They still don't believe her, and why should they, but it's always the same, it is this same dream, darkness, heat, and the song, the same song, same deafening beat.
Driving. Midnight. Still driving; their beacon through the desert, flashing lights, pink and green neon from the roadhouse roof. Eddie cruises the parking lot. He parks on the farthest side, in shadows. Tired and hungry, she slips after him into the reek of beery dust. It coats the bar top, the windows, the dimly lit jukebox blasting that song "Gimme Some Lovin' " over and over and over again. Their luck's about to change, Eddie says. He feeds quarters into the jukebox, the last of their money hers, mostly.
Sitting behind them, the only other customer, a skinny man, grimy shirt, loosened tie, jacket bunched up next to his beer mug. His head bobs over the table. Her own face floats in the murky bar mirror, outlined in blinking red Christmas bulbs. This inferno of caged heat pulsates between the sagging ceiling and gritty plank floor. A dream, nothing's real. The blur of overhead fan blades dizzies her.
Elbows sticking to the bar, she sips a rum and Coke; only seventeen, but as long as she keeps sliding the drink back in front of Eddie, the skinny bartender could care. He ignores her, acts like she's not even here. She grabs another cherry, and Eddie winks in the mirror. Their last meal, hamburgers this morning; "poor man's brunch," Eddie said. Every time the bartender looks away, she grabs more, cherries, olives, slimy little cocktail onions, shoves them into her mouth, swiveling on the stool to hide her ravenous chewing. They have devoured the bowl of pretzels. After warm beer in the car all day, it's rum Eddie wants. The more he drinks the sharper he grows, pale eyes glinting, voice roughening, snagging on her soft parts, moving deep inside, his hard running feet, tingling through her legs and thighs, belly and heart, pounding with the music. She covers her grin. Drinking makes her tired and silly, the least little thing, she's laughing so hard she can't stop. Or crying. Today, mostly crying. Another quarter, that song again.
Eddie pauses by the table. The man's head jerks up. Laughing, Eddie leans close, back muscles rippling through his damp T-shirt. Blond, tanned, blue eyes, dimples, oh God. Her eyes burn. Eddie's gesturing. The man glances back, and she looks away. Now Eddie's hand is soft on her thigh, one finger stroking flesh high, high between her legs. Her eyes close as his mouth brushes her ear, singing that song, heat in her ear.
She's known him forever, it seems through the haze of longing. But only a summer month before she was a chambermaid at the Clayborne Hotel in Lake George that drizzly day when he drove up in the yellow Mustang, top down, his arm over the back of the seat. "Hey, pretty girl," he called as she dragged along the gravel path in her baggy green uniform, arms loaded with buckets, scrub brushes, and mop. "I've come to rescue you."
It was her last summer of high school. Six years older, he knew so much about life. After Yale, he'd invested the ten-thousand-dollar graduation gift from his wealthy grandfather in an international grain brokerage company. In just three months' time he made a quarter of a million dollars. Then came the sharks who, with a taste of his blood, wanted more. "Bad deals and blind faith," he'd sigh. "A deadly combination." There was a great job in L.A., a friend of his grandfather's. He just had to get there.
Tall with boyish hips, still almost flat-chested, but she drove him crazy, Eddie said. "You're the first one," he whispered in his bleak room, rented by the night. Too busy studying, he'd never had a social life. He liked to turn all the lights on while undressing her. Eyes closed, her arm over her face, trembling, craving the stasis of sleep while he stroked her feet, traced each bone in her rib cage, murmuring, "There, pretty girl, there, there."
Excerpted from The Last Secret by Mary McGarry Morris Copyright © 2009 by Mary McGarry Morris. Excerpted by permission of Shaye Areheart Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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