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Billy and Darla

(A Maddox Men Story)



By Jay Lemming



Copyright © Jay Lemming, 2016. All Rights Reserved.

This story is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents and dialogue are drawn from the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is fictionalized or coincidental.

Correspond with Jay via email at jay@jaylemming-author.com.


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Table of contents

Free Scene from Billy Maddox Takes His Shot

1. Motel 6 - Arrival

2. Darla’s Plan

3. Darla’s Car

4. Motel 6 - Back Again

5. The Next Morning

Remember - Free Scene from Billy Maddox Takes His Shot

About Jay Lemming

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If you enjoy the following story, you can read more about these characters in Billy Maddox Takes His Shot, a novel about a young Border Patrol Agent struggling to save his marriage, his job and his future in southern Arizona. Get the first scene for free by clicking the link below the image.

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I. motel 6 - arrival





"Let's sneak in."

Peering through the windshield at the Motel 6 before them, Darla's eyes glowed in the moonlight.

"Why?" Billy frowned. "Let's just rent a room. I'll pay."

He shifted uncomfortably. Lust consumed him, a sensation that had made driving here a painful and impatient affair.

When he'd stepped out of his Honda a few spots away, he expected Darla to get out of her car so they could walk to the motel office. Instead, she waved him into her Trooper where they sat now.

Glancing into the rearview mirror and the rush of traffic on South Freeway behind them, Billy still struggled with the possibility of betrayal. Jessie's face floated before him. Was he letting her down?

What exactly was Jessie to him, and he to her?

"Maybe we should leave," he muttered, reaching for the door handle. The overhead dome light came on.

Darla grabbed his arm. "That's not the Billy I know. Wow, she really messed with your head, didn't she?"

"I shouldn't be here." But his eyes couldn't help but run over Darla's attractive shape, which drew every man's eyes like a magnet. "If she knew..."

"If Jessie knew you were here, then what?" Darla's grip on his arm slid down to his hand. She squeezed. "You're friends, that's it. You already told me that a million times. "

He and Jessie weren't dating. They walked down the halls of high school together on their way to and from class. They talked. They were friends.

And yet the things Jessie told him stuck in Billy's mind. He asked her about them. "I haven't mentioned that project to you for a while," she had told him two days ago outside the chemistry classroom, smiling brightly. "You remembered I was working on that?"

He blushed.

When that "friendship" became fairly well-known around Rincon High, Darla, who was nominally Jessie's best friend (and also Billy's ex-girlfriend), began nagging him with incessant phone calls. He put off her proposals for a rendezvous until, finally, she convinced him to meet her at the diner tonight, which led to this trip out on South Freeway.

"Look there." Darla pointed at a doorway in the motel that led to a kind of office. "Shut the door."

Reluctantly, Billy lifted his foot from the pavement and pulled it back into the car. He shut the door and the overhead light went out.

"There's the guy who works here," Darla said. "He looks pretty stupid."

"Why do you say things like that?" Billy sighed. But that was just like her.

"Well, does he look like some kind of genius to you?"

"Why don't we just pay for the room?" If they were going to do their thing, Billy wanted it done. He could regret it later.

He nearly groaned from a combination of raging desire for Darla and the sense of betrayal that kept getting in the way. Less than 30 minutes ago at the diner, Darla had been a flirt. Now that she had Billy, the troublemaker reared its head. This was her way. "Wouldn't it be exciting to do it in a room we didn't rent? That we didn't belong in? Paying is so common."

Billy looked at the Motel 6. Lights illuminated the ground-level motel doors from under the second-floor mezzanine. One particularly bright bulb hung over the doorway Darla had referred to. Flying bugs frenetically circled it.

A man Billy assumed was the night manager stood just outside the office, reedy, bent and in possession of a frighteningly cadaverous expression. Wispy tendrils of smoke drifted from the cigarette he clutched in papery fingers. He looked too old for someone who smoked to still be alive. He wore a jet, mortician-like suit, which Billy found astonishing given the summer Tucson heat. The man's jacket sleeves were rolled up and, visible even across the parking lot, Billy saw melanoma-brown spots dappling his forearms.

"He's bald," Darla sneered. "I bet he can't see very well either. I bet his dick fell off 30 years ago."

Billy closed his eyes and thought about reaching for the door handle again. Less than four months ago, Lane the Linebacker--which is how Billy had come to think about that idiot high school football player at Rincon High--shoved Billy into a locker, twisted his arm behind his back and pushed him onto the hall floor. Billy had been in his share of fights over the years but had never done anything that humiliating to anyone. After Lane pinned him helplessly for everyone to see, Darla, who was dating Billy at the time, gave him up for the victorious linebacker.

Until Billy and Jessie became friendly, at which point Darla took interest again.

She was a blond, green-eyed beauty with a speck of rosacea on her cheek that somehow, improbably managed to accentuate her stunning appearance. But her ability to lead men when it served her purposes was second to none.

"Let's do it!" she said jubilantly, hitting the steering wheel with her palm. "Let's steal a room key."

"We'll get in trouble." Billy sounded lame even to himself even though he knew his was the voice of reason.

"Let's figure out if that old creep is by himself, okay?" Darla ignored him. "If he is, this will be easy."

"How?"

Darla leaned toward Billy, hair brushing his shoulder. "The room keys hang on the wall behind the cash register. If we can keep him out of the office, I can sneak in and grab one. By the time he gets back, I'll have what we need."

Billy frowned. "How would you know all that?"

A rumble sounded on the horizon. The monsoon season was approaching. Billy always enjoyed the lashing rain, the drum-like thunder and the splintered forks of lightning. But he didn't want to be caught out in it. They should just rent the room and be done with this.

"There aren't many cars in the lot." Darla glanced around. "Not many people staying tonight. That should make this easy, easy, easy. Hey, look at that sign."

"What about it?"

Then she glanced at him. "You're wearing shorts. Here's what we can do."

Billy gazed out the windshield as she told him the plan. Just before they got ready to go, doubt crossed his face.

"Remember who you are," Darla took his hand. "Remember what other people think of you. Remember who really cares for you."



II. darla’s plan

Billy had never liked swimming. He knew that was strange for someone who lived in the unforgiving heat of Arizona but he hated the water. He was annoyed by people who could effortlessly dive into the half-freezing temperatures of pools and swim around with the grace and skill of a fish. And yet here he was, holding his arms above the level of the water and wondering how he'd let Darla talk him into getting into the Motel 6 pool as part of her plan.

The frigid temperature had cooled him off in other ways too. His lust had gone. The fenced, in-ground pool and surrounding patio lay within the two arms of the hotel. Rows of windows from the rooms around and above him were lit squares covered by drawn curtains.

Billy was a slender, well-toned young man with a hard, dark expression, black, spiky hair and a punk's reputation at Rincon High. But his teeth were chattering and he didn't feel much like anyone right now but some sucker who'd been talked into doing something he really didn't want to do. The iciness crept up his legs and waist and through the part of his body outside the water.

There really was no getting around this. Bracing himself, he lowered his arms into the pool. So according to the plan, Darla was going to walk into the main office, explain to the manager, whom she had just insulted, that she'd seen someone swimming out in the pool, when the hours on the fence-held sign clearly stated the pool should be closed right now. Then, when the manager went out to investigate, as he surely would and as all men with a pulse could reliably be expected to act when faced with a request from someone like Darla, she would slip behind the desk and pilfer one of the keys hanging from a hook on the wall.

So now, Billy thought, it is just a question of waiting until the geezer showed up. And then he would have to stall to give Darla a minute or two to swipe the key and get out.

Billy crouched down, immersing himelf even more in the water, and listened to a murmur of voices that drifted out on a light breeze. Glancing up at the rooms again, he considered the silhouettes of people behind the curtains. Life was all around him but he was alone here. Floodlights around the patio offered some but not much illumination. The hanging sign Darla had noticed was a smart, if routine, idea on the part of the hotel. No swimming after dark, it said simply: all the protection that existed for kids who might otherwise wander out here in the dark.

The gate to the pool was unlocked. Billy hadn't expected that but once Darla had a crazy idea, the universe seemed to bestow a kind of magic to the surrounding world, allowing her ideas to unfold as she wished.

The odd scent of barbecued meat drifted in on the warm air, making his stomach churn. He and Darla hadn't had much to eat. They'd come to the Motel 6 less than 15 minutes after arriving at the diner, just enough time to become reacquainted and for Darla to convince him it was time to get back together. Other food smells, sharp, tangy and aromatic spices, drifted in too, and the stench of rank, burned rubber. Billy hadn't heard any cars skid or slam on the brakes, but he had been so caught up in figuring out whether Darla's plan made sense, he might just as easily have missed a huge jet airliner crashing a block away.

A breeze rustled the palms of the parking lot trees with a pleasant whisper.

Billy shut his eyes, leaned back into the water and let his arms float up to his sides. He experienced a disconcerting chill as the back of his head baptized itself in the chill water but he reveled in the calmness. He didn't often experience this feeling.

Thunder rumbled overhead again, the trees kept rustling and stars poked holes in the fabric of the sky, making it easy for Billy to feel centered and enjoy the sensation of his body. What would it be like to have Jessie here now? What would they talk about? Whatever the topic of conversation, it would be fine. He wondered if he was falling in love.

One evening, not long after their first and only unexpected night together, Jessie took him out to eat with her friends. Billy didn't say much. He had always been intimidated by Jessie's crowd.

At one point, her friend Denise, who never beat around the bush, asked: "Are you guys dating?"

"Billy's better than someone you date," Jessica responded.

He had no idea what that meant. Neither, apparently, did her friends as none replied. Instead, Jessica filled in the silence by beginning a discussion about one of their teachers. Under the table, she fumbled for and grabbed his hand.

When she dropped him off that night, Billy wondered if he should kiss her. He sat in the car after it stopped in front of his house.

"Is everything okay?" she asked.

"Yes." He hesitated then got out. He had never been nervous and scared like that. He had never related to someone like this before and the situation terrified him.

Jessica Duncan was the daughter of a litigator famous throughout Tucson and he, Billy, was the son of a rancher's family, displaced from Cochise County shortly after the death of his younger brother. Matthew had been killed in a border shooting between the Border Patrol and some drug mules, an incident which devastated both Billy and his parents.

With those different backgrounds, what could it possibly mean to be "better than someone" you dated in the eyes of someone like Jessica Duncan? He supposed it meant good friends. Women liked to talk like that. Billy supposed one day Jessica would confide in him before she confided in anyone else about some great guy she had just started dating. And at that moment, Billy would know what "better than someone you dated" meant. It meant someone you never had a chance of dating.

That was the conclusion Billy had come to by the time, following his former girlfriend's relentless phone calls, Billy finally decided to meet up with Darla after all.

"Hey, you."

Billy jerked up at the sound of the sharp voice, head and shoulders splashing as they pulled out of the water. The office manager stood poolside, frowning down at Billy.

"What are you doing here?" the manager snapped. "The pool is closed. Didn't you see the sign?"

Despite the way Darla had disparaged the man as slow and stupid, he certainly spoke with a surprisingly commanding voice.

"Get out of the pool, now." The man ordered, putting his hands on the hips of his black trousers.

Billy's presence of mind returned. He calculated how much time Darla might need to get the key. He hoped she'd been smart enough to assess the room numbers on the doors before swiping a key to ensure the one she took wasn't right next door to the office!

Had she done this before? Billy couldn't help but experience a pang of jealousy at the possibility that he might simply be one in a line of boyfriends (including Lane the Linebacker?) Darla had brought here to soak in a pool while she stole a room key.

"I...I think I missed the sign," Billy said, acting dumb and stalling for time. "It's dark out and I guess I didn't see it."

"And that's why you're not supposed to be swimming. It's dark. Now get out."

The bluish sodium light from the overhead Motel 6 sign shone down with a roentgen-like glow. The man had a long, horse-face with deep-set eyes and a skull covered only by a few black hairs. His skin appeared sallow and unwell in the light. The blue light reflected off the foil package of Dutch Master cigars sticking out of his breast pocket.

The man's tone touched something in Billy, the thing that had gotten him in trouble and in more fights than he could remember. He never responded well to authority or a patronizing attitude, and tended to escalate situations.

"Look," he said, gaining confidence in his ability to manage the situation through outright lying. "I've been on the road with my parents since this morning. We drove all the way from Wichita. They're exhausted, and sleeping. I'm exhausted, and swimming." He hoped the manager had either checked in a couple that would have looked like parents of a teenage boy like Billy or that the manager had just started his shift and had no idea who the hell might have checked in that day.

The guy's eyes widened, giving his expression a freaky, bug-like appearance. He turned to the nearest poolside table that had a collapsed acrylic umbrella aimed at the sky. On the round glass top was Billy's sleeveless red tee. At first, Billy didn't know what interested him so much. Then he thought he did.

"The University of Arizona," the manager read back the words printed on the front of the tee. "You drove here from Wichita, did you?"

As the manager went to pick up the shirt, a small square object fell onto the dark concrete. It was Billy's wallet.

The man gave a smart laugh and reached for it. "Well, let's find out what part of Wichita you're from."

But Billy had already pushed himself toward the edge of the pool and hoisted himself out. He had strong arms and shoulders, even though his body was slight. He scrambled to his feet and, dripping water and ignoring for the moment the fact that he was freezing his ass off, lunged for and snatched away the wallet the man had retrieved and was flipping open.

"Ah!" The man cursed and attempted to grab it back but Billy twisted around and grabbed his shirt from the table. The manager started drumming his fists on Billy's neck and shoulders. "You son of a bitch!" he shrieked. "You piece of shit."

Billy had half a mind to throw an elbow back but knew if he should get caught for whatever reason he was already in big trouble. He leaned over for his shoes and socks, and bolted.

"You bastard," the man yelled after him. "Get your ass back here!"

Rushing away, Billy sensed a presence around him. Glancing up mid-stride, he spied several people observing the scene from up on the mezzanine walkway, their forms silhouetted by the light of the doorways behind them. Billy darted around the building, cutting them off from sight. He intended to call out a warning to Darla if she was still sneaking around the office but was relieved to see nothing inside except the long, manager's desk, a rickety tabletop fan, a stack of magazines and a grimy coffee maker. And, of course, the keys on the back wall.

Billy would have to leave his car. In fact, that had been the plan anyway but now he really had no choice. He had to get out of there as soon as possible. If the man happened to call out for reinforcements from the motel guests watching, Billy would be screwed. But maybe the aging fuck wasn't that clever--and who would be, having this kind of job.

Another rumble of thunder accompanied Billy as he sprinted across the parking lot and around some low, square hedges. He struggled to ignore the heat of the pavement and the bite of loose gravel on the soles of his feet. There was a whole lot of nothing in front of the hotel but the raised stretch of South Freeway with headlight-led traffic rushing by, parked cars and the extended lot that fed right into the next-door Travelodge and, beyond it, the Howard Johnson's, where Billy and Darla had agreed to meet.

In hindsight, was that really far enough away? There was a Quality Inn a few hundred yards down the road from HoJo's. But it was too late now. Fortunately, as Billy kept running through the steamed, heated hair, he neither heard or sensed evidence of pursuit behind him.

The HoJo's parking lot wasn't exactly hopping and Billy spotted Darla's Isuzu Trooper right away. As he neared, the passenger-side door opened and Billy slipped in and slammed the door behind him.



III. darla’s car



"Shit," Darla shrieked. "You're soaked! Don't get my car wet."

"What the hell do you expect!" Billy screamed back, clutching his clothing and praying he hadn't dropped anything. "I just got chased out of the pool by that psycho guy you said was an idiot! He almost got my wallet...he could have found out who I was!"

Darla's threw back her head and laughed.

"Stop that!" Billy yelled. "Get me a towel. I'm freezing!"

Darla grinned at him, then got out of the car and ran toward the HoJo's.

"Damn it!" Billy yelled, angry for letting himself get put into this situation. Why was he here? Why was he doing this to himself?

A few moments later, Darla returned with two thick, white terrycloth towels. He snatched them away. Billy couldn't do anything about his wet bathing trunks but he rigorously began scrubbing his torso, shoulders and arms. He slipped his shirt back on, massaged his feet dry and slipped on his shoes. Then he began running one of the towels through his hair.

Finally, he felt composed enough to look over.

Darla's lips were puckered and her eyebrows lowered into a pout.

"What's wrong?" he asked. "I'm sorry I yelled."

"She was mean to me."

He stopped scrubbing for a moment. "Who? The woman at the desk?"

She bit her lip and nodded.

"She did? Why would she do that?"

"I went inside to get the towels..."

"By pretending you were a patron..."

"Would you be quiet?!" Darla stamped her foot.

"Sorry."

"Well, she gave me the towels but then she kept...staring at me like I was...trash, or something."

Billy gave her form-fitting jeans and snug, red t-shirt a once-over.

"Was she older than you?"

"Just by a few years."

"You know why she did that, don't you?" Billy put a hand on the back of her neck.

Darla looked out through the windshield.

"Jealousy. That's it and nothing else."

"Why would she be jealous?"

Billy had to suppress a sigh. "Because you're stunning. I don't know what she looks like but I'm sure she doesn't hold a candle."

"That's so sweet." Darla said and leaned over to plant several kisses on the side of Billy's face.

"Wait, wait," he said, laughing. "Let me finish drying off."

"So you can get wet again." Darla slid back into the driver's seat, eyes glowing with the same mix of mischief and sensuousness that had been there when they first got to the motel. She swiped something off the dashboard. "Room 113," she said triumphantly, the key dangling before Billy's eyes. "It's ours."

As Billy reached for it, flashes of blue and red began to splash onto the car behind Darla's Trooper. He whirled around to look back.

"Holy fucking shit," he said. The roof lights of a cop car in front of the Motel 6 were flashing.

Darla's smile turned to laughter again. "What did you do?"

Billy told her about the poolside encounter.

"I didn't say beat up an old man," she smiled, her expression widening with the pleasure of trouble-making. "Did you beat the guy up?"

"No! We barely even scuffled but...that guy is a nut. We have to get out of here! Why the fuck did he call the cops?"

"We have to go to the Motel 6."

"Are you kidding me? Let's get the hell out of here. Bring me back tomorrow for my car."

"I told you getting back together would be fun."

He opened the door. He didn't know where he was going to go but enough was enough. "You have serious problems," Billy said. "I'm leaving."

Then he found himself yanked back into the car. Darla was a lightweight compared to Billy but he wasn't expecting her to be so forceful.

"What the hell is wrong with you?" he yelled.

Darla slapped Billy across the face. Her expression had gone dark.

"I have had enough of you," she said. "Enough of you and enough of your bullshit. Get this through your head, Billy. What we're doing now is...what we do!"

Stunned by her blow, Billy stared.

"Do you remember when Mr. Kelvin's daughter told everyone you slept with her but you really didn't?" Darla went on.

"Why did you just hit me?"

She shoved both fists against his chest. "Listen! Do you remember?"

"Yes, of course."

"And who believed her, Billy?"

He frowned. "Pretty much everyone."

"So that lying bitch got something on you. And what about Mr. Angus? Your 'favorite teacher'. The one who said you had some promise. Do you remember that?"

"What about him?" He pushed her hands away.

"Did he give you the benefit of the doubt?"

Billy didn't say anything.

"Did he give you the benefit of the doubt, Billy? Yes or no?!"

"No."

"Even though you deserved it."

"What does it matter?"

"It matters because this is who you are. This is how people treat you." Darla brushed some strands of hair behind her ear. "People treat you like a degenerate and a troublemaker and why shouldn't they?"

"But it's not true."

"It's not? What about tonight? What about what you just did to that guy?"

"I...didn't do anything," he said doubtfully. "I didn't mean to do anything."

"You're someone in this world," Darla insisted. "You belong somewhere. All you need to do is watch and listen, and that place presents itself. When people start treating you and acting toward you in a certain way, you know you've found your place."

He stared.

"You belong with someone like me," Darla concluded. Now the lights from the cop car flashed across her face. She took Billy's hand between hers. "We are problem children. What happened tonight, a lot of other people wouldn't do. We did it because that's what we do and that's who we are. There are things people like us will never have. We'll never have respect. We'll never graduate at the top of our classes. We'll never be the envy of other kids' parents or even of our own parents, maybe. But we make up for it in other ways."

"What other ways?"

"We can come to a motel like this and and not pay for a room. We can have fun and not worry about consequences. These are the benefits of being who we are, Billy. No one should focus on what they don't have. They should focus on what they do have and not worry about what other people say or think."

"And what do I have?"

"You have this." Darla leaned forward, grabbed the sides of his head and pushed his face into her chest. She hugged his head in one arm and ran a fingernail from her free hand along the side of his neck.

Billy shifted in his seat, responding immediately. His heart began to pound again. He remembered when the two of them used to walk down the high school halls together or went out for an evening, the way other guys would look at him with either envy or unadulterated hatred.

"What about Lane the Linebacker?" Billy asked now, trying to remember how to put words together into comprehensible sentences. "What about when you left me for him?"

Darla looked out the window. "I made a mistake," she said. "I made a big mistake, and I hope you forgive me. I shouldn't have left you."

"When did you figure out it was a mistake?" His hand snaked of its own will toward her hip. His desire roared to life again.

"He's an animal, Billy, a stupid animal. You're a good guy. You're smart and you're nice, and you're also very misunderstood by everyone. And that's what I love about you. And I do love you, Billy Maddox. And so when you came back a few minutes ago and said you wanted to go home because of the cop, I was disappointed because I'm having a great time with you. This is exciting and we're doing what we came here to do. You distracted that guy, and I got the key, and all we need to do now is go back to the hotel and let ourselves in." She leaned over and brushed her fingers against the few spikes of black hair that hung low on his brow. "And then...." She left it at that.

He kept watching her.

Another peal of thunder rumbled followed by a quick flash of heat lightning.

"But I can't do this alone," Darla said. "You need to be here for this. I offer you something a lot of other guys would love, sweetie. But I respect myself, so if you want to leave and go home, if you decide you don't want me, then sure, let's go home, and I'll bring you back tomorrow for your car and when we say goodbye I will call you a lame prick, and we don't ever have to talk again. You can have your Barbie and Ken world with Jessie, if that's what you want."

Billy opened his mouth but she cut him off.

"But you're fooling yourself if you think it's going to work," Darla went on. "You're not a pretty boy, you're not Ken. People don't trust you. They don't like you. Why in the world would you try to get in good with a crowd like that? Jessie's is a crowd of successful people; they won't pay attention to you. I already love you. My arms are open to you as you are. We can have a great night."

Her lips brushed his.

"But it's up to you. What do you want to do?"

He stared at her unbelievingly.

Billy turned to check out the police car again but Darla grabbed his chin and pulled his face toward her. "Forget the fucking cops. What do you want to do?"

He leaned forward and kissed her hard. His hands began moving again, over her neck, shoulders and back.

"Okay, tiger." Darla pushed him gently back. "Let's do this. I'm glad you're not leaving me. But you might want to crouch down in the seat so no one sees you as we drive over."

She turned the engine and Billy slipped down in the seat, bringing his head beneath the level of the passenger's side window. He bent his knees in the foot well, put his hands on the vinyl seat and rested his head on them.

Darla backed the Trooper out of its space and began rolling across the connecting parking lots toward the Motel 6. The blue and red lights flashed on the undersides of the palm leaves.

"How does it look?" Billy asked.

"Don't worry." Darla gazed steadily ahead. "There's only the one cop car though I don't see where the cops are. The good news is that Room 113 is on this side of the motel away from all the action. And..." she said, "okay, great, there is a parking spot right in front of the door."

She parked. "Okay," Darla said again. "So far, so good. But there are a lot of people outside looking to see what's happening."

Did he hear a trace of concern in her voice? Just as he had a few moments ago in the pool, he wondered how he had let Darla talk him into this.

"I wonder how we're going to get you inside." She sounded like she was thinking out loud.

"I could just get out of the car and walk in as though it's the most normal thing in the world," Billy proposed.

"Too dangerous. Your hair is a mess...it's obvious you just got out of the pool and if the cops are prowling around, letting people know that some kid..."

"Excuse me, ma'am."

"Oh fuck," Darla whispered.

Billy pulled his head down toward his legs to make himself as small as possible then pulled the terrycloth towels over his head. He sensed the beam of a flashlight playing around inside the truck.

"Ma'am, did you just arrive?" That husky voice of authority could only belong to a cop.

"I did."

The car door slammed shut. Darla had gotten out.

The flashlight beam moved on, leaving Billy in darkness.

"Not a...big deal." The cop's voice faltered, which Billy suspected came from seeing Darla present her figure to him. He seethed, imagining the guy's eyes hungrily taking her in. The cop spoke from directly overhead, right next to the passenger-side window. If the cop turned his flashlight beam down, he would spy the terrycloth towel beneath which it would be likely obvious someone was hiding.

Billy stayed as still as he could.

"Not much is happening, anyway." The cop recovered his voice and remembered how to speak. "We had a minor incident this evening. Some kid was swimming and there was a misunderstanding with the manager and..."

Misunderstanding is better than altercation, Billy couldn't help thinking.

"Is this someone dangerous?" Darla asked.

"Are you by yourself?"

"Well, it's kind of embarrassing actually, officer. I had a fight with my parents. I just...needed a night away by myself."

The cop uttered a short, not-so-nice laugh. "You don't want to change your mind about that, do you?"

Billy's breath caught in his throat. Had that son-of-a-bitch public servant really just said that? He had to fight to keep from getting out of the car right there.

"Not tonight, officer. This is my room. Good night."

"Good night, beautiful. I'm Officer Buchanan. I'll find that twerp so you should be perfectly safe."

"Glad to hear that. Good night."

Billy heard Darla fidgeting with the key in the lock, the door opening and then closing again. He waited for the footstep sounds of Officer Buchanan walking away but heard nothing. What the fuck is he doing? Billy wondered furiously.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Billy heard a middle-aged woman a few doors down.

"Is everything okay, officer?"

"Everything is fine." The prick cop was a few cars down now. Billy had to do something soon. His legs were cramping up--he couldn't stay crouched like this for much longer. He dared poking his head up through the towels just enough to watch the cop retreating around the corner of the motel building near where his car still flashed blue and red.

No one else was around; the woman must have gone back inside. Billy glanced toward Room 113. A rim of light was visible around the edges of the curtain-blocked window.

It was time. Billy opened the door just wide enough to get out. He braced himself for the possibility that someone might call out to him but no one did. Pins and needles ran through his unsteady legs and feet. Billy shut the car door as quietly as he could. Conversation continued around the corner of the motel, where the cop would have gone. Keeping himself in a crouch, Billy glanced surreptitiously between the windows of the car next to the Trooper, didn't see anything beyond the line of vehicles then fast-stepped onto the walkway that ran under the mezzanine and grabbed the room door handle.

He entertained the brief, horrible possibility that Darla might have absentmindedly locked the door behind her. With that creepy cop around, who could have blamed her? But the knob turned in his hand and then Billy was safe inside the room and slamming the door behind him.



IV. motel 6 - back again



Inside, the dull wallpaper, queen-sized bed with a cheap, checkered blue-and-red spread, and small plywood table told of the kind of room used for hook ups or as single-night rest stops for eager travelers on the go. A stained, low-pile blue carpet was pulled tight across the floor and a shaded, wall-set lamp gave a dull glow.

Darla sat on the edge of the bedspread, leaned over to take off her sneakers and socks. Billy shook his head and sighed. Some concern for his welfare would have been nice.

"Glad you're happy to see me," he couldn't help saying. He dropped the towels on the floor.

"You're being boring again. You're here, aren't you?"

He dropped beside her and pushed his right sneaker off with the toe of his left foot. "You really live life to the fullest, don't you?"

"Always. This is the ugliest room I have ever been in." She leaned back on her hands and sniffed. "What is that?"

"Ammonia?" He smelled it too. "I'm sure they cleaned the bathroom before we came."

Billy imagined years of people passing through this room: smoking, eating, fucking, farting and executing god knew how many other functions that left scents, stenches and smells in this contained space. He got up to turn on the wall-set air-conditioning unit. Mimicking Darla, he leaned back against the spread and curled his now-bare toes against the carpet. The fibers were coarse and seemingly as hard as the mattress on which they sat.

Nevertheless, he relaxed. After the last hour or so of bouncing around, it was nice to finally be settled. One framed print on the wall depicted a panoramic view of saguaro cactus and brittlebush in the desert, and another of night-time Tucson taken from a raised vantage point. Neither added taste to the lackluster room. A long chest of drawers against the far wall looked like it might collapse if any of the drawers was opened. On top was a television.

"Well, we made it," Darla said, sounding slightly spent herself. Tresses of blond hair slipped off her shoulder and fell over the left side of her face in the way Billy always found attractive.

"We did," Billy said. "Thanks to you."

They watched each other and Billy knew the moment had come, the moment he had occasionally dreamed about, the moment he figured would never return after Lane the Linebacker kicked his ass and Darla dropped him for the victorious football player.

He leaned forward to kiss her. They sat there for several long moments.

Then a knock sounded. Darla drew back and quickly buttoned her blouse.

Damn it, Billy thought.

"I wonder if it's the cop. Hide."

"Hide? Where?"

"What about the shower?"

Billy got up and looked down at her. "I don't like how he spoke to you outside."

"Go," Darla waved him away. "Don't get caught and ruin this." She grabbed a box of condoms he hadn't seen her set on the bedside table then flung it under the bed.

Billy got up, frustrated. His cock was going limp again. It had been going up and down all night; eventually he was afraid it was going to stop working! He went into the bathroom, analyzed its dimensions for what he was about to do then turned off the light and made his way in the dark carefully toward the tub. He stepped over the porcelain edge and his feet came down on some kind of slip-proof stickers. The motel had that going for it if not much else, Billy thought.

"Just a minute," Darla called out and Billy yanked the vinyl curtain shut across the tub.

"Hello again."

Darla had opened the door. It was the sleazy cop.

"Hello officer." Darla said in a slow, tired voice. "Is there something else I can help you with?"

"Sorry to bother you again, ma'am." He sounded contrite. I wonder if he regrets acting like a shitbird outside, Billy thought. "We haven't been able to track down the guy who caused trouble."

"I can't help you with that," Darla said. "Like I said, I just want to be alone right now." She was interrupted by the loudest-yet peal of thunder. "Wow," she finished.

"Yeah, it's going to be a hell of an evening."

Even from the shower, Billy heard the beginning of a sudden, relentless rainfall.

"Do you have to go out in that?" Darla asked.

There was more thunder.

"I'm afraid so," Officer Buchanan said. "It's supposed to go until after midnight."

"Do you want to come in for a second?" Darla asked. "Are you getting wet?"

Billy frowned. What was she doing?

"Rain is just getting my back. Wind doesn't help."

"Please come in."

The cop sounded slightly guilty now. "Well, I don't want to disturb you. I am sweeping rooms but I'm happy to move on if...what is that?"

"Oh."

What were they looking at?

"Did you just get out of the shower?"

Billy realized, with a shock, he had dropped the terrycloth towels on the floor.

"No...that's actually..."

For the first time since they'd arrived, Billy heard doubt in Darla's voice.

"Do you mind if I look around?" the cop asked.

Oh shit, Billy thought. Do something!

"Of course. With the weather, the longer you're inside, the better."

"Well, that's not why I'm here," Officer Buchanan clarified, moving toward the bathroom.

"You have to poke around looking for a bad guy, right?"

"Poke around."

"Well, something like that." Darla giggled.

"There is a bad guy, as you put it."

"Why don't you just stay a while?"

"I was about to look around."

"Well, you sounded pretty friendly outside. I mean, do you have someone, a partner, waiting for you outside? If not, you could stick around. No one will know, right?"

The cop sounded noticeably uncomfortable now. "I shouldn't do that. I might have...spoken out of turn outside. I am on shift."

You probably have a family, don't you? Billy thought. Jerk.

"I understand. I just wish I wasn't alone."

"But that's not what you said when we spoke outside," Officer Buchanan countered.

"I know. But now I'm here by myself."

"Look, just let me check the bathroom and then I'll go."

"Do you mind if I go in first? Some of my personal items are hanging on the shower."

Officer Buchanan cleared his throat. "I didn't see you carrying anything in the parking lot."

"You must have been watching me pretty closely if you knew what I was and wasn't carrying." Darla giggled again. "My bag was in the back seat."

"Okay."

Billy's confusion had turned to a desire to laugh. This cop had been such a scumbag to her. Yet now he was in the room alone with her and didn't seem to know what to do with himself.

"Are you married, officer?"

"Well, yes I am, actually."

There was more thunder.

"Any kids?"

"My first is on the way. Bridget, my wife, is due in four months."

"Well, I'm sure you're both very lucky. Boy or girl?"

"Boy."

Officer Buchanan hadn't gotten any closer to the bathroom. Perhaps he'd even moved a few steps back into the room.

"You must be proud," Darla said.

"I am, yes."

"Did you pick a name?"

"Brian."

"Brian! That's my brother's name!" Darla said. "I love that name. Oh, I can tell your wife is really lucky to have you. It seems as though every man I know is pretty terrible. Not loyal. Not accountable."

"I can't imagine anyone would be like that to you. You're so...beautiful."

"That's so sweet of you to say. But you would be surprised. It means a lot. It's one more reminder why I wish I had someone in my life with your qualities. But I am nervous."

"Did I do something? I mean, I definitely should have been more polite outside."

"Don't worry. I'm nervous about this guy you're looking for. I'm sure he's probably hightailed it out of here by now. No one assaults someone else and then sticks around. But, if someone IS around, how do I know I'll be safe? I had a rough night with my parents and I'm feeling vulnerable. If I see someone or hear something that's not quite normal, what should I do?"

"Well, what you can do..."

"Because, I really hoped when you knocked on the door and I saw you were there, that you might stay. Based on your comment outside, the way you started talking to me, sir..."

"That was a mistake." He repeated. "You wouldn't tell anyone, would you?"

"I never would."

Officer Buchanan cleared his throat a third time. "Well, here's a card, ma'am. If something comes up or if someone shows up who makes you uncomfortable, just call this number and the dispatcher will get you...."

"A dispatcher," Darla cut him off. "Isn't there some way I can reach a police officer directly? Is there some way I can reach you?"

The room went momentarily silent. "Okay, let me have the card back. I can write my number on it."

"That's wonderful. And I would only call in an emergency. I promise."

Billy suddenly was concerned for the cop and his family. Despite hating the guy, he knew it was not beyond Darla's abilities, if she was truly resentful, to hurt this guy's marriage by calling him. More than once.

"That's fine, ma'am. I'm sure you'll use your judgment."

"Call me Lisa, please. Ma'am seems so formal."

She giggled again.

"Well, look, I think I distracted you," she said. "Do you still need to look around?"

"I don't need to." Officer Buchanan hesitated. "I'm sure I just have a few more rooms to check out and then it will be time to head out."

"Well, stay safe."

"Yes, thanks...Lisa. By the way, remind me about that towel?"

Darla hadn't had a response about the towel when the cop first asked about it. But she appeared to have come up with a story between then and now.

"Remember, I told you out in the parking lot I came here to get away from my parents? I'm afraid I had a crying fit. The towel, well, it's softer than tissues."

"And that's when I knocked on the door." Officer Buchanan paused. "I'm very sorry."

"It's not your fault but thank you for saying that. And I'm sorry you have to go out in the storm."

"Some buddies of mine in the Border Patrol got their truck stuck off 86 a few nights ago. Flash flood caught them unawares after the rains. They're lucky to still be alive."

"That sounds pretty dangerous. You need to stay safe tonight..for your wife and for Brian."

"Thank you." The cop gave a little laugh. "Have a good night, ma'am...Lisa."

"Good night, Officer Buchanan."

The door closed and Billy exhaled. But he didn't move. Darla didn't come rushing into the bathroom either. She kept rummaging around in the other room.

Then, unexpectedly, light poured into the bathroom. Darla had opened the door. Through the vinyl shower curtain, Billy saw her framed against the doorway of light.

Darla closed the door and the light disappeared again. She was inside. She pulled back the curtain.

"It's just us now, sweetheart," she said, her fingers finding him in the dark. "Oh my god, that smell."

"The curtain must be new."

"We're not new, me and you." She giggled as she had with the cop. "We're tried and true."

Her lips found his. Their tongues interlocked and their arms intertwined.

"That was amazing." He whispered. "What you did with that cop. I don't know how you pulled it off."

"Women are amazing," Darla whispered back. Her hands dropped to the band of his shorts. "I think we've both been waiting long enough for you to remind me how amazing you are."

Her fingers found his erection. "Come on."

Billy followed her back to the bedroom. She flicked off the lights. The rain pounded down even harder than before, but Billy could still just hear Officer Buchanan interviewing someone in the doorway of the next room over. He trembled with the excitement of having barely evaded the cop. He supposed it was the kind of thing that Darla was addicted to.

Darla pushed Billy down so he was seated on the bed. In the blue glow from the Motel 6 sign coming through the curtains, he saw her crouch and pull the box out from under the bed. She opened it and, with expert dexterity, unwrapped a condom from its foil and slipped it on him. Billy would have preferred a sexier undressing, but Darla pulled off her pants and underpants, and lay back on the spread without turning it back.

"Come here," she ordered and Billy crawled up to and over her. They came together.

Her arms went around his neck. "I've missed you, Billy," she whispered as he entered her. "It's been too long and that's not right."

They took their time. It had been a long time, Billy admitted. It was good to be with her again.

After it was over, Billy rolled onto his side of the spread. They fumbled for a moment to draw back the sheets and slip underneath. The sheets were itchy against his skin (the way Darla had described the tissues), but they were not such a distraction that he couldn't appreciate what had just happened between them. He spooned up against her, wrapped one arm around her and placed his palm on her flat, cool stomach.

Their sex scented the air. From close by outside came a murmur of voices, though Billy was pretty sure Officer Buchanan's wasn't among them. He couldn't tell if they came from out by the parking lot or from a nearby motel room. A door slammed shut and a car honked on South Freeway. The rain kept on. The police officer was probably gone.

Whatever craziness had happened this evening was pretty much over now. Billy closed his eyes. Darla's hand came down over his on her stomach, and that relaxed him even more.

"Wasn't this worth it?" she asked. "Aren't I worth it?"

Before Billy could answer though, he fell asleep.



Billy woke to find himself staring at the ceiling. He had no idea where he was. A hand shook him. He looked over. Darla sat on the side of the bed, dressed. He remembered everything.

He looked past her at the red digital figures on the bedside clock. It was 2:27.

"Get up," Darla urged. "Come on, get up."

"What?" Billy groaned. "What did you say? Why are you dressed?"

"Let's go."

"Where are we going?"

"I want to sit by the pool."

Billy groaned again and started to pull the sheets over his head but Darla yanked them away.

He hid under the pillow, instead. "The pool? Are you kidding? That's where I 'assaulted' the officer manager last night, don't you remember?"

"I'm serious," Darla said. "I was just out there. Everything's quiet. No one's around."

"You were out there already?"

"The office is open but the manager's gone. Some sleepy Latino guy is in there. He's harmless. Even if someone did tell him what went down tonight, I'm sure he either doesn't understand or doesn't care. He's got a little TV. He's happy. I'm sure we could walk right by and he wouldn't even notice."

Billy reached for her.

"I mean it." She smacked his hands away. "Let's go."

The rain had stopped. Everything was still. Billy imagined the warm, clean air outside, but the deep well of sleep was pulling him back down. His eyes began to close.

"Let's go." She gave him another nudge. "I don't want to have to sit out there by myself. I might get bored and go look for someone."

With another groan, Billy rolled over and put his feet on the floor. He sat a moment, dazed. Darla watched him. He glanced her way then planted his hands on his knees and blinked furiously, willing consciousness to return.

Then he stood, cursed under his breath, slipped into his boxers and got dressed as Darla leaned against the wall by the door, waiting. As they stepped outside, he braced himself. He experienced visions of a legion of cop cars roaring into the parking lot as Billy exposed himself to the night, lights flashing and sirens wailing. We got the bastard, he imagined Officer Buchanan yelling and slamming Billy against the hood of the patrol car.

But nothing happened. Outside was only the cleansed, post-storm stillness of early morning dark. It held Tucson in thrall to a deep sleep, a mesmerizing sleep to which Billy himself had belonged until moments ago.

Darla led him along the arcade until they came to the front of the motel. Light spilled onto the sidewalk by the open office doorway and Billy stood up straight. They would have to go past it to get to the pool.

Darla slipped her hand into his.

"It's okay." She led him down the flagstone walkway past other room doors, and then into and through the light. Billy bravely glanced into the office and there, sure enough, a young, pudgy Latino guy who couldn't have been much older than 30 sat behind the desk watching television.

He raised his head as Billy and Darla walked past, smiled amiably and waved.

Billy waved back. It was impossible to believe he, Billy, could have gone from some perp the police was looking for a few brief hours ago to an innocently perceived motel guest.

Darla led him by the hand until they came to the gate of the wrought-iron fence that surrounded the pool area. Incredibly, especially after his break-in the previous evening, it was not locked. It didn't even creak when they pushed it open; Billy couldn't remember whether the gate had been closed the previous evening. He glanced out at the water, at the very place he had stood just before his confrontation with the office manager.

A brief clatter drew his attention and he looked over to see Darla snapping off her sandals. They landed with two thumps on the patio. Then Darla sat down poolside and dipped her legs in the water. "Cold, cold, cold," she said and kicked back and forth. "Come on in."

"Yeah, I know all about that cold," Billy said, slipping off his sneakers and dropping down beside her. If anything, the water was even icier than it had been earlier this evening. "Why the hell is it so cold?"

"There's no sun," Darla said. She trailed her hand in the water.

The night sky was clear and filled with a million stars. All but a few of the first- and second-floor windows in the motel around them were dark. Billy glanced at the ones with light. "Someone can't sleep. Just like you."

Darla smiled dreamily at the water. The intensity that had accompanied her the previous evening, and which had driven her trouble-making tendencies, was gone. Now there was something innocent about her. Billy knew Darla well enough to know she could often be this way, that her personality could veer in many directions within a short period of time. But that didn't stop him from feeling protective. He put his arm around Darla's shoulders and drew her toward him.

"My man." Her smile broadened. Her head fell against his shoulder.

"Did you want to do anything special out here?" he said.

"Don't you like the quiet?"

"I do." He casually stroked some strands of hair back behind her ear. Experiencing Darla like this drew Billy toward a heightened state of wakefulness. It was almost as though he had spent years looking for something he'd lost and, having stumbled onto it again, realized that he'd forgotten how wonderful it was.

"You probably think I should be better," she said. "I mean, you think I should be a better person."

"I like the way you are," he said and kissed the side of her face.

She stretched her head to the side and he kissed her neck too. "I didn't mean to...turn out like this."

Billy drew back to frown. "Turn out like what?"

"Well, you know."

"No, I don't."

"You know my sister, right?"

"Stephanie?"

"Stephanie." Darla smiled.

A peal of thunder rumbled off in the distance, carrying the storm over the desert.

"Ah, my big sister," she went on. "The gifted one, the award-winning one, the one my parents dote over. All I have is my reputation. My good girl sister doesn't have a reputation, at least not the kind I have."

Billy nearly told Darla she was responsible for what she did and didn't do, but he didn't think that would go over well. What was she talking about?

It was as though she could read his thoughts.

"I don't mean to go soft on you, Billy. I'm sure you don't need that. Maybe I enjoy getting into trouble and starting things because that's how I get my kicks.

"When Steph was younger, she won a national art contest. She had to paint this picture in a magazine and the judges thought her painting was better than anyone else who sent one in. She was fourteen years old. I didn't even know she had entered. Everyone was so excited for her including me. She won some money that mom and dad put in a savings bond. Our parents had a party and their friends came over and they brought their kids, and they were my and Steph's friends and it was really a great time. After a little while, I even forgot why we had the party. It was just so great having everyone around.

"But then mom and dad brought everyone together in the living room and called Stephanie up front and said they were so proud of her. It was weird having my sister stand in front of all the adults like that, with mom and dad, with me apart and just part of the crowd. It was only a minute and the feeling went away.


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