Frank gave a brief press conference outside the home, countering the accusations. “She was never an alcoholic, an addict.”

Mary’s mother called into a late night radio station and spoke in her gravelly smoker’s voice. “It’s all hogwash. A conspiracy. Someone screwed up big time. And it wasn’t my Mary. She’s the most responsible person I know.” But her mother stopped making impromptu calls after the media learned she owned a bar. Experts speculated on whether Mary became habituated to an alcoholic lifestyle in childhood.

We argued amongst ourselves. Some of us thought Mary was drugged. Others wondered if she were drunk before she even left town. In the gnome garden, where the community established a memorial, flower bouquets rotted. Cards blew away. After a night of rain, the teddy bears lay in a sodden heap.

In the back of the van, the girls finally settled down. They looked almost angelic, the three of them, with their matching blue and gold hair ribbons. Mary had forgotten how high the mountain was—over seven thousand feet—and how small and insignificant the guardrails seemed. As the van crossed the summit and dropped into the shadow side of the Sierra range, she felt the pull of gravity lift her from her seat. Ice-age crevices gave way to shallow valleys. Sagebrush and desert scrub grew along the railing. Mary honked the horn.

They peered out the windows. From a distance, Reno looked like an insignificant rise in a vast brown landscape. The girls perked up as they drove under the city’s arches, which proclaimed Reno as The Biggest Little City in the World. Even so, the sidewalks were mostly deserted. They passed The Nugget, Harrah’s, Eldorado, and the Silver Legacy. Neon crimson and green lights flashed in the daylight. Loudspeakers boomed music into the street. A worker in an orange reflective vest trawled the sidewalk, picking up litter with a long-handled trash grabber.

They had time to check into the hotel, but Mary drove directly to Diamond Star Gymnastics, which was housed inside a brick warehouse that had been gutted to make room for uneven parallel bars, vaults, beams, and a tumble track and pit. The clinic was competitive; only twenty girls were accepted. Even so, the lobby was jammed with parents, siblings, and friends. Mary recognized some of the mothers dressed in their gym’s team colors, but didn’t know anyone well enough to say hello.

Sophia Petrovskii, at five foot four, was tall for a gymnast. She’d competed in the Olympics in 1984 and 1988 and was known for her grace and power, especially on the floor and bars. She still wore her signature hairstyle, a ponytail placed high on her head and braided and wrapped to form a cornrow bun. In the 80s, she’d worn glitter makeup, but today her face was clear and scrubbed.

Everyone watched Sophia, noting how she walked toe-to-heel, as if strutting on the balance beam, and how, when she called for the girls’ attention, she raised her left hand in a flourish, twisting her wrist inward, which accentuated the toned muscles in her arm. Her Slavic eyes, even without makeup, were exotic and smoky.

“She’s so beautiful,” Mary whispered as she squeezed her daughter’s shoulder.

Mary had no idea how it would feel to be outstanding. She was pretty, but not beautiful. She had brown hair that had faded over the years. Her eyes were small. Even her name—Mary—was dull.

Years ago, when she enrolled Carissa in tumbling class, and Carissa showed talent, Mary scouted out the best gymnastics school within a sixty-mile radius. Frank teased her about being an overzealous stage mom, but what he didn’t understand, and what Mary understood all too well, was that it was important for a young girl to feel special.

Every parent wanted to stay and watch Sophia work her magic, but she ordered them to leave the building and not return until 9. One mother explained that she’d flown in from Texas and was too exhausted to move. A father became irate, claiming that after the bucks he just shelled out, he sure as hell had a right to watch every damn minute of it.

Mary trudged out with the others, who dispersed in groups to their cars. She stood in the parking lot, unable to decide what to do next. It was a mild day, but the sun was hot, the air thin. She searched for her van, but they all looked the same. She spotted a door, a huge metal roll-up door, along the rear wall of the brick warehouse—and it was open! She circled back and stood by a dumpster that shielded her from Sophia but provided a view of the gym floor.

“You. Over there,” Sophia yelled. “Yes, you. Did you not understand what I told everyone?”

Mary flushed.

“Leave. Now,” Sophia said. “You don’t belong here. Go. Shoo.”

She felt as if a hard rubber dodgeball had struck her in the chest. Carissa was watching, and Mary waved a little conspiratorial goodbye, but Carissa turned away.

There were only two vans left in the parking lot. Hers and an extra-long white rental. She leaned against her car’s blue side panel and called Frank, but it went to voicemail. She tried home, but Matthew didn’t answer either. She didn’t like being reprimanded by Sophia. It made her feel like a dumb child who couldn’t understand directions.

“Hey, you,” a woman climbing into the white van called out. “You the only one from your gym?” Other blurry faces peered out from behind the vehicle’s windows.

Mary looked over her shoulder to make sure the woman was speaking to her.

“Come hang with us. The casino has a great buffet, and then we’re going to hit the slot machines. Cha-ching.”

Mary stepped toward her. The woman wasn’t wearing team colors. Crystal studs ran down the outer seams of her jeans. Her red heels sizzled against the asphalt.

Reporters tracked down a girl who attended grade school with Mary. “I don’t think any of us were intentionally mean. We felt sorry for her. Her dad dying. Her mom kind of sketchy.”

“You gotta eat, right?”

Then the news media got hold of a photo of Mary’s mother. She was sixty but looked eighty. Gaunt. Orange skin. Heavy makeup. A mop of bright orange hair.

“Did you see Mary’s mother?” we asked each other. “Oh, my, yes.”

Some of us watching the news coverage felt uncomfortable with these so-called investigative interviews. They even brought on Mary’s first-grade teacher, who recalled that Mary was often teased. “They heard things at home, about the mother. They thought that meant it was okay to be mean.”

The moms helped Mary climb inside the van and waited until she squeezed into an empty space in the third row and buckled her seat belt. They had big smiles. They were Starz gym moms, and they wore a jumble of colors—reds, pinks, aqua, chartreuse. They nicknamed her Dynamo Mary.

They drove with the windows open, and the air lifted Mary’s hair off her shoulders. The perspiration on her neckline evaporated. She leaned back against the headrest. Someone else was driving. Carissa was with Sophia. The tightness in her throat, which she hadn’t been aware of, loosened, and she felt something dislodge and escape from her mouth. Outside, neon bulbs flashed and raced along edges of buildings, up twenty-floor towers, and along hotel balconies.

They used valet parking. When Mary stepped onto the curb, her cell phone buzzed. Frank. “I need to take this.” She held a hand over her other ear to hear.

“I got your call, but you didn’t leave a message. The ride go okay?”

Frank’s voice was flat and monotone, which was why he didn’t do well in sales. Tonight, he sounded solid, reassuring.

“I’m downtown with some of the other mothers,” Mary said. “We’re going out for dinner.”

“It’s good for you to get out,” he said. “You deserve to have fun.”

Mary felt guilty for not telling him she’d charged the Reno clinic fees on the card. She didn’t know how she was going to pay it off or keep him from finding out.

The buffet had every imaginable cuisine. Italian. Asian. Mexican. Moroccan. Mary filled her plate with a little of everything: shrimp, meatballs, Asian noodles, tilapia, guacamole and chips. She ordered a glass of Chardonnay. One would be okay. Besides, all the other women were drinking. She was careful to take tiny sips.

Mary expected they would talk about gymnastics, their girls, Sophia, but they were more interested in the food, which slot machines they wanted to play, and who was going to keep track of time.

“I will,” Mary said. She was good at that. It was agreed they would leave the casino by eight-thirty, and if separated, they would meet at the front door. At first, the women walked together. Mary followed closely behind. She had never seen shoes the color of Elaine’s—like red nail lacquer. A waitress passed with a tray of salty pink margaritas. Elaine stopped her. “My fave.” She handed them out. “We need two more,” she told the waitress.

“Not me,” Mary said.

“Oh, come on,” Elaine said. “Let your hair down.” She stepped sideways and bumped and rolled her hips as if line dancing. The other moms roared.

Mary could taste the margarita—salt, lime, tequila. “I can’t.” She needed to focus on Carissa, the clinic, which was why she was there.

“You’re a poo,” Elaine said. The women, drinks in hand, fanned onto the casino floor.

Mary fell behind. A merry band of young ladies rushed past, the bride-to-be holding onto the rhinestone tiara falling from her hair. A slot machine flashed and dinged while an elderly couple waltzed in celebration. The room was spinning, and Mary leaned a hand against a faux-marble column, feeling a headache coming on. She needed to sit. Stay hydrated. She made her way back to the café, her route recorded on casino floor cameras.

News stations replayed those tapes. We scrutinized them. She appeared disoriented, unsteady. “She’s a flipping drunk,” the technician who’d changed the oil in her van the week before said. “There’s no way her family didn’t know. They’re lying so they don’t get their asses sued.”

Mary sank into a booth and fished in her purse for aspirin. She ordered a glass of wine and a glass of water so she wouldn’t drink it too fast. Her waiter, Julio, was attentive and friendly. He wore a crisp, white dress shirt, black, pleated trousers. A serviette draped across his right forearm. When he returned with a generously-filled glass, she let her hand brush against his arm. “You have an accent. It’s lovely. Where are you from?”

“Cuba.”

Her head filled with images of white sand, azure water, turquoise bungalows. “How does one get from Cuba to Reno?”

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