We were supposed to trust only residents because they weren't tainted. Other than classes, we had another meeting called Accountability Time, which was where we had to sit around and talk about our lives with other residents. They were usually split by gender to encourage discussion of potentially sensitive subjects. There was always one person in the group who wasn't part of our regular class to encourage us to learn to trust new people.
Titanium and Camo are joined by Barry for their Accountability Time meeting. Barry annoys Titanium and Camo just like Zinfandel does, so they dread this meeting as much as they dread class. Unfortunately, he's particularly chipper today and picks the most awkward topic to start off their discussion.
"How did your Intimacy sessions go? I've no doubt you heard about mine since Zinfandel was my partner and she's in your class. I'm curious how you guys fared. Hopefully better than me."
Barry laughs in a friendly manner, clearly enjoying this meeting way too much.
"Shut up, Barry. You're a dumbass."
"Oh, come on, Camo. Lighten up. You were a first timer, it must have been exciting for you."
"It sucked. I didn't like it."
Barry looks a little shocked because he's never heard of a resident who hasn't enjoyed their first time at intimacy.
"Why? What happened?"
"Uh, she was gross and it took an eternity for me to get hard. I don't know why I had to tell you that, I already told Titanium of my own will."
"You know why. It's to make sure we keep our purity. If we have more than one person who knows about our lives, it keeps us accountable so that we don't stray off the path of purity. It's also good to have more than one person you trust. You shouldn't be so shallow, Camo. We do not value appearances here."
"Yeah, yeah. Blah, blah, blah. Whatever, four eyes."
Barry brushes off Camo's name calling and turns to Titanium.
"What about you? Did you have a better experience? I know you were a first timer as well."
Titanium becomes nervous and looks at Camo, who shoots him a 'do not say anything about not liking girls' look. Titanium exhales softly and thinks about his reply, heeding Camo's warning.
"It felt good."
"See, Camo? It can feel good as a first timer."
"Whatever, it did feel good, but I just didn't like my partner. I would have preferred someone who I actually wanted to look at."
Camo is thinking about Verona and what it would be like to be intimate with her. He's learned not to get his hopes up since he'd been so let down by his first time, but he also thinks that he would enjoy Verona a lot.
"Camo, that's a common myth. Intimacy is for reproduction purposes only, it doesn't matter if you like the resident or not. Actually, liking your resident makes it worse."
"Yeah, what's up with that, dumbass? You actually liked Zinfandel romantically?"
"Well, I did, and I am still going through the cleansing process. I'm not supposed to talk to her for a month and then we can try to be friends again."
Stupid Andromeda. I can't believe I punched her. Or can I? She had been growing apart from me so much over the years. When we got married, she knew I didn't want kids. She knew that! We lived for twelve years, just the two of us. She was wonderful. We both had jobs we loved, and were doing great. Then the economy slumped, and Andromeda got fired. I was there for her the whole time, helping her get through it. She never really recovered from losing her job, and that was when she changed.
She started talking about wanting children and how it would fill some void in her life. It hurt when she said that because it was like I wasn't enough for her. Then she started going on about how a baby would make us love each other more because it was something we could create together. I didn't understand why she couldn't just love me without a baby. I said no. I didn't want a baby. My parents tried the whole 'let's fix our relationship with a baby,' and a fat lot of good it did them. I could feel the hate oozing out of their eyes when they looked at each other, even through the fake smiles they gave me. They only stayed together because of me. I know that because when I turned eighteen and moved out, they got divorced. The annoying part is, Andromeda knows what happened in my family, yet she pulled the same crap with me. I started getting mad at Andromeda when she kept bringing up baby talk, every month she would ask me, and I'd always say no. I feel like I look at her like my dad used to look at my mom. My relationship turned into exactly what I was trying to avoid. Absolon is a constant reminder of when I lost Andromeda, and I hate him for it.
I slump down on the bed in the motel room I rented and close my eyes. I understand why Andromeda thinks I'm cheating on her, but what I told her was true, I just can't stand being at home where she's going to rip my face off with her death glares and screams. I always come here after work and watch tv after grabbing a bite to eat. We constantly go in circles over what went wrong. I always feel like my head is going to explode when she looks at me. I think I saw a glimmer of love in her eyes when I grabbed her shoulders, and we almost had a decent conversation, until she brought up Absolon, again. I truly believe that she purposely stopped taking her birth control and that she trapped me into having a kid with her. I feel like she betrayed me and I don't know if I can forgive her. There might still be love in my heart for her, but can I love someone and yet not be able to forgive them? I don't know the answer to that, and I still can't believe she slapped me.
It's 10pm and it's time to close the bookstore. Camo and Titanium's shift was over at 7pm because they had some arrangement where they had to be back at their home by 10pm otherwise the doors would be locked. I can understand that since they live in a shelter and the point of a shelter is to keep its residents safe.
The stage where Absolon performs is bare, so he must have taken his stuff and went home for the day as well. He doesn't have set hours, but he usually leaves around 7pm, with Titanium. I think he has a crush. I make my way around the store to see if there are any customers lurking and I don't see anybody, so I shut off the lights.
Just as I'm ready to shut the door and put the key in the lock, I hear a clanging coming from the cafe. I find this weird because the cafe should be empty as well and customers can't go back there. I open the door and go back inside. As I make my way back to the cafe, there's no mistaking that aqua colored hair. It's Absolon, but what's he doing here? I saw him leave with Titanium hours ago.
Camo and Titanium are still in their meeting with Barry.
"I know I'm going to regret asking this, but what is the cleaning process?"
"It's cleansing, Camo."
"Whatever, god, you're just like Zinfandel, uppity and annoying."
"The cleansing process is how a resident becomes clean again after they stray off the path. It is different depending on what caused the impurity. In my case, I crossed the rule of romantic boundaries, so the first part was I had to be put in Isolation. The second part was that I had to tell The Leader what went wrong in the Intimacy Room. The third part is that I am not allowed to talk to Zinfandel for a month."
"I choose not to talk to Zinfandel of my own will. She's a dumbass, just like you. Guess that's why you were attracted to each other. Takes one to know one."
Camo looks bored, which isn't surprising, but Titanium has become curious with Barry's choice of words regarding Isolation. He said 'had to be put' as if he thought Isolation was a good thing. Titanium remembers Isolation as being the worst experience he's had in The Compound, even worse than when he had to pretend to enjoy intimacy with a woman.
"Barry, what do you mean 'had to be put' in Isolation? I was put in Isolation once and it caused me to distrust everyone because if I hadn't been reported, I wouldn't have been there."
"Titanium, Isolation is the best way to cleanse your soul. It causes you to think about the wrong you have done and why it is wrong, without distraction. It was not meant to make you lose trust in your fellow residents. You misunderstood the purpose of Isolation. Also, the way to avoid Isolation is to avoid talking about or doing impure things that will get you reported in the first place."
Titanium sits back and ponders Barry's words. He thinks Isolation and the act of reporting residents are both wrong and finds it strange that Barry is not only okay with it, but seems to think it is necessary.
Did your perception of trust change at this point?
I think it did. I knew in my head that I was supposed to trust Barry because that's what the rules said, but my heart didn't want to trust Barry because I didn't want to believe that his words were true.
"Absolon? What are you doing here? I thought you left with Titanium."
Absolon looks really nervous and I wonder what's going on with him.
"Uh... well... I did."
"But why did you come back?"
"Uh... I've... uh... been sleeping here at night... on the loveseat. When I hear someone come in, I hide in the kitchen until about 9am and then I pretend to 'arrive.'"
"Um... I'm uh... I'm... homeless... please, please, please don't fire me. This job is the only good opportunity I've ever had."
"I won't fire you. Hang on a minute, ok?"
I pull out my cell phone and call Dad.
"Hi baby girl, what's up?"
"Dad? I've kind of got a situation. A friend needs a long term place to stay. Do we have an available guest room?"
"Yeah, none of them are being used right now."
"Is it okay if I bring him by tonight?"
"Yeah that's fine. We'll talk when you guys get here."
My dad gets a playful tone in his voice as he says his next sentence.
"Him? Is he your tall, handsome crush?"
"No, he's not my crush."
"Absolon? You are going to come with me. My parents have a guest room where you can stay."
Absolon looks at me with relief written all over his face.
"Are you sure I wouldn't be imposing on your family or anything? I don't want to be a burden."
"No, it's fine. That was my dad on the phone, and it's cool with him."
"Oh my god, thank you."
Verona takes me out to the parking lot and I can hardly believe my eyes when she walks up to a bright blue Lamborghini and opens the door for me. I slide into the car and stare at the door as it lowers itself from above. Holy crap I'm riding in a Lamborghini, and who is Verona that she drives a freaking Lamborghini!? My questions just keep multiplying as Verona pulls up to a giant gate. She pushes a button on the visor as if the gate is a garage door and then she drives in.
A blonde haired man with a lot of facial piercings is waiting for us as we walk into the living room. He gives Verona a big hug when he sees her.
"Hey baby girl!"
I feel a pang of jealousy when I see that the blonde haired man is her father. What I wouldn't give for my father to treat me like I'm not a repulsive piece of trash. As I look at their interaction, it becomes clear to me where Verona has inherited her genuine kindness and nonjudgmental attitude.
"Daddy, this is my friend Absolon. He needs a place to stay."
"Oh, Absolon, there's no need for formalities. Call me Charles."
"Wow, Charles, your house is amazing, and your daughter is amazing."
"Thank you. Come, let's go get you settled in, Absolon."
Verona gestures for me to follow her father and she follows me. I'm still in awe, her house has spiral staircases and hardwood floors. I really want to know what her dad does for a living. My admiration does not cease when Charles leads me into the guest room. There is a large window, bed, and dresser in the room. Everything in their house seems larger than life.
"Absolon, you can stay here for as long as you like. This is one of our spare guest rooms."
One of the spare guest rooms? How many guest rooms do they have?!
"Are you sure, Charles? I don't want to impose."
"I'm positive. Verona told me she hired some entertainment for the store. That was you, right? I only noticed because of your guitar and amplifier."
"Yes, I am playing in the cafe."
"Well, you are now her friend, so if you need a place to stay, you are welcome here."
"I... just wanted to say, um... my situation is not the best, and I want to be completely honest with you."
"What do you mean?"
"Um, I am homeless. I had been sleeping on a park bench for a year before Verona found me and gave me the job. I'll leave now if you don't want me to stay here, knowing my past."
Charles looks at me confused. Then he smiles.
"You are no longer homeless, Absolon. Your past is of no matter to me. You have a home with us."
Who are these people? They feel like saints. My eyes tear up and I muster out a soft thank you. I look down so Charles won't see me cry, even though I'm sure he wouldn't mind. I've never been treated so well in my entire life.