*This is subject to change. Anyone may translate and repost.
I flick my eyes up and immediately stop kicking my foot into my chair. The principal stares at me from across his desk with my teacher, Mrs. Mitchell, standing at his side.
They’d both love permission to spank me. This school is allowed to do that, with parent permission, even to fourth graders.
This is the second time I’ve been in here in the past two weeks. It’s easy to tell when adults don’t like you.
Mrs. Mitchell avoids my eyes and I keep staring until she looks at me. When she does, I start swinging my leg again, not banging my shoe this time but still swinging.
She arches a brow.
Mr. Skinner keeps tracing a circle on his desk pad.
Yep, they hate me.
I don’t try to be a jerk, but as the school hallways clear out and the parking lot empties, it becomes more and more unfair that I’m the only student kept after. I wasn’t wrong. But instead of being at home, playing and watching TV like Elijah James is probably doing right now, I might be here for another hour or two waiting for my mom to show up.
There’s a knock on the door behind me and I halt my swinging foot again. Already?
“Come in!” Mr. Skinner calls out.
I turn in my chair, the rolling shade over the window in the door covering the face of who’s there, but I see the black sweatshirt on the body.
The door opens and I shrink behind the back of the chair, seeing him come into view as I peek over the top.
“Adrian?” Mr. Skinner says. “What are you doing here? Where’s her mother?”
Adrian Alexander walks in, closes the door behind him, and steps up next to my chair, sparing a glance down at me before turning back to the principal.
“Busy,” he replies.
His one-word responses would probably sound rude coming from anyone else, but he has this tone that makes him sound like he just hates to talk.
Which he doesn’t. He’s vocal enough when he’s scolding me.
I turn back around in my chair, feeling the urge to look down or become invisible in a way I didn’t before he entered the room.
“We can’t release her to you,” Mr. Skinner tells him. “I need to speak to her parents.”
“Her father is on the road and her grandma is still recovering from her accident.” Adrian plants his butt in the chair next to me, leaning back just a little. “I’ll pass on whatever you have to say. I watch her sometimes.”
A laugh bubbles up, but I fold my lips between my teeth to stifle it. “He’s my babysitter,” I giggle.
His quiet annoyance immediately makes the hair on my arms rise.
I mean, he’s not really my babysitter. It’s not like he gets paid or it’s even arranged ahead of time. It just sort of happens that he’s where I am when I’m alone. Next year he’ll be sixteen, though, and he’ll be able to get a job and have an excuse to be busy.
The principal and Mrs. Mitchell stare at him from across the desk as Adrian sits silently next to me. I want to look at him, but I can’t bear it. I almost feel sorry for them.
“Call my dad,” Adrian finally says when they don’t start the meeting.
Mr. Skinner clears his throat, straightening. He will absolutely not be calling Adrian’s father. I bite back another laugh.
The principal looks up to my teacher. “Mrs. Mitchell…”
She shifts the file folder in her arm, hesitating at having a parent-teacher conference with a fifteen-year-old boy, but she pushes on. Plucking a piece of paper out of her folder, she hands it to Adrian. I don’t have to look to know what it is.
“Danni is talking about home a lot. The motel,” Mrs. Mitchell clarifies. “She’s telling the other kids things that she sees, and we don’t…” She pauses, looking to Mr. Skinner for a second. “We’re concerned about some of the details she shares. We don’t think some things are appropriate for her classmates to hear about, nor are they appropriate for her to be seeing. If they’re true.”
I peek out of the corner of my eye, watching Adrian study my drawing. They wait a moment and I feel like it’s his turn to say something, but he just looks back up.
“It’s…worrisome,” my teacher tells him. “The people she’s exposed to.”
“Is she failing any subjects?” he asks.
I glance back at my teacher.
“No.” She tightens the folder in both arms now. “She’s a hard worker. She loves school.”
“So, you’d just like her to stop talking. That’s the message for her parents?”
I smile, but Mr. Skinner gives me a look. I stop smiling.
Mrs. Mitchell gestures to my artwork. “She drew that to go along with her essay about her family,” she clarifies, “and while the essay itself was troubling enough, this is what the students will see when they look at the wall where we post student work.”
He sets the drawing down on the principal’s desk. “Her family runs a motel and lives there too. It’s her home. Some of these customers are regulars. She sees them all the time. A family can be many things.”
“That’s not what I’m talking about and you know it.”
I widen my eyes, my gaze darting to Adrian. It’s like I’m not even here anymore. This is fantastic.
He raises his chin and closes his mouth, a signal you only know if you’ve been around him a while. It means he’s digging in. “If her grades are fine—”
“Her behavior isn’t,” my teacher spits outs, but then eases her tone. “She punched Elijah James when he critiqued her picture.”
“I didn’t punch him,” I mumble, “I kicked him…” And then in a whisper over to Adrian, “…between the legs.”
Mr. Skinner blinks hard.
“He cried for an hour,” Mrs. Mitchell points out, looking at me now.
But it’s not them I’m afraid of disappointing and while I was sure Adrian was pissed he had to come down here to get me, I’m very sure I’m not the one he’s mad at anymore.
Because yes, he does know exactly what they don’t like about my drawing.
“What did he say to her?” Adrian asks them.
“That’s not imp—”
“What did he say to her?”
Mrs. Mitchell looks to the principal again, but he just sits there, studying Adrian. He’s kind of quiet since Adrian’s father was mentioned.
My teacher draws in a breath. “That God doesn’t welcome homosexuals into heaven.”
I turn my head to Adrian, telling him, “He said ‘f-a-g-s go to hell’.”
I spell out the word, because some words are okay to say but not that one.
Adrian picks up my picture again, studying it. My family’s business, the Blue Palms Motel, takes up the whole piece of printer paper the teacher gave us last week. I drew the office, the pool, each door for all twelve units, and the parking spaces in front of each window—although I measured wrong and wasn’t able to fit the window for one-oh-eight, the corner suite.
And I left out my family’s apartment in the back of the office. But everything else is there. Even the vending machines and the pink neon sign next to the road.
I even got the pool the right shade of blue-green.
Bethany and Jo are in the drawing, leaning against the back of a car, but it’s not theirs. It’s always different and always belongs to the guy they’re with. I love their clothes. I want heels like theirs someday.
Sage Connor stands outside of room 114 with a cigarette in his mouth. Unfortunately, it ended up looking like a white cigar. Zachary Dane stands in the doorway of their room, still in his uniform.
I know what they do there, because they do it all the time, but I told my teacher they just have meetings.
Still, everyone knows about Sage and I think I shouldn’t have put them in the picture, because he’s going to get into trouble. He gave me a cook book with different pie recipes a few months ago for my birthday. I’ve learned how to make four of them.
Now everyone in class knows what they do at the motel and it’s my fault.
Adrian finally looks up and asks Mrs. Mitchell, “So, did he and his parents already have their meeting for his behavior?”
Yeah, fat chance.
Mr. Skinner exhales, holding out his hand for my picture again. “Will you please pass on to Danni’s parents that we need to speak to them?”
Adrian and I share a stare, then he hands the drawing back. “No.” He shakes his head, sighing. “I’m going to take her to the Dairy Bar for some Cherry Chocolate Chunk. It’s her favorite.” And then he nods to me. “Two scoops?”
I break into a smile, swinging both legs back and forth now.
Until I turn back to the principal and see his eyes thinned to slits.
Five minutes later, Adrian and I are pushing through the front doors and heading into the parking lot.
“You got me kicked out of school!” I yell, stumbling over my shoelaces.
Adrian grabs my hand, and I clutch his arm with my other one.
“I got you three days off,” he declares. “You’re welcome.”
He opens the door to his dad’s old truck, tosses in my backpack, and pushes me inside. I crawl to the other side on all fours.
“I don’t know why your parents pay for that shithole,” he snaps, taking his seat and starting the engine. “You’ll learn a lot more at the public school. You don’t even know which countries are on our own damn continent and you’re ten!”
And you’re fifteen and driving without a license, but I don’t say that out loud. He came to get me after all. And I better still be getting ice cream.
“I’m going to lose first place in math.” I fasten my seatbelt. “I’m going to get into trouble.”
“Did you think about getting into trouble when you kicked that kid in the nuts?”
I turn my attention out the window, refusing to answer that. Guess he’s not on my side after all.
After a minute, though, we’re not moving, and I hear him. “You’re not going to get into trouble, Danni. I promise. I’ll take care of it.”
He’s telling the truth. He never lies to me.
But I sit there, sulking and hoping he gets the hint that he still owes me ice cream.
In a second, I hear him shift into gear. “Cherry chocolate chunk, then?”
I swing my foot against my seat. “With a waffle cone, not a cake cone.”
“With a waffle cone.”
I smile and turn on the music.
Hours later, the music is still going. “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” drifts out of the rusted loud speakers outside the motel office, because the party never stops at my house.
Well, unless someone complains. Then we shut it off.
I twirl in the parking lot just as a Ford Explorer slams to a halt in front of me, its headlights making the rain glow like snow in front of its bulbs. The horn blares, screaming at me to move.
I hold back my smile.
I push off the toe stop of my skates and roll, barely out of the way before the SUV peels off out of the parking lot and stops just long enough to make sure the coast is clear before they race onto the highway. Quickly.
I hear the transmission switch gears, the car picking up speed as their taillights disappear into the night.
Gone. Down Route 16.
Like they were never here.
I knew how that was going to happen as soon as I saw the mom wearing a cardigan and Dad unloading a Pack ‘n Play. At my age, you start to read people pretty well. Guess they realized the Marriott back on the Interstate is worth the forty extra dollars, after all. They didn’t even stop at the office to get a refund.
Sure, the rooms are super “retro” which is just a word my grandmother uses to explain why we can’t afford to update them, but it’s not like the beds vibrate for a quarter or something.
The Blue Palms Motel is a landmark.
“Danni, it’s eleven o’clock at night,” someone barks through the rain. “You should be in bed. Where’s your mom?”
I shrug my shoulders, not even looking up to see who’s talking to me. It’s a guy. Probably Mr. Dyson, because he’s the only one who’d care that I wasn’t in bed. I see a light, hear a door slam, and I think he’s gone. Back into his room. One twenty-two. Same as always. He likes to go home less and less these days.
I flail my arms just a little as I try to keep my balance and keep my eyes on the ground in front of me, but I suck. My wheels slide, catch on the beaten and broken packed gravel of the parking lot. I try to right myself, but my wheels stutter and spin, rolling out from underneath me. I crash down onto my hands and knees, the shock of the fall distracting from the sharp rocks in the concrete that dig into my knees and palms.
Then the sting hits me, and I bring up one hand, seeing the small dents the rocks left in my skin, as well as a couple of faint lines of blood.
“Ugh.” I groan, trying to climb back to my feet and feeling the pain as I get off my knees.
I look around for Adrian, but I’m not sure if it’s because I want him to help or because I hope he didn’t see me fall.
But he’s nowhere in sight. His truck is still here, though. He didn’t leave after he brought me home. Probably because he feels guilty about getting me kicked out of school for the rest of the week.
Without inspecting the damage, I rise again and wipe the rain off my face. I should be wearing pants, but I love my overall shorts. I wear them all the time. They look good with my yellow skates and my new pink wheels. Totally 90s. Adrian loves 90s music.
Pushing off again, I stumble up onto the sidewalk that runs in front of all of the rooms. I pass the drawn curtains of one-fourteen and the flicker of the TV screen coming from one-twelve.
One-ten is empty tonight and I stop at the end of the building, seeing one-oh-eight in front of me—the corner suite—and the end of the first building that houses five rooms, in addition to the Main Office down at the other end, closest to the road. Three buildings in all. Twelve rooms total. All making an incomplete square with the fourth side being Old Route 16, a busy road back in the day. Not so much anymore.
I get to swim anytime I want, though. Not many kids at my school can say they have a pool.
Except Adrian, but he doesn’t count. He’s in the tenth grade. That’s a different school.
Pushing off, I see red light peeking out from the curtains, a flash of movement here and there, but there’s not enough of a view to tell what’s going on inside.
A crash lands in my ears and I jump. They broke something in the room.
Skating around the building, I swerve to the back, still able to hear the gentle flow of the creek that runs through the trees behind me. The pink glow of the neon sign out front reaches over the building just a little, but aside from the faint light coming from a few of the high bathroom windows, it’s pretty dark back here. A light rain drizzles, but I can still hear grunting. Even when the air conditioner turns on.
My soaked ponytail sticks to my back as I wipe the water off my face again. Eyes trained on 108’s window, I climb onto the air conditioner, toward the high bathroom window. My skates weigh down my feet, but I clamber my way up and grab onto the electrical box. I pull myself up straight, holding on in case my wheels roll underneath me.
And I peer through the small rectangular window.
“Oh, fuck, baby,” Mr. Alexander growls. “Come on, fuck Daddy’s dick. You’re such a good girl. Gimme some of that sweet, little pussy.”
I flinch, watching him hold my mom’s hips and yank her back into him over and over again.
“Oh, Daddy,” she moans, her blonde hair wet and her bangs in her eyes. “Oh, Daddy. More, Daddy. I’m your good girl.”
“Ah!” he howls, and I stop breathing.
I cringe, dropping down and putting my skates back on all four wheels again. What are they doing?
He’s different when I see him in town. Clean or something. I don’t know.
I brush my hands down my outfit that I’m still wearing from school, but I don’t feel dirt on my clothes.
Why are they talking like that? He’s not my mom’s dad.
A figure walks around the corner, and I pop my eyes up, watching Adrian stare at me. His dad and my mom’s moaning pours out of the open window above my head.
“Make Daddy come, baby.”
“Yes, Daddy,” my mother whimpers.
Adrian heads for me, a beer bottle between his fingers as he reaches up and circles an arm around my waist, pulling me down.
He sets me down on the ground, my skates sinking into the mud, and looks ahead, through the window.
“More, more, more…” My mom sounds like she’s bouncing. “Ahhhhh…”
“Ah, fuck!” Adrian’s father yells.
Adrian gazes down at me, looking like he doesn’t even know where to start. His eyes drop to my legs, and he sets his beer down on the AC unit and lifts me underneath my arms, setting me down next to it.
He squats down in front of me, taking his sleeve and wiping the blood on my knee away.
“You’re not a good skater, Danni,” he says. “You should try something else.”
I stare at the top of his blond head. It’s back to his normal length now. Last year, he’d dyed it black and his dad shaved it off.
“I’ll try something else when I’m a good skater.” I hold my leg higher for him. “Did you know the college kids swim the quarry? The record is one minute two seconds from one side to the other.”
He darts his gaze up to me. “Don’t,” he orders. “Quarry water is really cold. You’ll get exhausted faster. It’s dangerous.”
He starts to unwind my lace from my wheels. It’s not like I was going to try to swim it tomorrow, but he probably wouldn’t put it past me. He knows I only like hobbies I’m not good at and when I do them enough that I become a master, I move onto something else.
“Daddy’s friends need some of this pussy,” Mr. Alexander groans. “You wanna fuck Daddy’s friends, baby? Huh?”
“Yeah,” she says. “Yeah, I want it all.”
And then I hear a spank and I jump a little.
Adrian frees my lace and reties the skate.
“You know what they’re doing?” he asks me, still not looking at me.
I nod. “Yeah.” The banging gets louder. “It’s gross.”
Adrian picks up my other skate, fixing that lace too.
“Does everyone do that?”
“Pretty much,” he replies.
I hesitate. He might be mad, but…
“Have you ever done that to someone?” My voice is so quiet.
But instead of scowling at me or looking annoyed, he just shakes his head.
“Are you going to?”
“I suppose so.” He takes a drink of his beer and then sets it down again, finishing with my lace. “With less talking maybe.”
Yeah. I’ve seen other people doing what my mom and his dad are doing, but not all of them sound like that. Sometimes they do but other times it’s quiet.
“Does it hurt?” I ask him. “It sounds like it.”
He sighs. “I guess people make those sounds when things feel really good too.”
Yeah, I mean a lot of people seem to do it, and they’re not crying or anything, but…I don’t know. They’re not laughing, either.
“He’s here a lot,” I tell Adrian like he doesn’t already know. “He likes her?”
“I doubt he thinks about her at all until he’s horny.” He taps both of my skates and stands up, taking his beer. “But she thinks if she lets him suck on her tits enough that he’ll leave my mom and marry her and put her up in our big house for the rest of her life. Women are stupid, Danni.”
He takes a drink, but I drop my eyes. What does he mean? I’m the smartest in my class.
Well, not the smartest, but close. I’ve got first place in Minute Math.
Not all women are stupid. He doesn’t mean that…
“Hey,” he says.
I look up, and his gaze is soft on me.
“Don’t feel bad.” He shakes his head, his tone gentle. “Everyone is shitty, Danni. Everyone. You just have to see it more than most, because when people come here, this is what they come here to do.”
And he jerks his chin at the window, our parents still doing it really loudly.
I kick my legs a little. “I’m afraid to tell my dad. Are you going to tell your mom?”
He moves toward the window again. “No.”
He shrugs. “It won’t make my life better.” And then he rubs his jaw. “Don’t tell yours, because it won’t make yours better, either.”
He looks ahead again, at whatever they’re doing now.
“She does have a nice body, though,” he murmurs, tilting the bottle back and swallowing the last of his beer.
I press my teeth together, feeling weird at hearing him say that. He shouldn’t say that.
But in a second, he faces me again and his brow unfurrows. Setting the bottle down, he hefts me up into his arms, and I wrap my legs around his waist, feeling my chin tremble and I don’t know why.
“God, you’re getting big.” He breaths hard as he carries me away.
I circle his neck as we come to the front of the motel again, and he walks me toward the office.
But I can’t take my eyes off his face.
He pulls me in close. “Adults like to do some things that they don’t want anyone else to know about,” he tells me. “You pay attention to the people who come and go here long enough, you’re going to see it all. And a lot of it, you won’t want to see. It’ll make you sick in the head, Danni. Don’t look in the windows anymore, okay?”
I nod my head.
And I don’t want to disappoint him. I never do. I hug him as we walk through the rain, trying to enjoy it and begging the seconds to last, because I like it when he’s only mine. When he’s not paying attention to anyone else.
Is that why my mother does the things she does? Because she likes their attention?
I don’t want to look in the windows anymore, because he doesn’t want me to, but I already know I will. Things happen here that don’t happen anywhere else, and I want to know why. Why do they do it? Why do they hide it?
Why do those bikers stop here on their runs every month and have sex with a bunch of women all in the same room?
Why does Clint Jeppesen come here with women who aren’t his wife?
Why does Jed Thompson pay that woman to let him watch her bathe?
Will Adrian come here and stay in one of the rooms someday?