Kiss of Death
Chapter Seven

 Rachel Caine

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The Texas Star Truck Stop was worse on the inside than the outside. As Claire pushed open the door--with Shane trying to open it for her--a tinny bell rang, and when she looked up, Claire found herself being stared at--a lot. "Wow," Shane murmured, close behind her as he entered the store. "Meth central." She knew what he meant. This was a scary bunch of people. The youngest person in the place, apart from them, was a pinched, too-tanned skinny woman of about thirty wearing a skimpy top and cut-off shorts. She had tattoos--a lot of them. Everybody else was older, bigger, meaner, and uncomfortably fixed on the newcomers. And then Eve stepped in, in all her Goth glory,bouncing from one Doc Marten-booted foot to the other. "Bathroom?" she asked the big, bearded man behind the counter. He frowned at her, then reached down and came up with a key attached to a big metal bar. "Thank you!" Eve seized the key and dashed off down the dark hall marked as RESTROOMS; Claire wasn't sure she'd have the guts, no matter how much she had to pee. That did not look safe, never mind clean. Michael stepped in last, and took it all in with one quick, comprehensive look. He raised his eyebrows at Shane, who shrugged. "Yeah," he said. "I know. Fun, huh?"
"Let's get a table," Michael said. "Order something." Under the theory, Claire guessed, that if they spent money, the locals would like them better. Somehow, she didn't think that was going to work. Her gaze fell on signs posted around the store: YOU DRAW YOUR GUN, WE DRAW FASTER. GUN CONTROL MEANS HITTING WHAT YOU AIM AT. NO TRESPASSING--VIOLATORS WILL BE SHOT; SURVIVORS WILL BE SHOT AGAIN. "I don't think I'm going to be hungry," she said, but Michael was right. This really was their only option, other than sitting outside in the car. "Maybe something to drink. They have Coke, right?"
"Claire, people in Botswana have Coke. I'm pretty sure Up the Road Apiece, Texas, has Coke." By the time they'd gotten seated at one of the grungy plastic booths, still being stared at by the locals, Eve finally joined them. She looked more relaxed, bouncy, and more--well, Eve. "Better," she announced, as she slipped into place next to Michael. "Mmm, much better now." He put his arm around her and smiled. It was cute. Claire found herself smiling, too, and snuggled up against Shane. "How was the bathroom?" Eve shuddered. "We shall never speak of it again."
"I was afraid of that."
"You want a menu?"
"Absolutely. They might have ice cream." The last thing bouncy, happy Eve needed was a sugar rush, but ice cream did sound good.... Claire looked around for a waitress and found one leaning against the cracked counter, whispering to the man on the other side. They were both staring straight at Claire and her friends, and their expressions weren't exactly friendly. "Uh, guys? Maybe ixnay on the ice cream-ay. How about we wait in the car?" she asked. "And miss ice cream? Hella don't think so," Eve said. She waved at the waitress and smiled. Claire winced. "Oh, relax, CB. I'm a people person."
"In Morganville!"
"Same thing," Eve said. She kept on smiling, but it started getting a little strained as the waitress continued to stare but didn't acknowledge the wave. Eve raised her voice. "Hi? I'd like to order something? Hellooooooo?" The waitress and the guy behind the counter seemed frozen in place, glaring, but then they were blocked out by someone stepping into Claire's line of sight--more than one someone, in fact. There were three men, all big and puffy, and with really unpleasant expressions. Shane, who'd been slumped lazily next to her, straightened up. "Don't y'all got no manners where you come from?" the first one asked. "You wait your turn. Sherry don't like being yelled at." Eve blinked, then said, "I wasn't--"
"Where you from?" he interrupted her. The men formed a redneck wall between the table and the rest of the room, pinning the four of them in place. Shane and Michael exchanged a look, and Michael took his arm away from Eve's shoulders. "We're on our way to Dallas," Eve said, just as cheerfully as if the situation hadn't gone from inhospitable to ominous. "Michael's a musician. He's going to record a CD." The three men laughed. It wasn't a nice sound, and it was one Claire recognized all too well-- it was deeper in register, but it was the same laugh Monica Morrell and her friends liked to give when stalking their prey. It wasn't amusement. It was a weird sort of aggression-- laughing at you, not with you; sharing a secret. "Musician, huh? You in one of those boy bands?" The second man--shorter, squattier, wearing a dirty orange ball cap and a stained University of Texas sweatshirt with the arms cut off. "We just love our boy bands out here."
"I ever meet those damn Jonas Brothers in person, I'll give `em what for," the third man said. He seemed angrier than the others, eyes like black little holes in a stiff, tight face. "My kid can't shut up about 'em."
"I know what you mean," Eve said with a kind of fake sweetness that made Claire wince, again. "Nobody's really been worth listening to since New Kids on the Block, am I right?"
"What?" He fixed those dead, dark eyes on her. "Wow, not a New Kids on the Block fan, either. I'm shocked. Okay, I'm thinking not Marilyn Manson, then.... Jessica Simpson? Or..." Eve's voice faded out, because Michael's hand had closed over her arm. She looked over at him, and he shook his head. "Right. Shutting up now. Sorry."
"What do you want?" Michael asked the men. "Your little freak vampire girlfriend needs to learn how to keep her mouth shut."
"Who you calling little?" Eve demanded. Shane sighed. "Wrong on so many levels. Eve. Shut up." She glared at him but made a little key-and-lock motion at her lips, folded her arms, and sat back. Michael had locked gazes with the third man, the angry one, and they were staring it out. It went on for a while, and then Michael said, "Why don't you just let me and my friends have our ice cream, and then we'll get back in our car and leave? We don't want a problem."
"Oh, you don't, you whiny little bitch?" The angry man shoved the other two aside and slapped his palms flat against the table to loom over Claire and her friends. "Why'd you come in here, then?" Eve said, in a very small voice, "Ice cream?"
"Told you to shut the hell up." And he tried to hit her with a backhanded smack. Tried because Michael leaned forward in a flare of motion, and had hold of the man's wrist in a flicker of time so fast Claire didn't even see it. Neither did the angry man, who looked just kind of confused by being unable to move his hand, then put it all together and looked at Michael. "Don't," Michael said. It was soft, and it was a warning, through and through. "You try to hurt her again and I'll pull your arm off." He wasn't kidding, but the problem was, none of them was kidding. While he was holding the angry one, the guy in the orange cap reached in his pocket, flicked open a big, shiny knife, and grabbed Eve by the hair. She squeaked, raised her chin, and tried to kick him. He was good at avoiding her. It looked as if he'd had practice. "Let Berle go," Orange Cap said. "Or I'll do a hell of a lot worse than slap this one. I can get me real creative." Shane was cursing softly under his breath, and Claire knew why; he was stuck in the corner, she was in front of him, and there was no way he could be effective in helping Michael out from that angle. He had to just sit there--something he wasn't very good at doing. Claire stayed very still, too, but she looked Orange Cap in the eyes and said, "Sir?" She said it respectfully, as her mom had taught her. "Sir, please don't hurt my friend. She didn't mean anything."
"We don't like smart-mouthed freaks around here," he said. "We got our ways."
"Yes sir. We understand now. We were just trying to have a little fun. We won't be any trouble, I promise. Please let my friend go." She kept her tone calm, sweet, reasonable--all the things she'd learned to do when Myrnin was running off his rails. Orange Cap blinked, and she thought he was seeing her for the first time. "You need better friends, little girl," he said. "Shouldn't be running around with a bunch of freaks. If you was my daughter--" But he'd lost his edge, and he let go of Eve's hair and wiped his hand on his greasy jeans as he folded up his knife. "You get on up out of here. Right now. You let Berle go, and we'll let this pass. Nobody gets hurt."
"We're going," Claire said instantly, and grabbed Shane's hand. Michael let go of the angry guy, Berle, who snatched his arm back and rubbed at his wrist as if it hurt. It probably did. Claire could see white marks where Michael had held him. That was restraint, for Michael; he probably could have broken the bone without much effort. "Sir?" She spoke again to Orange Cap, treating him like the man in charge, and he nodded and clapped his friends on the shoulders. They all stepped back. Claire slipped out of the booth and squeezed by the men, practically dragging Shane with her. Eve and Michael followed. They walked away from the table, into the store, and Claire pushed open the door and led them all outside, into the harsh white light near the gas pumps and the car. She looked back at the store. The three men, the people working the restaurant, and practically everyone else were looking out the windows at them. Claire turned on Eve first. "Are you crazy?" she demanded. "Just couldn't shut up, could you? And you!" She pointed at Michael. "You're not in Morganville anymore, Michael. Back there you were a big dog. Out here, you're what we were back there. Vulnerable. So you need to stop thinking that people owe you respect just because you're a vampire." He looked stunned. "That's not what I--"
"It was," she said, interrupting him. "You acted like a vamp, Michael. Like any vamp getting back-talked by a human. You could have gotten us hurt. You could have gotten Eve killed!" Michael looked at Shane, who lifted his shoulders in a tiny, apologetic shrug. "She's not wrong, bro."
"That's not what it was," Michael insisted. "I was just trying to--look, Eve started it."
"Hey! That thump you heard was me under the bus, there! " Shane shrugged again. "And now Michael's not wrong. Hey, I like this game. I don't have to be the wrong one for once in my life."
"Shut up, Shane," Eve snapped. "What about you, Miss Oh, sir, please let my friends go; I'm such a delicate little flower? What a crock of shit, Claire!"
"Oh, so now you're mad because I got you out of it?" Claire felt her cheeks flaming, and she was literally shaking now with anger and distress. "You started it, Eve! I was just trying to keep you from getting killed! Sorry you didn't like how I pulled that off!"
"You just--can't you stand up for yourself?"
"Hey," Shane said softly, and touched Eve's arm. She whirled toward him, fists clenched, but Shane held up both hands in clear surrender. "She stood up for you. Might want to consider that before you go calling Claire a coward. She's never been that."
"Oh, sure, you take her side!"
"It's not a side," Shane said. "And if it is, you ought to be on it, too." Michael had been watching, calming down (or at least shutting down), and now he reached out and put his hands on Eve's shoulders. She tensed, then relaxed, closed her eyes, and blew out an impatient breath. "Right," she said. "You're going to tell me I can't be upset about nearly getting my face cut off."
"No," Michael said. "But don't take it out on Claire. It's not her fault."
"It's mine."
"Well..." He sighed. "Kind of mine, too. Share?" Eve turned to face him. "I like my blame. I keep it close like a warm, furry blanket."
"Let go," he said, and kissed her lightly. "You're taking my side of the blame blanket."
"Fine. You can have half." Eve was calmer now, and relaxed into Michael's embrace. "Damn. That was stupid, wasn't it? We nearly got killed over ice cream."
"Another thing I don't want on my tombstone," Shane said. "You have others?" Claire asked. He held up one finger. "I thought it wasn't loaded," Shane said. Second finger. "Hand me a match so I can check the gas tank." Third finger. "Killed over ice cream. Basically, any death that requires me to be stupid first." Michael shook his head. "So what's on your good list?"
"Oh, you know. Hero stuff that gets me rerun on CNN. Like, I died saving a busload of supermodels." Claire smacked his arm. "Ow! Saving them! What did you think I meant?"
"So," Claire said, taking the high ground, "what now? I mean, I guess ice cream is kind of off the table, unless you're okay with random violence as a topping."
"Got to be something else in town," Michael said. "Unless you just want to sit here and take up a gas pump until Oliver gets his act together."
"He told us to wait here."
"Yeah, well, I'm with Michael on this one," Shane said. "Not really into doing what Oliver wants, you know? And this is supposed to be our trip, not his. He's just along for the ride. Personally, I like moving the car. Even if we're not leaving him behind."
"You really do have a death wish."
"You'll save me." He kissed Claire on the nose. "Mikey, you're driving." 5 Durram, Texas, was a small town. Like, really small. Smaller than Morgan ville. There were about six blocks to it, not really in a square; more like a messy oval. The Dairy Queen was closed and dark; so was the Sonic. There was some kind of bar, but Michael quickly vetoed that suggestion (from Shane, of course); if they'd gotten into trouble asking for ice cream, asking for a beer would be certain doom. Claire couldn't fault his logic, and besides, none of them was actually bar-legal age, anyway. Though she somehow doubted the folks in Durram really cared so much. They didn't seem like the overly law-abiding types. Cruising the streets seemed like a big, fat waste of time; there weren't any other cars on the streets, really, and not even many lights on in the houses. It seemed like a really boring, shut-up town. Shades of Morganville, though in Morganville at least you had a good reason to avoid being out after dark. "Hey! There!" Eve bounced in the front seat, pointing, and Claire squinted. There was a tiny, dim sign in a window, a few lights were on, and the sign might have said something about ice cream. "I knew no self-respecting small Texas town would shut down ice cream service at night."
"That makes no sense."
"Shut up, Shane. How can you not want ice cream? What is wrong with you?"
"I guess I was born without the ice cream gene. Thank God." Michael pulled the car to a stop in front of the lonely little ice cream parlor. When he switched off the engine, the oppressive silence closed in; except for street signs creaking in the wind, there was hardly a sound at all in downtown Durram, Texas. Eve didn't seem to care. She practically flung herself out of the car, heading for the door. Michael followed, leaving Claire and Shane behind in the backseat. "This isn't going at all how I'd thought," Claire said with a sigh. He laced their fingers together and raised hers to his lips. "How'd you think it would go?"
"I don't know. Saner?"
"You have been paying attention this last year, right? Because saner isn't even in our playbook." He nodded toward the ice cream parlor. "So? You want something?"
"Yes." She made no move to get out of the car. "Then what--oh." He didn't sound upset about it. He'd been telling the truth, Claire thought. He really didn't have the ice cream gene. But he did have the kissing gene and didn't need that much of a hint to start using it to both their advantages. He leaned forward, and at first it was a light, teasing brush of their lips, then soft, damp pressure, then more. He had such wonderful lips. They made her ignite inside, and it felt like gravity increased, all on its own, dragging her back sideways on the big bench seat; pulling him with her. Things might have really gone somewhere, except all of a sudden there was a loud metallic knock on the window, and a light shined in, focusing on the back of Shane's head and in Claire's eyes. She yelped and flailed, shoved Shane away, and he scrambled to get himself together, too. Standing outside of the car was a man in a tan shirt, tan pants, a big Texas hat.... It took a second for Claire's panicked brain to catch up as her eyes fastened on the shiny star pinned to his shirt front. Oh. Oh, crap. Local sheriff. He tapped on the window again with the end of a big, intimidating flashlight, then blinded them again with the business end. Claire squinted and cranked down the window. She licked her lips nervously, and tasted Shane. Inappropriate! "Let's see some ID," the man said. He didn't sound like the Welcome Wagon. Claire searched around for her backpack and pulled out her wallet, handing it over with trembling hands. Shane passed over his own driver's license. "You're seventeen?" The sheriff focused the beam on Claire. She nodded. He shifted the light to Shane. "Eighteen?"
"Yes sir. Something wrong?"
"Don't know, son. You think there's something wrong about taking advantage of a girl who's under eighteen on a public street?"
"He wasn't--"
"Sure looked that way to me, miss. Out of the car, both of you. This your car?"
"No sir," Shane said. He sounded subdued now. Reality was setting in. Claire realized they'd just made the same mistake that Michael had--they'd acted as if they were home in Morganville, where people knew them. Here, they were a couple of troublemaking teenagers --one underage--making out in the back of a car. "You got any drugs?"
"No sir," Shane repeated, and Claire echoed him. Her lips, which had felt so warm and lovely just a minute ago, now felt cold and numb. This can't be happening. How could we be this stupid? She remembered Shane's list of ways not to die. Maybe this ought to be number four. "You mind if I search the car, then?"
"I--" Claire looked at Shane, and he looked back at her, his eyes suddenly very wide. Claire continued. "It's not our car, sir. It's our friend's."
"Well, where's your friend?"
"In there." Claire's throat was tight and dry, and she was holding Shane's hand now in a death grip. If he searches the car, he'll open the coolers. If he opens the cooler and finds Michael's blood ... She pointed to the ice cream shop door. The sheriff looked at it, then back at her, then at Shane. He nodded, switched off his flashlight, and said, "Don't you go nowhere." Through all of that, Claire had only a blurry impression of him as a person--not too young, not too old, not too fat or thin or tall or short--just average. But as he walked away, his belt jingling with handcuffs and keys and his gun strapped down at his side, she felt cold and short of breath, the way she had when she'd faced down Mr. Bishop, the scariest vampire of all. They were in trouble--big trouble. "Fast," Shane said, as soon as the door started to close behind the sheriff. He yanked open the door, grabbed Michael's cooler, and looked around wildly for someplace to put it. "Go to the door. Cover me." Claire nodded and walked up to the door, looking in the grimy glass, blocking any view past her of the street. She made little blinders out of her hands as if it were hard to see in. It wasn't. The sheriff had walked straight up to Michael and Eve, who were still standing at the counter of the ice cream shop. Eve had an ice cream cone in her hand, fluorescent mint green, but from the look on her face, she'd forgotten all about it. Claire glanced back. Shane was gone. When she looked back into the store, the sheriff was still talking to Michael, Michael was answering, and Eve had a terrified look in her eyes. Claire nearly screamed when someone touched her shoulder, and jumped back. It was Shane, of course. "I put it in the alley, behind a trash can. Covered it with a stack of newspaper," he said. "Best I could do." The sheriff had finished his conversation, and he, Eve, and Michael were heading for the door. Claire and Shane backed up to the car. Claire leaned against him and felt his heartbeat thudding hard. He looked calm. He wasn't. Eve didn't even look calm. She looked, well, distressed. "But we didn't do anything!" she was saying, as they came outside. "Sir, please--"
"Got a report of trouble up at the Quik-E-Stop," the sheriff said. "People fitting your description threatening folks. And to be honest, you kind of stand out around here." "But we didn't--" Eve bit her lip on blurting that out, because in fact they had. Michael had, for sure. "We didn't mean anything. We just wanted to get some ice cream, that's all." Hers was starting to leak in thin green streams. Eve, startled, looked down and licked the melted stuff off her fingers. "Better eat that before it's all over you," the cop said, sounding relaxed and almost human this time. "Do I have your permission to search your vehicle, ma'am?"
"I--" Eve's eyes fixed on Shane, behind the sheriff, who was giving a thumbs-up. "I guess so." He seemed surprised; maybe even a little disappointed. "Sit down over there, on the curb. All of you." They did. Eve had trouble doing it gracefully in the poofy black skirt she was wearing, but once she was down, she started wolfing down her ice cream. Halfway through, she stopped and pounded her forehead with an open palm. "Ow, ow, ow!"
"Ice cream headache?" Claire asked. "No, I'm just wondering how the hell we could be so bad at this," Eve said. "All we were supposed to do was drive to Dallas. It shouldn't be this hard, right?"
"Oliver made us stop."
"I know, but if we can't stay out of trouble on our own--"
"That was an ice cream headache, right? Not an aneurysm?"
"That's where things explode in your brain? Probably that last thing." Eve sighed and bit into the cone part of her dessert. "I'm tired. Are you tired?" Michael wasn't saying anything. He was staring at the car, and the cop searching it--going through bags, purses, glove box, even under the seats. He finally glanced over at Shane. "What about the weapons?" Shane's mouth opened, then closed. "Uh--" Right at that moment, the cop opened Claire's suitcase and pulled out a sharp silver stake. He held it up. "What's this?" None of them answered for a few seconds; then Eve said, "It's for the costumes. See, we're going to this convention? And I'm playing the vampire, and they're playing the vampire hunters? It's really cool." That almost sounded real. "This thing's sharp."
"The rubber ones looked really fake. There's a prize, you know? For authenticity?" He gave her a long look, then dropped it back into Claire's bag, rummaged around, then closed it. He left the suitcases and bags outside the car, scattered around, and after checking in the wheel wells and in the spare tire section, he finally shook his head. "All right," he said. "I'm going to let you all go, but you need to go right now."
"I need to see your taillights disappearing over the town limits. And I'm going to follow to make sure you get there nice and safe." Oh crap. "What about Oliver?" Claire whispered. "Well, we can't exactly give him as an excuse," Eve whispered back fiercely. She ate the last bit of ice cream cone and smiled at the cop. "We're ready, sir! Just let us get loaded up." Michael grabbed Shane, and they had an urgent conversation, bent over Eve's giant suitcase. Eve leaped up, tripped over a random bag, and went down with a yelp that turned into a howl. The sheriff, proving he wasn't a total jerk, immediately came to bend over her and see if she was okay. This gave Michael enough vampire-speed time to retrieve the cooler from the alley, put it back in the car, and be innocently reaching for the next bag before the sheriff helped flailing, clumsy Eve up to her feet. "Sorry," Eve said breathlessly, and gave Michael a trembling little smile and wave. "I'm okay. Just bruised a little."
"That's it," Shane said. "No more ice cream for you." They finished loading things in the car, and Claire took a last look at the deserted streets, the flickering, distant, dim lights. There was no sign of Oliver; none at all. "Well?" the sheriff said. "Let's go."
"Yes sir." Eve slid into the driver's side, closed her eyes for a second, then fumbled for her keys and started the car. Michael took the passenger seat in front, and Claire and Shane climbed in the back. The sheriff, true to his word, got in his cruiser, parked across the street, and turned on the red and blue flashers; no siren, though. "Thanks," Michael said, and sent Eve a quick smile. "Good job with the tripping. It gave me time to get the blood."
"Wish I'd meant it, then." She put the car in reverse. "And could we please have another word for blood, outside of Morganville? Something like, oh, I don't know. Chocolate? Red velvet cake?"
"Why is it always sugar with you?" Shane asked. "Shut up, Collins. This one was all on you, you know." He shrugged and put his arm around Claire's shoulders. "Yeah, I know. Sorry."
"What are we going to do?" Claire asked. "About Oliver?" Nobody had an answer. The sheriff's cruiser let loose a shocking little whoop of siren, just to let them know he meant business. Eve swallowed, put the car in reverse, and backed the sedan onto the street. "Guess we'll figure it out as we go," she said. "Anybody got his cell number?"
"I do," Michael and Claire said, simultaneously, and exchanged guilty looks. Michael took out his phone and texted something as Eve drove--staying well under the speed limit, which Claire thought was very smart--and as they passed a sign announcing the town limit, the sheriff's car coasted to a stop. The lights were still flashing. "Keep going?" Eve asked. She kept looking in the rearview mirror. "Guys? Decision?"
"Keep going," Shane said, leaning forward. "We can't get back as long as he's watching. If we're going back at all. Which I don't vote for, by the way."
"Better idea," Michael said, and pointed up ahead, on the left side of the narrow, very dark road. "There's a motel. We check in, wait for Oliver to join us. We're going to have to sit the day out somewhere, anyway."
"There?" Eve sounded appalled, and Claire could see why. It wasn't exactly the Ritz. It wasn't even as good as that motel in the movie Psycho. It was a little, straight line of cinder-block rooms with a neon sign, a sagging porch, and one big security light for the parking lot. And the parking lot was empty. "You can't be serious," Eve said. "Guys. People get eaten in places like this. At the very least, we get locked in a room and terrible, evil things get done to us and put on the Internet. I've seen the movies."
"Eve," Michael said, "horror movies are not documentaries."
"And yet, I really think a serial killer owns this place. No. Not going to--" Michael's phone buzzed. He flipped it open and read the text. "Oliver says to stop here. He'll join us in about another hour."
"You are kidding."
"Hey, you're the one who had to have the ice cream. Look what kind of trouble we got ourselves into. At least this way we're safe in a room with a door that locks. And the sign says they have HBO."
"That stands for Horrible Bloody Ohmygod," Eve said. "Which is the way they kill you. When you think you're safe."
"Eve! " Claire was starting to get creeped out, too. Eve put her hands up, briefly, then back down to the wheel. "Fine," she said. "Don't say I didn't warn you, while we're all screaming and crying. And I'm sleeping in my clothes. With a stake in both hands."
"It's probably not run by vampires."
"First, you wanna bet?" Eve hit the brakes and put the car in park. "Second, sharp pointy things tend to work on everything else, too. Including cannibals running creepy motels." They sat in silence as the engine ticked and cooled, and finally Shane cleared his throat. "Right. So, we're going in?"
"We could stay in the car."
"Yeah, that's safe."
"At least we can see them coming. And also run." Claire sighed and got out of the car, walked into the small office, and hit the bell on the counter. It seemed really, really loud. She heard doors slamming behind her--Shane, Michael, and Eve finally bailing out. The office was actually nicer than the outside of the building, with carpet that was kind of new, comfortable chairs, even a flat-screen TV playing on the wall with the sound turned off. The place smelled like ... warm vanilla. Out of the back room came an older lady with graying hair tied back in a ponytail. Claire couldn't imagine anyone looking less like a serial killer, actually--she looked like a classic grandma, even down to the small, round glasses. She was wiping her hands on a dish towel and was wearing an apron over blue jeans and a checked shirt. "Help you, honey?" she asked, and put the towel down. She looked a little nervous as the others came in behind her. "Y'all need a room?"
"Yes ma'am," Claire said softly. Michael and Shane were doing their best to look like nice boys, and Eve was, well, Eve. Smiling. "Maybe two, if they're not too expensive?"
"Oh, they're not expensive," the lady said, and shook her head. "Ain't exactly the Hilton, you know. Thirty-five dollars a night, comes with breakfast in the morning. I make biscuits and sausage gravy, and there's coffee. Some cereal. Ain't fancy, but it's good food." Michael stepped up, signed the book, and counted out cash. She read the register upside down. "Glass? You from around here?"
"No ma'am," he said. "We're just passing through. Heading for Dallas."
"What the hell possessed you to come all the way out here?" she asked. "Never mind; glad you did. Fresh sheets and towels in the rooms, soaps, some complimentary shampoo. You need anything, you just call. You kids have a good night. Oh, and no hell-raising. We may be outside of town, but I know the sheriff personally. He'll make a special trip."
"Why does everybody think we're so insane?" Eve asked, and rolled her eyes. "Honestly, we're nice. Not everybody our age rolls with anarchy."
"You would, if anarchy offered free ice cream," Michael said. He accepted the two keys and smiled. "Thank you, ma'am--"
"Name's Linda," the lady interrupted. "Ma`am was my mother. Though I guess I'm old enough now to be ma'am to you folks, more's the pity. You go on. Let me finish up my baking. You stop back later. I'll have fresh chocolate chip cookies." Eve's mouth dropped open. Even Michael looked impressed. "Uh--thanks," he said, and they retreated out to the parking lot, staring at one another. "She's making cookies."
"Yeah," Shane said. "Terrifying. So, how are we doing this thing?"
"Girls get their own room," Eve said, and plucked one of the keys out of Michael's hand. "Oh, come on, don't give me that face. You know that's the right thing to do."
"Yeah, I know," Michael said. "Looks like they're right next door to each other." They were, rooms one and two, with a connecting door between. Inside, the rooms--like Linda's office--were really pretty nice. Claire checked out the bathroom; it was nicer than the one at home--and cleaner. "Hey, Eve?" she called, sticking her head around the door. "Should I be terrified now, or later?"
"Shut up," Eve said, and flopped on one of the two beds, crossing her feet at the ankles as she reached for the remote on the TV. "Okay, it's not Motel Hell. I admit it. But it could have been.... Hey, check it out--there's a Saw marathon on HBO!" Great. Just what they needed. Claire rolled her eyes, went out to the car, and helped the boys unload the stuff they needed--which was, actually, pretty much everything by the time they finished. Eve remained loftily above it all, flipping channels and searching for the most comfortable pillow. Shane dragged her suitcase into the room and dumped it on the floor beside her bed. "Hey, Dark Princess? Here's your crap. Also, bite me."
"Wait, here's your tip--" She flipped him off, without taking her eyes off the TV. "Nice to know we can still be just the same even outside of Morganville, right?" He laughed. "Right." He looked at Claire, who leaned her own suitcase against the wall and looked around. "So I guess this is good night?"
"Guess so," she said. "Um, unless you guys want to watch movies?"
"I'll bring the chips."