The Wanderings of Amy Ch. 15bycaligula97236©
Chapter 15 - The Second Summer
The Spring semester finally ended. Amy's GPA fell slightly due to the difficulty of the classes she had taken. However, she had completed several important requirements for her major and improved her understanding of working with the formulas needed for Burnside's materials. This semester had been, by far, the hardest one she had experienced to date. Amy's character had been tested and she survived. She had accomplished everything she set out to accomplish five months ago when she turned in her course schedule.
Amy's biggest accomplishment of the semester was receiving a B+ in Burnside's Theory of International Development class. Of the 150 students who originally enrolled in that class, only 45 remained by the beginning of May. Of them, 37 actually received passing grades. For the semester Burnside did not give any A's. Of the 37 survivors, Amy received the highest grade of the class. She had proven herself to Burnside.
The Spring had been an eventful one for everyone else in Amy's life. Robert's firm was weathering an ugly ethics investigation over the behavior of Suzanne's father. Just before finals, Amy read in the newspaper that Ed Foster had been disbarred and was facing criminal charges. Robert and the other two partners had been called to testify before a Federal Grand Jury, but ultimately would not face any charges. Suzanne's father would face the charges alone, his partners cleared of any accusations of involvement in his activities. What had impressed the investigators had been Robert's insistence on cooperating with them. He never asked for immunity or conditions. He opened his files and the firm's accounts, protecting only privileged client information. He spent hours with the investigators explaining what he understood about the firm's finances. He seemed to want to find out the truth about Ed as much as they did.
At first Amy was amazed that Suzanne was not upset in the least about her father's problems or Robert's cooperation with the investigation. Suzanne was worried about the well-being of her step-mother, not her father. Amy wondered what had happened between Suzanne and her father for her to be so totally unconcerned about him.
In April, Suzanne's stepmother divorced her father and moved out. Suzanne paid her rent for two months to help her get on her feet while she looked for work. It was obvious that Suzanne was much closer to her step-mother than she was to her own father. A few days after the divorce Amy saw Suzanne and her step-mother sitting together in their apartment. Several boxes of Suzanne's toys and high school items were on the living room floor. Suzanne's step-mother had saved them for Suzanne when she moved out. Amy could tell that her roommate had been crying. She had never seen Suzanne cry before.
As Amy slipped out of the apartment, she realized that Suzanne's life had been every bit as painful as her own; probably more so. Obviously Suzanne's father had done something horrible to her when she was still in school. She now knew why Suzanne could care less what happened with her father's ethics violations. She wished that Suzanne could have opened up to her about that part of her life, but perhaps the memory was too painful for her to talk about with anyone.
Suzanne completed the final semester of her graduate degree in Physical Therapy. It was odd that she had struggled to obtain this degree, but now probably would never use it. Still, Suzanne was pleased to have completed this part of her life and proudly put on her graduation gown. Robert, Amy, Paul, Wendy, Suzanne's stepmother, and several of her art friends sat together to watch her graduate. Suzanne's father was absent.
For once in her life Suzanne did not take a single picture. Paul commandeered the camera and shot a roll of film of Suzanne and the others at her graduation. Suzanne's friends and her step-mother held a small party for her in the apartment that night, and Paul shot another roll of pictures. It seemed strange afterwards to see two entire rolls of photos in which Suzanne was the subject of every picture. She was the image of happiness on this day, her day.
Robert's graduation gift would have been strange for anyone other than Suzanne. He gave her a collection of antique cameras, which would allow her to experiment with her photography. Each camera was in perfect working order, complete with accessories, manuals, and a supply of film for the cameras that did not take 35 mm film. Suzanne looked at her graduation present in awe. Robert must have given this gift a lot of thought and put a huge amount of effort into finding and equipping the cameras. They embraced, then turned to face Paul, who took the first picture of them together. Later in life they would pose for other portraits, but this picture, the first proof of their relationship on film, always would have a special meaning to them.
Amy accompanied Paul to his home in western Pennsylvania to meet his family two weeks after Suzanne's graduation. Both of them were exhausted after the semester they had endured. Amy, having survived two of Burnside's classes, particularly needed to get away from Chicago for a while. There was the upcoming summer semester, as well as a backlog of Suzanne's photography projects that Amy would have to deal with upon getting back. She did not want to think about any of that now. She just wanted to get away and see something else besides textbooks and Suzanne's camera lens.
Amy and Paul had a relaxing drive to his hometown. They took turns driving, neither driving for more than an hour before changing. They took three days to drive a distance they easily could have covered in a day, stopping to take short hikes and eat at small restaurants that Paul was familiar with along the route. Amy's feelings towards Paul intensified during the trip, since she quickly realized that she could spend time with him doing anything, or just doing nothing.
If Paul was somewhat out of place in Chicago, he was even more out of place in his hometown. He came from a small town of about 150,000 people. The town was set among a large number of abandoned mines and a small steel mill which had closed about three years before. The downtown had been picturesque at one time, but now was mostly shut down. Looming over the downtown, up on one of the hills, was the huge Mega-Mart that had finished sucking the life out of the downtown businesses after the mill closed. Now the Mega-Mart itself was shut down as well, its mission of wiping out the local businesses accomplished.
Paul and Amy cruised down the main street of his town. While Amy saw nothing but abandonment and depression, Paul was trying to bring this area back to life in her mind through his conversation. He told her of the numerous adventures that he had with his friends here while in high school. Apparently he ran with a small group of friends who were every bit out of place as he had been. There was no mention of sports, or drinking parties, or anything else other than simple hanging out and driving around.
Paul's family consisted of his mother, his sister Julie and her 3-year-old, an unemployed aunt, and a cousin. All of them liked her.
Amy could tell that at one time the family had been much better off than they were now. Their house was nice, but needed repairs, their furniture had been expensive, but was badly in need of a good re-finishing.
Paul's mother was a school teacher who had moved here after marrying his father. She was well educated, but beaten down from years of living in a bad town and a bad marriage. After divorcing Paul's father, she had been determined to give her two children the ambition and drive needed to get them out of this town. For a while it looked like she would succeed, as both Paul and his sister did well in school.
To expose Paul to the world his mother sent him to France as an exchange student during his junior year in high school. The experience of having traveled in Europe opened the world up to Paul, but also made him out of place in his hometown during his senior year. Upon returning home he quickly bored his classmates with his stories about things they had no comprehension of. During his senior year he gravitated towards the other "brains" of his school, all of whom were so different from each other that they continued to learn from their mutual friendship. All of Paul's closest friends, without exception, were gone by the end of the summer after graduating. All of them managed to get out and develop themselves outside their hometown.
Paul's sister Julie also had shown great potential in high school, but was undone by the same social pressures that came close to killing Amy. She was a cheerleader and active in the student government before she got pregnant during her senior year. Although she managed to graduate before her pregnancy became too obvious, the stress of dealing with a child had killed her ambition to pursue anything other than her job at Mega-Mart. The Mega-Mart job lasted until the store closed last year. Now she sat home with Paul's nephew, watching soap operas and talk shows with his aunt.
Amy and Julie got along, oddly enough. They were the same age, had enjoyed the same music in high school, and had run with similar crowds. Really the only difference between them was that Julie became pregnant in high school and Amy did not. Amy saw a lot of herself in Julie, and Julie saw in Amy what she could have been had she not squandered her opportunities in high school. Meeting Amy had one positive effect on Julie. She was jealous enough of her brother's new girlfriend that she decided to enroll in some community college classes.
Paul was typical of a small-town boy in one aspect. He loved to drive around the empty streets for no good reason. Driving seemed to clear his mind and let him think. He seemed to be able to philosophize best when behind the wheel on the streets of his high school years. It was while he was driving up and down the deserted streets that he discussed his sister Julie with Amy.
Paul was well aware of the social pressures exerted on Julie when she was in high school. He did not place much blame on Julie for getting pregnant, nor even that much on child's father. Instead he placed the blame on the entire social system and culture, one he considered almost forced high school students into making bad choices. Amy thought about Paul's observation and her own past. She was impressed with his insight.
For example, there wasn't much that disgusted him when he was in school more than a pep rally. During his senior year Paul confronted his principal over being forced to attend pep rallies. He said quite bluntly "I don't believe in pep rallies because I don't believe in the values they promote. I don't support glorifying football. And I don't support football because it was a football player who got my sister pregnant. Either you let me skip these rallies or I will take this up with the ACLU."
His principal threatened him with expulsion but Paul held his ground. Finally, when the principal realized that Paul was determined to stand by his opinions, he relented and let Paul volunteer in the school library during pep rallies.
Amy realized that most of Paul's memories of this town were not very pleasant. Yet Paul's heart seemed drawn to this place in a way that she could not understand. As much as he opened up to her, there were things about him she would never understand.
Of the people at Suzanne's graduation party, the most troubled was Wendy. She stood quietly, forcing herself to smile whenever included in group pictures. She still was stricken by her experience in Atlantic City. Amy had taken over her finances and kept her out of debt. However, Wendy now was almost out of money. She hated herself, because the income from Suzanne's photo book should have taken care of her needs for the next several years. Instead she was broke, due to this thing inside of her, this urge to gamble, and her own unbelievable stupidity.
What scared Wendy was that her parents were educating her to take over their business. They were about to entrust the entire family enterprise in her. How could she tell them not to do it? How could she tell them that she would wreck the business within a few weeks and gamble the family fortune? That she had wasted $ 30,000 over six days? That she had tried to steal her friend's credit card number? That Amy had to take away her checkbook and credit cards to keep her from wrecking her life any further? That she had pawned her great-grandmother's pendent?
The pendant, now safely locked up in Robert's vault at work, was the detail that hurt Wendy the most. When Wendy was a year old, her great grandmother had her fortune told, and put the pendant around her neck. There was a picture in her father's living room of Wendy, wearing the pendant, sitting on her great-grandmother's lap. Her great-grandmother died three days after the picture was taken, but Wendy always felt a connection to her, as though they really did know each other.
Wendy rarely wore the pendant, but for some insane reason had decided to wear it to Atlantic City. Wendy's family had entrusted her with its most important treasure, only to have her betray that trust. Wendy knew that her pendant, passed down from generation to generation in her family, now had to be protected from its current owner. No one knew any of this except Amy and Suzanne. It did not matter. Wendy knew it. She felt that her great-grandmother somehow knew it as well.
Several days later, when Suzanne developed Paul's pictures of her graduation party, she started noticing Wendy's eyes and her forced smile. Suzanne thumbed through the pictures, looking for Wendy. She now remembered that Wendy had been very quiet during her graduation party. Wendy was only in the pictures where someone specifically had asked her to join in. Suzanne looked again at her friend's eyes, and noticed the real sadness in them. She realized with alarm that Wendy had not recovered from her experience in Atlantic City. Not at all.
Suzanne wondered whether to discuss Wendy with Amy, or to try to get further information herself. Finally she decided to invite Wendy for a photo shoot, this time without Amy. She chose the weekend Amy planned to visit Paul's family, to not raise any questions in Amy's mind about going out alone with Wendy. Wendy's sad expression gave Suzanne an idea for a photo shoot. She asked Wendy to bring several sets of her most worn-out clothing. They went to several abandoned factory sites in Gary on a dreary overcast morning. Suzanne had decided to take a series of black & white photos with one of the old cameras Robert had given her. The bleakness of the locations and the weather matched the bleakness of Wendy's face. Suzanne felt guilty about exploiting Wendy's depression for a photo shoot, but the pictures would sell and it was obvious that Wendy needed the money.
Suzanne and Wendy then headed south, to the forest location where Suzanne had photographed Amy the year before, for some outdoor figure studies. Even though it was the weekend, Suzanne did not have to worry about hikers running into them during the photo shoot. There was only one entrance to the area. More importantly, one of the park rangers was a fan of Suzanne's work and agreed to help her. He kept the entrance gate to the parking area locked until Suzanne arrived, then locked it behind her after she drove in. He hung a trail closed sign on the gate, waved at Suzanne, and drove off. They had four hours to complete the shoot before the ranger returned to open the gate.
Wendy stripped and left her clothes in Suzanne's minivan. Like Amy before her, Wendy felt the thrill of the sunlight and warm breeze on her body as she walked down the trails for Suzanne's figure shots. She sat on the rocks along the stream and put her feet in the water. She balanced herself on the rocks as she walked upstream. She walked among the trees and across open meadows. However, there was no smiling in this series of pictures. Suzanne was interested in Wendy's underlying sadness, which she planned to incorporate into the over-all mood of this shoot. She took a large number of close-up shots of Wendy's face as the shadows from the leaves seemed to splash darkness on her face. Towards the end of the four hours Wendy's mood seemed to brighten a bit, as the effect of the sun on her body and being outside in this pretty location lifted her spirits slightly.
When they returned to Suzanne's vehicle and were ready to leave, the ranger talked to Suzanne for a few minutes and handed her copies of two of her books for autographs. Wendy noticed that Suzanne took her time to write thoughtful comments in them; she did not just sign her name.
It was too late to head back to Chicago when they finished, which was what Suzanne had in mind. She rented a room for herself and her model at the small town near the park, then invited Wendy to dinner. It was hard for Suzanne to get anything out of her model about her mood, but upon returning to the room she noticed a folder of drawings that Wendy had been working on whenever she had a few minutes to herself. Suzanne asked to see them. Wendy at first resisted. Suzanne did not press her.
Suzanne got undressed, cleaned up, and got on top of her bed. Suzanne's openness about being naked in the room still surprised Wendy, even though she had seen her naked in her apartment daily during the weeks after Spring Break. Wendy could not get away from wearing her oversized T-shirt when in bed, no matter how hot it was. She looked over at Suzanne, who was reading an instruction manual for one of the cameras Robert had given her for graduation. Finally Wendy decided to call out for help.
"Suzanne, do you still want to see my drawings?"
Wendy passed the folder to Suzanne. She fidgeted nervously as Suzanne carefully looked at them.
The quality of Wendy's drawings surprised Suzanne. They were exceptionally good. She drew the pictures Anime-style, as good as the black & white pictures of any published Anime artist. Suzanne was less surprised by the subject matter, having studied Wendy's expression over the last several days. These pictures were clearly the product of a tortured mind, which was what made them so powerful.
Suzanne clearly recognized Wendy as the subject of all the pictures. She had done an excellent job converting her own face and body to Anime. Some of the pictures were simply of Wendy's face, reflecting the torment in her soul. The other pictures were S&M images, pictures Wendy had drawn of herself being subjected to all sorts of whippings, bondage, and humiliation. The punishments in the pictures were far worse than anything she had endured in real life. In some of the pictures Suzanne recognized Amy or Dr. Burnside. Images of gambling items were everywhere; slot machines, cards, roulette wheels, neon signs, casino chips. There were dozens of pictures, all variants of the same theme.
The picture that was the most telling about what was happening to Wendy was one of herself hanging by the hands on chains in front of a roulette wheel. Each space on the wheel had a different punishment written on it. There were numerous implements at Wendy's feet. Wendy's body had been flogged bloody and was hanging limp. Suzanne could not tell if Wendy had meant to portray herself as dead, but she looked dead in the picture.
The other picture that most struck Suzanne was of Wendy kneeling, naked, her hands tied behind her back, in front of the Ace of Spades. Wendy's terrified eyes stared straight out at the viewer. There was a rope around her neck. The desolation of this image, especially knowing the story behind it, deeply troubled Suzanne.