Pretty When She Dies (Page 14)

It felt good to be moving again. She had felt downright claustrophobic in the hotel room with Pete laying on the bed like that. Knowing she could not go outside during the day had eaten away at her nerves. The memory of her crisped fingers was a pungent memory and repulsive to her. Another thing from the movies that seemed to be true. How many more would join her slowly growing list?

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“Why you going to Dallas?”

Rob's voice startled her. He had been so quiet for the last thirty minutes, she had slowly lost herself in her own thoughts.

“It's just a stop along the way back home,” she answered, and pretended to take a sip of her drink. She was growing more and more reluctant to talk about herself and what she was doing. The more lies she made up, the harder it was going to be. Of course, she could just make up one really good story and stick to it, but that thought depressed her somehow. Besides, most of her life she had just lived on a whim and went with the flow. The only thing she had ever staunchly planned for was going to college. Of course, when she got there, she had no idea what to study or do with herself.

“Most people hitching a ride are doing it cause they're running from something,” Rob said softly, but his voice seemed big and full and filled the cab.

Well, that summed her up pretty well. She was notorious for running from any situation she didn't like. It was her natural instinct. Flee.

“Well, I'm running to something,” she decided. “I want to see my Grandmama before its too late.”

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Rob nodded. “Gotcha.” He sank back into silence, his big meaty hands holding tightly to the steering wheel as the big truck rumbled down the long highway.

Glancing into the line of mirrors out the window, Amaliya studied the row of cars behind them. Most were jocking for positions to pass the big truck and she wondered briefly if Professor Sumner was in any of them. He had told her he would watch her and she believed him. Smiling slightly, she wondered what her score was so far. Was he taking notes? He was a damn psychology professor. Was he picking her apart? Examining her motives?

A rat in a maze. She had a feeling that was what she was to him.

“Married?”

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“No,” she answered softly. “Almost was…once.” Well, technically Pete and her had never been engaged or even dated, but if things had gone differently maybe there would have been a chance. Probably not, but maybe. She could console herself with maybe. Even if she was inclined to believe she would live up to her reputation and would have bolted.

“I was married, but she died almost two years ago,” he said.

“Sorry.”

“It happens.” Again, the man went silent and seemed to turn all his attention to the road.

The silence was strangely comforting and she snuggled down in the seat to stare up at the stars. Her fingertips lightly stroked the scar where a rosary had been tattooed into her arm. The rough skin was strangely comforting despite what it meant. She could heal and heal well now, so she wondered how it had happened. Maybe when she had transformed into what she was now. She did remember vaguely an incredible amount of pain when she had woken up buried in the earth.

“We'll be there soon. Dallas. I'm feeling pretty damn tired. I think I'll just pull over and get a motel room. I guess you got folks to pick you up? Or do you need a room for the night?”

Amaliya looked toward the man with his big bland face and slightly smiled. “Not going to Wichita Falls then?”

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“Too tired. I'm gonna crash for a few hours here, and then head up through Wichita to Oklahoma.”

“You don't sleep back there?” she asked, motioning over her shoulder.

“It ain't too good on my back after awhile. I'm feeling my last few hauls in my bones. 'sides, a shower sounds good.” He gave her a big toothy grin. “You're good company. You don't talk much. ”

“Not much to say. Okay, cool. Find a motel.” She nodded her head and tapped a little rhythm on her knees. “I could use some rest.”

The big man shifted gears and the truck switched lanes as a sign to Dallas flashed by. The sight of the white lettering on the green sign was a comfort. She was halfway to her Grandmama's. Then she could tell her grandmother goodbye and figure out what the hell she was going to do next.

The motel near Dallas' downtown was packed with families in transit after the long Easter weekend and a few big trucks sat idling in the parking lot. The night had cooled off quite a bit, but the heat coming off the highway rolled in waves over the asphalt parking lot. As she walked beside Rob toward the office, his whole body quivered. The man was not only impressive in height, but girth. He had barely spoken after their brief interchange and that had been fine with her. She needed time to think and figure out what the hell was going on with her.

A part of her was afraid that her reaction to everything happening around her was wrong, that her transformation had altered something inside of her forever, that she was so changed she could not even fathom what it was that had died inside of her.

Lighting a cigarette she had bummed off Rob, she exhaled slowly. She didn't feel like slipping inside the building just yet. The night felt good. There was energy in the air. Maybe it was because they were so close to Deep Ellum, the Dallas hot spot for entertainment.

“Coming?”

Exhaling, she shook her head. “Nah, I'm going to take a moment out here, then I'll head in.” She gazed out over the Dallas skyline and smiled slightly. She always loved the way cities looked at night with their flashy lights and fancy glass buildings. It had been a far departure from the four block downtown of her small home town.

Rob hesitated, then nodded. “Okay. Well, catch you later.”

“Thanks for the ride,” she said with a wide smile. “I really appreciate it.”

The man abruptly smiled, his teeth flashing under his mustache. “Was a pleasure.”

He turned and disappeared through the door that took him into the office. She could see him approaching the battered front desk through the window and turned away slowly to look down the highway.

Tucking one hand into her jeans pocket, Amaliya watched the cars speeding past the motel. If Professor Sumner was around, she couldn't feel him. But then again, maybe she could only feel him when he wanted her to. Frowning slightly, she took another deep drag on her cigarette and crouched down next to her bag. Pretending to take her money out of her bag, she actually took it out of her boot, then stood up.

A few more drags had her cigarette burning low. She exhaled slowly as she dropped the butt to the ground and ground it out.

“Night,” Rob said emerging from the office and moving past her, heading toward his truck to get his stuff.

“Night, Rob. Thanks again,” she said, then headed inside.

The very dark man behind the counter looked like he could be Indian or Pakistani. He was listening to exotic music she had never heard before. He eyeballed her thoughtfully as she approached and gave him a wide smile.

“I need a room,” she said.

Amaliya leaned against the counter on her elbows and looked up at him from under the brim of her hat.

“You got one,” he answered. He slid a little white envelope toward her with a card tucked inside.

“Thanks,” she said, and pulled out her wad of money. “How much?”

“Paid for by your boyfriend,” the man answered, and turned to fuss with his reservation cards.

“The big guy?”

“Yes, he paid for you. Said you are his girlfriend and need your own room to be respectful to your father.” He looked at her as if he didn't believe she could ever be respectful.

“Oh, well, thanks,” she said, and took the card.

Walking back out into the night, Amaliya felt as if maybe her luck was changing. First a good, clean ride into Dallas and now a free hotel room. She had yet to spend any of the money she had brought with her. Heaving her bag onto her back, she trudged up the stairs to the second floor. She started scanning doors for her hotel room number. Her hearing seemed to be keener than before for she could clearly hear what was going on behind each door. When she heard two burly male voices urging each other on for hotter sex followed by a room with a family reading the Bible, she struggled not to burst out laughing.

Finding her room at the far end and tucked a little out of the way, she slipped the card into the slot on the electronic device on the door. The little light turned green and she shoved the door open. She sighed as a room, nearly identical to the one she had left Pete in, swung into view. The door clicked shut behind her. She threw the bag on the first bed, walked over to the second queen size bed, and grabbed the comforter.

Yanking the ugly thing off the bed, Amaliya carried it to the vanity. She frowned at the empty room in the mirror. She easily jumped onto the counter and worked at getting the comforter adjusted over the mirror. It was a little hard since it was bolted to the wall, but she managed to get it tucked around the corners. Jumping back down, she looked at the ugly bedspread covering the mirror with satisfaction. She did not need to deal with staring into an empty mirror tonight.

Kicking off her boots, she sprawled on one of the beds and turned on the TV. Some late night news show was on and to her surprise, her old college was being shown in stock photos. But then again, how could she be surprised? She knew this was coming. Chewing on her thumbnail, she turned up the sound as video of body bags being carried out of the frat house filled the screen.

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