Read The Waking Dark Online

Authors: Robin Wasserman

The Waking Dark (27 page)

“Yeah. Giuliana pulled a vanishing act. After all that. Can you believe it?”

She suddenly realized why the woman in bed with Scott had looked so familiar. “Kid’s probably better off.”

“Maybe.” He didn’t sound convinced.

“It’s not the same thing,” she said.

“As what?”

“As your mother. She’s dead.”

“Thanks for the reminder.”

“So of course you think you’d be better off if she were still around, and sure, maybe you even would be.”

“Not maybe,” he said.

The Preacher hadn’t always been the Preacher, she thought. Before there were disability checks and insurance settlements and oceans of whiskey, there’d just been Mr. Ghent, who she used to see dropping Daniel off at kindergarten, walking all the way there with him hand in hand. She remembered because she’d paid attention to things like that back then, trying to figure out exactly what it was that made her different from the other kids, and why they could all see it when, as much as she studied herself in the mirror, she was lost. Most days, that year and every other, she’d had to walk herself to school. By third grade, so did Daniel. She wasn’t sure which of them was luckier: the one who didn’t know what was missing or the one who did. “I’ll give you that,” she said. “Not maybe… But Milo doesn’t need that woman. He’s got you.”

“Why are you here, Jule?” he said. “What happened?”

In the dark, she could almost answer. She almost felt powerful again. Screw Scott – if he found out she’d told someone the truth of what happened, what could he do? What would she let him do? Answer: nothing. She wasn’t afraid of him.

But she was afraid of Daniel, of what he would think. It was too dark to see his face, but she would hear it in his voice.

“Nothing happened,” she said.

“Sure, that’s obvious.”

“Nothing happened that you need to know about.”

“I’m not trying to get in your business. I just want to make sure you’re okay.”

“Like you care.” It came out harsher than she’d intended.

“I should get out of here,” he said. “I’ll stop bothering you and leave you alone.”

“Would you get out of my head and stop assuming you know what I’m thinking?” She hoped he couldn’t tell she was thinking how desperately she didn’t want to be alone. “Did I say I wanted you to go?”

“So… you want me to stay?”

“Well
,
want
is a strong word.”

For a moment, there was nothing but the sound of their breathing.
I
could
reach
out
my
hand
and
he
would
take
it,
she thought.
Take
it
and
hold
it
and
just
be,
if
that’s what I needed him to do.
That’s how close he was; that’s the kind of guy he was. But she wasn’t that kind of girl. She couldn’t ask. And he was the kind of guy who would wait to be asked.

“So what’s the deal with you keeping Cass Porter in your shed?” she asked instead. “That’s a bit kinkier than I would have expected.”

“You know about that?”


Everyone
knows about that. Not to mention there was that day you came over and stole my underwear.”

She could almost hear the whoosh of blood to his face.

“I thought it was hers. I would never have – I mean, I’m not – I was —”

She put him out of his misery. “It’s fine. I get it. People do crazy things when they’re keeping girls locked up in their shed.”

“I wasn’t…”

“Joke,” she said. “Jesus.”

“You know about what they’re going to do to her tomorrow?”

“I’ve heard rumors.”

“If you’re going to say that kind of thing would never happen here, don’t bother. People are different now. Something’s… different.”

“Kinkier than you look
and
dumber. No one’s different, Daniel. Maybe they’re being more obvious about it now, because they’re tired of playing let’s-pretend. But that kind of thing is always happening here. I thought you knew that.”

“I don’t think so. I don’t believe that.”

“You’ll believe it when they light her on fire.”

“No,” he said. “I’m getting her out of there. Before they can do anything.”

“Oh, really? How?”

He was silent.

“So you’ve got a rescuing complex. That’s your deal?”

“It’s not a deal. It’s one person who needs me.”

Either he was being polite, not mentioning the fact that he was currently in the process of rescuing Jule, or he didn’t think of her that way, the kind of girl that needed a rescue.

Not that it mattered, since she resolutely did not care what he thought of her.

Not at all.

They were quiet for a long time.

“You asleep down there?” she finally asked.

“No.”

“You know, when this is all over, and they open the borders, I’m getting out of here.”

“Oleander?”

“Oleander. Kansas. Hell, I don’t know, maybe the whole country. I hear Bali’s lovely this time of year.”

“They say Rio’s nice,” he said.

“There’s always Antarctica. I could sacrifice temperature for distance.”

“And isolation. No one to annoy us but the penguins.”

“Oh, it’s ‘us’ now, is it?”

“Like I’m letting you go to Hawaii and leave me here.”

“Hawaii’s in this country, Einstein. Off the table.” She closed her eyes. “There’s all these hotels in El Salvador. They built them in the eighties, all these giant resorts right on the beach, white sands and blue sea, the whole deal. To bring in the tourists, right? Except they’re in the middle of a drug war, and getting decapitated really spoils a vacation, so the tourists never come, and the hotels just get abandoned, all of them. Sitting right there on the edge of the world, empty paradise. Just waiting for someone desperate enough to move in.”

“How do you know so much about random stuff in South America?”

“Central.”

“What?”

“You said
South.
El Salvador’s in Central America.”

“That’s kind of my point. How would you know?”

She opened her eyes, looked at him, wondered whether to tell the truth.

“Oh,” he said. “Right.”

Like it was so stupidly obvious, like of course the Prevette girl would know all there was to know about Latin America, and anywhere else drug kingpins went to play.

“Not ‘oh,’” she said. “Not what you’re thinking.”

“I didn’t mean —”

“Mr. Sorenson told me.”

Daniel’s eyes widened. “The
Nazi
?”

Jule sighed. “He’s not a Nazi.” Kyle Sorenson lived in a decaying house on the edge of town, a house that in thirty years he’d almost never left. He was an Oleander legend, a story kids used to spook themselves on stormy nights, and one of the most persistent rumors swirling about him, the one that most delighted boys between the ages of seven and twelve, concerned his alleged Nazi past. War crimes,
Heil
Hitler
s, and a desperate midnight escape to the American Midwest, where he could live out his days amid Christians and cornfields, longing for the moment when the Reich would rise again. Other rumors had him as a retired and potentially cannibalistic serial killer, with bodies frozen in the basement to remind him of his youth, or – this one was more popular with girls – a political prisoner, smuggled out of Siberia and into Kansas, so traumatized by years of isolation and torture that he could no longer bear human companionship. “He’s just a lonely old man.”

“And you actually
know
him?”

“He and my uncle… they had kind of an arrangement for a while.” That had been when Scott became convinced the government was tapping his phones, and a cranky hermit with a shortwave radio collection came in handy. That had also been when Jule was still young enough – still cute enough and mute enough – that Scott towed her along with him when it suited him, and over the course of that year he’d towed her to Sorenson’s once or twice a week. Sometimes he’d left her there, alone with the strange old man, who’d had no idea how to entertain an eight-year-old, and so told her stories. Exotic tales of exotic lands, places he’d touched only through his radios but could describe like he’d been there. He made her feel like
she’d
been there – for those brief afternoons, he made her feel like she’d already escaped.

“He knew a lot about other places,” Jule told Daniel. “It was like… I don’t know, like he wanted to get out as much as I did, but for some reason, he couldn’t.”

The Salvadoran hotels, those beached white elephants soaking in the sun, had always been her favorite story. She’d wanted to hear about them again and again, the sparkling waves, the endless tracts of sand, the lavish rooms, all of them abandoned. It would be so easy to be alone there, untouched and unseen. It would, she’d told herself, almost lulled to sleep by the slow rhythm of Kyle Sorenson’s low voice, be easy to be happy.

It had been her secret dream that one day Scott would tire of towing her back and forth and would just leave her with Mr. Sorenson for good. That she would live with him in the big old house, perhaps wiping the spotted windows and washing the musty sheets, cleaning without complaint as she never did at home. She’d do whatever she needed to do to make herself indispensable. One day, she dreamed in these daylight fantasies, she would slip and call him Grandfather, and she would blush until he patted her shoulder and assured her it was all right. They would finally flee this place, together, and make a home in one of those faraway hotels on a deserted beach. They would be family, the only family either of them needed.

And then Scott went to prison, and she never went back.

But she never forgot about El Salvador, about her fairy tale. She’d never confided it to anyone else.

“They’re probably not there anymore,” she said, and didn’t know why the thought made her so unbearably sad. “They probably never were.”

He looked like he had a million questions, but he didn’t ask any of them. Almost as if he understood that she’d already told him more than she intended.

“Tahiti, then,” he said lightly. “You can’t argue with Tahiti.”

“Tahiti?”

“Tahiti.”

“Sold.”

“So it’s a deal,” he said. “When this is all over, we take off for paradise.”

“It’s a deal.”

She reached out her hand. He took it.

They shook.

She didn’t know if she could sleep. Daniel stayed with her, and she listened to his steady breathing in the dark, and thought about white sand beaches and storybook skies, and as dawn crept in, her hands stopped shaking and the sweat dried on her brow, and she could, in the gray light, almost imagine what it would be like to get away from all of it. To leave herself behind.

 

The deacon made good on his promise, and the response exceeded his expectations.

Ellie’s mother nurtured a bit of a girlish crush on the good deacon herself, so was less than pleased at the reports of her slim, youthful daughter parading before him in her underwear. She told her daughter that she would be in her prayers but not, until she cast Satan from her heart, in her house. Ellie’s father held little truck with all the Bible talk but believed the deacon to be a good, strong man who was steering the town in the right direction – and he’d always been uncomfortable with his daughter’s newfound womanhood and the fact that when she emerged from the shower wet and glistening, he couldn’t help noticing the swell of her breasts beneath the towel. He, too, thought that it would be best if she took some time away. “Your friend Moses wandered in the desert for forty years,” he told her. “Seemed to do him some good.”

“The deacon’s lying,” Ellie told them.

And, when that didn’t work, “It’s wrong, what he’s doing to the town.”

And, in desperation, “He’s
wrong.

But whatever he’d whispered in their ears had taken.

“You’re the liar, Ellie,” her mother said. “Leading us all to believe you’re some kind of holy visionary.”

“I never said —”

“I’m your mother, so I’m sure I can find it in my heart to forgive you, but the rest of the town? There’s going to be anger out there.”

“Be careful, sweetie,” her father said before closing his door in her face.

She received similar treatment, if harsher, from Clair and Morgan, both of whom informed her, with little regret, that she was not welcome, and would not be until she repented her behavior and stopped spreading her lies. These were the days of God’s wrath – she’d said that herself, hadn’t she, more than once? The time of mercy had passed; this, Morgan said, was the time of justice, and there was something eager in her face, something
hungry,
that made Ellie leave hastily, and not try her luck with any more of her supposed friends.

She went to the jail. She’d lost her sway with the town; the deacon had seen to that. But he couldn’t quiet her voice. And after all:
Whatever
you
did
not
do
for
the
least
among
you, you did not do for Me.

She went to the jail, and refused to answer any questions. She repeated only a simple request: “I want to see Cassandra.” She could see it in their eyes: they were spooked. She’d never been very good at making people like her, but when it came to creeping people out, she was a pro, and there was a certain power in that, too.

When she arrived at the cell, Cass was asleep, or pretending to be. Ellie sat on the linoleum across from the locked door, ignoring the grime and the insects, and leaned her head against the wall. She would stand guard here tonight. In the morning, when they came to take Cass for judgment, Ellie would be with her, step by step, to avert her fate, or to share in it.

Other books

The Seville Communion by Arturo Pérez-Reverte
The Merchant's War by Frederik Pohl
A History of the Middle East by Peter Mansfield, Nicolas Pelham
Retratos y encuentros by Gay Talese
Speed-the-Plow by David Mamet