DRAGONFLY

MEADOWLARK: Book Two


 

DRAGONFLY COVER

Insignia

1

Rain pattered the roof and blanketed the trailer park. Today’s the day. I rolled over. The smell of beer wafted into my nostrils. Mom snuck into my bed last night and passed out, just like every night since I was little. Her skin hung loose, reeking of cigarettes. The life left in her dripped out every day, slowly running dry. I had tried to stop it, but poverty would kill her. I pushed a greasy lock of hair behind her ear.

The folds of her forehead deepened. Her eyes opened and she whispered, “Good luck today.”

Easy for her to say. She wasn’t the one getting a scope shoved up her ass. I can’t believe I’ve gotta work today.

The floor heater kicked on. A pink dreamcatcher hung to the side of the window, its feathers brushing the aqua-painted wall. Mom bought it when she had found out she was pregnant with me. It was supposed to catch nightmares, but that isn’t enough when your whole life is a

bad dream. The window sat high upon the wall, hard to see out of unless you’re standing on the bed.

The clock I had scored at a junk store last week still worked. Its red glowing digits shifted into another minute. Time to go. I slid out of bed, pulled on a worn pair of Converse sneakers and made for the kitchen. A four-liter jug of colon cleanse sat on the counter, waiting for me. I grabbed it, accepting its burden, and headed out the door. The city bus stop was right up the hill, out of sight. The driver wouldn’t wait, not even a second. I shot through a mud puddle, splashing the water enough that it soaked my fishnets and seeped through my sneakers.

The bus stop came into view. Red brake lights cut through the grey tapestry and sank away, toward town.

“Shit.” I slid the jug onto the bench, catching a breath. I wouldn’t have time to drink the stuff before the café opened.

Ms. Murphy sat beneath the bus stop awning, hunched like a corpse. Her eyes rolled in my direction and down at the jug.

“Was that the seven o’clock?” I asked.

Dark grey smoke spit from the bus’s exhaust as it sped up over the bridge in the distance.

She dug into her bag, pulled out a piece of butterscotch, and offered it. Its yellow plastic wrapper added a splash of color to this otherwise grey world.

I took it, to be polite, and slid it into the pocket of my skirt. I never cared much for candy. My father thought loading me up on sugar would wipe away the days he was never there.

“Thanks.”

She brushed a thick silver curl from her cheek and popped a candy—sucking it hard.

Had her hair always been kinky? Her husband Frank went bald years ago. I looked down at the jug of cleanse. Rumors were it was prostate cancer that did him in.

Rain drops slid down the plastic container.

I knew it wasn’t his prostate. I’d seen him with the same jug, waiting at the same stop, for the same fate. It was colon cancer. I’d put money on it. I glanced at Ms. Murphy wondering if it was hard. Hard to get up everyday, get dressed. How many times did she accidentally cook for two? How long are the days when you’re alone? “I’m sorry about Frank.”

She forced a smile and nodded.

“Your pumpkins look beautiful.” I glanced back toward the cul-de-sac. Our houses weren’t visible from the stop, but there were two raised beds in her side yard. In the summer they burst with life. Now long green vines stretched into the neighbor’s yard, dragging pumpkins. I turned back around, bumping my fingers against the jug.

When I was little, Frank used to water those boxes for an hour—down to the second. He caught me watching him one day and called me over. “You ever have a tomato fresh out of the ground?”

I shook my head. Mom bought the canned ones.

A grin swept across his lips. His eyes brightened. He bent down, saying, “Pick one. Whichever one you want.”

There were small ones: yellow, green, orange. Deep in the middle, was a big fat crimson one with black bleeding down from the stem. I looked back up at him. He nodded in approval and I reached in.

“Now,” he said, “you have to twist it.”

I stretched my fingers around it, twisting. It popped off the vine. I pulled it out between the leaves. It was bigger than my fist.

“Well, look at that,” he said. “It’s bigger than your heart.” He kneeled. “It’s amazing what we find, when we go looking for it.”

It wasn’t long before the tomatoes were left to rot, as he withered away.

I hooked my fingers to the jug’s handle and looked at it. “It was colon cancer, wasn’t it?”

She rested a hand on mine.

“Did it hurt?” I said.

She squeezed my hand, drawing her eyes away.

“Was he ready to go…?” I clenched the jug, not really wanting an answer, the dreaded answer that every single person fears. That I’ll die. That I’ll never be ready when the abyss of death finally swallows me whole.

Her lips pressed together.

The wind picked up.

Her silver kinks blew like drying laundry. She sucked on the candy, spiraling it around in her mouth.

The next bus popped up over the hill.

“I’m scared of dying,” I said. “I’m not ready.”

She squeezed my hand one last time before the bus stopped. Then she let go.

On the bus I took the back and she sat up front like usual. The ride was always the same. Houses blurred into the sharp lines of businesses and traffic jammed.

The bus jerked forward, stopping. The doors opened and the wind reached in, dragging me out. La Café was still blocks away, but not far enough to make it worth waiting for a connecting route. At that point, the café should’ve been open 10 minutes ago.

Wind pounded against my cheeks.

I had no idea how I was going to juggle taking orders and drinking the whole jug of cleanse in two hours.

Rain drained from the sky. Water penetrated my sneakers, soaking my toes. A gust pushed against me, counteracting every step.

The streets were still sleeping. Lampposts cast a yellow glow against the large café window, causing the Eiffel Tower etched into its glass to twinkle. I pulled a set of keys from my pocket. Rain drops trickled down my fingers and splatted against the glass door. I turned the knob and a second breeze pushed it open.

The soft bell on the ceiling went crazy.

The thin rubber soles of my sneakers squeaked against the floor. My stomach gurgled as the door closed behind me. Across the street, the campus of Oregon State University was quiet. Thank God. It was too damn early to deal with the spoiled college kids who could actually afford five-dollar coffees.

I passed the counter and rounded the espresso machine, entering the prep area, where I set down the jug. On top of the morning routine of starting pastries and coffee machines, I had to down the whole damn thing. Two fucking hours. It didn’t seem too bad.

Doctor Mullins had said, “Add all three flavor packets.”

That’s stupid. I ripped open the lime flavor and poured it into the jug. Who would want to mix flavors?

“Drink it cold,” she insisted.

I poured a glass and took a swig. It was horrible. It tasted like chemicals, some kind of bathroom cleaner. I retched, clenching my teeth to force it back down, slamming the cup onto the counter. Two fucking hours. There’s no way I’ll finish the whole thing. But if I didn’t, I’d have to reschedule the colonoscopy. I’d have to repeat all the fasting I’d done. My fingers shook as I tore open the other two flavor packets and dumped them in.

The café bell jingled.

 Great. I let out a grunt and shoved the jug in the freezer. It’s too early for customers.

An old man waited at the counter. Three turquoise beads secured an eagle’s feather to his grey hair, just below his right ear.

“Good morning,” I said, clearing my throat, reminding myself that my problems weren’t his. “What would you like?”

“More time,” he said. A smile stretched across his clay-colored cheeks. “And a green tea.”

 I nodded, jotting it on an order slip. “I’ll bring it right out.”

He looked around the place, taking the closest booth to the counter.

I returned to the prep area. It was an easy order, served in three minutes. Then I returned to the freezer. Cold air poured out across the floor, taunting my wet shoes. I stared at the jug, took a long, deep breath, and grabbed it. This time I filled the cup halfway and downed it like a shot. Shit, that’s nasty. My stomach pushed against the fluid. I looked back toward the storefront, covering my mouth like it would help. The espresso machine concealed me from view. Better check on the old man. Nine o’clock was creeping up and the campus would soon be bustling across the street. I stepped out from the back.

He was sitting still, staring at the door.

The rain outside pelted softly against the glass.

My sneakers squeaked as I approached and he turned his attention to meet mine. “Would you like anything else, sir?”

His eyebrows raised a little.

“Other than time, I mean.”

He smiled, shaking his head in refusal.

“Take all the time you’d like.” If only in that single moment, he got his wish—all the time he needed. I slid the receipt toward him, stealing some of the seconds he had left. The grains of sand blowing away from both our lives—wasted—on a bill for $3.50.

It was a lot to charge for a green tea, but I didn’t set the prices. The owner, Ms. Tumult, had to pay for her new Mercedes. Everything on the menu had risen 50 cents. Higher prices meant fewer tips, but what I really wanted was those seconds back.

He looked up. Time had carved wrinkles into his skin and stolen the color from his hair. He had seen a world without electronics, a time when stories were told around campfire, a time when trees filled the land. He was a man with stories—ancient stories—the kind that were supposed to be buried with his tribe. Death was coming for him, just like it did for Frank. Just like it’d do with me, with all of us.

“Thank you,” rolled off his crinkled lips.

My intestines cramped. One more smile would be enough to excuse me. With it, I sprinted around the counter for the back bathroom, flung its door open, and slammed it shut behind me. My fingernails dug through my fishnets, scraping into my skin as they scrunched to my ankles. Sweat beaded in my palms as my bowels emptied into the porcelain.

The café bell jingled.

My knees trembled with the strain on my body. My fingers shook as I tugged on the toilet paper.

The café bell jingled again.

Shit. There was at least one new customer in the store. I cleaned up and washed my hands, letting them drip as I hurried back to the front.

“Good morning, beautiful.” One of the regular college guys, Dominic, smiled from the other side of the counter.

Blood rushed to the tips of my ears. “What would you like?”

“You….” He leaned on the counter.

I swallowed hard, smiling. Did he really just say—?

“You got any of those Brazil beans in?”

Oh, I’m such an idiot. A girl at the front of the café caught my eye. She sat at the only booth hugging the front window, hogging the sidewalk view. Her hair was twisted into perfect blonde curls. He’s probably with her, for fuck’s sake. I shook my head, forcing the thoughts out, feeling completely flat-chested in that moment. “No, they haven’t come in yet.”

“Then I’ll take a tall white mocha and a tall macchiato,” he said.

“Do you want whipped cream on that?”

“For the macchiato, I’ll take whatever you’ll put on it.” He batted his eyelashes, turned to her, and extended his voice, “Do you want whipped cream on yours?”

“If you can fit it in,” she said.

He looked back at me and raised his eyebrows. “You think you could fit it in?”

Shit. My cheeks caught fire. Did he seriously just say that? I picked up the whipped cream canister and pressed the nozzle, trying to think of something to say. Cream swooshed and splattered out. Great.

“I’ll be right back.”

I hurried to the prep area. My stomach growled as I

pulled a new canister from the refrigerator. I filled their cups enough to leave room for the cream, squeezed plastic lids on top, and grabbed a sleeve, sliding it on the mocha. I stared at the second sleeve, biting my lip. Should I? My heart pounded. I was sick of flirting every day, never getting anything—anything real—from it. I grabbed a Magic Marker from the counter and scribbled my phone number on the sleeve. My heart pounded. I rushed back to him, before I could take it back, change it, fold back into the invisible existence I lingered in.

He smiled as I came around the corner. His teeth alone placed him far above my league. They were the evidence of a childhood wasted at the orthodontist, now bleached to a blinding white on a regular basis.

I set the cups down.

His fingers brushed mine as he grabbed them. And then he was gone—heading back to her.

I glanced over at the old man. He was gone too. My intestines tightened. I ran to the table, clearing his cup and scooping up the receipt. I made it into the back before I couldn’t hold it. Chemicals poured out my rectum. I held onto the toilet paper roll.

My phone rang.

Shit. I let go of the roll, wiped the sweat from my hand and pushed loose strains of hair from my face. I couldn’t even manage to drink a fucking jug of this shit. I had wasted all those seconds on a dude who will never call—never think I’m anything more than fucking trailer trash.

The ringing stopped.

I grabbed a wad of toilet paper, crumbling it in my hand.

The phone rang again.

I dropped the paper in my stockings and pulled the phone from my pocket. Restricted. I answered letting them lead.

“Morning,” came a reverent female voice. “This is Trisha with Corvallis Regional Medical Center. I’m calling to confirm your appointment—”

“I need to reschedule.” Pressure built in my gut. I can’t believe it. I couldn’t even manage to down a jug of chemicals. I’d have to start all over, go through it all over again.

“Uh huh,” she said, pounding away at her keyboard. “Our next opening is….”

I couldn’t hold it. My intestines let loose, filling the bowl.

She gave me a moment to absorb the burning embarrassment. “How about November twenty-first?”

Right before Thanksgiving. It was the only time I ever got to see Dad. “You don’t have anything else?”

 “I have the first two weeks in December….” A deep exhale preceded subtle clicks on the keyboard and mouse.

I didn’t say anything. Why does everything have to be such a—

“Hold on,” she said.

The phone clicked.

Silence

The click came again.

“Looks like I just had a cancellation. Lucky for you.”

Real fucking lucky.

“How’s October thirty-first?”

Halloween? Damn it. Out of all the days. That was even worse than Thanksgiving. I forced a “Yes.”

“Eight forty-five,” she said.

“In the morning?”

She didn’t say anything—no doubt struggling with the urge to tell me to fuck off, that I shouldn’t have canceled. “Yes,” came in a robotic tone. “In the morning.”

I took it. At least this way I could still go out and party that night. Either way the results went—I’d have a reason to get drunk.

She hung up.

A bead of sweat ran down my temple. I’d forgotten about the receipt in my other hand, clenched in a fist. Ink was smeared into the middle of my palm. A dragonfly with the word “bloodwort” was scribbled on the back of the paper. A $100 bill fell out from beneath it.

2

I stiffened. “Damn Jerry. You don’t have to press that hard.”

“Just relax,” he said. “You’re going to screw it up.”

I sank back in the chair and unclenched my fists. Goddamn needles hurt like a bitch, but that new ink glistening in my skin made the rest of the world dull.

“So did you get your test results?” He leaned a little harder, dragging the needle’s tip like a razorblade, slicing through all three layers of my skin.

“Jesus, Jerry. You go any deeper … and I’ll bleed out.”

He glanced up and smiled with crooked, coffee-stained teeth. The caffeine never helped his nerves and his hands shook like a buffer, but his tattoo lines were flawless.

Sweat built in my palms and I found my hands clenched into fists again. Shit, it hurts. I looked down at the fresh black lines. It’s so worth it. Mom would be pissed, though.

The tips of Jerry’s rubber gloves smeared against my chest. His hair rubbed against my chin as he leaned closer to my breast.

I sucked a breath through my teeth, bearing down on the pain. Fuck.

“Yeah that area’s a bitch. I’m almost done.” A few more razorblade lines ran through my skin and then the hum of the machine ceased. Jerry ran the side of his pinky over the thin Metallica shirt covering my nipple. “So are you paying for this the old way?”

I pushed him away and grabbed a handheld mirror off his station.

He started to unbuckle his belt.

The curves of ink blended into a rich black dragonfly. A splash of purple made it look like it was about to flutter off. I slid my fingers along the red, swollen area around it. It fell perfectly along the fine line of my left breast.

Jerry’s pants fell to his ankles.

“Chill, Jerry. I have cash this time.” I slid off the chair and pressed the $100 bill against his chest. The 10 bucks change would’ve bought me a six-pack of beer, but it was worth leaving—to savor the moment.

The neon TATTOO sign in the window buzzed as I stepped out onto the sidewalk. It blinked like a bug catcher, sure to draw the nightlife creatures in off the sidewalk.

Right about now the campus parties would be starting. That was the only benefit of living in a college town. Three blocks down, music poured out into the street from an aqua-painted door. The front windows captured the sea of people standing elbow-to-elbow, squished inside like sardines, and dressed in costumes. I squeezed through a crowd of smokers outside. One beer, just one, before I had to go home and start shitting, all over again.

I reached the aqua door and grabbed its worn brass knob. I could always get a beer here. The door was the same color as my bedroom, out of the same can after all, except the door’s paint was now chipping.

It pitched open and a man in his 30s greeted me with a smile. His business suit made him stick out among the colorful crowd. Perhaps it was a costume. His tie was orange with bats scattered on it, blurring any assertion even more.

“Nice costume.” His voice was soft beneath the bar’s blare.

“Thanks.” I passed him, making sure that my shoulder came in full contact with his, making damn sure he followed.

His fingers loosely slid around my wrist.

I stopped. He was a little too sure of himself—ballsy. I don’t know if I like that or not.

“Let me buy you a drink.” His words carried a tone of apology over aggressiveness.

I looked at the bartender, Joe. If he was in a “mood” tonight, I wouldn’t get served. I gently pulled away. “Sure.”

We squeezed in at the bar. The clown sitting at the barstool beside him got up. Mr. Businessman offered the seat and I took it.

He leaned over, whispering in my ear, “It isn’t a costume, is it?”

 “Nope.” I looked him over and tugged on his tie. “Yours?”

He shook his head.

Joe placed a mucho margarita in front of me. The dyed-orange liquid swirled in the glass and a plastic bat clinked against its sides. Joe started to lean across the counter, getting ready to tell me this guy was too old, I should be home, some crap like that.

I shook my head at him. Not now. I turned my attention to the guy beside me and sipped the margarita.

“Dos Equis,” Mr. Businessman called to Joe and redirected his attention to me. “What’s your name? I’m Parker.”

He’s actually asking for a name? “Anna.”

“Nice tattoo.” His fingers brushed the swollen skin surrounding the dragonfly, smearing the A and D ointment. “My co-worker has a dragonfly hanging in her office.”

 I downed half the margarita and checked my phone.

“Am I that boring?” he said.

I looked back up at him and smiled. “No, I have to be home soon.”

“You don’t look like a girl with a curfew.”

I paused, searching his eyes for a hint of insult. But he stayed perfectly still, smiling. God, he’s got a great smile.

 “Did you drive here?”

“Yeah, my car is parked out back.”

I grabbed his hand and he easily followed me out the back door. It slammed shut behind us and the music dulled in the confinement of the walls.

He pulled out a set of keys and walked toward a blue BMW.

I hesitated.

He walked to the driver’s side. This could be the one—the ticket—into a better life. He turned his back to the Beamer’s driver’s side door, to the yellow, rusted passenger door of a Volkswagen Beetle. It popped open and he rounded the back for the driver’s seat.

I got closer. The interior leather seats were in perfect condition. He climbed behind the wheel and I slid in beside him.

He leaned the seat back a foot. “So—”

I pressed my lips against his and climbed onto his lap. The weight of my lips pinned his head to the headrest, keeping him from pulling away. His fingers slid into my hair and pulled me harder against him. His lips pulled away and moved down my neck, toward the edge of the fresh tattoo. The fabric of his pants pressed between my thighs. His fingers pushed up the edge of my skirt.

I grabbed onto his hands. “Do you have a condom?”

He leaned in and kissed me.

I absorbed that kiss as long as possible, pulled away and gently slid back into the passenger seat.

The windows had fogged, softening the parking lot’s glow. I reached for the door handle.

There was no way I’d fuck him without protection. “It was nice to meet you, Parker.”

“Wait….” He reached for my shoulder. “Can we get a coffee sometime?”

Sixteenth Street was only a few blocks away. But if he turned out to be that crazy-stalker type…. I couldn’t afford to have him showing up at work. I pushed open the door, hitting the BMW, scraping the paint off its door. The wind nipped at my skin. “How about you pick some up and we’ll meet at the park.”

“Which park?” he said.

“Chintimini Park. Nine o’clock tomorrow night.”

“Do you want a lift somewhere?” he said.

The wind picked up, nudging me back into the Volkswagen. I wanted nothing more than to climb in and drive off with the warm heater vent blowing through my fishnets. I resisted the urge, shut the door, and walked down the alley leading to the main street.

The music, laughter, and roar of conversation faded as I headed east. I could hear the hum of Parker’s car idling at the cross street behind me.

He turned west, leaving me in the cold autumn night.

It was a two mile walk to get home, but at least it wasn’t raining.

3

The dim, flashing light of the trailer park sign appeared in the distance. Rain sprinkled down as I crossed over the bridge, passed the bus stop, and turned onto the cul-de-sac.

Mrs. Quinn was throwing her husband’s shit all over the yard again. If I kept my eyes to the asphalt, I might be able to slip by unnoticed.

“You see this?” she shouted.

Crap. I never had a chance.

“This is what a piece of shit marriage looks like.”

I picked up the pace.

A beer bottle swayed at her side. “You fucking see this?”

“Cum ‘n babe,” Mr. Quinn’s words slurred as his pathetic-ass scooped the clothes into a pile. She pulled a hose from the side of the trailer and turned it on, squirting him.

He screamed and I ran for home.

The lights were off. Mom and Jeremy must’ve gone to bed early. Ms. Tumult had said she had called the café, making sure I had the day off tomorrow. It was my last shot. The insurance wouldn’t cover any more doses of chemicals for a while. I reached for my keys. What’s wrong with me? It’s always unlocked. I stowed them and turned the knob. Sure enough, the door opened.

Inside, a crappy, late-night show spilled subliminal messages across an empty living room. I took off my sneakers and locked the door. A pile of fresh cupcakes sat in the middle of the counter. I passed them, heading for my room. The streetlight shined through the dreamcatcher and rested on my bed.

It felt good to be home. I stood on my tiptoes and peeked out the window at the Quinns’. They were still going at it. What chance did they have, really? I slid the dreamcatcher’s feathers through my fingers until the frayed bottom brushed past. All those college kids—they didn’t have bills to worry about. They already have more of a chance than I will ever have. I flopped down on the bed, staring at the ceiling, waiting for my life to change, for fate to grant me freedom from this shithole.

In the distance tires screeched.

Lights zigzagged across the ceiling.

I sat up.

The sound got louder. The light got brighter. I watched it, waiting for the vehicle to crash through the wall and crush me. The wheels squealed and the bright lights cut across the ceiling, disappearing. An engine idled next door—Brenda Martinez’s place.

Her driveway was adjacent to my side of the trailer. Every morning her car clunked into the driveway, waking me for work. She never came home early. Holidays, she’d pull a double shift and stop by the café, get a double espresso, and tip big. Well, five bucks big, which is more than all the stingy college kids leave.

I stood on my bed, staring out past the tattered feathers.

Her 1990s Dodge Intrepid was in the driveway. The driver’s door was open. The lights in her trailer flashed on. She came running out the door with her arms full of clothes. Socks and underwear fell like bread crumbs as she rounded the car and chucked them over the driver’s seat to the back, then sprinted inside again.

Headlights shot over the bridge in the distance. The vehicle skimmed the bus stop and sped toward my window.

Brenda’s trailer lights went out.

The vehicle—a black Hummer—skidded to a stop, blocking her driveway. An orange biohazard symbol ornamented the side with the word Meadowlark stretched across it, the O centered perfectly over it.

A man wearing a black military uniform stepped out. The Meadowlark logo was embroidered on the right sleeve. His eyes shot toward my window.

I plopped down on the mattress so hard and fast that I bounced off, hitting the wall.

The men’s deep voices shifted outside.

I picked myself up, pressed my back against the wall, and stood tiptoe, peeking through the window. Nothing but the Hummer’s left headlight was visible. I’d have to climb back onto the bed to be able to see anything.

Bangs and thuds came from Brenda’s.

I glanced up at the streetlight-stained ceiling and down at the pile of dirty laundry in the corner. Fuck it. I climbed back onto the bed. The mattress sank beneath my feet and it took a second to stabilize. Where are they?

The Hummer was still blocking the Dodge. The trailer door was wide open, but it was completely dark inside. One of the men walked out, backward, carrying something—someone. His arms were cupped beneath Brenda’s armpits. The second guy held her feet. Her fingers brushed the porch steps as they carried her to the Hummer and threw her into the back.

Fuck.

The second man ran back to the trailer, pulling the door closed. He headed for the Dodge and shifted his eyes to my window.

I fell backward, letting my body bounce against the mattress. I settled into it and stiffened. My heart thumped within my chest. Shit. Shit. Shit. I waited for the men to storm my trailer, knock down the door, and carry me away from everything I’ve ever known.

The Dodge’s door slammed shut.

Then another.

The lights faded from my ceiling.

4

One night of the year people dress up like freaks, drink to black out the night, and fill their heads with horror movies. One night out of the year I fit in.

Sunlight rippled across the ceiling. I could smell Mom even before I rolled over.

Her hair was wrapped in pink curlers. Black eyeliner filled the bags beneath her eyes.

I kissed her forehead. “Love ya, Mom.”

Her body sank deeper into the worn mattress as she exhaled, “Love you, my Only.”

I rolled off the bed and threw on the only piece of clothing worth anything—a white leather trench coat.

The kitchen was tranquil. The cupcakes were still stacked beside the cardboard box they’d come in.

I clicked on the coffee pot.

The floorboards creaked behind me.

“Eh, kiddo,” Jeremy said, leaning in the hallway’s threshold. He was the perfect stepdad for a trailer park. His wife-beater was grey instead of white, and that day the footballs on his boxers were replaced with jack-o’-lanterns. He grabbed a cupcake, offering it out. “You want a ride?”

I shook my head. I couldn’t eat anything for hours. And I didn’t want to talk about the procedure anymore. The last thing I needed was the awkward silence a car ride would bring. Afterward, Kelley was picking me up on her lunch break. I didn’t have to worry about her bringing up anything. No way would she talk about it.

“Oh, right.” He went to bite into the moist cake, but stopped, placing it back with the others. “Well, call me if you need anything.”

“Jesus, Jeremy,” I said. “It’s only a colonoscopy.”

His face flushed and pity began to steal his smile.

I started to laugh and pointed at him. “Shit, you’re going to be fifty next year.”

His pity broke and a smile forced itself across his lips. It was so fun to mess with him.

The coffee machine beeped.

He poured the black liquid into an owl mug. “Milk? Sugar?”

“You can only have jet black coffee.”

He turned gently and handed the mug over. Steam danced in the cool room. He looked out the window over the sink. “Looks like the perfect All Hallows’ Eve.”

Clouds swept the sun away. A silver sky framed the bright red maple tree outside. A leaf wiggled at the end of its farthest branch. The wind gust and ripped it off, dragging it into the neighbor’s yard—Mary’s place. Her trailer was a hideous brown with yellow trim. She was already outside smoking a cigarette, staring into the kitchen window. What a slut. Her mom’s Mexican boyfriend, Bernard, was outside stringing the orange lights. He was so nice—too nice to be associated with those two bitches.

“You going to feel up to decorating”—Jeremy kicked a pile of boxes beside the hallway—“after your appointment?”

“No. Put Mom to work. She could use some natural light.” I kissed his cheek and headed for the door. “Thanks, Dad.”

I walked out, pulling the door closed. Coffee spilled over the top of the cup and soaked the cuff of my sleeve, penetrating the cracked leather. I peeked at Mary’s. A box of lights lay alone on the ground, blinking. Coast’s clear, thank God. I sprinted for the bus stop. I don’t need her shit today. As long as I could get out of shouting range before she came out of the trailer, everything would be okay. I came up on the stop.

Ms. Murphy was sitting on the far side of the bench.

I began to say hello, but it wasn’t her. My heart raced and my stomach knotted. The person sharpened into a man—Mr. Perfect Smile, Dominic, from the café. He was here, right fucking here in my trailer park.

“Hey,” he said, “you look familiar.”

“Yeah, I bet,” I said.

“What?”

“Really?” I couldn’t believe it. For months he’d been flirting with me. “You never called.”

Out of the corner of my eye, a woman rounded the bench and slid onto his lap. Her ratty ponytail was half purple. Only one skank in the trailer park had hair like that. Mary shoved her tongue down his throat and he took it like a champ, grabbing her fat ass. Her spandex legs spread wider, pressing harder against his lap. She pulled her lips from his, slowly licking them as she looked at me. “So I hear you’re getting fucked in the ass today.”

Dominic leaned back from her.

Bitch is  so intent on igniting a reaction from me.

The bus popped up over the hill.

I leaned forward enough to lock eyes with him. “I’m relieved you never called.”

His lower lip dropped.

I stood up and moved away from them. A breeze hit my cheek, dragging out the seconds before I’d be on the city chariot, taking me away from there.

The bus stopped, doors opened, and I jumped in.

“You little b—” Mary’s voice faded.

I hurried toward the back of the bus, away from the nagging voice trying to follow me up the steps. My stomach gurgled, and pressure built in my intestines. I took the closest seat. The medical center was clear across town.

Dominic had boarded behind me, taking the seat across the aisle. His porcelain-white grin was as fake as his ass.

Asshole.

“You look beautiful today,” he said.

I slid over into the window seat, leaning my cheek against the glass.

Autumn air kissed the windowpane.

“Where you headed?” He slid into the seat beside me.

 My stomach churned and silent gas squeezed out of my bowels.

“Oh my God, what is that smell?”

The cold window burned beneath my blushed cheeks.

The cushion shifted behind me and emptiness returned to my side. Hurtful words whispered beneath his breath.

There was nothing I could do. It had been a long night of chemicals. The incident at Brenda’s next door had kept me up half the night. I was completely drained. My fingers shook as I wiped a tear connecting me to the windowpane.

The café blurred into view for a moment before fading.

The bus jerked to a stop.

Dominic hopped out and made for the BMW still in the bar’s parking lot. He stopped before opening the driver’s side door, staring at the scrape on it. I could see the mark from the curb. His hands flew out to the side as he said, “What the fuck?”

The bus pulled off and I sank back into the seat, smiling. The fact that it was his car I scratched last night, made the whole day worth it.

5

The rest of town blurred by as the bus headed for the medical center. In no time I was naked, lying between privacy curtains in a long line of gurneys. The sterile air of the medical facility hit my neck and blew down the open back of the hospital gown. Non-skid socks  wrapped my feet and a net secured my hair to prevent contamination of the facility.

I leaned back into the pillow. A 50-something male went wheeling by. A young male intern smiled as he walked in the opposite direction. My cheeks blazed.

A loud fart sounded out behind the right curtain.

“Here, try lying on your side,” a woman’s voice filtered through the cotton wall. “Bring your knees in.”

A second loud fart cut through the still room.

Oh, God.         

The intern returned. “How are you doing,”—he grabbed the chart off the end of the bed—“Ms. Page?”

“Okay,” barely made it past the ball in my throat. Fuck. No! He can’t be the one assisting the procedure.

He stepped closer, pulling the stethoscope from his neck. The scent of musty pine needles swept into my next breath as he pressed the scope against my chest. I couldn’t swallow a breath. My heart raced. He listened, smiled, and jotted down a few numbers, patting my leg before walking away.

My fingers had twisted together and sweat had pooled in my palms. I untangled them and wiped the sweat onto the sheet.

“Are you ready?” Dr. Kirstin Mullin stepped out from behind the curtain. She looked thinner in scrubs.

I wasn’t ready.

She rounded the bed and patted my hand. “We’ll find out what’s going on.”

A college guy rounded the curtain from the left.

My heart jumped, sticking in my throat.

He was skinny and tall, in his early 20s. His posture reminded me of a jackrabbit standing up on its hind legs, trying to nibble on the leaves of a bush.

Adrenaline shot into my veins and eased. I wasn’t comfortable with a guy being present for the procedure. Why the fuck should I care if some dude sees my ass. I forced a smile and he perked up. Jesus.

He unlocked the gurney and pushed it down the hallway, into a small room. “Roll onto your left side.”

I did as instructed and the blanket slid off my bare ass.

Dr. Mullin pulled the sheet back up. “So, you’re going

to feel all warm and fuzzy, and then you’ll fall asleep.”

The assistant, Jackrabbit, slid a thick needle into the top of my right hand.

“How you doing, Anna?” Dr. Mullin said. “Are you feeling sleepy yet?”

“It kind’a hurts.”

She rushed around the bed and grabbed my hand. “Jack, you missed the vein.”

My heart pounded. Great.

She pulled the needle out and replaced it.

Warmth flooded me. Jack—ha—that’s funny. The room went fuzzy and I fell down the rabbit hole.

6

peach circle filled the television screen. My eyelids blinked, slowly. The cream color tunneled into a defined image of my colon. What the—? Something was still in my butt. I moved and the object swayed, tightening my gluts. What the fuck?

A faint “shush” came from the floor behind me.

What the… ?

“Don’t move,” said Jackrabbit.

I froze. My heart pounded into a race.

Something whacked the glass window of the door.

I jumped. Or at least I think I jumped. Shit. The sedative hung heavy in my veins and dulled my consciousness.

Silence took hold of the minutes.

Cold fingers wrapped around my hip, tightly gripped me, and held firm. The object dislodged, the television screen went black, and a clean fart followed.

I started to cover my mouth, stopping halfway. The needle in my hand wiggled and dug into the walls of my vein.

Jackrabbit pulled the IV out, scooped me off the gurney, and slid me into his arms, down onto the floor.

A scream ripped through the hallway’s air.

He cupped my mouth and pinned his arms around me.

The scream repeated, digging deeper into my heart.

What the fuck was that? What’s happening?

He whispered in my ear, “There’s someone out there”—a third scream pierced the door—“killing people.”

Silence took over.

He removed his hand from my mouth. “You’re going to be out of it for a while. I’ll get you out of here.”

I took one look at him and pressed my lips together to restrain the laughter.

Something slammed into the door.

I pressed my back into Jack’s chest. Things weren’t funny anymore.

His arms tightened around me.

A bloody handprint streaked down the window to the hallway.

CONTINUE READING

Available Now

AMAZON UNLIMITED | B&N | KOBO | iTUNES