Wanderer and Homebody, part 6 of 6

“Mom said supper’s almost ready, but I think I’ve got time to scrub the toilets...”

 

“Already?”

 

She shrugged. “They’ve been used several times since this morning. And Craig has terrible aim.”


Wanderer and Homebody

Part 6 of 6

by Trismegistus Shandy


This story is set, with Morpheus' kind permission, in his Twisted universe. It's a sequel of sorts to my earlier novel Twisted Throwback, but it should stand alone tolerably well (though it features three characters from Twisted Throwback). Thanks to Morpheus for his feedback on the rough draft.

You can read the opening chapter of my novel The Bailiff and the Mermaid for free, or buy it at Smashwords or Amazon.



In the last half-hour or so of our drive home, Melissa started getting a little fidgety. “Someone’s making a mess in Mom and Steve’s bedroom,” she said. “Probably Steve.”

“We’ll tell him to clean it up when we get home,” I said. “Try to practice that exercise Dr. Martinez gave you, pretending your leg is going to sleep and that it’s the bedroom, so you can’t feel it anymore...”

“I’ll try.” But she kept fidgeting and shifting in her seat, even with her eyes closed.

It turned out that Steve had tossed his work clothes across the back of a chair when he was changing after work, instead of putting them into a hamper or hanging them up properly. Melissa didn’t wait or ask Steve to clean it up, she went in and did it while he was in the den watching TV — before she said hello to her mother or anyone.

Then she came into the kitchen and said hi to her mother and Lisa, who were fixing supper. Emily and I had just come in too. I’d called Mindy just as we left the clinic, telling her some of what the doctors had said and mentioning Melissa’s new name, too: she said “Hi, Melissa. Did you have a good day?”

“It was okay,” Melissa said. “The doctors had some ideas about fixing my compulsion but it’s going to be hard.”

“Your father told me some of that on the phone. Let’s talk more about it during supper.”

“Can I help?”

“No. Not until Sunday.” Lisa smirked at Melissa behind Mindy’s back; I thought about saying something, but didn’t.

Emily disappeared into her room to do some studying — she’d been talking with me and Melissa most of the way back, as we tried to figure out ways to implement Dr. Schaeffer’s suggestion without disrupting Mindy and Steve’s lives too much, and about whether we ought to let Dr. Schaeffer give her compulsion-suppressing drugs. Emily was firmly against it, and I didn’t like the idea either, though I wanted to do more research before I talked much with Mindy about it.

Melissa and I did some of the trick testing Dr. Martinez had recommended. She went to her room while I went down to the basement and took one magazine from the top of a stack I’d sorted by title and date, and put it in the middle of another stack — sticking out slightly so I could find it again quickly. Melissa joined me moments later and pointed to the stacks of magazines; I put the misplaced one back where it belonged. “So it works on minor disorder, not just trash and dirt,” I noted. “Good to know.”

“Right,” she said, turning to go back up the stairs. “Mom said supper’s almost ready, but I think I’ve got time to scrub the toilets...”

“Already?”

She shrugged. “They’ve been used several times since this morning. And Craig has terrible aim.”


During supper, Mindy asked me and Melissa to talk about what Dr. Schaeffer had said about working around her compulsion.

“Well...” Melissa began, looking to me for help, and I decided I’d take the heat off her.

“He had a couple of suggestions,” I said. “We could hire a cleaning service so Melissa doesn’t have to do so much of the cleaning work. I can help with that, and maybe the Nia Clarence Foundation can help too, if necessary. And... you could move into a smaller place. Or keep this house, but get rid of some things, so there’s not so much for Melissa and the cleaning service to have to clean and keep in order.”

Steve was taken aback — apparently Mindy hadn’t yet told him what I’d told her on the phone. Great, make me the bearer of bad news. He didn’t say anything right away, but I could tell he didn’t like it, and I didn’t blame him. Lisa, though, spoke right up:

“That’s ridiculous! Why should we move out of our house or get rid of stuff we need just because Tim is obsessed with keeping things clean?”

“My name’s Melissa now,” Melissa said quietly.

“I don’t think we’ll need to do that,” Steve said. “Let’s try a cleaning service first. And — I guess we can all stand to get rid of a few things we don’t need or want anymore, I’ve already done some of that in the last few days, and maybe we could do more. We don’t need to move.”

“I don’t like the idea,” Craig said, “but if, um, Melissa needs us to move, I guess I’m okay with it. I’ll be moving out of here soon enough anyway — if you wait until I go off to college you won’t need as many bedrooms in the new place.”

I’d lived for so many years with no more possessions than I could carry on my back that I had a hard time empathizing with them in their attachment to this house and the stuff in it. But I tried. Lisa had lived here her whole life, and Craig since he was a toddler — they had all kinds of memories tied up with it, memories of their mother.

“You need to keep the possibility in mind, and try to get used to it,” I said, “but it might turn out not to be necessary. We need to try other things first — the cleaning service, obviously, but we also need to find someone to teach Melissa meditation and self-hypnosis, to see if that can control her compulsions or help redirect them. Maybe that can weaken them to where she can easily resist them, or help re-focus them so she only has to keep her room clean and not the whole house.”

“But Dr. Schaeffer said it takes a long time to learn meditation well enough to control a Twist compulsion,” Melissa said. “And some people can’t control their compulsions that way. Most people, I think.”

“True. But it’s still the thing to try first, even if it’s not the most likely to succeed, because it would have the fewest disadvantages.”

“We’ll start looking for someone to teach you starting Monday,” Mindy said.

Later in the evening, I told Mindy I wanted to speak with her alone, or maybe with Steve. A few minutes later I was with Mindy and Steve in Steve’s office; there weren’t enough chairs for all of us, and Mindy offered me the second chair, but I stayed standing.

“There’s another thing Dr. Schaeffer mentioned that you need to know about. It’s a last resort, not something to consider unless meditation and moving into a smaller place don’t help, but there are prescription drugs that can be used to control Twist compulsions.”

“Why is that a last resort compared to moving into a smaller house or condo?” Steve asked. “It seems a lot simpler.”

“Because of the side-effects,” I said, and I told them something about Ryan. “...Supposedly the side-effects of the latest generation of Twist-compulsion drugs are less severe, but Ryan still can’t drive or operate heavy machinery because of the medicines he’s taking.”

“That’s not good,” Mindy said. “But not being able to drive seems like less of a disability than some Twist compulsions — like Melissa’s.”

“She’s too young to drive anyway,” Steve put in. “And Austin has decent public transportation, if she needs it when she’s older.”

“Not being able to drive is just an example,” I said. “There might be other side effects that I can’t recall at the moment. I think we should do some independent research on whatever drug regimen Dr. Schaeffer recommends before we take his word and put Melissa on them. And let’s not try them until and unless she’s tried for several months to learn meditation and hasn’t made enough progress to control her compulsions.”

They looked at each other. “I’ll think about it, and do some research,” Mindy said. “If you find out anything more, let me know, okay?”

“Sure.”


The next day, Saturday, Emily had to fly back to Atlanta. I drove over to Mindy and Steve’s in plenty of time to see her off; she left soon after breakfast.

“Tell Vic I said hey,” I told her, and gave her a hug. “I might come see y’all sometime in the next month or two, if it suits.”

“That will be cool. Give us a call when you’re on the way to Atlanta.” She turned to Melissa. “It’s been a fun visit. I wish I could stay for the shopping trip, but, well. Airplanes wait for nobody.” They hugged, and Emily whispered something to Melissa which made her smile.

After Emily left, Melissa said she had to do some more cleaning before she could go out shopping. So we scrubbed the toilets again, cleaned a few hairs out of the bathtub drains, swept the kitchen and wiped down the table and counter, as well as loading and running the dishwasher with the breakfast dishes.

Then Melissa, Mindy and Lisa went out shopping. I asked if they wanted me to come with them to help tote packages, but they said they didn’t need me, and I heaved a private sigh of relief. “I’ll see you later in the evening, then,” and I left about the same time they did, going for a long drive through several small towns north and west of Austin, stopping for lunch at a barbecue place, and going for a walk in a park I found along the way. I got back to the house about suppertime, after calling Melissa to make sure they were home.

After supper, Melissa wanted to show me some of the new things she’d bought, and she modeled several outfits for me while I made admiring noises. I was glad she’d adjusted so easily to being a girl; she had enough hardship just with her compulsion.


Sunday morning, Melissa had some basic maintenance cleaning to do, and Mindy and I helped with it. I started to feel more hopeful about her chances of doing well in school if she could keep the house clean enough to suit her with just an hour or two a day. Then Steve, Craig and I moved some of Melissa’s stuff to the guest bedroom, and the rest of it to the basement, so the carpet installers could replace the carpet in her room that had been burnt by her Twist. They were supposed to come and do the work on Monday, while everybody was at work or school. (I tried to talk Steve into letting Melissa get laminate flooring in her room instead of carpet, but he was adamant that it had to match the rest of the house. Twisted have no monopoly on obsessions.)

Monday morning, I took Melissa to school and met with the principal to talk about her Twist. She said they’d had another Twisted student a few years ago, who’d needed similar accommodations for his Twist-compulsion.

In the afternoon, I picked Melissa up and took her to the courthouse to file her name change. “How was your first day back?” I asked as she got into the car.

“Not good,” she said, making a face. “A bunch of kids were weird about me turning into a girl. And once the carpet guys got started back home, I couldn’t concentrate on anything until they were finished. I guess they had to mess things up before they could make them better. At least my trick distracted me from the other kids‘ teasing as well as the teachers’ lectures.”

“Do you think it would help if your mother or I were to talk to the teachers about the way the other kids are acting? What exactly were they saying or doing?”

“Nobody really messed with me, but several people were saying mean things about me, and some others were asking really personal questions. I tried to ignore them.” She was blushing; I could guess what kind of “personal questions” those were, and I wanted to wring somebody’s neck.

“Well, I’ll come by the school again tomorrow and talk to somebody about it. Did the teachers take notice of what was going on?”

“Mr. Weddell sent Ulrich to the office when he heard him talking about me, but most of it I don’t think the teachers heard. It was mostly in the halls between classes, or at lunch.”

“All right. But you shouldn’t have to put up with that. Let’s do something about it.”

It took us an hour and a half to finish our business at the courthouse, and by the end of it Melissa was getting antsy; she needed to get home and clean up whatever mess Lisa or Craig had made when they got home from school. As soon as I parked, she jumped out and rushed into the house ahead of me; I found her talking to Lisa through Lisa’s closed bedroom door.

“Come on, Lisa, either clean it up or let me do it. I won’t be able to concentrate on my homework until it’s right.”

“Not my fault,” Lisa called back. “And there’s nothing messed up in here either. If it’s not organized the way you like it, that’s not my problem.”

We had a few minutes left until Mindy or Steve would get home, and I was reluctant to interfere in this, but after a few moments I decided I needed to. “Lisa, open up. We need to talk.”

She opened the door a few moments later. “You’re not my dad. And I haven’t done anything wrong.”

There wasn’t any obvious mess I could see in the room behind her — whatever disorder Melissa was reacting to must be fairly minor, like the magazine I’d put out of order.

“We’ll find a better solution for this at some point, Lisa. But for right now, we need to figure out what’s triggering Melissa’s trick, and fix it. I’m sorry if it’s inconvenient for you, but it’s worse than inconvenient for her.”

“Look around, Jack,” she said. “See how clean it is? What’s your problem, Melissa?”

“The bedspread is all rumpled up — look,” Melissa said, pointing.

I sighed. “Lisa, were you taking a nap after school or something?”

“No, just laying in bed reading. Not that it’s any of your business.”

I thought about it. “And did you get up around, um, four-fifteen or four-thirty?” That was about when I’d noticed Melissa getting nervous.

“I guess so.”

Apparently she didn’t have a problem with the bedclothes being rumpled if people were actually using the bed, but if they got up and didn’t make the bed right away... had her trick been this sensitive to begin with or was it getting worse?

“Melissa, sometimes you’re going to have to resist your compulsions, or at least try. Lisa and Craig and Steve are having to make a lot of accommodation for your Twist; it’s not fair for all the accommodation to be on their side.”

Lisa looked surprised and didn’t say anything. Melissa pouted. “Sorry to bother you, Lisa,” I said.

“Thanks,” and she closed the door.

Melissa glared at me. “Why’d you take her side?” she asked.

“Try for a minute to see it the way you would have before your Twist,” I said. “Remember how annoyed you were when your mom made you clean your room?”

“Yeah. That was dumb.”

“That’s how Lisa is feeling toward you the last few days. You used to get along so well; with you being a girl now, you could get to be even closer — if you don’t mess it up.”

“But it... it’s like it itches, or like a staticky noise, when she messes stuff up and leaves it! How can I concentrate on homework or anything if she’s always spilling crumbs on the carpet or not making her bed and stuff?”

“People who live near fire stations or railroad crossings learn to sleep through sirens or train whistles. I think you’re going to have to learn to ignore the low-level itches or noises from your trick, and only bother Lisa and the others about it when it’s something so big you can’t ignore. It might be hard, it might take several months to get used to it, but try.”

She glared at me for a few moments longer, and said grudgingly, “Okay, Dad. I’ll try. But don’t blame me if I get D’s and F’s on all my homework for the next few weeks.”

“Let me know if you need any help. Maybe it will be easier to concentrate on it if we’re talking it over together.”

So we went to the guest bedroom, where much of her stuff still was, and started going over her homework. Mindy and Steve came home from work a little later, and Mindy let Melissa help with supper; she seemed a little less distracted by her trick while she was cooking.

During supper, I mentioned to Mindy and Steve what Melissa had told me about her problems at school, which led to Melissa reluctantly telling us a few more details of what had happened.

“There were kids calling me a Twisted freak,” she said, her eyes focused on her plate, “and boys calling me a sissy and girls saying I wasn’t a real girl... mostly real quiet where the teachers couldn’t overhear them. And some of the guys — even guys I thought were cool — were asking really personal questions, like what it’s like to — um. Anyway. The first couple I told them it was none of their business, then I started ignoring them...”

“We need to talk to your teachers about this,” Mindy said.

“Want me to stop by the school again tomorrow morning?” I asked.

“No; I think I’d better do it. You’ve helped a lot lately but this is something I need to do.”

After supper, Steve, Craig, and I moved Melissa’s furniture and stuff back into her bedroom. She wanted to arrange things a little differently, to make it easier to keep things clean; we put her bed and dresser up on blocks so she could vacuum under them easily, for instance, and didn’t put her furniture flush to the wall so she could easily clean on all sides of it.

Mindy took Melissa to school the next morning, and talked to the principal and several of the teachers about the bullying Melissa had reported. Things got better after that, Melissa told us, though not perfect — Neal was sticking with her and supporting her, but she’d lost several of her male friends, and wasn’t quickly making friends among girls the way Emily did after her Twist. I worried about her, but there wasn’t a lot I could do at that point.

Once Melissa got settled in at school, more or less, I went back to work and got back on the road. I messaged my clients saying the family crisis was over and I was available again, and soon I had all the translation jobs I could handle. I bought a cheap used car and turned in my rental car, and got into a pattern of driving for a few hours each morning after breakfast, then finding a motel and translating for a few hours, and moving on again the next day. I’d travel in a big loop, sometimes as far afield as Spiral or Trittsville, and come back to Steve and Mindy’s house each weekend to see how Melissa was doing.

Mindy got her into yoga classes by the end of the second week after her Twist, and they seemed to be helping some. But the techniques Dr. Martinez had suggested to try turning off her trick when it wasn’t convenient weren’t doing any good, at least not yet. Her grades were slipping, though not as badly as Melissa or Dr. Schaeffer had feared.

Steve had hired a cleaning service to come in twice a week, but they weren’t up to Melissa’s exacting standards, and didn’t actually save her that much time. I think it helped some, though; most weekends when I visited, Melissa was able to catch up with the cleaning she’d missed during the week on Saturday morning, with help from me and usually other family members, and then we could go on a short road trip together Sunday. Sometimes Neal came with us; we invited Lisa to come a couple of times, but she always refused.

One Friday a few weeks after Melissa’s Twist I took her to the clinic to participate in the trick study Dr. Martinez had mentioned. I picked her up from school at lunchtime, and got to the clinic in time for them to have her under a scanner just when Lisa got home from school and started making a mess in the kitchen.

The months between spring break and summer vacation went by; Melissa got better at meditation, better at ignoring her compulsion for a few hours when necessary, and her grades picked up a little toward the end of the school year. One Thursday in May I called her and she asked, “Is it okay if we don’t go on a road trip this weekend? Paulynn invited me to her birthday party on Sunday afternoon, and I told her I might go to the sleepover the night before too if I get the cleaning done early enough on Saturday.”

“That’s great, honey. Do you want me to come by for a few hours on Saturday and help clean, like usual?”

“I don’t want you to come all this way just to clean,” she said anxiously, “not when we won’t have time to do fun stuff together.”

“Well, maybe we’ll do something extra special the weekend after next, then.”

I took advantage of the longer time between visits to spend several days in Georgia, visiting kinfolks in Trittsville, Atlanta and Milledgeville, and returning to Texas the weekend after the sleepover. It was time I started doing research on cabins and cottages that could be a temporary home for me and Melissa during our summer vacation. I visited several towns on the Gulf and looked at different beach houses for rent, trying to find the smallest with the least furniture that still had decent beds and looked livable. But then another idea occurred to me, and I got more and more excited. How flexible was Melissa’s trick? We didn’t know yet if it could even be focused on a different house than the one where she Twisted; maybe my idea was foolish, or at least premature. But if it worked... it could be ideal. The only way, maybe, to really satisfy her compulsion and mine at the same time, instead of compromising by satisfying each only partially. I resolved to try it first, and rent the beach house if it didn’t work.

So, on the third day of Melissa’s summer vacation, after she’d had time to enjoy an end-of-school party with Paulynn and some other new friends, and to catch up with house-cleaning, I rolled into Austin and made the final arrangements. I parked on the north side of the street and knocked on the door; Craig answered it.

“Hey, Jack. Melissa’s in her room, packing.”

I walked in; on my way to Melissa’s room I passed by the den, where Mindy, Steve and Lisa were watching a movie. “Hi, all.”

“Good morning, Jack,” Mindy said. “I haven’t told Melissa what you’ve got planned. I’m not sure it’s a good idea, making it a surprise, but I didn’t tell her.”

“We’ll see. I’ve got backup plans in case it doesn’t work out. And we’ll be back here in a few days if the backup plan doesn’t work either. Just try to keep things as clean as you can for the first few days we’re gone, until she refocuses on the new home.”

“I hope it works.”

Melissa heard me talking and came out of her room. “Hi, Dad. I’m almost ready.”

“Good. How have you been?”

“Well, I passed all my courses this semester. Just barely made it in algebra, though.”

“I’m sure you’ll do better next year. You’ve been getting better at controlling and working around your compulsion, and you’ve got all summer to get better at meditation.”

A few minutes later, after saying goodbye to everyone, we walked out the door, Melissa towing one suitcase and me carrying her other one. She stopped at the top of the porch steps and stared.

“I thought you were going to rent a cabin,” she said. “For me to try to focus my trick on.”

“We can still do that if this doesn’t work,” I assured her. “But do you think you can focus your trick and your compulsion on an RV?”

She stared thoughtfully at it for a few more moments, then gave me a wild grin. “I don’t see why not. Let’s go, Daddy!”

 



 

That's all — for now. I've considered writing a brief epilogue or chapter seven, but when I finished the first draft of this story, continuing farther seemed anticlimactic. Let me know what you think; does the story have good closure as it is? Or do you want to read a little more about Jack and Melissa even if there's good closure as is?

I'm currently working on another Valentine Divergence novel, and a Twisted novel or novella; they're currently at 46,000 and 24,000 words. I'm serializing a rough draft of the Valentine Divergence novel on the tg_fiction mailing list; I'll probably post the final draft here on BC later in the year, after revisions based on comments from tg_fiction.

If you've read this far, please leave a comment, so I can learn what I should keep doing and what I should do differently. Kudo button clicks are nice but they don't tell me which parts of the story people liked or in what way.

And thanks for reading.


If you've enjoyed this and the other free stories I've posted here, you may also enjoy these novels and short fiction collection -- available from Smashwords in ePub format and from Amazon in Kindle format. (Smashwords pays its authors more than other retailers.)

The Bailiff and the Mermaid Smashwords Amazon
Wine Can't be Pressed into Grapes Smashwords Amazon
When Wasps Make Honey Smashwords Amazon
A Notional Treason Smashwords Amazon
The Weight of Silence and Other Stories Smashwords Amazon


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