Someone was yelling in a room on the lower level, despite the walls like tissue paper. No, two someones -- the man's deep voice was answered by a younger voice, just as loud. Leila leaned her arms against the ironwork railing and watched the parking lot lights reflecting on the water of the pool. She imagined it was the moon.
"That's so unfair!"
"Sadie!" A solid wedge of yellow room-light spilled out into the courtyard. The man's voice came louder, clearer. "Sadie, where do --"
"I'm going to Mom's!"
A small figure stalked through the courtyard, skirting the pool's small fence, hair flying behind like a flag. A second figure of someone much larger and broader followed partway, then stopped. "Call when you get there." The anger had drained out of the voice, leaving it resigned.
The girl waved peremptorily and passed out of sight.
Leila lifted her cigarette to her lips and drew. The flare must have caught his eye, because he looked up. A grimace flitted across his face -- embarrassment or possibly annoyance -- before he ran his hand over his clean-shaven head and his arm cut off her view.
She stubbed out the cigarette and turned back to her room.
Leila lay on a chaise lounge beside the pool. The breeze made it too chilly for swimming, and of course, the heated pool is at the five-star hotel in town. A tiny smile tugged at the corner of her lips. But she'd decided it was sufficiently warm for summer dresses, and the sunlight was warm against her eyelids.
She could always tell when someone was staring at her scar. Most people could feel when they were being stared at, but there was a particular quality, a peculiar weight to a gaze directed at the scar, that wasn't there when someone was simply looking at her. She wondered who it was. Curiosity was still a new feeling, a sort of fledgling thing that she was nurturing, so she opened her eyes.
It was the man from the other night, the shouter. His expression was curious more than anything. Maybe slightly disturbed, but not why-don't-you-cover-that disgusted. (Though even disgusted was preferable to a certain avid attraction she'd learned to recognize. She liked her scar, but it didn't mean the same things to strangers.) She tipped her chin up, deliberately putting the pink-silver line into better light. His gaze stuck to it for a long moment, pulling away slowly to track upwards to her eyes. His eyes were pale blue and very direct.
He didn't seem embarrassed to be caught staring. In fact, he was staring again, though this time at her face.
"You seem familiar. Do I know you?"
After a moment, she said, "The balcony. The other night."
He nodded. "Sorry about that," he said. "Mike Sweeney." He held out his hand.
She moved her hand away from her lip and took his. The hand that enveloped hers was warm and dry. "Leila."
When Leila was a little girl, she'd decided she wanted to live in motels all the time, in rooms her boyfriends paid for. It was a dream from before -- before a lot of things, before she ever wondered why boyfriends ever paid for those rooms. Still, after she'd decided she would live after all, she decided to do it on her own.
She'd sold the house where her father had lived with a lost little girl and the ghost of the girl's mother, put her suitcase in her broken-down Honda, left Rick to finish disappearing by himself, and moved into motels, migrating from one to the next as the mood struck her. Spring had drawn her slowly north, following v's of geese. Geese never vanished; they honked announcements of their departures and arrivals and played call and answer in flight.
Leila didn't think she knew Mike Sweeney. But. Her memories of those passing-through men were fragmentary, piecemeal -- a pair of green eyes here, a mole there. The surprising thing was that she hadn't run into one of her guests earlier, closer to Suspicious River. She'd forgotten that those salesmen and long-haulers existed outside of the rooms she put them in, that they didn't simply vanish when they rounded the bend in the road.
She considered moving on. She didn't.
The bag of chips fell forward and stopped, caught between the screw and the glass. Leila tapped her knuckle against her lip as she considered going to the desk. The clerk might give her a refund, but maybe not if the machines were operated by an outside vendor. It probably wasn't worth the bother. She started digging through her purse. She was out of quarters, but maybe one of those odd dollar coins had slipped to the bottom.
"Here, let me help," Mike Sweeney said as he walked up. He still wore a white dress shirt tucked into black trousers, but with the collar undone and shirt sleeves rolled up.
She moved, and he rocked the machine just like they warned not to, and the bag dropped. He knelt down to retrieve it and held it up towards her.
"Thank you," she said, stalling.
He smiled, just a little around they eyes.
Deciding you weren't going to do something anymore wasn't the same thing as not doing it. It just changed the meaning when you did.
She smiled back, and her fingers wrapped around his hand instead of the chips.
Sweat cooled prickly on her skin. She pressed her lips against her teeth, but the question slipped out anyway. "Do you know me?"
He huffed a "yes" on a laugh and rolled her under him. "Maybe I'd better double check," he added, bending his neck to kiss her neck and shoulder. He murmured "yes, I know these" against her breasts and "seems familiar" as he lipped at her belly, then slipped lower.
He was flirting, not answering, not really. Leila hid behind her hand and thought -- decided -- she would have remembered him.
The park was gorgeous, lush and green, except down near the waterfront where the trees ended well short, leaving the flat bank bare. Mostly bare. A red-haired girl stared at the water, her arms crossed. Mike's daughter, Sadie.
The mud sucked at Leila's shoes as she walked over to stand beside her. "Hey."
"He has a type, you know." Her eyes flicked to Leila. "My dad," she clarified.
Leila wasn't sure if she was supposed to ask, nor was she sure she wanted to.
"Oh," she said. The water was flat and still, reflecting a hazy sky transected by power lines.
Sadie deflated slightly, looking suddenly uncertain, like she'd practiced the line but not considered what came after she delivered it. Leila didn't mind. Lashing out was probably better. A bird swooped out of the trees, a dark fluttering silhouette over the sky-water. She watched it fly, reflection in perfect formation. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed when Sadie's glance caught on her neck, the startled 'oh' of her mouth. Maybe it'd been too dark at the motel, or maybe Sadie had had other things on her mind, like a strange woman laughing in her father's motel room. There were worse things to walk in on.
"I didn't mean--" Leila smiled at her, because she knew what Sadie meant and while she couldn't say it wasn't true, it seemed a backwards sort of apology. Sadie seemed to realize it, too, dropping the apology for the rueful twitch of an answering smile. "What happened?"
Her hand brushed her neck, as she considered which answer to give her.
Sadie frowned. "I can handle it."