Liz slept on Andrew’s couch, poorly. She woke up when Andrew left for work, told him a sleepy thank you, and pulled the blanket back over her head, hoping to fall asleep again. She gave up perhaps an hour later, after only managing to doze fitfully.
Her head hurt. Some part of her had desperately hoped that she’d be able to go to sleep and wake up with some idea of what to do next, but it hadn’t happened. She didn’t have any direction she wanted to move in, and she had no internal momentum either; she was dead in the water.
Andrew had left her a note: “Whatever you do today, come back by 8:30. Big surprise! Happy surprise! Ginger Beer! Pizza! Evil!” She smiled, fractionally cheered. There was cereal but no milk, so she didn’t bother with breakfast before leaving. Andrew’s house was far enough in the boonies that he and his neighbors still frequently left their doors unlocked. The dirt road he lived on didn’t attract many tourists or criminals.
Liz went home. She didn’t particularly want to, but it seemed like a start as far as facing things went. She reached the top of the staircase and saw that the door was partly ajar. Oh, shit. Had she left it open, staggering out blubbering the way she had? She didn’t think so.
She hesitated outside the door, looking at the dark crack leading into her apartment, and the boot print just below the doorknob. Although whoever had broken in was probably long gone, considering that it was eleven in the morning, she didn’t want to go in there alone. Actually, a part of her did. If the burglar had a gun, she’d get shot, and that would take a number of responsibilities out of her hands. And if the burglar wasn’t armed, she’d beat the shit out of him (possibly with the broken broom handle), which would be cathartic in its own right. You broke into the wrong place, my friend, Liz thought.
It was the thought that she just might have enough rage and frustration inside her to beat someone to death that made Liz go downstairs to look for the superintendent first. This was so stupid. She didn’t even have anything worth stealing. She had hidden the briefcase in the trunk of her car, in the spare tire well under all of the other junk that was in there–most of which belonged to the previous owner. No one was going to steal her car, and no one was going to break into the shitty little thing looking for something to steal, either.
Then again, she might have said the same thing about her apartment.
The super was appropriately upset and sympathetic as he walked upstairs with her, a Mag-Lite clamped firmly in one slender fist. She wondered how the guy expected to protect her–he looked like the older brother of the dried-up landlady and walked like he had an artificial hip–but he insisted on going in first, pushing the door quickly open and calling out, “Who’s there?” with nary a quaver in his voice.
There was no answer. The super went quickly through the place, turning on all the lights. He saw that the television and VCR were still there, and asked Liz if anything looked to be missing. She shook her head. Her clothes were all over the bed, but seemed to be all present.
“What about that?” he asked, pointing to the broken glass in the kitchen, which still smelled strongly of Southern Comfort.
Liz grimaced. “I’ll clean it up myself,” she said.
“Do you want to file a police report?”
“No, but I’d like a new lock. And a deadbolt,” she added, realizing as she said it that it meant neither Ted nor Margo would be able to get in unannounced any more.
“I’ll replace the whole jamb,” the super said, inspecting the damage where the door had been kicked open. “I’ll have it in this afternoon.”
“Thanks.” She turned her attention to the kitchen. The smell of the alcohol played in her nose, stirring up murky memories at once wistful and shameful. It had to be cleaned up, though, and she wasn’t going to ask Andrew to do it. She was going to pick up all the glass and wipe the counters down herself, and then she’d go looking for a new job. Maybe if she got herself back on her feet without help, Papa would talk to her again some day.
No. No, that was completely wrong. She wasn’t going to crawl out of this hole just so Papa would talk to her, because if he decided to be stubborn about it–which he was capable of–she’d just fall right back in again. Liz forced herself to care less about what Papa thought, and tried to think of what she wanted.
She wanted to find a stranger, screw the daylights out of him, and then get drunk out of her mind, that was what she wanted. And she feared it, at the same time. She compromised by telling herself she’d find a fuck if she got the alcohol cleaned up and resisted the temptation to lick her fingers. She could go onto campus and find a freshman in the library, even. Someone who wasn’t old enough to drink. The more thought she put into the scheme in her head, the less fun it sounded though, and she drifted on to other things that had to be done; finding a new job if she needed to, going to the bank, cheering Andrew up…
Before she realized it, she had picked up all of the broken glass and was running water in the sink. The acrid smell of Pine-Sol soon covered up that of whiskey. While she cleaned, Liz decided that she’d definitely look for another job. She didn’t know what; she’d spend the day not thinking about it, and then approach it with a fresh eye after Andrew sprang whatever “wonderful surprise” he had in store. Meanwhile, she ought to go to the store and confirm that she hadn’t walked off the job, but wasn’t staying. Even though Papa was angry at her, there was no sense in making his friends pissed too. Liz figured that Papa had probably told Mr. McIntyre to fire her by now anyway, but she might as well check.
Liz had expected a short chat with Mr. McIntyre, punctuated with many pitying looks, followed by the handout of her final, incomplete paycheck. Instead, she got a longish conversation about how he knew how much Ted cared about her, even sometimes to a fault, and how Ted could be a bit of a hardnose sometimes but he meant well. At the end of the one-sided conversation, Liz still had her job at McIntyre’s, “for as long as you need it,” he’d said. “I know that all Ted wants is what’s best for you, even if he don’t know how to show it all the time.” Mr. McIntyre even gave her a couple of days off, on account of some worn-out look he’d seen in the way she carried herself.
She didn’t care for the charity, but now wasn’t the time to refuse it. To be honest, a day or two off to think sounded like a good thing. Of course, now she’d feel even worse for quitting; Ted had been right about her owing Mr. McIntyre for cutting her a break. So that was fine, she’d stay a while longer. Along the drive to Andrew’s Liz brainstormed ways that she might be able to help improve business at the fish store. She couldn’t think of anything, but if Peach was coming over he might have some ideas.