Rory woke the next morning to discover a note on her nightstand. Alex had gone to the grocery store and hadn’t wanted to wake her as she “looked so peaceful” and he “knew she was so worn out from everything.” She welcomed his absence; she needed time to think. After showering and dressing in fresh jeans and a t-shirt, she headed downstairs, sure now that last night had been hasty and emotional. What she needed to do now was talk Alex into taking her home.
Wandering the house, Rory thought that she could hear the echoes of her childhood as she ran through the hallways with Julie, whom she often brought with her for company, both of them pretending not to hear their parents scolding them for such unladylike behavior.
She found Alex’s game room. Even back then it was never a playroom. Now, it was full of the sort of toys that men liked: a pool table, darts, masculine leather couches, and a plasma television set mounted on the wall. The air hockey table was gone, as was the foosball. She remembered her brother Robert playing a few games with Alex, and what stood out was Alex’s absolute hatred of losing.
No! You cheated! That’s the only way you can win, Robert Haverly, by cheating! You don’t know how to play fair!
Robert, a year older and a good foot taller, never gave Alex’s tantrums notice. Like Rory, he possessed a sharp tongue and a tendency toward bluntness. Go cry upstairs to your momma, Alex. I’m not wasting my time listening to you.
Alex always stormed off when dismissed by Robert.
He’s gonna pay you back, she told him, glancing up from the book she was reading.
Robert just laughed. What’s he going to do, sis? Beat me up? And she had laughed, too. Her brother had been perfect: handsome, intelligent, and undoubtedly Ivy-league material. Just a few months later, he turned sixteen and bought a used Ford Mustang with money that he’d saved from his summer job.
Its tires were slashed a week later.
Impossible, Rory told herself at the memory. I’m making things up. It was a coincidence, nothing more. Slashed tires aren’t anything. But she went straight to Alex’s room and, without pause, began rummaging through his overnight bag for the charger. The bag contained nothing but two shirts, a pair of shorts, and two paperbacks from a popular author. There wasn’t a single personal item to be found. No toothbrush, no comb, no cologne. No underwear. No socks.
She yanked the dresser drawers open and discovered that they were stocked with enough clothing to see him through a few weeks. Everything smelled freshly laundered, despite his claim that the house had been closed up for nearly a year. A complete set of luggage was in his closet.
For the first time, she checked her closet. It held several sundresses with matching sandals lined up underneath them. All dresses, no jeans. Not a single pair of pants. Not a single pair of sneakers. Her dresser was filled with intimate lacy bits of lingerie, all of them expensive silks and satins, pale pinks and light yellows. Innocent pastels with lace. Everything was her size. He planned this. He planned my coming up here. She pushed the drawer shut and backed away, staring as she tried to process what she had seen. He was going to bring me up here. He never intended to let her go. He was going to… what? Seduce her? Try to win her over? Think of this as the ultimate escape from reality, he’d said when she admired the renovations. He still wanted her. He wanted a living doll, one that he could dress up and – she thought of the lingerie – undress at will.
The slam of the front door startled her. Alex was back. Hastily closing her closet and the drawers, she hurried down to him.