The Missing Magical Ingredient
Wayne Casey was watching the Sunday afternoon football game on the couch of his small messy apartment when the doorbell rang. His friends barged in as they if on a television sitcom so he was surprised to hear the semi-unfamiliar sound as he left the couch and made his way to the front door.
It took him a moment to recognize Doreen Preston who was standing on his front step looking at him sheepishly.
"Holy shit," Wayne remarked.
"Nice to see you too, Case," she said, rolling her eyes.
He fell into an awkward hug and then stepped back. "I had no idea you were around," he said.
"I've been back for a couple of months," she reported. "I'm staying with my Mom." She looked past him. "Can I come in? I'm freezing my ass out here."
"Of course, come in," Wayne said, stepping back. "Excuse the mess."
She looked much better than the last time he saw her – about five years ago at her father's funeral – and that was the first time he had seen her in the previous five years. She looked horrible that day – her purple hair chopped in a butch cut, a nose ring and eyebrow ring, punk clothes, weighing about 95 pounds and death warmed over – and not just because she was at her father's funeral.
Now she was looking like the girl he knew and cherished back "before" – her hair returned to its crimson shade of red, her body weight back up to about 120 pounds, her skin with color to it, and her eyes with depth to them.
"You look like you used to," Wayne observed as Doreen took a seat on his spring-shot couch.
She laughed. "You mean before I became a crack-head alcoholic freak?"
Wayne blushed as he took a seat next to her. "You look good," he clarified. "Healthy."
"Normal?" She teased.
"You look like you," he said diplomatically.
"I'm trying to feel like me too."
"How'd you know where I lived?"
"Snocker told me," she said. "I ran into him at Fontaine's the other day." She glanced around. "So, you left The Hill."
"Can't live with your parents forever," he said. "I've been here a couple of years, after Gwen and I broke up."
"Jesus, Gwen," Doreen said, shaking her head. "She still has a stick stuck up her ass?"
"Pretty much," Wayne confirmed. "She's working for the old man in the prescription drug marketing field. She doesn't think there's a future for me working Security at Green College."
"She meant a future for her – with you," Doreen remarked.
"Yeah," Wayne sighed.
"You're better off without her, Case," Doreen decided. "She's much too pampered and self-centered for you."
"Yeah," he repeated.
"Ironic that I'm the one back up on The Hill, huh?" She teased.
"Things going okay with your mom?"
"She wants to trust me," Doreen shrugged. "She wants to believe I'll stay clean and sober. That I'm going to be okay. But she'll always have doubt."
"Ah, it's the price I pay for being a drunk and an addict," she said, waving her hand in a dismissive fashion. "She thought I was going to go off the deep end when I broke up with Jeremiah."
"Not Jeremiah Stenson," Wayne said with surprise.
"The one and only," Doreen laughed. "We reconnected a couple of years ago after I got out of rehab the third time."
"He's a lawyer or something, right?"
"Big Boston firm," Doreen confirmed. "That's where I've been."
"Wow," Wayne said. "You okay coming back to Hillsboro?"
"It was time to shake the etcho-sketch again," she explained.
"Are you doing anything?"
"Taking some classes at Blue County Community College," she revealed. "That's keeping me occupied and distracted."
"Good for you."
"I'll figure it out from there."
"I know you will," Wayne said with confidence.
"So," Doreen said, pulling two tickets out of the inside of the blazer she was wearing. "I've got two tickets for Monday Night Football tomorrow night. Ravens-Patriots at Gillette. Good seats in the middle mezzanine. Got these with Jeremiah this summer." She gave Wayne a smirk. "Want to go? The storm is supposed to be over well before kick off."
"Jeremiah didn't want the tickets?"
"I didn't give him a choice," she smiled. "It will be just like the old days, Case."
"If you wouldn't mind."
"Sure, sounds fun," Wayne replied. "Thanks for thinking of me."
"Who else would I think of when it came to Patriot games?"
"My father gave up his season tickets a while back," Wayne revealed. "I haven't been to a game in a while."
"Well, here's your chance to relive the good old days," she smiled.
"Pick me up at my mother's house around four tomorrow, okay?"
"Sure," Wayne agreed.
Doreen stood and Wayne did too. She laughed and gave him a happy hug which he gladly accepted. "God, it's great to see you again, Case," she said. "I've really missed you."
"It's great seeing you too, Doreen."
"I've got a 4:00 Women's Group," she said, glancing at the clock on the wall. "I should get going."
"Okay," he said, walking her to the door. "Take Care," he said, opening the door.
"I'm trying,' she smiled, giving him a wave as she stepped through the doorway and out into the cold December New England air.
Wayne stood on the step of his small brick façade apartment that was attached to the front of an older house and watched Doreen climb into a late model Audi parked at the curve. Wayne hadn't expected to see Doreen again but now that she was back in town looking him up, he wondered if there was hope for them after all this time, all the soap opera drama, and all the lost chances.
They had never been lovers. Good friends and neighbors in the upscale neighborhood of the Hilltop, with their well off parents friends as well. Doreen's Dad was a respected and popular surgeon and her mother the daughter of an affluent New York family. They lived in a large attractive brick house and they took expensive vacations. Doreen's mom was active in the Blue County social scene and her Dad walked on water but Wayne was aware that the man was physically and emotionally abusive to his children behind closed doors.
Doreen preferred hanging around Wayne's "more normal" house three doors down the street. Mr. Casey was a professor at Green College and Wayne's mom worked her way up at the Greenville Savings Bank but they were down to earth and 'relatable" according to Doreen.
Wayne's Dad often took Doreen with them to the Patriot games as a season ticket holder and Wayne loved those early years before Doreen started getting into trouble and turning into an unlikable asshole.
Doreen was acting out by high school, dating the wrong guys, doing the wrong things, and burning too many bridges to count. Wayne hung tough as long as he could, often coming to Doreen's rescue during her high school misadventures but when he became aware of her drug pushing and other criminal activities he began to distance himself from her crazy new lifestyle.
Doreen ran away several times and she got arrested for drug possession with intent to sell. She left home for good before high school graduation and Wayne lost touch with her until she showed up for her father's funeral.
But Wayne couldn't identify with the messed up strung out young woman he saw that day and he made no effort to reconnect with her (she brought some suspect looking dude with her anyway). And now here she was, back in town and perhaps back in his life and he wasn't sure what to make of any of it. She sounded good. She looked good. But it had been fifteen years since they were close and Wayne wasn't sure if he had the resolve to try again with his long ago friend given her track record history.