tagNovels and NovellasThe Wanderings of Amy Ch. 14

The Wanderings of Amy Ch. 14

bycaligula97236©

Chapter 14 - Wendy's Ghosts

People are full of surprises, as Amy was about to learn. The person you think you know the best, your closest friend, your family member, your lover, can conceal any number of dark secrets from you. It is human nature that all of us have our failings. It is human nature that each of us tries to conceal those failings from those closest to us, from those who we love the most. It is the fear of judgment, of rejection, over those failings drives people to do strange things in their lives. Often the person you think most perfect is the one who is the one most deeply in trouble.

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The week of Spring Break Amy felt more at peace in her life than she had ever felt before. A new relationship, good grades in her classes, financial security, excellent health, the beauty of springtime, the promise of summer, the love of her friends; the world seemed to open up to her in a way it never had previously. The happiness of her life showed in Amy's face. Long gone was the sad expression in her eyes that had so captivated Suzanne's camera a year ago.

On the warm, sunny afternoon on the last day of Spring Break Suzanne followed Amy around the university and took a series of portraits. The Spring sunlight reflected in Amy's eyes and smile. Amy was the perfect picture of beauty and contentment. The focus of Suzanne's photos of Amy changed from an emphasis of the underlying pain to a feeling of joy with life. It was the first series of portraits taken by Suzanne that did not have a sense of sadness in the images. Suzanne reflected that it had been exactly a year since she had held Amy in her arms to help her get past her flashback of Courtney's death. What a change in her friend!

The illusion of perfection in Amy's life could not last. Amy was about to be shocked out of her complacency and face yet another crisis from the person she least expected, from her friend Wendy.

The night after Suzanne took the university portraits, Amy decided to go over her term paper for Burnside's Theory of Economic Development class one last time. The paper was due the next day, the first Monday of classes after the break. She had read and re-read the paper, trying to put herself in Burnside's head, looking for defects. Most certainly the defects were there, but with every revision they were fewer. Finally Amy set the draft aside. Whatever its deficiencies, she had to print up the final copy and go to bed. Burnside would rip it apart with red ink, and Amy had to accept that fact. She had done her best. She hit the print button on Suzanne's computer.

Just then phone rang. Amy looked at the message machine. It read "Atlantic City, NJ - Fast-Mart Gas # 364". At first Amy decided not to pick up. Who would call from Atlantic City? Five minutes later the phone rang again. Again Amy read "Atlantic City, NJ - Fast-Mart Gas # 364" This time Amy picked up. There was nothing on the other end for a few seconds except the sounds of traffic. Suddenly she heard a sob from Wendy's voice.

"Wendy?" Amy listened to another sob. "Wendy, is that you? What are you doing in Atlantic City?" There was silence on the other end. Amy realized that something bad had happened to Wendy, something really bad.

"Wendy, talk to me! Are you OK?"

"No!" Wendy sobbed again.

"Are you hurt?"

"No!"

Amy paused. "Wendy, can you get back to Chicago?"

"No!"

"Wendy, I need something else out of you besides 'no'. Why can't you come back?"

"I'm broke!" Suddenly Wendy broke into a series of sobs.

Amy paused, wondering what to do next. Finally she realized that she needed to find out where Wendy was staying. "Wendy, do you have a place to stay?"

"No!"

"Can you see a motel from where you are?"

"...There's a Jackpot Inn..."

"Go there. Call me from the front desk. I'll put a room for you on my credit card."

Wendy cried again.

"Wendy, did you hear me? Go to the Jackpot Inn. Call me from the front desk."

Amy hung up, waiting for the second call from Wendy. Suzanne came into the living room and reached for the phone to make a call.

"Suzanne, you got to wait. Wendy's in Atlantic City. She'll call in a minute."

"What's she doing there?!"

"I don't know. All I know is that she's broke. I got to get her a motel room."

Suzanne looked at Amy, processing the information. Suzanne's expression suddenly became very serious. "Oh my God!"

The phone rang again before Amy had a chance to say anything further to Suzanne. Wendy seemed incoherent. Finally Amy asked her to pass the phone to the desk clerk.

Amy gave the clerk her credit card number to book Wendy for two nights. Wendy got back on to ask if Amy could wire her some money. Amy started to make arrangements when Suzanne suddenly grabbed the phone out of her hand. She shocked Amy by sharply admonishing Wendy.

"Look, Wendy, you're not getting any money! Amy will be out there to pick you up as soon as she can book a flight! But no money! Put the clerk back on!"

There was a pause. Amy thought she could hear Wendy crying again. "I said no! No more money!"

Suzanne talked to the clerk. "Look! I want to make something clear. We booked Wen-Chuan Li for two nights. That's it. Do not put anything else on that credit card!"

Suzanne took down the motel's contact information and Wendy's room number. She asked the clerk to put Wendy back on. "Wendy, you get in that room and you stay there! I'll get Amy to the airport as soon as she can get a flight. I'll call you. Don't leave that room!"

Suzanne hung up. She grabbed the credit card from Amy and dialed the phone number on the back. She passed the phone to Amy.

"Cancel this card!" Amy looked at Suzanne dumbfounded. "Cancel the card, Amy, now!"

Amy canceled the card, telling the operator to keep all charges up to the last one to the Jackpot Inn, but to not accept anything else. She hung up, now very irritated.

"Suzanne, what's going on? That was my only credit card!"

"Put two-and-two together. Wendy is stranded in Atlantic City. She's broke. What does that tell you?"

Amy gave Suzanne a blank stare. Suzanne let out an exasperated sigh.

"What do people do in Atlantic City, Amy? What's the name of the place where Wendy is staying?"

Finally Amy realized why Suzanne was so panicky about the credit card. Wendy had gone to Atlantic City over Spring Break to gamble. Obviously she had lost everything.

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Suzanne drove Amy to O'Hare immediately. Amy went on stand-by for a flight to Atlantic City. In the meantime Suzanne made car rental arrangements for Amy in Atlantic City and obtained directions for getting to the Jackpot Inn. Amy gave Suzanne instructions for turning in her term paper to Burnside. Suzanne would deliver the paper in person and explain that her roommate left due to an emergency but would be back by Wednesday. Suzanne would pick up any assignments to pass along to Amy. Suzanne also would talk to Robert to make the return trip arrangements as soon as Amy called from Atlantic City.

Amy took the first fight out at 5:00 am. She was in Atlantic City a couple of hours later, driving a strange car in a strange city. She had not had any sleep for 36 hours. She was sick from the flight. She was not in a good mood. Finally she found the Jackpot Inn. The clerk gave her a key card, since Amy had been the one to reserve the room.

Amy pushed the door open. Wendy was completely dressed, curled on the bed in a fetal position with her back to the door. She had not even taken her shoes off. There was no luggage in the room. Amy walked up to her and touched her shoulder. She heard Wendy snivel.

"Come on. I came to take you home."

Wendy did not budge. Amy shook her.

"Leave me alone."

"Wendy, let's go. I've got to get back. You do too. Classes start up again today."

"Leave me alone. I can't go back."

"Don't be ridiculous. You've got to go back with me. Suzanne booked us tickets for this afternoon."

"I disgraced my family. I can't face my parents. You go back alone."

"Wendy, you lost some money. Your parents will forgive you. You did something stupid, but you have to move on. There'll be another check from the book this month. I'll lend you what you need until then."

"It's not the money. I disgraced my great-grandmother. I pawned her jade pendent. I pawned it to gamble." Wendy sobbed.

Amy pondered what to do. Finally she answered "We'll go get it. I'll pay it off. Then we'll go home."

Still, Wendy did not move. Amy, exhausted, irritable, and disgusted with her friend's stupidity, had enough. She went to the bathroom, filled the ice bucket with water, and poured it on Wendy's head.

"Get up, now!" Wendy coughed and wiped her face. Amy pushed her off the bed. Wendy struggled to her feet and gave Amy an angry look.

"Let's get your pendant, and let's go!" With that they left the motel. If they had a problem with the wet mattress, well, Amy had paid for an extra night.

When they got to the pawn shop, Amy used her ATM card to get the money for the pendant. Wendy had pawned it for $ 2,000. That almost cleaned out Amy's checking account. Amy felt disgust at handing $ 2,000 cash to the creep in the pawn shop.

Amy took the pendant. It was deep green, elaborately carved, truly a piece of art. It hung on an antique gold chain. Wendy obviously was expecting that Amy would hand it to her. Amy gave Wendy a hostile look, wrapped the pendent in a paper towel, and put it in her purse. Wendy looked at Amy with distress.

"Amy..."

"Forget it. You said it yourself. You disgraced the memory of your great-grandmother by pawning this pendant. I'll decide when you deserve to have it back. It's my $ 2,000 that got it out of that pawn shop. It's staying with me."

"Amy, it's been in my family for 150 years."

"Well, guess what? It looks like I'll be taking better care of your family history than you did. I think I'm capable of keeping it out of a pawn shop." Wendy looked away. Tears ran down her face.

Amy had never been so mad at someone in her entire life. She was mad because she cared deeply for Wendy. It never dawned on her that Wendy had a gambling addiction. It never dawned on anyone in Wendy's life that she had a gambling addiction. Amy was still getting over the shock.

Amy did not know much about Chinese culture, but she knew that family history is more important in the East than it is in the West. She suspected that Wendy had insulted her family and the memory of her great-grandmother by pawning the pendent in a way unimaginable to a Westerner. Wendy truly had hit bottom.

For a second Amy thought about having a quick look at Atlantic City, but decided, no, there is nothing here to see. She had to get Wendy to the airport and on a plane as fast as possible. There was a real chance of losing her. Her depression was so great that she seemed half dead already.

Amy wanted to call Robert to see if he could book her an earlier flight back to Chicago. She asked Wendy for her cell phone. Without looking up Wendy admitted to having pawned it as well.

"You pawned your cell phone? Wendy, how do you pawn a cell phone?"

A trip back to the pawn shop and another, much smaller ATM withdrawal from Amy's bank account assured the retrieval of the cell phone. The clerk smirked at Amy and Wendy from behind the counter. He had seen this many times before. Amy ignored him.

"Now, what else do you have in this shop that we need to get, so we don't have to come back?"

"Some clothes."

"Well, we're not worried about clothes right now. What else?"

"My gymnastics championship ring from high school."

"That I'll get for you. But I'm keeping it with the pendent. What else?"

"The earrings my father gave me for graduation."

"My God, Wendy."

----------

Amy drove to the airport. She turned in the car and led Wendy to the ticket counter. Wendy had her driver's license in her pocket; her purse was among the items staying behind at the pawn shop. They boarded the plane for a grim, silent flight back to Chicago. They were in Suzanne's car before sunset. Suzanne said nothing. Wendy was Amy's friend and it was Amy who had to handle her. She dropped off Amy and Wendy and headed over to Robert's apartment.

Knowing that Wendy would not be able to face her parents, Amy decided to have her friend stay a few days with her and Suzanne. She ran a bath and ordered Wendy to put her remaining clothes in the washing machine. Then she called Wendy's mother and told her that Wendy was not feeling well and would spend the night with her. Wendy's mother nervously asked what was going on; she had not talked to Wendy in a week.

"Please, Mrs. Li. As soon as she feels a bit better I'll have her call you. She's OK, but she needs some sleep."

Amy felt guilty about lying to Wendy's mother. Wendy was not OK.

The clothes were still spinning when Wendy got out of the tub, leaving her without anything to wear. Wendy was somewhat more modest than were Suzanne and Amy, and clearly wanted something to put on before lying down on the sofa to sleep.

"Forget about that," snapped Amy. "Suzanne and I don't wear anything to bed. You don't need to either. It's plenty warm in this apartment."

Wendy gave Amy a hurt look and slid under the blanket. Amy sat down on the sofa at Wendy's feet. Wendy lay on her side, her head in her hand, sadly staring at the floor.

"OK, so what happened?"

Wendy said nothing.

"Let's get something straight. You owe me for this. You owe me big-time. You can start with telling me the facts. What happened to you in Atlantic City?"

Sadly Wendy got up and sat down at the computer. She seemed to have forgotten her earlier modesty as she logged onto the Internet, then into her checking account. "It's all here." She stepped away from the table and motioned Amy to sit down.

Amy scrolled through the withdrawals. Wendy's account peaked at $ 54,000 at the end of January. Then came three airline tickets for weekend trips to Atlantic City. She still had $ 30,000 deposited just two weeks ago. Then came the final trip and a series of ATM withdrawals. She had over-drawn the account by Friday night. It must have been Saturday when she pawned her things.

Wendy returned to the sofa and slid back under her blanket. Amy was pondering what to do when the phone rang.

The phone call was from the security department of Amy's credit card company. A clerk informed Amy that several attempts had been made to obtain cash advances in Atlantic City with the card number after she had canceled the account. The clerk asked if those requests were from Amy.

Amy was stunned. She asked the clerk to repeat the information and passed the phone to Wendy. Wendy's face looked stricken as she listened to the clerk. Amy briefly talked to the clerk again and hung up the phone. Wendy stared at the floor.

"I have something else to tell you" Wendy's voice was little more than a whisper. "When I found out your credit card number I tried to use it. I kept getting messages that it had been canceled."

Amy sat silently on the sofa, staring at her friend in astonishment. Finally she managed to speak.

"Suzanne made me cancel that card right after I made the motel reservations. I was pissed at her because that was my only credit card. So she was right. You tried to use my card to gamble." Wendy, still staring at the floor, bit her lip and nodded.

"So I can't trust you, can I?"

Wendy shook her head.

"Get up. Sit in that chair. I need to call Suzanne."

Wendy got up and wrapped the blanket around her. Amy grabbed the blanket and tugged on it.

"Look, I didn't say anything about taking this blanket with you. Leave it and get your butt in that chair!"

Wendy hesitated, looking at Amy with a forlorn expression. With that, Amy's temper snapped.

"I said, PUT THE FUCKING BLANKET DOWN AND GET YOUR ASS IN THAT CHAIR!"

Reluctantly Wendy let the blanket fall to the floor and moved to the hardback chair near the wall. She sat down and covered herself as best she could with her hands. Amy admired Wendy's thin, attractive figure as she dialed Robert's number. Of course he did not pick up. Amy left a message for Suzanne.

"Suzanne, this is Amy. I know you are there. I don't have a problem with it, but I need you to call me back. I have to talk to you right away."

A few seconds later Suzanne called back.

"You were right about the credit card." Amy began. "We have a real problem on our hands with Wendy. I need you to come back and pick up all your financial stuff and lock it up somewhere."

"It's that bad?"

"I'm afraid so. Bring Robert's strap and any other discipline stuff he might have. I wish I could talk to Burnside. She would have what I need for Wendy."

Wendy looked up with that last comment. Her sad eyes met Amy's. Amy hung up the phone.

"What did you think was going to happen? You not only disgraced yourself, you tried to steal from me. If I gave you half a chance you would steal from both me and Suzanne in this apartment. You admitted that yourself. God knows what you would do to your parents. Look the other way. Right now I don't even want to see your face."

Amy's last comment cut to the core of Wendy's soul. Amy had been the one friend in her life who Wendy felt she could truly trust. Wendy had been popular enough in high school, being a member of the gymnastics team. However, she ran with a group of girls who, although popular, would turn on each other in a heartbeat if doing in a friend could somehow increase their standing among their peers. She had done her share of betraying friends and had been hurt several times herself. Amy was so different from that. Wendy knew that Amy accepted her as she was. Amy had been the first person who had gone out of her way to help Wendy through a hard situation at the Halloween Party, doing her best to protect her from Burnside. There was the link between their grandfathers. There were the endless hours they had studied together. And now there was this betrayal.

Wendy knew that Amy would not break off their friendship over this. Wendy knew that she had a problem with her gambling addiction, and she realized that Amy would help her get through it. She knew that Amy was right about the pendant.

Wendy dreaded the punishment that lay ahead, but she wanted it to happen at the same time. Maybe the shock of a severe punishment would force out this...this thing...that had entered her soul and so far made her waste over $ 60,000. Wendy herself could not understand what had happened to her, why the urge to gamble had taken control of her.

Suzanne arrived with Robert's strap and leather cuffs. Amy had hoped that he might have some other restraints, but the cuffs were all he had.

"Wendy, get up!" Amy took Wendy's arm and forced her to turn around and face Suzanne. Wendy, in spite of having been naked so many times in front of Suzanne the photographer, cringed with humiliation at being naked in front of Suzanne her friend. Wendy looked away in shame and once again tried to cover herself. Amy led her to the coffee table and forced her to kneel on the floor facing it. Then Amy took out the jade pendent, the earrings, and the gymnastics ring and laid them on the table in front of Wendy.

"Please tell Suzanne the story of these three items."

Wendy, in a stricken, barely audible voice, told Suzanne the story of her last trip to Atlantic City, the pawning her things, and the significance of the pendent.

Amy looked harshly at Wendy. "You're not even a decent gambler. Did you win at all?" Wendy sadly shook her head.

"Now for the really lovely part. Wendy, what happened right after I booked your room? What did you do?"

Tears dripped off Wendy's cheeks onto her bare arms and thighs.

"Come-on, Suzanne needs to hear this."

"I...I...asked the clerk for a copy of the receipt...I...took your credit card number to a couple of...gambling places and...tried to get some...cash advances. I couldn't. The credit card was canceled. So I went back to my room."

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