Charlie’s Redemption

Amateur

Charlie was a character who was in parts two and three of Seducing Zoe and in part three she attempted to seduce Zoe with disastrous results. I’ve decided to do a separate stand alone story about Charlie and another woman, Casey. To make it slightly more realistic I’ve brought the timeline forward by six months for Charlie.

Charlie sucked hard on a cigarette as she stood outside the Melbourne Town Hall, a banner hanging above her announced the Australian AA convention. It was just one of a small number of venues around the country that had been hired out to host bigger meetings and workshops. The town hall had hosted two meetings already this morning but the midday meeting had been an Open meeting where non alcoholics were invited into the meeting to hear alcoholics tell of their drinking and recovery.

Charlie turned to look down Swanston Street, her mind flitting back over the years when this place had been one of her old stomping grounds, especially at night. She used to stop in at MacDonalds on her way to Flinders Street station after rolling out of a pub, often with a woman on her arm. It was a game she’d played with her old drinking partner, Lauren who had since moved in with a woman and turned monogamous.

Their favourite game had been the seduction game and these two women had taken it very seriously, picking out their targets at the start of the night and then laying down their bets, usually in the form of alcohol and their targets were always women. It didn’t matter if they were straight, bisexual, gay, single or in a relationship, they were all potential targets for the Queens of Seduction, but everything has its price and over the years their reputation had spread. What had been a joke soon became a tiresome joke and then a pain in the arse because neither Lauren nor Charlie had any limits. Slowly but surely the gay community had begun to close ranks and so they’d headed into the wilder western suburbs and that was where they came unstuck.

Because it was further away from the CBD, Charlie had decided to drive her car even though she was obviously too pissed by the time they left the pub out in Footscray and headed home with two women. Despite her inebriated state, Charlie managed to drop Lauren and her date off at Lauren’s place in Heathmont, but just as she was powering down the hill into the Heathmont town centre an unmarked police car flashed its lights and directed her to pull into the service road where a police car was sitting waiting.

She’d blown 1.70, more than three times the legal limit. It had not only killed off her chances with the woman in the passenger seat, who was told to call and arrange alternative transport, it had taken her driver’s licence for twelve months and landed her with criminal charges after she threw an empty bottle of vodka at the unmarked police car. It was an uncharacteristic move for Charlie, who despite her predatory lifestyle when it came to sex, abhorred violence. It had been her personal invisible red line, a concept that she’d heard at an AA meeting when she was eighteen and a half years old.

It was not the first red line she’d painted for herself. Drink driving was another and there were other things she had promised she’d never do. That night however she’d crossed two lines in one night when she was released from the drunk tank at Ringwood and was told she’d get a summons to attend a court hearing at Ringwood Magistrates court. However, it was whilst she was standing outside the cop shop with some paperwork in her hands that her life had turned around, when one of the policewomen who’d been leaning on the counter chatting to one of her colleagues stepped out for a cigarette.

“You want one?” Diane offered her the packet, “it’s all right, there’s no charge.”

Charlie warily extracted a cigarette and accepted the light. Her own cigarettes were on the front floor of her car, which was still sitting in the service road at the Heathmont shops.

“Thanks,” she mumbled.

“No worries,” she blew out a cloud of smoke, “so, how are you going to get your car back home without getting behind the wheel?”

“I don’t know,” she confessed.

“Haven’t you got a girlfriend or some other friend?”

“None that would do that,” she sighed, “I’ve done me dash with most of them and I don’t have the cash.”

“Prove it,” Diane glanced at her handbag, “open your purse.”

Charlie had nearly refused. It seemed like an intrusive act and hadn’t they already searched her handbag last night? Nevertheless, she did take out her purse and showed her the twenty dollar note that she’d taken out along with an ATM slip displaying her balance.

“You got a job?”

“I work for an agency but I haven’t had much work lately.”

“Too busy partying?”

“Something like that,” she put the purse back in her bag.

“Yeah, been there, done that when I was much younger,” she nodded, “I’ll tell you what, Charlene, I’ll organise a tow truck to take your car back home but in return I want something from you.”

“What?” Charlie’s eyes narrowed.

“I want you to go to poker oyna an AA meeting.”

“An AA meeting? You think I’ve got a problem with the piss?”

“No, not at all,” Diane grinned cheerfully as she butted out the cigarette.

“You only blew three times the legal limit and threw a vodka bottle at a police car, and just because you’re standing outside on a Sunday morning with twenty dollars in your purse and fuck all in your account doesn’t make you an alcoholic but you do have a problem with the piss.”

“Fine, okay,” she sighed, “I’ll go.”

“I know you’ll go,” Diane took another drag.

“How do you know I’ll go?”

The words were out before Charlie could stop them.

“Because I’m going to take you to a meeting,” she inclined her head, “my shift is over and I’m going home for some shut eye but you’re on the brink. You’ll probably get off with a warning and a fine over the criminal damage charge but six months down the track I could be watching as the paramedics cut your broken bloodied body out of a wrecked car. And that’s only if you’re lucky,” she grimaced.

“The unlucky ones survive but manage to kill their passengers or some pedestrian, manslaughter carries a jail sentence and a memory you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life.”

Charlie came back to the present as a tram rumbled down Swanston Street and she stared at the poster on the side advertising Channel Ten News. Jennifer Keyte had been her crush for years and she let her eyes play over the sixty year old presenter before turning back to the town hall. The meeting was now over as more people spilled out onto the street.

She spotted her sponsor, Linda a minute or two later as she exited the front entrance with Diane. The policewoman was not an AA member and by her own admission would never qualify, but she’d gained a real respect for the fellowship after meeting a woman she’d once escorted out of a house for being drunk and disorderly. She’d met that same woman years later when a now sober Stella took her housemate home for a one night stand that had developed into a serious long term thing, and thus when Stella casually mentioned the convention, Diane had decided to attend an open meeting to gain a better perspective.

The two women had been introduced to each other by Stella, who had been sitting with some of her friends, one of whom still evoked a painful memory within her. Granted she had managed to get past the simmering resentment after her failed seduction attempt on Lisa’s new girlfriend, Zoe. The aforementioned wasn’t at the meeting that day and Charlie had found herself wondering if Linda hadn’t mentioned to Lisa that Charlie might be here today.

Linda turned around to speak to someone bringing up the rear as she said something to Diane and that was when Charlie caught her first glimpse of her. The dark-haired beauty was a few years younger than herself with shoulder length blonde hair and a slim build. Her attire was neat casual, a white button down shirt hanging over blue jeans and cinched at the waist with a wide leather belt. The brown theme continued with the suede waistcoat and ankle boots, but it was her face that most caught Charlie’s attention when she turned to look in her direction. She had a pixie face and a cute turned up nose, her face was made up with rouge and dark theme eye makeup. Charlie felt her pulse quickening as something shifted inside her, a hard lump that had been there since her failed attempt to seduce Zoe.

Diane was also turning around, albeit briefly and then she was looking around for Charlie, who’d ducked out as soon as the serenity prayer was said for a quick smoke. She nudged Linda and her sponsor glanced over and smiled before speaking to the blonde woman. Charlie took a few steps forward a few seconds later to meet them.

“What’re you up to now?” Linda was asking the younger woman.

“Not much, I was going to bum around town for a bit and then catch the train back to Ringwood,” she said as they came to a halt in front of Charlie.

“Ringwood? I’m heading back that way to drop Charlie off, I could drop you off before I drop Charlie off. We’re just going for a coffee first,” she glanced at Diane, “you tagging along or have you somewhere else to be?”

“I’ll come for a coffee,” Diane shrugged.

“All right,” the woman smiled, “thanks, as long as it’s no problem.”

“No problem at all,” she nodded at Charlie, “this is Charlie, and Casey is an observer.”

“G’day,” Charlie extended her hand and when Casey took it she felt a slight pull as she looked into her green eyes, “nice to meet you.”

“How long have you been sober?” Casey released her hand, “or is that a secret?”

“It’s been nearly twelve months without a drink,” she replied, “but I had a minor bust on the dope nearly six months.”

“It must be hard,” Casey replied, “I do some street ministry work out in Ringwood, we meet a lot of people trying to kick drugs, although most of them are on harder drugs.”

“I’ve tried them in the past,” Charlie replied, “but the booze was always my poison of choice.”

“Shall canlı poker oyna we?” Linda inclined her head.

For reasons that both baffled and excited Charlie in equal measure, Linda and Diane took the lead, leaving Charlie trailing behind Casey as they made their way down to the pedestrianised Bourke Street Mall, which was filled with people on this Saturday afternoon. Two buskers at each end of the short mall seemed to be competing with one another, the woman with the guitar plugged into an amplifier sounded as if she was winning.

By then she’d learned that Casey was a Christian and had moved down from Sydney for a job as a community support worker with Maroondah Council. She was vague about her home church, only commenting that she was a bit of a church surfer and thus hadn’t settled on one particular church. The abovementioned street work was for a non denominational Christian organisation.

When Charlie frowned she went on, “it just means that they’re supported by several churches but they don’t subscribe to just one. It means that they can attract volunteers from a wider variety of churches instead of relying on just one denomination.”

“I’ve never heard of them,” she admitted.

“They were founded in Sydney by a husband and wife but they’ve recently expanded to the inner city areas of Melbourne and Brisbane. I went out with them for a few nights in Kings Cross but then I got the job down here and they put me in contact with a mission in Ringwood. It’s convenient for me because the job I do at the council involves a fair bit of overtime so I can’t get into this part of the city so easily.”

Charlie was more interested in her work for the council and Casey was more than willing to talk about her work. She was a junior support worker, having completed a degree in psychology but her thesis had been on integrating immigrant families into Australian society with an emphasis on the different ways other cultures defined gender roles. It was a topic she seemed quite fixated on and Charlie found herself warming to the topic even though she was more interested in getting to know her for other reasons. You couldn’t help but be drawn in by those green eyes and the way she used her hands when she talked.

When the subject eventually moved back to her Christian faith she confessed that while she had a faith, she didn’t believe that every word in the bible was true. There was no actual garden of Eden, no Adam and Eve, and no Noah’s Ark.

“And definitely no talking snake, and don’t get me started on people screaming in hell when they don’t even have vocal cords.”

“I know all about hell,” she shrugged, “my mum’s Catholic even when her marriage broke up,” she eyed the remains of her meal, “besides, I’m on the other side now.”

“What do you mean by that?” Casey glanced up from her phone.

“I’m, um, gay,” she glanced at Linda and Diane.

“And?” Casey’s mouth twitched, “why should that put you on the other side?”

“It says so in the bible, I remember that from high school.”

“Not really,” she replied, “there’s a verse in the Old Testament that actually came from the Hebrew Torah, so it’s not actually Christian and some verse from one of Paul’s letters that is condemning the Greek practice of pederasty. What Christians forget is that God is a god of unconditional love, so you can’t suddenly whack conditions on God’s love based on your prejudices and bigotry. He’s either a god of unconditional love or he’s a god who has conditions. It’s like being half pregnant, you’re either pregnant or you’re not, you can’t be both.”

Charlie blinked and Linda winked.

“Absolutely, couldn’t have said it better myself,” she glanced at her watch, “so, are we heading for the car or do you want to hang around the city?”

“Home I guess,” Charlie shrugged.

***

Charlie roused herself from a reverie as Linda pulled up next to a red 1970s Holden Monaro, parked in the church carpark just opposite the station. She’d seen the classic car twice in the last couple of months but was surprised when Casey pointed to the coupé.

“That’s my car there,” she undid the seatbelt.

“Now that’s a classic car,” Linda mused.

“Yeah, it was my uncle’s car but it was left to me in his will.”

“I’d be afraid to drive it on the road,” Linda replied, “in case I had a bingle.”

“Oh it has a few little dents,” she replied, “but they’re pretty robust cars.”

“You’ll have to take me for a ride one of these days,” Charlie stared at the car.

“No time like the present,” Casey opened the rear door a little.

“Go ahead,” Linda glanced over at Charlie, “I can drop you here and I’ll see you tomorrow night for the Box Hill meeting.”

“Okay,” she reached down for her handbag, “thanks for taking me in there.”

“All part of the service,” Linda chuckled, “but I’m bagging a lift next time,” she glanced at the rear view mirror.

“No worries,” Casey replied.

The exterior of the car might have been stock standard but the interior had been remodelled with a modern internet casino stereo system that included bluetooth and USB connections. A dashboard mount held her phone and then she noticed the aftermarket steering wheel with buttons for controlling the volume. The sound was pumped out through the door speakers and two larger speakers on the rear parcel shelf. Casey managed a crooked grin as she tapped her phone.

“I love my music,” she found a hard rock playlist, “my uncle was an auto electrician, he had to make up his own wiring loom for the steering column.”

“How did he die?” Charlie glanced at the phone, “if you don’t mind me asking.”

“Cancer,” their eyes met briefly, “it was a hard time for all of us, he was my favourite uncle but at least he had his family around him at the end.”

She started the car and nudged the accelerator.

“It runs on gas though, so there’s a slight drop in performance but at least I’m not continually filling the tank up.”

Little more was said as they headed back to Charlie’s place but as they pulled into her street Charlie glanced over at her.

“So, where’s this street ministry you do?”

“We work out of the Uniting Church where I was parked,” she replied, “but it’s only open on Friday and Saturday nights. The rest of the time it’s unused, but it was open for a few months as a drop in centre for the unemployed. There was talk of using the computers to help them write resumes and job application letters but then they hit a snag with software licensing fees, so the computers are still sitting there unused in a small room out the back.”

“A shame, I was using Windows but it was crashing my computer so Linda installed Linux on it and it runs without crashing. It’s a great system, it’s free to download and install apparently.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard that somewhere before,” Casey glanced at her, “where to now?”

“Um, three doors down,” she pointed to her house, “that’s my joint there.”

“Well, that’s a nice size for a house,” she pulled into the driveway a moment later, “no car?”

“I’m halfway through a twenty four month suspension,” she replied, “I had to sell the car to pay the fine, I used what was left to buy an old computer.”

“That’s a long time to go without wheels,” Casey turned the volume down, “especially this far out, how do you get to work?”

“I get a bus to Ringwood, I work out at a car dealership.”

“Permanent?”

“Yeah, it is now. I was working out at Cadbury in Ringwood but that contract ended after three months but then the agency found me another job at the dealership and when I was coming up for my three months they offered me a part time position. Three days a week but at least it keeps the wolves from the door and I can still do a couple of days with the agency.”

“And they’re okay with that?”

“They are,” she pictured Zoe’s face, “the staff are helpful.”

“It’s good when that happens,” Casey glanced at her phone.

“Maybe I’ll drop into this coffee shop thing.”

“Sure, you’re more than welcome, I have to get going now but if you’re interested I could swing by and pick you up on the way through but you’d have to hang around until closing time. I won’t be on the premises for most of the night though so it might be a boring night. I’m usually at the railway station or Eastland and sometimes the lake.”

Charlie hesitated as she weighed up her options. A night in front of the idiot box or the computer or a night out at some Christian drop in centre, eventually she nodded.

“Okay, what time?”

“Seven thirty,” she replied a moment later, “what’s your number?”

After Charlie had given Casey her number the other woman sent her a text.

“Okay,” she replied to the text, “so, I’ve got a couple of hours to have dinner and get changed.”

“Yep, although it’s just casual clothes, so leave the high heels at home.”

Casual clothes, Charlie mused a few minutes later as she sank into her couch.

“What are you doing?” Charlie muttered, “are you a glutton for punishment?”

The memory of Zoe rose in her mind’s eye, the failed seduction attempt when Zoe turned the tables on her. It had hurt at the time, particularly Lisa’s smartarse comment and whilst she’d managed to get over that resentment there were still times she found herself mentally criticising her at meetings but as she stared out the window Charlie felt almost helpless.

I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t.

***

Charlie looked around the small hall, it was next door to a much larger hall that according to Casey was used more often but this smaller room had been through various iterations over the years from prayer room through to a yoga room. More recently it had been a temporary crèche while the usual crèche was being renovated. It shared a kitchen with the larger hall next door, which had basketball lines painted on the floor. There were half a dozen tables arranged in rows with a bar closest to the kitchen, the smaller room Casey had mentioned earlier was at the other side of the room behind a locked door with No Admittance in bold text on the door. Casey opened the door to show her the benches that ran around three sides of the room, there were a dozen computers, most had the old CRT screens but two had newer flat screens.

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