Reb pocketed the metal key on the plastic keyring. The number seven was almost worn away. He knew that she was not going to like this. But this was their best option.
He had passed half a dozen or more of those chain hotels. Those places wanted credit cards, ID, and license plate numbers. This run-down hole in the wall that had not even upgraded to card key locks and probably saw more business by the hour than the night did not require any of those things. Just cold, hard cash.
He was also betting it was the kind of place where the old man behind the counter minded his own business. Reb was not sure the man had even looked up from that old hunting magazine long enough to get a decent look at his face. What’s more, a quick look at the camera in the corner as he walked in, told him that the system was not even operational.
Of course, the downside was that the television was unlikely to work, and internet connections were out of the question. He had three and sometimes four bars of reception on his phone. That should be good enough to check the various newsfeeds and figure out their next steps.
He knew he was procrastinating. She might not like it, but he knew that Stacey Reynolds would understand. And he was wasting precious time he could be sleeping, not to mention the fact that MacDees fries tasted worse than MREs when they got cold. “Suck it up.” He opened Elvira’s door and slid behind the wheel.
She had already opened that greasy bag and was chowing down on those fries. She gave that incredibly tight smile and held out the bag, offering him some. He took a couple and used that as an excuse to delay even further.
But he felt those sands slipping through the hourglass. It was best with this woman to be direct and honest. “They only have singles.”
The moon was full, so he had no trouble seeing the way her eyes widened at his words, but before she could say anything, he explained. “You can take the bed. I’ll sleep on the floor by the door. It’s better that way anyway.”
She started to shake her head, but he continued. “I would sleep on the mattress in the back of Elvira like I usually do, except we should remain as close to one another as possible.”
“If there’s a mattress back there, why didn’t we just pull over on the side of the road or in a parking lot somewhere?”
“I did not want to run the risk of some security guard, deputy, or Ranger doing a random vehicle check. Once we are out of Texas, maybe we can, or even stay in a real motel. But for now, until I can check the news feed and see just how much they know, this is our best option.”
She nodded her head and held onto that bag tighter as he started the engine and drove to the back of the dilapidated one-story building. As he hoped, he could pull Elvira around to the side, so that no one could even see her from the road. There was a small alley back there too. Nothing more than a couple of industrial trash bins, but it could be useful if they needed to make a quick escape.
As they got out of Elvira, Reb gave their surroundings another quick going over. Maybe once he got her settled, he should do a bit more recon? The room was about what he expected. Water-stained wallpaper from at least the seventies. The television was a twenty-six inch boxy CRT that sat on an old dresser. It was questionable if it could even pick up newer signals.
The only other furniture in the room was the double bed with one of those scratchy, polyester bedspreads with ugly brown, red, and orange leaf patterns all over it. Hell, he might be more comfortable on the floor than she would be on that thing.
He walked over to the nightstand and turned on the old lamp. At least, there was no dust on the shade. The place did seem to be cleaner than he hoped. Maybe the sheets were fresh? He could always pray, for her sake.
Stacey clutched her bag tightly to her chest as she closed the door behind her. Reb sat the MacDees bag on the nightstand. “I’ll check out the bathroom while you finish eating. If it looks okay in there, maybe you could shower before you go to bed.”
She nodded her head. She had barely said a word in the last hour as they got their food and found this place. He knew she was scared and scarred, but this quiet worried him.
He had seen it before, once or twice in old friends from his Army days. Resignation – they had given up. Life had just become too much for them. The only thing he hoped was that her evident love for her daughters would draw her out.
She plopped on to the bed and reached for the bag. Her nose crinkled in a cute sort of way. Unfortunately, there was not much open at this time of the morning. Besides, drive-thrus were their best option for staying under the radar. He was hoping that MacDees had not recently upgraded its camera system. That would make it harder for the authorities to trace them.
If they even realized who Stacey Reynolds was with. Almost no one in Sebida knew him. He slept in the back of Elvira, though Jack had offered him one of the dozen or so rooms at the casino. He took his meals at the restaurant there as well. About the only person he had much contact with was that nosy old lady at the convenience store where he bought gasoline. But he never answered her questions. That got a real snub from the woman.
As for the regulars at the casino, his job was not the kind that drew much notice. Who even bothered with the guy installing new cameras? No, if Jack or George did not mention him, then chances were no one in Sebida was even aware of his existence. Or so he hoped.
The bathroom was incredibly small. It did not even have a tub, just a shower in the corner, a small sink hanging on the wall, and a toilet. He lifted the lid and then walked over to the shower. Yeah, this place was clean for what it was. There was not even any mildew at the bottom of that cheap plastic shower curtain.
He smiled at her as Stacey held out the bag for him. He took one of the remaining cheeseburgers and unwrapped it. “The place is surprisingly clean, darlin.’ When you’re done eating, why don’t you get that shower? I’ll check the news on my phone and maybe have a better look around outside.” He stopped himself from adding ‘just in case.’ She was already on edge.
She grabbed the bag that sat on the floor at her feet and disappeared into the bathroom. A moment later, Reb heard the water running. He bit into the burger as he pulled up the newsreader on his phone. “Shit,” he was not happy with what he discovered as he finished off the burger.
He knocked lightly on the bathroom door, “I’m taking that walk now.” He waited a moment for a response. He thought he heard an ‘okay,’ but he was not sure. Picking up the bag, he grabbed the last burger. Hers sat half-eaten on the nightstand anyway. He would try to convince her to finish it when he came back.
But for now, he had other things to worry about. Exit strategies. How to convince Chad to loan him that gun without revealing the trouble they were in. The best route from Chad’s ranch to Sedona, obviously the less time they spent anywhere in Texas, the better. How to convince his woman that Sedona was their best option. And especially how to break the latest news to her without sending her over the edge. Not to mention his issues with his beloved mother.
But first things, first. Making sure they were safe here and had a good exit strategy was top priority. One step at a time.
Stacey allowed the water to flow over her as her mind drifted. The shower felt incredible. She had not had time for one since just before Laura’s baby shower. Less than two days? How had her life gone to shit so quickly?
Sure, it had always been far from perfect. “A victim of circumstance. The one who ought to give up, but she’s just too hard-headed. A single mom who worked two jobs, who loves her kids and never stops. With gentle hands and the heart of a fighter, I’m a survivor.”
Stacey sang what she had for almost twenty years considered her theme song in life. “I don’t believe in self-pity. It only brings you down. I may be the queen of broken hearts, but I don’t hide behind the crown. When the deck is stacked against me, I just play a different game.”
Those words had gotten her through so fucking much. “My roots are planted in the past, and though my life is changing fast who I am is who I want to be.”
That was the problem. It wasn’t anymore. Two days ago, she had the best job of her life. One daughter was happily married. Another was expecting her first baby. Even Mercy was relatively secure with her job at the library and the writing stuff. Yes, the McBride shit loomed in the background. But none of them expected THIS.
The water went cold. Stacey leaned her head against the cold tile wall as the tears came faster. She could feel the difference on her skin. The shower was cold. Her tears scalded her skin.
It was all her fault. Her father’s words mocked her, “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the sons to the third and fourth generation.” But that was nothing. It seemed that mothers and daughters never got a break. Were they forever doomed to be caught in this cycle of violence and abuse?
The idea of those grandbabies, Rehab, Chloe, and the little girl that Elena carried now, enduring any of the things that she had, sickened her. Hell, as much as she had tried to protect them, her girls had suffered the abuse of bastardy and poverty.
Why had she stayed? She should have taken her daughters and left Sebida long ago. But go where? Do what? With no money or education, what life did she have to give them? Yes, it was her sins, her choices that Laura, Elena, and Mercy were paying for.
She wanted to pray, to plead, not for herself, she was beyond all hope, but for her girls, and especially those grandbabies. Except she could not. She could not bring herself to submit or bow or plead with that angry, vengeful bastard that her father extolled from that pulpit – usually after beating her and her mother the night before.
And the church? They turned a blind eye. Even when she had gone to them, told the bishop what her daddy had done, they did nothing. Same with her school and social services. No matter where or who she reached out to, no one believed her. Hell, what had she expected? Her own mother denied it. Denied it still. Why would they believe a sixteen-year-old kid that was skipping school, failing half her classes, and drinking already?
Looking back, she realized just how ripe she had been for the picking with Ignacio Garcia. But then? A seventeen-year-old woman/child who thought she knew it all, but didn’t know shit. With a thirty-five-year-old man? A foreigner and drifter with money and time to spend on her?
She had fallen hard and fast. Before she even realized what had happened, she was pregnant. Iggy had convinced her to elope across the border with him. He had a cousin who was a priest. But he did not tell her that his cousin would never file the marriage license she signed because he knew the truth – that the man already had a wife and three sons in Torreon.
Stacey’s knees buckled as more tears came, sobs wracked her body as she remembered the day she had come home from work. The trailer was a mess as usual. Elena’s diaper was so full that she doubted it had been changed since she left that morning.
But it was the way the man sat in front of the television with Laura on his lap. Their daughter was crying to be let down; she wanted to go outside and play. Stacey held Elena on her hip, even though pee now soaked through her uniform top, as she pulled Laura from her husband’s grasp. Her world ended when she saw that he wore only his underwear…and that he was…
She did not even have the energy or awareness to crawl to the toilet as every bit of that MacDees and a lifetime of broken dreams spewed all over the bottom of that shower stall. That was probably a good thing, though. Because it also meant she no longer had the reserves to fight as those hands lifted her.
Stacey was only vaguely aware as the man lifted her off that floor. She thought he cussed, but she had no idea what he said. Her mind was far away. In another time. Running to doctors. Laura was okay, down there.
She had considered pleading with her parents to take the girls until she could think of something, but the thought of that ‘rod’ her father never spared was too much. In the end, she had called INS, turned her husband in, and called in sick to her jobs as she waited for them to come.
The water ran down her face. It was freezing, but she did not care. They had finally come. With guns. Why did they have so many weapons for one man? Why had it taken them so long? She had lost her jobs. How would she work? With two toddlers and another on the way, who would look after her children?
She smelled soap and felt hands on her head. When was the last time she had been to the beauty parlor? But these hands were larger, rougher, and surprisingly more gentle that Sybil May’s were at the only beauty parlor in Sebida.
The cold water ran down her head. Her eyes stung. That was enough to break the spell. Stacey pounded her fists on him. She fought him as she had fought that first time.
“Okay, it’s okay. I’m not going to hurt you, Stacey.”
The voice? It was not Kerr’s or Iggy’s or her father’s. It was vaguely familiar. She struggled to focus through the tears and stinging of the soap.
The man. What was his name? Jack’s friend. It was something unusual. Reb, that was it. “What are you doin’ in my shower?”
He held out the showerhead, “Can you take it now?”
She reached out and jerked it from his fingers. He nodded, held up his hands, and walked backward from the small room.
Stacey’s hands were still shaking, but somehow she managed to hold on to the damned thing long enough to finish rinsing her hair and body. She washed down most of the barf on the floor of the shower before she turned off the water. But those fingers would not work well enough to manage to get the damned thing back in its holder.
Fuck it; she’d come back tomorrow morning before they left and finish cleaning up her mess. She just wished it would be as easy to clean up the mess she had made of her life and her daughters’.
“Are you okay in there?”
“I’ll be out in a minute,” she forced the words out, though her voice sounded hoarse and weak. But she got the impression that the man would barge back in if she did not respond.
She sat naked on the toilet as she practiced that deep breathing shit again. It took her a couple of minutes, but she finally had enough control that she could stand up and brush her teeth. Thankfully, she had brought everything she would need into the bathroom with her.
She toweled off and wrapped the too small and rough thing around her hair before pulling on the nightgown. She almost started crying again when she saw that it was the one that said ‘World’s Best Mama’ that her girls’ had given her last Mother’s Day.
She looked in the mirror as she pulled up the Wonder Woman panties that Mercy had given them all last Christmas. “Enough, you’ve cried more in the past twelve hours than you have in the last twelve years. You have made it through hell. Your daddy’s beatings. Iggy’s bullshit. And forty-seven…”
She drew in a long breath, she always struggled with the word but just saying it had restored a tiny bit of something inside of her. “Forty-seven rapes.”
She did not bother collecting all the clothes that she was usually meticulous about. She’d get those in the morning too. Just as soon as she and her girls’ came up with a plan. But right now, she had a battle all her own to face. She had to face the only man who had seen her naked in well over a quarter of a century.