The lie stung, it really did. Except what else could she say?
They stayed connected without talking, and Mae had an image of the old female sitting beside her in the car, the embroidered housecoat and pink shuffle slippers like something Lucille Ball would have worn around her and Ricky’s apartment. But Tallah was barely mobile, even with her cane. There was no way she had the gumption for what was coming.
Hell, Mae wasn’t sure she could handle this.
“You know what to do?” Tallah asked. “And you’ll call me as soon as you’re back in the car?”
God, that voice was getting so weak.
“Yes. I promise.”
“I love you, Mae. You can do this.”
No, I can’t. “I love you, too.”
As Mae hung up, she rubbed her stinging eyes. But then she was all about the exits. Fourth Street? Market? She got nervous about missing the one she needed, and ended up leaving the highway too soon. Making an inefficient box pattern around a basket weave of one-ways, she found Trade Street and stayed on it, the numbers on the avenues going up through the teens and into the twenties.
When she entered the thirties, the commercial property values plummeted, the old-fashioned office buildings all boarded up, any restaurants or shops abandoned. The only cars around were either passing through or dead and picked clean, and forget about pedestrians. The cracked and debris-strewn sidewalks were empty, and not just because April remained inhospitable in upstate New York.
She was losing faith in the whole plan when she came up to the first of several packed-full parking lots.
And Jesus, it was about what was in them.
The vehicles—because they sure didn’t look like regular sedans and hatchbacks—were brilliant neon unless they were black, and they were styled like anime, all aerodynamic angles and scooped bumpers.
She was in the right place—
Scratch that. She didn’t belong here, but she was where she needed to be.
Mae pulled into the third lot on the same theory she’d bailed early on the highway: If she went much farther, she might overshoot things. And once she was inside the one-block boundary of rusted chicken wire, she had to go all the way to the back row to find a space. As she rolled along, humans who matched the fancy drag racers, versions of Jake Paul and Tana Mongeau, looked at her like she was a librarian lost at a rave.
This made her sad, although not because she cared about a bunch of humans’ opinions of her.
The fact that she knew anything about human influencers was courtesy of Rhoger. And the reminder of how things used to be between them was a door she had to shut. Falling into that black hole was not going to help her right now.
When she got out of her Civic, she had to lock the door with her key because the fob was dead. Tucking her bag against her body, she lowered her head and didn’t look at the people she passed. She could sense their stares, however, and the irony was that they weren’t eyeballing her because she was a vampire. No doubt her jeans and her SUNY Caldie sweatshirt were an offense to all their Gucci.
She wasn’t exactly sure where to go, but a trickle of people was funneling into a larger tributary of humans, and the lot of them were heading toward a parking garage. As she joined the eventual river of twenty-year-olds in all their hot-and-sexy, she tried to see up ahead. The entrance to the multi-leveled concrete stack was barricaded, but a line had formed outside a door that was off to one side.
As Mae took a spot and kept to herself, there was a good forty feet of single file going on and things were moving slowly, two men the size of semis growling at the chosen who were allowed in—and they did turn people away. It just wasn’t immediately clear what the data screen was, although no doubt Mae was going to be on the “yeah nope” list—
“You lost or something?”
The question had to be repeated before she realized she was being addressed, and as she turned around, the two girls—well, women—who were making the inquiry were looking as impressed as the bouncers were going to be when they tried to deny Mae entry.
“No, I’m not lost.”
The one on the right, who had a tattoo under the eye that read “Dady’s Girl” in cursive, leaned in. “I think you’re fucking lost.”
Her pupils were so dilated that her irises were invisible, and the eyebrows had been plucked to such a thin wire that they—no, wait, they’d been tattooed on, too. Fake lashes were tipped with little pink dots that matched the pink-and-black ethos of what was more costume than clothing, and there were piercings in places that made Mae hope the woman never had a runny nose or food poisoning.
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