I went outside and got in my car, feeling furious at Maggie for leaving and Susie for swapping me into this horrible reality. Susie’s Christopher and Susie’s Jess were dead, not mine. I hadn’t mislaid my mother. Let Susie deal with her own problems! I wanted to go home, back to the world where if I went to the Roadhouse, I’d find my brother and sister and Maggie. I knew clicking my heels three times wasn’t going to work.
The sun had set just far enough to blind those of us driving west. I flipped down the visor, which didn’t help, then made a right so I wasn’t driving into the sunset. Might as well stop by Maggie’s place. If I got a look in my mom’s (Susie’s mom’s!) trailer, maybe she would have left a note, or better yet, returned. If she was back, she might come with me to the Roadhouse. I parked my Daewoo in Maggie’s now-empty spot and climbed the steps.
“Maggie?” I called out, stepping on to the Astroturf-covered porch of my mom’s run-down trailer home.
The windows on the small trailer were cracked open, leaking the smell of baked furniture. Since the windows were open, it meant she had left in the morning, didn’t it? Even in May it was too hot to go without air conditioning during the day. Where was the key again? Her porch had dozens of potential key-hiding places. Windchime. Windchime. Gnome. Gnome. Gnome. Fake rock. Bingo. Lifting the key out from under the fake rock, I let myself into the overheated white tin-can of a domicile and shut the door behind me. Maggie, where are you? I shut the windows against the heat, turned on the AC, and got myself a cold Diet Coke before I started to look around.
There was no note. The heat had turned Maggie’s patchouli candles into slumping puddles of nostalgia-scented wax. Dirty clothes lay all over the floor and bed, and she’d left two whisky glasses in the sink. A three-inch wide space next to the turntable meant that she had taken her records with her. Okay, so that meant she had left intentionally. And where had she gone?
Maybe there were clues I could find if I searched. The cabinets were full of junk; crock pots, bike pumps, and old lava lamps. The only thing on her counters in the tiny kitchen were dirty coffee cups. In the back, on the fold-down table, I found her computer. It was ancient, a 286 that she got for free a decade ago, but it might have some information. It had a thick layer of dust on it, and a purple bumper sticker reading ‘Peace’ over the broken floppy drive.
But there was a thing sitting on it. It looked like a sparrow-sized harpy. It had a vaguely human, feminine face, with feathery hair that shimmered like a hummingbird. Its wings were tipped with extra-long feathers in iridescent green, and the rest of it was feathered in pinkish-orange. Wisps of smoke coiled up from it, as though it were smoldering.
It looked at me. There wasn’t any human intelligence in that too-human face, but it didn’t seem to like me being so close, the way pigeons get nervous when you stare too intently. It fluttered its wings once, flapped into the air, and vanished.
I squished my eyes shut for a count of ten, pretending I hadn’t seen it. When I opened them again, there wasn’t anything in Maggie’s trailer but me. Okay, maybe I had imagined it. I pulled the power cord out from the wall, disconnected the monitor, and carried the ancient computer out of the trailer. I put it in the trunk of my car.
Standing in front of Maggie’s trailer for another ten minutes didn’t give me any brilliant insight, so I got in my car fully intending to head to the Roadhouse. The Daewoo, on the other hand, decided that Maggie’s trailer park was a good place to spend the night, and stalled as soon as I made a U-turn to get out. Great. Even in this reality it was a piece of crap. Maybe Susie knew some spells to make it run.
“Eighteen thousand dollars of crap.” I told it.
I’d taken over the payments for the Daewoo, along with years of rolled-over debt, from Maggie when she came to me whining one night about the repo letter she’d got. I had some money saved, and better credit than she had, so I bought her car and sold mine. Stupid me. My future house down-payment and a chunk of debt for a car that wasn’t worth a tenth of that. Maybe Zoë was right. I should have ignored Maggie’s whining and just let the repo guys take it.
“You’re the reason I can’t have nice things, you POS,” I told the car.
The Daewoo neglected to comment, or turn over, for that matter. It was useless to do anything but wait for ten minutes until the engine cooled down or warmed up or whatever it had to do in order to run again.
“You could have done this at the mechanic’s but nooooo, you reserve this kind of crap only for me.”
The Daewoo sulked. I turned up the radio and waited as the sun set and it started to get dark.
Four songs later, a bicyclist rode into the trailer park. He was tall, lanky, and dark skinned, with oddly pale hair that glinted in the streetlight. He leaned his bike against the support post for Maggie’s awning, then climbed the steps to her door. Now, that was odd. I’d never seen him before, but he obviously knew Maggie. He lifted the rock, set it down again, and then looked around as though he knew he was being watched. He didn’t appear to see me, but got on his bicycle quickly, and began to pedal towards the street.
As he pulled out of the trailer park, I turned the ignition key, holding in the insults out of superstitious dread that my lemon would hear it. The Daewoo was being charitable and started on the second try. As I pulled out to the entrance of the trailer park I searched around for the cyclist, hoping maybe I could follow him and see where he went. The street, well lit by a steady flow of headlights, had wide sidewalks and bike lanes in either direction. Both were empty. It was as though he just disappeared.
I frowned, and drove alone to the concert where Jess and Christopher would not be playing.
The Roadhouse is about as original as a ‘Transformers’ sequel. Some people enjoy it, but then again, some people eat pork rinds. I’d been there a hundred times before, and even now couldn’t tell you what it looked like inside. Neon? Yeah. Sports memorabilia? Probably. Greasy bar food and domestics on tap? You betcha.
The warm-up band was just breaking down their set when I got there, so I went straight to the bar to get a rum and Diet Coke. I recognized the bartender as the guy who often set up the sound system when Smiling Politely’s regular guy was too hung over to come. He gave me that half-nod of people who barely know each other. I beckoned him.
“Do you know Maggie Stillwater?” I asked, holding a bill over the tip jar.
“Are you still going to tip me if I say no?” He smiled again, one of those half-teeth smiles that only models seem to be good at. It made him look dorky.
I let the bill fall into the oversized brandy snifter.
“What’s she look like?”
“She looks like me, but about ten years older (exactly sixteen years five months, actually; my mom had poor judgment when she was young, too) and much more Jerry Garcia. She comes to these shows just about every week.”
He shook his head, so I shrugged and turned around to face the stage. A girl got up and introduced the next band. She looked like my sister Jess in that she was thin and had white-girl dreadlocks. I kept seeing Jess and Christopher in everyone, turning ever time someone new came in the bar. Dead. How could they be dead? Christopher, Jess, and Maggie were my life.
It was all gone. Why had that bitch Susie done this to me? Was she sitting in the Roadhouse now, in my world, hanging out with my mother, drinking a rum-and-coke and watching my brother and sister play? I sat there in a daze, refusing to think any more about it. I felt disconnected, horribly alone.
I barely caught a glimpse of muscle-shirt and immense pectorals before a bald hunk hugged me right off the chair. Hel-lo. He was tall, smelled like expensive aftershave, and held me close enough to send a shot of whiskey-warmth to my nether parts. Susie wasn’t so lonely, then.
“Derek?” I asked, when he set me down. The name came out automatically, and he didn’t flinch, so it must have been the right one. His head was shaved, not shiny, and his arms didn’t have any tattoos, though it kind of seemed like they needed them. A tiny silver earring sparkled from one ear, a pea-sized spiral. I repressed the almost instinctual desire to check my make-up.
“Haven’t seen you in a while, Susie. What’s new?”
“Maggie’s taken off somewhere.” I watched him carefully for a reaction, but couldn’t tell if his look of surprise was feigned or not. “Have you seen her?”
“No. I didn’t know she was gone.” He pulled his stool closer and leaned in, as though we were really good friends or maybe lovers. “Since when?”
“Tuesday.” And should I tell him that I was Susan, not Susie? No. It was too hard to explain. Besides, if Susie could poach my life, I could flirt with her man.
“Was her familiar there?”
“If you mean Miles, Miles is dead.” Poor little guy. Dead lizard, dead siblings, and Maggie was missing.
“What’s going on, Susie?” Derek looked at me out of one eye, as if to say he was on to me. What had I said?
“Going on?” I got flustered, and scrambled for a way to make him explain what he was talking about. Or should I confess? No. Instinct told me to keep it secret. I turned away and hung my head, as if he had made me upset about something and I was sulking. The band, apparently suffering some technical difficulties, had turned the stage lights on and replaced their mike-testing sounds with the radio. The call letters were the same as what I listened to at home, and the first song was The Doors’ ‘People are Strange.’ It felt like an omen.
“Are you mad at me?” he asked, trying to turn me around.
“No, I’m not mad,” I said, in a tone of voice that made it sound like I was. If he were Susie’s boyfriend, this was the point at which he’d probably wrack his brain trying to find something he did wrong. With any luck, I’d get a slew of confessions, and therefore information.
“Hey, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you upset.” Derek put his hands on my shoulders and began kneading. Even if he weren’t Susie’s boyfriend, seriously hot guys who liked to give backrubs were a perfectly acceptable alternative. “You’re so tense.”
“My whole family is either dead or gone, and the one person who thought he might be able to help me find Maggie got eaten by a cat.”
“You’re a thaumaturge, why don’t you summon your demon?”
“What?” I whipped around to face him.
Derek smiled and put his hands up. “Oh, excuse me, I meant summon your goddess.”
His tone of voice implied that “your goddess” and “your demon” were as different as tomato and toe-mah-to. Susie’s rage flared underneath me, some gut response hardwired into her. As for me, I only felt fear. Demon summoner. Was that what I was? Did Susie know how to summon demons? Was that little harpy-thing a demon?
“I haven’t summoned anything.” Demons. Fiery hell beasts bent on claiming your soul? Was that how Jess and Chris died? The thought of it scared the warmth right out of me. I turned my back to him. “I don’t know if I’m going to ever again.”
He put his hands on my shoulders again, alternately rubbing out knots and caressing my neck with the back of his fingers. “You don’t have to, you know. Magic is a dangerous hobby. You don’t need to put yourself at risk like that.”
“We’ve talked about this before,” I said, guessing again.
“I keep hoping that maybe I could change your mind,” he whispered next to my ear, making the hairs along my neck stand up.
“I’m sorry about the demon comment. I know you’re very brave to practice thaumaturgy, but with everything that’s happened, maybe you should consider leaving it. I’d hate to see such a kind and gentle woman get hurt, especially when there are other options.”
His hands kept kneading along my spine, down further and further until he encircled my waist. I’d been wearing a string thong, and Derek slid his thumbs under the strap. He and Susie must have had something going on together if he was acting like that. Lucky her.
“Are you doing anything tonight?” he whispered.
“Maybe,” I said slowly. “I might be convinced to change my plans.”
I probably would have gotten laid that night, if Miles hadn’t come back from the dead and ruined it all.
“Susan!” he screamed, scampering up my leg and onto the stool in front of me. His voice sounded the same, but his mouth was gaping open (showing the most darling tiny teeth) so he must have been screaming. “This man is evil! You have to get away from him now!”
“Are you okay?” Derek peeked over my shoulder to see what I was looking at, but Miles ducked behind the bar just in time.
“Yeah, I, uh, I need to use the bathroom.” He was alive? Miles was alive? But I had seen him die! Spaz ate him!
“I’ll come with you,” Derek offered. He stood and touched my elbow.
“No, it’s okay, I’ve been here before.”
“I have to go too,” he said. I smiled and nodded, like it didn’t matter, but I had the sinking feeling that Derek suspected I’d been looking at someone.
The bathroom had only one toilet, and a door that locked, so there was no one to see me hyperventilate and stage-whisper at Miles when he skittered under the door.
“I thought Spaz had eaten you for sure! How did you escape?” The room had a window, but it was up near the ceiling. I hooked my fingers over the ledge and tried to pull up. No go.
“I’m immortal. Spaz ate me, and I …” He paused to spit out a chunk of kitty litter. “It’s a disgusting process. Please bell the cat when you get home. I’d rather not have to go through it again. I tried to get back to you sooner, but dying tires me out. It’s our poor luck that Derek is here. He must have known that you come here often.”
“Who is he? He seems to know me.”
“He was courting Susie for a time. Maggie dislikes him, and I agree with her assessment. Susie finally came to agree that he was a poor influence on her, and she broke it off.”
“Yeah but, evil? Where does the evil part come in?”
“Among other things, he been trying to get Susie to quit magic, which would have disastrous consequences, if she had been foolish enough to take his advice. Don’t trust his smooth flattery. He’s got his own agenda, and he means you ill.”
“Okay, fine. Let me see if I can get out this way.” One more time to try to hoist myself out the window. One, two, ugh. I grunted from exertion. I used to be able to do a pull-up, I was sure of it.
“You okay in there?” Derek asked at the door.
“Yeah, just a minute,” I grunted, kicking frantically at the bricks, trying to hoist myself up. “Must have been something I ate.”
“Dear Miss Susan, what are we to do?” Miles’ protestations had turned into a generalized agitated sound, like you make when the heroine of a horror movie is about to open the door where the killer is lurking.
I heaved and yanked again, but there was no way I could pull myself up to that window. So much for the Femme Nikita exit. “I’ll think of something.” I washed my hands and pressed the hand dryer button.
“Susan! You have to think of something! Don’t let him get you outside! He’ll do something to you as soon as there aren’t any witnesses!” Miles thrashed his tail and did more push-ups. “Very well, I know one of Maggie’s spells. It will probably work for you too. Do as I tell you. Reach down towards the earth as though pulling up a weed, and when you straighten, make the power flow into a tertiary wave, then—“
“I don’t know how to do that.”
“Then I’ll find help for you.” With that, Miles scampered down my leg and out under the door. I had no choice but to straighten my hair, check my lipstick, and follow.
Derek was waiting just outside the door. “There’s another club that’s having a show tonight. We should go and see it.” Derek slid an arm around my waist, tucking his thumb into the hip pocket. There was no way to get out of that kind of embrace without making him look bad, and me too.
“Oh? Where is it?”
“Mill Avenue,” he said, leading me towards the exit.
“Ahhh…” What if Derek was trying to kidnap me, or kill me in an alley or something horrible like that? “It’s nice of you to want to take me out somewhere, but I really meant to listen to the rest of the band …”
“They aren’t very good. I’ve got something better in mind.” The way he said it made it sound like his ‘better’ involved both of us naked and sweaty. Not that I wasn’t tempted, because Derek had a chest like a block wall, but what if Miles was right about Derek being a bad guy?
“I hate to insist, but, uh, I’d really rather stay.” Why be nice to a guy when he was trying to be mean to me? I should hit him over the head and scream, not follow him to the door.
I still couldn’t bring myself to pull away from Derek. Jess said that the night she got raped, she kept being polite to the guy even as he locked the door, because some stupid part of her upbringing said girls couldn’t be anything but sweet. I felt horrible, because as Jess was telling me about the rape, secretly I was telling myself it wouldn’t happen to me. And yet here it was, happening to me. Here I was, being escorted out the door by a dangerous guy, and I couldn’t say or do anything to get help because everyone had seen me flirting with him.
We’d almost gotten to the exit when my savior walked in the door, though the thought of using “Bo” and “savior” in the same sentence had never occurred to me. In fact, for the past several years, I’d been looking for someone to save me from him.
Sometime in puberty Bo’s face had grown large, while his eyes, nose, and mouth stayed the same size. His skin was parchment-pale, and his face had so many freckles that even redheads winced in sympathy. The hair on his head was so light as to be almost translucent, and his eyebrows were white lines across his brow. His eyes were pale blue, shockingly so.
Christopher had set me up on a blind date with Bo when I was just out of high school. One date was all it took for Bo to be a part of my life forever. Bo used to wait by my door for me to come home from work. Sometimes he would call me and hang up, just to see if I were home. When I asked him not to talk to me anymore, he called me incessantly, and when I got his number blocked, he’d call from a pay phone. It wasn’t until he sent me the dead bat that I was able to get a restraining order against him. I never forgave Christopher for introducing us.
“Susan!” he called out. It made me jerk in surprise to hear him use my real name, but then again, in my universe, he’d called me “Susie-Q.” Bo wore army surplus boots and cammo fatigues with a chain going from the belt loop to his wallet. Hanging from the other belt loop was a purple Crown Royal bag. He glared at Derek as he took my arm. “Hey you, step away from my woman or there’s going to be trouble.”
“I didn’t know you were meeting someone here,” Derek said, with raised eyebrows. He hugged me again, ignoring Bo, and waved as he walked out the door. “I’ll see you later.”
And now that Bo had saved me from Derek, who was going to save me from Bo?
“Thank goodness, Miss Susan. Derek looks to be gone for good.” Miles reappeared, climbing up my shoe and sitting in the cuff of my jeans.
Bo put his arm around my shoulders. I just traded a nearly-sure date with a muscled hunk for the sweaty arm of Bo the freckled stalker. If Miles was lying to me, I’d squish the little bug.
Bo’s watch beeped, and he fiddled with it for ten seconds before it stopped. It was a thick black plastic digital watch, the kind that came with video games. I was grateful to be released from his grip, and made a beeline for the bar, ordering another Diet Coke. Maybe if I had one without rum I’d be sober enough to escape within the hour. He followed me to the bar.
“I haven’t seen you in a long time, Susan.” Bo didn’t quite whine, but it was close. “Why haven’t you called me?”
Because you’re a loser. Because you’re a disgusting, unflushable freak whose main goal is to infiltrate my life and ruin it. I wanted to mention the restraining order I had against him, but the nice girl training took over and made small talk.
“You still playing guitar?” I asked. I’d heard him play before, that was how we met, actually, and to hear Bo talk about himself he was the next Joe Satriani.
“I’ve never played guitar,” Bo said, white eyebrows frowning in puzzlement. He paused to pick at a zit mixed in among the freckles, then spoke again as though remembering. “No, wait, I did take some lessons with my cousin. She had this school. She gave me lessons for a while, but then she was all, you’re beyond that now. I was going to keep it up, but that got in the way of my swimming lessons. I was an Olympic contender, you know. Come on, let’s get some booze. I’m in the mood to get plastered, and you like it when I’m in the mood, don’t ya babe?”
Bo ordered a blueberry daiquiri for himself, then got indignant when the bartender told him they didn’t have any. While the bartender was explaining why he couldn’t make him a drink for which they had no ingredients, I pretended to bend down and tie the laces on my shoes.
“You little shit,” I whispered to Miles. “I’ve managed to avoid Bo for months! Get me out of this!”
“I’m not sure I can, Miss Susan.” Miles perched on the lower rung of the bar stool. He didn’t sound ashamed at all. “What’s wrong? Have you had too much to drink? Why don’t you just ask the young man to drive you home?”
“Because I don’t want him to know where I live, you little—“
“Did you drop something?” Bo asked, bending over.
“Uh, I’m uh, not feeling very well.” Not even a lie.
“Then I’ll take you home.”
“No, that’s okay.” I wanted to slap myself for giving him an opening.
The bartender brought Bo a frozen concoction with an umbrella in it. By his expression, it probably also contained a bodily fluid of some kind. Bo didn’t tip him, or even look at him, just took it and started sucking on the straw. I thought I saw the bartender smile.
“You see this scar?” Bo pointed to a four inch gash on his arm. “You wanna know how I got it? Some guy tried to take a piece of me. I met this guy at the Mage Denny’s, the one on Seventh and Camelback, and—“
“That’s the Gay Denny’s,” I protested, but Susie’s memory told me otherwise. In this universe, that was where all the mages hung out, the flamboyant ones and wannabes especially. Great. I get to go to the universe where magic is a loser’s hobby, like shuffleboard or larping. How sad.
“—this guy was all, ‘You think you’re so tough,’ and then I was all, ‘Oh, yeah?’ and then he takes out this wand and summons a gnosti, right there in the parking lot, and—“
“What’s a gnosti?” I interrupted again, but Bo didn’t let my comment get in the way of his story. I sighed, sipped my Diet Coke, and glared at Miles. At least his story was sparking more memories. Susie’s brain, it seemed, had the power to tell me what I needed to know, as long as it got reminded of the right thoughts. The gnosti included fey, minor gods, demons, djinn, and earth spirits. You technically had to have a thaumaturge license to summon them, but lots of people did it without one. To summon a gnosti you needed its name, and some power. That was pretty much it. It helped if you had a sacrifice, sort of like how it was easier to get people to come to your house if you promised them a keg of beer. You didn’t even need a circle, though summoning a hostile gnosti without some form of protection was for idiots. Even Bo wasn’t that dumb.
“And the demon was all, ‘I’m gonna eat your soul!’ and the cops were scared and stuff, but I pulled out my own wand and cast a divergence, and just knocked him down, bam! Just like that.”
“Uh huh.” I sighed and rested my face on my palm. I could have been making out with Derek, but no, I had to be caught up in one of Bo’s stories. Fought a demon. Yeah, right. If Bo even saw a thornwight he hadn’t encircled with wards, he’d piss himself in fear. And Bo with a wand? A magic wand? Theoretically you could put a spell into a piece of wood so you could use it later, but my friend Ruby said that was about as useful as boiling potatoes before you planted them to save time on cooking. If you knew how to do the spell well enough to put it into a wand, you didn’t need the wand to do it.
I’d never met Ruby. Ruby was Susie’s friend. So why did I feel like I knew her too? And how did I know this magic stuff? Well, Susie’s brain must have come with the body.
Bo went on an on about his manufactured exploits. He used to brag about how he was going to be the next big rock star, but Bo had been a mediocre musician back in my reality. He’d been able to play “Stairway to Heaven” and the first four chords of a half-dozen Metallica songs, but he wasn’t classically trained and couldn’t improvise.
The only thing he was good at was the Jew’s harp. He’d brought it out at parties to impress people. I was impressed only because I could never get the thing to make a single sound. I’d bought one in high school to try it out. Back then I thought that my lack of musical talent was merely a matter of not having found the right instrument. Jew’s harps were a flat, curved metal contraption that you stuck into your mouth and held with your teeth. You twanged the end and raised or lowered your palate to change the pitch. I’d played every kind of musical instrument I could beg, borrow or steal, but found the Jew’s harp perplexing and unsatisfactory. Jess laughed at me for even trying, but she’d already decided to specialize in voice and keyboard, and Christopher was already a guitar virtuoso, even at fourteen. Their music skills had transferred over as mage skills here, said Susie’s memory. Great, even here I was second rate to the rest of the family’s talent. I wondered how Bo’s bizarre Jew’s harp talent manifested in this reality? Susie’s memory said nothing.
“So how about we go to your place and hang out for a while?” He brought out his secret weapon, the puppy look. That was the look that always got me, the one that appealed to my feminine desire to care for young, hurt, or sick creatures. Very sick, in Bo’s case. “We can’t go to my house because my mom has to work early tomorrow.”
“You’re living at your mom’s house?” What a surprise.
“Uh, in the garage. I got it all set up. She rented out my old room.” Again with the puppy look. “I’m thinking about getting my own place soon, cause they’re about to promote me at SupplyMax, maybe even to vice-president, cause I know the guy who knows the guy who’s president of the corporation, and he says that maybe he can get me in.”
“Bo, I have to go home now. It was nice to see you and all, but, well, later.” I stood up and slung my purse over my shoulder.
“I’ll give you a ride home. We don’t have to have sex or nothing, I’ll just drive you.”
“No, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“You don’t trust me?”
“I don’t trust you.”
Bo finished his drink, stood, and looped his arm around my neck. “Aw, come on babe. You still mad about the flowers? What kind of chick gets mad about flowers?”
“They were dead white roses, Bo, and you included a note that said I was next.”
“That was just a joke! I’ve changed, baby.”
Lots of teenage girls believe the lie that all a man needs is a good woman beside him to promote him into greatness. It was one of those fables they feed us. A boyfriend deserves trust, you should believe him because he’s your guy, and he needs his woman to stand by him.
What a crock. Men lie. It’s what they do. Believing their lies doesn’t make us more womanly, it makes us dupes. I slipped his arm off my shoulder and walked towards the door.
“Where are you going, Miss Susan? Aren’t you going to hear the rest of this nice young man’s story?” Miles asked, from his perch in the cuff of my jeans.
“Bo, I’m not going home with you. I’m not your girlfriend.”
“I’m willing to take you back.” Bo slipped his spotted arm around my waist and pulled me closer, trying to kiss me.
“Bo, this is where we say goodbye.” I turned away to avoid the kiss and tried to dislodge his hand from my waist. Bo just wasn’t used to subtle clues that I wasn’t interested.
Okay, so I’d have to do something less than subtle. I wracked my brains for an elegant solution. Not finding one, I faked a seizure.
I screamed, fell to the floor (sort of, I used a chair to help me get down) and started thrashing around like an epileptic. Scraping chairs reverberated above the music as people pulled away from their tables to rubberneck. Bo was just standing there looking at me, so I rolled my eyes up into my head and made a horrible “hurk, hurk, hurk” sound like I was choking on my own tongue.
“Miss Susan? Oh dear, what’s wrong?”
If Miles was fooled, it must have been authentic looking. Who knew faking a seizure was so exhausting? Maybe they should do this in aerobics class. I drummed my heels on the floor and flailed my arms around. My eyes were aching from trying to keep them rolled up in my head, so I closed them halfway instead. By now a crowd had gathered, and someone pushed through to my side.
“Stand back, I know what to do!”
I just barely caught a glimpse of a middle-aged woman with short hair before she gave me a lip-lock and started blowing air into my lungs. I flailed even harder, but the woman had me pinned to the ground, and no amount of rolling could keep her off. After a breath, the woman came at me a second time, oblivious to the fact that I had coughed and drawn a breath on my own. The woman’s breath poured into me as though I were inhaling air out of a garlic-scented inner tube. It made me want to vomit and cough simultaneously. After the woman’s third breathing session, she laced her fingers together and was about to attack my chest. Fortunately, she shifted her weight, and I made a miraculous recovery. I leapt to my feet and put a chair between is, not unlike a lion tamer.
“I’m fine! Thanks! I’m much better!”
I didn’t see Bo anywhere, which was good. I was hoping I could get to my car before someone dialed 911. By the tickling along my ribs, Miles had climbed up under my halter top and was seeking a perch in my bra. I fled out the door, and luckily Bo wasn’t lurking in the parking lot.
Miles must have sensed my foul mood, or maybe he was just afraid of the cat, because he didn’t say anything on the way home, and he scuttled silently under the refrigerator as soon as we got there. I went straight to bed, and instead of faking diarrhea, went to work extra early the next day so the Hag (my boss) would harass me less. It didn’t work, but at least it meant I was dealing with annoying clients instead of Maggie’s problems.
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