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Works of Mercy

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Jenny didn’t know what had gone wrong.

Whitney had caught the toe of her boot with his hand before she had even stepped down out of the cherry-picker, and Whitney was a real bear for clean hands: “Grease is different from grime,” he’d said. “Nobody likes a cook with black underneath his fingernails.” But there he was with road dust turning his fingertips dusky-pale and his palm pressed up against the waffled sole that she tracked up and down the city.

“Whitney, what the hell—”

“Just go.” His mouth barely moved; she almost wanted to congratulate him on the ventriloquism of it all, but his face was too waxy-smooth and lifeless right then for it to be funny. He did look like a dummy sitting on somebody’s knee, but then again, didn’t all of them, from time to time?

She was going off into her own head to get out of being scared, and that was a dumb-shit thing to do, so she brought herself back to him, to his dirty hands and his terrified face.

“What’s happened?”

“Something over there, I don’t fucking know, but it has to do with a woman.”

She still thought sometimes of those dreams of Nebraska: dry grass pushing against her bare legs and it feeling kind of nice before she realized she was naked head-to-toe. She’d been afraid of that old woman’s eyes like she had been afraid of nothing else in her life. Until Flagg, she supposed, and that was the bitter joke of it all.

“The old black lady?”

“Jenny, there’s no time.” But he relented, even as he tossed up a hand over his shoulder in response to somebody hollering “hey” at him. Acting like everything was fine. “No, not her. But Lloyd came out of talking with him and blood was running out of that stone around his neck—that was what I thought at first, because of that red slash in it already. But it was running out of him. Like his chest was weeping blood. And he said some woman had crossed Flagg.”

Listen, Lloyd had told him. He’s going to want another woman. Do you get me, Whitney? She fucked some other guy and it’s all over and he’s going to want another woman, any woman, any he can reach. He’d grabbed at Whitney’s shirt and left five bloody fingerprints on it Jenny hadn’t even taken in: for God’s sake, she’d thought they were ketchup stains. Are you picking up what I’m fucking putting down here, Whitney? He’s going to come out of there and he’s going to get whoever he wants, he’s going to point his finger and she’ll be stripped and fucked and up those stairs and dead and maybe not in that fucking order, I don’t know.

Whitney, agonizingly slowly, had gotten it, and had started to say Jenny’s name. Lloyd had backhanded him across the mouth.

Don’t, Lloyd said. He’s distracted but he’s not that distracted, don’t you fuck me on this.

And Whitney had said the only thing people in that situation ever said, Jenny thought, when presented with some precious loophole: All right, Lloyd.

“You have to get out of the city,” Whitney said. “The country, even. Baby, I wish you could get as far away as the moon.”

“It just means it’ll be somebody else,” Jenny said. Her lips were numb. She could name most of the women in Vegas, or at least it seemed at that moment like she could.

Whitney shook his head. “All I can do anything about is you. There’s no way to do anything else. One is better than none, and I don’t want it to be you.”

So that was how Jenny Engstrom left Vegas just ahead of Randall Flagg’s tantrum. She rode a motorcycle and slept during the day because it seemed to her that nighttime was his time, when the gaps between the stars each looked like his face, and she couldn’t sleep with him looking at her a million times over. She counted on death. He’d been distracted, his attention shattered—a toddler throwing blocks all around the room because he hadn’t gotten the toy he had wanted—his violence aimless if he was hurting Lloyd. But he was still the dark man. And she had kissed his boots.

She didn’t hope to live so much as she hoped—and, as the days went on, even prayed, despite feeling appallingly presumptuous about it—that he would not be with her before she died.

If I see him on the road, I’ll wreck the bike. It’ll either be fast or I’ll hit hard enough that whatever he does after that, I won’t feel a thing.

The only place she was going was away from him. The day she busted the glass door of a gas station and walked in for bottled water and fresh supplies, the day she finally felt alive enough somehow to grab a map and see where the hell she’d gotten herself, she ran a red pen along her route out of Vegas and then her hand stopped hard. Ink sank into the paper like blood, and then started to cross up on itself like an unraveling ball of yarn from how her hand was shaking.

Son of a bitch.

She was twenty miles outside Boulder.

Well, all right then. If she was there, she was there: her body had made the choice her mind couldn't.  She kept on, now following the road signs and paying attention to them.  Now keeping her destination fixed in her mind like some sort of compass point.

Dayna Jurgens was the first person she saw, and if Jenny were going to believe in love at first sight, which she wasn’t because she wasn’t that kind of woman, she would say she fell hard for Dayna right then and there just because it was so easy to see Dayna wasn’t Randall Flagg.

Jenny still almost wrecked her bike anyway. Dayna sat by the side of the road with her and poured half a bottle of water down her throat and rubbed her hands, like she thought Jenny was simultaneously dying of heatstroke and coming down with frostbite. For some reason, it helped—one thing or the other or both or maybe just Dayna herself. Dayna had lean hands and long fingers: everything about her was lean and long except for her hair, which was matter-of-factly short, close-clipped at the back especially. Later, Jenny would spend some time acquainting herself with how soft and silky-fine Dayna’s hair was right in that spot.

The day they met, though, she wasn’t thinking any of that.

Well, maybe she thought that if she’d dreamed of Dayna, she would have high-tailed it out of Vegas when the dreams first started.

“You were coming west-to-east,” Dayna said, when she evidently felt like Jenny had come back to herself. “Were you—where’d you leave from?”

And despite all the water Dayna had given her, Jenny’s mouth felt suddenly dry.

Dayna, her voice level, said, “Do I already know where?”

“Back there. From him. The Walkin’ Dude.”

It seemed like almost a miracle that Dayna was able to laugh at that without her breath getting stopped in her throat or cold blue lightning sparking up at her from the ground, without even seeming afraid that those things would happen. “That’s what you guys have been calling him? The Walkin’ Dude? What an asshole name.” She limbered herself up and then offered Jenny a hand. “You want me to lead you in? There are a lot of people who are going to really want to talk to you.”

Sure, Jenny couldn’t think of anything better to do than sit through some Holy Inquisition where they stuck bamboo and disapproval under her fingernails. Dayna being nice didn’t mean shit. Everybody in Vegas was nice, too, until Flagg’s boot-heels knocked against the ground and he said boo and everybody, Jenny included, put on their nice clothes to go to his crucifixions. She had the dim idea that Boulder represented some kind of moral authority—it was the one thing Flagg was afraid of, and for all his grandiosity, Flagg struck her, at least since Dayna’s laugh had emboldened her, as just enough of a sniveling little shit to have kowtowed to a bigger evil than himself, not run away from it, and sure as hell not fight it.  So Boulder had some kind of light.

But, well, so did hospitals—the bright fluorescents she’d sat under when she was getting her bicep stitched up because some guy in the parking lot had taken offense at the way she’d danced on that stage and then not come down off it just for the all-time world-class pleasure of giving him a private lap-dance. The hospital where they’d just said, “Well, maybe you should consider a different line of work, something less likely to attract that kind of misunderstanding.” Like it was a miscommunication and that was all, like she’d stuttered her way into a six-inch cut and a blood-soaked jacket. The doctor had looked at the spangles on her top and his mouth had curled up, his smile only barely trapped at the corners by some sense of professionalism. Well-lit place full of authority. Like her grandmother’s porch, with Jenny at sixteen standing under that welcome-come-on-in-light getting told that if she was going to be like that, if she was going to talk that way, act that way, then she wasn’t welcome, Because Hers was a Godly Home.

Nobody in Vegas had told her she couldn’t have a home there.

But she had to pay the piper, right? And they’d piped her here fair and square, sure: she had come running and some kind of tune had caught her feet or, if she were going to get technical about it, the wheels of her Harley, and dragged her in.

“I guess I’m as ready as I’ll ever be,” Jenny said. She let Dayna pull her up. “Do you need to—are you going to cuff me or anything?” Then she realized how dumb a question that was, when they both only had the bikes.

Dayna looked at her, and Jenny knew that look: it was the look of somebody who understood but didn’t want to. Who had maybe been trying to tell herself that she didn’t think that way anymore.

Then Dayna said, almost gently, “I’m not going to do that. We don’t do that kind of thing. If you’re here when you could be there, that’s all we need to know about you.”

“That’s naïve,” Jenny said. “I could be a spy.”

Dayna grinned. “Believe me, I’m well-aware people could be spies,” and Jenny worked it out for herself, Dayna being on the road out of town heading west just in time to about smash into Jenny coming into town heading east.

In its way, that information was reassuring. It seemed to guarantee some degree of competence. Dayna, Jenny thought, would be a good spy. People would tell Dayna things. They would make decisions for her that they shouldn’t.

Like, say, going straight into the lion’s den without another minute to get herself together and work out whether or not this was what she really wanted.

“Are you just going to drop me off and then start out again?”

Dayna shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe with you here, our people won’t need to send anybody. I don’t make the big-buck decisions.”

The rest of the afternoon was a blur. Jenny kept getting fed, because some girl named Fran with a good-sized baby bump was trying to get rid of a plate of cookies and some guy named Ralph said he’d been going one-by-one through all the different brands of canned chili in the supermarkets and he by-God thought he’d finally hit on the best and she should try it and even this guy Larry, the only one Jenny had pegged as halfway reasonable, had made sure she had a warm can of Coke of her very own when they sat down for yet another interview. Dayna stayed with her throughout the whole thing, like she’d been appointed Jenny’s personal bodyguard. The guy Stu seemed oddly fascinated by this fact and then kept looking sheepish about it.

They went over everything a hundred times. Indian Springs, which she knew a little bit about because Lloyd had bragged to Whitney who had passed it on to her. Technical capabilities. The deaf-mute guy, Nick, wrote until he got a hand-cramp, asking her questions about all that.

“I guess there’s only one thing we haven’t asked you yet,” Stu said at the end of it all.

“And that,” Fran said, “is whether or not you’ve been stuffed to the gills or you want another Spam sandwich or whatever we’re going to try to pawn off on you next, right?” She had a nice, funny, self-aware kind of smile, and the way Stu looked at her when she smiled it made Jenny think a little more kindly of the dude’s Dayna fixation.

“It’s why you left,” Larry said. His gaze was very calm, almost in a schooled kind of way. There was something familiar about his voice, but she couldn’t say exactly what.

Nick rubbed his palm furiously and then passed a question on to Ralph: “And how you were able to get out.”

“Why he let you get out might be more apt,” Glen Bateman said. “Unless I’m wrong.” He fixed those schoolteacher eyes on Jenny.

“I think it would have been letting if it had been at any other time,” Jenny said slowly. She kept rubbing the palm of her hand like she was imitating Nick, and for a moment that was what even she thought she was doing, until she worked out that really she was feeling where one of the nails would have gone in if she’d been caught. “But not when I did get out. He was—it was like he was a hurricane and I was a mouse. I was too close to the ground for him to notice right then, and he was too busy roaring.”

“Something upset him?” Glen said, with sudden sharpness.

Stu backed him down: “Easy, baldy.”

“Somebody. A woman.”

“Mother Abigail,” Fran said, and this time her smile wasn’t funny but simply and plainly relieved. “She’s still alive.”

“That’s the old woman?” She looked to Dayna for confirmation and Dayna nodded. “I don’t think it was her. I mean, I don’t know for sure, but—Whitney said that Lloyd said that some woman had crossed him by screwing somebody else. That was why Lloyd told Whitney, so Whitney would tell me and, I don’t know, Angie, maybe, whoever he could get to in time.”

“I’m not following you,” Ralph said.

Fran had her hand over her stomach. “He didn’t get his girl. So any girl would do, but she wouldn’t do well. Is that it, Jenny?”

Jenny nodded. It felt like there was a sickness in her throat she couldn’t talk around, like Captain Trips had come for her after all and choked her up for good.

“That’s why your friend told your boyfriend. So he would warn you to leave, so whoever it happened to would be someone else.” Larry smiled then, a staggeringly beautiful and somehow nervy kind of smile. “Oh man, do I get that. I really do.”

Stu said, almost angrily, “What else was he supposed to do?”

“The dark man’s distraction might have presented an opportunity for more direct intervention,” Glen said mildly, “though I suppose, with them not having tried, we’ll never know.”

“There wasn’t anything else to do,” Jenny said, even though she’d said almost the same thing to herself. “He’s not—he’s not a man. You don’t understand. People who go up against him—people who even talk wrong to him, they go insane, or they walk into the fountain and lie facedown in it until they drown. There wouldn’t have been any kind of way.” She found herself fiercely defensive of Whitney and, more surprisingly, of Lloyd, a man she had never especially liked. “They did what they could.”

Which was easy for her to say, since she had been the one they’d saved. The only one, as far as she knew.

Somewhere back in Vegas, some woman had gotten crowned in blood as Randall Flagg’s consort, his Sabine bride since his intended had been lost, and the pity Jenny felt for her seemed to chill her down to the bone. She couldn’t even promise herself it was only one woman. It could be all of them. Surely Flagg’s appetite, once awake, would never go back to sleep.

But she wanted, obscurely, for these people to think well of her people, of the man whose bed and bad jokes she’d shared and the man who had, against his own best interests and even his own loyalties, reached out at least to save someone.

“You can’t always make things right,” Dayna said, and her eyes seemed very far away. “Sometimes you just—do the best thing you can for the person next to you.”

“You’re all overlooking the woman,” Frannie said. “There was some poor girl out there that he thought he had some claim on, and somehow, she undid it.” She giggled and then cupped a hand over her mouth. “I’m sorry,” she said, directly to Jenny. “It’s just—did. Undid. In this context. I don’t mean to laugh, it’s not really funny.”

“We can’t exactly go door-to-door asking if anybody’s hopped into bed with anybody else recently,” Stu said dryly. “But if we’re seriously considering it, I nominate baldy over here.”

Everyone laughed, even though Jenny didn’t think it was much of a joke—honestly, Fran’s had been better, and it wasn’t any good either, all the good comedians must have ended up in Vegas after the flu as well as before—but it was, she supposed, the breaking of the tension. Only Larry still looked thoughtful. He chewed on his pen-cap.

“There are a lot of good people,” Jenny said. “Over there.”

“Of course there are,” Glen Bateman said. He sounded very calm. “We don’t like to think so, but of course, historically, that's always been true.”

“It’s the dark man we’re after,” Nick wrote. “Not anyone else. But we’re glad you’re here, Jenny.”

“I think since Jenny’s here,” Dayna said, carefully, like she hadn’t already admitted to her plans to spy and like Jenny couldn’t figure out that these would have been the people who had sent her, “our situation has changed. At least, it feels to me like it’s changed.”

Stu said, “Maybe.”

“You’ll let me know?”

“We’ll let you know.”

There was some talk about her, of course. Jenny would go to the park and someone would draw their child closer to them like she was some sort of witch; she would be in the grocery store picking through the canned goods and turn a corner and hear some conversation get dropped like a marble. She tried not to mind it. She spent most of those days trying not to even have a mind, because if she did, she would think of the people she had left behind.

The first time she got together with Dayna, what it was mostly about was not thinking. Dayna seemed like a shot of tequila—like she had exactly that kind of potential to burn Jenny’s concerns away.

(That was how she told it to herself when she didn't want to feel any guilt over Whitney. Dayna was like tequila only if Jenny had first spent weeks eyeing the bottle and dreaming of it.)

They had been spending a lot of time together—“I’ll come over,” Dayna kept saying, “and we’ll watch TV,” and there it was again, that shitty Free Zone sense of humor. Really, they played board games. Parcheesi, Candyland, Monopoly. Dayna said Monopoly had probably caused the superflu.

It was in one of their debates over who would get to be the top hat this time that Jenny kissed her.

They were sitting on the floor with their backs against Jenny’s sofa and glasses of warm white wine on corkboard coasters by their sides, and all Jenny had to do was move so her knees were on the Monopoly board, bending it out of shape. There was a moment of hesitation—all the kissing she had done in her life and there was still always that moment when your faces seemed so close you felt like you should apologize for it—and then there was no hesitation at all. Sour wine and Jenny’s lipstick. Dayna took her to bed like there had never been any question that this was where they would end up. Little things kept tempting her to disengage—that she was grabbing handfuls of sheets she had never picked out, that there was no air conditioning in Boulder like there’d been in Vegas to cool the sweat on their bodies—but she pushed them all away.

You do the best thing you can for the person next to you.

She told Dayna that afterwards and Dayna laughed, a low, throaty laugh that Jenny liked a lot. “Well, for the record, your best is pretty damn good.”

“Thanks, Jurgens. You weren’t so bad yourself.”

Dayna rolled over onto her side and light a cigarette and after a minute or two of silent smoking—Jenny watching the lean muscles of her stomach rise and fall with her breath, feeling that slow thrum of desire return to her, this time lazy rather than urgent—she said, “Why didn’t you come here in the first place?”

“You guys all take it for granted you’re the good side,” Jenny said. “I guess you are. Cute little small-town government and no public executions, I’ll sign any citizenship papers you want. But we didn’t know what he would be like.”

“All my dreams of him made my skin crawl.”

“Mine too,” Jenny said, and she shrugged, unable to explain that she knew how to work with men who made her skin crawl, that she'd been doing it half her life. “But it seemed like he would run things. And things need running—we were all scared, we didn’t know what we were doing.”

“But Mother Abigail—” And Dayna talked all about some feeling of peace and serenity that had turned on inside her like a light whenever she had dreamt of Nebraska, and all Jenny could think was that that sounded nice, but what she had seen was the porch like her grandmother’s porch and a churchgoing lady like the ones who had picketed her club, the ones she had had to step through, trying to feel tall in her heels and somehow feeling small all the same, like all those little old women were big enough to look down their noses at her.

“But I’m cheating,” Dayna said finally. “I wanted to go to her because the men I’d been with wanted to go to him. If you’d been with me, I could have ended up somewhere else.”

(“People are finding each other quickly these days,” Susan Stern had said to Jenny the day before. “They make commitments to each other. No one gets married—well, I’ve seen a few people walk into the jewelry store and come out with rings, but nothing more than that—but it’s all understood. I like all that. As long as people are honest with each other.”

Like Vegas was on her like some kind of mark of Cain: an MGM Grand poker chip stamped right between her eyebrows, and one of the piddly chips at that. “You can fuck right off if you think I’m interested in breaking her heart. Assuming we’re talking about what I think we’re talking about, and if we aren't, I don't know what the fuck we are talking about, because I don't care otherwise about people dating or not dating.”

Susan grinned. “We're talking about that. And I like you, Jenny-from-Vegas.”

And for some reason Jenny had felt a little like crying.)

“Well,” Jenny said, “I guess if you were with me, I could have ended up here. And I hope now that that’s all on the table, Jurgens, we can stop with the damn Monopoly every time we want to get together.”

“Do not pass Go,” Dayna said, pulling the covers down so that with every inch they covered less and less of Jenny’s legs. “Do not collect two hundred dollars.”

There was a lull after that. The weather was still good. Jenny would have picnic lunches with Dayna and end up napping with her head on her girl’s lap or shoulder, and then she would dream about the candy-colored lights of Vegas all turning into Flagg’s eyes, all of them spotlights turned in her direction. And then they were the red lights she had danced under and they were the freckles on Dayna’s arms and shoulders. A thousand bright little pinpricks all peepholes looking straight at her. She would wake up in a cold sweat.

Then one day she woke up from one of those dreams, her mouth still sticky from lemonade, and there was a woman sitting on a park bench not too far away looking at her. Staring at her.

Jenny sat up—Dayna stirred a little but then just curled back into the picnic blanket, rubbing at it with her nose in that too-damn-cute way of hers—and massaged a crick out of her neck. She had been waiting for the stares to come back when she was with Dayna, even for the stares to come back because she was with Dayna, but it stung all the same. She took to her feet, expecting the woman to look away.

She didn’t.

“Can I help you with something?” Jenny said, not loudly enough to wake Dayna but loudly enough that the woman would know she meant business. She squared her jaw—that fighter look of yours, Whitney had said once, tracing the curve around her chin. God but she carried her lovers with her like bruises and scrapes. She wasn't the forgetting kind--she would take the pain if she could keep the marks of them.

“I don’t think we’ve met,” the woman said. “I’m Nadine Cross.”

Goody for you, babycakes, Jenny thought sourly, but the name actually rang a bell. Frannie and Stu had mentioned her—she was the girlfriend of a friend of theirs. “I don’t understand it at all, let alone how it happened,” Fran had said, “but Harold’s cuckoo for her now.” And Jenny had met Harold Lauder, a broad-shouldered boy with thick black hair and a smile that dropped off his face whenever he was really interested in something and only got pasted back on, a little awkwardly, once he remembered there were other people around. Jenny thought he looked, funnily enough, like somebody who had to practice the kind of fake chumminess she used to have to drum up for the club’s regulars. It had made her partial to him.

So: “Jenny Engstrom,” she said begrudgingly.

Nadine smiled. It was a more natural smile than Harold’s, but not by much. “I know.”

“I thought you’d be younger,” Jenny said. “No offense.” Even though it was an intentionally shitty thing to say, a swipe she was making to get back at Nadine for that stare.

“None taken. No, I’m not younger, but there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do about it.”

Jenny thought she could maybe not shack up with a guy as young as Harold, but something about the way Nadine was twisting her hands together made that quip die on her tongue. Who was she to decide anything? She would like to say, to bolster that position, that Harold seemed like someone who knew what he wanted, but in point of fact he didn’t, not at all.

But Jenny had spent years not knowing what she wanted, either.

She stuck her hands in her pockets. “Did you want me for something?”

“I wanted to ask you about him,” Nadine said. “But now I don’t know that I should. Look.” She stretched out her arm, and even in the heat of the afternoon sun, Jenny could see the gooseflesh on it, the spikiness of the hair standing on end. “So I think instead, I’ll tell you a story.”

“I’m all ears.”

“The Committee can keep its secrets well enough, as I’m sure Dayna could tell you. News as juicy as yours, though, seems to leak out no matter what. I suppose you told other people. It was none of my business—none of anyone’s business—but people tell Harold things. People,” she said, with a sudden endearing defensiveness, “like Harold quite a bit.”

“I like Harold quite a bit.”

“Do you? I’m glad. I—I think I do too, now. But what I wanted to tell you was that I knew your story, or at any rate, the bastardized, made-for-TV version of it that’s been passed around. You fought wolverines on your way out of Vegas, you know.”

“And how,” Jenny said, straight-faced. “I’ve still got the scars to prove it.”

Nadine laughed quietly, and when it was over, she put a hand to her face for a long time. Jenny looked at her fingers, which were bare of rings—no jewelry store stroll-ins for Nadine. A woman that beautiful with a boy she had had to learn to like. Jenny didn’t understand it, and then, suddenly, she did. The sun was turning the white in Nadine’s hair a kind of gold. If Jenny could only barely stand the nightmares of Vegas and Flagg’s eyes now, what had Nadine gone through? And how long had she gone through it? Jenny hunkered down in front of her, feeling as self-conscious as though she were kneeling to pay fealty in some medieval court, and squeezed Nadine’s knees. Made Nadine look at her.

“You don’t have to explain anything to me,” Jenny said.

“Whatever happened—because I didn’t—because Harold and I—”

“I don’t know. I don’t know how that works. I’m not your Mother Abigail, I don’t have any kind of direct line to whoever’s running things. But sweetheart, you pissed him off. You landed a punch when none of the rest of us could. And—and then Lloyd let me go. You made something happen, like pushing over a domino.”

“I made some other woman share his bed in my place,” Nadine said. "And I'll carry that the rest of my life."

“Maybe.” That “maybe” was the kindest thing she could do, the kindest lie she could tell, when they both knew the truth was harsher. “Everything costs. But you did something. It mattered. It sure as shit mattered to me.”

She touched her forehead to Nadine’s knee, figuring in for a penny, in for a motherfucking pound.

“Thank you,” she said. “For saving my life.”

You do what you can.

And when they began to spill into Boulder one after another, first in straggling couples and then in tight-knit and skittish packs, tattered Vegas refugees she knew even with their faces gone fox-narrow with fear and hunger, Jenny gave them water and food, the way Dayna had done for her. Nadine picked up Dinny and held him; put a blanket around his shoulders and a toy in his hand.

“More and more holes,” Ace High said to Jenny. “Just—holes all over that place now, like some frilly little lace tablecloth. Holes in him. Holes in us.”

Jenny went back to the road every day, waiting and receiving, until some cloud of fire bloomed bright in the west. And then after that she went back to wait and receive some more.

“Sometimes I want to protect you from all this,” Dayna said, almost ruefully. “As tired as you are when you come home.”

“This is me,” Jenny said. Like standing there was what she’d been given legs for in the first place. Like holding out blankets was why she had hands. “They’re me.”

Dayna looked at the dark silhouettes coming toward them through the orange haze of sunset. It seemed like years ago, Nadine had said the other day, that they had ever been afraid to meet some dark man on the road. Jenny knew what there was to plainly see in the people who had escaped Vegas in the last days of Randall Flagg: prison tattoos and shell-shocked smiles and arguments, gaunt skinniness and reflexes that meant drawn knives or guns, unlovely attitudes, hard stares. A tendency to weep suddenly, like they couldn’t even bear the feel of their own skin. It was too much to ask—too much a burden on the relationship vis-à-vis commonality, Hawk Lauder would say—that Dayna would see it her way. Even Nadine didn’t, in all likelihood. Nadine saw them as strangers she felt guilty for. Jenny saw them as family coming home. Family forgiving her for leaving. Everybody somebody else’s prodigal daughter or son.

But Dayna, looking at them coming in, said, “Then you’re even more beautiful than I thought, baby,” and she ran her thumb down the length of Jenny’s arm, from the curve of her shoulder down over her scar and straight to the bones of her wrist, like she was admiring the flex of some muscle. Some incredible strength.