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Sunday night, Holly climbed onto the bus outside the casino, collapsed into a choice window seat, and waited to depart. Her parents had offered, as they did every night, to drop her off at her apartment in their limo, but she’d refused. She liked to get away from them sometimes, and Kaylee too, just to be independent for twenty minutes. She looked forward to the bus and her nightly routine of watching the enormous buildings and flashing signs and scantily clad workers and tourists on the Strip gradually calm into normal people, modest houses, well-kept cactus lawns like in any desert city—just as most Vegas performers hit the casino stages in their twenties but settled down to calmer jobs and families and marriages as they got older.
Holly’s life wouldn’t follow this pattern. She dwelled on this sad fact tonight because, as Elijah had predicted, she hadn’t been able to refill her prescription for Mentafixol. She was twenty-four hours off the drug now and feeling the first sparkles of insanity coming back. She had every confidence the casino pharmacy would receive a shipment of the drug tomorrow. But the pesky sparkles needled her about her disability.
She’d wondered all weekend how Elijah was doing. After missing his Friday and Saturday doses, he’d be feeling mighty funny right about now. If his delusions were like hers, he would be barely conscious of objects in his mind and suddenly, out the corner of his eye, they would move.
Uh-oh. Here was a more serious hallucination. Elijah was on her
bus. She blinked several times. No, it really was Elijah, bounding down the aisle with his eyes on her. As the motor’s idling monotone grumbled into a roar and the bus pulled away from the casino, he swung around one of the poles in the center of the aisle like a seasoned bus rider, or a stripper, and slid into the seat next to her.
“Elijah!” she exclaimed.
“Hey, Holly,” he said smoothly, not the least bit surprised, as if he’d known he would find her here.
“What are you doing on my bus?”
“Oh, is this your bus?” he asked. “Like, your personal bus.” He cut his green eyes sideways at her. A few days’ growth of stubble had turned him into a movie hero two-thirds of the way through an action flick, dangerous and haggard. He could make anything seem sexy, even waiting for his crazy pills to come in at the pharmacy.
“I’m a diva,” she said. “I like to be chauffeured.” With one hand she gestured gracefully to the entirety of the bus as if it were her own magic carpet. “But that would be cool, if it were my personal bus that I didn’t have to share with other riders, and it would take me wherever I wanted to go. Actually I wouldn’t need such a big bus for this. It could be smaller and more environmentally responsible if it wasn’t built to hold all these other people.” She shot herself in the head with her fingers. “Wait, there is already a name for this incredible invention of my imagination and it is called a car.”
“Which neither of us can drive,” Elijah said, “because we’re on—”
“Mentafixol,” they said simultaneously, lowering their voices.
He chuckled. “I try to get rides from Shane or Rob. I won’t be bumming rides from Rob in the future.”
She shifted in her seat and let her brown curls fall forward to graze his shoulder as she said, “I’m so sorry about everything that happened Thursday night.”
“It wasn’t your fault,” Elijah said, sounding sincere. “I’m the one who’s sorry. I dragged you to Glitterati. I—”
He was on the cusp of a mea culpa about that kiss. Watching him,
she smiled, ready for anything, even a sudden admission that the kiss had meant something.
He skipped over that part. Running his hand through his wavy hair, he went on, “And I may have said something odd to you while we were there. I was feeling really crazy.” He looked past her out the bus window, as if revisiting that strange episode in his mind. “Rob moved out the next morning, which was for the best. We should have run him off for firing a gun at the ceiling, or for chasing you out the bathroom window. Shane and I treat our women better than that.”
“Do you, now,” Holly mused. He was only kidding, of course, but the macho crack about “our women” turned her on despite herself. She would have loved for Elijah to feel possessive about her like that for real.
But he’d lost interest in her already. He scowled at her right thigh. Poor thing. He was trying his best to carry on intelligent conversation, but he must be feeling awfully mental adolescent dysfunctiony. She would gladly have offered him another Mentafixol if she’d had one left herself.
Suddenly he looked straight into her eyes and burst out, “What were you doing with Rob?”
She sat back in surprise. “I—”
“I could not have been more astounded if he’d walked through the front door of my house with Queen Elizabeth. Or a llama.”
“A llama?” Holly asked. “Thanks a lot.”
“You and Rob aren’t a good match,” Elijah persisted.
“Obviously I agreed with you by the time I jumped out your
Elijah opened both hands palms-up on his jeans, acceding the
“Last week I was walking through the casino a few minutes before
my dad’s show,” Holly explained, “headed for the sushi place. Do you like sushi?”
“Love sushi,” Elijah said with gusto.
“I comped them tickets to the show one time, and now they serve me the ends they cut off California rolls whenever I come in. Only seventy-five calories or so. Tides me over until my next helping of edamame.”
Elijah gave her a skeptical look. “You’re counting calories?” His eyes flitted away from Holly’s face, down to her exposed flat tummy, and settled halfway up, on her bespangled boobs. Holly was used to this. Men could never help it. At least he had the decency to look embarrassed as he forced his eyes back up to her face.
“Always.” She may have sat up a bit straighter to poke her breasts out. Men’s lustful looks were rote to her, but with Elijah it felt new and exciting, as if she were still a teenager. “Anyway, I was walking through the casino, thinking how—”
ironic it was that the gamblers she passed undressed her with their eyes, tossing off the wisps of clothes she wore, when in reality she was a twenty-one-year-old virgin
“—I’d been invited to a graduation after-party and sadly didn’t have a boyfriend to go with, when Rob appeared. Just walked up and started talking to me, and he was charming, and smart, and—”
She paused when she noticed Elijah’s expression. He was scowling again, this time not at her thigh but at her, as if he were jealous of Rob. This thought sent a fresh chill of pleasure across her skin. She didn’t want him to think Rob was her type, though. Especially when she increasingly suspected Elijah was her type, MAD and all.
She finished with a shrug. “I don’t know. He was friendly at the beginning. I took him to meet my parents and he charmed them. I took him to meet Kaylee and he charmed her.”
“He charmed Kaylee?” Elijah repeated. “I don’t know her that well, but word around the casino is, nobody charms Kaylee.”
Holly nodded. “She said as much after I jumped out your window. She wondered how Rob had won her over.”
“It aaaaaall comes back to the bathroom window,” Elijah said
sagely. “Disappearing into the black abyss. Magical illusions are metaphors for sex, you know.”
Holly watched his lips and wished he would repeat that. She swallowed.
“I majored in psychology,” he explained with a grin.
“Psychology! No wonder you’re working as a carpenter.” Instantly she regretted that joke, which had come out as more of an insult. Who was she to talk about college grads with blue-collar jobs? At least his work uniform didn’t involve sequins.
He laughed, making her feel better. “I haven’t even looked for a psychology job or applied to grad school or anything. I’ve been thinking an opportunity was going to fall in my lap this summer. I should probably do some research into why I feel that way. I’m sure I’m repressing something.”
“Speaking of which,” she piped up, “since you’re clearly a student of human nature, how’d you end up with Rob as a roommate, instead of Queen Elizabeth, or a llama?”
“Actually, it sounds a lot like your story,” Elijah said. “Last week I had just re-signed the lease on the house—”
“Oh, that’s your house?” Holly asked, impressed. His rental still wasn’t the responsible home ownership she’d imagined for Rob, but it was a mature and sexy something.
“My mom and I always lived in an apartment, so . . .” He glanced at her and then looked away, and Holly recognized that sequence. Everybody was expected to understand hard times, and doing without when you were a kid, and wanting more as an adult—except Holly, whom everyone assumed to be a rich spoiled brat. She kept smiling.
“Last year one of my original roommates moved in with her boyfriend,” he said. “That’s when I found Shane to replace her. Or Shane found me. Then, last week, my other roommate graduated and split for California. I was at work, repairing the baseboard in the Peacock Room, wondering where I could get another new roommate to share the rent with Shane and me, when Rob approached me out of the blue.”
The similarity between their stories was strange. But of course
it was only coincidence—there was no other explanation for it. Rob couldn’t read minds. Besides, Holly was more interested in what Elijah had said before. “You had a girl roommate?”
He nodded. “I did.”
“But that’s not all she was.” Holly was jealous of this strange girl who’d lived in the same house with Elijah and had still preferred to move in with her boyfriend. How could this be? How could any chick prefer any guy to Elijah? The girl must have found out about Elijah’s MAD somehow.
Color crept into Elijah’s face until he was blushing almost as red as his shirt. He explained haltingly, “That’s really all she was. I’ve never had a girlfriend. Because of the MAD. I guess I don’t want to drag somebody into that. I don’t want her to have to take care of me. You know what I mean?”
In answer, Holly slid her hand onto his knee. She knew exactly what he meant, and she wished she could simultaneously share her pain with him, and take his away.
But the instant her fingertips touched his jeans, the motion transformed into something else entirely. Heat shot into her own face as she realized he would probably mistake her touch for a come- on, and that this was okay with her.
She said quietly, “I didn’t want to break our dates in ninth grade. My mom made me. I was hoping that came across in the way I wrote the text.”
He looked down at her hand on his knee and shook his head. Then he squeezed his eyes shut, as if she had hurt him very, very badly when she broke their date. Almost as badly as it had hurt her.
She was probably reading him wrong, or he was having some horrible side effect of Mentafixol withdrawal.
He sniffed, opened his eyes, and raised his head. “It’s just as well,” he told her with a wan smile. “I came down with MAD that night.”
“Me too!” she exclaimed.
He widened his eyes at her.
She hunched lower in the bus seat, as if that made her voice
softer. “What does that mean?” she squeaked.
His brow furrowed. “Well, we’re probably about the same age.”
“My birthday’s at the end of July.”
“See, mine’s July twenty-first. And when this shit went down,
we were fourteen years old, which is about when people get MAD if they’re going to get it. It was waiting inside both of us. My mom told me all we needed was a strong emotion to let it out.”
“You were my strong emotion,” Holly said woodenly. She was full of so much emotion now, so much anger at her parents for keeping her away from Elijah, that she could hardly feel anything at all, as if her soul were squashed flat under the weight of their betrayal.
Elijah didn’t know that, though, or want to know. She was having a conversation with him about their doomed puppy love, not confessing the darkest secrets of her insanity. Suddenly she felt uncharacteristically self-conscious in her sequined bikini. Bikini and crazy did not mix.
But when she looked over at him, he was watching her face, not her cleavage.
“I mean,” she said, “when my parents said I couldn’t go out with you, thats what triggered my MAD.”
“When I got your text breaking it off, that’s what triggered mine.”
They shared a long look. Holly gazed into Elijah’s eyes and imagined seven years were passing between them, an entire young adulthood of what could have been. His solid knee under her fingertips turned to fire.
Still watching her, he leaned back against the seat, breaking the spell. “So, you’re off work tomorrow night?” he asked off-handedly.
“Right.” She tried to sound nonchalant herself, rather than elated that he was feeling around for a way they could see each other again. “There’s no magic on Monday. How’d you know?”
Elijah shrugged. “The billboard over Interstate 15.”
“That billboard is the bane of my existence.” She realized how this sounded. “Not that I care you know what my day off is. I mean, not that I mind.”
Unlike Rob, who would have insulted her at this point, Elijah actually helped her out of the conversational hole she was digging for herself. “Big plans for your day off ?”
“Small plans. I make the rounds of the other casinos to see their shows. Ha, exactly what I invited you to seven years ago.” She knew she shouldn’t pursue their friendship. Two people off their medication for MAD were surely more than twice as dangerous as one. But she felt a connection with him, and she simply couldn’t let it end. “Would you like to go with me? Tomorrow? To see some magic?”
“I’m off tomorrow, too,” he said. “I’m going out of town.”
“Oh” was all she said, sheepishly. The darkness in his voice advised her not to ask where he was going.
“But thank you,” he said. “It’s very nice of you to ask.”
“Sure,” she said faintly, wishing he would follow that up with one sentence more, an invitation to take her out the day after. He didn’t. Her too-vivid imagination had led her to believe he might still be interested in her after all these years. He wasn’t. As casually as possible, she removed her hand from his knee and settled it in her own lap.
She empathized just a little with Rob, who liked her more than she liked him, and didn’t want to take no for an answer. She thought about reaching over, sliding both hands into Elijah’s hair, and kissing him.
He touched his lip.
Her startled heart kicked into overdrive, then checked itself and powered down. The spell was broken now. The newness had worn off. They weren’t surrounded by Glitterati’s pumping music and blinking lights and transvestites, and she realized he wasn’t touching his lip because she was thinking about kissing him. Instead, the reverse was true. She was thinking about kissing him because he
kept touching his lip. She should buy him some lip balm.
He snapped her out of her thoughts by asking, “We’re coming up
on your stop, right?”
She checked the nearest street sign out the window in the dark.
“We are.” She wondered how he knew where she lived. He must have come across her address in the employee directory. At any rate, he wanted to get rid of her, and she didn’t blame him. People with MAD shouldn’t hang out together. Slipping her arm through the strap of her purse, she said, “I meant to ask you how you’re doing without . . . you know.”
“So far so good.” He met her gaze head-on, but something in his tone let her know he was far gone, and it wasn’t good. However, if he wouldn’t tell her about it, she couldn’t help him. She couldn’t help him anyway, she realized. Not without her own prescription refilled. And it was time she let go of her fantasies about Elijah and got off this bus.
In anticipation of her stop, she scooted to the edge of the seat. “You know what? You never answered my question. Your house is in the other direction. What are you doing on my bus?”
He looked slowly and deliberately around the bus: at the woman muttering to herself in the very back, a middle-aged couple talking excitedly about their winnings a few seats ahead of them, a dealer and a waitress in uniform near the front. Finally he leaned close to her—so close to her shoulder that awareness rushed across her all over again—and whispered, “I’m kidnapping you.”
They stared at each other for what seemed like a long time while the air between them vibrated with shared energy. Holly had the slightest suspicion that Elijah was serious, and that he was crazy. She didn’t want to be kidnapped by a crazy Elijah. Neither should she want to be pretend kidnapped by a sane Elijah. Almost against her will, she found herself saying, “That sounds like fun.”
Just as in Glitterati three nights before, his pupils dilated, expanding to the very edges of his intense green irises before bouncing back ever so slightly.
Her body stiffened with shock at a movement from the bulging pocket of his jeans, where he’d slipped his hand.
“No, Holly,” he said gently, “I’m serious. Don’t move, don’t scream, but I have a gun, and it’s pointed at you.”