“Do you think that it’s true, as people say, that most men fall asleep right after coitus and most women don’t?”
Priscilla’s eyes opened and she looked around, confused. Angel was standing beside the bed, holding a tall candle in a very fancy looking holder. The bedroom was dark except for the candlelight. There was no sign of Stephanie.
“It is certainly true of Mr. Gerard and myself,” Angel continued. Her voice was still somewhat dreamy. “He fell asleep a little while ago, and I lay there and started thinking. It occurred to me that I had perhaps been a little too casual about finding you in my bathroom.” She looked at Priscilla for the first time. “May I sit down?”
Priscilla looked around for a chair, but Angel put the candlestick on the windowsill and sat on the narrow bed next to her. Priscilla had noticed that Angel’s nightgown and robe were equally filmy, and she was seeing almost as much of the other woman’s body as she had in the bathroom. Was this a pass? It didn’t feel like one, but Priscilla was glad she was wearing particularly unattractive pajamas.
“First of all, do you know why Stephanie went out after she brought you here?”
“Yes,” Priscilla said. “I mean–”
“So do I, so we don’t need to be evasive about that. Are you and she a couple?”
“No!” Priscilla said. “Just because we–”
Angel turned, her eyes meeting Priscilla’s, and suddenly Priscilla found that she couldn’t speak.
“I am sorry,” Angel said softly. “I intended no disrespect. Why did that question get you upset?”
“My stepmother,” Priscilla started. “She… we don’t get along. She thought I was a… that I was boy crazy. Then I cut my hair, just on an impulse, and she said, ‘Oh my God, I knew it, you’re a dyke!'” Priscilla felt her heart pounding. Why was she telling this woman all this? “That’s when I knew I had to get out of there. I mean…”
Angel nodded and touched her forehead. “Relax,” she whispered, and Priscilla did, sinking back on the bed. “I’m sorry,” Angel said. “That’s when you knew that she would be against you, no matter what you did.”
“So, what did you do?”
“I decided to come to try to go to college here – in the city – and maybe I could live with Steph. And never go back home.”
Angel smiled. “So, you’re hoping to take up residence here. In my house.”
“Well, I didn’t know where she lived when…”
Angel smiled. “Go back to sleep,” she said as she stood up, and the next thing Priscilla knew it was morning.
Priscilla came back into the bedroom wrapped in a towel and drying her hair. “No wonder you wanted to shower first,” she said. “The hot water…”
She stopped as Stephanie held up her hand, pointing at the open door to the hall with her other hand. They heard the knock at the front door again, and then, a moment later, they heard the door open and Angel said, “Miss Sleet. This is becoming a regular occurrence. Is there a chance that this is a social call for a change?”
They couldn’t hear Jan Sleet’s reply, but a moment later they heard the front door close, and then footsteps going into the kitchen.
“Is this about Mr. Gerard again?” Angel asked, her voice cold. “I don’t think I am in a mood to answer any more questions about him. Or anything else.”
“I’m not here to ask questions,” the detective said, and they heard a chair scrape on the floor. “I am here to say something, about my daughter.”
There was a pause, then Angel said, “That grubby little urchin you’ve adopted? What does she have to do with me?”
“She had a visit in school yesterday, from a woman named Terry Nelson. She was pretending to be Ron’s new teacher, but that was a lie. This is very alarming, and it must not happen again.”
There was a longer pause, and then Angel said in a quieter voice, “Why is this alarming, and, as I asked before, what does it have to do with me?”
The girls, who had tiptoed to the top of the stairs by then, heard another chair move, as if Angel had sat down also.
“This woman, Terry Nelson, has been known to… She is unstable, and–”
They heard a third woman’s voice, deeper and more commanding than Angel’s. “My sister is not dangerous. The only violence she has ever done was to herself, as you know. And, as you also know, she really is a teacher.”
“Tammy,” Jan said, her voice resigned.
Priscilla looked a question to Stephanie, who shook her head.
“The point,” Jan said slowly, “is this. If Terry wants to see my daughter…” There was a long pause. “…her granddaughter, she would be more than welcome to come and have dinner with us. We would enjoy that. And if she wants to become a teacher… to really teach at our school, there’s a process for that, as well.”
“Okay, what was that all about? Who is this Tammy woman?” She saw Stephanie’s expression. “Stop making faces. I will add this to the growing list of secrets that I will carry to my grave. I…”
“This isn’t a joke, Pris. If people learn who I am and where I live, I could be killed. I… I’m under a lot of pressure here, with running the store, and Mr. Drenkenson, and…”
The tears came, and Priscilla hugged her.
“I’m sorry,” Priscilla said finally. “Here I’m hoping to come live with you, and all I can do is piss you off.”
Stephanie looked up, wiping her tears with her sleeve. “What?”
“Never mind. Tell me about Tammy. I promise not to tell anybody.”
“She is Angel. They’re the same person. And I guess there’s a Terry, too.”
“So, she’s crazy?” Priscilla whispered.
“I don’t know.” She smiled ruefully, wiping her eyes again. “Damn it, Pris, I’m a superhero, not a doctor.”
Priscilla rolled her eyes. “Idiot.”
“But she is apparently several different people, at least. And she is Jan Sleet’s mother.”
Priscilla digested this. “I guess they’re not close.”
“I think she’s close with her father. He’s here to visit her. Oh, I didn’t tell you that. Professor Vinnie, who we ate with last night? He’s her father. Jan Sleet’s father.”
“The guy with the dog?” She grinned suddenly. “Did he get Daphne at your store?”
Stephanie laughed. “No, we don’t sell that breed.”
“Is everybody weird here? And don’t tell me you’re not.” She gestured at the hooks along the wall where the parts of Stephanie’s superhero costume were hanging up and drying.
“Yeah. Every one of us. You’ll fit in fine. Come on, we should get going. I want to show you how to work the cash register before we open.”
Stephanie unlocked the door of the pet store, and three dogs ran up from the back of the store and surrounded her, barking and jumping up and down. Several puppies in cages started barking also.
She laughed as she squatted and petted the dogs. “Time for their walk, I’d say,” she said. “You get to do that while I do the other cleaning up.”
“I’m thinking of starting a union.”
“Oh, come on. Would you rather be on poo patrol?”
“I don’t know what that is, but I’m saying no.”
Stephanie took a leash from a hook on the wall. It had one end for the person to hold, and several clips at the other end, which she started to attach to the dogs’ collars.
“Do I get benefits at this job?”
Stephanie gestured at the paper bag on the counter, which contained two cups of coffee and two muffins.
“Breakfast is a benefit,” she said.
“Well, it’s not really…” She pointed at one of the animals Stephanie was attaching to the leash. “That’s a cat.”
“Oh, good. You’ll work out well here.”
Priscilla made a face. “You’re walking a cat?”
Stephanie shrugged as she handed the end of the leash to her friend. “No, you’re walking her. She likes it.”
“So,” Stephanie said as they had their coffee and muffins, “what is the plan? Why do you get all evasive when I ask how long you’re planning to be visiting?”
Stephanie sighed. “I always get nervous when you get weird. So, you want to go to college in the city, live with me, and work here. Right?”
“Um. Well, kind of.” Stephanie just waited. “Okay, yes, pretty much that. I promise I won’t reveal any of your secrets, or how weird your roommates are, or… anything like that. And I promise not to pester you about coming along with you when you go out superheroing.”
“Don’t worry. I don’t think you’re sidekick material. Well, I guess I should show you around the store. Come on.”
Priscilla got up on her tiptoes and looked out the window of the office. “What’s out there?”
Stephanie shrugged. “The back yard, obviously.”
“Who does that belong to?”
“I’m not sure it ‘belongs’ to anybody.” She looked out also. “Doesn’t look like anybody is using it for anything.” She sniffed. “Except garbage.”
“How do you get back there?”
“Why would you want to? It’s a mess, and it smells even worse.”
“Well, I thought maybe we could…” She caught her friend’s sudden frown. “What?”
Stephanie closed the window. “Come on.”
She led Priscilla out the front door of the store, around to the side and down a garbage-strewn alley, and into the rear yard.
Priscilla’s eyes widened and she held her hand over her nose and mouth. “That’s–”
Stephanie pulled a bandanna out of her pocket. “Run inside and soak this at the sink. Then hand it to me out the window.”
“Hurry up. I know what that smell is.” She pointed at the low metal doors. “And it’s coming from the basement. It may be a dead rat, but I doubt it. Hurry up. And get me the ring of keys that’s hanging by the door to the bathroom.”
one night at the quarter (part eight)
Katherine put a hand on Jenny’s shoulder. “If you go to the hospital, the Jinx will beat you senseless.”
Jenny shook off her hand. “Fuck you! I–”
Katherine slammed her down on the stage, her legs hanging down over the edge, and cocked her revolver. “No cursing,” she said quietly. “I think you and I should have a drink together. Sit down at that table.”
Jenny did, and Katherine climbed down to sit with her. She looked around, but Frances’ stony expression said that she wasn’t about to serve them.
“Donna,” Katherine called, and Donna the waitress came over.
“And what would you ladies like?” she asked, cocking her head and raising one eyebrow.
“Two beers,” Katherine said. She tilted her head and Donna leaned closer.
“And don’t let Frances do anything unpleasant in them, either,” Katherine whispered.
Donna winked. “Nobody pees in the drinks I serve except me, and that’s only for lousy tippers. Keep that in mind and you’ll be fine.”
She turned as somebody managed to get the jukebox going again, so she was able to walk away with a rhythm that highlighted how very short and tight her skirt was.
Katherine turned to Jenny. “We should talk.”
part eleven: on the roof