"Small town secrets can be dangerous and deadly when they start to be uncovered."
Reviewed by Lynn Cunningham
Posted July 13, 2015
Mystery | Mystery Woman Sleuth
At twenty-eight years old, Juliet Townsend is nowhere near
had once believed she would be in life. Working as a
house cleaner/desk clerk for the dive motel called the
Mid-Night Inn, she is stuck in small town life in Midway.
This is where she had grown-up, been an almost track star
high school, graduated and left to attend college. It is
also where she had to return when her father died
unexpectedly of a heart attack. Juliet was almost finished
with her first year of college when she gets the call
her father's death. Once back in Midway, there just never
seemed to be a way to leave. Her mother became practically
non-functional and there simply was not enough money for
college any longer. In fact, there was hardly enough money
Juliet has made the best of things, though. It is while
working the desk late one night at the Mid-Night Inn when
she gets quite a shock. A lovely blonde and, obviously,
wealthy woman enters the lobby and requests a room for the
night. As she is assigning the woman a room, Juliet
that she knows this woman. It is Madeleine Bell; her best
friend all through high school.
It is quite clear that Madeleine has done well for
She asks Juliet to have a drink with her so that they can
talk. The last thing that Juliet wants is to spend any
with Madeleine but she agrees to taking a break and
with her. It seems that Madeleine wants to bury past hurts
and revive their dead friendship. Juliet is not interested
and says so before returning to her desk duties.
Juliet feels bad for this later and resolves to speak with
Madeleine the next morning when she goes back to work.
does not work out as hoped because the next time Juliet
Madeleine; she is hanging from a rope from a safety rail
As Juliet begins to dig into who might have killed
Madeleine, she uncovers terrible secrets that people will
anything to keep buried; even murder.
LITTLE PRETTY THINGS is an engrossing and absorbing novel
about a small town and what goes on there. I was drawn in
from the first page and remained riveted until the final
page. There are plenty of small town characters and
mysteries to go around, which will keep anyone mesmerized.
seriously recognized personality types that appeared in
townsfolk of Midway. Lori Rader-Day has captured small
life in a manner that few writers are capable of doing.
the duration of this twisted tale of the evil in this
town, I was fully immersed as if I, too, was a resident of
In LITTLE PRETTY THINGS, you will find a truly satisfying
tale of murder and madness that leaves no real clues as to
what is going on until that final page. It seemed that
as I thought I knew what was happening; it was only to
discover that I was completely wrong. Lori Rader-Day has
easily written one of the best books that I have read this
year. It is pure entertainment and I cannot wait for her
next literary offering!
OLD RIVALRIES NEVER DIE. BUT SOME RIVALS DO.
Juliet Townsend is used to losing. Back in high school,
lost every track team race to her best friend, Madeleine
Bell. Ten years later, sheâ€™s still running behind, stuck
a dead-end job cleaning rooms at the Mid-Night Inn, a
one-star motel that attracts only the cheap or the
desperate. But what life wonâ€™t provide, Juliet takes.
Then one night, Maddy checks in. Well-dressed, flashing a
huge diamond ring, and as beautiful as ever, Maddy has it
all. By the next morning, though, Juliet is no longer
jealous of Maddyâ€”sheâ€™s the chief suspect in her murder.
To protect herself, Juliet investigates the circumstances
her friendâ€™s death. But what she learns about Maddyâ€™s life
might cost Juliet everything she didnâ€™t realize she had.
The walkie-talkie on the front desk hissed, crackled,
and finally resolved into Luâ€™s lilting voice: â€śAt what
point,â€ť she said, â€śdo we worry the guy in two-oh-six is
The couple across the counter from me glanced at one
another. Bargain hunters. We only saw two kinds of people
at the Mid-Night Innâ€”Bargains and Desperatesâ€”and these were
classic Bargains, here. The two kids, covered in mustard
stains from eating home-packed sandwiches, whined that the
place didnâ€™t have a pool. The mother had already scanned
the lobby for any reference to a free continental breakÂ
fast. We didnâ€™t offer continental breakfast, not even the
I slid their key cards to them, smiling, and flicked the
volume knob down on the radio before Lu convinced them
theyâ€™d prefer to get back in their car and try their luck
farther down the road.
â€śWhich room are we in, again?â€ť said the woman.
â€śTwo-oh-four,â€ť I said.
â€śAnd you said we could go to Taco Bell,â€ť cried the
little girl, five or so. A glittering pink barrette that
must have started the day neatly holding back her corn-silk
hair now clung by a few strands. She threw herself at her
motherâ€™s feet and wailed into the carpet. â€śBut they donâ€™t
even have a Taco Bell.â€ť
The boy, a few years older, had pressed himself against the
glass door to the bar. â€śMommy,â€ť he hissed. â€śAll these
people are drinking alcohol.â€ť
It was after nineâ€”way past someoneâ€™s bedtime. The parents
and I negotiated by a series of glances between the key
cards and each other. They wouldnâ€™t get tacos, a free
breakfast, or a swim, but the odds seemed better on a dead
body in the room next door. â€śWhy donâ€™t I get you a room
with a little moreâ€”privacy?â€ť I took back the cards and preÂ
tended to click around on the computer for better options.
Under the kidsâ€™ keening and questions, Luâ€™s low,
complaining voice murmured on the radio, and then the door
chimed, signaling another visitor.
The Mid-Night Inn had only twelve operational rooms, seven
even-numbered upstairs and five odd-numbered down, plus the
lobby and bar. In the right light, it had old-school charm.
The balconyâ€™s wrought-iron railing swirled in a fancy
design that snagged our uniform skirtsâ€™ hems. â€śFiligree,â€ť
Billy called it, when he accused us of never sweeping the
cobwebs from it. It was a nice touch. We had a single-star
rating from some hospitality association, left over,
surely, from better days.
Now the Mid-Night was a step above a roadside dive.
Technically, it was a roadside dive, nestled between
the roaring interstate and an overpassing state road out of
town that led into the dusty countryÂside. The motel was a
big two-story U of rooms, all with exterior doors on
a wraparound walkway, all overlooking a slim patch of grass
and a couple of struggling crabapple trees. Billy called
that the â€ścourtyard,â€ť and the eight closed rooms on the
other side of the bar that had been left to ruin, â€śthe
south wing.â€ť At the open end of the courtyard, only a rusty
chain-link fence tangled with scrub and brush separated the
Mid-Night from the rushing cars below.
In the summer, the Mid-Nightâ€™s old, blinking neon sign
reguÂlarly pulled guests off the highway. We got minivan
parents whoâ€™d misÂjudged how long they could listen to their
kids howl and lone drivers who found they couldnâ€™t keep
themselves awake until they reached Indianapolis. We often
got people who used their expensive, high-tech phones to
search for the cheapest overnight stay they could get.
But now in the off season, people could do better and
usually did. I could say the Mid-Night was at least a clean
place to lay your head. But I was the one who cleaned it,
and I knew that wasnâ€™t true.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the new arrival, a woman
in a long coat, hesitate at the door. Her, the Bargains,
the dead guy in two-oh-sixâ€”this was officially a crowd for
a Monday night in the spring, especially since it was just
me and Luisa holding down the fort while Billy had his
night off. Lu was out pretending to clean up the court yard
while I kept the front desk, and tomorrow morning, weâ€™d
flip back to mornings for the rest of the week. Iâ€™d get to
clean up vending-machine taco-chip crumbs after these
cheapskates got back on the road, while she fended off
anyone who came looking for a free Danish. Or comment
cards. We didnâ€™t offer comment cards, either.I handed over
the updated key cards to the Bargains. â€śYou have a nice
night,â€ť I said. The mother had already decided I was some
kind of simpleton. She and her husband each pulled a child
along behind them toward the door. Iâ€™d put them as far away
from the dead guyâ€™s room as I couldâ€”which located them
right over the Mid-Night bar, open â€™til two in the morning.
The woman at the door still hadnâ€™t decided if she was
coming in. She held the door for the family, letting the
parade of misery pass back out into the night and watching
after them for far too long.
Iâ€™d already known there existed a breed of women who made
the rest of us notice how far off the mark we were, but
they didnâ€™t often stumble into the Mid-Night. This woman
was their queen. Her clothes draped as if theyâ€™d been
trained. Her golden hair hung loose and perfectly careless.
She was tall and angular, with a chiseled masterpiece of a
In the middle of the floor lay the sparkling barrette from
the little girlâ€™s hair. I slipped around the desk and
plucked it up, watching the woman all the while. She tucked
a strand of hair behind her ear as we both watched the
family tramp toward the stairs with their misÂmatched
luggage. The open door let in the smell of green cornfields
and wet grass.
I pressed the barrette against my palm and slid it into my
pocket. â€śCan you pull the door?â€ť I said. â€śYouâ€™re letting in
It was cheap, but all I had. Compared to her, I was
shorter, chubÂbier, mousier. Poorerâ€”that went without
saying. I looked down at what I was wearing. Ouch. Her
raincoat, as supple as butter and with the belt tied in a
casual knot at the back, probably cost more than I made in
a month. It wasnâ€™t even raining anymore.
She closed the door, a gracious smile cranking up to blind
me as she swept across the lobby.
But then she stopped. The smile cut short. â€śJuliet? Juliet
Townsend, is that you?â€ť
A thousand thoughts shoved into my mind at the same time,
jamming the works. I couldnâ€™t think. I couldnâ€™t speak. On
the desk, the walkie-talkie hissed and crackled. â€śJuliet?â€ť
Luâ€™s voice, turned to nearly zero, sounded like a bomb
going off in the empty lobby. â€śJules, Iâ€™m serious, pick
The woman looked at the radio unit on the counter, then me.
The smile came back, a few megawatts shy of its original
glow. That superÂstar grin Iâ€™d almost received was reserved
for customer service. For getting the best room available,
and maybe an extra set of towels. This smileâ€”well, this was
the surprised-slash-horrified gesture reserved for exâ€“best
friends discovered working below their potential in
My brain finally jarred loose, throwing out the shard of a
memory: a blond ponytail bouncing against thin shoulders,
three paces ahead. Nothing holding me back but my aching
lungs and burning thighs, and nothing ahead of me but that
chiseled jaw, resolutely set toward the finish line.
â€śMadeleine Bell,â€ť I said. The name had always meant the
same thing to me. Another loss. Another very near miss.
On the walkie-talkie, Luâ€™s voice transitioned from irate
English into furious Spanish. I held up a finger to Maddy
Bell and grabbed the handset.
â€śPlease tell me,â€ť I said, my teeth clenched, â€śthat SeĂ±or
Two-oh-Six has requested fresh towels.â€ť
Lu said, â€śThere is a smell coming out of thereâ€”â€ť
â€śThatâ€™s far above my pay grade, and yours,â€ť I said. â€śLet
Billy handle it tomorrow.â€ť
â€śFine by me,â€ť Lu said. â€śYouâ€™ll be behind the cart,
and youâ€™ll have to clean up the body.â€ť
â€śI have a guest.â€ť I glanced back at Maddy. Sheâ€™d turned her
head, pretending to admire the lobby dĂ©cor. She probably
didnâ€™t get a lot of gold-leaf wallpaper and garage-sale
geegaws in the places she normally stayed. â€śAnd then Iâ€™m
probably going to need to take my break,â€ť I said. I needed
a few minutes to die of embarrassment. Just ten minutes to
hang myself from shame.
â€śRoger,â€ť Lu said.
Billy insisted we use proper military com lingo when we
used the radios, all those over-and-outs, rogers instead of
yeses. Heâ€™d never been in the military, of course. He only
knew what heâ€™d learned from Stallone movies. But when he
was out of earshotâ€”which wasnâ€™t often, since he lived in
room one-oh-oneâ€”we took liberties. It was a crummy job.
Liberties were what we had, instead of health insurance or
bonuses or even a schedule that allowed us to take a second
job. Instead of dignity.
I put down the radio and found Maddy watching me. â€śSo you,
uh, need directions or something?â€ť Which didnâ€™t make any
sense. Sheâ€™d been gone ten years, but surely she remembered
the way to her old house. Surely she remembered there were
better places to stay forty minutes in either direction.
â€śA room,â€ť she said. â€śIf you have one.â€ť
I tapped around the computerâ€™s reservation system for time.
â€śHow many nights?â€ť
â€śItâ€™s weird, isnâ€™t it? Seeing you here?â€ť she said.
â€śWeird for you,â€ť I said. â€śIâ€™m here a great deal. Just one
night, then?â€ť â€śOne night. Passing through. I didnâ€™t think
Iâ€™d run into anyone.â€ť I looked up. â€śHoping you wouldnâ€™t,
â€śMaybe I was hoping I would. Juliet, really,â€ť she
said. â€śHow would I have known?â€ť
â€śI heard you were a big shot in Chicago,â€ť I said.
She nodded, slowly, letting my statement hang in the air
â€śHow many guests?â€ť I said. The words almost got stuck in my
throat. Iâ€™d just spotted the largest diamond Iâ€™d ever seen
in real life or on television on her left ring finger. Were
there any finish lines Maddy Bell wouldnâ€™t reach before
everyone else? The diamond was cartoonishly big. The palms
of both my hands started to itch. I wiped them on my jeans.
â€śHow many in the room, I mean?â€ť
â€śJust me.â€ť For a moment the sound of my typing filled the
lobby, and then she gasped. â€śOh, Jules, I totally forgot.
Your dad. Iâ€™m soâ€” God, that must have been awful.â€ť
Debilitating, actually. And I knew what had reminded her.
Here I was, working a dank motelâ€™s lobby desk in the same
town where sheâ€™d left me. No one could have chosen this
life. There must be some sad story of ambition thwarted,
opportunity denied. And there was. My dadâ€™s sudden deathâ€”a
heart attack, far too youngâ€”during my second semester of
college had drained my ambition and our family finances. If
Iâ€™d gone to any other high school in the state, maybe Iâ€™d
have been the star distance runner and would have been at
college on full scholarÂship. But Iâ€™d gone to Midway High in
Midway, Indiana, where Maddy Bellâ€™s best times still clung
to the halls, where Maddy Bellâ€™s trophies still gleamed in
the cases, ten years on. I knew the records were still up
at Midway because all my almost one year of college had
prepared me for was a spot as a third-string substitute
teacher there. They called once a year or so when all they
needed was a warm body, and I went in, gladly. That is, on
days when I could tear myself away from the cleanerâ€™s cart
at the Mid-Night Inn.
â€śAnd your mom?â€ť she said.
â€śGlad to hear it.â€ť
Sheâ€™d always liked my family better than her own. Maddy had
arrived in Midway with ready-made parental tragedy. Her
mother rumored to be a suicide, and her dad remarried to a
woman Maddy was determined not to like. Her dad had died
more recently, quietly and without much fanfare in the
local paper. There hadnâ€™t been a funeral. â€śYour dadâ€”â€ť
She waved away the sentiment. Sheâ€™d never been as close
with her dad as Iâ€™d been with mine.
â€śWell, Gretchen comes in for a drink sometimes,â€ť I said. I
nodded through the glass doors that led to the innâ€™s bar. A
look of horror crossed Maddyâ€™s face. Her stepmother was
apparently not the person sheâ€™d hoped to run into. â€śBut not
tonight. Not yet, anyway.â€ť
I slid a guest-info card across the counter for her and
held out a pen. Up close, she nearly glowed. I couldnâ€™t
look, for fear I would stare. Her perfume wafted over the
desk, equal parts spicy and sweetâ€”and warm, somehow, like
exotic cookies fresh from the oven. Under the harsh fluÂ
orescents, the diamond in her ring caught the light and
The door chimes rang again, this time for Lu and the
rattling cart. Maddy glanced over her shoulder at the
noise, and beamed her superÂnova smile in Luâ€™s direction.
Maddy turned back to hand me her card and pen, and behind
her, Lu pulled her long, dark hair into a smoother ponytail
and mugged a la-di-da hip wiggle. She gave Maddyâ€™s
clothes a long, lurid look, then glanced down at herself,
just as I had. I slipped the pen into my pocket.
â€śSo there are drinks? In there?â€ť Maddy jerked her head in
the direction of the dark doors of the bar. â€śI could sure
â€śRight through there,â€ť I said. â€śTell the bartender youâ€™re a
â€”tell her I sent you.â€ť
â€śWhy donâ€™t you join me?â€ť
Lu raised her eyebrows in my direction. Weâ€™d be talking
about this, whatever my answer.
â€śIâ€”â€ť Iâ€™d meant to take my thirty-minute break to get out of
Maddyâ€™s rarified, spice-cookie air, to brace myself for the
knowledge that Iâ€™d be the one to clean her fair locks out
of the shower drain in room two-oh-two the next morning.
â€śPlease?â€ť Maddy said. She leaned across the counter, and
instead of taking the key card Iâ€™d left within her reach,
she put her hand on mine. She had the skin of an infant.
â€śWe could catch up.â€ť
I blinked down at the diamond. Catching up with Maddy was
the one thing Iâ€™d never been able to do.
The bar didnâ€™t have a real name, but everyone called it
â€śthe Mid-Night,â€ť too. No one who frequented the place
seemed to have a problem keeping them straight. The bar was
named for the motel; and the motel was named for the town;
and the town, Midway, was named for the fact that it wasnâ€™t
one place or another. We were halfway to anyÂwhere that
The bar was badly lit, badly arranged, badly cleaned. The
cleanliÂness issue Lu and I could take credit for, but the
rest of the management decisions were Billyâ€™s. He knew what
the regulars liked: cheap beer, keep it coming. They didnâ€™t
care about new linoleum to replace the warped floors or
painting over the ancient graffiti in the bathroom stalls.
They didnâ€™t want the old mirror over the back of the bar
re-silvered. They didnâ€™t want to see themselves. They lined
up at the bar, watched the TV without sound, and drank. A
subculture had developed over time from the group of
nodding acquaintances, mostly men, who parked on stools
side by side and hardly said a word to one another.
That was the scene as I led Maddy through the lobby doors
into the dark, hoping to go unnoticed. An undercover
mission. We got away with it for a second. A couple of the
regulars turned aroundâ€”there were a few Midway High faces,
some hardened regulars my momâ€™s age or older, a couple of
people I knew but ignoredâ€”but then Maddyâ€™s presence was
noticed. Felt. By the time weâ€™d sat ourselves at a
table in the corner and waved over a couple of drinks,
three of the guys had disÂmounted from their barstools to
head home. The others stayed to stare and pretend not to.
â€śI donâ€™t even know where to start,â€ť Maddy said. â€śHas it
really been since graduation?â€ť
It had been longer. Maybe she didnâ€™t remember, or want to
remember, that the last time weâ€™d spoken had been weeks
before the ceremony meant to send us on our separate ways.
Precisely, it had been since the day Maddy had beaten me
for the last time. And we hadnâ€™t even been running.
Suddenly I remembered Maddy hunched over the edge of a
hotel bed, her knuckles white against a shiny, patterned
bedspread. The old disgust rose in my throat.
I swallowed around it. â€śDid you get your invitation to the
reunion?â€ť The reunion was why I knew where Maddy lived. Our
classmate Shelly Anderson, who was planning the event,
worked at the bank, where all deposits of the informational
kind had to be made at her window. You always left richer
than you came in.
Our beers arrived. The bartender, Yvonne, winked at me.
â€śLet me get this round, since Iâ€™m holding you hostage.â€ť
Maddy reached inside an inner pocket of the coat and pulled
out a bill. â€śKeep the change,â€ť she said to Yvonne.
This round? I took a gulp of my beer, avoiding Yvonneâ€™s
look. I was sure the bill had been a fifty.
Yvonne stalked away with a sharp glance over her shoulder.
â€śThe reunion,â€ť Maddy said with an odd smile. She pivoted
her beer bottle on the table but didnâ€™t drink. â€śRight.â€ť
â€śItâ€™s a Midway High reunion in here every night of the
week,â€ť I said, scanning the bar. A few sets of eyes dropped
away. â€śTen years.â€ť
â€śIt seems longer,â€ť Maddy said.
To me, it seemed shorter. But maybe that was because I
hadnâ€™t gone anywhere or done anything. Maybe we all
experienced life not by the hour, but by the texture and
taste. I hated to think it. If that was how time measured
itself, I was still a knobby-kneed kid in an overÂsized
track team uniform. I hadnâ€™t moved on. But neither had most
of our high-school class. We saw each other at the grocery
store, at Mikeâ€™s Hardware, at the movie theater. A lot of
them went to church together. Some of them had kids in the
same class at the elementary school.
We didnâ€™t need a reunion. A Saturday in some party room,
going-out clothes, and Maddy down from Chicagoâ€”
â€śThe reunion wasnâ€™t last night, was it? Is that why youâ€™re
Iâ€™d hoped not to be working the night of the party, so that
if anyone stopped by the bar on their way home, I wouldnâ€™t
have to hear about it. But now I was strangely panicked
that Iâ€™d missed it.
â€śSoon. This coming weekend, I think.â€ť She frowned at the
table. â€śI doubt Iâ€™ll stick around for it. I donâ€™t have much
I let my beer bottle hit the table a little too hard.
Yvonne and the guys at the bar turned in our direction.
â€śAre you kidding me?â€ť I said. â€śWhat?â€ť
â€śYouâ€™re probably the only one of us who has anything to
show for the last ten years,â€ť I said. â€śExcept the ones who
are already married or divorced or have four kids or
credit-card bills up to their eyeballs. Look at yourself.
Look at this place.â€ť I knew what I meant to say, even if I
hadnâ€™t said it well. She didnâ€™t belong here, had probably
never belonged here.
Iâ€™d always thought I didnâ€™t belong in Midway, either, that
someday Iâ€™d get out and make something new of myself. But
the truth was that I belonged to my hometown in a way I
hadnâ€™t been able to shake, and now it felt too late to try.
â€śYou always did think more of me than I did myself,â€ť she
â€śIt was hard not to look up to you, standing on the lower-
medal podium every week.â€ť I plucked at the wrapper on my
beer. I hadnâ€™t meant to say that.
â€śMaybe I should have thrown a few races.â€ť She pushed her
â€śThatâ€™s hardly what I wanted, Maddy.â€ť That was not the
truth. Back then, I would have accepted any top placing,
however it came to me. â€śWell, then,â€ť she said. â€śYou should
have run faster.â€ť
That stung. What did she think Iâ€™d been doing all those
times I came in second? â€śI ran as fast as I could for as
long as I could,â€ť I said.
She looked over my shoulder for a long moment, toward the
door. â€śThatâ€™s what I was doing, too. I was probably only
faster because I was being chased.â€ť
By me, she meant. I saw again the blond hair beating
against thin shoulders. The back of Maddyâ€™s head had been
my view of high school, and not just on the track. I was
the friend who didnâ€™t have a life of her own, the parasite,
the loser. The journalism staff had even made some joke
about it in our senior yearbook.
In some ways, the ten years felt like ten minutes. I leaned
back in my chair. My break was almost over. I thought ahead
to the long night at the front desk, and then the early
morning behind the cleaning cart. Maddy had one night back
in Midway. I had the rest of my life. And yet, I didnâ€™t
want to spare even these few minutes on her. â€śWhat are you
in town for, then?â€ť
â€śBusiness,â€ť she said.
â€śWhat do you do?â€ť
She shrugged. â€śItâ€™s not that interesting.â€ť
I felt color rising on my neck. â€śDo you travel a lot?â€ť
â€śFor any reason,â€ť I said.
She smiled a little and leaned forward, waiting for the
â€śYouâ€™ve been to New York? Paris? Tokyo, where?â€ť
She understood me now. The smile slid away. â€śAll those
places.â€ť â€śYouâ€™ve gotâ€”I donâ€™t even know how many thousands
of dollars of diamond on your hand. Is he handsome?â€ť
She blinked at the ring, then nodded.
â€śAfter you leave tomorrow, Iâ€™ll be changing the sheets on
your bed. Your jobâ€”your lifeâ€”has to be more interesting
â€śBut you could . . . sorry, no. Iâ€™m not going to give you
any advice.â€ť She checked her watch and seemed surprised by
how late it was. An expensive watch, I was sure. â€śYou
really shouldnâ€™t take any direction from me. Things arenâ€™t
always as they seem, you know. They werenâ€™t then, and they
arenâ€™t now. Envy blinds you.â€ť
I stood up, my chair raking against the floor. I wasnâ€™t the
one handing out insultingly high tips on cheap beer tabs
and pretending things between us were even. â€śMy break is
over,â€ť I said.
â€śI didnâ€™t meanâ€”thatâ€™s notâ€”I meant that Iâ€™m the one whoâ€™s
envious.â€ť She looked up at me with tears in her eyes. Very
dramatic. If only sheâ€™d had time for the school play back
in high school, she might be clutching an Academy Award
now, too. â€śThis isnâ€™t how I wanted it to be.â€ť
â€śI didnâ€™t hope to run into you,â€ť she said. â€śI knew I would.
I knew you were working here, Jules, and I wanted to see
She waited to see how I would take this. â€śWell, youâ€™re
seeing me,â€ť I said.
â€śI justâ€”I wanted to make sure I hadnâ€™t imagined it all.
That I hadnâ€™t wasted all my time. So much of it was wasted.
Or lost completely.â€ť She stood and glanced uneasily at the
bar. Theyâ€™d be watching openly now. A low song on the
jukebox kept things civilized. She lowered her voice under
the music. â€śWe were friends, werenâ€™t we? Really friends,
not just competitors? Right? Before all that?â€ť
All that encompassed so much, I couldnâ€™t tell if she
remembered. All that could have meant nothing or
anything. Or everything. I felt the pen in my pocket
digging into my hip and was thankful for its disÂtraction.
â€śNo,â€ť I said. â€śIâ€™ve had a lot of time to think about it. I
donâ€™t think we were.â€ť
She went still. â€śDonâ€™t say that.â€ť
â€śWe were rivals, Maddy. Practices, tournamentsâ€”state.â€ť She
flinched. She remembered. â€śWe just spent a lot of time
together, and we were kids. Itâ€™s not the same thing as
â€śIt could have been.â€ť
â€śIt wasnâ€™t. How else do you explain it? As soon as track
season was over, we never spoke again. Ten years, Maddy.
Iâ€™ve been in the same place. Iâ€™ve been easy to find.â€ť
â€śYou donâ€™t have to stay here,â€ť she said.
â€śThatâ€™s not what Iâ€™m saying, and you know it. Besides, youâ€”
you donâ€™t know anything about me.â€ť
â€śI used to,â€ť she said. Her jaw was set with the same
determination sheâ€™d always engaged to stay a half meter
ahead of me for an entire two-mile race. â€śThe Juliet
Townsend I used to know wanted to run from this place as
fast as she could.â€ť
â€śIâ€™m not sure what happened to the Madeleine Bell I used to
know,â€ť I said. I felt raw, and mean. â€śYou know where
theyâ€™re having it, right? The reunion?â€ť
She started to say something, then thought better of it.
She pulled her coat tighter around her. â€śLetâ€™s just say
thereâ€™s a lot about me you donâ€™t know, too,â€ť she said.
Fair enough. I turned to leave.
She caught up with me at the door to the lobby and laid a
soft hand on my arm. I could see Lu at the desk, leaning
her chin on her fist and watching the dark parking lot. For
a moment, my life split in two and I was the me I could
have been and also the me Iâ€™d become.
â€śIt could still be,â€ť she said.
â€śWhat are you talking about?â€ť
â€śIt could still be the same as being friends. We couldâ€”it
could be real this time. We could get things right.
Chicagoâ€™s not that far away, and thereâ€™s the reunion. Maybe
I will come back for it, even if theyâ€™re holding it at the
same placeâ€”â€ť Her face darkened. â€śGod, what are the odds?
But there are some thingsâ€”Iâ€™d like to have a chance to talk
to you sometime, really talk. Just think about it, OK?â€ť
Clearly she had no idea how little happened around Midway
in a given week. I wouldnâ€™t be able to think about anything
else. I slipped out from under her hand and opened the
I led Maddy through the lobby, Lu watching, and pointed in
the direction of her room. Outside, a lean silver car had
parked nose to nose with the vending and ice machines. It
could only be hers. As soon as Maddy had swept through the
lobby, Lu turned on me.
â€śI donâ€™t want to talk about it,â€ť I said.
â€śAll this time I thought I was your fanciest friend.â€ť
Lu lived in a ranch house overstuffed with her husband,
three kids, and mother-in-law. She might have the same
terrible job I did, but sheâ€™d figured out a few things I
hadnâ€™t. â€śYouâ€™re pretty fancy,â€ť I said.
Luâ€™s smile was close-mouthed to hide her crooked teeth. â€śSo
why is she here?â€ť
â€śBusiness, she said.â€ť
â€śNo, I mean here. At the Mid-Night. Did you see her? She
could stay anywhere. She could have stayed atâ€”hotels I
donâ€™t even know downtown, the Luxe even.â€ť
I glanced uneasily at Lu. Maddy knew all about the Luxe.
But sheâ€™d gotten a room here to talk to me. Hadnâ€™t she
admitted it? But she could have stopped by with her olive
branch and still stayed somewhere else. And what had she
actually said, in the end?
A pair of headlights grazed over the lobby. The silver car
was leaving. Maybe staying somewhere else was the plan
sheâ€™d had in mind all along.
Why had she come? The car, the diamond, the soft raincoat.
The forty-two-dollar tip on an eight-buck bar tab. The room
paid for but not used. Maddy Bell certainly wasnâ€™t a
Which could only mean she was desperate.
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