Sneakers tied, Elaine trotted off. Mary stood. Her weight shifted forward as her heels lifted. Leo rested a hand on her back. As she walked, her feet corkscrewing deeper into the pointy shoes, she wondered again about the time. But hadn’t she waited for Carissa and her friends a zillion times? Just once, they could wait for her. She raised her hand and pirouetted toward a waitress. “One more round, please.”

Leo’s hand drifted down and lingered near her butt. Frank had never been demonstrative. They’d married their junior year at Chico State. He was studying engineering. She was undeclared. They were friends. Just friends. She was drunk the night he told her he had a crush on her.

She cashed out her chips. Music from inside the dance lounge filtered out into the casino. Her red shoes tapped against the floor. As a young girl, she had always wanted to dance. She used to practice in her bedroom in front of the mirror on the back door. Just one dance, then she’d leave. She raced toward the dance lounge, pulling Leo along. She shimmied, letting the blouse slip further off her shoulders. Her hips found the beat. She stepped, one-two-three, toe-to-heel, following the dancers live-projected onto a screen. The video camera panned to her, and she swayed in sync with the twenty-foot projection of herself. Strobe lights pulsed with music. Leo took her hand and stepped back. Her feet followed. She twirled under his arm. Starting at the soles of her feet, she felt her body elongate. Her calves, her thighs, arms, fingers, tingled as the screen projection of herself morphed into towering rays of red and purple light.

She was curious how it would feel to kiss Leo. His bottom lip was pink, full. She nibbled at her own, thinking about this. His eyes were liquid amber when he smiled. She reached behind his neck and pulled his face towards her. His mouth was hard, a bit off center. Her ankles wobbled. Laughing, she fell into him. She was just playing; it didn’t mean anything. She moved sideways, her red shoes clicking against the hardwood floor.

The last video recording of Mary, the last time any of us would see her, was of her exiting the casino at 9 p.m. with a man who had yet to be identified. She was barefoot and weaving. They bumped hips as they attempted to walk straight. She was shorter than we all remembered. Almost child-size. She swung the glossy red shoes from her hand.

“Why doesn’t the man come forward and explain?”

“Maybe he’s married.”

“Maybe he doesn’t know what happened.”

It didn’t seem fair. We’d followed the story for weeks. Still, that three-hour gap between exiting the casino and her stumbling into the hotel lobby was unaccounted for. We would never know.

A few reporters continued to stake out the Davies’ home long after the autopsy, working another angle of the story. “Don’t you have something you want to say to Phoebe and Erin’s parents?” they yelled, catching a glimpse of Frank or Matthew driving into the garage.

Father and son retreated further inside their locked home, not even venturing out to clean up the headless gnomes and broken-backed does in the vandalized garden. Eventually, those reporters faded away, too.

When Mary woke later that night, she was inside a car, a late model with red vinyl upholstery and a large back seat. She had fallen asleep on top of a man with dark hair and a gray mustache. His belt was unbuckled. His pants unzipped.

She sat up. The blouse she wore was sticky and stained with a crusty pink mix. Thank God her pants were snapped. She looked at her watch. 11 p.m. Shit. She pushed open the car door.

“Hey,” the man said, reaching for her. “Not so quick. We haven’t finished.”

She shoved him. In the parking lot, she tried to orient herself. She had no idea where she was. She started running, not sure in what direction to go. She had to find Carissa.

“Your shoes,” he yelled after her.

Although we never learned what actually took place with the mystery man, we could well imagine. Opinion shifted, and we felt sorry for Frank and his son. After all, they were victims; she had fooled them, too. Our community church organized a cleanup day, and we removed the memorial and mowed and trimmed their lawn.

Somehow Mary found her way back to the hotel room. When she woke up, her hair was damp as if she’d washed it before climbing into bed. Her toes were bruised, her feet cut. She reached for her cell phone. Dead. She plugged it into the recharger. She’d missed twelve calls. Shit.

She had only sketchy memories of the previous night. She remembered playing blackjack at the casino, but other events were vague. A man with a silver-streaked mustache. Elaine’s red shoes. Kissing. Oh, shit. Red car. Oh, shit, shit. Directions. Right. No, left. “You’re way over on the other side of town, Little Missy. Let me give you a ride.” Then nothing, no memory, until a vaporous image of Carissa standing just outside the pillow of steam by the hot tub surfaced in her mind.

A knock at the door. “Mom. Open up.”

Mary didn’t know how Carissa got back from the gym. She didn’t know what to say to her. She shoved her arms inside the sleeves of her robe. She peered out from behind the door. Carissa was dressed for gymnastics practice. Her hair ribbons neatly tied in a bow.

“You look like shit,” Carissa said.

“Don’t say that.”

“I hate you.”

“No, you don’t.”

“We’re walking to the gym.” Erin and Phoebe stood behind her.

“You girls can’t go alone.”

“We walked by ourselves last night. It was dark. Scary. You didn’t have your cell phone on.”

Mary leaned her head against the door and tried to think, but her thoughts were foggy, fragmented. She spoke slowly, deliberately, trying to sound in control. “We check out this morning. Your bags ready?”

“Yes.”

“Okay.” She tapped her forehead against the door. “I’ll be at the gym at eleven. I’ll be there to watch.”

“Whatever.”

Mary had to find a way to explain last night to Carissa. But how? She could tell her she had the flu. She could say she overslept. She tried to put the pieces together from last night’s image of Carissa standing beside the hot tub. They had talked. She could see herself doing it, wearing that horrible blouse, but she couldn’t remember the words. It was as if she were a hologram projection of herself.

She drank a glass of water. Seconds later, she threw up in the toilet bowl. She sank to the floor. More than anything, she wanted to be home with Frank, listening to the fax machine whir into action, printing out a signed contract for a complete home solar system. Matthew would be awake, poking through the refrigerator. Carissa would be sleeping under her pink Cinderella comforter. The dog shivering by the back door.

She stood. She turned on the sink faucet. She splashed her face. She had to drive herself and the girls over the mountains. She couldn’t let anyone know that she was hungover. She sipped on water she cupped into her hand. She threw up again.

Hair of the dog. A man at her mother’s bar used to say this when ordering his first drink of the day, “A little hair of the dog, please.”

Mary did not want to be like those people. She had learned in high school to imitate the way other girls acted and dressed. She got good grades and received a college scholarship, but once there, she still didn’t fit in, either. Her roommate was from Walnut Creek. The students in her classes all spoke better, were more confident, came from real families. All she wanted to do was go home and work at the bar with people she knew. When she got pregnant her junior year, it seemed like a solution. She could become someone else. Someone’s mother.

She opened a can of Coke and a mini bottle of vodka and poured them 50-50 into a glass. It tasted like the hotel staff had watered down the bottles of vodka. She used to help her mother dilute the bar bottles on the bottom shelf. She made another drink.

The cleaning crew worked their way down the hall and knocked on Mary’s door.

“Not yet.”

It was noon. She wanted to reserve the rooms for one more night, but what would she tell Carissa, Phoebe, and Erin, their parents? They’d want to know why.

Somehow, she got the bags stuffed into the van. Somehow, she climbed into the driver’s seat and turned the key.

Carissa and the girls were standing outside the gym. Carissa was crying as she climbed into the van. “You’re late. What is wrong with you? You’re not my mother.”

“Don’t say that.”

In the back seat, the girls fell silent.

Mary felt nauseous. She sipped from the bottle of water she’d placed in the drink tray. Just a few more hours, and she’d be home. The weekend would eventually fade away. She headed up I-80.

At 1:30 p.m., a dispatcher received a 911 call. “There’s a woman driving really slow. Kids in the car. She’s all over the dividing line. Oh, my God. She almost hit the guardrail.”

“Where are you, Ma’am,” the operator asked.

“I’m looking for a sign.”

Mary felt the full weight of the alcohol hit her bloodstream. She didn’t dare glance at her rearview or side mirror, but if she had she would have seen the cars slowing down around her and the riders looking inside the van.

Phoebe talked into her cell phone. “Mommy, Carissa’s mom is acting funny. I’m scared.”

“Don’t say that.” Mary looked over her shoulder. “Hang up. It’s okay.” She swerved. A car beeped. Carissa screamed.

Mary overcorrected, but managed to straighten the van. She was sweating, dizzy. She fumbled with the window switch. Air. She needed air.

She couldn’t read the road signs. The words jumped and jumbled. “Girls,” she said, “Help me. I don’t feel well. I need to find an exit ramp.”

Carissa unbuckled her seatbelt and leaned through the console. “Up there, Mom. See?”

As Mary reached back and grasped Carissa’s hand, the front right wheel caught on a patch of gravel. The van fishtailed. She spun the steering wheel and stomped on the brake, but the tires lost traction.

The van was filled with the sounds of screaming, but Mary heard only a whistle, a sharp whine, like air escaping a balloon. Anything not strapped down—gym bags, suitcases, coolers—whirled about the van, colliding. Carissa tumbled past, her tucked body rebounding through the cramped space. As they continued to drop, the walls caving in around them, Mary caught a glimpse of sky, a deep blue color only visible at very high altitudes. She wanted to point this out to Carissa, to whisper to her not to worry about foolish things, like double back tucks or noodle arms—because she was perfect just the way she was—but as Mary reached for her daughter, she was pinned back by the centrifugal force of the fall.

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