Page 9

“She done with you?”

Well, at least I’m not the biggest scumbag here.

“Already booked.” The words taste like vomit in my mouth. So all of a sudden it doesn’t matter to him that hookers definitely fall under the category of something sketchy? “Sorry, dude.”

His meaty hand swallows the money. “Out by noon tomorrow. Not a second later.”

“Sure,” I say, worrying that he’s waiting to get an eyeful of my “guest,” waiting to follow her out to the parking lot. Jesus. “That it? Okay, great.”

I slam the door in his face before he can get another word out, and flip the dead bolt over. I watch the guy stand out there for a few more minutes, and don’t turn away until he finally sucks it up and leaves.

Leaning back against the door, I survey what’s left of the groceries I bought two weeks ago. I have a bag of chips, a cup of ramen, a loaf of bread and peanut butter. I don’t realize how hungry I am until I see how little I have to eat. I could try to order something in, but that’s the kind of luxury I know would draw unwanted attention from the other residents of Phyllis’s motel. I can’t go pick something up without leaving the girl alone to potentially escape. She can live with a sandwich. All kids like peanut butter sandwiches.

Unless they’re allergic to peanut butter.

Okay. She gets the ramen. I just have to remember to sit far away while she eats it so she can’t throw the hot broth in my face.

I bend down, pouring the last of the water from the gallon jug into a chipped mug to zap in the microwave. I pour the hot water straight into the Styrofoam container, my stomach gargling at the first whiff of the roast chicken flavoring.

What if she’s a vegetarian?

Shit—no, stop it. She doesn’t get to be a vegetarian.

It is a living thing with needs, but it is not human.

It is a living thing with needs, but it is not human.

It is a living thing with needs, but it is a freak.

It has also been in the bathroom with the water running for the past fifteen minutes. I let my brain get as far as wondering if it’s possible to drown yourself in a sink full of water before I cross the room in two long strides. The door’s lock has been broken since I got here and she has nothing to block the door with.

The first thing I see is the trail of bloodied puffs of toilet paper on the counter. She’s left the water running at full blast, and the drain, which functions at half capacity on a good day, can’t handle this load. The water has breached the shallow basin and is spilling out onto my feet. The vanity lights cast everything in a sour glow.

The kid is sitting on the ground in that little bit of space between the toilet and the shower, her face stubbornly turned away from the door. Her shoulders are still shaking, but the only noise that escapes her is pathetic sniffling. As she scrubs at her face, I realize I never cut the zip tie around her wrists, and I start to get a fluttering panic low in my stomach.

When she does turn to face me, the only trace she was ever crying is in her eyes, which are still a raw pink. The cut across her forehead is finally scabbing over, but she’s managed to reopen the one on her chin.

“Stay here,” I say. “Right there.” I have a tiny first aid kit I bought off the old high school nurse. I don’t know that she was really supposed to be selling her supplies, but we were the last class to graduate before they shut the schools down, so I guess there was no point in pretending she’d need it one day.

The only bandages I have seem absurdly large, but they’ll do as good of a job as any. I tell myself it’s worth it to use them because otherwise the PSFs could dock some of my reward money for “medical costs,” but really, it’s just hard to look at her face like that.

I peel the first one out of the package as the vanity lights begin to buzz and flicker. I glance up at her under my dark bangs. “Don’t zap me. I’ll kick your ass.”

She finally loses that terrible forced blank look and snorts, rolling her eyes.

It’s a quick job that’s not especially gentle, but she sits there and takes it. She doesn’t say a thing. I have to swallow the irritation that comes with it; if the freak would just act out, try something, it would make this whole process that much easier on me. I feel like she’s waiting for me to screw up and make a break for it, or she’s just laughing at how terrible I am at this gig. Laughing like I’m sure the rest of them are back home.

“I made dinner,” I say, mostly to fill the silence. The freak just watches me, her mouth twitching like she might smile, and I know I’m right. She thinks I’m a joke.

Maybe I’m doing this all wrong—I shouldn’t just give her the food. Maybe she should have to earn it through good behavior? I don’t think she’s scared of me. But she should be—she needs to be. She has to know what’s coming.

While she sits and carefully eats the ramen I left for her on the cleared desk to avoid spilling, I take out the knife I swiped from the dead kid and kind of…make a show of twirling it around. But eating with her hands tied like that takes up so much of her concentration, I’m ignored.

By the time she finishes, I can feel the frustration and embarrassment burning just under my skin. I grab her arm and pull her off the chair, working a plan out as I lead her to the bed. I force her down onto the floor, trying not to echo her wince as she sits.

“Don’t move,” I bark, leaving her only long enough to get one pair of handcuffs out of my duffel. The bones of her ankle are tiny enough that I can tighten one end around it and latch the other over the metal bedpost hiding beneath the bed’s ruffled skirt.

And again, she just stares at me the entire time, and I feel my face flush with heat, the way it always used to when I was flustered and on the verge of crying as a dumb kid. The bandage covering her chin exaggerates its point as she tilts her head up.

“Stop it,” I warn her, feeling anger rise like a swarm of hornets in my skull. “Same thing that happened to your friends is gonna happen to you, so you can wipe that stupid look off your face—stop it!”

Jesus, I can’t stand criers. I turn my back as her face crumples, just for a second. And I wonder, in a way that pisses me off all over again, if she was crying in the bathroom because of what I was going to do or what happened to her friends. Not knowing for sure what happened to them, really.