Ana managed to sit through Freddy’s lecture and although she barely heard him, she must have nodded in the right places. Either that or he mistook her shell-shocked silence for a new appreciation of the dangers of alcohol poisoning. In any case, he didn’t ask her for promises or give her ultimatums or get all huggy-feely on her, just told her that whatever she was dealing with, she didn’t have to deal with it alone. He paused then, like that was her cue, but what the hell was she supposed to tell him? All of her worst suspicions had been confirmed. All her best memories were a lie. She had nothing left to ask him, nothing left to say. She had nothing. Nothing.
Freddy did some twitching at the fingers and ears, but he didn’t keep her. He asked if she was going to spend the night and when she mutely shook her head, he simply told her to drive safely and let her go. Bonnie was waiting for her in the hall and he deserved better than a brush-off, but he met her with her day pack in his hands, so he knew he was getting one.
She drove up Coldslip Mountain to the castle of her childhood. The front door was unlocked. The air inside was muggy and stank of old sour food, old sour sweat, and old sour dreams. When she turned on the light, she saw a mess, as it was always a mess, no matter how much she cleaned. She shut the light off and climbed the stairs in the dark. When she reached the second floor, she turned and there was Plushtrap, sitting on his chair under the window at the far end of the hall, next to the attic stairs.
They looked at each other for a long time in silence.
“Who are you?” Ana asked.
Plushtrap heard, but did not answer. Dingy stuffing bled through the tears in his satin skin. His glass eyes gleamed. His metal teeth grinned.
“Come here,” said Ana.
Plushtrap mockingly did not move.
“Come here,” she said again, beckoning. “It’s okay. You can live here, I don’t care. You don’t have to hide it. Just…come here. We’ll watch a movie. I’ll let you pick. You can sleep in my room with me, if you want. You don’t have to be alone, just…stop trying to scare me. I’m not scared. I’m not scared, I’m…tired. I’m too tired for this. Come here.”
Plushtrap did nothing. Elsewhere in the house, boards creaked, drafts whispered, pipes knocked, but Plushtrap lied and did nothing.
Ana turned away and went to David’s room. She sat on his little-boy bed with the superhero sheets and Foxy’s sword hanging from the post of the headboard and looked at the toys strewn across the floor. For the first time, she thought about cleaning it and the thought was surprisingly painless. David was alive. Faust had told her so, and she hadn’t thought he’d lied, but she hadn’t really believed it. Now she did. Now she had to. David had been taken away after all, not by his father, Erik Metzger, who’d been dead by then anyway, but by CPS, who had found him a father who presumably didn’t kill people and a mother who didn’t take naked pictures of her son for the father’s private enjoyment. He’d grown up somewhere far away. He’d maybe gotten married, maybe had kids, maybe forgot all about Ana and maybe not, but wherever he was, he was alive.
Aunt Easter might be alive out there somewhere too, and maybe she’d even gotten some rehab and some self-respect and had made herself at least a shadow of the person Ana had once thought she was. Maybe not. But at least she wasn’t a question mark anymore, whatever else she was. And Ana was never going to find her crumpled and forgotten behind one of the boxes in the basement, not here and not at Freddy’s.
She thought she would sit awake all night, thinking about that, but what else was there to think about, really? It was over. There were no more mysteries left to solve. Ana lay down on David’s musty sheets and slept, and it was a good sleep, restful and dreamless and so deep, she never heard the door creak open.
The man in the purple uniform stood for a short while in the doorway of this forbidden place, watching her, but it was late and he was tired, too. He crept over to the bed, bent and pressed a Mama-kiss on Ana’s cheek, shyly whispering, “I love you.”
Ana, still sleeping, stirred and mumbled, “Love you too. G’night.”
The man smiled and kissed her again, a Daddy-kiss, right on the lips. Ana rolled over (grimacing without waking at the taste of his breath) and the man in the purple uniform left her and went yawning downstairs and through the clock to his own bed, taking Plushtrap with him.
* * *
In the morning, when Ana found David’s bedroom door slightly ajar, she assumed she hadn’t closed it all the way. When she saw the chair empty at the end of the hall…well, Plushtrap could go wherever he wanted to go.
She went to work and the work was good, demanding all her time and concentration, wringing the emotion out of her with her sweat and leaving room for reason and perspective to grow. By the end of the day, she had arrived at a kind of acceptance, newborn and trembling, and just beginning to find its legs. However, when she returned to Aunt Easter’s house, she found herself unable to go inside, no matter how long she stood out in the drive cursing herself for getting worked up and stupid over something that was long over. She went to the garage instead, digging through her day pack until she found the photograph of Circle Drive she’d taken from Freddy’s.
She looked at it for a long time, illogically convinced that Aunt Easter had taken this picture. And perhaps she had. It was an actual photograph, not a newspaper clipping. Ana had a very dim memory of exploring her aunt’s darkroom with David, seeing photos clipped to a string like laundry on a cartoon clothesline. It had seemed like such a magical process to her child-mind, to realize that pictures did not just happen but had to be made, that they had a special room just for the making of them and made a smell all their own. And not just the pictures. The door she had come through, the hinges that swung the door open, the lock she had picked, the bit of wire she’d used to pick it—someone had made all of it. The stone tiles in the foyer had been rocks once, cut and smoothed and laid down; the wooden boards in some of the other rooms had been trees; the carpet had been sheep once, maybe, or plants or whatever carpet came from, but it came from something! And in the wake of that epiphany, Ana’s Other-vision, which until then had just been the knack that let little Ana be better at Legos and other building toys than David, seemed to turn on like an invisible light, overlaying all the world and everything in it with a single question—How was that made?—that later evolved to How would I make that? and later still to How would I make that better? But it all started in the darkroom and nothing was ever the same again. From that moment on, Ana was a builder.
Ana pinned the photograph to the wall and went to look at what she had for lumber. She was not the artsy-crafty kind and most of her tools were still at Freddy’s, but she had her old combo-stand to make the big cuts with and a few hand-tools to finesse the outline. All it took was time.
Ana sank gratefully into her work and did not come out of it again until after midnight. She was not completely happy with the result of her effort, but fuck it. It wasn’t supposed to look perfect. The details would all be painted on anyway.
God, she was not looking forward to painting. She was not a fucking artist.
After a soak in Aunt Easter’s sex-tub to ease her aching muscles, she put herself to bed on the floor of the master bedroom and watched the shadows dance over the purple walls until she fell asleep.
She dreamed of Erik Metzger, first alive and smiling as he bent over her, and then dead and blowing his rotting breath into her mouth as he kissed her. He told her he loved her, as he always did in this dream, and as she always did, she told him she loved him, too.
She woke up far too early the next morning, a Friday, and after trying and failing to fall asleep again, she gave in and got up. She made coffee and drank it on the back deck, watching the sun come up. She did some more work on the project in the garage. She drank the rest of the coffee and cleaned the coffee maker. She took a long shower. She paced restlessly through the house waiting for it to be time to go to work and ended up in the ruined kitchen staring at the counters where she and David used to ‘help’ Aunt Easter bake cupcakes, then went back to the garage and got her sledgehammer.
She took out the counters. She took out the appliances. She took out the fixtures. She took out the molding walls and broken floors. She took it all out, until there was nothing left, until it was barely recognizable as anything that had ever been a kitchen at all. She swept up the debris of that life and put it in the dump trailer with the rest of the trash. She took another shower and went to work.
It was a good day.
Shortly before quitting time, her phone buzzed. It was someone from Tranquility, telling her Mr. Faust would be meeting with the dietician tomorrow at three o’clock, and reiterating that family was strongly encouraged to be there to ‘support healthy decisions’. Ana supposed that meant the wife and grandson were also receiving an invitation, but whatever. She’d sort of promised, so she said she’d be there, and since work was essentially done and the crew was cleaning up and clearing out, she spent the last few minutes of her day browsing online for a local florist or something. She found a few, but none of the offered arrangements interested her. Mr. Faust didn’t really strike her as the flowers-and-balloons kind of guy.
She thought about it off and on as she finished out the day, but didn’t dredge up any better ideas by the end of her shift. Oh well. There was no law saying she had to bring him anything at all. She was taking time out of her weekend to go visit the guy; that should be enough.
Ana gave Freddy a call, then another call when the first one went through to voice mail. He answered that time with a harried-sounding, “Why is it vibrating? I don’t like the vibrations! I can feel that all the way up inside my skull!…Hello?”
“It’s me,” she said, waving Jimmy goodbye as the lot emptied. “I got something to do at home and I don’t know how long it’ll take, but I probably won’t be there for another hour or two.” She hesitated, then said, “I guess I should have started off by asking if it’s okay if I come over.”
“Of course it’s okay,” he said, somewhat crossly or perhaps he was only distracted. She heard a door open and then the sound of wind blowing across the phone’s mic; he was on patrol. “You are always welcome here. Drive safely and I’ll see you in an hour or two.”
Ana ended the call and went to the hardware store three streets down. She probably should have gone all the way to Hurricane and made a real shopping trip of it. She knew she didn’t have much food left at Freddy’s, just a few stale Easy-Bake snacks and some cans of pop-and-eat soup, but she didn’t feel much like eating anyway. Hank’s Hardware didn’t have everything she wanted, but it had what she needed (albeit for a vastly inflated price), and soon she was headed out of town toward Coldslip.
She passed a small group of preteens on Cawthon, biking back to town after a hard day’s play at the quarry. They all had toy rifles strapped to their backs and fresh splatters of paint on their clothes. One of them brandished his weapon at her, whooping, as she drove by. Another one attempted to pop a wheelie, but lost control on the sandy asphalt and ended up pitching himself off onto the shoulder. Ana braked, but his friends were already picking him up and they all waved at her to go on, so she did.
It felt like ditching work, driving along Old Quarry Road when the sun was still high in the sky. Ahead of her, past Edge of Nowhere, she could see the quarry as stink lines shimmering in the air over a black hole ringed with rock. There was a car parked out there; the kids hadn’t just left to go wash up and set the table for supper, but had been chased off by bigger kids. When it got cooler, even more kids would show up to drink and smoke and screw around here, where their parents and grandparents and maybe even their great-grandparents had partied before them. No wonder Freddy sounded so irritable on the phone.
Once at Aunt Easter’s house, Ana went directly to the garage and stayed there until she couldn’t fuck her project up any more and had to call it done. She let it dry while she cleaned up (hosing off in the yard rather than go inside and shower; she knew she was being stupid and childish, but no amount of name-calling could move her into her aunt’s haunted house), slapped a coat of sealant on it (too soon, but hell, if it peeled up, so much the better), and loaded it into the back of her truck. Then she was on the road again and headed for Freddy’s.
The car was still at the quarry and had been joined by two others. The kids themselves were not as obvious, but there was a thin plume of smoke rising out of the shady rock formations to indicate where they were. A fire meant they were staying for a while. Ana tried to think positively about that; if they were settled in with a fire, they were slightly less likely to come to Freddy’s and poke around.
All the same, she made sure to drive the long away around the building where her approach would not be visible to anyone watching from the quarry, and parked on the far side of the lot where she could not be seen by either road or the quarry or anyone at all, except God. And Freddy, apparently, because no sooner had she reached the loading dock than the door banged up and the bear himself stomped out onto the dock, growling, “You do realize that the entire point of calling to let someone know when you will arrive is to then actually arrive at that time?”
“It can’t be that late,” said Ana, checking her watch. Nine o’clock. Well, shit.
“An hour or two, you told me,” Freddy was saying, opening his abdominal casing and pulling out a familiar item. “Not an hour or two and then four more.”
“Those are my binoculars,” Ana said. “I thought Trigger and those other assholes stole those the first time they showed up here. Have you had them this whole time?”
He ignored her, putting the binoculars to his wide-set eyes and adjusting them. “Now I understand that you lose track of time when you’re working, but in the future, I would appreciate another call when you’re on your way so that I’m not left wondering every time I hear an engine if it’s you—” He broke off as someone out at the quarry let out a shriek and then a peal of laughter, and continued in a low, troubled tone. “—and if it’s not.”
“Sorry. Wouldn’t want anyone breaking in. They might steal stuff that belonged to someone else,” she said pointedly.
Freddy grunted, still scanning the distant rock formations through her binoculars.
“And while I’m passing out apologies,” sighed Ana, “I’m sorry about the other night, too. I don’t remember if I ever actually said that in between bitching you out and leaving.”
“You did, yes,” Freddy said, returning the binoculars to his inner compartment and closing his abdomen. “If you want to talk about it some more, we can do that…inside,” he concluded after a short pause as his restless gaze finally came to her. “Are you all right?”
“Sure,” said Ana, and smiled to prove it.
Freddy’s troubled frown deepened.
“Nothing’s wrong,” she said. “Nothing new, anyway. It’s just been a hard week. I’m trying to put it behind me and I thought…” She glanced at the truck, seeing nothing but the sun dazzling off the covered bed’s tinted windows, and was suddenly intensely grateful she didn’t have to look at the thing she’d spent two days working on. The urge to leave right now, take it off into the desert and burn it, welled up in her like tears…but she’d done enough crying over a past she couldn’t change and a woman…she’d never really known.
Freddy listened to all the ways her incomplete sentence did not end and finally, quietly, said, “Is there anything I can do?”
Ana shook her head, then passed up her day pack. “You can put this in my room for me. I need to get to work while I’ve still got daylight. It’s later than I thought it was.”
Freddy grunted and turned around, carrying her pack in the crook of one arm like a baby. He took one step and stopped. His ears came up. “Daylight.” He looked back at her. “Why do you need daylight?”
“I just want to do one more thing on the roof. It’ll take me fifteen minutes—”
“What is that in Ana-time, an hour and a half?” Freddy vented his cooling system hard, scowling in the direction of the quarry, then turned concerned eyes back on Ana. “I can see you’re upset. I know you want to work. I’m willing to let you. But not on the roof,” he went on while Ana pondered the words ‘let you’ in silence. “Not anywhere where you can be seen.”
“They can’t see me go up if I stay on this end of the building and they shouldn’t be able to hear me. I’m not going to use a drill or a saw or anything.”
“Fifteen minutes, no tools…what exactly are you repairing?”
“Nothing. It’s…Call it a finishing touch.”
Freddy’s ears twitched as, down at the quarry, someone started shooting at bottles or rocks or each other for all anyone knew. “Well, whatever it is, it sounds like it can wait. If you insist on working tonight, I will overlook the schedule this once and you can have your pick of any one of the dozens of essential projects awaiting your attention, inside. And don’t roll your eyes at me! We had an agreement, Ana.”
There was nothing particularly sinister about his words, spoken with exasperation more than heat and not even enough of that to get under her skin, and yet they hit her like a slap anyway. She’d heard them before, a long time ago. ‘Disappeared,’ she thought dazedly. ‘Last night, my cousin disappeared.’ And then that voice, buzzing like corpse-flies through the phone in her mother’s hand: We had an agreement, Melanie.
She didn’t flinch and she was sure she didn’t make a sound, but she must have done something. At once, the irritation went out of Freddy’s ears and his eyebrows, already low on his brow, pinched inward in concern. “Ana?”
“Yeah,” she said after a moment. “Yeah, sorry. Something…Sorry. What were you saying?”
Another volley of laughter speckled with gunfire rose up in the distance. This time, Freddy didn’t look around.
“I’m saying no,” he said softly. “I have to say no. I hope you can understand that, but whether you do or not, I have to say no. Please don’t make that any harder for me.”
“Okay, listen. If you say no one more time, then I’ll agree,” said Ana, showing him her hands. “Because we’re not fighting. We’re not. But all I want to do is this one thing. It’s a stupid thing, I know it, but I want to do it. It’ll take me fifteen minutes, tops, and after that, if you want, I will spend the rest of the night doing whatever you want.”
Freddy’s plastic eyebrows rose slightly, then came slowly down in a sharp V. “Whatever…I want?”
She opened her mouth, thought better of the smartass insinuation she was about to make, and said instead, simply, “Anything.”
“Is that a promise?”
“Cross my heart,” said Ana, doing just that, “and hope to—”
“Don’t.” Freddy shifted his glare beyond her to the wide open world and the setting sun. He grumbled to himself, hefting her day pack as if his final judgement were based in part on weight. He thought.
Just like the scene needed that extra nugget of suspense, the security camera on the wall came on. It panned over until it ‘saw’ Freddy, paused, then kept panning and found Ana. It stopped again, and even though Ana didn’t move or speak, it stayed on her, an unwelcome witness as she waited for Freddy’s decision.
Freddy looked at her, at the open dock door, even at the camera, and back at Ana. He scowled, and even before he said anything, Ana said, “Thank you.”
“Fifteen minutes,” he told her and raised his arms so she could squeeze past him in the cramped space. “The clock starts now!”
The camera followed her as she ran to the Quiet Room, waited in the hall while she grabbed an adjustable wrench and a fistful of nuts and bolts, then followed her back to the store room, shining its light directly into her eyes the whole way. It was against the rules to take the cameras down, and Ana was trying so hard to follow the rules, but with Freddy now in the kitchen, she indulged herself in a moral lapse and ‘accidentally’ bashed into the fucking thing with the ladder as she pulled it out.
“What was that?” Freddy called.
“Nothing,” Ana replied and hit it again, this time knocking it clean off the wall.
“Do you need help?”
“No, I think that did it,” she said with satisfaction, nudging at the camera with the toe of her boot before kicking it under the shelves.
“Eleven minutes, fourteen seconds, Ana.”
Plenty of time.
Once she’d wrangled the plywood sheets out of the truck, up the ladder and onto the roof, it was a simple thing to assemble them into the finished piece. The mounting brackets were still here and solid enough, and with new nuts and bolts, the thing would stand for another decade at least.
Freddy was literally counting down the seconds as she returned to the ground. He hit zero as she was putting the ladder away and came stomping into the store room soon after with a chilled bottle of water in one hand. His eyes went immediately to the wall above the loading dock door where the camera used to be. He studied it while she drank.
“You mad?” Ana asked, pouring the last swallow of water over her head and letting the blessed coolness trickle down her sweaty face.
Freddy grunted. “I didn’t see it. As far as I’m concerned, you didn’t do it.”
“It was an accident.”
“You didn’t do it, Ana,” he said, now in a warning tone.
“Right, but hypothetically, if I had, it would have been an accident.”
He grunted his that’s-better grunt.
“There’s going to be a lot more accidents around here when I start renovating for real,” she added, moving past him to the kitchen doorway and tossing her empty bottle over the pizza oven into the sink. “Those things get on my fucking nerves. Come on, I want to show you what I did.”
Freddy’s gaze wandered past her and out to the quarry, narrowing. “I’ll take your word for it that you installed a picture-perfect drainspout,” he said and closed the loading dock. Ana was able to catch a glimpse of movement off in the desert—a flash of late sun off a newly-washed car joining the others at the quarry—before the door banged down. He locked it and set the clamps. “I need to keep moving.”
“Yeah, I know. But…they just got there. They might come up here later, but they’ll be busy for a while down there. It won’t take long.”
“Another fifteen minutes?”
“Not even two. Come on, Boss Bear,” she said lightly, giving him a smile. “I can’t call this job done until you sign off on it.”
Freddy thought about it and while he was thinking, Foxy suddenly spoke up from the shadowed mouth of the back hall that led to the employee’s lounge: “Coo, ye’ve got him wrapped around yer little finger, don’t ye? And tied in a bloody bow!”
Ana jerked hard and looked around, choking on the startled cry that her mother’s fists had trained her never to let out. After a few seconds and a few stabilizing breaths, she managed to cough up, “Where the hell did you come from?”
“Pirate Cove,” Foxy replied mildly, stepping out of the hall. He looked up at the place where the camera used to be, then reached up and plucked the mounting bit off, along with a good portion of the wall it had been attached to. “I’ll go ogle yer fittings, luv, if Fred don’t want to,” he offered, examining it. “I’d never pass up the chance to have a peek at yer drainspout.”
“Mind your manners,” Freddy snapped, then looked at Ana and sighed. “Two minutes?”
“All right, but I had better be able to see it from the ground, because there is no earthly way you are getting me up that ladder and I will not ride the Scoop.”
Freddy gestured toward Faust’s pneumatic arm, saying, “No, of course it isn’t,” when Foxy opened his mouth. “It’s just a tool, like her tablet or her phone. They’re everywhere now.”
“No ladders necessary,” said Ana. “It’s out front, just off the lobby. Lead the way, bear.”
Freddy led, Foxy followed, and once they’d picked up Bonnie from the show stage and Chica from the Reading Room, they were all out in the parking lot, the four of them staring up at the building while Ana watched Freddy, waiting for recognition.
“Well?” she prompted.
Chica tapped her fingers uncertainly. “What…a beautiful sunset?”
“Hey, I’m wicked good at what I do, but I didn’t hang the sun, sister. Guess again.”
“I hate guessing games,” Freddy muttered, rubbing at his muzzle. He glanced at the road behind them, found it still empty, and shook his head. “I don’t know, Ana. What am I supposed to be…wait.” He frowned, not at the roof, but at the sign over the lobby doors.
Despite the peeling paint and splintered boards, the words FREDDY FAZBEAR’S PIZZERIA could still be made out, with the four animatronics rendered as cartoon characters posed overhead. Chica holding a pizza, Foxy waving his hook, Bonnie with his guitar, and the big bear himself holding his top hat high over the first letter of his first name.
Freddy raised one hand in stuttering inches until he was pointing. “Didn’t that fall off when the roof caved in?”
The other three looked at him.
“Isn’t…” Freddy turned around in a full circle, twitching at the ears, until he spied a chunk of plyboard further out in the lot. He pointed at it next. “Isn’t that a piece of it? Isn’t…Isn’t that—that piece?!” he asked incredulously, pointing back at the sign.
“Um, yeah, it is. I need to pick that up before someone else notices,” said Ana, shading her eyes to scan the surrounding desert and finding more fragments of the old sign still lying where they’d scattered. “I thought I got all that shit weeks ago. Something always gets left behind.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” murmured Foxy. When she looked at him, he tossed his chin toward the sign. “Me eye ain’t right. It’s all squinty.”
“You’re a pirate. Pirates squint.”
“Now ye show me where it says that in the handbook!”
Reaching into her pocket for the photograph she’d borrowed, Ana held it up and glanced between the two with a critical eye. “You’re totally squinting!”
“I ain’t neither. I be leering. Look at me. This here’s a squint…and this here’s a leer. Ye ken the difference?”
“Do I have cleavage?” Chica asked, peering at her end of the sign.
“What? No, that’s a crack in the board. I could fill it if you want.”
“No, don’t do that.” Chica looked down at her featureless chest and up at the sign. “It’s a new look, but I kind of like it. No one would ever think that was a baby chicken. What do you think, Bonnie?”
Bonnie’s ears pushed forward into the wind as he blinked at her. “About your cleavage?”
“No, silly, about the sign!”
“I don’t know…Tell you the truth, I’d forgotten that thing even existed. That’s the pizzeria at Circle Drive,” he added, leaning over to inspect the photograph while Foxy grumbled on about Ana’s inability to tell the difference between sexual charisma and astigmatism. “So…you went out there and stole the sign?”
“What? No, I made that. Yeah,” she said as he looked at her in surprise. “A few hours ago, that was three sheets of plyboard in my garage.”
“But it looks like crap!”
“The word you’re looking for is ‘distressed,’” said Ana as Chica gave Bonnie a smack to the shoulder. “That means it’s supposed to look like crap, thank you very much. It’s the first time I ever put a finish like that on something. I wasn’t sure I could pull it off.” She glanced at Freddy, fighting at the childish part of her not to fish for compliments, and asked anyway, “Do you like it?”
He did not answer right away and when he did, his answer was, “This was what you absolutely had to do tonight?”
“Well…” Ana looked at the sign. “Yeah.”
She honestly couldn’t tell if he was annoyed with her or not. He didn’t seem to be…but he didn’t seem to be anything at all. His inflexible plastic features could be astoundingly expressive when he wanted them to be; when he didn’t, he was as emotive as a brick.
“I got lots of other stuff I could be doing,” she admitted, running her eyes along the painted animatronics. “This just seemed like the most important thing.”
“Why?” he asked again. “You didn’t knock it down, the wind did.”
“I know, but…” She trailed off, intensely aware of the other three there, then went ahead and said it: “But I think it hurt…I hurt your feelings that one time…when I said it wasn’t your house anymore because it didn’t have your name on it. Because I’m a bitch sometimes with the emotional maturity of a fucking toddler.”
Freddy did not jump in with any objections. He did not say anything.
Sensing the shift in mood, Chica tried to move the others toward the door, but Bonnie only took one step and Foxy just brushed her off and stood his ground, watching like this was a show she’d put on just to entertain him.
“I’m sorry about that,” said Ana through clenched jaws. “And yeah, I know exactly how little that means at this point. There’s only so many times I can say I’m sorry, especially when it seems like every damn time I come here, including tonight, I have to start off by apologizing for the way I behaved when I left the last time.”
“Ana,” said Freddy.
“I mean it this time. I can’t take it back, but I can…maybe…make up for it a little? I don’t know. I know you look cross-eyed, but I swear, that wasn’t me, that was just how the paint peeled up.” Ana looked at the sign and grimaced. “Okay, maybe it was a little bit me, but cut me some slack, bear! I never said I was an artist and eyes are hard. I got the letters straight, didn’t I?”
Freddy waited for her to stop talking, then said, “Do you have a mailbox?”
“At home. Do you have a mailbox?”
“Uh, yeah?” In this brave age of online banking, mailboxes were little more than decoration, like a lawn gnome or porch lamp. She did have one up at the house on Coldslip Mountain, even if it was still her aunt’s name stenciled on the side after all these months. She rarely stayed in one place long enough to need a mailbox, much less care about whose name was on it. She never got anything but junk mail and harassing postcards at the house anyway. “Why?”
“I don’t,” he said, still staring up at the sign. “I never have. I know this is a restaurant and I know what brand recognition is. I know that sign is for customers. I know. But for all my life, the only thing I’ve ever had that said, ‘This place is ours. This is where we live,’ is the sign over the door. It means more to me than it should,” he said impassively as static crackled in his speaker. “But you didn’t knock it down. If this is an apology, it is nothing you needed to apologize for.”
“Yeah, well…maybe it’s a little more than that. Maybe I’ve had a really…really bad week and it…means a lot to me that I have someplace to go.” She grappled briefly with embarrassment, grit her teeth, and said, “A home. But it’s your home. It should have your name on it.”
Freddy glanced at her. His right arm shivered at the shoulder; his fingers twitched.
“Oh, they’re going to hug,” Chica whispered, clasping her hands tight together beneath her beak.
“No, we’re not,” Ana and Freddy said in perfect unison. They shared the same vaguely apologetic glance too, and then he headed for the building, gruffly calling back, “Get inside now, all of you. There are people at the quarry and more could be coming any minute. Ana, your promise.”
“Yeah, yeah. Tonight, I do anything you want.”
“Shut up, Foxy,” said Bonnie.
“So what am I doing for you, big bear?” Ana asked, doing her best to shake off her discomfort and put on a cheerful face. “Or should I say, what am I doing for me, because I know damn well that’s what you were thinking.”
Freddy grunted. “You were right.”
“Ha. So what’s it going to be? Bedroom? Bathroom? Kitchen? What is it you think I need the most?”
“None of the above.”
“Okay? Then what?”
“Nothing.” He reached the lobby door and opened it, fixing her with a stern eye while he waved the others inside. “I don’t really care how you do it. Go for a walk, play on your tablet, and for God’s sake, fix yourself a decent meal, but under no circumstances are you to work. You said anything,” he interrupted as she opened her mouth. “And this is what I want. For one night, you find a way to relax without the three Ms.”
And if that was all he’d said, Ana would have laughed and that would have all been fine, but damn Freddy, he stopped short as he realized the full impact of what he’d just said and turned around to clarify, “The two Ms, I should say. I would never try to tell you…anything…on the subject of the third…That is to say, what you do in your own time…I…I…I have to keep watch.”
He quickly walked off, leaving Ana alone in the hole he’d just dug with his big bear mouth, while the other three animatronics stared after him and at her with open curiosity.
“What are the three Ms?” asked Chica.
“Nothing,” said Ana, but of course, that only put a spotlight on it. She had to say something. “Just the things, uh, three things that I do to relax.”
“And they all begin with the letter M? That’s cute!” said Chica. “What are they?”
Ana’s mind went beautifully blank and she knew she had to say something. “Uh…mechanical repairs, medicate and…um…”
Foxy burst out laughing.
“Math,” said Ana, doing her best to ignore him. “I like to unwind sometimes with, like, Sudoku and other, uh, math puzzles.”
“Math,” said Bonnie, tipping his ears forward while Foxy doubled over, hook digging at the wall for support, just being a giddy asshole. “That’s the best you could come up with? Music, movies, miniature golf…and you went with math?”
“I happen to like math,” Ana insisted, heat flaming up the sides of her face.
“Uh huh. Moon-gazing. Midafternoon picnics. Model trains.”
“Mahjong,” said Chica, clearly bewildered, but happy to play the alphabet game. “Meditation. Mountain climbing!”
“The missionary position,” Foxy suggested, grinning.
“M is for math!” Ana said loudly and began to grope blindly behind her for the door. “In fact, I’m going to take a quick drive to town and get some food and a Sudoku book and, hey, how about I check and see if they’ve restocked their Easy Bake mixes? What do you say, Chica? Girl’s night in the kitchen!”
“Oh yes, please!” Chica chirped, actually clapping her hands in excitement.
“Coo, ye used to have to pay to see that,” Foxy hooted, digging his elbow at Bonnie. “Two pretty ladies, math or baking together!”
“You’re an asshole,” said Bonnie’s speaker, but his ears said he thought that was funny. He took the key out of Ana’s fumbling fingers and moved her aside so she could unlock the door, shaking his head very slightly.
“Please tell me I’m not blushing,” she whispered, right up close where hopefully only he could hear.
“You’re not blushing,” he said obediently.
“I am, though, aren’t I?”
“Yup. Red as a radish.” He opened the door and held it so she could escape, watching her with a crooked smile. “Math.”
She blushed even hotter, grabbed her keys back and fled.