Act of Necessity
Chapter 5: A Change in Plans
I was moving along fairly well with my correspondence studies. I had selected a number of courses that would help me gain a business degree. There was nothing that would advance my studies in psychology, so I gave up trying. I did take out some books on the subject on my weekly visit to the library. The topic still intrigued me.
It was nearing the end of November when I got a surprise visitor. It was a Wednesday evening and I was busy doing my studies when the doorbell rang. I assumed it was someone soliciting for charity or something similar when I got up to answer it. I opened the door to find my sister, Darlene, standing there. Beside her were two suitcases. This was something I had not expected.
"Darlene? This is a surprise. Come in," I managed, helping her with her luggage.
"Thank you, Dal. I'm sorry to bother you, but I need your help," she said in a strained voice.
I looked more carefully at her now that we were in the light and could see the dark shadows under her eyes and her gaunt appearance. This was not the same woman I remembered from just three years ago. She looked much older than her thirty years.
"What's wrong, Darlene? How can I help?"
"I need a place to stay. I've left Robert. He ... he was drinking ... and ... he started hitting me," she sobbed.
I moved to her and held her in my arms, hoping to calm her.
"Your room is still just as you left it. Why don't I put your things in there? You can stay as long as you want."
"Thank you, Dal. I was hoping I could count on you. I used just about every last dime I had to get out here. I don't think he'll follow me. I don't think he'd know where to look."
She dabbed at her eyes as the tears began to recede and gave me a wrinkled, tired smile.
"You must be exhausted. Come on, let's get you settled in your room. Have a bath or a shower. We can talk in the morning when you're rested."
She nodded and smiled her thanks. Despite the fact that we were never close, she was family, and I pushed the past away and thought about what I could do for her.
I went back to my studies while Darlene was in the bathroom. I heard the shower running, so I knew she had taken my advice. I leaned back in my chair and for the moment, I felt good. I was the nuisance younger brother who regularly messed up her social plans. Now, I was able to help her. Yeah, that did feel good.
I was up early the next morning and called the restaurant to let them know I would be a little late getting to work. That was unusual for me, so I got a couple of questions about whether I was feeling all right or if there was a problem. I gave the assistant manager a generic answer; I had an unexpected house guest.
By the time I'd put on a pot of coffee and pulled together my usual cereal and fruit breakfast, Darlene had put in an appearance. She looked a bit better, although the stress and dark areas under her eyes were still apparent.
"Did you sleep all right?" I asked.
"Yes, thank you Dal. It was the best sleep I've had in a long time."
She came to me and put her arms around my neck and kissed my cheek.
"Thank you for taking me in, Dal. I don't what I would have done otherwise."
"Why don't you get some breakfast and we can talk," I suggested.
She went about preparing her food without even thinking about were things were. I hadn't changed any of the layout in the kitchen since our parents were killed and she was right at home once again.
"The house looks good, Dal. It's clean and tidy and pretty much the same as it was a few years ago."
"I haven't had to change anything. I don't use the master bedroom. I gave away almost all their clothes to the Salvation Army and the thrift shop. I've left everything else as it was."
"You've been living here by yourself for almost three years. What have you been doing?"
"Uhhm, going to school, studying for a business degree by correspondence and working during the day." I decided not to tell her about my two stolen years at UBC.
"Where do you work?"
"I'm managing a restaurant in South Vancouver."
"You're the manager!" she said in surprise.
"Yeah ... I started out at another location as the night shift manager, then got promoted.
"Wow ... that's pretty young to be a manager. Is it a small restaurant?"
I shook my head. "No, we seat over one hundred when it's full. It's a twenty-four hour operation. The company owns four of them in the Lower Mainland."
She smiled. "My little brother has really grown up and is making his way in the world."
"I've been lucky. I met the right people at the right time. The company is even paying for my education."
"Oh, that's great, Dal. I'm so happy for you. I'll have to get busy and find a job myself. I don't want to sponge off you."
"Let's worry about that when you get settled. You don't look good, Darlene. You need to get yourself back to where you were the last time I saw you. You aren't ready to go to work yet."
"I don't want to be a burden to you, Dal. If I'm going to stay here, then I want to pay my way. I can't do that without a job."
"Aside from a bit of food, you aren't costing me anything to live here. There'll be time enough to decide what to do in the future when you have your health back ... both physical and mental."
I could see she was about to argue once more, but stopped and smiled her thanks.
"Tell me about Robert. What happened? The last time I saw you, everything was fine."
"No ... it wasn't. He's always had a problem with alcohol. He just hid it better than most. But when he lost his job, he went downhill in a hurry. I had to go to work to pay the rent. Even though we were struggling to make ends meet, he was still drinking. We sold my car to get some cash to pay the bills, but that didn't last long. He started blaming me for his problems.
"I could tolerate it for a while, but he became more verbally abusive, then one night, he was drunk as usual, and he hit me. Hard. In the face. I ended up with a black eye and a bruised cheek. He never even apologized. That's when I knew we weren't going to make. I started squirreling away money, hoping to get away. When I had enough for a discount ticket to Vancouver, I left. This was the only place I could think of to go."
"This is the right place for you," I assured her. "You're safe here. You can recover and get on with the rest of your life. You're still young. You have lots of time to find the right guy."
"What about you, Dal? Do you have a girlfriend?"
"Yes. And she's a beauty. You'll meet her. I think you'll really like her too."
"Are you serious about her?"
"Yes. I think ... when I've got my education and decide what I want to do for a career, that's she'll be the one."
"What's her name?"
"How did you meet her?"
"At the restaurant. She recognized me from school. She gave me her number and I called her. We've been seeing each other since summer."
"That's nice. I'm glad for you, Dal. You've got your head on straight, unlike your idiot sister."
"Don't be too hard on yourself, Darlene. I think getting away from Robert Shelton is the smartest thing you could do. He isn't going to change from what I hear you saying. You aren't going to reform him. It's best to make a clean break and go on with your own life."
"When did you become the old philosopher," she laughed. It was good to see her laugh. That alone made her look younger. As far as my response, I just shrugged.
I called Francesca and filled her in on the events of the past day. She was pleased that I had invited Darlene to stay in my home.
"You did exactly the right thing, Dal. She needs help and that's what family is for. I'm looking forward to meeting her on Friday."
"Yeah ... well ... that might interfere with our usual Friday fun," I suggested.
"Is that all you think about ... having sex?"
I could tell she was just jabbing me and not upset.
"When I'm around you or thinking about you, it's the first thing on my mind."
"And all this time I thought it was my sparkling personality," she mocked.
"You have no idea just how sparkling your personality is when we make love," I shot back.
"We'll figure something out, Dal. For now, let's just help your sister get back on her feet."
"Yeah. That's the plan for sure."
When I brought Francesca to my home, I could see the look of surprise when Darlene first saw her. I'm sure she was wondering how I got involved with a woman as beautiful as her. She hid it well, though.
"Hi, Darlene, I'm Francesca. Nice to meet you," my girlfriend said brightly.
"And it's nice to meet you too, Francesca. I think you are the first girlfriend of my brother that I've ever met."
"Hopefully, I'm the last one too," Francesca grinned, looking at me.
"Oh ... so it's serious then?" Darlene asked, looking back and forth at the two of us.
"Yes," we said in unison, before laughing about the quick answer.
"I think my brother is a very lucky man," my sister said with a wistful look.
I had given Francesca a brief idea of why Darlene was here and that she would be staying as long as she needed to. I knew that my lady completely supported my decision.