Amy's Smile Ch. 08byjfinn©
It took three days to identify the problem and ten minutes to fix it. The hospital was happy, my company was relieved-the people who'd been raised from the dead were thrilled. Me, I just wanted to go home.
I'd done my damnedest to find a way to reach Amy, but it was a bust. I'd tried the Internet listings, information, I even broke down and called home to see if I could get Liam to ask her for the number and call me back. He wasn't home and the twelve messages I left on the machine didn't seem to clue him in that I wanted him to phone me back.
I didn't like that fact-not at all. My imagination went into overdrive about why my asshole roommate couldn't find the time to pick up the phone. I even dreamed about it: Liam and Amy in some big vat of chocolate and him licking her...
I don't want to get into it.
But it was only three days, right. I mean, what could happen? It wasn't even the weekend; that had to be in my favor. They both had jobs after all and Liam couldn't exactly call his boss and say, "Hey dude, I know I'm supposed to be dating your daughter, but this chick I know has morphed into this really hot babe so I'm going to call in sick for a few days so I can fuck her senseless. Tell Barbarella hi."
Anyway, I'd said goodbye to the fair city of Roswell and was winging my way home. I could hardly sit in my seat I was that anxious to get back to Chicago. When we finally got our first glimpse of the Windy City, I was so thrilled I damn near cried. Home at last.
Well sort of. At least I got to the baggage check, before I heard my name over the loudspeaker.
It was Clem. There had been a meeting.
I hate it when people have a meeting. It always ends up that whoever's missing gets the shaft and since I'm the schmuck who's always seeing the world via every little dumbshit town in America the Beautiful-that would be me.
This was no exception. My bosses had decided that rather than gamble that what had happened in New Mexico was a fluke (Which is what some of our greedier brethren were insisting.) this time they'd listen to the voice of doom-better known as Clem-and try and fix things before history repeated itself.
So now I was supposed to go to some of the other garden spots that represented our bread and butter and set things right before they went oh so wrong. Even as we spoke there was ticket waiting for me at the counter for Minoc, North Dakota.
I'm an adult-sort of-and I had to admit it did seem like the thing to do. A couple more stunts like this with the homicidal program and we wouldn't even have the backwater market let alone have to worry about expansion into towns where there were more people than cows. It would be disastrous for the company, to say nothing about what it would do to my current employment status. As a mature individual, I could see this and realized that whining about it would not be productive.
Okay, I whined, but hell, it was just Clem.
So, I went to Minoc. From there to Freedom, Oklahoma, then Needles, California. After that I didn't bother looking at the names, I just grabbed the ticket some counter girl handed me and looked for the gate. The sales guys had been busy. They managed to palm off more of these systems then I'd realized. I ended up in eleven towns in as many days and that didn't include the weekend I was stuck in Dumas, Mississippi. Three guesses what my pet nickname for it was.
Thank god once I got someplace it never took very long to fix the problem, but the getting there was something else again. It was the whole planes, trains and automobiles experience with a few Greyhound Buses thrown in for good measure.
This was rotten on so many levels I won't even go into it. I mean, I really hate washing out my underwear in the sink with nothing but hotel shampoo so it dries stiff as a board. But the worst was I had a ton of time left to think about how much I missed Amy. Well, how much I missed her, loved her, was totally unworthy of her and was probably at that very moment, losing her to that asshole, Liam.
I was not in a good mood.
Finally, I was finished. If people died in one of those towns, they were going to stay dead. I bumped wearily out of my seat on a plane that was twice the size of every other plane I'd been in lately and schlepped my way out to the baggage area. Then I stopped as I saw something that made my blood run cold.
Leroy Sykes obviously had survivor skills I hadn't given him credit for because he backed up when he saw the look on my face. Too bad he didn't have eyes in the back of his head though 'cause he blew his escape when he tripped over some luggage.
Stuff I hadn't brought with me on my supposed few days out of town. What the fuck was he doing with freshly packed bags? And if I killed him and stuffed his body in a dumpster, would anyone believe me when I said I hadn't seen him at the airport? "Okay, this wasn't my idea!"
"No." I went over to the carousel and waited for my duffel. Lee schlepped after me, tripping over his perpetually untied shoelaces.
"No? Whadya mean no? You don't even know what I was going to say."
I shrugged. "Doesn't matter, it obviously isn't something I want to hear or you wouldn't have started out that way. So the answer is no."
"Aw, come on Charlie, don't be like this. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't important."
"You wouldn't be here if you hadn't picked the short straw."
From the look on his face, I'd scored a hit. "Yeah, well, some people cheat." He jammed his hands in his pockets and sighed.
Dammit, I hated it when he got that kicked puppy look. I mean this guy was already a poster boy for losers anonymous-when he added the, don't kick me look he ratcheted up his pathetic ratio into the six digits.
"Okay," I sighed and capitulated with as little grace as possible. "What's the bad news?"
"It's not that bad, honest," he handed me a plane ticket.
I was afraid to look, but I did anyway. "Fergus Falls, Minnesota?"
"Yeah, it's a clinic, real normal shit this time. The office manager took a course, Code Writing for Illiterates or sumpthin and thought that made him the new K Thompson. He decided to enhance our system and completely crashed the fucker. Now they want you out there to see if it's salvageable. Shouldn't take more than a day or two."
"Uh huh," I narrowed my eyes. "And what if it's toast?"
Leroy shrugged and looked down at the ground. "Let us know and we'll ship you whatever you need."
Which translated to, if the system was beyond repair then I was going to have to start from scratch and install brand new software and no doubt hardware to support it. Then it probably wouldn't work like the old shit and I'd have to teach it to everyone, including the idiot who ruined the old one. This didn't sound like a day or two to me. Hell, the way things were going by the time I got back Amy would not only have jumped in the sack with Liam, she'd be married to him and having his kid.
I was still mulling over how long I could eat if I quit right then, when Leroy said something that brought me back to reality.
"I almost forgot," he said. "When I went to your house for the clothes there was a girl there. She said to give you this." He handed me a note.
Charlie, Liam said you'd called for my phone number. It's 555-2356 at home and 444-1245 at work. Call me if you want and get a chance. I miss you, Amy
I read it twice before I allowed myself to believe it. Then I read it again.
She missed me.
I grinned like a sap and had to restrain myself from picking up Leroy and hugging him. He saw my expression and backed up again.
"Are you okay?" He asked suspiciously.
"I'm great!" I laughed out loud and he took another step away.
"Uh huh," he didn't sound convinced, "Well, you need to get to your gate."
"Right, no problem."
Leroy started to look worried, "Are you sure you're alright?"
I took a good look at the weedy goatee, straggly ponytail, and the line of zits that circled his neck like a pus filled necklace and thought a face couldn't get much worse. Then there were his clothes. Black high tops he probably rolled a bum for, black jeans that sagged at the knees and ass, and a Grateful Dead T that had probably been his dad's in the sixties.
"Lee?" I said finally. "Do you still have that thing for Rambo?"
My good mood lasted for an hour and fifty-three minutes. That's how long it took me to make eight phone calls to Amy's house before I remembered it was still a school day for most people and she'd be at work. Since I had that number too, I made the next obvious call.
No, sorry, Amy Pierson was not in. No, she wasn't expected either. Then being a representative of a bank that prided itself on its open, friendly policy, the bitch at the other end hung up.
Now there were lots of very good reasons why Amy wasn't at home or work. I was sure of it. The problem was, I couldn't think of any. I couldn't think of anything but Amy, Liam, and that vat of chocolate.
In the rush of excitement that'd followed Lee giving me the note, I'd sort of skipped over the fact that he'd seen Amy at my house. I wasn't skipping anymore. There was only one reason I could think of for Amy to be there on a Thursday morning and it wasn't because it was laundry day. Just to pour salt in the wound, I picked up the phone and dialed another number.
No, Liam Caderette was not in. No, they didn't expect him to be in the rest of the week.
This time I did the hanging up.
I would have continued my masochistic tendencies and called home at that point, but we were landing and had to refrain from using all mechanical devises. I wondered if that included pitching the phone through the goddamn window, but managed to refrain from finding out-just.
We hit terra firma uneventfully and I was planning on finally learning the awful truth, but when I got off the plane there was a scared looking little guy in a pair of tiger print scrubs waving a sign with my name. I went over reluctantly and introduced myself. He returned the favor. His name was Arnie Pederson and it didn't take a genius to realize this was the office manager with delusions of Bill Joy running through his head. Now his dick was in a wringer and he knew it. I was his one chance to maintain active employment and it was obvious that nothing would be too much for me to ask of him.
Normally this is a situation I have no problem taking advantage of. Steak dinners and really good scotch figure heavily into my criteria for how to make me grateful. But at that point, it was all I could do to keep from circling his neck with my hands. He was after all the reason I was 600 miles away from the woman I thought should be voted most desirable on the planet.
I did let him run over to the Alamo desk and hurry up the paperwork for the subcompact my company thought was appropriate to my status, but then I pulled out my cell and forgot the little guy even existed. I punched in my home number and waited, half expecting to get the machine again.
It was not the machine. I was so surprised to hear the dumb jock voice of Liam that I didn't speak for a moment.
"Hey, pervert. Either talk to me or I'm hanging the fuck up."
"Duuude! What up man? Where the hell are ya?" Apparently, Liam had forgotten about the fight the last time we'd actually been in the same room together, but then, when you're an asshole and a moron it's hard to retain details.
"Um, some airport. What the hell are you doing home?" I wanted to add with Amy, but I restrained myself.
"Huh? I mean, if you didn't know I was home why are you calling here?"
"No, I knew you were..." I had a feeling this was not the way to go about this conversation. "I called your work. They said you were off."
I waited. Liam just breathed into the phone.
Okay, try again. "Why aren't you at work?"
"Oh, yeah, cause Bambi and me were supposed to go skiing for a long weekend at Boyne."
A long weekend? Christ, it was only Tuesday. Still it sounded promising. If he was 300 miles away, it wasn't likely he'd be putting the moves on Amy. I started to relax.
"But she cancelled; said she didn't feel like it after all." I stopped relaxing. "So I took the today off anyway. I'm taking her out to dinner tonight though."
"Great, happy for you." Like I gave a shit about Liam's love life except as it pertained to one little brunette. "Is Amy there?"
"Nah, she was here earlier, but she left. Hey dude, have you seen that chick lately?"
"Yes," I struggled to get the words out between gritted teeth. "I've seen her."
"Damn! Who'da thought she'd clean up so good you know? I mean she's kinda like totally cute now. Definitely do-able, if you know what I mean."
I was talking to a dead man. He just didn't know it yet.
"Where-is-she?" I hissed.
A slow, painful death.
"How the hell would I know, dude? You know how she is, she comes; she goes..."
Lots of torture. I wondered where I could buy thumbscrews.
"Look," I finally managed to spit out as I watched Arnie Pederson wrap up his business at the car counter and start to sidle cautiously toward me. "Here's the place I'm staying. If you see Amy, tell her to get in touch with me."
I gave him the name of the motel and hoped to god he was actually writing it down instead of just waving his finger in the air and doing that pretend thing like I'd seen him do dozens of times when he didn't give a fuck about what the person on the other end of the phone was saying. Arnie had finally finished creeping up to me and I was just saying goodbye when Liam stopped me.
"Duuude! I almost forgot. You got a phone call today, from somebody. They left a message."
"Um, just a minute, Amy talked to them and she put the note somewhere..." I could hear rustling and then a crash and the shattering of glass. "Oh Fuck!"
"Oh, uh nothing."
"Here it is." Liam took a deep breath like he was going to start reciting the Gettysburg Address. "Charlie, your mom called. She wants to know if you'll be home for your birthday. Give her a call so she can make plans. Thanks, Amy. Dude is it your birthday?"
I thought about it a minute. "Yeah, Friday."
"Cool. So you gonna be home so we can celebrate?"
Like celebrating anything with Liam was ever going to be on my list of to-dos. But there was no way in hell I was going to be stuck in Minnesota either. "I'll be home."
"Great, see ya then duuude." Liam hung up.
I stood there staring off into space until Arnie cleared his throat apologetically. "What?" It came out a little more forceful then I'd planned.
Arnie grinned a sickly grin and handed me some keys. I barely batted an eyelash when he told me he'd upgraded it to a brand new Land Rover Freelander because the roads around there could be kind of tricky in the snow. I guess he'd been hoping for a little gratitude, but all I could think about was Liam and the new, improved, do-able Amy. I glared at Arnie.
I think that's when he started to stutter.
After going to my motel and getting checked in, I followed his Vee Dub over to the clinic and took a quick look at the equipment. Fucked was the only word that came to mind. I was determined though and I rolled up my sleeves and started to try and pull off a miracle. Not that I gave a shit about the clinic or the moron that was about to loose his job. I just wanted to get back to Chicago and try to figure out how I could make Liam disappear permanently. Arnie took one look at my expression and vanished into an office. The only time I heard from him again was when he asked me what I liked on my pizza.
I worked on that fucking system until 3AM and I'd have worked longer, but Arnie finally came out of his hiding place and pleaded with me to go to my hotel and get some sleep. Of course, this wasn't altruism, it was exhaustion, he couldn't leave until I did. But he was right. I could barely keep my eyes open. Besides, it was hopeless. I was going to have to break down, call Lee, and tell him to send out the new stuff.
I finally made it back to my motel and collapsed onto the bed. I never even made it under the covers before I was gone. I guess that was one good thing about being wiped, my brain couldn't function enough to think about Amy.
I forgot another thing too and this one woke me up out of dead sleep, heart pounding, and a really sick feeling deep down in the pit of my stomach. I hadn't called my mother back.
My mom has this thing about birthdays. She loves them. When I was a kid this was a perk, but by the time you're my age sitting around the dining room table with a miniature plastic fireman's hat perched on your head and your entire family blowing noisemakers and spit at you gets a little old.
The problem was Mom liked to relive her youth by making her kids to look like idiots. And it wasn't easy getting out of her idea of celebrating in style. I'd been trying for years and the only time I'd managed was the year I came down with mono in college. Even then, I'd been afraid she'd show up and give my frat brothers enough ammunition to nail my ass for the rest of my life.
This was not paranoia on my part. My eighteenth birthday, she surprised me with a party where she invited half the kids in my class and most of the football team. There we all were, jammed into the back yard drinking Vernor's floats watching a blindfolded Todd Monzma beating the shit out of a piñata shaped like a leprechaun because I'd been accepted the week before to Notre Dame. The only reason she hadn't hired a clown to make balloon animals was because my dad took pity on me and told her he wouldn't pay for it.
At least this year I'd have a legitimate excuse to blow her off. Even she couldn't expect me to truck up to Milwaukee the same day I got back from a trip. Well, she could expect it, but she probably wouldn't throw the usual snit like she always did when I tried my annual weaseling out of the cake and ice cream routine. Amy had probably even already softened the blow, when she'd told her I was away.
Then it hit me. Amy had talked to my mother. Double shit! I sat straight up in bed and looked around for a paper bag to ward off the panic attack I could feel coming on.
I love my mom. Really. She's one of the best I've ever heard of and if she could learn to shut up when a game's on and quit asking stupid questions about why that tackle was being so mean to the quarterback she'd be damn near perfect. Except for this one tiny thing. Deep in her heart she believes that the only way I was ever going to find a wife was if she helps.
She's been helping since I was about thirteen.
It started innocently enough. She'd see a girl she thought was cute and point her out to me. Most of the time she was dead wrong, but it wasn't hurting anything so what the hell. Then she branched out. She'd wait until we right on top of the bowser and then say-right out loud-Oh Charlie, isn't she pretty! The first time she did this, I almost pissed my pants.
I took to staying as far away from my mother as possible, but that just added a new wrinkle. I'd be in aisle five safely perusing the merits of Fruity Pebbles against those of Count Chocula thinking I'd lost her at the lunchmeat display, when suddenly there she'd be, waving at me to come over and meet the nice girl-and we all know what nice translates to-she'd picked up in fruits and vegetables.
At that point, I remember begging her to not do that again. I should have known better. It just egged her on. Now she acted like it was her true mission because, as she told all the women at her tennis club, My youngest, Charlie, is so shy around girls. Uh huh, and who made me that way, I wonder. And it didn't help that I'd spent most of teenaged years as the 90 pound weakly that couldn't possible compete with all my testosterone overloaded and more developed peers, a fact my mother never seemed to notice.