‘Excuse me everyone,’ an elderly-ish woman standing at the front of the room cleared her throat. The name badge pinned to her navy blazer read Maddison Brown: Group Coordinator. ‘Can I have your attention please?’
Eight pairs of eyes swivelled in her direction, watching with differing degrees of wariness.
Maddison waved her arm to indicate the table beside her. ‘Before getting comfortable, can you please come up to the front and collect your name badge? Once you’re all seated again we’ll get started.’
Shit¸ thought Jenny, shitty shit shit! I’ve already cleaned this seat. What if someone takes it while I’m getting my name badge? What if I walked back and lost the plot and pushed them off the chair? But then I’d have to touch them. Oh my God, I will definitely vomit. Jenny bit her lip and frowned as she considered whether to leave her bag hanging on the back of her chair. But someone might touch it, or look inside it… Nope. I’ll just pretend I didn’t hear her, and wait until everyone else has sat down in the other chairs.
She looked over at the worn old armchair which was part of the circle of chairs, and wrinkled her nose in distaste at the stained material and the suspicious bum-shaped indent in it. Jenny glanced at the ceiling. Please God, please don’t let me end up sitting there.
As if sensing her distress, an extremely overweight blonde man standing nearby winked at her. ‘She’s a bit of a stern old duck,’ he whispered, ‘but I’m sure she’s a teddy bear really. What’s your name? I’ll grab your name badge for you.’
‘Oh, ok, thanks.’ Jenny nodded and waited for him to walk away, before realising that she hadn’t yet told him her name. ‘Oh, sorry – my name’s Jenny. Jenny Sullivan.’
‘Right, no problem.’ He smiled at her. ‘I’m Phil.’ Jenny smiled tightly in return, and Phil wobbled off to the table to collect their name tags.
Jenny frowned again, considering the fact that he might now try and sit down next to her, but before she had time to agonise any further a man sat down on her left and a woman on her right. Jenny breathed a sigh of relief. It wasn’t that she didn’t like overweight people, she didn’t really know any to make that kind of judgment. She was just a bit suspicious about their level of personal hygiene. All those rolls and creases to clean. She watched Phil lean over the table at the front of the room to look at the name tags, and looked away quickly when she noticed the very visible amount of butt cheek escaping from the top of his pants. Turning to her right, she saw the woman who had just sat down had noticed it too – but instead of looking away, the other woman seemed to be staring intently. And she definitely didn’t look disgusted – in fact, Jenny thought with surprise, she looked as if she was oogling him. No, I must have that wrong? Except, she’s really staring at it. Like, right at his crack. I’m going to point at her and shout “hey everyone, she’s looking at his crack”. I wonder what she’d do. Don’t say it Jenny. Don’t you dare say it. Jenny clamped a hand over her mouth.
The oogling woman was already wearing her name tag. Ellen Stuart. Jenny glanced at the tag, and looked away again when she noticed that Ellen Stuart had turned her head and was staring back at her. Jenny dropped her hand from her mouth, shifted uncomfortably in her chair and looked at her watch. 7.08pm. One hour and twenty-two minutes to go.
Busying herself watching the seconds tick by, Jenny was startled when she felt a tap on her shoulder. It was Phil. And he was holding her name tag out to her. Jenny tried to ignore the burning itch on her shoulder where Phil’s finger had touched her hoodie. She imagined all sorts of dirty germs multiplying and crawling down her collar bone.
‘Here you go Jenny.’
Jenny hesitated before taking the tag from his outstretched hand with the very tips of her forefinger and thumb. A strangled squeak escaped her mouth, and she shuddered involuntarily. He smiled kindly, and didn’t seem to notice. Or maybe he was used to people thinking he was dirty and covered in germs. Waiting until he turned around to find an empty chair, she quickly pulled a small bottle of disinfectant from her pocket and gave the tag and her hands a quick and thorough spray. Hearing a chuckle, she turned to see the man on her left was watching her. He looked like Tom Selleck. In the glory days of Magnum PI.
‘He might be overweight, but I don’t think he’s got any diseases or anything,’ he whispered good-naturedly. ’And I’m pretty sure you can’t catch fat.’
’Oh, yes, ha ha. Of course not. I, I just have allergies. Really really severe allergies. I mean, I could literally die.’ Jenny was delighted with herself for her quick response, until she remembered where she was, and realised she was probably going to have to say why she was actually here – at which point he’d know she was lying.
She was about to correct herself, but Tom Selleck had already turned towards the manky old armchair where Maddison was currently wiggling her bottom into position.
‘Okay, everyone,’ Maddison began, ‘thank you for coming along tonight. Welcome to the Fairside Addiction Support Group. Let’s get started shall we?’
There were some lack lustre nods of assent, a few self-conscious coughs and a nervous chuckle. Jenny was in the nodding team.
‘My name is Maddison Brown, and I’m the group coordinator for these meetings. As a trained counsellor, I have been running addiction support groups here at the hall for the past ten years or so. I also have my own small practice in Hamilton East, offering one-on-one counselling sessions. My working background has always been within the medical profession, predominantly working as a healthcare assistant at several Waikato hospitals, but about fifteen years ago I decided that I wanted to head in the counselling direction. At the tender age of fifty, I achieved my Diploma in Counselling, and I’ve been working in the industry ever since.’ A few in the group exchanged glances, which Maddison correctly interpreted as a question mark over her age. ‘I’m sixty three,’ she smiled at the group.
‘So, that’s me in a nutshell – but, if you have any questions, feel free to ask. Now, I’d like to congratulate you for choosing to come along to these meetings.’
‘Er, not much choice in the matter,’ said a female voice, under her breath. Jenny wasn’t sure whether to look her way, so she kept her eyes on Maddison.
Maddison apparently had superb hearing, and fixed the owner of the voice with a sympathetic stare.
‘I understand that some of you may not have chosen to come along tonight, and for some reason or another the choice has been made for you. Nevertheless, I appreciate your attendance, and I hope the next ten scheduled support group meetings will be of help to you in your daily lives.’
More lack lustre nods, and self-conscious coughs. Jenny groaned inwardly, this was actual torture. Absolute, humiliating, devastating torture. Why am I even here? I might not be “normal”, but I’m fine. She looked around the circle of faces. They kind of look normal too, actually. But I bet these people have real problems, real addictions. Not like me. They’ll probably think I’m weird for being here in the first place, with my stupid not-real non-problems.
While Maddison continued talking about the purpose of the group, the need for confidentiality and honesty, and the informal format of their meetings, Jenny surreptitiously watched everyone. There was a young girl sitting across from her, probably no more than twenty, with the most amazing blue eyes. She must have been the owner of the female voice earlier who was, like Jenny, forced to join this group. Her long blonde hair shone in the overhead lighting, and she was dressed in a probably-trendy-but-actually-wacky orange jumpsuit with black stilettos. Jenny stroked her own short dark bob self-consciously and then examined the girl’s stilettos, which were probably the most beautiful pair of shoes Jenny had ever seen close up. When she glanced back up at the girl’s face, she noticed the hostile blue eyes staring back at her. The girl scowled, and Jenny felt her face flame red. Looking down at her own blue Converse sneakers, Jenny tried to concentrate on what Maddison was saying.
‘So, to get the ball rolling, I’d like to go around the circle and get each of you to introduce yourselves. Your name, a bit of background, and the reason you’re here in the support group.’ Maddison looked at the clipboard on her lap, and then up at the group. ‘This is the most varied group I’ve ever coordinated, in terms of the reasons why you’re here and the addictions that you’re suffering from, and because of this we all need to make an extra effort to remain non-judgemental and open-minded at all times.’ There were murmurs of agreement from around the circle, as everyone eyed the rest of the group around them with interest.
‘As well as a brief background, I’d also like you to think of and tell the group what your own personal goal for these sessions is. If you’re not sure, think about something you’d like to achieve, no matter how small it may be. We can always reassess these goals further down the track, and if you come up with a new goal along the way it would be great if you could share this with the group.’
Jenny felt a familiar tightness settle in her throat, the same constriction that had plagued her for a lifetime whenever there was a need to express herself in public. Her ‘quirky’ behaviour was usually met with curiosity at best, but confusion and even outright hostility at worst – which made her a very anxious public speaker. Not that she’d actually had to do any of that since her school days. Jenny looked around nervously, hoping she wasn’t going to be the first in the group to speak.
‘Let’s go around the circle, starting on my left with…’ Maddison looked at her clipboard and then at Phil’s nametag. ‘Philip Sampson.’
Phil smiled broadly at the group, his pink chubby cheeks almost obscuring the dimple at each side of his mouth. Wiping his hands on his trousers, leaving sweaty trails across his thighs, he cleared his throat and grunted slightly as he pushed himself out of his chair to stand up.
‘It’s okay Philip,’ Maddison smiled at him kindly. ‘You can stay sitting if you’d like? There’s no need to stand up.’
‘Oh, okay. Actually,’ he looked down at his chair, ‘I’m happy standing. So, obviously, my name’s Philip. But I like to be called Phil.’ A few people in the circle looked at each other questioningly, before answering him with a chorus of “hi Phil”. Maddison nodded her approval.
‘You can probably tell why I’m here?’ He looked at each of them seriously. Everyone tried not to look at his double chin and his enormous belly. Jenny was sure they were all thinking a variation of the same thing. Overeater. Glutton. Chocolate fondant addict. Can’t shut his cake hole. ‘I’m addicted to exercise.’
The group was shocked into silence. Maddison frowned and checked her notes. ‘Philip, sorry, Phil, that’s not my understanding.’
Phil smiled, a big beefy grin, and winked at Jenny who lowered her eyes in embarrassment. ‘Just kidding. Of course I’m not addicted to exercise. Look at the size of me! I’m like a beached whale.’ He looked down at himself, and then at the chair he had been sitting on. ‘Hell, I can’t even fit one butt cheek on this tiny kid’s seat.’
Again, a few seconds of shocked silence, before a red-headed man in the circle exploded with laughter and a few others followed suit. Even Maddison allowed herself a small smile, before laying a hand on Phil’s shoulder briefly.
’Obviously, I like my food. I mean I really like my food. Well, sometimes I don’t like it that much but I just can’t stop eating it anyway. That’s my problem. I’m actually a security guard would you believe, and there are minimum fitness requirements I’ve got to meet – at the moment, I don’t meet them. So, here I am. I’m single, which is crazy right?’
Ellen Stuart nodded her agreement, and Jenny pretended she didn’t notice. She looked around the group, confused. What kind of group is this anyway? I thought everyone else would be druggies and alchos, not overeaters and, and… Jenny flicked a glance at Ellen on her right. And whatever she is.
‘I opted to join this group because I need to get some perspective, and some, well, support. And, that’s about it I guess. Oh, yeah, my goal. Well, my goal is to run in the Auckland marathon in November – a couple of months from now.’
A few people in the circle smiled encouragingly at Phil, and Jenny tried desperately not to let her feelings show on her face. Phil was enormous. And sweaty. He looked like he’d have a heart attack just walking around the block.
‘Thank you Phil, that’s a fantastic goal,’ Maddison smiled at him, and then motioned for the woman on his left to speak. She was rake-thin, expensively dressed and probably attractive when she wasn’t grimacing. Her skin was extremely smooth and the deepest black – which made the ugly pinky-white scar on her eyebrow even more shocking. Jenny eyed the scar curiously, and waited for her to speak.
‘My name is Petra McDonald,’ she said with a heavy sigh. She didn’t wait for the rest of the group to say hello back. ‘I’m a physiotherapist, I’m in my fucking forties, I’ve got three daughters who think I’m a train wreck and I’m married to a complete fucking dickhead.’
There was a collective intake of breath around the circle, and the creak of chairs as everyone leaned towards her to hear the rest of her introduction.
‘I take prescription painkillers. A lot of them. For my shoulder. But, let’s get something straight - I’m not a fucking junkie or anything.’ She stared angrily at Maddison, as if challenging her to say otherwise. Maddison ignored the challenge and nodded encouragingly. ‘Anyway, I’m seeing an addiction support counsellor, but my jackass husband said that wasn’t enough and I’ve been practically forced into joining this support group as well. Apparently, if I don’t get off the pills, he’s going to take my girls. So, my goal is to get clean – and then tell the fucking bastard to go stick it.’
‘Right, Petra, thank you for that.’ Maddison scribbled a few notes on her clipboard, then looked at Ellen. ‘When you’re ready, Ellen.’
Ellen uncrossed her legs, and slowly looked around the group before re-crossing them again. Jenny tried not to look at the expanse of bare leg Ellen was showing, but it was hard not to. Her dress was extremely short for the middle of winter.
‘My name is Ellenora, but you can call me Ellen.’ She leaned forward and smiled as the group said hello back. ’My problem is that I like sex,’ she said, ‘a lot.’ If the group had taken a collective breath at Petra’s story, this time they all practically gagged. All except Maddison, who was obviously expecting this revelation.
‘Yes, Ellen,’ she responded. ‘Please tell the group a bit more about why you’re here and what your goal is.’
‘Okay, okay.’ Again, she looked at each of them in turn, her gaze lingering slightly longer on Tom Selleck. ‘My doctor says I’m addicted. To sex. He says I’m taking too many risks to get the intimacy I crave. He thinks it’s dangerous.’ The group looked confused, and Ellen shrugged. ‘You know, sex with strangers. Sex in alley ways. Unprotected sex. Sex with married men.’ Ellen glanced at the blonde girl, who looked disgusted and scowled at her. Ellen didn’t seem to care.
’Anyway, this so-called addiction of mine has got me into trouble at my office.’ Several pairs of eyes looked at her curiously. Even Jenny had assumed the woman was probably a prostitute or some kind of high class escort. ‘I’m a criminal lawyer, actually.’ Ellen sat up straighter as she said this, her tone becoming more serious, less suggestive. She pulled her dress down a fraction. ‘The thing is, I can’t seem to stop sleeping with my clients. And my colleagues. And my colleague’s clients.’
Ellen suddenly looked at Maddison. ‘This is confidential right?’ Maddison nodded in return. ‘Okay, so - my father is a judge here in Hamilton, a well-known judge. And he’s heard what’s going on. He’s the one who encouraged me to see my doctor, and a shrink, and to come along to these meetings. My goal, initially I guess, is to go one week without having sex.’
The group went so silent a pin could be heard dropping several hundred kilometres away. Jenny closed her eyes for a few seconds, as she tried hard to remember the one and only time she had actually had sex herself. It had been a long time ago, in her final year at school. It had been truly awful and she had been desperately relieved when it was over. She glanced at Phil the Overeater, and noticed the faraway look on his face which quickly turned into a frown. Apparently she wasn’t the only one whose last sexual encounter was less than satisfactory.
‘Thank you Ellen, I know we all appreciate your honesty.’ Maddison looked around the group, ‘As Ellen quite rightly asked, can I just remind everyone about the need for absolute confidentiality regarding these group meetings.’ Everyone nodded and Maddison looked at her notes, and then at Jenny. She nodded encouragingly.
Damn, damn, damn it. Jenny thought in a panic. What am I going to say? What if I shout at everyone? Oh no, I think I am going to vomit. Crap, just don’t say titties Jenny. Just. Don’t. Say. Titties.
‘Er, hi everyone. My name is Jenny.’
‘Hi Jenny,’ everyone but the young blonde chorused back.
‘Um, I’m here because, well, I guess I like to clean. And tidy.’ She glanced around the circle at the obvious disappointment on the faces looking back at her. Yes, boring, boring, boring. I know, I know. Taking a deep breath, she carried on. ‘So, there was an incident a while back, and, well, I was ordered to attend an addiction support group. I was given a list of groups by my lawyer, and this looked like, um, the lesser of a few evils I suppose. ’ There were a few surprised coughs amongst the group, and a chuckle from Phil.
‘So… the incident wasn’t anything serious by the way, just kind of a misdemeanour. More like a misunderstanding really. A brief moment of confusion. And, um, I’m an assistant – for my job.’ Jenny looked at Maddison beseechingly. Is that enough? She pleaded with her eyes.
Maddison smiled encouragingly. ‘And what is your goal for these sessions Jenny?’
‘Oh. It’s… um. Hmm. To get a boyfriend.’ SHIIIIIT. Did I really just say that? Why would I say that? Jenny quickly glanced around the circle, and noticed the men in the group shifting in their chairs uncomfortably. ‘Er, not a boyfriend, um, in this group. Just a boyfriend in, you know, the world.’
Ellen reached over and patted her jeans-cladded thigh. Jenny felt her cheeks flame even more scarlet, and gritted her teeth in agony waiting for the offending hand to be removed. Who knew what kinds of sexually transmitted diseases the woman might be carrying. Jenny jerked her knee out of Ellen’s reach. Ellen didn’t seem to notice.
‘Thank you, Jenny.’ Maddison was about to indicate the next person should start, when Jenny’s mouth seemed to open without her brain telling it to, and the words fell out before she could stop them.
‘Oh, there’s one other thing.’ Oh no, why did I say that? I’m not going to tell them am I? DON’T. TELL. THEM. No, keep your mouth shut.
Maddison was looking at her expectantly. ‘Go on.’
‘I have weird thoughts.’ Jenny noticed a few looks exchanged around the group. ‘Just, like, when I’m nervous. I kind of imagine all these terrible things. Doing or saying terrible things. Awful things.’
‘Do you ever act on these thoughts Jenny?’ Maddison asked.
‘No, I just think them. Like, what would happen if I said something awful out loud. Or, um, if I maybe slapped Ellen’s hand when it touched my leg just now. Except I couldn’t do that because I’m too scared of what I might catch.’ Jenny stopped talking as she realised what she had said, and her face turned scarlet. Ellen snorted with laughter beside her. Jenny looked at the floor, to avoid the smirks on everyone’s faces. I. Just. Want. To. Die.
‘Jenny, thank you. I’m sure it wasn’t easy admitting that. I can assure you that anything you say in this group will remain absolutely confidential.’ Jenny looked up at her gratefully. Maddison turned to Tom Selleck. ‘Anthony, your turn.’
‘Hello all. Obviously, my name’s Anthony.’ Anthony ran a hand through his salt and pepper hair, while the group said hello back. ‘I’m here because I have a compulsion to take things. Any kind of things really. Not even things I want, or need. Just things. I suppose I’m a thief, in a way – except I hardly ever want the stuff I take. And I almost always give it back. My psychiatrist says I’m a kleptomaniac, but it’s stealing whichever way you look at it.’
Jenny unconsciously felt behind her chair, to check whether her handbag was still hanging there. It was. Anthony caught the gesture, and shrugged slightly as if he was used to it.
‘What else? I’m fifty two, divorced and I’ve got three grown up kids. We don’t really talk. I’ve been seeing a psychiatrist since my divorce. My psychiatrist suggested I come along to this group. I didn’t have to, but I really need to figure this out and I’m hoping it might help.’
Maddison smiled at him, ‘I hope so too Anthony. And do you have a goal for these sessions?’
‘This might sound crazy, but my goal is to be able to go out for dinner, to a restaurant, a proper restaurant, without stealing the cutlery.’ There were a few suppressed laughs amongst the group, and Anthony himself smiled sheepishly. ‘I know, it’s weird. My psychiatrist says attending this group might not curb my stealing, but making some new friends and getting some support in place around me might help. So, that’s me.’
Maddison smiled at Anthony, and then looked to his left. ‘Grayson, your turn.’
Jenny groaned inwardly, three more introductions to go.
‘Howaya?’ Grayson smiled at the group. He was Irish, his thick Dublin accent was a dead giveaway. Everyone smiled back at him, including Jenny. It was impossible not to. ‘I’m Grayson. I know, right? Should be RED-son,’ he pointed at his closely cropped and fiery red hair. Everyone laughed. ‘I’m an accountant. Again, I feckin’ know – way too boring for an Irishman. But I gotta make some yoyos to pay for my habit. Gambling, that is. I love the Geegees.’ Grayson spoke quickly and Jenny noticed that his body never seemed to stay still. His leg was jiggling, his fingers tapping his knees, his eyes blinked a lot. Watching him made her feel a bit motion sick.
‘It’s just a habit, nothin’ major. But me wife insists I get it under control before we start a family. So, I agreed to come along. And here I am. Not as feckin’ in’tresting as some of you lot.’ He winked at Ellen, the sex addict, and she grinned back at him.
‘My goal,’ he stopped talking for all of a second while he appeared to think it over, ’I guess my goal should be to get my betting under control, to just one or two bets a week maybe. At least until me wife’s happy. You know, I make a lot of money. But, I spend a lot of money. ‘Spose accountants usually manage their money a bit better than I do. I don’t see a psychia-whatsit or counsellors or any of that guff. Don’t need to. Ya know?’
Everyone in the group looked at Grayson and then each other. No-one seemed entirely sure whether he was finished, or what he’d actually just said. Maddison nodded at him. ‘Thank you Grayson.’
Jenny saw that the scowling blonde girl was up next.
Before Maddison could introduce her, blondie started talking. ‘I’m Suzanne, but Suze to my friends.’ Before the group could say “hi Suze” in response, she interrupted them. ‘You can call me Suzanne.’
Jenny blinked in surprise, and noticed a few others in the group raising their eyebrows.
‘My olds think my shopping is out of control. Which is totes ridic. They forced me to come – apparently I have to get a job and stop my spending, or they’ll cut me off.’ The others in the group listened silently, but even Jenny could feel their disapproval of this spoilt brat. She almost felt a little sorry for her. ‘They only sent me to this group because it’s in a shitty part of town, and they don’t want any of their rich friends to know they’ve got a mental kid. I mean, I’m not a spaz like the rest of you, I just like shopping.’ Maddison frowned and was about to interrupt, when Suzanne rolled her eyes. ’Soz, no offence or anything. My goal,’ her shoulders lifted as she sighed heavily, ‘is to get through these sessions and get my parents off my back.’
Maddison stopped writing notes, and looked at Suzanne. ‘Thank you Suzanne, I do appreciate that it wasn’t your choice to be here.’ Suzanne crossed her arms and nodded slowly, making it very clear that she was the affronted party in all of this.
Maddison looked at the last person sitting in the circle of chairs, a very pale man with sandy coloured hair. ‘Jonty, last but not least.’
Jonty cleared his throat, and began to speak. ‘Thank you, Maddison. Hi everyone, I’m Jonty.’ His voice was almost a whisper. Everyone, except Suzanne, said hello back. ‘I’m an alcoholic.’ He shifted in his seat. ‘I used to be an accountant too, actually,’ he looked over at Grayson, ‘but I lost my job a long time ago. Hard to hold down a job when you drink all day, you know?’ There were nods amongst the group. ’I used to be married, used to be useful I suppose. But I got DIC’d a while back, and forced to attend AA meetings. I’ve been going for a year now, sober for most of that. Someone suggested this group might help me get back to a normal life. Get back to being useful. Meet some new people.’ He smiled tentatively at the group, and Jenny found herself smiling back at him. ‘My goal is to stay sober and get a job.’
Maddison nodded at Jonty, and reached over to squeeze his shoulder lightly. ‘Thank you for sharing with us Jonty.’
‘Okay, so now we have a bit of background about each of you, why you’re all here and what you hope to achieve. Unfortunately,’ Maddison looked at her watch, ’we’re almost out of time. So we’ll have to draw the session to a close.’
Thank God for that, Jenny thought as she stood up and grabbed her handbag off the back of her chair.
‘Just quickly before you all go,’ Maddison said above the noise of chairs being scraped back and bags collected, ‘please take one of my cards off the table at the front of the room. This has my mobile number on it, in case you need to contact me outside of our meetings. Keep your name tags, and remember to bring them to our next meeting. Thank you all for coming, I’ll see you in a fortnight.’
Jenny grabbed one of Maddison’s cards off the front table, slipping it quickly into a plastic bag in her handbag which was reserved for just such ad hoc non-disinfected items, and then gave her own hands a spray with disinfectant. She was about to turn and walk away when Phil grabbed her elbow. Jenny stiffened and tried not to look down at her arm, which she was sure would be literally crawling with germs from his fat hands. Phil noticed her reaction, and quickly dropped his hand.
‘Woops, sorry Jenny. Don’t slap me okay!’ He winked at her. ‘Hey, I’m collecting everyone’s mobile numbers, so I can set up a WhatsApp chat group. Maddison said it would be okay, could even be a good forum for us to support each other.’
‘Oh, er, right.’
Phil held a pen out to her, but she smiled apologetically and shook her head.
‘Okay,’ he shrugged, ‘you don’t have to. It’s totally up to you.’
‘No, it’s not that I don’t want to give you my details, it’s just,’ Jenny grabbed her own pen out of her handbag, ‘I’ll use this instead.’
Instead of sneering, or regarding her with pity, he merely smiled. ‘Of course, sorry, I should have known considering your, er… Do you have WhatsApp on your phone already?’ Jenny nodded, and scribbled her number down. Phil took the piece of paper from her, and waved at the others in the group as he walked out. ‘See you all at the next meeting.’
Putting her pen back in her bag, Jenny said goodbye to Maddison and walked out the front door into the cold night air.
And, just like that – their first meeting was over.