Despite all the information and questions swirling in her head, Andra actually fell asleep after going just a few miles. Her dreams were peppered with images of faceless beings trying to drag her off, but every time they tried, Desiree pulled her back. She awoke when the soothing rhythm of the road noise stopped. Another potty break, Andra figured.
“Hey, sleepyhead!” Desiree said. “We’re here.”
“Here? Here where?” Andra sat up and rubbed her eyes.
“We made it all the way to Council Bluffs. I’ve stayed at this hotel before,” Desiree said, nodding at the double glass doors they were parked in front of. “I am so in need of a shower, a drink, some dinner and a bit of gambling. In that order. How ‘bout you?”
Andra didn’t gamble and though she liked a drink once in a while, she certainly never felt the need for one. She was starving, though, and a shower sounded wonderful.
“I can’t believe we got all the way without stopping for bathroom breaks,” she said, climbing slowly out of the car. Everything seemed to hurt.
“Oh, but we did stop,” Desiree said, coming around the car, “a couple of times, but you never even stirred. You’re some sleeper. I remember that now. When we had sleepovers, everyone else would be dancing and yakking and you’d be passed out. Wish I could do that.”
“Albert used to say I slept the sleep of the innocent,” Andra said.
“No wonder I never seem to sleep!” Desiree said, laughing. “Come on, let’s get a room.”
“Um … I’d prefer two rooms, if that’s okay,” Andra said.
“Don’t be silly,” Desiree said, leading the way into the hotel. “Why spend the extra money? We’ll get two beds; it’ll be just like the old days!”
Andra was going to insist, really she was, but the point was academic; the hotel only had one room left. By the time the two women unloaded the car and carted everything up to their room, they were exhausted.
Desiree flopped down onto the nearest bed, shoes and all, while Andra puttered about, hanging up a few blouses and putting on the slippers she had packed.
“I’m too tired to even think about going out to get something to eat,” Desiree said, flipping through the hotel’s book of amenities. “Let’s call out for pizza.”
“That sounds good,” Andra said. “Why don’t you do that and I’ll take a shower. I like everything except anchovies.”
“Does anyone like anchovies?” Desiree wondered.
By the time Andra was done with her shower and dressed in a new pair of flannel pajamas, the pizza was there and Desiree had somehow procured a bottle of rum, cola and some ice. She handed Andra a drink that she didn’t really want, but she sipped on it anyway. It was surprisingly good. Before she knew it, she’d eaten three slices of pizza and downed two drinks.
“Whoa!” she said, grabbing the arm of a chair. “I didn’t see that train coming.” She sat down heavily, her head spinning.
Desiree threw back her head and laughed, a bit too heartily, Andra thought.
“It’s not that funny, Dez,” she said, using her friend’s old nickname. “I don’t usually drink.”
“No, no, I’m not laughing at you, really,” Desiree said. “It’s just … hey, you ready to hear the rest of the story?”
“Ready as I’ll ever be, I guess,” Andra said, then surprised herself by holding out her glass for another shot of rum.
Desiree poured the last of the pint into the cup and leaned back against the headboard of her bed.
“Like I said, we were only married a year, but even that was too long. By the time I packed up a few things and knocked on the door of the women’s shelter, he’d sprained one of my wrists, broken a pinkie finger and pretty much destroyed the hearing in my left ear.”
Andra took a big gulp of her drink.
“God, Dez,” she said, coming as close to swearing as she ever had, “I’m glad you got out.”
“You and me both, sister,” Desiree said, upending the rest of her drink. “But he wasn’t done with me yet.” She pointed to her own face. Andra started wishing for another drink.
“That was back in the days when shelter locations were secret and before domestic violence meant an automatic arrest,” Desiree went on. “The maximum stay was six weeks. I wanted a divorce, but I couldn’t afford a lawyer. I wanted to go back to Colorado, but couldn’t afford that either. Jeffrey controlled all the money and I didn’t have a car. I didn’t have anyone to call; you know how my parents were.”
Andra remembered that Dez’s parents were usually drunk and mostly absent. She nodded.
“And you couldn’t call me,” she said, remembering how long she held onto her anger, had, in fact, only recently felt its hold loosen. “Why … why’d you marry him anyway?” she asked quietly.
Desiree swung her legs off the bed and stood up a little wobbly.
“Better me than you,” she said, then hurried on. “Lust, love … I, we, were just kids!” She started pacing. “It doesn’t matter,” she added.
“So what happened then?”
“I did what could have turned out to be really stupid,” Dez said, sitting back down on the bed. “I called Nancy Sinclair.”
“Jeffrey’s mom? You called Jeffrey’s mom?”
“I know, I know, pretty risky, huh? I called when I figured her husband – my father-in-law – was at his office … as if he ever actually did any work there.” Dez snorted. “It was the hardest call I ever made, but of anyone, I had a feeling she’d understand. What did I have to lose? Anyway, she was quiet while I told her the story. My stomach was in knots. I was in this secret location, but I kept expecting Jeffrey to come breaking through the door.”
“Oh, Dez, you were always so brave!” Andra got up and came around the bed to sit down next to her friend.
“To this day,” Dez went on, “I have no idea what strings she pulled or who’s loyalty she bought, but within days I had a hefty bank account in my name and within weeks, I was divorced without ever having to see Jeffrey’s face again.”
“Wow,” was all Andra could say.
“Yeah, wow. Of course, that wasn’t the end of it.” Dez leaned back on her elbows. “By that time I was hiding out in a hotel until the divorce was final. I’d bought a one-way ticket to California. I’d always wanted to go there. I couldn’t wait to put Minnesota behind me.”
“But you didn’t leave.” Andra stated the obvious.
“Never got a chance to and then didn’t have the need to,” Desiree said. Andra cocked her head.
“It was a Friday night,” Desiree said. “I just wanted a burger and the hotel kitchen was shut down. I cut through the back alley, heading for this mom-and-pop burger joint nearby.”
Andra felt her whole body tensing up.
“Suddenly, I find myself flat on my back, a dirty rag stuffed in my mouth and some big goon kneeling on my stomach, slashing at my face with some kind of blade. The only thing I could think to do was to protect my eyes.” Desiree lay her hands on her thighs and for the first time, Andra noticed the shiny scars on her hands that mimicked the ones on her face. She gasped and put her hands over her friend’s.
“He just kept cutting and cutting,” Dez said, her eyes closed. “It probably only lasted a few seconds, but it felt like forever. Then he stopped. I still had my hands over my eyes and I felt his stinky, hot breath against my cheek. ‘Jeffrey sends his love,’ the guy said, then put his full weight on my stomach as he got up. I didn’t dare move. I waited until I heard him walk away. Then I crawled to get help.”
The two women cried and held each other for a long time. Desiree cried for the young girl she had been and Andra cried for her as well, but she also cried with relief. That could have been her in that alley.
After a while, Desiree sat up and wiped her face with her sleeve.
“I couldn’t prove Jeffrey put him up to it, of course, and they never found the guy,” she said, “but Mrs. Sinclair came through again, paying for the best surgeons money could buy. They did the best they could.”
Andra sat up, too, but went to get some tissues for the both of them.
“But you still didn’t leave?”
“Funny thing, that,” Desiree said. “I was still in the hospital, doing well enough to read the paper. On the front page was this gruesome picture of a car, completely mangled and burnt. Even so, I recognized it. It was Jeffrey’s.”
“My God, what happened?”
“The autopsy said that his alcohol blood level was twice the legal limit. The car got hit by a west-bound freight train.”
The women were quiet for a minute.
“He didn’t see that train coming,” they both said at the same time.
They looked at each other, then turned away at the same time.
A few seconds later the bed was shaking. They hated themselves for it – just a little – but the two woman couldn’t control their emotions. Before long they were rolling on the bed, howling with laughter, ready to continue their adventure, together.