(Page 2 of 4)
“That mean I gotta eat veggie wrap?”
“Up to you.”
“Hey, we gotta talk about Mom.”
“She thinks she’s got a fairy.” The phone made a scratching sound and Jim’s muffled voice began to order two meatball subs. Steph thought about hanging up as she watched the teenage girl make her way up the stairs, Jim keeping her on hold, as he tended to do, all the way down the line. It made him feel important, she thought, giving orders while he had a phone shoved in his neck. He came back on, said, “Gotta pay. See you in a bit.”
Steph didn’t see Rick Little standing in the doorway until she hung up. He’d scared her, but she hoped it hadn’t been apparent. His pockmarks were back, and there wasn’t any wine on his shirt. “Need something?” she asked.
“Your machine,” he said. His voice was still apologizing. His hair looked soft. “Ate my twenty.”
“It does that. What were you trying to get?”
“Don’t matter. I got it. But I put in a twenty and it only cost a buck.”
“It don’t like twenties. Didn’t you see the sign?”
“Didn’t see any sign.”
“Maybe it fell off.” Steph stood as if to go check, but he put a hand up, moved closer.
“I’m sure it’s there.”
Just as well, Steph thought as she situated herself on the stool, meaning it was just as well that Rick Little didn’t see her from behind as she went to check on the sign. She’d never looked like that Angela girl, but she’d had a figure once, before Madison, before a lot of things.
“I have to fill out a receipt for it,” Steph said, dragging the receipt book over. “Not in a hurry, are ya?”
“Will it take long?”
“Won’t take long. Just thought I’d ask.” She started to fill out the receipt. “Twenty, you said?”
Rick Little stepped up to the counter. “Thing cost a buck,” his voice even quieter now. She could hear him breathing.
“Manager makes us do this. Gotta account for every little thing goes in or comes out.”
“I guess that makes sense.”
She looked up to see, for a split second, his worried black eyes. “Sure, it makes sense. And it’s no bother really. Don’t got arthritis or nothing. How’s the room?”
“Gets cozy, I know. Ain’t a luxury suite.”
She flipped the book around on the counter and asked him to sign. His hair fell in his face as he looked for the spot. “Here?” he said, pulling his hair behind an ear, some of it catching on a small earring. Steph leaned forward. “Yep, right there.” She examined the hair on his knuckles and the length of his fingernails as he scrawled his name, the final stroke of which tore the paper—a woman’s scream and a shrieking violin had startled him. He turned to see the television. “Shit,” he said.
“Oh, I missed it,” Steph said. “What happened?”
“Didn’t even know it was on.”
The movie had already cut to a new scene, the sheriff and his deputies gathering around a big gory mess of pulp that had been the teenager. What creature could have done this? “Wish you could rewind on these things.”
“That it then?”
“Naw. There’s still an hour, probably. She wasn’t the main girl.”
“I mean…the receipt.”
“Oh. Yes.” She’d learned from years of experience not to be embarrassed, but Steph was embarrassed. She fetched his change from the register and handed it to him. His nails were long and one of them scratched her. He didn’t notice.
“Can I use these on the machine? I was supposed to get Angie a Coke.”
“It likes exact change if you can manage.”
He turned as if to leave, without saying thanks. It would have been a nice thing, Steph was already thinking. Though maybe he was just timid, or anxious to get back to his girl.
But then he didn’t leave. He sat down in one of the folding chairs. He crossed his legs, crossed them the other way, twisted to look up at the television. He watched it for a while, they both did, until, finally, he said, “Well, thanks,” and left.
Steph moved to the door a few seconds after, poked her head through the screen and listened for the thunk of the Coke bottle around the corner, telling herself she only meant to make sure it worked for him. She heard the thunk and she saw him in her mind bending over, the tail of his T-shirt slipping away from his jeans, then watched as he rounded the corner of the alley between the office and the row of rooms. He hadn’t seen her there, and he was walking funny, his steps uneven, until he stopped, tugged at his crotch, readjusted. Steph brought a hand to her mouth to hold in a laugh and continued to watch, wanting to see—what exactly?—when he reached the last room, when he opened the door.
“Watcha lookin’ at?” Jim said, stepping onto the porch.
Steph pulled her hand down to her chest. The door slammed shut in front of her. “Jesus, Jim. Where’d you come from?”
Jim had his mischievous face on, opening the door himself. “You lookin’ at that guy?” Loud enough, Steph thought, for Rick Little to hear, if Rick Little hadn’t made it to the room yet. She moved back to the counter.
“Why is everyone jumping out at me tonight?”
“Ain’t jumping.” Jim followed her inside, bringing the smell of meatball with him.
“Why you gotta park around the side like that? Why can’t you park out front like a normal person? There’s plenty of spots out front.”
“I like the streetlamp around the side.” He set the bag on the counter and removed the sandwiches, handed one to Steph. “It’s these horror movies you got on. That’s what’s spooking you.”
“There’re streetlamps out front.”
“Not as bright.”
“But if someone breaks in out front, we can see ’em. Can’t see ’em around the side.”
“They don’t know we can’t see ’em. All they know is, light’s too damn bright and they’re too damn scared to try it.”
She laughed at him, affectionately. “No sense.”
“You like that guy?” Jim sat down in the same folding chair Rick Little had been in.
“What guy?” Steph started to unwrap her sub.
“The guy you were watching. I saw you. Can’t get out of it, so don’t even try. You think he’s cute, don’tcha?”
“He’s ugly as hell.”
“Looked alright from the back.”
“You should see his face. And I wasn’t watching him.”
“I was making sure the Coke machine worked.”
“And then what were you doing.”
“Christ, can’t I just stand there on the porch? Maybe I was about to have a smoke. Leave me alone.”
Jim’s mouth was already full. “Wanna hear about Mom?”
“Well, you gotta. We gotta make a decision one way or the other.”
“I don’t know why.”
“The woman sees fairies. That’s why.”
“So she sees fairies. Doesn’t make her a danger to herself.”
“Well, listen to this. She had a psychic out there today. At the house. A psychic.”
“What do you mean a psychic?”
“Like a ghost hunter kind of guy. At the house, Steph.”
Steph chewed for a minute. “Okay. So what?”
“So, let me explain why she had a psychic out at the house. I get a call from her this morning—she call you?”
“How come she never calls you?”
“Maybe cuz she’s got nothing to prove to me.”