My head was pounding when I woke in the morning, a combination of alcohol and crying, and the sunlight streaming in around the edges of the curtain by the front door made me squint. I heard the shower shut off in the bathroom, and laid there, trying to will the pounding to stop. A moment later, the door opened and Jason emerged in a cloud of steam. He had a towel wrapped around his waist, and he hadn’t seemed to notice that I was awake.
“Morning,” I said, making him jump in surprise, and grab onto his towel as it started slipping.
“Uh, hi,” he replied, his face turning pink in embarrassment, “I’ll just, uh...”
He grabbed a pile of clothes from the counter and disappeared back into the bathroom, shutting the door behind him. I laughed to myself as I felt the throbbing recede a bit. I sat up and rubbed my face, trying to wake up. If the sun was shining through the window, it was late enough for us to get a move on. We had been waking up at the crack of dawn every morning, but our late night had put us off that schedule.
The door opened again, and Jason emerged, fully dressed. He seemed to have gotten over his embarrassment enough to look me in the eyes.
“How are you feeling?” he asked, sitting on the edge of the bed.
I squinted at him, making him smile, “my head is killing me.”
Jason, my godsend, handed me a glass of water and some tylenol from where they had been sitting on the bedside table.
“You are my new best friend,” I said, swallowing them down, the water making me feel instantly better as it got the gravel out of my throat.
Jason rolled his eyes, “I was your old best friend too.”
I shrugged. Semantics. I forced myself to crawl out of bed and find some clothes to change into from my dwindling pile of clean things.
“Let me grab a shower, and we can head out,” I told him, not waiting for his agreement as I headed into the bathroom for my own shower.
The water was still warm, and it woke me up enough to feel like I wasn’t going to drop dead at any moment. I rubbed the motel soap across my stomach, still amazed that the cuts were completely gone. There wasn’t even a scar where the stitches had been. I idly wondered if this meant I was indestructible. Probably not, since the cuts had been hanging out for so long. Something had happened when I killed that guy in the woods. I refused to say that I ate him, somehow killing him seemed better. It had done something to me, physically. Just the buzz alone had been amazing, and being healed afterward was further proof that it had actually happened.
By the time I was finished with my shower, Jason had packed up our bags. He was sitting on the bed, flipping through TV channels.
“So what’s the plan for today?” he asked, and I was surprised at how eager he sounded to get going.
I eyed him warily, “we drive over to Vermillion and start looking for a redhead named Amy, I guess.”
It wasn’t really a great plan, but I was intent on finding Amy again and asking her why she had sent us to Wyoming. I didn’t get any vibes from her that she had wanted us to go on a wild goose chase. I couldn’t think of any reason for her to get us out of the way. Also, it was basically the last thing I could do before just giving up. Although, now that I didn’t look like a freak of nature, I could probably fake normal for a little while. As long as I didn’t kill anyone else. After the way I had felt yesterday, that if was pretty much impossible. I knew that eventually, the hunger would get to me, and I would end up doing something crazy again.
“We can stop for breakfast down the road,” Jason said, grabbing his bag and turning off the TV.
“I’m not hungry,” I replied.
And I wasn’t, I suddenly realized.
Jason froze, looking up at me curiously. I didn’t see any fear in his eyes, but it should probably have been there. We both knew why I wasn’t hungry. He trusted me too much. I hoped like hell that wouldn’t be a problem if I needed to cut him loose.
His gaze became uncomfortable, so I closed my own bag and picked it up, heading out the door. He finally stopped staring, grabbing the keycard and following behind me.
The biker was back in front of his own door, smoking a cigarette and talking on a cell phone. He waved at me with the hand holding the cigarette, and I waved back, amused by the image of a huge tough motorcycle rider chatting on a tiny flip-phone. Jason hadn’t noticed, he was intent on the map he had pulled out of the car after he dropped his bag inside. I took the lack of a police barricade as a sign that the body in the woods hadn’t been noticed yet, and breathed an internal sigh of relief, heading off toward the front office to drop off the keycard.
By the time we got going, the sun was high in the cloudless sky, daylight wasting. We ended up doing drive-thru for breakfast, but I only ordered for Jason, still not the least bit hungry. That alone put me in a great mood. We made good time to Vermillion, arriving a little after lunch time. I bought Jason lunch at a sketchy diner that was thankfully void of all police presence, but I just sipped on a soda. I was still riding high on the lack of hunger pains, wondering how long it would last, and wondering if going back to the gut-wrenching need for meat every two hours might just kill me. I tried to push that to the back of my mind. We had bigger concerns. Like how the hell we were going to find someone whom we only knew by her first name.
The town boasted a “small town atmosphere with big city attractions”, according to a pamphlet by the entrance to the diner. It also boasted a University, which was the logical place to start looking for someone in their twenties. We were going to have to be a bit more conspicuous than I would have liked, but there weren’t any strangers popping up to give me a last name. I missed the old couple of days ago. I drank my soda and watched Jason devour yet another hamburger. Apparently, when he boasted that he could live on them, he wasn’t exaggerating.
The diner was just at the tail end of the lunch hour, and people were clearing out, leaving us amongst a small handful of patrons who obviously didn’t have jobs to get back to in a hurry. It reminded me of JC’s with its tired looking waitresses and worn booths, and I felt a pang of homesickness. My dad was probably back up to a box of beer a night, and Jason’s parents... I didn’t even want to think about Jason’s parents. They were undoubtedly going through the worst time in their lives, wondering if their son was alive or dead, wondering if he had been involved in the murders of two of his classmates. They would give him the benefit of the doubt, but I wasn’t sure I would be so lucky. His mom wasn’t the type of person who just jumped to conclusions, but who knew how she would react when one of her kids was on the line. I hoped, at the very least, she was blaming me and not doubting him.
“Earth to Trish,” Jason said, waving a hand in front of my face and breaking into my thoughts.
I smiled weakly at him, “sorry, just thinking.”
“Back home,” I replied, and his smile dropped.
We fell silent again, both focused on our lives back east. It wouldn’t do any good to dwell, but sometimes it was impossible not to.
“I have a plan,” Jason said, grabbing my attention again.
He was leaning back in his seat, looking content after having devoured his bacon cheeseburger. Any plan of his was better than my nonexistent one.
“We should split up,” he continued, strumming the fingers of his outstretched arm on the back of the booth, “we’ll cover more ground that way. You can try to find some sign of her at the school, and I’ll look more in town. Maybe we’ll get lucky.”
“It’s a good place to start, I guess,” I replied, twisting the straw wrapper around my index finger until it ripped, “we should meet up someplace since we don’t have phones.”
“Let’s go check into the motel we passed a few miles back and then we can head out.”
I agreed, giving him a knowing look at the triumphant smirk on his face. The motel we had passed had been a lot nicer than the last one we stayed in. I decided to give in. I was still afraid of taking too many risks, but we’d be showing our faces all over town, so it wasn’t like a more anonymous motel room would make much of a difference.
We passed a much more dilapidated motel on our way to Jason’s choice, but I stayed quiet. I watched it pass by out of the window, frowning as a big guy on a motorcycle pulled into a parking space near its front office. He certainly looked like the guy from our previous sketchy abode. I sat back in my seat, glancing over at Jason, who was happily driving us the short distance to our temporary digs. He was concentrating on the road ahead, and hadn’t seemed to notice anything amiss, so I closed my eyes and hoped we could avoid anyone on a motorcycle while we scoured the town for answers later.
I was more nervous than usual when checking in, and I had to force myself not to look around with paranoia. The front office of this place was actually pretty nice. It had two couches sitting perpendicular to the wide glass doors, and both of them actually looked clean. The place was called Fran’s Lodging (free cable TV!), which wasn’t part of any chain I had heard of, but had the feel of one of the nicer small chains. The computer seemed to actually be from sometime after I was born, and the woman behind the desk had an attentive look on her face. She was even wearing a name tag, a small white piece of plastic with “Allison – Asst. Manager” printed in large black block letters. I took one look at her and wanted to run in the opposite direction. She would definitely remember a face.
I bit the bullet and smiled back at her, approaching the desk as nonchalantly as possible. We went through the check-in dance, which I was now thoroughly familiar with, and which unfortunately involved typing my fake driver’s license info into the computer. I was pretty impressed with the ID so far. No one had even given it a second look.
“On a roadtrip?” Allison asked, handing my ID back to me.
I smiled, nodding slightly.
“Sounds like fun,” she said, that professional grin still on her face.
She gave me a price for one night, thankfully only a little more than our usual places, and handed a keycard over to me, along with a brochure of things to do in the area.
I took them from her, nodding again, and hurried back into the parking lot as quickly as possible without looking like I was running away. I could already tell this plan was going to be trouble. I would have to find a way to look into what was going on back home while I was out trying to find information on Amy. My paranoia was probably ridiculous, we weren’t national news, but I still didn’t want us suddenly being on the police’s radar.
I met Jason at the car, and we grabbed our bags and headed over to the room, getting another lucky break with a room at the far end of the building. So far I had managed to keep any of the motel people from seeing Jason. They would probably want to charge me more for having him in the room. I stuck the keycard in its slot, and the light turned green, letting us in. We were assaulted by cold air and the smell of cleaning fluids.
“Oh, that is wonderful,” Jason said, entering the room behind me and dropping his bag onto the king sized bed.
The difference between this motel and the last was apparent in every detail. The TV was a small flat screen, and the walls were painted a bright white. There was even a painting hung behind the bed, depicting Mt. Rushmore in various shades of blue. I couldn’t help but agree with him. I had gotten used to stale rooms with stained floors, this place was like a palace in comparison. I dropped my bag next to his and flopped down on the bed, breathing in the clean smell.
“Okay, maybe it is a slight upgrade.”
Jason laughed, and it was just one more thing that pointed out what a good mood he was in, despite all the crap we had gone through the night before. He laid down next to me, turning on his side to look at my face.
“You know we should talk about it,” he said, propping his head in his hand.
“Talk about what?”
In all my worries about motel assistant managers and guys on motorcycles, I had completely forgotten about our looming conversation.
“Talk about last night,” he replied, looking at me like I was an idiot, “last night before all the stuff with the guy in the woods.”
Oh yeah. That. I was so not ready to have this conversation, but it looked like we wouldn’t start our search until we had hashed it out.
“I don’t know what to say, Jase,” I began, giving him a pained expression, “it’s not really something that I can deal with right now.”
“Why not?” he was as close to whining as he ever got, and yet I found it endearing.
I was so screwed.
“There’s too much going on. If you hadn’t noticed, I’m basically a freaking zombie and last night I ate a guy.”
It slipped out before I could stop myself. Oh well. We both knew what had gone down in those woods, even if we were trying to pretend we didn’t.
“I don’t care, Trish,” he said, his arm that wasn’t supporting his head reaching out to play with the hem of my old Book Barn shirt that was the last clean t-shirt I owned at the moment.
“You should care,” I replied, knowing him well enough to see that it really did freak him out.
He was getting better at hiding his reactions. That worried me. I was trying so hard not to destroy anything that was fundamentally Jase. Even if it meant pretending like I didn’t love him in that way. Eventually he would wear me down. God, I hoped that didn’t happen today.
“Look, can we talk about this later?” I pleaded, hoping later would turn into never.
He sighed and laid down on his back, “I’d rather talk about it now.”
We laid in silence that I was unwilling to break, no matter how badly I wanted to.
“Fine,” he finally ground out, his good mood gone.
“I’m not good for you, Jase,” I said, almost in a whisper, “I’m not good for anything until we figure this out.”
He went from being angry to being so sad he looked almost broken in the span of one statement.
“Maybe after,” I added, despite myself.
This was not the direction I wanted this conversation to go, but I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t see him like this. It wasn’t worth it.
He looked over at my face for a moment, and the determination there was scary in its intensity. I shouldn’t have given him hope, it would only end up hurting us. I went back to repressing, something that I was well versed in.
“I’m gonna take the car and head over to the college,” I said, indicating the conversation was over.
The mood in the room was still stifling, but Jason seemed willing to move on for the moment.
“I’ll walk around town, see if I can dig anything up,” he replied, standing up and offering me a hand.
I let him pull me up, still repressing when we ended up an inch apart, standing together for a little too long. He finally took a step back and handed me the keycard.
“I’ll try to be back before you,” he said, “let’s say by 6ish so you can buy me dinner.”
He grinned at me, rubbing a hand over his scant hair, and just like that, we were back to normal.
I gave him my assurance that I would make it back in time to let him into the room, and he left, closing the door behind himself. I took a deep breath and grabbed my wallet and car keys. I needed to get going if I was going to keep that promise.