Stephanie Kilgore watched as they turned off of I-70 on a motorcycle and pulled into the motel parking lot. They were young. Steph never saw young people on motorcycles anymore. She had been one herself, but that was a long time ago.

The girl climbed off first, redid her ponytail, shoved her sunglasses up to take care of the bangs. Neither of them had been wearing a helmet. The girl put a hand over her eyes, perhaps to cover a spike of sun from one of the few cars in the lot, or perhaps because this was what she thought she was supposed to do. She seemed to be admiring what she saw, though it was only cornfields and two stories of pink stucco, windows glowing with sunset. Steph recognized the look for what it meant: a night in a cheap motel with a young handsome lover, the romance and the squalor, the movie of someone else’s life.

The handsome young lover wasn’t all that handsome, Steph could see, even from the office. He had a long mess of hair that draped a pockmarked face, dazed eyes, and a jaw that hung open at an angle. He wasn’t tall either. The girl, wearing shorts that exaggerated the length of her legs, was a good foot and a half taller despite her flat sandals and slouch. The hand at her lower back as she spun about only seemed to draw attention to the bony rod of her arm, collapsed like a tent pole. But the boy was fit in his T-shirt and tight jeans. Steph leaned forward on her stool and watched his belt buckle as they approached the office, the way it caught the remaining sunlight and the way his hips rocked around it. She looked away just as the screen door swung open.

There was a moment, as there usually was, of looking around, as if it were only polite, as if this were Steph’s home, before the boy said, “Got a room?”

Steph stayed on her stool behind the desk. “Two?” she asked, and the boy grinned. Steph knew the question was stupid, but decided she didn’t care. “Single or double?”

“Single,” the girl said. She bit at the stem of her sunglasses.

“You got them king-size beds?” the boy asked.

“Course,” Steph said. She was used to guests feeling embarrassed about these questions. Sometimes it was two men who needed a room, one of them typically waiting in the car. But these kids didn’t seem embarrassed at all, and Steph, from years of experience, had learned to forget embarrassment. In fact, she wished she had more questions to ask that would somehow elicit further details about what these two people would be doing in that room, but all there was left was, “Smoking or non?”

“Smoking,” they both said. The girl slipped her sunglasses on and watched the sunset through the door. A large moth landed on the screen in front of her and she jerked her head. She tapped at the screen but it didn’t flee. The boy set his wallet on the counter. He certainly was ugly, Steph thought. Had to have been an accident. Perhaps a bar fight. A knife to the face. Something. Ugly as hell, but even so, already, she wondered.

“Gonna be sixty-five,” Steph said.

“Sixty-five?” the girl said over her shoulder. “The sign says thirty.”

“Starts at thirty,” Steph said. “King-size costs extra. So does smoking.”

“You gonna give that woman sixty-five?” the girl said.

“Angela,” he said, under his breath.

“Just saying,” the girl said. “Sign says thirty, and that’s why we stopped. Seems like false advertising.”

Steph was ready to mention the small print on the sign, but she waited, wanting to see what the boy would do. The boy looked at his wallet, not at Steph, and he said, softly, an apology, “All’s I got is fifty, and I need at least ten for gas in the morning.”

“Manager doesn’t like it,” Steph said, but she was already warming to him. He was gentle. She wouldn’t fight him.

“Can’t you just put that we were in one of them other rooms?” the boy said. He looked at her now with worn, worried eyes. Maybe he wasn’t as young as Steph thought. The girl, Angela, watched from behind.

“Need to see a license,” Steph said, and the girl smiled.

The boy’s name was Rick Little. He looked better in his license photo. He wasn’t smiling in it, but his face seemed brighter, like he was about to smile, and the exposure blotched out the pockmarks and made the copper of his eyes stand out. Here in front of her, his eyes were black, all pupils. Maybe he was on something. Steph had him sign the book and jot down his license plate. Then she gave him the key. “Lower level,” she said. “All the way at the end.”

Rick Little nodded and turned about. Steph felt the abrupt removal of his eyes and decided she didn’t like him—or the girl, for that matter, though she’d already made up her mind about that. Still, she watched them as they walked back to their bike, then to their room. She watched the tightness of their asses in their jeans, the girl’s a foot and a half higher than the boy’s. His hand was on her back.

The toilet flushed in the bathroom behind the office and Steph’s daughter, Madison, came out. “Thought they’d never leave,” she said.

“What’s it matter?”

“I hate interacting with them,” Madison said. “They always creep me out.”

“Just people.”

“It ain’t just people who stay in these kinds of places.”

“Starts to seem that way after a while,” Steph said. “How you feeling? I heard you ralphing in there.”

“Almost over with that part, I think. Least I hope so. Were you this sick with me?”

“Nope,” Steph said. “It was the easiest thing. It all just seemed to happen.”

Madison laughed. “Easy? Good God, I never worked so hard. And Tyler, he stands there at the door all pitiful, watching me. It’s cute, I guess, but irksome at the same time. Who wants to be watched puking their guts out, let alone by their husband? He gets all teary and, you know, dumb looking, like he should do something but he doesn’t know what, and he wants me to see that he knows he should do something, like it’s for points, like I’m taking a tally and not, you know, just sitting there trying not to die, and I get to yelling, ‘Dammit, Tyler, get the hell out!’”

“Madison.”

“I know. I should be nicer.”

“Yes, you should.”

“Don’t start or I won’t tell you things.” She kissed Steph on the top of her head as she walked by, smelling of the lotion she was rubbing from her hands to her elbows. “See you in the morning.”

“Hey, what are we gonna do when you get too big to drive me?”

“Will I get too big to drive?”

“Well, you get to where you don’t want to be driving.”

“Jeez, I didn’t think of that. Can’t Uncle Jim drive you?”

“Uncle Jim don’t get off for another twenty minutes.”

“Guess we’ll have Tyler do it.”

“I hate to put him out.”

“Well, maybe if you get what’s-his-luck to put you on the day shift, or better yet, if you quit this dump and go back to cutting hair.”

“I like it here,” Steph said. “It’s peaceful. I can watch late-night horror movies.”

“Yuck. Don’t it give you the creeps?”

“They’re just gross-out B-movies. They’re funny.”

“You’re gonna make me sick again.”

“Anyway, I like it, and I don’t like looking back.” If she looked back, she’d have to remember that before she cut hair she was at Wendy’s, and before she was at Wendy’s she was cleaning houses, and before she was cleaning houses she drove a school bus, back when she was still allowed to drive. “Suits me fine is all.”

“Poor Tyler,” Madison said. “I should do something nice for him.”

“Yes, you should.”

After Madison left, Steph stepped outside for a cigarette. It was dark now, just a rim of light on the horizon, and the moths started beating against the halogen lights. She leaned against the window and smoked and found herself looking down the row of doors to the one at the far end. They might be making love by this point. No. Not yet. They’ll have brought a bottle of wine. Angela will find the tiny wax cups in the bathroom while Rick Little removes his boots and lies back on the bed. His hands will be folded over his stomach and she’ll place the cup there, screw it in between his hands, and she’ll pour the wine. She’ll spill a little and he’ll flinch and she’ll laugh and rub at the wet spot on his stomach and he’ll say it tickles. She’ll rub harder until he starts to guffaw, the loud bouncing guffaw she only hears when it’s the two of them and he’s not worried about anyone else hearing. His pockmarks will fade as he guffaws and spills more wine, and he’ll pull off his shirt, and she’ll sit in his lap and she’ll stay there, even as his legs fall asleep, and they’ll kiss, and they’ll drink their wine out of their little cups.

Steph’s cell phone started ringing in the office. She took one more quick puff, then ran in to fetch it. It was Jim, her brother.

“What you want on your sub?” he asked. “Quick, I’m in line.”

“The usual is fine.”

“Really? Ain’t you supposed to be watching your numbers?”

“Well, what are you having?”

“Meatball, but I ain’t watching my numbers.”

Steph switched on the television, already turned to a horror movie, a busty teenage girl walking scared through a moonlit house. “I can’t sit here smelling meatball and eat some veggie wrap.”

“That mean I gotta eat veggie wrap?”

“Up to you.”

“Hey, we gotta talk about Mom.”

“I know.”

“She’s nuts.”

“Jim.”

“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?”

“Room’s fine.”

“Gets cozy, I know. Ain’t a luxury suite.”

“It’s fine.”

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.”

“Okay.”

“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?”

“No.”

“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?”

“No.”

“How come she never calls you?”

“Maybe cuz she’s got nothing to prove to me.”

“Okay, so she calls me, and she tells me she sees divots in the floor. I don’t know what she’s talking about, and I tell her as much, and she keeps saying, ‘Divots, Jimmy, divots. They’re all over, Jimmy. She’s alive,’ she says, ‘I know it. They’re all over the floors, Jimmy.’ So I tell her to calm down. I mean, it’s early, right, and the phone woke me up. I’m groggy. I tell her I’ll come by on my lunch break.” He took a moment to swallow. “So I do, I go on my lunch break. Except I’m not the only one there.”

“Who’s there?”

“The psychic. He’s this older guy. Black, you know.”

“What’s that got to do with it.”

“I don’t know. Nothing. I’m just filling out the picture.”

“But you said it…”

“I just said he was an old black guy. What’s wrong with saying that?”

“Jim.”

“So anyway, I get in there, and there’s this old black guy on the kitchen floor. No fooling, flat on his stomach on the kitchen floor, arms all spread out, and Mom’s rushing over to me, telling me to be quiet.” Jim made a shushing noise and sent a piece of his sub flying. He wiped at his chin with a napkin. “I say, what’s going on, and she says he’s listening. Listening, she says, and I guess she’s right, cuz the guy’s got his ear pressed into the goddamn floorboards. So I go to tell this old black guy to get up off my mom’s floor, except she’s pulling at my arm, saying, ‘Jimmy, come here, come look,’ so we go into the other room and let him finish with whatever the hell. And that’s when she tells me about these divots. She gets down on her knees and pulls back the rug, cigarette hanging out of her mouth, you know, and she shows me all these little divots in the floor, like it’s been shot at with a BB gun. She tells me to run my hand over them. I kind of hold back for a second, and she takes my hand and yanks me down, forces it over the bumps, like we’re reading braille or something. It’s weird, Steph. It’s something. And I say, ‘Mom, what’s that old black guy doing in there?’”

“He got a name?”

“Who?”

“I’m just tired of hearing you call him ‘this old black guy’ or ‘that old black guy.’”

“What is it anyhow about that fella you were watching? He got you all worked up?”

“Don’t got me worked up.”

“He here alone? You thinkin’ he’ll ask you out? Ask you to join him?”

Steph started to laugh. Despite herself, Jim’s teasing always tickled her.

“Oh, my God, that’s it. You’re sitting here all hot and bothered and hoping he’ll saunter on over in them tight jeans and…”

“Stop…please…”

“You want it right here, don’tcha? You want him to have you right there behind the desk, knock you right off that stool. You want him to have you right here where I’m sitting, don’tcha, with your perverted shows going? You’re sick.”

“Enough.”

“You’re twisted.”

Steph waved her hands—“I give up, no more.” She caught her breath. “You’re wrong anyhow. He’s here with a girl.”

“Oh, you want it to be one of them nights, do ya?”

Steph fell over the counter, crying with laughter. “You’re gonna make me choke.”

“Okay, fine. Let’s call him Dudley. Old black Dudley. That alright with you?”

“Dudley’s fine.”

“Okay, so Dudley walks in, and we’re still down on the floor, and I go to stand, but then he sits down next to us, Indian-style, and he puts a hand on Mom’s shoulder, just looks at her for a while, and she says, ‘I got something, don’t I?’ And Dudley nods. Then she says, to me, ‘I knew it. It’s Isabelle. That’s who it is.’”

“Isabelle?”

“Isabelle’s the fairy she’s got out back. The bird feeder. Concrete thing. She says Isabelle comes alive at night and sneaks into the house. She hears her, hopping around, and that’s what’s causing all them divots, she says. Isabelle’s concrete ballet shoes.”

“She said all that.”

“Sure did. She was repeating it over and over, with Dudley’s hand on her shoulder.”

Steph looked to the screen door, as though she were thinking it over, and maybe she was, but soon her thoughts gave way to the smoky motel room at the end of the row, to Rick Little in his underwear kneeling at the foot of the bed with Angela’s foot in his hands, Angela telling him the different spots to touch.

“You accuse me of being racist, but think about it. This is Mom. Black guy’s hand on her shoulder, and she don’t mind a bit.”

But why had Rick Little stayed in the office like that, to watch the movie, if that’s what he was doing? Why hadn’t he gone right back?

Steph’s fantasy compensated—Angela pulling when Rick Little accidentally scratches her. Cut your nails, she scolds him, and he stands, humiliated, walks off. Says he’s gonna go get a soda anyway, and when he comes back, after it’s been too long to get a soda, she apologizes, says she likes his long nails, and he laughs and tells her to shut up.

“This whole fairy business, it’s freaky I suppose, but I’m only thinking how much this Dudley fella is charging to lie on our kitchen floor, you know? Until I start to look around. And sure enough, there’s divots everywhere, and not just in the living room. All over the house. Kitchen. Bathroom. In the hardwood. In the linoleum. I ran back to my old room. I’m not sure why it mattered, but I wanted to see if it was there too, and it was. It’s some weird shit, Steph. It’s something. So I come back to the living room, and Dudley’s got his hands on Mom’s face, like he’s gonna lay one on her, and their foreheads are touching, and they’re whispering together. She’s still got her cigarette in her fingers, and it’s trembling, I see it trembling. So I walk up to them. I say, ‘That’s it. Time to go.’ And Mom pops up, like you never seen her, pops right up and pushes me. She might be a little old lady now, but she knocked the wind outta me. Pushes me hard and says I’m not listening, says I don’t care. ‘You don’t care about nothing, Jimmy,’ she says. ‘Nothing.’ She’s angry and she’s crying, and she says this isn’t my house and I don’t know. ‘You don’t know nothing, Jimmy.’ I can’t talk, cuz I got no air, and anyway I don’t know what to say. I mean, she’s said things like that to me before. Says them all the time, but not like this. She looked like she was gonna hurt me, really hurt me—and I gotta say, I think she bruised my sternum. So Dudley puts his hands on her shoulders—this is Mom we’re talking about—hands on her shoulders to calm her. And when she stops crying, I tell her everything’s fine, I just want to walk Dudley out. Nothing rude, I say, just seeing him out, being nice. So Dudley and I go outside. You hearing me, Steph?”

“Mm.”

“What’s out there?”

“Nothing. I hear you.”

“This movie’s irritating as hell. Can I shut it off?”

“Leave it,” Steph said, looking at the TV screen, seeing Rick Little go to the pile of clothes on the floor, pull out a disposable camera, wind it. Seeing Angela pose. “I like the noise.”

“So we step outside, and I tell him no offense, but I don’t want to see him here again. That’s an old woman in there, old and losing it fast, and I know people like you, no offense, but I do, and you’re not getting a dime out of her, or me, not one dime, so move along. Find another house. He don’t put up a fight. He seems like a nice enough guy actually, and I guess that’s part of it, you know, being a crook, or at least a good one. Then he says something strange. He says, ‘It’s not the house.’ He says, ‘It’s her.’ And I think he means Isabelle for a second, but then he says, ‘Your mother.’”

Rick Little sitting now in the armchair by the window, naked, legs out on the ottoman. He keeps the curtain closed, but he plays with the plastic ends of the pull strings, knots the strings together, takes them apart. Angela is singing in the shower—no, she’s telling someone off, between gargles, a coworker, a family member, another boyfriend, or maybe a young husband who has no idea, no fucking idea—and Rick Little wonders why they can’t live here in this room, why they have to go back, or go anywhere at all.

But then, he doesn’t want to live here, in this room, does he?

“Well, I’m bound to agree with Dudley on that one. I think it is our mother and not some concrete fairy sprung to life and flitting about the house. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mom’s the one putting divots in all the floors, taking a ball-peen hammer to them like she’s sleepwalking or something, or worse, fully awake. Just smoking and banging up the floors. She needs help, Steph. Either way, she needs help, and I’m not so sure we can give it. We got jobs, you know, and homes are expensive. I mean, I guess you could watch her during the day and I could watch her at night, but it’s hard enough getting around as it is. I’m not saying it’s your fault or anything, but, you know, with you not driving, it’s hard to get everyone synched up, and Mad’s going to have the baby soon, and, you know…”

“I’ll be right back,” Steph said.

Jim looked at her. “You okay?”

“Rick Little said something about the Coke machine. I just remembered.”

“Rick Little?”

“There’s supposed to be a sign. He said he didn’t see one. Just gonna check.”

“Is it what I said about your driving? I’m sorry.”

“Just gonna check the machine.”

The sign was there. Plainly taped above the money slot. Maybe he couldn’t read, Steph decided. Maybe that’s why he hadn’t seen the small print on the sign out front advertising thirty dollars a night. She had exact change and got Jim a diet, but she didn’t go right back. She stood with the sweating bottle in her hand and lit a cigarette. She leaned against the corner of the alley, situated so she could just see the room at the end of the row. She blew her smoke to the right so Jim wouldn’t catch sight of it—and so what if he did? This was her job, to look over the premises. To make note of anything funny. Not a glamorous job, but it was hers. And they were funny, weren’t they? The young couple? Something about them? If she turned on the news, she might find them pictured there, having done something awful. Though Steph didn’t like the news. She preferred monsters made of rubber.

But it wasn’t them, Steph thought. It was Angela from the beginning. Standing back at the door, pouting into the mirror of her sunglasses, beautiful and bored, making her lover answer questions, haggle, perform, drive her to the motel, drive her away, into the sunset. And he knows it—knew it when he sat down in the office and watched the movie with Steph. Angela had an idea, and once that idea faded, once she saw Rick Little for what he was, naked and ugly in that chair by the window…well, it was just easier, wasn’t it, to sit here in the office.

Steph watched the door and hoped Rick Little would come back out, sweaty from what they’d been doing, from how hard he’d been trying to keep her. Sweaty also because the air conditioning in their room was finicky. Maybe he’d come for another pop, or ice. Or maybe Angela would send him to do a load of laundry. Steph would tell him the dryer was acting up. There was a sign, but she’d tell him anyway. And she’d tell him she wished them luck—no, not them, him, and she’d tell him not to go back, to the room, to wherever they were from. And she’d tell him it was the bus, not her. The bus that closed its doors too soon and caught the drawstring on the girl’s jacket. The bus that didn’t wait, like it should have, for all the kids to cross into their yards, that folded its stop signs and threw itself into gear and barreled off with the girl still caught. The kids were screaming in the back, but they were always screaming, and even if she’d heard what they were saying, there was nothing Steph could have done. It wasn’t her. It wasn’t. She’d say all this to Rick Little without saying it. It would all be there beneath the “some night ain’t it” and the “just give the AC a good kick” and the “continental breakfast starts at seven” and without doing it, without even looking at her or saying thank you, he’d embrace her.

Steph threw her cigarette into the lot and turned back. So what if Mom sees fairies, she thought. So what if she’s making it all up. Let her. It’s her house. And Jimmy, you really could stand to believe in things a little more. She thought, for fun, that maybe she’d find Madison a fairy costume for Halloween this year. Then she remembered Madison was a grown woman and about to have a baby.

Jim was on his cell when she got back to the office. Steph stopped at the screen door. He didn’t see her there. He was standing with his back turned and his arm stretched to the TV, having just turned it off but still holding his arm out. “I know,” he said, his voice low, gravelly, and he managed a shake in it as well that Steph didn’t quite believe. “I know. I know.”

That’s when Steph heard the scream, and she knew she heard it, because Jim heard it too. He spun and looked right at her, panicked, as if to say, How? I turned it off. Steph turned and looked to the room at the end of the row whose door was now open, a block of lamplight cast out, and splitting the distance between Steph and the room was Angela, fuzzed in silhouette and still screaming, not a B-movie scream but long sliding wails, confused, animal, edged with hiccups and fuck yous. She held the sides of her head, her knuckles dug beneath her hair, and the shadows of moths busied her face. Above her a few guests stood staggered at the rail, and behind her Rick Little was running to the motorcycle. He had a helmet on now, so in a way, it didn’t have to be Rick Little, didn’t have to be his pockmarked face and twisted mouth behind the visor, but Steph caught the glint of his belt buckle, and further, for reasons she couldn’t in the moment or later explain, she wanted it to be him, and as he sped away, or rather, just before, just as his body lurched powerfully into the bike, Steph let herself wonder, in a flash of errant thought, and with the smallest internal tug, why he wasn’t taking her with him. By the time Steph managed to look back at Angela, she was sitting against one of the doors, collapsed, staring out at the cornfields and the kicked-up dust and holding her head.

Jim was behind her at the screen. “I’m calling,” he said. “Which way’d he go?” She couldn’t see it anymore, but she could still hear the buzz of the motorcycle, and she decided that, whatever had happened in that room, it was the bike that did it.

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