Sure, it will probably be whatever current blockbuster is playing at the local Cineplex, and that’s fine. I don’t expect him to appreciate my supreme good taste in film. At least, not right away. He can be educated, and I’m happy to oblige. But all I’m thinking about now is that it’s a movie and it’s Porter—together.
I’m trying not to get too giddy. After all, he’s got to get up early and work in the surf shop, so we can’t stay out all night, but a couple of hours sounds like heaven. Heaven that might even still get me home by curfew, or thereabouts. See? I’m not even really cheating. Good daughter, right here.
Sometime around ten fifteen p.m., I stop checking for updates from Alex on my phone in the break room (there are none, as usual, and I’m not sure why I even bother caring) and stretch my legs. We’re supposed to get to leave around ten thirty. Even though we close at ten, it takes Porter and Pangborn that long to shoo the last tour group out, lock up, put away the flashlights, and make a final sweep of the place to ensure there aren’t any dopey kids hiding out or people having heart attacks in the restrooms. After the guests are gone, I’m supposed to help with the flashlights—there are a hundred of them—so when the only other two employees who were working tonight clock out and leave through the employee exit, I head out to the lobby to take care of that. On my way there, I bump into Pangborn.
“How did it go?”
“Excellent,” he tells me. He’s wearing bright orange socks with little black ghosts on them, which are easy to see because his pants are riding so high, thanks to the matching suspenders. He changed just for the ghost tour. God, I love him. “One woman gave me a twenty-dollar tip.”
“How about that,” I say, actually impressed.
“I didn’t keep it, of course. But it was still a nice gesture.” He smiles and pats me on the shoulder in that comforting way he always does. “Your boyfriend is making the final sweep on Jay’s corridor. The doors are locked and the system’s backed up. Except for the flashlights, we’re done for the night.”
I know he just said a bunch of words, but all I heard was “your boyfriend.” Did Porter tell Pangborn we went out? Or has he noticed anything going on between us at work? I’m too chicken to ask, especially when Pangborn’s eyes crinkle up sweetly in the corners.
“I’ll get the flashlights,” I offer.
“I was hoping you’d say that,” he says. “I’m feeling more exhausted than usual tonight, and I’ve got to open in the morning, so I’m going to head home a few minutes early. Don’t want to nod off on the road.”
“Hey, not funny.” Now that I’m looking at him, he really does look tired. Like, insanely tired. For the first time since Grace told me, I suddenly remember the rumors about him being sick. They may not be true, who knows, but I know one thing for sure: He’s too old to be working this late. And Cavadini is an asshole to schedule him opening tomorrow morning.
“I’ll stay alert, don’t worry,” he assures me. “But your concern is much appreciated. I just need a good night’s rest. Daisy Dog and I need our beauty sleep. Tell Porter I’m locking the two of you in with the new master code. He’ll have to punch in the override to get out. He’ll know what I’m talking about.”
“Got it.” At least he has a dog to go home to. I tell him to be careful driving and when he’s gone, I head out to find Porter. It’s weird being alone in the museum. It’s dark and eerily quiet: Only the after-hours lights are on—just enough to illuminate the hallways and stop you from tripping over your own feet—and the background music that normally plays all the time is shut off.
I quickly organize the flashlights and check their batteries, and when I don’t hear Porter walking around, I stare at the phone sitting at the information desk. How many chances come along like this? I pick up the receiver, press the little red button next to the word all, and speak into the phone in a low voice. “Paging Porter Roth to the information desk,” I say formally, my voice crackling through the entire lobby and echoing down the corridors. Then I press the button again and add, “While you’re at it, check your shoes to make sure they’re a match, you bastard. By the way, I still haven’t quite forgiven you for humiliating me. It’s going to take a lot more than a kiss and a cookie to make me forget both that and the time you provoked me in the Hotbox.”
I’m only teasing, which I hope he knows. I feel a little drunk on all my megaphone power, so I page one more thing:
“PS—You look totally hot in those tight-fitting security guard pants tonight, and I plan to get very handsy with you at the movies, so we better sit in the back row.”
I hang up the phone and cover my mouth, silently laughing at myself. Two seconds later, Porter’s footfalls pound down Jay’s corridor—Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! He sounds like a T. rex running from Godzilla. He races into the lobby and slides in front of the information desk, grabbing onto the edge to stop himself, wild curls flying everywhere. His grin is enormous.
“Whadidya say ’bout where you want to be puttin’ your hands on me?” he asks breathlessly.
“I think you have me confused with someone else,” I tease.
His head sags against the desk. I push his hair away from one of his eyes. He looks up at me and asks, “You really still haven’t forgiven me?”
“Maybe if you put your hands on me, I might.”
“Don’t go getting my hopes up like that.”
“Oh, your hopes should be up. Way up.”
“Dear God, woman,” he murmurs. “And here I was, thinking you were a classy dame.”
“Pfft. You don’t know me at all.”
“I aim to find out. What are we still doing here? Let’s blow this place and get to the theater, fast.”
We race each other through the lobby and grab our stuff out of our lockers. When we get to the back door, Porter pauses by the security system panel and tilts his head quizzically.
“Oh,” I say, snapping my fingers. “Pangborn said to tell you that he was using the new master code to lock us in, and that you’ll have to punch in the override code to get out.”
Porter sort of shakes his head, mumbling to himself, and then appears to dismiss it. He unhooks his leather key fob thingy from his belt. I recognize his van keys on it, because there’s a tiny shark on the key ring. But when he swings it into his palm he pauses again.
“O-o-oh, s-h-h-i-i-i-t,” he drawls. His head drops. He’s silently swearing to the floor, eyes squeezed shut.
“What?” I say.
“Pangborn took my key earlier,” he says in a small voice. “Right before the tour. He left his at home during the break between the regular shift and the ghost tours, and he had to open the back door. I was about to start a tour, and I forgot to get it back from him. That son of a bitch.”
“But you can just use the master code to let us out, right?”
Porter snorts and throws up his hand toward the panel. “If he’d used the master code, yes. But he didn’t. See this here, this number? That code indicates that the system is on lockdown.”
“And that means . . . ?”
“It means,” Porter says, “that you and I are now locked up alone together inside the museum for the rest of the night.”