Loralee: The Dimestore Novella
Chapter Six, The Garden Suite
Originally published on April 29, 2012
Loralee set her drink on the counter, perspiration dripping cold off the sides of the glass. She lifted her hair out of the way. Henry unclasped the thin gold chain, a little gold star dangling from it. She never said, but he suspected it was a gift from Malcolm. Her fingers had become all shaking thumbs fumbling it.
“Just get it off me!” She spat the words out, her lips curled shut over the edges of them, locked down. A willful silence. She had stopped wearing the jade rose. He hadn’t asked her about that either.
He lifted her sweater over her head. She unhooked her bra, and he pushed it off her shoulders. Her jeans didn’t want to slide over her hips, her skin was damp from hours of sitting in the poorly ventilated conference room. The frustration was enough to set her off. Henry worked the jeans down to her calves. She started to kick out of them. She turned around on him, pounding her fists against his chest. He let her go at it for a minute, then wrapped his hands around her wrists, held her away from him. She kicked at him, at his shins, tried to shake free of him, finally overwhelmed after all the hours of self-control, of everything.
“Loralee.” He said her name through his teeth.
“Goddamn it! Goddamn it! Why? Why Henry? Why!?” Yelling at him, she kicked at the trash can under the sink. It was heavier than it looked. “Son of a bitch!” She grabbed her foot, almost laughed at herself, standing there in only her panties, hopping around on one foot and Henry, standing there, fully dressed. “I think I just broke my toe, the one next to the pinky.” She sat down on the edge of the tub so he could look at it. “Well?’ She was out of breath from her fit.
“Bend it.” He felt around the joint, “It isn’t broken. Take some Midol, keep the swelling down.” He turned on the faucet. “Shower, or bath?” She stared at him, suddenly unable to make the simplest decision.
“Okay, how about a shower? Then we can call it a night.”
“Henry, I…” She couldn’t get the words out. The skin on her face felt like it weighed a thousand pounds hanging on her cheekbones, she was sucking the flesh into the hollow between them, into her mouth, holding the flesh of the inside of her cheeks between her teeth, pushing down a sour feeling trying to take hold from somewhere too low down in a person for it to have a name. She needed him.
“Yeah?” He nodded. He started filling the giant tub. The Garden Suite was her favorite because of that tub. Henry went into the bedroom, came back with a taller glass for her, tequila, and her grapefruit soda. Loralee drank it down to half without stopping, watched him get out of his clothes.
“I don’t even want to stand up.” She shrugged, exhausted.
“No?” He pulled his pocket knife from his jeans on the floor. Before she could say anything else, he had slipped the knife between her and her underwear at the hip, slicing through the thin black fabric with one quick motion.
“Thirty bucks for those.” She smiled a little, swung her legs around over the edge of the tub, and eased herself into the water.
Beers in an ice bucket and the tequila within reach, he got into the tub with her. “Turn around, Loralee, on your knees.”
“I know the way to…”
“I know that you know. Do it.” He hooked his fingers around her hip bones. “I know what you need, Loralee. You hear me? You want to make it all go away for a little while, I’m your man.” There was something different in his tone. “Okay, Loralee? I won’t hurt you.”
“You’re scaring me.” She whispered.
“Don’t worry.” He held onto her tighter. “Hang onto the edge of the tub, Loralee.” He ran his hand up to the back of her neck and grabbed hold of her hair, hard. Loralee pushed back against him as he clutched at her hips. By the time they were finished, they’d splashed most of the water out of the tub and had bruises on their knees.
“Loralee, what do you really know about Roxanne Carole?” Henry was drinking what was left of the tequila straight from the bottle again, staring blankly at the television. Loralee lay on the bed next to him, her eyes closed, head resting on his chest.
“Why? Just what I’d said. Just what everyone knows about girls like her, I guess, in towns like this.” Loralee murmured, snuggled closer to him.
“Roxanne is a prostitute.” He’d been thinking about how to say it nicely, without using the word whore, or hooker.
“No.” Loralee didn’t lift her head or open her eyes. She wasn’t drunk, but close enough.
“Yes, she is. Suzanne too. Donna wasn’t.” He looked at her, shook her shoulder. “Elle, wake up a little bit, can you do that?”
Loralee pushed herself upright and sat against the headboard next to him, looking at the t.v.
“I was in jail, Loralee. Prison.” He tipped the bottle up, finished it. “I shot a man in a bar over a bet and a dart game. He lived. He was fine. They ruled it an accident. But they found some pot in my truck, enough of it. It wasn’t mine, I was picking it up for my boss. He paid for my defense, and I kept my mouth shut. I did fourteen months when it was all said and done.” He lit a cigarette, waited for her to ask him something, anything. She didn’t. “My boss was James Nevelle.”
“Oh, Henry.” Loralee shook her head, kept staring at the television.
“They used to have these parties, I was security. I watched the door, from outside the party. Roxanne was the main attraction a lot of the time. They’d get three or four girls in there, barely legal. That’s how I met Malcolm. He wasn’t into the parties, not with the Roxanne’s. They’d have a card game or two going in another room. Nevelle draws a lot of heat. I didn’t want to go back to Houston after I did my time. I needed a job. Malcolm hired me.” He put his cigarette out and lit another one, and she took it from him. He lit another one for himself. “Remember that first day. Remember when you were weeding under the roses?”
“I really don’t think I can deal with more confessions right now, Henry.” The cigarette tasted awful. She kept smoking it. How had she ever smoked a pack a day?
“I’d watched you come out of the house that morning, watched you look up at the flag, the sky, put on your gloves. I knew where the keys were.” He put his cigarette out. “Malcolm isn’t who you think he is, Loralee. I don’t know how deep he’s in it, but Nevelle is as crooked as they get. If I thought you’d leave your kids, I’d take you out of here right now, put this place far behind us.”
“I couldn’t leave Janean in the middle of this mess.” Loralee reached over him to the nightstand for the ashtray. “Where would we go anyway, Henry? What would we do?”
“I know a guy with a place in Utah, offered me a job up there. If Malcolm doesn’t tell them something soon something that makes sense to them, they’re going to start really digging around and Loralee, it gets worse.” Henry knew where Roxanne Carole was.
“You know more than you’re telling me.” Her arms were as heavy as lead. Her face drawn downward from the tension. Her toe and foot throbbed. “What the hell are you watching?” She asked. Henry had the sound turned down to where she hadn’t been able to make out but a few words here and there, but she recognized Henry Fonda and Anthony Quinn.
“Don’t worry about what I know, that’s all you need to know. I didn’t want you to hear those things from someone else and not trust me. You need to trust me. I’m the only one you can trust now. I won’t leave you, Loralee. When we get back, I’m moving back into the bunkhouse at the ranch.”
“You can stay in the house. I don’t give a damn what anyone says.” Loralee cocked her head sideways, looking at the black and white movie.
“Loralee, did you hear what I just told you about Malcolm? About James Nevelle, and Roxanne? About myself? Did you hear me?”
“I heard you, Henry.” Loralee was too tired for tears, too tired to talk. “What the hell are you watching?”
“The Ox Bow Incident. I watched it with my old man when I was a kid. He watched it with his old man. They were tired men, you know? They sat down at the end of the day, they drank and watched t.v. It’s about a lynch mob, vigilantes.” Henry hit the remote. The hotel television was bigger than his dresser mirror at home.
“I’m going to get a glass of water. I think, I really don’t want a hangover tomorrow.” Sitting on the edge of the bed with her back to him, she asked, “Can I trust Hardy Pattershaw?”
“As much as you ever could. This is a big payday for him. I wouldn’t worry too much about Hardy.” Henry said.
Maybe if she hadn’t been so tired. Maybe if she hadn’t still been a little drunk. Maybe she would have caught it, the familiar way that Henry had called Hardy Pattershaw by his first name.
For previous chapters of Loralee, click here.