When Paul Wasn't Drinking

When Paul wasn't thirsty anymore he stopped drinking.

It was a long time before he could accept that it was time for a change. He was a strong boy and strong-willed; there was no problem in his mind and so it didn't exist. Surely his parents' seperation, never quite finalized, could have nothing to do with the dissipate life he had found for himself. Surely there was no real reason behind the sex and drugs and anger that were a constant presence in his mind.

It might have been worse if there hadn't been a cause. As it was he could recognize what was missing when he saw it.

Jayne was happy. This was because of the anti-depressants. Her family was busy and she over-worked was what it came down to; but at least they were close. They moved a lot, which made it hard for her to form ties. She was friendly and found plenty of aquaintances to pass the time. She lived behind a mask.

Charles helped her settle in to her new home. They grew apart and five years later passed each other in the street often enough. She made Donna into her ear when she was angry with Paul or the world. One or the other happened most of the time. The world was not as friendly as she was, though probably not as false – Paul was both in abundance and made fights.

They met at school. (This was before the break-up.) He was two years ahead and helped her with her math troubles; science was his thing but they could compute. He was a hard worker and a good kid. She liked him well enough, and then forgot about him.

When she saw him next he was strung across six lanes of highway and that was good enough for her. He kept her off it on purpose and at arm's length without meaning to, which made her angry. She talked to Donna; she talked to the school shrink, who put her on drugs; she talked to Paul and he got her off. She didn't have an anxiety disorder, he told her, she was just plain crazy. Time to relax. Time to drop by and he'd take her to a show. Did she mind if his girlfriend came along? No, of course not.

She changed seats halfway through, not interested in watching them make out. It was crazy. They needed to slow down. All this to Donna the next day, who didn't really care except to get her away from Paul. He was nice enough, she just couldn't stand him.

Paul meant well. Donna honestly believed that. Jayne could do a good thing for him. But he wasn't Donna's concern, Jayne was, and he wasn't giving anything back in that relationship. Time to move on, Donna told her. Jayne found that irritating, pretended it wasn't, and hung up.

Time to move on, she thought. Her parents picked up and left, and she went into a three-room apartment, plus common bathroom, on the river valley. Paul was finishing up university that year, so he was over a lot to study or crash. Sometimes he brought his friends but after awhile that stopped, once the landlord had threatened to kick Jayne out. Then he came alone to drink coffee and smoke too much.

After that his father wanted him to pay rent. He took the couch at Jayne's place instead, which suited them both fine. He had six job offers that month, the foreign five of which he turned down in favour of a low-priority deal across the bridge. He could bike it in twenty minutes, didn't have to get up until nine o'clock, and was back in time for dinner. It was an arrangement that would have lasted a long time if he wasn't so careful to keep her away from her medication.

The third time she told him he would have to go, and the third time he went, he thought should be the last. There was a problem that had to be dealt with. He needed to think and he needed something strong that he could put into a glass and then down his throat. He would never go back.

When Paul wasn't drinking he tried to go home.

A/N: This comes courtesy of Matt, many thanks to Jill for letting me borrow parts of her life.