Authors: Jennifer Echols
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary Women, #General, #Paranormal, #Fiction
“A diet soda would be great.” Holly wished Kaylee would go with her to greet Elijah. But she was a big girl and didn’t need her friend for support when she talked to a cute guy. Besides, Kaylee probably had superspy stuff to attend to over the phone.
And when Holly looked back at Elijah again, she had to admit that she wasn’t sorry to lose Kaylee for the moment. She’d had the idea that Kaylee might be interested in Shane, who really was adorable if you were into midcentury kitsch. But Kaylee might be interested in Elijah instead. Holly had no claim on him. Holly didn’t think Kaylee would make a move on Elijah when she knew Holly was attracted to him—Kaylee wasn’t like that—but stranger things had happened.
Plus, Kaylee was a striking platinum blonde.
Holly suddenly hoped Kaylee took a long time deciding what she wanted from the bar.
When Holly looked toward Elijah again, he was draining his beer. She squinted through the undulating darkness but still couldn’t make out the label on the bottle at that distance.
Then Elijah said something to Shane, but he watched
. He cut his eyes and motioned with his head toward the back of the club, indicating he wanted to meet her there.
She jumped up, nearly knocking over her chair, way too eager for a girl playing it cool. She slipped off her cardigan and pulled at her top to make sure her cleavage showed, smoothed her curls behind her shoulders, and dove in. Her showgirl friends ground their hips against hers as she swam across the dance floor. Finally she crawled up the opposite bank, freeing herself from the grip of a trapeze artist who worked at the casino next door to Holly’s. And there was Elijah, standing beside the last table, waiting for her.
Seeing him alone in the dark, surrounded by flashing lights—walking close enough to him to have a conversation with him over the booming bass line—she could have sworn she warmed ten degrees. The heat shot up her arms and spread across her chest as she smiled at him. “Hey, stranger! What’s with all the secre—”
“Do you have some Mentafixol left?” he bit out.
Holly took a step backward in surprise, looking around to make sure no one had overheard—which would have been impossible, with a stack of speakers nearby. She couldn’t hear him clearly over the physical pulse of the bass, but for a split second she thought he’d mentioned Mentafixol. Nobody was supposed to know about MAD. Yes, she knew about
MAD, but her parents had just spilled that to her a few hours ago. It hadn’t occurred to her that
might know about
“What did you say?” she exclaimed.
“Do you have any Mentafixol left? I take it too, but this time when I went to the health center at the casino to get my prescription refilled, the pharmacy was out.”
At least, this is what Holly thought Elijah had said. But the pharmacy could not be
of Mentafixol. The pharmacy was never
. Her sanity, her whole life depended on it. “Did you say the pharmacy is
“Yes.” This was the first thing he’d said that Holly understood completely. And now that she examined him up close, she realized he might really be having that exacerbation her parents had warned her about. He looked feverish. His tight black T-shirt stuck to his pecs with sweat, and his wavy hairline shone. The pharmacy was definitely out.
“But how did you know
take Mentafixol?” she asked. Had everyone in high school and college known about this all along? Did everyone at the casino know? She would die.
He said something that Holly didn’t catch.
“What?” she asked, feeling foolish for not being able to hear him at all, and wondering why he seemed to hear her perfectly without watching her lips.
“I just knew,” he shouted. “The pharmacy said they should get a new shipment soon. They’ve been saying that for two days. In the meantime, I’ve come down off the drug, and you know what that’s like.”
“No, I don’t.” Holly shuddered. She was very careful to take her pill every night so she would never experience those symptoms again. Even if she hadn’t been careful herself, her parents had been hawkish about her medicine while she lived with them. Now Kaylee reminded her to take it. God willing, that pill would stave off the symptoms of her disease for the rest of her life.
“I’m asking you for a pill,” he said, “just one pill, to tide me over until the pharmacy gets a shipment in a few days. Then you’ll have some more and I’ll have some more, and we can go back to pretending everything’s fine.”
This talk of the pharmacy running out of Mentafixol scared the hell out of Holly. She had three days’ worth of pills left in the prescription bottle in her purse. She took the pills with her everywhere so she’d always have one available. If she gave one to Elijah, she’d have two days’ worth left. What if the health center still hadn’t received a shipment on day three? What if the day she’d given away to Elijah was the very day her MAD caused her to be committed, or—worse—made her hurt another person?
Then again, what if she didn’t give Elijah a pill, and he got committed or hurt another person tomorrow? She would never forgive herself. And if their positions were switched, she hoped Elijah would give
“I would,” he said.
She blinked at him in the flashing pink darkness. “What? You would what?”
“Do it for you.”
Holly’s heart raced as the thought struck her that Elijah could read her mind
It was all this talk of going crazy. She was paranoid about being crazy, but she
crazy, not as long as she took her Mentafixol. She talked herself down this way, breathing light and fast, looking into Elijah’s green eyes.
Then she glanced around stealthily again. Someone might mistake a pill passed between them as a drug buy. Or someone might discover she was insane. Satisfied that no one was watching them, she reached into her purse, shook a shiny gold pill out of her prescription bottle, and held it out to Elijah in her palm.
He took it carefully with his thumb and forefinger, pinching her skin ever so gently, a pleasant tickle that shot across her hand and up her arm.
Then he looked at her and opened his mouth to thank her, she supposed. But something happened as she watched him.
He paused, lips parted.
Against her will, her gaze flitted to his lips. He was
but now was not the time to get involved with him, when they were both struggling to enter the adult world with a disabling mental disease.
However, back in ninth grade, what would it have hurt for her parents to allow them to go to the prom together? She could have spent the night laughing with Elijah and stealing kisses from him. She pictured what it would be like to kiss him now.
Still holding the pill in his fingers, he reached up to his mouth. She thought he would swallow the pill dry. But when he paused, she realized he was only touching the pill to his bottom lip.
His pupils expanded almost to the rims of his green irises. Wide. Wanting.
Electricity rushed through her. She didn’t dare breathe.
Then his other warm hand slipped around her neck. He pulled her close and kissed her deeply, sweeping his soft tongue inside her mouth.
A shove tore her away from Elijah and sent her reeling into the table and chairs behind her. The edge of a tabletop slashed across her back, but years of maneuvering in high heels enabled her to spin toward her aggressor.
As Holly regained her balance, she realized Rob had shoved her and Elijah at once, pushing them away from each other. Now Rob turned his back on her and moved toward Elijah with a balled fist. Elijah still faced in the other direction. He couldn’t see the fist coming at the back of his head. Holly opened her mouth to shriek a warning.
Inexplicably, Elijah ducked.
Rob’s dense body followed the unchecked momentum of his fist. He crashed into the empty table behind Elijah. Chairs bounced against the wall. Rob came up holding one of them. Time seemed to stop as he stood with the heavy metal chair above him like a movie monster rising from the sea and towering over Tokyo.
Elijah was taller than Rob, but he was dwarfed by Rob plus chair. He crouched underneath with nowhere to go. Holly screamed as she watched Elijah move forward to grab Rob around the middle. She could tell this wouldn’t work. The chair would make contact with Elijah before he reached Rob.
Rob brought the chair down—and stopped only inches into the swing.
Elijah tackled him. They both fell into the tables and chairs. Holly danced backward as Rob’s chair, shaken loose by Elijah’s hit, tumbled toward her across the floor.
“Break it up!” bellowed a six-foot-four Diana Ross advancing toward them. Holly teetered on her heels and got caught in a wave of brawny transvestite bouncers grabbing Elijah and hustling him out the back door of the club. He halted suddenly in the corridor, bending down to pick something up from the floor, and Cher nearly tripped over him. Elijah put his hand to his mouth—he’d found Holly’s pill where it had rolled on the dirty floor and had swallowed it dry,
—but the trannies mistook his hesitation for another attempt to tackle Rob. They muscled him out the door and didn’t stop until they and Elijah and Holly all burst into the dark parking lot behind the club.
Holly glanced back once and saw Rob in the corridor, struggling to follow them, face pinched with rage, and little Marilyn Monroe reaching up to shove his chest. The door swung closed, blocking the image out.
“Sorry, honey.” Diana took Holly by the shoulders to steady her. “If you’re going to start fights, you need to learn to duck and cover better than that.”
“Right.” Holly sighed with relief in the hot June night. The bass beat, distant and muffled, boomed against the cinder-block wall like a dragon pounding on the castle gate.
Diana and Cher and Elijah stood around her, panting, in the parking lot full of cars. Rob’s cop car occupied a dark corner next to the fence. Funny—last night she’d found it strange that he drove it when off duty and out of uniform instead of buying another car. Now that he’d stalked her at her apartment, then followed her to this club and attacked Elijah, it seemed less strange and more Loser.
“Holly,” Elijah called. He leaned with his shoulder against the wall of the building, breathing more laboriously every second. He shivered and crossed his arms.
“I’m beginning to see why Rob calls you Dangermouse,” she joked, stepping around Diana to meet Elijah at the wall.
Elijah gave her a lopsided grin. “I think it’s meant to be ironic. I’m not dangerous.” He certainly didn’t
dangerous anymore with his wavy hair falling into his vacant eyes. He seemed to space out before he completed his sentence.
“Are you okay?” Holly asked suspiciously. “You look sick. Did Rob hit you?” Holly hadn’t seen Rob land a punch, but it had all happened so fast, from conversation to kiss to attack in less than sixty seconds.
“No,” Elijah said weakly. “I had a beer, so—”
“You drank a beer before you took a pill? A
beer with alcohol?”
“I doubted I’d get a pill,” Elijah said sheepishly. “But without the pill I felt like I’d stuck my finger in a light socket. I drank the beer to calm down. Holly, listen—”
“We’ve got to get you home before that pill hits your system with that beer.” Holly turned to get help from Diana and Cher. Even better, now Shane had come outside. He chatted with the transvestites, hands in the pockets of his jeans. She started to call to him.
Elijah grabbed her forearm, hard. “Listen to me,” he hissed.
She turned back to him in surprise.
His green eyes were wide in drunken earnest. “You’ve got to get out of here. Someone in Glitterati can control minds.”
“Really?” she breathed, heart breaking for him. When her parents suggested he was having an exacerbation, they hadn’t been kidding.
Elijah nodded, and his eyes lost focus again. “Usually I can tell whose thoughts I’m reading. This time Rob was about to hit me, so I couldn’t concentrate. But this powerful
flew right past my head and changed the decisions somebody made.” He splayed his hand and turned it in the air in front of him, as if changing another person’s decisions worked like unscrewing a lightbulb. “A mind-control thing.” He watched his hand curiously.
“Okay,” Holly chirped. “Thanks for letting me know.” Since he seemed absorbed in his own hand, she backed a few steps away. She turned to Shane, who gentlemanly flicked a chrome lighter to Cher’s cigarette while arguing with Diana over the relative merits of early Motown versus rockabilly. Holly cleared her throat. “Excuse me, Shane.”
Shane looked around at her. She was taken aback at how handsome he was, even without the early 1960s rock star tux. And she was baffled all over again that Kaylee didn’t go after him.
“Miss Starr.” He grinned. “We missed you when you left last night. Come over and jump out our bathroom window anytime.”
She made a face at him. “I didn’t know what to do about Rob. Something told me he wouldn’t take no for an answer, and I didn’t want to drag you and Elijah into it.”
“That worked well,” Shane said.
She glanced briefly back at Elijah, who had given up examining his hand because now he needed it to hold himself up against the wall. “Can you get Elijah home? He’s not supposed to drink on Mentafixol, and he’s acting a little loco.” She circled her finger at her ear.
“He had one beer,” Shane protested. “What could one beer hurt?”
An enormous weight slammed into Holly’s back. She reeled and grabbed Shane to keep herself upright. Elijah had fallen on her.
“I’ve got him.” Cher hurried around them and pulled Elijah’s limp body off Holly. “Diana, give me a hand here. Shane, where’s your car?” Diana bustled over to take Elijah’s legs, and the two giant starlets hoisted him under their arms.
Holly followed the others around the side of the building to the muscle car she’d seen parked in the guys’ driveway. Then she bent over Elijah’s supine body in the backseat. His face was slack, as dead as she must have been that stupid night as a high school sophomore, when she drank a few sips of beer on top of Mentafixol, and anything could have happened to her.
“Getting in?” Shane asked from the driver’s seat. Red and orange lights from another nightclub flashed and reflected in the windshield as he waited for her answer.
Holly wanted to help Elijah home and take care of him. Kaylee wouldn’t want her to go on such an adventure alone, but maybe Holly could argue Kaylee into going with her, and this would throw Kaylee together with Shane.
There was no way, Holly decided. Her parents would find out and have a fit. If Elijah had wanted a relationship with her, if he’d shown any real interest in her at all, defying her parents and jeopardizing her career in magic might be worth it. As it was, all she had from him was a request for a pill and one crazy kiss, with an emphasis on
“How will you get him inside the house by yourself?” she asked uneasily. “And how will you handle Rob when he comes home?”
“I’m stronger than I look. There’s more to me than meets the eye.” Shane turned all the way around with his elbow on the back of the seat. He looked like an impatient young father scolding his children on their family road trip down Route 66. But then his eyes met hers, and his expression softened. “I’ve got him, Holly, really.”
She took one last wistful glance at Elijah, his arm limp across his chest in the rock band T-shirt. Poor Elijah.
Then she stepped back, closed the heavy door as gently as she could, and retreated to the sidewalk in front of the nightclub. The car started with a shout of unmuffled, eight-cylinder exuberance, backed out of the lot, and roared down the black street lined with glittering signs for other nightclubs, with other secret meetings and close encounters going down inside.
“Mmm, mmm, mmm.” Diana shook her head. “I wish I could get men to fight like that over
Holly looked down into her cleavage. “I think it’s the bikini top. I didn’t get a chance to go home and change after work.”
“Girl,” said Cher, “if I had real tits like that, I’d be wearing my bikini top to Walmart.”
“These old things?” Holly hooked a finger in the center of her top, pulled it taut, and peered curiously inside.
Diana guffawed. “I’d wear my bikini top with my candy striper apron down at the hospital as a service to the community. Give everybody the will to live.” She batted Holly’s hand away from her top. “Stop that and come on inside before you get us all arrested. As long as you’re standing between the two of us, you might get thrown in the wrong tank. Come on.”
The three of them linked arms, with Holly in the middle. She felt out of place more because she was shorter by eight inches than because she was the only genuine girl. But when they reached the front door, they stopped. Rob glared through the glass at them with a scowl on his face and his hands on his hips.
Cher stamped her platform shoe. “Why didn’t Marilyn kick that asshole out?”
“I told her not to,” Diana said. “He’s a cop. I don’t want to make a cop mad. Half the people in here have a pocket full of ecstasy.” She looked down at Holly. “I
kick him out, for you.”
Wouldn’t that be nice! But Rob really might cause problems for Glitterati—he was that petty, Holly was learning—and she didn’t want anyone to get in trouble on her account.
“Thanks, but no thanks.” She patted Diana’s arm. “I have to face the music sooner or later.” She pulled the door open.
“We’re right here behind you if you need us, girl,” Cher called, and Holly was glad Cher had said this within Rob’s hearing. Rob loomed in front of her, blocking her way into the party.
And he wobbled a bit. She thought this was an optical illusion of the pink light strobing across his face—but no, he alternately swayed on his feet, then pulled himself up straighter to look more imperious, then swayed again. She’d thought she smelled liquor on him last night. Tonight he’d outdone himself.
She should have told him off rather than running away last night. Now she needed to handle him like the diva she was not. She picked up her feet and put on a pout as she approached him. “I’m here with Kaylee,” she shouted above the music. “Not you.”
“I didn’t see you with Kaylee,” he yelled back, too loud, too close to her ear. “I saw Dangermouse ramming his tongue down your throat.”
“It’s none of your business,” Holly said. “I don’t want to go out with you anymore. Stop hanging around my apartment. Don’t follow me. And don’t take this out on Elijah when you get home. You have no reason to be mad at him, or at me either.” She tried to step around Rob.
As she passed, he grabbed her forearm. “Why don’t we call it a night?” he growled, wilting her curls with a cloud of alcoholic breath. “You can make it up to me.”
“Ask Marilyn to call you a taxi.” Holly nodded toward the superstar at the door, who winked at her. “I didn’t come with you, Rob, and I’m not leaving.” She flounced away, half expecting him to grab her again.
But he didn’t. Miraculously she made it all the way into the center of the throbbing melee, where Kaylee was doing the Cupid Shuffle with a Celine Dion the size of a linebacker. Holly nearly hopped up and down on her high heels with glee at the prospect of dancing the night away with Kaylee. Every night onstage at the casino, she twirled and circled and presented. She toned her muscles with exercises in ballet and yoga classes. She didn’t do enough
First things first, though. She boogied up to Kaylee and stepped to the left with her, then to the right. “Where were you?” she shouted. “Rob tried to kill Elijah!”
“I wouldn’t have let you get in any trouble,” Kaylee yelled back calmly.
Holly knew this was true. Kaylee had her reasons for doing what she did. As Holly had surmised earlier, Kaylee’s phone call must have been official casino business.
Holly danced, concerned about nothing but her own body. Rob hung around, lurking at the edge of the crowd, but he never tried to approach her. He watched them dance from the periphery of their circling arms and legs.
Late that night, the crowd still hadn’t thinned. Kaylee took a turn in the rest room, and Holly was left doing the electric slide with a group of ladies from a librarians’ convention who were way too old for this club. As the whole double line of them leaned to the front and turned to the right, facing the corridor where Holly’s encounter with Elijah had taken place, she noticed Rob staggering toward the back door.
She leaped out of line, glancing around for Kaylee’s white-blond head or any transvestite bouncer to help her. All she saw was the tangle of dancers in shifting colors. Rob might have shoved his keys into the ignition of his sheriff’s car by now. Angry as she was at him, she couldn’t let him drive drunk. He might cause a wreck and kill someone, all because he’d tied one on, upset over her.
She skittered out the back door and into the parking lot. The brake lights of his car glowed already. She dashed the last twenty yards across the asphalt and knocked on the trunk to keep him from backing over her. Rounding the car, she conjured up her lecture. It should be persuasive but not patronizing, which would only make him madder. She opened the passenger door.
He looked up at her with too-bright eyes, watery at the edges, and turned off the engine. Good.
And then he yanked her into the car.
The passenger door sagged behind her but didn’t shut completely. She poised to spring right back out of the car again. But he held her with a hard grip on her forearm.