Read an Excerpt
Cure for Pain
By NM Facile
Central Avenue Marketing Ltd. Copyright © 2012 NM Facile
All rights reserved.
"I can't believe I let you talk me into this. We have no business even thinking about going to a place like this," grumbled Faith.
Mary Flynn tried to ignore her closest friend's complaints as Faith drove her little yellow bug from their safe middle-class neighborhood into the heart of the city. She watched out the window as the architecture changed from houses to tall, shiny glass structures; to smaller, crumbling brick buildings flanked by cracked concrete parking lots. The sun was low, obscured by dark clouds that made everything gray. Pedestrians hurried to their cars or buses as the workday ended.
The girls turned off a main avenue on to a smaller, less congested street that ran through the downtown district. Mary watched the left side of the street looking for the address she had memorized. They passed the mom and pop market on the corner: its wall of windows plastered with signs for cigarettes and bread for sale and a big sign flashing the latest Powerball lottery amount. Next to that was a slate gray building claiming to be The Best Used CD Shop Around. Both stores were two-story, attached to each other, though made from different bricks.
Mary had Faith slow down for the next storefront: a single-story building next to a small parking lot that was fenced off from the alley behind it. There were only a few cars parked in it, next to an overflowing dumpster. Faith only pulled into the lot far enough to turn around and park on the street near the front door of their destination.
Faith cut the engine, and the girls sat contemplating the building, which had four small windows and an unassuming white door. There was no neon sign declaring the name of the place, just a piece of paper tacked above the door identifying it as Safe Works, and listing its hours of operation. Neither of them made a move to get out of the car.
"One last time, are you sure you want to do this? You're not committed to anything," said Faith.
Mary shook her head as Faith grumbled something under her breath about needing to be committed. Faith had laid out her ideas on what Mary should do about her family situation, but Mary felt she could do more than just wait and pray.
Mary sighed, "We've been over this before. I might not be able to do anything to help my mom out but maybe helping here will give me the chance to make a difference in someone else's life."
"I don't know Mary. It still sounds dubious to me. I mean you'd basically be condoning drug use. In fact, you'd be helping them. What would your grandparents say?" Faith got the condescending tone to her voice that she used when she thought she was too good for something.
"Faith, it's not like I'm giving them the drugs or even selling it to them. I would just be making sure they had the means to do it safely. They're going to do it anyway, so why not make sure that they aren't putting others at risk from it? Maybe if someone had given J. P. a clean needle my mom wouldn't be sick now." She snapped the last words at Faith; not entirely sure why she was so defensive of why she was here. She had the same anxieties about it as Faith did.
"Jeez, calm down, Mary. I'm just pointing out the obvious." Her stormy eyes flashed a warning but Mary continued.
"Shouldn't we be there for others? Isn't that the Christian thing to do? Helping those in need?" Mary played on Faith's strict Christian background; playing the same card Faith had used on her parents when she decided she was going to nursing school instead of getting married and raising a family.
"Oh, get off it, Mary. You know it's not the same thing." Faith's voice was heated and Mary knew they were headed into an argument. Just as they were there for each other, like sisters, they occasionally argued like them too.
"Why is that? Is it because they are less of a person for making bad decisions?" She shook her head. "Then what, Faith? What makes it such a bad thing to want to go help there?"
Faith reached across the seat and captured Mary's hands, stopping them from wildly gesturing. "Mary, I didn't mean it was wrong or bad. I just meant you should think this through. You know nothing about the kind of lives people that frequent that place live. Nor do you know the trouble that could be involved with it. What would your principal say if she found out you were helping there? How would it affect your job? What about the dangers of working at a place like that? How would you handle someone who came in all hopped up on something? You could be hurt or worse. Did you think of that?"
"Yes, actually I did think of all that. I'm sure they have some kind of policies that keep the employees and volunteers safe. On the website it said it had been open for nine years. I can't imagine that they could stay open that long if it was dangerous. As far as my job goes, we're encouraged to be active within the community." Mary answered all her questions, yet was still upset with her for asking them in the first place.
"Mary," her voice quieted considerably. "I'm just trying to look out for you."
Mary felt bad for blowing up. She turned her hands palm up and took Faith's. "I know you are. Just come in with me." She hadn't planned to ask Faith to join her in volunteering, but it just seemed right. They did everything together; this could just be another thing they shared.
In the past few months both of the girls lives had been a whirlwind of change. Moving to Minneapolis and getting their first jobs would have been enough of an adjustment; but for Mary, what should have been a time for her to be settling into a new routine she had been hit with the news that her mother was suffering from a life-threatening illness. It had been four months: four long, restless months of roller coaster emotions.
Finally, in an attempt to break the tense silence between them Faith asked, in her best Chris Chambers' voice, "You wanna be the Lone Ranger or the Cisco Kid?" Mary looked at her and they erupted in nervous giggles.
"Come on, Chambers, let's go in."
"After you, Lachance."
Icy air blasted Mary as she stepped out of the car. She and Faith hurried into Safe Works and looked around curiously. Mary didn't really know what she had expected to see, but the room before her definitely wasn't it. The main room was a large open area that looked more like someone's basement rec room than it did a clinic. The walls were a dreary slate blue. There were a couple of ratty couches and a few mismatched chairs gathered into a conversation area. A bleach blonde sat in one of the chairs, her legs slung over the arm. She was chatting away on a cell phone and threw the girls a dismissive glance before continuing her conversation. Off to the right, towards the back, was an attractive man behind a large desk.
He rose immediately and walked towards them. His tall, slender frame fit nicely into the tight jeans and flannel shirt he wore. He had somewhat feminine features and as he smiled, a deep dimple appeared in his one cheek.
"Hello, ladies. You must be Mary." Mary recognized his warm voice from speaking to him on the phone. He held his hand out towards Faith, not taking his eyes off of her. "I'm Jack." Faith looked back at him, hesitantly. Mary nudged her arm slightly to remind her of her manners. Faith raised a limp hand and he held it tightly.
"I'm not Mary. I'm Faith. This is Mary." She turned towards Mary.
"Sorry about that, darlin'. Hello, Faith." His hand lingered on Faith's before he turned to shake Mary's.
"Mary. I spoke with you the other night." She nodded and he continued. "Our director, Karen, said to expect you around now. She's in her office but should be out in just a moment." He motioned towards one of the two light green doors with thick, rippled glass windows near the front desk. "I have a couple things to finish up but you're welcome to look around or have a seat while you wait for her."
The nervous girls moved as a unit towards the desk but didn't take a seat. They stood there awkwardly as they looked around more. Mary noticed three more green doors on the opposite wall: two restrooms and one that was unmarked. Mary also noticed that Jack was watching Faith, who was busy appraising the furniture in the room. Knowing Faith as she did, Mary could tell that Faith was plotting what she could do with the décor to liven the place up. She jumped when Faith's purse sang out a happy little pop song.
Faith looked sheepishly at Mary and pulled out her phone.
"Ugh, it's work. I have to take it. I'm on call today." Faith gave a half-hearted smile and spoke into her phone. "Hi. What's up?" She sounded a little more cheerful than she usually did when work called. "Oh, that's too bad." Her voice registered sarcasm. Mary wondered whose benefit that was for. She suspected it was for hers. "I guess. I will get there as soon as I can." She tucked the phone back in her purse and turned to Mary.
"Someone had to go home sick and they need me to come fill in. We can do this ..." she motioned around the room, "... some other time. I can take you home before I go in."
No matter how convenient that call seemed to be, Mary knew that Faith was on call and wouldn't prearrange a phone call to get her out of there. The girls would never abandon each other even if they didn't agree on something. In the past few years, Mary had become Faith's only family. Even without Faith, Mary wanted to stay and hear about the program. It was a possibility that if she did leave she'd lose the courage to come back.
"It's okay, Faith. I'll just take a cab or something. I want to stay and meet with Karen."
Faith sucked in her breath. She scanned the room, her eyes lingering on Jack as he worked. He looked up, smiling at her questioningly. "Hey, umm, you! What time do you close?"
She bit her lip and glanced at Mary again. "How long are you going to be here?"
"I don't know, Faith."
"She's welcome to stay as long as she wants." Jack's voice broke in before she could say any more. Mary turned to smile at him, but caught Faith's glare out of the corner of her eye. Mary didn't understand her friend's behavior; usually she was much friendlier. This was not like her at all.
Faith was still looking at Jack but spoke to Mary. "I only have to go in until nine. If you want to stay until then I can come back for you." She turned to look at her then. "If you leave before then, please text me so I know you're safe."
"I'll be fine, Faith. Go. I'll just wait for you." Mary was a bit worried about being there alone, but she couldn't let Faith know that or she'd make her leave right then and never let her come back.
Faith thought about it for a few seconds and huffed, "Fine. See you later then." She threw Jack one last glare, a cross between warning and intrigue, before hightailing it to the door.
"That little lady didn't really want to be here, did she?" Jack commented after the door slammed loudly.
He turned and looked at Mary, and she was taken by the startling blue-green of his eyes. "What about you, Mary? Are you sure this is for you?" Jack asked.
"I don't know; that's why I'm here tonight."
The office door opened and a petite woman with wavy brown hair stepped out. She was dressed in a crisp charcoal suit with a pink shirt peeking out from the V in her jacket. She had the look of a woman who belonged in an art gallery or shopping at an upscale mall. She didn't at all fit in with these drab surroundings. She stepped closer and Mary could see her amber eyes sparkle with warmth.
"Mary. I'm so glad you were able to come." She extended her hand. Her skin was soft and smooth but she shook with a tight, friendly grasp. "I'm Karen Porter. I'm sure Jack introduced himself." She glanced around briefly. "You had mentioned bringing your roommate, did she come with you? I thought I heard another voice out here, other than Nikki's." She motioned to the blonde girl still talking on her phone.
"She did, but she was called into work. She's coming back for me later."
"Oh, okay. Well, let's start with a tour and I'll go over the program. The goal of a Harms Reduction program is to help those who choose to engage in risky behavior do so as safely as possible. That help comes in many different ways. In addition to handing out safety kits, we also administer health tests and immunizations. We also have a full time counselor on staff." Karen spread her arms wide as if to display the room. "This is where we meet with clients most often. Our small groups also meet in here."
She indicated a cluster of shelves near the main door which held a variety of books and pamphlets, and baskets of what appeared to be condoms. "Here are our reference materials and flyers for upcoming events. We have a newsletter that we put out once a month, too." She walked over and picked up a pile of stapled yellow papers. "We feature different issues in each one as well as a calendar of community events. We also print submissions from clients: poems, essays, artwork, and other things like that."
Karen set the papers back down and stepped towards the young man behind the desk. "Jack here pretty much runs the place. I take care of the administrative stuff, but Jack takes care of the day to day operations." Jack smiled humbly at Karen but the admiration in his eyes was clear. Mary sensed that Karen was the type of person who always made others feel good. She may have looked like a society darling, but she was down to earth and seemed to make those around her comfortable.
"We always have at least two on staff while the place is open. Jack is here more often than anyone else. He and Lora are our only paid employees. Lora is our clinic counselor and case manager. She works different hours depending on the day. She stays late a couple of nights a week for group sessions. We don't have any planned tonight so she's already left for the day."
"That's Nikki over there." She motioned to the girl on the phone. "She is one of our many volunteers. Jack sets up a schedule with everyone to keep the place staffed. He's the one to talk to once you decide whether this is something you would like to help with."
Mary nodded and followed Karen as she pointed to the closed, dark room beside her office. "This is the exam room. We keep all supplies in there for medical exams. We currently have a few volunteers in the medical field – including my husband, Andy, who is a doctor – who come in and help do things like wound checks and abscess care. They also do STD and pregnancy tests."
She motioned to her office door and Mary looked in. The room was cramped with two desks and a large bookcase. It was painted a sunny yellow but most of the wall surfaces were covered with tacked up artwork, flyers and photos. Both desks were very tidy; one held an open laptop and large cup of coffee. Karen walked over to it, took a sip of the coffee and began to pack up the laptop.
"I share this office with Lora," Karen explained as she continued to put her things into a leather bag. "Do you have any questions, or anything else I can help you with, Mary?" Her tone was still kind and patient but Mary could see that she was ready to leave for the day.
"I think I get it."
"If you do have any questions, Jack is best person to ask." Karen turned to smile proudly at Jack before turning back to Mary. "I really do hope you'll decide to join us here. Have a good night and if there is anything I can help you with, please don't hesitate to contact me."
Karen went to the desk and talked to Jack for a couple of minutes before bidding him goodbye. She waved at Nikki and spoke to Mary, "I do hope you will come back, Mary. I have a feeling that you will fit in well with our little family here." She smiled kindly before leaving.
Mary stood between the desk and office; fidgeting uncomfortably as she looked around. Nikki was still on her phone. Mary didn't want to eavesdrop but the room was fairly quiet and she could hear her clearly above the faint strains of the radio in the corner.
"I saw that hypocritical bastard, T. J., today. He fucking cut me off on Lake." She held the phone with one hand and absently twisted a strand of coarse blond hair around the fingers of her other hand. "No, I think he was delivering pizza again. As if that's really how he makes money. I just don't ..."
"So, Mary where are you from?" She jumped when Jack spoke. He pulled a worn but comfortable chair over to the desk and motioned her towards it.
"Quarry Springs. It's a tiny little town south west from here."
"Did ya'll move to the Cities for college?" Mary liked his southern drawl, it was very charming.
"No. Faith and I actually went to college in South Dakota. After we graduated, Faith found her Ask-A-Nurse job here through another friend. I figured there had to be a teaching job somewhere in an area as large as the Twin Cities. I moved along with her and found a great job at East Side Alternative School."
"How do ya'll like living in the big city?"
Excerpted from Cure for Pain by NM Facile. Copyright © 2012 NM Facile. Excerpted by permission of Central Avenue Marketing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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