Authors: Jackie Calhoun
She printed what she had written and gave it to Karen to read. Karen looked up afterward and said, “Wow. You are so smart. This is really good. It’s a real turn-on, and it’s time for a break.” She got up and gave Sam a big kiss and backed her toward the bed.
These “breaks” were what kept her here. Where Karen went she would follow. As Karen lowered her onto the unmade bed, already unzipping her jeans, the front door opened.
“At it again, huh?” Nita said, standing in the bedroom door. “Like a couple of rabbits.”
“Jealous?” Karen asked, standing up and straightening her clothes and hair. “Not getting enough from Carmen?”
Nita stepped forward and raised her hand to Karen. Carmen, who had been standing behind her, grabbed her arm.
Sam jumped to her feet. “Stop it! Just fucking stop it! You said you’d walk to work and back with me, but it’s Karen who does it. You’re fucking nuts if you think I’m going to give her up!”
“I didn’t work last night,” Nita said.
“That’s what I mean. You’re not always there.”
“Hey, cool it down,” Karen said, touching her cheek.
Carmen jumped into the fray. “Shouldn’t we hang together? I mean no one should go anywhere alone.”
“Sorry,” Nita mumbled, turning away, looking like she might cry. “You’re right. I’m just so fucking scared all the time. You know?”
“Hey, it’s going to be all right,” Karen said. She put a hand on Nita’s shoulder and Nita moved out from under it.
Sam said, “I’m sick of being scared. We should have some friends over. What do you think?”
“I think you’re fucking nuts,” Nita said, slumping on the sofa.
Sam plopped down next to her, feeling a kinship in fear. “Hey, it might be fun. We’ve been living like fugitives for weeks.”
Nita’s voice broke and she began to cry. “College is supposed to be fun, not a nightmare. My grades are in the toilet.” The words were enunciated with sobs.
Sam put an arm around her. This was the closest she’d ever been to Nita, so near she could smell her shampoo. When Nita only cried harder and tried to move away, she said, “I’m tired of living like a goddamn mouse, scurrying from hole to hole.”
The sobs ceased. Nita turned her gaze on Sam. Even reddened, her eyes were beautiful, set in a perfectly oval face. Sam backed off. She didn’t want to want Nita. She had Karen, who was kind and fun and great in bed.
“So, what do you want to be? The cat that chases the mouse?” Nita said sarcastically. “We have a party and invite Jamie, who is a magnet for DeWitt. You think he’ll crash our party, don’t you? And somehow we’ll catch him. Stupid but tempting.”
Although baiting DeWitt with a party hadn’t entered her head, she said, “We’ll tell Officer Dana to stick around.”
“No beer then, you know. Who is going to come to a party without beer?” Nita’s dark eyes hypnotized her. She found it impossible to look away.
“They can bring their own.”
“And get arrested?”
“Maybe they’ll come for the excitement. So, you’re okay with a party?”
“Who are you going to ask to this beerless event?”
Jamie, she thought, and Thad for protection. “People from Chili Verde, from LGBT, Karen’s roommates.”
“I’ll donate,” Karen said, raising a hand.
Nita ignored her. “When?”
“I don’t know. Saturday?” Her pulse quickened, although she seemed to be less scared than she had been. If DeWitt tried to grab her again, though, she’d pee in her pants like the first time.
Carmen sat down on the other side of Nita and put her arm where Sam’s had been, pulling Nita close. The hypnotic eye contact was broken. Sam stood up and Karen wrapped her in her arms.
“So, are you never going home, Karen?” Nita asked, eyeing her.
“Not unless Sam goes with me.” Karen grinned at Sam, apparently unfazed by the attempted slap.
Nita gave up the argument, and began to issue orders. “We can all spread the word. You two get the chips and stuff, since you want this thing.”
Sam started to protest the cost and then thought better of it. Nita might change her mind, and besides, Nita had less money than she did and Karen had promised to pitch in. A tiny bit of excitement, the good kind, niggled at her. The only fun she had these days took place in bed with Karen. She would call Jamie as soon as she got away from Nita. He knew how to get the word out.
“Got to go. I can’t miss this class. It’s the only one I’ve got an A in,” Karen said, looking at her watch.
“Want me to walk with you?” Sam asked.
Karen crinkled her nose and gushed, “Aw, aren’t you sweet. Yes and no. I’d love the company but I’m safe. Call Jamie.”
She pushed in his number and waited through seven rings before he picked up. “Don’t hang up, even if it takes twenty rings. Remember, I’ve only got one hand.”
She asked if Thad was with him. He was. She told him about the party. “Invite some people. How’s it going with Thad?” She heard cars passing through slush.
“He’s my main man. Couldn’t do it without him, even if I didn’t have to worry about someone trying to kill me. My dad’s going to sue that fucker for medical costs.”
“What’s he like?”
“Who? My dad?”
“Don’t ask questions I can’t answer. Meet me in my boudoir tonight. I’ve got something for you—one of Aunt Edie’s books. Remember you said you wanted to read one?”
“I do. I’ve been looking, but I forgot her writing name.”
“Well, I picked up her latest at Walgreens when I was getting my street meds.” He meant his oxycodone.
People started showing up for the party around seven. By nine they filled the rooms—shoulder-to-shoulder, swigging beer, chomping down handfuls of chips, spilling dip, shouting and laughing. The neighbors in the rest of the house followed the noise and joined the party. Sam leaned against the counter in the kitchen with her arms crossed, watching. Jamie was glued to Thad who acted as a barrier between his arm and shoulder and anyone who came too close. His voice was as loud as the others, his words slurred by a combination of meds and beer. “I was so fucking mad—I mean my car looked like it had a bad case of acne—I went running outside, thinking I could grab that tire iron out of his hand. I heard my own bones breaking.” He basked in the sympathy, loved it when someone fawned over his mending collarbone and broken arm.
Karen was on his other side, talking to her roommate Lisa. Nita stood near the door with Carmen, letting people in. It was Sam’s job to open new bags of chips and containers of salsa and put them on the table, which was the hot spot in the apartment, and the apartment was hot. She’d shed her sweater long ago. Chips and salsa and beer were ground into the old carpet. Eight people were sitting on the couch, four of them in someone’s lap. Who knew how many were in the bedrooms. Everything had quickly spun out of control. Why would DeWitt walk into this noisy trap?
Jamie said loudly, “Sam couldn’t ID him. I’ll have to do that at trial.”
She wished Jamie would shut up or tone it down. The three beers she’d guzzled had given her a headache. Small talk was not her thing. It had been her idea to hold this party, yet all she wanted to do was retreat to her bedroom and read Edie’s book. Of course, her bed was probably in use. She reached down and pulled the paperback out of her backpack, which was leaning against her leg. The cover was of a small white cottage, surrounded by sand. She turned her back to the crowd and began to read.
Lila Bentley had spent all her summers in a small white cottage on Lake Michigan, the one she was walking through right now. She hadn’t agreed to sell it out of the family, but she’d been unable to come up with the money to buy it. Her grandparents were dead, her parents divorcing. She had come today to say goodbye, and right now she wasn’t sure that was a good idea.
When someone tapped her on the shoulder, she threw her hands in the air, the book falling onto the counter.
“A little nervous, are we?” Jamie said, laughing.
“Jesus, don’t sneak up on me.”
“What are you doing reading at your own party?”
“I can’t resist your aunt’s book. It is a good party, isn’t it?” She wasn’t sure she knew a good one from a bad one. Would she be having fun if it were someone else’s party?
“Any party is a good one.” He leaned on the counter, breathing heavily.
“You don’t look good,” she said, wondering why his eyes were so bright and realizing it was because his face had no color. “You want to lie down for a while? We can chase everyone out of the bedroom.”
“No, I’m going back to the dorm. I’m not ready for so much fun.”
“Is Thad going with you?”
“Yeah.” He smiled wanly. “This is taking longer than I thought it would. I’m always tired.”
“Well, the beer doesn’t help,” she said dryly.
“I know. That’s probably why I feel so shitty. Talk to you tomorrow.”
Thad cleared a path and she trailed them to the door. She even looked outside, hoping to see Officer Dana hanging around, thinking Jamie could hitch a ride with her, momentarily forgetting the police officer would know he’d been drinking. She’d be glad when they turned twenty-one. The rush of cold air felt good. She stepped out on the porch.
Thad and Jamie were walking slowly away. The wind tugged at her hair and she was turning to go back inside when someone grabbed her arm.
He covered her mouth with a bruising hand and dragged her through the pile of melting snow to the side street a few feet from the porch, where he slammed her face down on the backseat of a large, old car and fell on top of her.
How could this happen when her apartment was swarming with people and Jamie and Thad were walking down the street less than a block away? She bit at his hand, but couldn’t get her teeth in it. Panic threatened to take away all reason.
He whispered in her ear. “Listen, you stupid cunt. You think you’re so smart, don’t you, college student?”
She tried to shake her head no, but he had a death grip on her head and she was having trouble breathing. She concentrated on getting enough air.
“I’m gonna tell you this once, and you better listen good, because you’re going to get hurt otherwise, like your kinky boyfriend. You listening?” His body lay heavy upon her.
She attempted to nod, but that too was not possible. She smelled alcohol and cigarettes.
“You keep quiet about this. You hear?” He shook her and again she tried to nod but couldn’t. “You’re never going to identify me, or I’ll find you and do things like this to you.” He shifted his weight and grabbed her crotch. She squirmed frantically and he let her go.
Exhausted from struggling to get away, she went limp under him, hoping someone would come outside and see the old car and investigate. She also knew that wasn’t going to happen.
His cold hand flattened against her backside, working its way into her jeans. “You like this? Yeah?”
Frantic, she came to life, biting at the hand over her mouth and twisting so that he had to use both of his hands to hold her in place and cover her mouth.
He shook her. “Remember what I said. Don’t identify me, no matter what your queer boyfriend says. Otherwise, you’ll always be watching your back. I’m going to let you go now. If you scream, I’ll take you somewhere and finish what I started.” He backed out of the car, grabbed her wrist, wrenching her shoulder, and threw her into a dirty snowbank.
Whimpering, she wiped her face with the back of her hand and staggered toward the porch as he drove away. She thought the car was an old Cadillac. The Wisconsin plate had the letters one and four and nine on it.
When she shut the door and leaned against it, flattened by the heat and soothed by voices that filled the small apartment and spelled safety, at least for now, she began to shiver.
“Sam,” Nita touched her shoulder. “You’re so cold. What’s the matter?”
Sam shook her head as Karen put a possessive arm around her.
“Where’s your jacket?”
“I was hot,” she said. “I’m okay now.” Her teeth were chattering.
“I’ll get a blanket,” Nita said.
“Okay.” She’d peed her pants. She needed something to cover the wetness.
Karen put somebody’s jacket over her shoulders. It smelled of cigarettes. Her mind was churning. Could she tell anyone what had just happened?
Wednesday afternoon Edie rang the bell at Claire’s duplex. She felt a fool for being here, for giving in to Claire’s whims. However, when Claire opened the door and smiled, she forgot everything she had been determined to say.
“Want a cup of decaf?” Claire asked.
“Sure.” She stepped inside and followed Claire through the living room to the kitchen, watching her backside swing in black leggings.
“How have you been?” she asked, like she might have asked anyone she hadn’t seen for a while.
Claire shrugged. “Why?”
“It was just a conversation opener.” She sipped the coffee, which tasted like it had been in the pot for hours.
“How have I been?” Claire repeated, sitting down opposite Edie. She hadn’t poured herself a cup and Edie understood why. “Busy.”