Amie Franco is sitting in the front seat of my car and I’m too afraid to make a move because of the gun on her lap. It’s not pointed at me, but it’s there.
“Turn right up here,” says pointing to a side street up ahead. She ties a bandanna under her chin and slips a pair of dark sunglasses over her eyes, even though it’s almost dark out.
“Ok.” I turn the car where she says because what else can I do? I’m still too shocked and confused to think on my own. I want to ask her where we’re going. Or better yet, what the hell just happened, but I can’t form words. Not so long as the barrel of her revolver stares at me.
“Over there.” She points to the Motel just ahead. Amie pulls her dark hair back into a low ponytail. “I ain’t eighteen,” she says. “Are you?”
I shake my head no and park the car. “Seventeen.”
“Well crud. C’mere.”
I swallow down my weird fear of her and lean across the seat.
She grabs my hair and ruffles it. “Untuck your shirt,” she says.
I struggle with it, my car isn’t very big.
My shirt untucked and my hair a mess, she sizes me up. “That’ll work. Go rub your hands on the tire. Get ‘em dirty. Makes you look older. Like a drifter or something.”
“What for?” I don’t get it. What does she want me to do?
“So’s you can go rent us a room for the night. They don’t rent to minors. But I bet you can pass for at least eighteen.”
“Oh.” I stare back at her. Amie’s looking at me like I’m some project of hers. Like one of the weird sculptures she makes in art class. “I don’t have much cash.” Truth is I don’t have any. I used the last twenty I had to buy the gas I’ve used being her getaway driver.
“It’s on me,” she says, handing me a wad of the bills she stole from Ronnie’s. That’s what she did. She robbed Ronnie’s convenience store.
I nod, even though I know how wrong this is and I take the dough.
I walk inside and up to the counter. I try to time my stride so I don’t look nervous. The attendant is reading a magazine. He’s a skinny dude with glasses and frizzy red hair.
“Help you?” He says, not looking at me.
“Uh, yeah. I need a room. Just for tonight.”
He puts his book down at peers at me over his glasses. “How old are you?”
“Eighteen.” I wipe my sweating palms on my jeans. He can’t see my hands from behind the counter.
“Shoot,” I say. I’m sweating bad. “Left it in my truck. I broke down a few miles back and walked up here.”
“That so?” He leans over the counter and peeks out into the parking lot. He can’t see my car from here. I parked as far away as I could. “You don’t have a young girl out there you’re trying to sneak in here, do you, boy?”
If he only knew. “No, sir. Just tired.”
He looks me over again. “Well, all right.”
My shoulders slump and I hold back my sigh of relief.
“Chad.” Crap. I flinch. Should’ve given a fake name.
He writes it down. “Chad what?”
I can’t give him my last name. My parents are the only Winthrop’s in Joplin. I glance around the room and spot a Bob Dylan record leaning up against an old turn table. “Uh, Dylan.”
“Okay, Mr. Dylan. It’ll be forty for the night. One full-sized bed ok?”
I nod. “Sure. Yeah it’s just me. That’s fine.” With a shaky hand I slap a fifty on the counter. “Keep the change.”
“Thanks.” He hands me a small brass key. “Room 409,” he says. I take the key and clutch it in my fist like my life depends on getting it safely out to Amie in the car.
Hell, maybe it does.
The room is tiny. The bed is okay though. It’s bigger than my bed at home. Amie flops down on the end of it and kicks off her red cowgirl boots. I know those boots. I’ve marveled at them, well mostly her legs but the boots were there too, the whole school year. She wore them with everything.
Tonight it was a denim miniskirt and a white tube top. If I bent down enough I bet I could see her underwear between her legs, but the gun on the bed beside her keeps me from peeking.
“That’s better.” Amie looks up at me and smiles. She’s the only seventeen-year-old girl in school who wears red lipstick. It stands out against the milky whiteness of her skin. “You can sit down. I ain’t gonna bite ya.” She puts the gun on the night stand and taps the bed beside her.
“Oh.” It just registers that I’ve been standing in the doorway staring at her. “Sorry.” I sit down beside her. I don’t know what the hell to do with my hands. I end up letting them dangle between my knees.
“You’re Chad, right?”
“Ah, yeah.” It shocks me that she’s asking. We’ve had almost every class together since she started coming to school. She was home schooled before this last year, but I’d seen her around town before then. I guess I just assumed she knew me. But why would she? We ran in opposite directions. Never collided. Until now.
“Yeah. I know who you are.”
She smiles. She pulls a piece of gum out of the front pocket on her skirt and pops it in her mouth. “Want some?”
“I’m good. Thanks.”
She shrugs. “Didn’t cost me nothin’.”
I laugh a little, even though it feels wrong. She’s a criminal. I’m sitting on a bed with a crazy criminal, in a room bought with stolen money, watching her red lips smack, chewing on stolen gum.
“So I guess I owe you somethin’ for helping me out back there.”
“Ah, no. No you don’t owe me anything.” I lean forward.
Amie smirks. She inches closer and opens her knees a little till her thigh is touching mine. I stare down at her bare knee and swallow back my nerves.
“Nothin’ you want, Chad?”
Yeah. There’s a whole lot I want, but I shake my head. “I’m good.”
She leans in close to me till her lips are just a breath from my cheek. It takes every ounce of self-control I have not to turn and kiss her. I pretend that I don’t want to. That I don’t want her. But Amie isn’t dumb. And if there’s anything she knows, its guys.
She reaches for my belt buckle.
This isn’t at all how I imagined it would happen. Everything we ever hear is about guys pressuring girls into acting before their ready and it ruins their lives forever. I’ve never wanted to be that guy, but it never occurred to me that I might run into that girl.
Her laugh is birdsong in my ear, her breath thick with cherry and mint. When she throws one leg over mine and rips my shirt off over my head, I can only stare at her red lips. Even after all this, there’s not a smudge on them. They’re as pristine as a picture. I don’t have to be a girl to know it’s the sort of thing to envy and I suspect I don’t even have to be a boy to know it’s the sort of thing to want against my mouth.
There’s a crash and I think it’s probably my heart exploding straight through my chest, but Amie looks up with a scowl, her hand already on her gun. She slides off my lap like I’m not even there.
“Thought I smelled something.” The voice is so like Amie’s I’m surprised it wasn’t her mouth moving.
Getting to my feet, I’m even more surprised to find that the girl standing in the doorway looks a hell of a lot like Amie, too. They’re the same height and same, unmistakable build, with the same pale skin and the same dark hair. The only difference I can see is in the lips. On this girl, her lips are nearly as pale as her skin, the barest hint of pink along the edges.
They stand in mirror images of each other; one leg bent and ready for action, the other stock straight and still, a gun raised and trained on the other.
Amie doesn’t seem surprised by any of it. “This ain’t your business, hon. Look elsewhere.”
“You’re wrong there,” the not Amie says, “you crossed a line and this is my territory.” She glances at me and I’m all over unsettled by the way her eyes fall down my chest. I wish I were more dressed.
“Shit, this is yours?” Amie says with a bright, false smile. Her fingers fidget on her gun in a way they didn’t at Ronnie’s. it makes me nervous to see her nervous. “Well, then, Chad and I’ll be on our way.”
“You can leave him. I’d consider it a donation. A tithe.” It’s all she says, but the look they share is full of meaning. In the silence that follows, an entire negotiation happens and I’m in on none of it, but the tension in the room is suddenly very loud.
“No, thanks.” Amie says. Her feet shift.
The not Amie doesn’t answer, she fires. The sound is a quiet pop, but Amie falls back and doesn’t get up.
“Chad, is it?” Amie’s voice. No. Not Amie’s voice. She shoves my shirt into my hands and tugs at my arm. “Time to go, Chad.”
It’s the convenience store all over again. I move where I’m told, do what I’m told. I pull my shirt over my head, tell this not Amie where my car is, grab the cash from Amie’s purse and all the while this girl is still holding her gun on Amie’s body.
“What the hell do you think she’ll do now?” I ask. I’m sweating bad, but if I’m ever going to stand up for anything, it might as well be the dead girl on the floor.
The girl smirks, the picture of Amie. “I expect she’ll do something else foolish, which is why it’s time for us to get going.” She steps back, giving me a path around the bed. “After you.”
Something about the body on the floor makes the threat of the gun both more and less real. “You just shot your sister. Why should I go anywhere with you?”
She frowns down at Amie’s body, looking more pensive than apologetic. “I suppose you could call her that.” She crouches, lifting Amie’s gun from the floor. “But you should go with me because she intends to eat you and I haven’t decided, yet.” She stands, tucks Amie’s gun into her belt. “She’ll be wicked hungry when she wakes.”
“What do you mean, haven't decided yet?" I feel crazy, but I'm pretty sure it’s her.
She studies me like she would gum on the bottom of her shoe. “Virgins aren't really my thing."
I stare. At her. At the gun. At the body on the floor. At the black as pitch hole in the hollow of her throat. And I suppose it could be shock or a trick of the light, but I watch all the color drain from Amie’s lips until they’re as pale as the rest of her.
“Won’t be long now,” the girl sings from above me. “Are you with me?”
The night has gone from surreal to flat out impossible. I open my mouth to argue or make any of this make any sense at all, but I see Amie’s fingers curl against the carpet.
All choices look like bad choices. Between the waking dead girl on the floor who may or may not want to eat me, and the twin girl with the gun, there’s really only one option. “What do I call you?” I ask, backing away from Amie’s twitching fingers.
“Tam.” She’s by the door, the gun still trained on Amie’s body. I don’t think it’s so strange anymore. It might be the only comforting thing that’s happened tonight.
“This way, Tam.” I step past and, for the second time tonight, take the girl with a gun to my car.
I try to stay calm even though she’s driving my car, and no one drives my car. Especially not crazy, murdering, girls with guns. “Just to be clear, when you said she was going to eat me, you meant…”
“Devour your soul.”
“Right.” She’s so matter of fact, I would almost believe her if what she said was even remotely sane. “Why would she do that?”
She turns to face me, even though we’re going like seventy-five. “So she can keep looking like me, and stealing my life.”
I nod like she makes perfect sense. “So you killed her.”
She laughs. “I wish.”
I’m starting to think I made the wrong choice. “How do I know you’re not the bad one? You shot Amie.”
“Do you want to kiss me?”
“W-what?” This night just gets weirder and weirder.
“Right now. You just saw me shoot someone. I’ve got a gun pointed at you and I’m kidnapping you. Do you want to kiss me?”
She can’t be serious. “Um, no offense, but no.”
She looks back to the road, unfazed. “That’s how you know.”
“You wanted to kiss, Amie, right?”
“Yeah but, I mean, I already wanted to kiss her so...” I shrug.
She turns to me again and I swear she almost looks happy. “You did?”
“Yeah.” I can just make out the “Thank you for visiting Joplin. Come again!” sign as it whizzes past us and then we’re in pure dark. Nothing but fields on both sides of us. With nothing for the headlights to catch on it’s like we’re driving in a tunnel. “So are you going to explain anything? At least tell me where we’re going.”
“Away from people.”
“If you’re going to kill me, can you do it in town so my parents don’t have to wonder where I am?”
She heaves a frustrated sigh. “I’m not going to kill you. This bitch has been ruining my life for centuries and it’s time for it to stop. I need your help.”
Centuries? I wonder if when we left Joplin, we drove straight into the Twilight Zone. “I don’t really see how I can help you with your family drama.”
She laughs. Actually laughs. “You won’t have to do anything but reek of that virgin blood flowing through your veins. Amie won’t be able to resist.”
She jerks the car off the road before I have a chance to ask her what the hell that means. The car dips and jerks as we drive over the ditch between the road and the field. I can feel the whole underside scrape against the rough ground and I’m pissed. I just finished paying it off.
She puts the car in park once we're a ways from the road. “Don’t even think about running,” Not-Amie,Tam, says. She points her gun at me for emphasis as she reaches into the backseat for her purse.
Amie’s gun glares at me from her waistband. I could grab it and shoot her, but the image of Amie’s still body, with its black bullet hole and no blood stops me. My brain’s finally starting to catch up with the events of the night. Putting the pieces together in a way that makes the impossible make sense. A bullet probably won’t kill Tam. And then she’ll be pissed I tried.
Tam slides back into her seat and pulls and digs through her bag. “Turn around.”
I do as I’m told. I’m not real religious but I wonder if I should say a prayer or something. I wonder if it will make a difference or if it’s too late now. Tam tugs at my t-shirt and I jump.
“Hold still.” She lifts my shirt until my whole back is exposed.
What is it with hot chicks undressing me tonight and it not being any fun? My voice squeaks when I ask, “What are you doing?”
“I said, hold still.” She pushes me forward slightly so my forehead touches the window.
Something cool and soft and kind of squishy presses against my back. It takes me a minute to realize she’s drawing on me. Whatever it is, it’s intricate. It reminds me of the sculptures she, I mean, Amie, was always making. She rests her free hand on my hip, just above the waistband of my jeans and it’s oddly intimate. Her breath tickles my skin as she whispers nonsense words over her artwork. When she lets go of my waist and pulls my shirt back down I’m surprised to discover I’m disappointed that she’s done.
I turn back to face her. “What was that?”
She caps a tube of bright red lipstick and drops it into her purse with a hint of a smile. “Just think of it as protection.”
A bright flash lights up the car. Tam looks out the windshield and frowns. “From her.”
I follow her gaze to Amie, who stands in the glare of my headlights, wearing a big grin. One hand’s on her cocked hip, the other one’s giving us the finger. “Howdy,” she says with way too much cheer. There’s no sign of the gaping black wound she had the last time I saw her. She chomps on her gum and I wonder if it’s the same piece she was chewing when she got shot. “You didn’t think it’d be that easy, did you?”
Tam points her gun at me. “Get out.”
I look back and forth between the two evils. At least if I’m out of the car, I might be able to run for it. We’re not that far from the road. I get out and so does Tam.
Amie’s grin stretches too wide for her face when she sees me. It’s grotesque in a way I never thought a smile could be. I can’t believe I ever thought she was hot. She reaches out for me as if for a hug. “There you are Chad! I was afraid Tamara had taken you all for herself.”
“He’s all yours if you promise to leave me alone.”
What? Didn’t she just say she was protecting me? “Hey!”
Amie ignores me and turns her grin on Tam. “You know I don’t make promises.”
Tam pulls a tiny red bottle covered in gold swirls and little jewels that sparkle in the light out of her pocket. “I think you might, just this once.”
Amie’s mouth drops open and the little color she had, drains from her face. “You wouldn’t dare.”
Tam raises an eyebrow at her. “Wouldn’t I? I told you I was done. I wanted a mortal life.”
“But I miss you!” Amie’s face contorts in a way that almost makes her look inhuman, but the whine in her voice is all teenage girl. “Don’t you miss me? Don’t you miss doing whatever you want? Being whatever you want?”
“I am doing what I want.” Tam shouts back.
“How can you stand being trapped in one body? One pathetic life?”
I try to follow the conversation but I’m lost.
Tam shakes her head. “You’ll never understand.” She uncorks the bottle.
“Wait!” Amie’s face shifts back and forth between anger, hurt, and fear. “Fine. I’ll promise, if you promise not to put me in there.”
Tam thinks it over. “Okay, but the bottle stays with me.”
For one second Amie’s face flares with rage but she wipes it away with a smile. “Fine. After I finish with Chad, you’ll have to tell me how you found it. I thought I’d hidden it well.”
Finish with me? I back away from them both and try to smile like I have a clue what’s going on. “Seeing as how you two have patched up your differences, why don’t you just let me go?”
Amie laughs. In a blink she’s standing in front of me. She takes my face in her hands. “Oh honey, you are a funny one aren’t you?”
She mashes her cold, pale lips to mine. My mouth opens in surprise, betraying me, and before I can move I feel her inhale. Feel her start to suck the life right out of me. I shove at her but either she’s really heavy or I’m really weak. A high-pitched sound pierces my ears. There’s a burning sensation against my mouth and then a bright flash of light. I drop to the ground, released from her death grip.
I look around for Amie, but see only Tam. She lifts the tiny bottle; it glows like there’s a light inside it. “What the hell?” I gasp, my throat raw.
Tam smacks the cork and smiles at me. “I don’t make promises either.”
Photo by The Justified Sinner via Flickr Creative Commons