Retreat.
Pepper's previous rehab stints had failed but Ginny felt differently this time and she hoped she had finally found the will and the way to stay clean and sober. Avoiding Hollywood and her former lifestyle was the best way to try to achieve that goal and that's why she was sitting in Johnny C's Diner in Hillsboro, about as far removed from what she was used to as she could get.
Ginny's wore a ball cap and sun glasses (even inside) and her hair was in a plain style. She had forgone her usual make up, wardrobe choices, and accessories so nobody was going to easily recognize her and nobody in Hillsboro would think that America's most troubled former teenage television star would end up in Blue County anyway. But she was nervous just the same. Nervous that she wouldn't maintain her sobriety. Afraid that something would go wrong and her life would fall apart once again.
The waitress came to their table with menus. "Hey Thor," she said to Wilder. "How's it going?" She was a tall blond with wide eyes and thin legs.
"Everything's great, Shirley," Wilder replied happily, looking as cool as a cucumber. "This is my friend Ginny," he added, motioning to Ginny across from him. "She's going to be visiting for a while."
"Welcome to Hillsboro!" Shirley said with a smile as she put the menus on the table. "I hope you enjoy your stay."
"A friend of yours?" Ginny asked with interest when Shirley left.
"I'm a regular here," Wilder explained. "This is one of those places where everybody's family."
"Family," Ginny sighed sadly.
"Your mother was portrayed quite badly in the press," Wilder noted.
"The parasites," Ginny grumbled. "I'm fair game as a celebrity but going after her was disgusting, especially when she's no longer here to defend herself. They portray her as some sort of Mommy Dearest whack job when all she wanted was for me to be a success."
"Maybe she got you started in the business too young," Wilder noted.
"Hey, I was fine when she had me under her control," Ginny argued. "My agent is the one who got me independent status to manage my own career. Worse thing I ever did."
"Do you ever see your Dad?" Wilder asked.
"He just can't deal with it," Ginny sighed sadly. "I don't blame him. He's remarried and has his own family, liv ing in Minnesota. I never saw him after the divorce anyway."
Shelia returned to the table and Ginny and Wilder placed their orders - Salisbury steak for him, a bowl of clam chowder and a side salad for her along with a lemonade.
"How did my mother get involved in all of this?" Wilder needed to know.
"She came to see me at the Pines," Ginny revealed. "Shocked the shit out of me. I hadn't seen her since Maizey went off the air."
"She was in New York until about a month ago doing a play," Wilder said.
"Yeah, she told me," Ginny replied. "Anyway, she said you lived in the area and maybe I should just hide out with you when I got out. She didn't think going back to LA would be good for me."
"She's right," Wilder said.
"Sorry about your Dad," Ginny offered with sincerity. "Sallyanne told me."
"We weren't all that close," Wilder replied with a shrug. "He'd been sick for a while. I saw him a few months before he died."
"I can't figure out why Sallyanne would want to put me back in your life after all these years," Ginny said as she examined Wilder across the table. "She knows I'm bad news. She knows you're taking a chance. What if I mess up while I'm here? What if people find out who I am and then your cover gets blown too?"
"Don't worry about it," Wilder replied. "She just wants you to have a chance to make it and she thinks hiding out here is your best bet."
"Why you?" Ginny asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Maybe because I knew you back before all the bad stuff started happening," Wilder theorized. "And that I way always one of the good guys."
"That you were," Ginny agreed with a nostalgic smile.
Shelia came with their meals and Ginny – out of habit – looked away, fearing at any moment she would be recognized. Shelia didn't seem to notice as she left the food.
"You don't have to be paranoid, Ginny," Wilder told her. "This is Small Town, USA. Pepper Armstrong isn't on anybody's radar screen."
Ginny smiled sheepishly. "Are you saying I'm no longer relevant?" She teased.
"You are to me," Wilder replied. "But you can let go of all the other crap. Forget about Pepper Armstrong and concentrate on Ginny McPearson."
"I guess I'm not as famous as I thought I was," Ginny pouted.
"Trust me, right now that's a good thing," Wilder told her.
"You're right," she realized. "I need to be serious about getting better and not worrying about the other stuff."
"You're in the right place for that."
"I can't remember the last time I wasn't a celebrity," Ginny smirked.
"I was there when it started," Wilder said with fond remembrance.
"Yes you were," she said with warm appreciation. "Having another kid on the set from day one made it so much easier. I'm glad it was you."
"But then I had to go and ruin my life," she sighed
"You have a chance to make it right now."
"Do I?" she asked, her forehead furrowed. "The record will always be out there. That fucking unauthorized sex video. Those horrible movies." She shuddered at the thought.
"You can't change the past," Wilder told her. "Everybody has regrets. Everybody wishes they had do overs. But what's done is done. You make amends when you can and you move on. I know this is the hardest thing you've ever done."
"It will never be fucking easy!" she groaned. Then she blushed. "I'm sorry for the language," she said, glancing around with embarrassment. "There was a lot of 'open' talking in rehab. I never realized that women can be more vulgar than men!"
"Who's handling your money and all that while you're recovering?"
"I made your mom my rep payee," Ginny revealed. "She can manage my affairs for me and send me a stipend here – if that's okay with you."
"Yes, sounds fine," Wilder answered.
"I can trust her, right?"
"She did fine by me," Wilder answered. "She took ten percent until I turned eighteen and then she charged me rent until I left. She invested the rest of it well so I don't have to worry about how many clocks I fix each month."
"That's good," Ginny said with relief. "But how come you're living in your Uncle's place? You can afford something nicer, right?"
"I don't mind this lifestyle," Wilder replied. "If it was good enough for Uncle Everett, it's good enough for me!"
"I made half of those horrible movies for the money," Ginny confessed. "I got an extra half mil for showing my tits and ass."
"It was never about the money for me," Wilder rebutted. "I made more on six seasons of Maizey than I'll make for the rest of my life probably but it's only money."
"And money can't buy happiness," Ginny said sarcastically.
"Not usually," Wilder agreed.
Ginny let out a loud sigh. "If I knew how hard recovery was going to be I never would have started drinking and drugging in the first place," she said.
"It's hard to avoid in our line of work," Wilder reasoned.
"You did," Ginny told him quietly. "I guess you were stronger than me."
"I didn't make it big like you," Wilder replied. "There was a lot of pressure on you. You were a teenaged star. You had hit singles. You were in constant demand. You were out there in the limelight 24/7 but you were just a kid. It was easy to be seduced and lose perspective."
"I'm a fucking addict and drunk," Ginny sighed. "That's a horrible perspective."
"You're getting help," Wilder said.
Ginny fought back her tears. "But is it too late?"
"It's never too late," Wilder insisted. "As long as you choose recovery."
"If only it was that easy," Ginny sighed. "You don't know what it's like to have this disease."
"You're getting help," he repeated with emphasis.
"Fuck, Wilder!" Then she remembered where she was and dipped her head. "Sorry," she mumbled.
"Is there a meeting tonight anywhere?" Wilder asked.
She pulled the meeting list out of her shorts pocket. "AA at St. St. Stanislaus Kostka Church," she said.
"That's the Polish church," Wilder told her. "It's not far from the shop. I'll walk you there and wait for you outside."
"It's a two hour meeting, Wilder."
"I'll bring a book," he replied.
"You don't have to do this."
"I'm your sober companion, remember?" He grinned.
Ginny blinked back tears. "I don't deserve you."
"Sure you do," he said.
They finished their meals. Wilder left an impressive tip and he walked Ginny from the busy and noisy diner. They went to the apartment where Ginny nervously changed into a modest sun dress with a hat to help conceal her face. Wilder grabbed the paperback he was reading and he walked Ginny up a hill and then onto a side street that led up another hill to the polish church, an older brick building that overlooked the south part of town. It was a warm and sunny summer evening, a nice night to be out.
"There's about fifteen minutes before the meeting starts," Ginny said, taking a seat on a bench in front of the church.
"Do you want me to go inside with you?" Wilder asked as he took a seat next to her.
"No, anonymous is supposed to mean something, Wilder," Ginny sighed. "Don't worry, I'll be okay."
"Well, I'll be right here," Wilder told her.
"You know, going into these halls is harder than getting naked on the movie sets," Ginny said. "There's a difference between being nude with no clothes and being vulnerably laid bare and exposed having to admit to faults and reveal shameful truths about yourself in front of a room full of strangers."
"Think of it as cleansing your soul," Wilder advised.
"My first relapse after my first rehab was because I couldn't deal with the truths of the program," Ginny sighed. "Who wants to admit they're a total fuck up?"
"You're not a total fuck up now, Ginny," Wilder reminded her.
She smiled bravely and stood. "Wish me luck," she said nervously.
"You'll be fine," Wilder told her.
He watched as Ginny walked down the side walk to the entrance to the undercroft. A few other people went in too but Wilder buried his nose in the book so he wouldn't have to risk recognizing anybody.
It had been a strange day. He had no idea who Ginny was when he first saw her outside the shop but as soon as she said Pepper he had instant recognition and all the years fell away. His time on My Sister Maizey was the happiest of his life. Riding the wave of a successful television series that made him a familiar face was exciting but Pepper Armstrong is what made the experience wonderful for him. She was the one person who found her way into his soul. It didn't seem possible that Pepper Armstrong, the young actress who portrayed American's favorite teen Maizey Morgan was by his side again all these years later.
It was an honor to play the role of Puffer Morgan for those six seasons. Although the show was about Maizey it was Puffer who provided the voice-over narration as the brother offering his perspective about his sister's life (hence the title 'My Sister Maizey'). The characters were only twelve years old when the series started and as the sleeper hit series took off Pepper Armstrong became a young star seen as a fresh and unique talent.
Six seasons seemed long enough and the show ended with Maizey graduating from high school and leaving for college.
A year of soul (and acting job) searching after the show went off the air was enough for Wilder and he decided that following in his mother's professional footsteps was not the life for him. Hillsboro and Uncle Everett proved to an interesting alternative and Wilder watched from afar as Pepper's professional and personal life slowly turned into a freak show train wreck.
It was dark by the time the meeting ended but the church parking lot was well lit and Wilder had little trouble spotting Ginny as she came out of the church basement with a few other people. She looked more relaxed than she had when she went in.
"Hey," Ginny said when she reached Wilder who was standing by the bench watching her approach.
"Feel better?" He asked.
She smiled. "Sure."
"People okay in there?"
"Everybody has a story, Wilder," she said. She motioned for him to start walking with her. "I take it this is the kind of town where everybody knows everybody."
"Sort of," Wilder admitted. "I mean, sometimes it feels that way."
"So what are you going to tell people about me?"
"I really don't have to tell them anything, do I?" Wilder replied.
"Well, we can't tell them the truth, can we?" Ginny reminded him. "Maybe we should develop a back story just so we're both on the same page."
"Okay," he agreed. "How 'bout we used to be high school sweethearts? We went our separate ways and now you're in town to get over a failed love affair."
"Why would I come here?"
"Because I'm a nice guy?" Wilder asked with a shrug. "You never got over me?"
Ginny laughed. "We could just be brother and sister again," she suggested.
"We could," Wilder agreed with a sigh.
"Part of my recovery after care program is to avoid sex until I'm emotionally ready to be with someone again," she said, taking his arm in hers. "Maybe you should play my brother."
"I'll do whatever you ask me to do, Ginny," Wilder vowed.
They returned to the apartment and stood in the kitchen.
"There's still a bed in the back room," Wilder told her. "I can sleep back there."
"I don't want to put you out, Wilder," Ginny said. "This is your place. The bed in the bedroom seems big enough for two."
"You don't mind sleeping with your brother?" he asked.
"Only if he trusts his sister," she replied.
He did, of course, which is why they lived as brother and sister, sharing the same bed in the same apartment. Ginny attended her meetings, found a therapist, and basically hung out in the apartment still afraid she might be recognized by some astute fan. The more she appeared in the local public and was repeatedly seen by the same people the better the chance she might be recognized. Ginny didn't worry about being found out at her meetings because she knew she would always be anonymous in those halls even if she used her stage name but she worried about Johnny C's and other places where she might be vulnerable.
Wilder gave Ginny the space she needed. He drove her to meetings in other towns when she needed to get to one. He took her to different places that didn't have a lot of people around. She liked the public beach at Sun Rise Lake and taking walks along the paths by the Blue River. Wilder enjoyed watching amateur baseball games at Hillsboro's Beano Field and Ginny accompanied him on the occasional evening to take in a game, wearing ball caps and sun hats to help mask her face.
Wilder was patient and understanding. He respected her privacy. She was modest around the apartment and all they did in bed was sleep although when Ginny was feeling particularly troubled or raw after a bad day in her therapy session or at a meeting Wilder would hold her and let her cry herself to sleep.
Wilder fixed the clocks and watches and he occasionally went out with the few friends he made in Hillsboro over the years, usually to watch a ballgame on television at The Bullpen Tavern or to play a round of golf. He worried about leaving Ginny home alone but knew he couldn't be with her 24/7. Ginny made a few women friends at her meetings and occasionally she would meet them for coffee. Wilder and Ginny went with the old sweethearts turned 'just friends' as their cover story, fearing the brother-sister rouse might be just a bit too weird.
Weeks passed and Wilder got used to the new routine his recovering house mate brought but he worried that Ginny was isolating too much.
"You don't have to hide, you know," he told her one evening when she turned down an offer to go to the movies. "You have a right to live your life." He was sitting on the couch and she was at the computer reading literature on recovery.
"I don't like going to the movies," she explained. "Makes me realize how much I lost. Makes me sad."
"Aren't you starting to get cabin fever?" He asked.
"I'm just doing what I need to do to take care of myself," Ginny said. "I'm not moping or sulking. There's a method to my madness." She turned and looked at him. "Are you getting bored with me, Wilder?"
"Of course not," he smirked.
"I don't mean to be a pain in the ass," Ginny sighed. "Thanks for tolerating my weirdness. I don't know what I'd be doing if it wasn't for you."
"You're doing all the work," he replied. "I just hope you feel comfortable here."
"I do," she said. "You've made me feel right at home."
Ginny was beginning to feel as though she actually belonged in Hillsboro. It was a quaint small town, laid back and easy going and it was the first time since hitting it big that Ginny felt like she was living a normal life. She was beginning to understand why Wilder had left the fake world of LaLa land and had made a new life for himself here.
They were going to bed one night when Wilder asked Ginny if she had told her therapist the truth about her identity.
"Of course," Ginny replied as she flipped through the pages of the magazine she was reading as she sat on the bed. "How could I not? She wants me to figure out the real me and what I want to do with the rest of my life."
"Any ideas?" Wilder wondered as he lay flat on his back on the bed, glancing at her.
"I wouldn't be in therapy if I had a few!" She groaned.
"You could enroll at Green College or Blue County Community College," Wilder suggested. "That might help you decide on some sort of program or degree."
"Bonnie wants me to write Pepper Amstrong's biography."
"My therapist," Ginny explained. "She thinks it might help me figure out why I did some of the things I did."
"Maybe that wouldn't be such a bad idea," Wilder said, giving it some though. "Therapeutic and cathartic. And then you could publish it and make a whole bunch of money!"
"Oh, I could never do that!" Ginny said with a frown.
"Why not?" Wilder asked. "Everybody else made money off you. Maybe it's your turn."
Ginny considered his idea for a few minutes. "I could have your mom send all my stuff out here. My journals. My press stuff. All the photos."
"You could give Pepper Armstrong the redemption she deserves," Wilder said.
"I think Bonnie wants me to kill her off."
"No, she just wants you to free yourself from all the baggage and crap," Wilder countered.
Ginny glanced at Wilder who looked rather heroic laying next to her. They had been sharing a bed for weeks and he had been the perfect gentleman. Bonnie didn't like the idea but the longer the two slept together without having sex the better Bonnie felt about the arrangement.
This had been the longest stretch Ginny had gone without sex since that sleaze Maizey associate producer seduced her when she was seventeen. She didn't particularly trust many men especially after her ex lover sold that sex tape but Wilder was the wisest and nicest man she'd ever known.
"You sure you don't mind all this?" Ginny asked, giving him a look of pity more than anything else. She couldn't help but feel that she was taking advantage of the poor guy.
"How are you feeling?" Wilder wanted to know.
"I think I'm doing okay," she said.
"Then I'm okay with all this," Wilder smiled.
"This is the longest I've ever gone without failing." Ginny remarked with amazement as she pushed her hair out of her face.
"One day at a time," Wilder reminded her.
"I know," she said.
"You're doing everything you're supposed to be doing."
Ginny sucked in her breath. "I know. But I'm still scared."
"You're not alone," Wilder told her. "You have people who care about you and want you to succeed. You have people in those halls that know your pain and understand your fear. You're going to be okay."
"How come you have so much faith in me?" Ginny asked.
"I remember how confident you were when we first met," Wilder recalled. "We were surrounded by adults and veterans and people who knew what they were doing but you carried yourself as if you had been around forever."
"That was a long time ago, Wilder."
"But that conviction is still within you."
"I hope so," she sighed.
He patted her leg, "I believe in you."
"Thanks," she said with appreciation.
"So believe in yourself."
She held her hands up in a mock football cheer. "Rah Rah!"
The room became quiet as Ginny tried to focus on the magazine in her lap while Wilder rolled onto his side to study her. "When did you realize you were in trouble?" He asked quietly.
Ginny blinked as her eyes teared up, "When my mother died," she whispered.
"I'm sorry," he said gently. "She was always nice to me."
"She liked you," Ginny smiled warmly. "Always thought you were one of the good guys."
"I didn't hear about it until months later," Wilder sighed. "My mom was making a movie on location in Canada and missed the news."
"Anyway, even though we were at odds by then I was really lost without her," Ginny confessed. "I just didn't care anymore and I started to really get out of control and spiral downward. They threw me in rehab a few times and I went to jail but I still couldn't get my act together."
"Until this time."
"So far," she agreed.
"What was different this time?"
"I finally hit bottom," she confessed. "I admitted that I had a problem and that my life had become unmanageable. I should have died from a drunken drug overdose. My career was over. Nobody was going to hire me. Nobody wanted anything to do with me. I violated my parole and should have been thrown back in jail but a compassionate judge sentenced me to rehab again instead. She told me if I didn't get my act together she was going to lock me up and throw away the key. I had nothing left to lose and I finally accepted the help I had been fighting for years."
"I'm glad you did," Wilder said.
Ginny didn't know whether to laugh or cry. "It's very hard having to admit just how horrible and low I had become," she sighed. "The awful things I said and did. The terrible behaviors I displayed. The criminal things I did. The embarrassment and humiliation I caused. It's like I became this whole different person and there was nothing I could do about it."
"Well, you're getting reacquainted with the real person now," Wilder said.
"I hate it that you know this about me," she sighed. "You must be so disappointed."
"I'm proud of you, Ginny," Wilder assured her.
She stared at him with amazement not quite believing she had ended up at his place with him back in her life. "Good night, Wilder," Ginny said as she set her magazine down and turned off the bedside lamp.
"Good night," Wilder smiled contently, happy that the last image of the day was her pretty face.
Ginny began working on her therapeutic soul cleansing (auto) biography on Pepper Armstrong. She'd spend a few hours in the morning, and/or in the afternoon, or even in the evening around her meetings, therapy, and other commitments working on her project. Wilder would find her sitting at his computer typing away. Several thick envelopes arrived from Wilder's mom filled with newspaper and magazine articles, old fan mail, press releases, production notes and Pepper's personal journals that would help her with background information and jolt her memory about certain periods in her career.
It was easy to write about her early years. Ginny was pegged as a young talent and her mother took her on auditions in Chicago where she was cast in small roles in several John Hughes movies as well as local commercials. Her mother brought her to Los Angeles to audition for a supporting movie role (which she got) and they stayed in Hollywood in hopes of furthering her career. Ginny's Dad flew out on weekends and during vacations but the marriage eventually failed as Ginny's career continued to build.
"I felt mom was willing to sacrifice her husband and my father for a chance for me to make it in the industry," Ginny wrote.
Ginny became Pepper Armstrong and she was cast in several guest star television roles and commercials during the next several years before landing the role of Maizey Morgan on My Sister Maizey.
"It was the break my mother had been praying and hoping for," Ginny wrote. "Finally, I had a steady job and a weekly income."
Ginny's mother quit her job as a nanny and became Ginny's full time overseer. My Sister Maizey became a hit and Pepper Armstrong became a young television star. Flinder Ferris, meanwhile, son of character actress Sallyanne Zwicker, had a few television commercials to his credit and did a couple of walk ons with his mother on various shoots but auditioning for Maizey was his first serious attempt at landing a professional acting job. He was stunned when he got the part and he had more steady work than his mother during the series' six year run.
Ginny began peppering Wilder with questions about the show as she worked on the Maizey years. Wilder opened the bottom drawer of the desk and pulled out the full 150 episode DVD collection of My Sister Maizey complete with outtakes, interviews, and behind the scene looks at the series.
"Jesus, Wilder," Ginny said with surprise. "What are you doing with this?"
"It's like watching home movies," Wilder replied with a grin.
Ginny and Wilder spent nearly 75 hours watching the entire run with Ginny taking notes and Wilder sharing his memories of various episodes and shoots. It was terrific seeing all the guest stars that appeared on the show as well as the various unknowns who went on to enjoy successful careers of their own. It was great seeing Jocko Kelly again as well as veteran Actress Annie Ryan who played their mom on the show.
"She went back to Canada after the series and married some politician," Wilder recalled.
"I'm sure she wasn't happy with how I turned out," Ginny sighed. "She was always so serious about the business and she was constantly telling me how important it was to be a professional."
The half hour My Sister Maizey was known as a comedy drama. Some episodes were goofy and fun with the typical brother-sister rivalry between Maizey and Puffer as well as their Dad's comedic tendencies and their mom's flakey nature. Maizey and Puffer were always hatching some scheme and getting into funny mischief but there were also some more seriously-themed episodes that Ginny had forgotten about – teenaged suicide, teenage drinking, teenaged eating disorders and other socially relevant topics.
"You would have thought I would have learned from some of Maizey's own experiences," Ginny sighed.
There were some heartfelt episodes that had Ginny wiping tears away as they watched– the death of the family pet, the death of the grandmother, the death of a close friend, a couple of romances gone bad, a favorite teacher leaving and an episode Wilder had forgotten about when Puffer and Maizey get lost in the woods and bond as brother and sister like never before.
"The series holds up pretty well twenty six years later," Ginny said with pride.
They noted how Jocko Kelly's physical appearance deteriorated over the show's run as he battled health issues and they joked how Annie Ryan had a different hair style every season. It was also striking to see how they themselves changed from the pilot episode at barely twelve through the final farewell episode when they were eighteen. Pepper looked like she was twenty-six while Flinder had matured into a confident young man and a much better actor than when the series started.
It was the Christmas episode of the second season when Pepper Armstrong sang for the first time – two beautiful Christmas hymns that attracted the notice of music producers who were quick to pounce on the success of the television series and the popularity of Pepper Armstrong to launch her musical career with several videos and singles over the next four years.
Ginny considered herself an actress first but when the music aspect of her career took off she was happy to ride the wave especially with her mother wanting to fully exploit the opportunity. Ginny did a couple of music tours during the series hiatus and she enjoyed the thrill of performing in front of live audiences, meeting other musical artists, and developing a new talent.
Working on the Maizey era of her career for the writing project was emotionally uplifting and satisfying and Ginny found herself laughing out loud as she typed some of her warmest and happiest memories into the document. It helped having her co-star and friend Flinder Ferris right there with her and she quoted him several times in that section of her memoir which she was writing partly for therapeutic reasons but also with the idea of publishing it for the public to read.
The summer was waning and Ginny was surprised at how fast time had gone since her arrival in Hillsboro. She still suffered panic attacks and she still felt vulnerably raw after some of her therapy sessions but she was feeling more comfortable with her various twelve step meetings and the friends she made in the program. She didn't worry quite so much about being recognized as Pepper Armstrong. In fact, a few of her closest program friends had figured it out based on some of the sharing and revelations she made in various meetings but they honored her anonymity and respected her as Ginny, not caring so much about Pepper.
Wilder wanted to get in a few last games at Beano Field before the season ended and Ginny accompanied him to those games.
"They filmed a movie here a couple of years ago," Wilder told Ginny as they sat in the bleachers watching the game. "The Ballplayer with Quinn Blake."
"Wow," Ginny replied. "Turns out you couldn't escape Hollywood after all!"
"A lot of the Serguci League players, local fans and some of the college kids were extras in the film," Wilder said.
"You didn't want to be one?"
"No," Wilder replied. "I watched a couple of scenes being filmed on location around town though."
"Bring back old memories?" Ginny asked.
"Sure," Wilder admitted. "It was fun watching. Palmer is a former kid actor too so I was happy to see him making it as an adult actor."
"You mean he didn't go off the deep end like me?" Ginny asked with a sigh.
"You're not the only former child star to have troubles, Ginny," Wilder reminded her.
"Sometimes it feels like I am," she admitted.
"I very well could have too if I didn't get out," Wilder theorized. "Look, there's a long list of casualties when it comes to young actors who had a tough time making the adjustment so don't be so hard on yourself."
"I just need to get my shit together," she groaned.
"Have you given any thought to what you might want to do?" Wilder asked with raised eyebrows.
"Not really," she sighed.
"Well, right now you're a book writer," Wilder smiled.
"Not a very good one, I'm afraid," she sighed.
"Once you get the first draft done you can have somebody edit it and re-write it with you," Wilder said as he continued to watch the game in front of them.
"Like who?" She wondered.
"You can figure that out later," Wilder said easily. "Right now, just keep writing."
"It was fun writing all the Maizey stuff but now comes the hard part," Ginny admitted. "Coming clean about all my mistakes."
"You don't have to cop to everything," Wilder told her.
"Yes I do," she sighed. "That's the whole point of my recovery. But I'll tell you something, Wilder, I'm about to go where I've never gone before and that scares the hell out of me."
They stayed until the end of the game and then they walked to the apartment, stopping for a cone along the way since it was a nice late summer evening. When they got home, Ginny sat in front of the computer and stared at the screen trying to think of how to approach the next (post Maizey) chapter of the book. Wilder took a shower and when he came into the room Ginny glanced at him.
"Do you have my movies too?" she asked. "I haven't seen any of them in years."
He pointed to the same drawer that the Maizey DVDs were in. "They're in there."
She lifted her eyebrows while eyeing him. "Why do you have my movies, Wilder?"
He shrugged in awkwardness while she opened the drawer and saw the debris that was her post-Maizey career.
"Did you see the sex video too?" She demanded with a mixture of shame and anger.
"It doesn't matter," Wilder replied.
Ginny burst into tears and ran into the bedroom, throwing herself onto the bed in sobs. Wilder gave her a few minutes and then quietly followed, lying next to her on the bed and wrapping his arms around her waist. Her back was to him as she cried into a pillow with humiliation.
"It doesn't change who you are, Ginny," Wilder told her softly. "It doesn't change how I feel about you."
"I'll never be free of my fucked up past," she cried.
"So you learn to live with it," Wilder told her.
"I don't think I'll ever be able to do that," Ginny sobbed and Wilder held her until she fell asleep.
Ginny knew she had to keep writing to get her story onto paper (or at least onto the computer screen) in order to make it real and to own it. She had been letting Wilder read her draft as she wrote and he insisted that what she had written was a good read.
"You're biased," Ginny complained as she sat at the computer a few days later still struggling with how to continue her story.
"I'm objective," Wilder rebutted as he sat on the couch reading the last few pages of her manuscript. "Your writing is open and honest and real," Wilder said. "You're truthful about your mom without being mean or cruel. The reader feels the love. The reader is rooting for you."
"They're going to hate me when they read what comes next," she sighed.
"It's your story, Ginny," Wilder said. "Write it."
She sucked in her breath. "Even I don't want to read about it," she grumbled.
But Ginny started typing away on the keyboard that very day. She wrote about her continuing estrangement with her mother, mostly over money issues and career choices. She moved in with the hockey player and she was now in charge of her own finances which left her mother in an awkward situation.
"I actually told my mother to get a job," Ginny wrote with shame.
The actress started getting sucked in by the hockey player's "recreational drug use" and she found herself getting pulled deeper into the world of drugs and alcohol.
"I found it to be exciting and daring," she wrote.
The scripts Pepper Armstrong was getting were variations of the Maizey character with her hopelessly typecast and stereotyped as the perfect girl next door. It was for that reason that Pepper Armstrong signed on to play the stuck up mean girl Tracy in 'Shreddies' about college sorority girls bullying and abusing their pledges.
Tracy is a vicious, evil, spiteful bitch who takes great delight in humiliating the pledges, mostly with sexual initiations involving dildos, vibrators, whips, and other equipment. Tracy is about as far from Maizey as Pepper could get. What made the movie especially shocking is that most of the sorority sisters and pledges are naked in several scenes including Pepper Armstrong who strategically avoided full frontal nudity but still displayed her naked breasts and rear several times to shock the audience. One conservative group called the movie "a lesbian training film".
"I had to put Maizey Morgan behind me once and for all,' Ginny wrote. "Playing a despicable character and doing the nude scenes was the best way to go about it but I lost most of my fan base. Mothers of young teenagers wrote saying how disappointed and upset they were and the producers of Maizey were pissed off because they knew it would affect the syndication of the series in a negative way. But the truth was I simply didn't care."
Ginny spent several pages discussing the pressures of celebrity and role models - how society expects actors to be heroes and how they identify with characters seen on television "who aren't even real people." While she admitted she had been a positive role model as Maizey Morgan, Ginny argued that Pepper Armstrong had no such responsibility and that she had a right to live her life as she saw fit.
"It was my career. I was an actress. It was my job to play roles, not to be Maizey Morgan for the rest of my life."
Pepper fronted a punk rock band called Sheddies to cash in on the controversy of the movie, playing several venues in and around LA. Her punk rock image further eroded her sweet teen reputation and some of the songs Shreddies wrote and performed were down right vulgar and lewd.
"What did you think about all this?" Ginny asked Wilder as he read the draft of her Shreddies chapter.
"I felt horrible when I saw the movie," he admitted. "I didn't have a problem with the character because you actually did a very credible acting job but the movie itself is a piece of shit and the nudity was gratuitous and uncomfortable."
"For you," she shrugged.
"Maybe," he agreed. "But the grapes in the butt cracks and some of the other demeaning things done to the pledges made the nudity feel shameful and dirty, not sexy or fun. As for the role model stuff, I felt we had an obligation as public figures to be positive and good influences. People liked Puffer and I felt I had a responsibility to be likeable too."
"I guess I disappointed a lot of people including you," Ginny sighed.
Ginny and the hockey player went their separate ways after he was nabbed for drug possession and waived from the team. She hooked up with Dickie Ray Franklin who joined The Shreddies as singer and guitarist, bringing with him baggage of drug use and a bad boy image. Shreddies (the group) became an underground sensation and Pepper Armstrong was the new hip punk rocker.
Ginny didn't make a movie for nearly two years as she focused on her music but doing film work offered quick money in large amounts especially when she agreed to do nudity in exchange for a higher payout. Ginny signed to play the role of Judith in My Only Lover and this time the movie actually was a "lesbo flick' (as well as a psychological thriller). When Judith first appears on screen as a naïve college co-ed the audience probably had Maisey Morgan flashbacks as Pepper Armstrong looked like her old self playing a nice girl again but before long Judith is rolling naked in bed with Janel, a six foot African American athlete. The movie appears to be a lesbian love story until the audience realizes that Judith turns psychotic when Janel ends the relationship. Judith stalks Janel in a paranoid simmering jealous rage until she finally murders her former lover in an unexpectedly gruesome killing in a mall.
Pepper Armstrong's sexuality came into question after her first two movies and the lesbian love scenes in My Only Lover. Adding to the buzz, the actress playing Janel was a former Olympic athlete and her doing nudity was even more scandalous than the former Maizey Morgan's naked appearances.
"What'd you think of that movie?" Ginny asked Wilder as he read her draft for the chapter.
"The genre doesn't interest me but I thought as an actress you really nailed the role and made Judith believable," Wilder answered. 'That final scene with Judith talking to Janel's father in jail sent shivers down my spine."
"Everybody got so caught up in the lesbian stuff and nudity and the gory murder scene that they failed to appreciate the film as a psychological thriller," Ginny complained.
Ginny defended her choices in the roles she picked on the pages of that chapter.
"The two parts I took after Maizey allowed me to experiment and find my depths as an actress," she wrote. "I don't apologize for trying to find my range and explore new challenges in my work."
My Only Lover received some critical praise despite the many controversies it stirred and that gave Ginny satisfaction as an actress but her personal life began to overshadow her professional work. The tabloids reported that Pepper Armstrong had "kicked her own mother out of the house" and she was portrayed as a horrible daughter.
"I sold the house she was living in and I provided a nice condo for my mom," Ginny wrote in her book. "I hardly think that constitutes abuse of a parent."
But Pepper's mom gave several interviews expressing her "concern" for her daughter and revealing that the two were "estranged."
"My mom had a hard time adjusting to me becoming an adult," Ginny wrote. "She spent a dozen years micro-managing my life and now she had nothing to do. Change is difficult."
Pepper Armstrong was arrested (with Dickie Ray Franklin and two others) for cocaine possession. She escaped with a fine and probation. Not long after, Franklin got into a brawl with several fans who stormed the stage at a Sheddies concert. He was arrested for assault and Ginny didn't help her image when she was caught on camera kicking a guy in the head as he lay prone on the stage, already injured. Pepper faced a civil suit for her actions.
The band broke up soon after the brawl and the end of Pepper's relationship with Dickie soon followed.
"I was told I had a natural singing voice," Ginny wrote in her book. "I loved singing ballads and love songs and having fun with music. I don't know why I went the punk rock route other than it seemed like a good idea at the time."
With Shreddies over Pepper tried to launch a solo singing career but the few videos she released didn't do well. "I had burned my musical bridges," she wrote. "I had no audience. I was no longer a teen sensation and I wasn't legit as an adult."
Pepper signed on to star in Teacher's Pet, a risqué and critics argued distasteful film about a young teacher who seduces her sixteen year old student. The sex scenes were particularly graphic and Pepper Armstrong was seen in full frontal nudity for the first time on film.
"It's a movie about temptation, lust, and an uncontrollable illness," Ginny wrote. "I didn't realize it at the time but I was attracted to the story because there was something familiar about the addiction my character feels for her student. She threw away her career to be with this boy and I ended up behaving the same way in my own life when it came to uncontrollable urges."
The actor playing the student was twenty but he looked sixteen and Pepper Armstrong was accused of performing kiddie porn.
"It's a tough and uncomfortable subject," Ginny wrote. "But there were several real life incidents in the national news around that time and I thought it was an important theme to tackle."
"What did you think of the movie?" Ginny asked Wilder.
They were in bed together and he was reading that chapter of her draft.
"It's a guilty pleasure type of film," Wilder admitted. "You want to hate her for what she did but you can't help but feel sorry for her as they drag her off to jail and the kid goes off the deep end."
"Every guy wants to fuck his teacher?" She asked.
"Something like that," Wilder admitted sheepishly. "You made her vulnerable and sympathetic even if she was a total whack job."
"I got an extra 250 grand for showing my beaver bush," she sighed. "I thought it was important from the kid's POV."
Wilder didn't say anything as he slipped down under the sheets and turned his back to her. He didn't like the idea of everybody seeing her beaver bush.
"You're disappointed in me," she said quietly.
"Not now," he mumbled.
"It was hard to watch," he admitted.
"It's hard to watch now too," Ginny sighed as she turned out the light and lay down to go to sleep.
Wilder understood that actors took on roles for different reasons and that nude scenes were sometimes necessary to the story or the character's definition but that didn't make it any easier to watch Pepper Armstrong prance around naked on screen. Ginny had been living with him for months but she never dressed or undressed in front of him. She was modest in her presence in the apartment and Wilder respected her privacy and her recovery pledge of no sex but a part of him couldn't help but think that the only person in America Ginny didn't want seeing her naked was him. Wilder wondered if he was going to be her brother forever even in real life.
The next chapter Ginny needed to write was the darkest period of her life and she was hesitant to take it on. Wilder was having second thoughts about the whole book writing-as-therapy idea now that Ginny was getting into the real shit part of her downfall. He'd find her sitting at the computer sobbing or she'd go to bed early, too depressed to write. She went to extra meetings and a couple of emergency therapy sessions. Wilder got her out of the apartment and away from the computer for walks and rides and dinner. He could tell she was miserable writing down the truths of her addictions and behaviors ruining her career and her life and he felt sad for her. But it was her life.
After Teacher's Pet, Thorton Belanger gave up on Pepper Armstrong. He avoided the tabloid news and preferred to remember her as his sister, the sweet Maizey Morgan and his friend, the talented teenage actress Pepper Armstrong. The adult Pepper Armstrong was not someone Thorton was interested in knowing.
But now he was sitting in his Hillsboro apartment reading the pages of Pepper's miserably painful years every time Ginny sat down in front of the computer. It was excruciating to read yet the honesty and truthfulness of her accounting made it real and strangely uplifting. She came clean, made no excuses, and asked for no sympathy. Her ability to eventually find recovery - even if it took her years- was a testament to the strength and courage Flinder Ferris first saw when he met her at twelve.
Pepper Armstrong was arrested for drunken driving and resisting arrest. Her mother died in a freak home accident and Pepper was unmercifully crucified in the tabloids, accused of being involved in her mother's "suspicious" death even after the medical examiner announced the death was accidental and Pepper was a hundred miles away at the time of the death. Pepper never trusted the press or media again after its vicious treatment of her in the wake of her mother's tragedy.
Pepper served six months in jail after a second DWI and cocaine possession. Then Dickie Ray Dickhead (facing his own legal and financial problems) sold a homemade sex tape from several years earlier to scandalize, violate, humiliate and destroy what was left of Pepper Armstrong's career and reputation. In the 21 minute tape capturing Dickie and Pepper's most intimate moments, the camera watches as a naked (and clearly stoned) Pepper performs oral sex on Dickie followed by ten minutes of them fucking. The camera was left on auto zoom and several times it moved in to show Pepper's privates when Dickie's dick wasn't shoved in it. The release rivaled the famous Pamela Anderson-Tommy Lee sex tape and Pepper checked herself into a rehab, not so much to get clean and sober but to escape the worse of the scandal. She wrote in the chapter that she stopped trusting men after Dickie's unforgivable and inexcusable betrayal.
Pepper had signed to play the role of 1930s and 1940s singer actress Deanna Durbin who appeared in a number of musical films as the girl-next-door and a rival to Judy Garland. Later, she tried to take on more sophisticated roles with less success and she retired young, marrying and moving to France. The Dubin project was being produced by a front line major studio and would have given Pepper Armstrong her ticket back to the big leagues but she was fired from the film after the sex video revelation and her subsequent rehab stint and her career never recovered.
"Never put a camera in a bedroom no matter how drunk or high you are, how horny you are, or how much you think you want to fuck this guy," Ginny advised on her pages. "My ex's betrayal of our privacy haunts me to this day. Losing that movie destroyed me but I know now that it wasn't the producers' fault. They had every right and obligation to fire me. I was responsible for the choices I made. Nobody else."
Pepper was released from rehab but she didn't stay sober very long.
"I hadn't admitted that I had a problem," she wrote. "I was angry at everybody else except myself. I blamed everybody else for my plight in life. I went back to the same people I had been carousing with before I went in."
Pepper eventually ended up living in Italy with a director she met a couple of years earlier. She made a few Italian movies (credited as Annamarie Albano) that were never seen in America. When that relationship soured, she returned to the United States and landed a couple of meaningless supporting roles in forgettable low budget movies, although she swore off nudity after the sex tape scandal.
"Nobody legitimate was willing to hire me or give me a chance," Ginny wrote. "I was using and drinking, I didn't look so great, and I wasn't doing very good work."
The director of Teacher's Pet offered Pepper Armstrong a chance for redemption when he cast her in a supporting role in his big budgeted disaster movie but he was forced to fire her when she was repeatedly late for call, showing up either hung over or stoned. When she was arrested for yet another DWI and possession of a controlled substance, Ginny checked herself into another Rehab in exchange for a reduced jail sentence (she served three months in jail).
Pepper kicked cocaine but started using heroin and soon she had a new addiction of choice. She lived with an ex-cop who had been kicked off the force for stealing contraband drugs from the lockup and selling it on the street.
"Not only was he an addict, but he was abusive with post traumatic stress symptoms," Ginny shared. "He slapped me around pretty good."
She eventually got out of that dysfunctional relationship and she tried to resurrect her career by acting in regional theater but she couldn't keep a job there either. Either she was outright fired from a part or her contract wasn't renewed at the end of the run. Twice she was rushed to the hospital on accidental drug overdoses.
"I was drinking more, using everyday, and eating less and less," Ginny wrote. "I was a mess. I had finally hit bottom and I was suicidal, convinced my life was no longer worth living."
When Pepper bitch-slapped a local entertainment reporter who shoved a microphone in her face to ask her some insulting and degrading question, the actress faced another jail sentence but this time Sallyanne Carey intervened on Ginny's behalf and petitioned the court to send her to rehab.
"Your mother probably saved my life," Ginny told Wilder as he read her chapter from hell.
"I'm sorry you had to go through all this," Wilder said, holding up a few pages from her last chapter. "It had to be so awful for you."
"The next chapter is the redemption chapter," Ginny smiled. "It's all good."
"You didn't leave anything out of the bad part," Wilder remarked. "Your descriptions of jail, your experiences in rehab, and your truths about addiction and alcoholism is stunningly open and raw. You'd be doing a great service if you published your story."
Ginny sat in the computer chair staring at him on the couch. "I don't know if I'm that courageous," she admitted.
"If you don't answer the tabloids and other rumors, you take away your own voice," Wilder told her.
Wilder noticed Ginny smiling as she worked on the next chapter. The tone was completely different from the prior hell stuff when he read the pages - the voice was hopeful, positive, upbeat, grounded and realistic. Ginny filled the chapter with humor about her rehab experience and feel good stories about the wonderful people she met. She wrote about taking it one day at a time, gratitude, hanging around healthy people, staying away from Hollywood, and being real for the first time in a long time. She concluded the chapter (and Wilder assumed the book) with a Dorothy in Oz analogy, content on having survived the tornado to be able to see a whole new world.
"I'm glad you made it," Wilder said when he finished the last page.
"Well, for today anyway," Ginny replied. "Tomorrow hasn't happened yet."
Ginny was still on the computer during the next few days and Wilder assumed she was editing what she had already written but then she handed him what she said was the final chapter of the book. Wilder got a lump in his throat when he saw the title: Salt and Pepper. In it, Ginny paid homage to "the only real friend I ever really had" - Flinder Ferris, the young actor who played her brother and became her brother and friend, keeping her company through "the happiest period of my life." She wrote that it wasn't surprising that she got in trouble once Flinder left her life but now - as she managed her life one day at a time - it was her long time friend Flinder Ferris who was by her side once again helping her navigate the trials and tribulations of recovery.
"For those faithful fans of My Sister Maizey, you'll be happy to know that Maizey and Puffer live on together and so do Pepper and Flinder - under anonymous names in a magical little town where life is good and second chances happen."
And that was how she ended her book. Wilder was moved and he didn't know what to say in response.
"Thank you, Wilder," Ginny said as she turned off the computer and left the desk after spending months in front of the machine. "Thanks for letting me stay, and giving me the space I needed and the time required to process everything I needed to think about and feel and do to finally get to a place where I feel comfortable enough not to go find a drink or a fix." She sat on the couch next to him and smiled. "I couldn't have done it without you."
"I've been happy to help," he said bravely, feeling guilty for resenting her all this time. "And it's been nice to have you here."
"Just like the old days," she smiled, resting her head on his shoulder. "You're the only guy I've ever trusted."
"What are brothers for?" he asked, trying to sound cheerful and upbeat.
She lifted her head off his shoulder and stared at him. "You're not really my brother, Wilder," she said softly. "You know that, right?"
He looked into her eyes but he didn't say anything. He wanted to kiss her but he pulled her into him and hugged her instead. "I knew that," he confirmed in a whisper.
Ginny gave her completed manuscript to Bonnie who, upon reading it, told Ginny that she had "written the book" on recovery. It made Ginny feel good about her efforts and she decided to go for it when Wilder told her that Gary Davis, one of the writer's from My Sister Maizey, would bring the project to a publisher friend of his. Sally Anne had acted as the intermediary between Wilder and Davis. Ginny was nervous about going public with her story but she agreed with Wilder's point that she had a right to rebut the falsehoods and tabloid trash that had been written about her over the years.
The publisher (through Sally Anne) sent back suggestions and editing revisions and Ginny smoothed those areas up and returned the final manuscript. Then she tried to get back to her normal routine of meetings, therapy, volunteering at a local half-way house for abused women, working out, and hanging around with women strong and experienced in their recovery. It seemed that there was always program women hanging around the apartment and that was okay with Wilder who wanted Ginny to be with people who were going to keep her safe.
Things hadn't changed much between Wilder and Ginny. Neither was quite sure about the boundaries and rules between them. They continued to share the bed, kissed each other goodnight and exchanged hugs several times a day but Ginny was still in her sexual time out phase in her recovery and Wilder was still trying to figure out if he was brother, friend, or lover-in-waiting. He understood that Ginny wasn't ready and that she had been through hell, becoming damaged goods. She was taking it slow for a reason and Wilder respected her recovery pace and process.
Tina was one of Ginny's recovery friends and the only one to blow Ginny (and Wilder's) anonymity. She was visiting one afternoon and said to Wilder "I had a crush on Puffer."
The remark was innocent and typical of a fan that grew up watching My Sister Maizey but it had been twenty years since Wilder had been complimented for his television work or identified from his character and that caught him off guard.
Tina, a woman their age, slightly overweight but cheerful and polite, realized as soon as she made the comment that she had screwed up and violated program protocol by sharing something she heard in the twelve step halls (That Wilder was Flinder Ferris and Ginny was Pepper Armstrong).
"Oh," she said with embarrassment, covering her mouth with her hand. "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to say that."
"It's okay," a gracious Wilder replied. "I trust you won't spread it around."
"Oh no, of course not," Tina said, red faced. "But please understand that I was a miserable and lonely teenager and Puffer Morgan was a guy who made me laugh and feel better about myself."
"I liked having that kind of influence on people who watched the show," Wilder replied. "So, thanks."
"Thank you," Tina said with all sincerity. "You guys made a difference in my life."
That's what made it worth it for Wilder. He liked being part of something special and touching people in a positive way.
The publisher knew it had a potential top seller with Pepper Armstrong's autobiography and the final edited draft was rushed to print, giving Gary Davis a "with" credit on the front cover. The publisher wanted Pepper Armstrong to promote the book and do a book tour but Ginny didn't want to blow her anonymity or risk getting back on the roller coaster of the business. Sally Anne agreed to be the surrogate promoter (it would give her plenty of free publicity and television time) and the book became an instant hit, soaring to the top of the seller list and creating quite the buzz.
Professionals in the recovery business said it was a honest accounting of a life of addiction, reviewers loved the humor and inside look at the business, and fans were thrilled and relieved to read that Pepper Armstrong was alive and doing well even if she insisted her Hollywood career was over. Most seemed willing to forgive her for her past mistakes and wished her well in her new life.
It was Sally Anne's idea to have Ellen call Pepper when Sally Anne was taping Ellen's show promoting the book. Pepper chatted for a few minutes and a few weeks later she and Flinder drove to the local national public radio station in Springdale and taped an hour radio interview for Terry Gross' Fresh Air show. It was fun being behind the mike together talking in depth about their time on My Sister Maizey and being back together now that Pepper was sober. It was also a good way to promote the book while maintaining their Hillsboro anonymity and guarding Ginny's recovery. They did several telephone radio interviews from the safety and privacy of their home.
It was weird to see the book (Recovery in the Pines: The Pepper Armstrong Story) in the window of Johnson's Book Store in downtown Hillsboro. Wilder took Ginny out to Serguci's Italian Family Restaurant to celebrate the book's success and good reviews. Although the book didn't include any photographs of Pepper after her final stage appearance and none of Flinder Ferris after My Sister Maizey, Ginny was still afraid that she might be recognized in Hillsboro because of all the recent coverage of the book, including Sally Anne's many appearances on television that included photos of Pepper Armstrong throughout her career.
The dinner was nice and nobody stopped by the table asking for an autograph which allowed Wilder to tease Ginny and when they got home Ginny kissed Wilder on the cheek.
"Thanks for a lovely night," she said with sincerity as they stood in the kitchen.
Wilder took her hand in his and kissed her on the lips. "You're welcome."
Ginny blushed and excused herself to use the bathroom. Wilder smiled with contentment as he headed for the bedroom to get ready for bed. By the time Ginny finished in the bathroom, Wilder had fallen asleep on the bed. Ginny stood in the door frame for a long time watching him sleep. She couldn't believe he had stayed with her this long without asking for sex. She couldn't believe she had lasted this long without giving sex. Ironically, however, her present relationship with Wilder was the most normal she'd ever had. Commitment. Trust. Communication. Give and take. Respect. Humility. Honesty. Patience. Understanding.
What was she afraid of? She had been clean and sober for a long time but she was still confused and afraid. Afraid she'd fall off the wagon. Afraid she'd make a mistake. Afraid Wilder would reject her. Confused because she realized she had fallen in love with her television brother and real life best friend.
The book was a runaway success and Gary Davis wanted to buy the movie rights to Ginny's story. Money was pouring into Ginny's bank account (managed by Sally Anne) and that made Ginny nervous.
"There's a lot of temptation in green," she worried.
"Don't think about it," Wilder advised.
"What are we doing here?" She asked, glancing around the small and outdated apartment Uncle Everett left behind.
"We're living our lives," Wilder said. "We could buy one of those old Victorians up on the Hilltop if you wanted," he told her as they sat on the couch looking at her latest bank statement. "Or one of those new four hundred thousand dollar houses down by the Blue River. I know it's the natural Hollywood temptation. But if we stay here and leave the money in the bank we're still just two regular people living simple lives."
"You don't mind that?" She asked.
"I hope you don't either."
"I need it for my recovery," she admitted.
"Good," Wilder smiled.
"I just hope I don't fuck it up," she groaned. "You know what my track record has been like."
"Cut yourself some slack," Wilder advised. "You've been doing great since you got here." He pulled Ginny close to him. "You've got recovery," he reminded her. "Everything will be okay."
"God, I hope so," Ginny mumbled into his chest.
More than a year had passed since Ginny first came to Hillsboro. She remained clean, sober, and chaste, she did meetings every day and therapy once a week. She was taking an on-line college course toward her bachelor's in counseling and she continued to volunteer at the half-way house. She drove Wilder's pick up truck to some of her meetings when Wilder wasn't available to help out. He suggested they buy her a nice used car but Ginny said she liked the truck just fine.
Another Serguci League season was winding down as the summer waned. Ginny accompanied Wilder to several games and she was becoming a knowledgeable fan. Wilder was happy that Ginny was maintaining her abstinence from drugs and alcohol but part of him wondered if she had sworn off sex forever too. Would she always be his sister? They continued to get along fabulously in all aspects of their relationship except for that one not so small detail that was beginning to weigh on him. He was an adult with urges and needs and he couldn't keep masturbating in the shower to relieve his sexual frustrations forever. He didn't want to "cheat" on Ginny with another woman but part of him wondered if that would be cheating on her at all if they weren't having sex in the first place.
Ginny came home from a women's meeting pumped up from the topic and what had been shared. Wilder was lying in bed reading a magazine and he listened as an excited Ginny talked about the epiphany she had listening to the meeting topic being discussed. Normally, Ginny would modestly dress behind the closet door or in the bathroom but on this night she started to disrobe in front of Wilder as if this had been common practice since the day she moved in. She kept on talking with passion and emotion as she stripped naked, turning her back to him to fish out her pajamas from the dresser drawer. The naked Ginny turned and faced Wilder holding the clothing in her hands and then she changed her mind, tossed them on the floor and slipped under the sheet, cuddling close to Wilder who felt nervous and awkward all of a sudden. She had actually gotten naked in front of him after all this time.
"It's not that I haven't been interested, Wilder," Ginny told him. "I wasn't purposely rejecting you. It's just that I can't remember the last time I had sex sober and I was freaked out just thinking about it given everything that happened to me."
"I understand," Wilder replied with a surprising amount of sympathy.
"I was so afraid that I'd never be able to carry on a meaningful sexual relationship again," she sighed. "It's been something I've been working on for a long time in recovery." She looked at him. "Did you know that sexuality is one of the rawest areas of a recovering woman's shredded self-esteem?"
"No," Wilder confessed.
"Sexual issues can be particularly damaging to self-worth," Ginny told him. "My sexual escapades didn't bother me when I was stoned and drunk but I'd wake up with overwhelming feelings of guilt and disgust so I'd drink more to numb my feelings. There was a lot of shame especially after that fuckhead sold that sex tape."
"Try not to think about it," Wilder advised.
"How can I not?" She groaned. "Here I am trying to preserve my sobriety and my sanity by reshaping my habits and transforming my attitudes but how can someone like you love me knowing everything I've done? Knowing that tape is out there on the internet forever?"
"I don't care about any of that," Wilder told her - and it was true - now.
"I desperately want to be more than a warm body in bed beside you, Wilder," Ginny told him. "But sex is only good when both people are enjoying it."
"You don't think you'll enjoy it again?"
"It's the only thing left that could make me fall off the wagon," Ginny confessed as tears fell from her eyes.
Wilder rolled onto his side and hugged her. "Remember who you were and how you felt before all this started," he said. "You've been building back your confidence and self-image. You're solid in your recovery. You just got naked in front of me."
"That's because I was so caught up in the idea of being sexual again after tonight's meeting that I forgot about all my fears," she revealed. "Emotionally, I'm still in a million pieces."
"You can't run away from sex forever, Ginny, unless you're planning on joining a convent."
"Maybe that wouldn't be such a bad idea," she sighed.
"There's more to sexuality than just sex," Wilder said. Then he got an amused, playful look on his face. "Come on," he said, grabbing her by the hand and gently pulling her from under the covers.
"Let me put something on first," she pleaded.
"You won't need to," he replied, pulling her naked through the living room and kitchen and into the bathroom.
Ginny grabbed and towel and held it in front of her while Wilder started running the bath. He was surprised she was suddenly so modest again and he felt a little guilty for exposing her. He dumped in some bubble bath and bath oils and he let some candles and turned on some soft music on the radio by the sink.
"Get in," he said with a smile when the water was hot and deep enough.
Ginny smirked and handed him the towel before climbing into the suds and slowly slipping into the bubbles. Wilder sat on the toilet seat and watched her enjoying herself. She had her eyes closed and her head pushed back and there was a tranquil smile on her face.
"This is nice," she said happily, peace in her voice. Then she opened her eyes. "You should join me."
It was an invitation he had fantasized about forever but never thought he'd hear. He stood and pulled the tee shirt he was wearing off and then slipped out of his shorts before carefully stepping naked into the tub. Ginny turned and laid her back against his chest. Wilder wrapped his arms around her waist and they sat like that for a very long time, enjoying the warm suds, the scented candles and the soft music.
"Bonnie says I'll rediscover sex as a bridge to intimacy, satisfaction, and a strong self-image now that I've spent so much time working on myself," Ginny said.
"That makes sense to me," Wilder offered. "But only when you're ready."
"And with the right man," Ginny said.
"Hopefully, you'll find him," Wilder said softly.
"I already have," she whispered.
When the suds began to disappear and the candles burned down, they let the drain out and watched the water level drop. When the tub was empty they stood and turned the shower on to wash away the soap film and the water oil. When they were done, they stepped out of the tub and dried off. Wrapping themselves in towels, they returned to the bedroom, tossed aside the towels and slipped under the sheets of the bed.
Lying on their sides facing each other, they gently kissed and cuddled and held each other.
They didn't make love that night but Wilder knew that it was only a matter of time before they did and that was all he needed to know. Everything was going to be okay because recovery and love were both a process and a marathon and the winners were those who stayed hopeful and confident in the race, jumped the hurdles, and kept on going until they reached the finish line.