The first time Dean shows up, Lisa is terrified by the emptiness in his eyes. Her only thought is to keep him from doing something awful to himself, so she tries to get him to stay, to listen to reason. She’s also scared for herself and Ben – what if something awful is coming? What if Dean is delusional and dangerous?
It doesn’t work, and he leaves, and Lisa still doesn’t even know why he came in the first place. They haven’t been in contact since the time he’d saved those kids in her neighborhood, and she honestly hadn’t thought about him in a while. She hopes he’s okay, and tells herself that he’s an adult who has to be responsible for himself and make his own choices.
The next day she re-evaluates and has a harsher opinion. He thought she needed protection and that it was his job to provide it for her? So what, had she been his long distance girlfriend in his head this whole time and he hadn’t thought to ask her opinion about it? No, she decides. I’m not letting someone manipulate me like that. Not this time.
That seems like the end of it.
When he shows up again, her first inclination is to slam the door shut in his face. Clearly being nice hadn’t worked, so it was time to bring out the bitch guns. After a closer look at his pale skin and the dark circles under his eyes, Lisa reconsiders. At least he didn’t do anything desperate like kill himself, a fear she’d thought rational considering the way he’d behaved earlier, and the main reason she hadn’t been completely straight with him about his chances. She should at least find out if he needed some help.
She slips outside and closes the door behind her.
“Dean. What are you doing here? Is everything okay?”
He sighs and shifts from one leg to the other.
“No, not really. I – Sammy’s gone, he’s dead,” his voice breaks and he looks at the ground, clearly uncomfortable.
The words shock her and she gasps quietly. She has the feeling she doesn’t want to know what happened.
“I’m so sorry. Can I… can I help you with anything, find you a place to stay? Do you have anyone to go to? I can make some calls.”
He lifts his head and looks surprised.
“Well, I was hoping you’d meant it, about that beer. Thought maybe we could spend some time together.”
How much leeway did you give a guy when his brother’s just died? Did it change anything when the guy was someone you’d seen three times in your life and who seemed to think you’d been sitting around waiting for him to come back from his terribly dangerous illegal job? Lisa feels torn between her natural sympathy and her hard-won knowledge, gained from years of relationships and years of being a single mother. Said knowledge is telling her Dean means more than just spending time together.
She decides on honesty.
“Look, Dean, I’m sorry if I wasn’t totally honest with you last time we talked. You really took me by surprise, I hadn’t seen you in years, and you looked like one wrong word would send you off the deep end. I’d be happy to try to be friends with you, give you some help to deal with losing your brother… but I have a son, and he’s my first responsibility. I can’t have people going in and out of his life like you would.”
That really shocks him, she can tell. He shakes his head and generally looks like he can’t believe his ears.
“But… we. I thought we had a connection. And Ben, I love Ben. I wouldn’t just become part of his life and then run out on him. Believe me, I know what that’s like, I’d never do that to a kid.”
“I know you wouldn’t, not on purpose,” she replies. “But you’re not just going to give up your whole way of life for someone you’ve spent two weekends with in the last ten years. Or at least, I’m not going to, and I don’t think you would either, not really.” She pauses, then soldiers on. “God, I didn’t want to say this, but I’m seeing someone.”
“What?” he looks so nonplussed that if it weren’t for the solemnity of the situation, she’d laugh.
“It’s not serious, not yet, but he’s the first guy I’ve dated since I had Ben who could become serious, I think. I didn’t want to tell you, you seemed so upset last week that I thought you might hurt yourself,” Or me, she adds silently. She knows he wouldn’t on purpose, but plenty of men had hurt her or threatened her ‘without meaning to’ before.
He’s still staring blankly, so she keeps going.
“Dean, I’m not trying to be mean here, but did you think I was just sitting here waiting for you to come back to me, like some fairy tale princess? Maybe… maybe a year or two ago I would’ve wanted you to, but even then, I didn’t want to be your choice if I wasn’t your first choice. I deserve better than that.”
She feels terrible, but it’s the right thing to do. She knows it.
“I can be your friend, I can help you right now since you need some help, but it won’t ever be anything other than that. And unless you decide to settle down here and get a normal job, I can’t have you seeing Ben regularly.”
She's not surprised when he starts backing away, moving down the steps of her porch. He's not getting the welcome he expected, so he's just leaving.
She is surprised when she stops him, her hand reaching out for his shoulder.
“Dean, I mean it when I say I can be your friend,” she says firmly. “I know you must be really messed up right now, so if you need my help as a friend, I can and will give it.”
Their eyes meet and she can see that he’s thinking, seriously considering what she’s said. She waits.
“Yeah,” he says eventually in a quiet voice. “I could use a friend. I’m gonna get a motel room, but maybe after you’d like to meet for dinner? I… I guess I need to talk to someone. A friendly someone.”