Someone banging on the door very hard woke me up. I wondered if the motel was on fire. Someone was calling my name, too. I was groggy and wondered what time it was.
I sat up and then I could hear two voices. The fainter one was Claire. The other one was a man’s voice. They sounded quite urgent. I hurried to open it, not even pausing to put on pants.
They looked quite relieved to see me. The man was one of the regular daytime managers, one of those guys who looks young (mid-twenties, probably) but acts and sounds old. Probably was already married with two kids. His tie always looked too tight. “There you are, ma’am,” he said to Claire.
“So sorry to bother you,” she simpered.
“I’m just glad everything’s all right,” he said, with a look back and forth between her and me like he wasn’t really sure what he said was true. “You let me know if you need anything else. Oh, and Mr. Marks, there’s a package for you at the front desk. Come down and pick it up when you get a pants. Chance! When you get a chance.” He turned beet red, cleared his throat, and then hurried back in the direction of the lobby.
Claire flapped her mouth like she was trying to say goodbye or thank you or something to him but nothing came out. When he was gone, she turned to me. “My goodness. What a fright you’ve given me.”
“Why? What’s… oh, because I wasn’t answering the phone?” The previous night started to filter back into my memory.
“Your beau called, frantic that you weren’t answering.” She shooed me back into my own room, shut the door behind her, and then cranked up the heater.
“You mean Ziggy, right?”
“Yes. Apparently you paged him saying you were having an emergency of some kind?” She sat on the edge of the bed, back very straight, hands primly folded on her lap.
“Oh. Yeah. That. Um.” I went to see if the phone was really disconnected. It was. The wall jack was inaccessible, but it was the kind where you could take the cord out of the body of the phone by pressing on the little plastic tab. I clicked it back together and the message light began blinking.
I wasn’t about to tell her that I was doing it to hide from Ricky flirting with me or propositioning me or whatever that was. “When I couldn’t get to sleep, I took a Benadryl and I guess I was trying to make sure I didn’t get woken up.”
“And yet you messaged Ziggy asking him to call you urgently?”
“He had been ignoring my previous messages.”
“So you cried wolf.”
Her lecture voice was staccato as well as sing-song. “You deliberately worked him into a froth. So that when he tried to call you back? You’d be unavailable.”
“No, that’s not it at all.” I was suddenly thirteen again and trying to justify to her why I’d done whatever thing I’d done that she couldn’t comprehend. Didn’t matter what. “I-”
“Well, that is what he thinks you did. After specifically telling you!—how vexing it would be not to be able to reach you.”
Oh, shit. He did tell me that. “Look. I really didn’t do it on purpose. I was having a bit of a panic attack,” which was a little white lie, since I’d had a real panic attack in the past and this wasn’t on that level, “and I wasn’t thinking clearly.” I wondered how fast the lie would come back to bite me.
She tilted her head and made a pouty face. “I know you weren’t. You’re just not that kind of vindictive soul, dear.”
Whoa, what? Was she being sympathetic?
“But unfortunately for you, Ziggy is. If he gives you the benefit of the doubt, it’ll be to settle for believing you did it unconsciously, but that deep down you knew what you were doing.”
“That’s… I can’t even–”
“Meanwhile he and I were both convinced that you might have, I don’t know, done yourself a mischief somehow.”
Wow, what a euphemism for having O.D.’d or something. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize… I mean, I really didn’t think he’d call back.”
Her sad frown made full use of the dark bags under her eyes. “You thought he’d leave you twisting in the wind?”
Yeah. That was my underlying assumption. That it wouldn’t matter how urgent my page was because Ziggy wouldn’t even see it. He would get to it when he woke up. Or when he wasn’t busy with Sarah. Or something. My heart was already beating far too hard for that early in the morning. I pressed my fist against it.
“I thought your… partnership?” she chirped. “…was quite a bit more… solid? Than that?”
It is, I wanted to insist. Except here I was jumping to conclusions about Ziggy and Sarah and doing exactly the things I shouldn’t and undermining everything myself. Bam. Insert quick death spiral into the land of I’m-too-fucked-up-to-love. I sat down hard on the bed and burst into tears.
Claire actually put her arm around me and said “there, there.” And I let her because I was crying and I don’t think she’d ever done that before. If I fell and skinned my knee when I was a child, her usual reaction would have been to tell me it was my fault for walking the way I was walking and if I cried she’d scold me for making too much noise.
I realized then that her reaction to my sisters had been more similar than it was different. As a child I’d focused on the fact that she’d at least show them some sympathy, a little “there, there, dear,” before launching into how she told them not to wear those shoes or whatever. It was like no matter what was wrong, Claire had to be right. Even when it had nothing to do with her whatsoever.
Knowing that didn’t insulate me, though.
“I know, I know, it’s hard to be without him,” she was saying. “It’s hard to keep the boat from capsizing when you’re used to two of you in it all the time and then there’s only one and whoops.”
I was trying to stop crying as quickly as possible because I didn’t actually want to listen to her go on about it. But she did.
“That’s no way to live. You have to be able to stand on your own two feet.”
When Claire was married she constantly held it over my sisters that having a man made her superior. Now that she was on her own, all of a sudden being single and independent was the thing…?
“Especially with the lifestyle the two of you live? I don’t mean your gay lifestyle, I mean how you live. You’re both on the road how much of the year? How are you going to make it work when this is what happens when he’s only been gone for one day?”
Two days, actually, but who’s counting? I wanted her to shut up, but she was right, you know? She was a terrible hypocrite but that didn’t stop her from being right.
I patted her on the arm and stood up to try to get away from her perfume for a minute and draw a clear breath. “It’s not that,” I said, even though I thought it was. Something about being with someone who was insincere made me want to be insincere back at her, I guess. “It’s this place. Living in a hotel room is depressing after a while.”
“Oh, I quite agree.”
“Okay, good. Let’s see if we can move out of here. I was thinking we should try to rent a place closer to your treatment center.” And farther from Ricky and nosy staff members.
She pressed her palm to her sternum with a grimace. “If we must.” She stood then. “Well. I don’t think I’m going to get back to sleep at this point, so I’m going to go down and see about breakfast. Mr. Richardson said he would save me a chocolate chip muffin if they got one in today’s bakery delivery.”
She meant the manager guy with the too-tight tie. I want to pause here for a moment to unpack that last thing Claire said. It sounds completely innocuous and kind of nice, doesn’t it? Like, oh, she had a conversation with the guy and gee, chocolate chip muffins are nice. But I knew it couldn’t be a completely true statement. For one thing, I knew the motel didn’t get a “bakery delivery.” They bought pastries wholesale at Costco and kept them in a freezer in the back They thawed some out each day depending on how many guests were around. So had the manager lied to her to make her think they were baked fresh? Or did she make up the part about the bakery to make it sound nicer? Had he actually promised her a muffin? Or was that part made up, too, to make it sound like she was getting special treatment?
Did Claire even like chocolate chip muffins? Or had she noticed that I did and wanted to one-up me somehow…?
It’s a rabbit hole one never reaches the bottom of because if you dig into it, it’ll just keep going.
And Ziggy wonders why I’m hung up on wanting the truth to be clear cut.
Speaking of Ziggy: “I’ll come join you in a few. After I call him back.”
“All right, dear. I’ll see if I can snag us the real estate section of the paper.”
I shut the door behind her and then stood there feeling very tired. I had slept maybe four hours and the Benadryl was still in my system. I went and washed my face to wake me up some and then got dressed.
And then I picked up the phone. First, a page to Ziggy’s number, since I didn’t know where he was. Then a call to Carynne to tell her I was okay, in case he’d really started rallying the troops. I got her voice mail. She probably wasn’t even in the office yet. I told her I was fine but that we should probably talk later.
Then I tried Sarah’s and Ziggy’s apartments in quick succession. No answer at either place.
Out of reflex, I almost tried calling Jordan. His place was the next most logical place to look for them in the city, after all. Or it would have been, if Jordan had still been alive.
I wanted to throw the phone against the wall.
(This song was apparently a Top 40 hit around the time this chapter took place. I don’t remember it at all, though. I guess I was kind of busy. And maybe it wasn’t played in Tennessee. -d)