Cause & Effect: A Slice of Life Romance
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Mark wears his addiction like armor against a childhood of damage. When his recklessness leaves him in rehab with no memory of how he got there, he meets Aileen—the counselor assigned to probe the roots of his trauma. Her compassion disarms his defenses, sparking an unexpected bond. Yet the closer they get, the more she stirs up the pain Mark numbs with drugs and adrenaline. To build a future together, he must confront his agony—before it consumes them both. But with everything to lose, can Aileen show Mark there is light beyond the darkness? Or will his addiction obliterate their one chance at happiness? When your only escape is at the bottom of a bottle, how do you find the courage to face your demons?
When he opened his eyes, he was alone in the dark, lying on a thin plastic 'mattress' on a cement floor. He was shivering violently, both from the chill in the air and his withdrawal. Sitting up took everything he had, and a wave of nausea washed over him out of the blue. He had to vomit imminently and scanned the room for a place to do so. He let his stomach contents loose into a grey pail in the corner of the room and then sank back down to the ground.
It was a mystery to him how he'd ended up in the cell, but he was confident he deserved it. Eventually, someone would come along and describe to him what he’d done, and he just prayed that he hadn't killed anyone this time.
He proceeded to tremble on the floor, wishing for cold water and a bridge to jump from. These wishes both traveled aboard the same train of thought. His life was a mess, and he was sick and tired of living; it was time to admit that he'd never be OK and to check out. Mark Wallace was finished with life; he needed one more push to end it all.
* * *
Aileen sank behind her desk, slipped her feet into her heels, and checked her makeup in a compact before answering her intercom.
“Send him in, Winston.”
“You got it.”
Winston was her sidekick around the facility, her backup with patients who needed a heavier hand, and she counted on him daily. After losing her other addictions counselor, her staff was bare-bones, and she struggled to manage it all. She only had her orderly, Winston, her cook, Gary, and a new counselor, Julianne, who was still learning the ropes.
The DA was bringing her new cases of court-ordered rehab, and she hoped, as she always did, the recidivism would be low this time. Sal waltzed in and placed the stack of case files on her desk as he moved in for a kiss.
“Close the door first,” she whispered.
They had been sleeping together for a few weeks, and he couldn't seem to wrap his mind around her wanting to keep her work life separate.
“Sorry,” he smiled, closing the door behind him and taking her in his arms.
“Can't wait until tonight?” she grinned.
It was flattering, but she didn’t like sexual encounters at work. It had taken her years to get where she was, and it wouldn't take much for her to be taken less seriously.
“I suppose I can.”
She kissed him back sweetly and sat behind her desk to skim her new cases. The facility was almost empty, and the two residents she had were nearing the end of their treatment. She could only house five patients at once; Mendelson was a small city with few resources.
“You got a hard case this time, Ailee,” he chuckled.
There were three files on her desk, and she wondered which one he meant.
“This one is a medical rehab, Sal; we can't take this one here,” she said, handing back the case file of a prisoner who needed hospital treatment.
“They're sending a nurse to supervise,” Sal explained.
“I don't have the security in place for this,” she insisted. “This could involve seizures and meds that I don't have on hand. Alcoholism and addiction to painkillers with a history of assault, this could be rough.”
“They're going to take care of all that, don't worry.”
Aileen sighed heavily. She was often given cases beyond her scope with only one hospital in town. However, they knew she was the best person to handle the tricky situations; the hospital didn't deal primarily with addiction and often didn't know how to handle it.
“When is this one coming?”
“Any minute now, he's coming from the county jail.”
“What did he do?”
“DUI with a serious injury involved. They denied his bail because they needed him detoxed to stand trial. See what he's like, and maybe I can cut him a deal if he pleads guilty.”
“You got it.”
Aileen sighed and looked at the case. Mark Wallace was 38 and had a long history of screwing up—charges of assault, possession of drugs, DUIs, and myriad other minor charges.
“I don't know what I'm supposed to do for him here.”
“You'll figure it out,” Sal smiled. “You're the best there is.”
Just then, the alarm at the security door at the back of her facility went off, and she groaned as she got up.
“I'll see you tonight then?” he winked.
“Ugh,” she huffed but stopped to kiss him goodbye quickly.
* * *
Aileen walked the narrow corridor to the back door, where she met an officer with a filthy man cuffed.
“Where the fuck am I?” the man barked.
“Regional Detox Facility,” she smiled. “Mark Wallace, I presume.”
“I don't need to be here; just send me back to the fuckin' jail.”
“I'm afraid such decisions aren't up to you, Mr. Wallace.”
He turned to the police officer holding him up and smirked in a cocky way that annoyed her right out of the gate.
“Does she always talk like an uppity bitch, or is it just my lucky day?”
“Hey, watch your mouth. This woman is your warden for the next 28 days.”
“What the fuck? I don't need to be here!” he hollered.
“Take him to the holding cell,” Aileen sighed.
She wasn't dealing with the new guy until he had his manners in check. Mark was taken to the secure cell and uncuffed but instructed to sit on the cot like a good boy until he was spoken to.
“Fuck you,” Mark growled. “What is this place, juvie?”
Aileen figured she'd try to plead her case but knew that it wouldn't do much good.
“He's huge,” she told the cop as she signed the paperwork to take over his care. “I have a new girl on tonight because we were almost empty ...I can't leave her with this guy; he'll drive her crazy by morning.”
“Sorry, I can't do anything about it.”
“If the state wants me taking hard cases like this, I’d appreciate more funding for security. I will have my work cut out for me getting him settled.”
“We're all strapped,” he nodded. “Sorry.”
“Alright, see you later.”
Aileen returned to the secure cell and asked Winston to back her up. She was 5 foot 7 and under 140 pounds; this man had priors for assault, and she wasn't looking to be next.
“Mr. Wallace?” she began.
“Yes, teacher!” he growled.
“Look, we need to get a few things straight, and then I think you and I could agree.”
She could only see the top of his head through the tiny window in the door as he sat on the bunk, and she dreaded dealing with a mouthy man; nothing annoyed her more than sarcasm from a man.
“Number one: I didn't put you here; you did that. Number two: I believe that even criminal addicts are human beings, so I will treat you as well as you treat me. Number three: I am here to help you and will do everything I can to make your stay here productive and comfortable. Number four: I will not take your shit and abuse with a smile. If you are verbally or physically abusive with me or my staff, I will not hesitate to make your life unpleasant and write a report to the judge in your case that can only be described as unfavorable.”
“You got that speech memorized, Sugartits?”
Aileen bit her tongue and unlocked the cell to make eye contact.
“I do have it memorized,” she smiled. “Now, I will need you to undress for me, Mr. Wallace. I have inmates brought over from the county with drugs every other week, and I do not allow contraband in my facility.
She placed a basic grey uniform on the dresser in his room, and he stood up casually.
“I got to show my cock to your pal over here?”
“He's seen it all before; he has one himself, in fact,” she smiled.
Mark grinned, pulled his shirt over his head, and tossed it to her playfully.
“This stinks of whiskey,” she huffed.
“You got a shower ‘round this shithole? I look even better wet,” he winked.
“Right this way,” she sighed.
Aileen knew she wasn't leaving there until later in the evening. She would at least have to wait till the lights out when he'd be locked up to leave Julianne alone with him.
Aileen walked Mark to the shower area, and she and the orderly watched as he untied his boots and dropped his jeans and boxers to the ground. He handed her his clothing and stepped into the shower with the lukewarm spray.
“You're staring,” he chuckled when he caught her eyeing his tackle.
“I assure you it's not for fun. Turn around and bend over, Mr. Wallace.”
“Pretty thorough, aren't you?” he winked and obeyed her orders.
“It’s necessary in a place like this, and everyone gets the same treatment,” she explained.
“Dark side of the moon, Sugartits!” he joked.
Aileen couldn't help but laugh as he stood up and washed his hair. His back was covered with lash marks, and she knew that something awful had happened to him in life. So many of the people who ended up in her facility were victims of horrendous childhood sexual and physical abuse. The fact that she could see this and all of the things they were charged with and still saw every one of them as human-made her so good at her job. Aileen didn't take nonsense and ran the place like a well-oiled machine, but she had boundless compassion as well; it was a delicate balance.
“Can’t a guy get five minutes alone to jerk off around here?” he asked as his eyes moved from one to the other.
“You'll have plenty of time for that in your room tonight, Mr. Wallace.”
“Don't want to watch?”
This man was playing the fool, so she called his bluff.
“You know what?” she purred. “Yeah ...do it.”
“Pffft! Not with him there, I ain't queer!”
“Winston, can you step into the hallway, please?”
Winston knew her style; it was a power play, so he casually did as she asked and stepped into the hall.
She could see the expression on Mark's face change to one that showed he'd been outsmarted.
“Come on,” she said, stepping closer to him to show she wasn't afraid. “Let's see it.”
Aileen loved to mess with the ones who thought they were clever, so her hands went to the buttons on her suit jacket, unfastening just one.
“You going to tease me all night? You said you'd jerk off for me,” she pouted.
“You're fucked, lady!” he shot back. “You're all kinds of crazy!”
“Just like I thought,” she sighed. “All bark and no bite. Do we understand each other now?”
“Yeah ...I guess so.”
Aileen told him he could have ten minutes in the shower alone and that she would bring him some take-out food since the kitchen was closed. She stepped toward the door to the hallway, and he called after her that he liked fried chicken and added the word, please.
“You got it, Mr. Wallace. See? We can be friends, right?”
* * *
Mark sat alone in the dark that night after a nurse showed up to check him over and give him some medicine. He behaved himself for her, but only because the blonde woman was watching the whole time; it seemed best not to mess with her. The door was locked, and his body was filled with meds to 'assist' him with his detox. He had given this new boss lady the work, and she took it from him without getting rattled; he had to respect that.
He still didn't plan to make it to his trial. He still planned to check out before life got any uglier.
When the cops at the county jail informed him of what he'd done, it cemented his decision to rid the world of Mark Wallace. Thanks to his stupid choices, a woman he never met was in the hospital. They told him she was in rough shape and had a broken leg to deal with; he had fucked up this woman's life all in one split second when he decided to drive home.
He hated being alone. He was haunted when he was alone, and it had been that way since childhood. Mark was being eaten alive by guilt, but it would be a cold day in hell before he showed his pain to anyone. He maintained a mask of cockiness as a shield, which had kept him protected all his life. When people knew you were vulnerable, they would hurt you; that’s how his old man operated. He vowed never to show anyone he had emotional or physical feelings. Keeping everyone at arm's length was exhausting but necessary.
Aileen stayed that night until the nurse was finished caring for her new resident, and after he was somewhat sedated for the evening, she left the new girl in charge.
Julianne Wright had come over from the hospital psych ward, so she knew what she was doing, and Aileen was grateful to have more support. The only other staff she had were Winston and Gary. They had been managing without adequate night staff for over a week since losing their other full-time care worker. The one blessing was that she had fewer patients lately and could work with fewer staff in a bind. Mark settled down nicely that first night after his nurse left. He appeared to be almost subdued to her. Aileen planned to talk to him first thing in the morning if he was willing.
She met Sal for drinks but was late due to work. He grumbled about her babying her residents again, and she didn’t appreciate the input. After only a few weeks of dating, she didn't need his criticism of her work habits.
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