Our Little Secret, Part Five

Our Little Secret

Part Five

Pennies. It smelled like cold pennies. A smell so thick that it was a taste, sharp in a mouth gone dry, driving straight, deep into a soured stomach.

Whistling echoed from somewhere far away. Footsteps tapped, slowed. And then the door swung open.

“Oh ffffuuu—rrrrick-a-frack!” cried a voice.

Lance shot up. His foot slipped. His leg burned. He slammed to a knee. Fire shot through him.

Oh. There was blood. All over the place.

Okay. Not. Moving.

Something clattered on the floor.

Lance looked up.

There was a guy. He had a do-rag and a towel over his shoulders. One tattooed hand was pressed over the lower half of his face, eyes wide and mostly white, and his back the other hand was pressed against the wall behind him. He was frozen. His face was ashen. There was a mop lying on the floor and bucket standing on its own in the doorway.

Behind, something shifted. There was a groan.

Carmen.

He could hardly see her skin for all the blood—trails, smears, handprints. Her hair stuck in clumps to her skin. A piece of offering paper clung to her cheek, only a little shy of her ear.

“D-d-do… ah… do y’all need help?”

The guy still had his hand over his face.

Quick finger-prod status check. Head, neck, vitals, all clear. Full breath in and out. Tongue over teeth. Only the leg had any kinda wound.

“Carmen?”

Carmen held a hand up to say no, palm out, fingers trembling. Her eyes came up, scanning around.

The room was like a scene from a slasher flick. A layer of blood coated the floor, streaked and smeared and pooled. Some was splashed on the walls. The offering bowl lay scattered about in pieces and the candle rested unmoving, wax gooped on the floor, solidified, mixed with blood. Carmen’s knife was not far from it. Heaps of clothing had been flung to different corners of the room, barely recognizable.

Aww man. His cape was ruined.

She rose suddenly, scrambled on hands and knees, slipping and sliding through the blood, stopped in the corner just as suddenly as she’d started, and puked.

Yebat.

There were chunks. And smell.

The poor guy just stood there, growing paler. Goddamn! He was here to clean this shit up, wasn’t he?

“Geez,” Lance said. “I’m sorry for the mess, man.”

And Carmen was puking in the corner. He had to get on the hair thing.

He rose, careful, then started heading her way, favoring the fire in his leg. But they couldn’t just leave this dude to it. “I… ah… I can take care of some of this. Can we just get another bucket of water?” That wouldn’t be enough. “Or two? And some towels.”

The guy’s eyes flicked over them, still wide. Then he nodded and retreated, sliding along the wall.

Lance crouched slowly next to Carmen. Footsteps tapped away.

“Got your hair, babe.” He reached out to gather it up, fingers brushing her neck.

She shot up, pressing her back against the wall, sliding away with a scrambling of feet. Her eyes were wide, sharp.

Whoa. Carmen was freaked.

“Whoa, hey!” He drew back, put his hands up. “I’m sorry.” Calm. This was calm. “Būsenos ataskaita?” Dovilė’s question, ‘cause Dovilė was always calm. She was the calm master.

Her eyes slid off of him. She eased. “I’m fine.”

That was bullshit and a half. “For real, though.”

“You know how I am about bein’ touched there.” She stood and moved to the other side of the room, keeping her back to him, hands rubbing her neck where he’d brushed it.

Well, yeah, but… “Carmen, you freaked out.”

She shook her head and put her hand out.

Alright, so she didn’t wanna talk about it. Maybe she was trying to put it all back together again. He knew he couldn’t make heads or tails of last night.

Yeah, it’d been pretty freaky. He was kinda freaked too. But mostly confused.

Lance started on the mess with the mop and bucket.

He was about a third of the way through when the guy showed up with two more buckets and towels and another mop, then left with a promise of more buckets. Not that the mopping helped much, it only spread bloody, pukey, soapy water around. But there were drains in the room, at least. That was… good. And gross as fuck. They were expecting this kinda shit in the offering rooms? Or did it, like, happen before? Fuckin’ ew.

After he left, Carmen took a bucket, stood over a drain, and dumped the water over her head.

That was a damn good idea. She was a fuckin’ genius. He went to grab the other bucket.

She began to towel herself off. Her usual process: face, neck, squeeze out the hair, then shoulders, then down. The towel was more red than dirty off-white by the time she reached her waist. She tossed it aside and grabbed another.

Wait. That—that was jizz she was cleaning off the inside of her legs.

So… that was sex that had been happening last night. Explained some of the smell. Also why his dick was sore as a motherfucker.

He moved to a drain and began cleaning himself off with the second bucket.

He’d been coated in it too. Damn. That poor janitor-dude. Lance would definitely have freaked out if he’d seen a buck-naked dude completely covered in blood jump right the fuck up from being maybe dead, ready for action. This guy’d have to be, like… tipped or something. Maybe they could put in a good word for him with Alejandra. But first a shower and clean clothes.

Wait. If there’d been sex, that—that was… what was the word? It meant unholy. Sacrameligious or some shit. He knew that. It wasn’t okay until four days after a sacrifice. Carmen had been pretty damn clear about that.

But maybe it was okay in this case? A special occasion? She wouldn’t have let any fucking happen if it wasn’t allowed. Except she’d been trippin’ balls too… Would she even—or did he—did either of them actually know what’d been going on?

Mierda! That’s freaky as fuck!

Okay. Okay. It was over. What was done was done. There was no talking happening until she was ready. So time to stop thinking about this shit.

Mouth shut, Gorman.



Coyote snorted mid-snore, and started, hitting his head on the underside of the bus. Tools clattered. He slid out and jumped up, wrench in hand, opened his mouth, and then closed it, looking taken aback.

“Some party, huh?”

Carmen boarded the bus. She didn’t even glare at Coyote. Usually she didn’t let him get away without some kinda glare or cold shoulder or something.

Damn. She was not doing so good.

Lance tipped his chin to Coyote. “Ready to go?”

Coyote’s eyes flicked to the bus. “Yep! Purring like a kitten.” He slid his eyes across the ground. “That is, she will. When we start her up.” He looked up and offered a shit-eating smile.

Lance held out his palm. Coyote dropped the keys into it.

He got on and started the engine, pulling the door close lever after Coyote boarded, and put the bus into gear.

In the rearview mirror, Carmen was looking out the window, legs tucked under her.

He’d heard Coach Sarge. He’d relived his “utter fucking mental retardation”. His trip showed him just how much of a fuckup he was.

What’d she hear, then? What’d she see? What in the hell happened to her?

Mouth shut, Gorman.



Lance pulled the hood-popper. Bright pink-and-green steam hissed out, filling the windshield. Carmen stepped off the bus and lifted it up the rest of the way.

And she swore. In Spanish, Russian, and English.

That was the first he’d heard from her in six hours. And it didn’t sound good. It sounded like it was time to get the rope out.

Lance pulled the key out of the ignition and moved to the side cargo panel.

“Oh! Hey!” Coyote cried. “This is easy! I can fix this! We can use the spare potato for that—so I just need to get a thunderstone from beyond the horizon. All I need is some rope.”

“You’ve got to be shitting me,” said Carmen.

Lance shouldered the rope and moved to the front of the bus.

“Absolutely not! Thunderstone’ll do the trick. And this is even the right time of year for ‘em, too!”

Well… Coyote may be full of bullshit, but he did know this jacked engine way better than pretty much anyone else. It could be powered by unicorn farts for all they knew. And, like, he wanted to get home too, away from hungry monster eyes. If he said it was a simple fix, then… “Sweet.”

Carmen took in a breath between her teeth and moved a couple steps away from them.

Whoa. Simple fix. Why was she so upset?

Okay. It was time for some serious moral support.

Lance set the rope down. “Give us a minute here, Coyote.”

Coyote cocked his head, but kept his mouth shut.

“It’s fine, Lance.” Carmen turned back around to face Coyote. “When can we expect you back?”

Well shit. Apparently not.

Coyote’s eyes flicked to him like ‘What landed you in the doghouse?’ Then he said,“No more than two hours. Tops.”

Lance shook his head and moved to the harness under the bumper. “Lemme just tow this thing first, then the rope’s all yours.”

Coyote’s grin broadened. “Sure thing, He-Man.”

Lance hauled the bus in the shadow of a nearby plateau. His leg burned with every other step, cracked open, and stained the bandage. After a couple dozen steps, though, the burning spread into a hazy ache. Then he untied the rope, coiled it, and handed it over.

Then Coyote left, bounding across the landscape, rope coiled in his maw and tail bobbing as if it were waving them goodbye.

In the bus, Carmen sat in the back, curled up on some of the cargo, eyes on the wall. She wasn’t even looking out a window this time.

She was avoiding him. That was for fucking sure. This had to do with last night. Shit, why didn’t she just say something? Yoptel-mopsel!

Mouth shut, Gorman.

This was too much. It was time to take a walk. Leg be-fuckin’-damned.



On the horizon, clouds loomed, spreading from one end to another, shadowing the mountains and making them look like black teeth. A storm was coming their way. A big one. Probably flash flood this place. That would delay their trip further, and wash out the caves and burrows of the monsters that really didn’t fuckin’ need to be be scared, annoyed, or hungry.

Carmen sat on the other end of the bus, staring out the window at the storm, her elbow on the window and her thumb and forefinger. Her book rested faceup in her lap, her thumb pressed in the crease of the spine.

Two days.

Not a word for two days.

It wasn’t just the silence, though. It was the way he hadn’t seen her eyes in that time either. Not once. It was the couple yards of space that always seemed to be there between her and him, despite the bus being so cramped.

Mouth shut, Gorman.

It was her walking through life as if he hardly existed. Except she was so tense all the time, and walked all quiet like she didn’t want to wake him up or something. So he did and didn’t exist at the same time. Like that Schwarzenegger’s cat.

Mouth shut, Gorman.

It wasn’t even anything to do with him. She could hate him and that would be alright! Well, not alright alright, but at least she’d be glaring at him or cussing him out or something. It was her not being her anymore. No teasing, no cursing, no dirty looks, nothing. She wasn’t pissed or upset or sad or… or… She was just… off.

No. He had to do something. It was either open his big fucking mouth or punch something.

He approached, his footsteps sending metallic thumps through the bus, and put his hand on her shoulder. “Carmen.”

She took in a quick breath and flinched away from him, tugging her shawl defensively.

Yobannye passatizhi!

Her eyes flicked to him and flicked down.

Damn. There was something seriously wrong. He stepped back. Sat down.

“How long are we gonna wait?” he asked.

“Yeah,” she said, turning her eyes back to the window. “I don’t think Coyote’s coming back before that storm hits.”

No shit?

No. Shit. Focus, Gorman.

“No. I mean to talk about… whatever the fuck happened.”

The silence slammed shut, howling at him again.

Fine. He’d keep his big fucking mouth open. If he fucked up and made her mad, at least she’d say or do something.

“Look.” He took a breath. “I’m confused. You won’t talk to me. You won’t look at me. You freak out every time I try to touch you. And I’m fuckin’ mad. I dunno shit about what happened or what you saw or even what I did. All I know is what I saw, what I felt, which is fuckin’ confusing because it wasn’t until I was sober that I knew for sure that we fucked!” He threw his hands in the air. “And now you’re just… gone.”

He wasn’t done, but the words left him. Mierda, he wanted so much still. He wanted her to tease him. To cuss him out. To call him estupid. To know why she wasn’t doing that anymore.

Oh. There the words were.

“I want you to talk. I want to understand.” He wanted her back. “I miss you like fuckin’ crazy, Carmen.”

The only thing about her that moved was her jaw again, and her chest as she breathed.

She still wasn’t talking.

Fuck—where the fuck was Lisa when he needed her!?

Breaths. That’s right. Ten breaths, she’d said.

One… two… three… four… five… six… seven… eight… nine… ten.

He’d been angry. Angry meant scared. And fear was the mind killer.

No wait, that one was Ange.

Fear leads to the dark—

Nope, still Ange.

Still… he shouldn’t let being scared or being angry make him do shit. Like punch holes in the bus. Or yell. So he took some more breaths.

One… two… three…

Her eyelids flickered down and she opened her mouth to speak.

“Yeah. Yeah. I just…” She swallowed. “I know I gotta do it. But talking will be… will be more than just bleeding. It’ll be opening up from neck to pubes and pulling out all my own guts. And after… that might be it for us. I guess I was… hopin’ to put everything on pause and sort out all my affairs before I did this. But, I mean…” She spread her hands, indicating the bus. “Not the way the fuckin’ world works.” Her mouth twisted, and she looked to him. “I’m sorry. It was a dumb fuckin’ plan and you got hurt.”

Mierda.

She was taking this real fuckin’ serious. Talking practically like she’s going to die or some shit. He didn’t want to—

Oh fuck.

“You think we’re gonna break up?” Something jabbed at his throat from the inside.

“Mierda.” Carmen looked down. “I don’t know.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Did she… “Do you want to break up?” Ah shit. The ground dropped from his feet. Ah shit. Heat began to storm his head. Ah shit.

She put a hand over her face. “No.”

Okay. Okay.

He swallowed. Leaned back. Pushed his palms into his eyes. The heat left.

Fuck.

Tears wet his palms. He took a breath.

“I’m just… I’m just saying it’s a possibility. Lance… what I’m gonna tell you is something you’ve never known about me. Something that was… uncovered that night. Tangled up in… in what I did to you. It’s…” She swallowed. “… fuckin’ filth.” The words were breathed out. “And it’s gonna change everything.”

She was scared. Scared that he was gonna stop loving her.

He pulled his hands away from his face. She still wasn’t looking at him.

Did she, like, murder someone or something?

Dude. He’d totally seen her brain-control a bunch of cyclopes to take down Jan. Sure, it was scary as fuck, but it didn’t change the fact she hadn’t once done jack shit to hurt anyone at the homestead. And that she’d liked giving machine gun kisses to the boys when they were babies. And that her feet were ticklish.

He’d never stop loving her.

Maybe it’d be easier for her to talk if he said so.

“I’m not gonna break up with you, Carmen.” He started to move across the aisle to scootch in next to her. “I love you, and I ain’t gonna stop.”

Carmen turned from her hand to look at him, eyes wide like he’d just slapped her. “Mierda, Lance!” Her face twisted. “Why would you say that?” Her hand moved to her mouth. Her other arm wrapped around her stomach. She bent forward and shook with sobs.

Oh man. Ohhh man. “I just—” How did he fuck that up? “I was just tryin’ to make it easier for you.”

She continued to sob, curled on herself.

What was he supposed to fuckin’ do now? Tell her he hated her? Yeah, like that would make anything better. He wanted to hold her, which probably meant it was the worst fuckin’ idea in the entire godsbedamned world. Except… if shit was going the opposite of the way he thought it would, if he thought it was the worst idea then wouldn’t that make it the best one?

Fuck!

No, what it came down to was his big fuckin’ mouth again, making shit harder for everyone. He knew the answer to that. It was the answer to every-fuckin’-thing.

Mouth shut, Gorman.

Hold on.

“Hey.” He waited for a bit. “Would it help if I talked first?”

She took in a shaky breath. “What?”

“I… there was shit I faced that night too. And it’s…” Fuck. “Stupid fuckin’ decisions, you know? That hurt other people.” As if she needed more proof that he was a dumbass. “No one knows about it. It was shit I’d pretty much forgotten, since the end of the world. But…” Shit. Fuck. Even if it meant nothing anymore… He’d fucked up so bad. He rubbed the back of his neck. “Not that I wanna, like, make it about me. I’m just kinda… takin’ a shot in the dark. ‘Cause I ain’t spotless either, so… maybe… maybe that’ll help you say what you gotta say.”

She stared at him. Then she looked down. “Okay.”

“Okay.”

Now… now he had to say the things. How could he even… Fuck it. Talk about the holy acid trip. That’s how it’d all come up anyway.

“So. Starting from the top. The ritual.” He leaned forward, planting his elbows on his knees and pressing his hands together. “I got high, stabbed myself, bled on the papers.” Wait. Mierda. He’d had some questions about that! “We’re goin’ sideways here for a little ‘cause I got some quick questions.”

She looked up at him.

“It’s totally okay that I put the bowl on the ground and put my foot in the bowl, right? For the blood from my leg? It wasn’t, like, sacrameligious or something? ‘Cause otherwise I would’ve been holding my leg over the bowl like a retarded flamingo and I may have been high as fuck but that didn’t seem legit to me.”

Carmen’s brow furrowed. She shook her head, then looked at him again. “What?”

Oh shit. “So… I fucked it up, then?”

Carmen shook her head and wiped her eyes with her palm. “No. What you just said.”

Huh? “What, the retarded flamingo thing?”

Her lips twitched. “Sac-a-what?”

Oh. “Sacrameligious.”

She tucked her lips, closed her eyes, and took a breath before looking at him again. “The hell kinda word is that?”

Oh come on. She had to know that one.

“Means, like… unholy or taboo or some shit.”

She looked at him like he’d said something dumb. And then she broke out into a grin. Her eyes watered a little. And tucked her lower lip into her teeth like she was trying to stop it.

She was… she was smiling? He’d made her smile?

Cool.

“‘Sacrilegious’, Gorman,” she said.

Oh. Shit.

Yeah, okay—he had to milk it a little more.

“So is it sacrilmiligerous, then?”

Carmen wiped her eyes, sniffed, crossed her arms, and lifted her chin, making herself do that too-cool-for-school-not-quite-smile thing. Hah, she totally thought it was funny! “No, it ain’t.”

Oh thank fuck.

“Okay, so. I totally did everything right like a fuckin’ beast then. Bleeding and burning papers and shit. Sendin’ that worship on up to Alejo.” Alright. Time to get serious. “And then I heard Coach Sarge. He was my high school football coach. He… uh…” The important shit wasn’t the details of his trip. It was the shit around it. “I was real fuckin’ angry as a kid. Used to fly off the handle and beat the shit out of kids. I remembered a couple of those times, when I was burning blood-paper.” He shook his head. “This one kid in fourth grade, Jeremy, called my mom a slut. I hospitalized him. And when I was a freshman in high school, I beat the shit out of Kaho—this massive Samoan dude—‘cause I thought he’d spread a rumor that my girlfriend at the time was easy.” Shit, he’d been such an idiota kusok. “’Course, I was the one who went and told him I’d fucked her. I was a dumb little shit back then.” He rubbed his neck. “So… uh. Coach Sarge. He saw me fighting this guy who outclassed me by two weight classes and decided that I should join the football team.”

He looked up. Carmen was watching him, quiet and neutral. But he could see her eyes still. She was listening.

“Yeah. So. That was pretty great for a while. Coach Sarge taught me how to use my anger. How to control it. I got really good at it, and at football, and I got real buff, and everyone liked me, and it made me feel like I was a hero. Like I had a future.” Damn. How far fucking off base he’d been. “But… uh… junior year was my first year on varsity. There were house parties, with weed and booze and chicks. It was great at the time. But then there was this one…”

Mierda. Here it was. This was the hard part. It was years ago and didn’t fuckin’ matter anymore. Probably everyone involved was dead. But it’d still happened. And that girl… did she ever find out? What happened to her?

“A chick passed out. In a bedroom, probably ‘cause she didn’t want assholes to draw dicks on her face.” Lance cleared his throat. “Well, Gonz walked in thinking it was the bathroom. And when he saw her, he called us all in. We thought it was the funniest fuckin’ thing ever, ‘cause we were all plastered.” Shit, he’d been so dumb. “So Pratt—” Wait. Had it been Pratt? “Or maybe Uly got some other chick to pony up some eyeliner and of course he started drawin’ dicks on her face. She didn’t move, so Richards…” Yeah. Yeah, it’d been Richards. “He decided that drawings weren’t enough. So he pulled out his phone and whipped out his dick.” It was… it was all downhill from here. “I thought, ‘Okay, whatever, it’s just a pic.’” Yeah, like that excused it. Fuckin’ pendejo. “But then uhh… Lawson?” Whatever. “Someone decided he wanted one with his dick on her face. I tried to get them to leave her alone, but…” Yoptel-mopsel. His mouth twisted. “I don’t even really remember all the shit from that point on. I was shitfaced. Just something about her not wearing panties, lots of laughing, me being called a faggot ‘cause I tried to tell them to stop, and being pushed out and around and I… just… lost it. I don’t even know when a fuckin’ door came into it, but I busted a door down and ripped someone off her and then the others tried to pull me off him and… I took them out. All of them.”

Shit. Fuck.

“We had to forfeit the game the next day. Coach Sarge ripped me a new one for it. Said that one girl wasn’t worth the price of a whole team’s worth of health and trust. He told me I had to keep my mouth shut about the whole thing.” It’d seemed right at the time… “And… and I mean… I knew I’d fucked up. Hard. And football was my only way into college. My only way to maybe give Mom the life she wanted. Or that’s what I thought, anyway.” Shit, why’d he been so fuckin’ stupid? “So I did keep my mouth shut. From then on. Avoided parties and shit. Still heard about them, though.”

And… and that was it. After that, his mom was murdered and he ended up in a weird fuckin’ cult and then the world ended. None of it mattered anyway. If he’d said something, maybe… but he didn’t.

“So… yeah.”

Carmen looked down. Took a deep breath.

“Thanks, Lance.” She didn’t move.

He felt kinda like he wanted to puke. “Did… did that help?”

She thought for a moment, not looking at him. Then she nodded.

Oh thank fuck.

Carmen took another breath. “Okay.”

Then she stood, took a few steps down the aisle, her back to him, and stopped. Stared at nothing for a long moment. “I lost my virginity when I was 13.” She was quiet. Flat. “To my stepfather.”

Fuck.

Yebat-kopat.

She was tense. Silent. Thinking. But not looking at him. Then she took another breath.

“It started when I was 11. With touching.” Carmen tilted her head down. “He was caught by surprise. That he wanted me. That he acted on it. I dunno. He apologized. Bought me a real expensive pair of earrings. Told me it wouldn’t happen again.” She swallowed. “He was straight-up about it, mostly. Didn’t try to call it anything it wasn’t.” She shrugged a shoulder. “At least, that’s what it looked like to me at the time. And… it stopped for a while.” She was silent for a moment. “But then it got worse. With bigger prizes each time. If Mamá’d found out, she never said or did anything about it.”

That was fucked up. That was so fucked up.

“You know how I had a lot of sex in high school?” She lifted her head, turned to the window. “I… burned all that away. With the papers. It started with you. Your first time. And then it went backwards, like peeling a fuckin’ onion. Until…” She took another breath. “Until that night. When I was 11. With the earrings, and Dad telling me it should be our little secret. And then I was out of papers. And Alejo wouldn’t take it from me. He said that was my shit to deal with. After all that, after strippin’ me bare like that, he just… left me there.” Carmen’s eyes flicked his way, but didn’t reach him. “And then you came in. I thought that was it. It was over, you were there, you were gonna help me get the hell outta there. But then you started pickin’ me up and… and there was Dad. Waiting. Everywhere I looked. I could… feel his… his hands on me. It was terrifying. I didn’t want him to get me. And… and for some reason fucking you was the answer.” She waved a hand, mouth twisting like she’d eaten something bitter. “It made sense then. Doesn’t now. Something to do with wanting my papers back or some shit.” She sat down, covering her eyes with a hand. “Not that it matters. It was a fucked up thing to do.”

Yebat-kopat. “Carmen, the whole fuckin’ enchilada’s fucked up, from the chicken to the cheese.”

“Yeah, no shit.” She was quiet again. Eyes covered. “Anyway, now you know.”

Yeah. Now he knew.

And now she was sitting there, by herself, hating herself.

Maybe a hug would help? Except she really hadn’t wanted him to touch her at all these past few days. He couldn’t blame her. Mierda, maybe she had things about being touched that he never knew about.

Dude. She totally did. She was real picky about some places. Like her neck.

Holy shit.

Good thing her dad was dead. Or else that guy would be due some fuckin’ misery. Fuck! It wouldn’t be close to worth it if he was still alive, but goddamn did Lance want to—

Carmen tightened on herself.

Mierda. He had to do something.

Oh. Duh. He could ask.

“You… you want, like, a hug or something?”

Carmen moved from her hand a little, looking at him sidelong from one eye. “You actually wanna hug me?”

“Uh… yeah.”

She took her hand away from her face. “Lance, I date raped you.

What? “No—”

Oh. Yeah. That… that made sense.

“But… like… it’s…” No, don’t say it was okay. That’s fuckin’ wrong. But… “You were trippin’ balls. And you feel bad about it.” No, dumbass, that… that didn’t make it better. He shook his head. But… but it could be made better. “We’re gonna work that out. We’re gonna fix it. But to do that, we have to work out this shit with your stepdad. And I don’t have a fuckin’ clue how I can help just yet. I’m not smart enough to do Lisa-magic. But if a hug’s gonna do even a little bit of good then it’s one less thing you gotta deal with alone.”

Carmen kept staring at him like he’d just said something dumb.

He probably did. Oh fuckin’ well. He meant it, anyway. She could take it or leave it. He opened his arms.

She stared some more. Then her eyes slid to the ground. Her lips twisted. And then she scooted across the seat and crossed the aisle. He moved to let her in, then wrapped her up.

And then she buried her face in his chest and cried.



“We gotta get home before that storm hits,” Carmen said.

Damn. He’d thought she was asleep. She hadn’t been crying for a while. Just leaning against him, holding him, while he leaned against the wall of the bus, holding her. Shit, he’d been dozing a little himself.

Well, the crick in the neck was worth it anyway.

“I’d pull the bus if Coyote hadn’t taken the rope,” he said. “I mean, I could push instead, but then I wouldn’t know where to go or if I was about to push us into a hole or something.”

She shifted, all elbows and shoulders for a minute, then looked at him. It was that look, that kinda-surprised-kinda-pleased-kinda-turned-on look.

“Gorman, you’re pinche genio.

What’d he say?

She shifted again, rising, striding down the aisle. “You push and I’ll steer.”

Yoptel-mopsel. He loved this woman.

“Carmen, you’re a fuckin’ genius,” Lance said, pushing himself upright. “Let’s get this party started!”

Our Little Secret, Part Five

God-Touched Nut_Meg