For LOST IN LOS ALAMOS Beta Readers Only - Please Do Not Share.
THE "OTHER" DRIVEN LIFE
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Scott rang the doorbell. The door frame it was mounted to was painted a nice cream yellow in contrast to a dark taupe wood plank siding but the paint had begun chipping and peeling away at the juncture of the frame and siding. It had been some time since that last application.
The house was a smaller two-story midwestern home and probably had a substantial basement. The flower box that adorned the porch edge was filled with a fresh spring bloom of pink, purple, and white petunias. The lawn was styled of gravel and mulch, befitting the low maintenance profile of a rental property. There were thick maroon tapestries for curtains in the lower windows in front of Scott and they briefly parted before swinging back into place. The door to his left opened fully.
“Betti?” Scott asked.
“You must be Alan!”, Betti returned in a lilting and pleasant voice, a big, warm smile filling the space between her ears. “Come in! It’s wonderful to meet you!”
Instantly, Scott was put at ease. The friendliness exuding from the tall woman in front of him was palpable. Something inside him thought that he should be wary of that observation, but it did not make it all the way to the surface of his consciousness. And there was something about her using the name he had given her. Hearing her call him ‘Alan” was somehow strange, even as he had totally gotten used to it himself. He went inside and she closed the door quietly behind him. He heard small footsteps bounding down the staircase at the entrance to the kitchen on his right and a skinny young girl slid from the last stair step onto the hardwood floor in her socks, swinging around the last bannister rung, wide eyes searching the entrance area. She stopped short and almost slipped as her legs tried to stop the inertia of her small body.
“Oh! Who are you?!”, she quizzed.
“Anna, this is Alan. He’s here for a session.” Betti said, cocking her head toward the back of the house.
“Cool! He’s handsome, Mom!”, Anna blurted out before she turned on her sock heels and headed back up the stairs. “Bye Alan!”
“Hello, Anna...”, Scott whispered, smiling, to the swirl of her remaining energy as she disappeared up out of sight.
“Sorry, Alan. They never let up,” Betti laughed, shaking her head. “Come on back to my office.”
She led Scott through the kitchen and he surveyed the well-equipped working space that was full of all the tools of food preparation, an island with three stools in three different sizes, and a refrigerator full of photos, lists, and a cloud of word magnates at the center of which was the verse number of “John 3:16”. The smells of flavorful food lingered and completed the illustration of this scene in Scott’s mind of this room as the hub of Betti and her daughters’ lives. She held the back door open.
When Scott stepped into Betti’s office, which was adorned with many books in low and high bookcases, an old, chocolate brown over-stuffed couch against the door-facing wall caught Scott’s attention, as was intended. A few embroidered and velour colored pillows were placed at the ends and a thick, dark purple crocheted throw was draped across the back, ready to wrap around cold shoulders during the cloudy-cool spring days of late. Scott immediately felt an overpowering desire to walk right over, sink into it, and drift into a comfortable and secure sleep. Then he realized Betti was speaking to him.
“It’s quite a couch, isn’t it?”
He turned his head slowly toward her to see that she was studying him, a slight smile on her face.
“Yeah...” He wanted to sleep, right then and there. He didn’t understand it and so that made him feel vulnerable. He reached up into his mind to pull himself out of it, returning to the room’s square dimension containing objects - symbols and tools of inner journeys that he didn’t understand much of. As his awareness redeveloped a defined edge, the very curious individual standing there came into focus and Scott noticed that Betti had a very large mole at the base of her neck that was dark and protruding and it reminded him of a small nipple. He quickly raised his eyes to hers, her kindly smile ever-present. She chuckled, knowing.
“That’s a pretty standard experience. You want to sleep, don’t you?”, Betti asked.
Scott nodded, taken aback.
“With even the prospect of divulging emotions and feelings, the mind wants to retreat and sleep is a great way of getting away from it. Go. Have a seat.” Betti gestured toward the couch and Scott realized she had closed the door behind him. He picked a spot at the end of the couch furthest from the other chair that Betti crossed to and settled into.
Sitting, he was able to scan the room more fully, noticing a prominent but simple wood cross next to the door. “Uh oh”, he thought. Then he looked back at Betti and just above her on the wall, his eyes rose to one of those standard paintings of Jesus. It was very weird. It was exactly the same reproduction that was on the living room wall in the knotty pine house he grew up in - Jesus, in a sweet and handsome golden-brown-haired Gentile profile, almost apologetically gazing up to heaven or someplace, a glow around his head and his hands clasped in prayer. “This was a mistake. How do I get out of this?”, he wondered. He squirmed a bit and in answer to this, his rear end sank into the warm and worn cushion even further, the pillows on either side following him down and pinning him in.
Betti lightly slapped both of her knees with her palms and asked, “Say, what would you say to us putting this ‘Alan’ business aside?” She waited with an expectant smile in her eyes, no judgement there but a slightly mischievous tone underlying the revelation-cum-request.
An hour and a half later, Scott floated out the front door, off the front porch and into his car. He barely heard Betti call after him to drive slowly and carefully, trailing a “God bless you.” to him as he undulated and sank like warm Silly Putty into the Camaro’s bucket seat.
Scott went to see Betti Bee two more times over the next month and a half. Dan Buckheimer quizzed him after his first visit when next they met at the AM-PM.
“You see what I was talking about, don’t you?” It was more of a statement from Dan than a question.
Scott nodded over his latte. “Yeah.”
“So, Alan me boy, what’s the upshot? Are you cured ‘a what ails ya?”
“Oh, I’m not going by Alan anymore. My first name’s Scott.”
Dan almost spit out a mouthful of his strong black coffee. He managed to get it down, laughing.
“Not you, too?!”
“Yeah, but at least I’m changing it back to what it is on my birth certificate,” Scott countered. “Everybody else here changes their name to suit their latest guru or spiritual quest.”
Dan continued to laugh. “Geez, and what’s it gonna be after your next session?”
“No, it’s not like that. The Alan thing was just a rebellion deal,” Scott defended. Dan then locked eyes with Scott, inspecting. Scott looked away and then back and waited out the staring contest. Dan spoke first.
“Okay, Scott, you ask her to go to bed with you?“
“What?!” Scott appeared shocked and offended. Dan saw the truth in Scott’s face and eyes.
“You did, didn’t you?”, Dan accused, laughing hard.
Scott looked around. Pinky was there in his usual corner, a different young thing listening raptly. Dan followed Scott’s look and Pinky looked up, gave them the usual smirk and raised an eyebrow. Dan and Scott both did a head nod toward him after checking out the girl and then turned back to each other.
“Pinky did,” Dan quietly stated, still chuckling.
“Pinky did what?” Scott asked.
“He propositioned her after his first session with her,” Dan said.
“Oh, gross!” Scott said, glancing back at Pinky.
“Yeah, well, needless to say Betti didn’t let him come back. Besides, he’s just a Spiritual Player. You know.”
“Yeah. Just look at him,” Scott nodded, relieved that the subject had moved from him.
“Here’s the thing, Scott,” Dan continued. “There’s just something about that ... goodness that she exudes - you just want to possess it, ya know? You gotta have it around you. You want it on you.”
Scott nodded again, agreeing in understanding.
“When I went to see Betti, she explained to me that it was kinda common, especially with single men. She didn’t want it, didn’t invite it, but was kinda a occupational hazard, I guess.”
Scott had a shameful, if hazy, awareness of that moment at the end of the session, after he had felt the unburdening and lightness come over him. It was just after he had been on his tiptoes, straining, stretching his body upwards toward the ceiling as things left his body through the top of his head - things that he had held and were held that should have been discarded even before they were taken in. Betti had stood with hands outstretched upward and toward Scott, rapturously invoking that Holy Spirit thing and he had made out fragments of bible verses he had heard when he was a kid and the like. In that moment he could not deny that some really weird shit was happening.
“Amen!” Betti shouted.
Scott came down off his toes, his neck relaxing first before the rest of his body, Betti stepping in to steady him.
“Whoa! What the fuck was that? What did you do?”
Betti patted Scott on the back like burping a baby and held onto his arm below his bicep. “I didn’t do anything. That was Jesus and His Holy Spirit, just as I told you at the beginning.” Scott looked Betti in the face. She still held that contented, knowing smile, but there were beads of sweat on her forehead and her eyes were more brilliant than before, it that was possible.
“Well, whatever. That was something! There was something going on there, I could feel it. And I feel ...”
“Like you’re about twenty pounds lighter?” Betti offered.
“Yeah, that, and ...”
“You have hope where you didn’t before?”
Scott nodded, gazing at Betti’s face, falling forward in his vision into her glowing countenance, and smiled as he felt a gratitude that he had not felt in a long time - maybe ever.
“You’re ... amazing!” he whispered.
Betti let out a little laugh. “And you think I’m about the best thing that’s ever happened since sliced bread.”
“And I bet you even have thoughts that you and I would make an absolutely awesome pair - a couple.”
“Yes! How did you ...”
“And, you think that we could go at it right here and now?” She asked.
“Well, I was thinking...”
She chuckled again. “Except for the fact that I’m fifteen years older than you. And the fact that I have three young girls just across the walkway in the house getting hungry for dinner. And the fact that you’ve just had channels opened up in you that have been blocked for years and years, it makes a young, virile man think that it’s a sexual thing when it’s not.”
“It’s not?” Scott asked, not understanding.
“I’m afraid not, Scott.” Betti said, smiling piteously at Scott. “You’ve had a powerful experience of Grace. To suddenly have the weight of past offenses and hurts removed is quite a heady thing. Before you go, I want you to sit for a few minutes and I’ll give you follow-up instructions that will help you to keep the yardage you’ve gained and not be pushed backwards. I’m going to get you a glass of water. Sit.”
Scott sat, momentarily disappointed that it wasn’t going to go the way he felt so strongly it should lead to. He could not argue with what she said though. He did feel something. Was it grace? He didn’t know about that but the general feeling of Hope overcame any transient emotions he had experienced.
Images of his marriage and his wife came to him in those moments before Betti returned with the glass of water. The images of her were not as scary and instead, he felt a deep sadness for her that did not involve a sadness for himself for a change. Then he saw his father standing, old and beaten, eyes pleading - not a stance of unyielding and impervious authority - and Scott wanted to go to him and embrace him.
But then Betti came back with a glass of water, handed it to him, making sure he had it securely in his hands before she sat beside him. Scott’s physical vision returned as he swallowed the cool, PH-balanced water.
“Now, we’ll talk for just a short time about how you’re going to go home and have things be different for you.”
In that space of time in crossing from the still-ticking Jeep to Betti Bee standing on the porch before her open front door, Scott realized he had lost ground in that time. Lost something. He couldn’t say how or why, but that fleeting vision of his first session with her was in fairly strong contrast to his present state. He thought, “Maybe I’ll get a little of that back...”
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