Alice could hear her momma crunching up the driveway, stopping to talk, her voice hushed. A deep voice responded, resonating, liquid, it thrummed through the night, into the bones of the house, into Alice; she felt it fill her up, warm like a drought of some ancient potion, simultaneously invigorating and inebriating. She closed her eyes and swayed with it.
For a time, she was lost, feeling the warmth and comfort washing over here. Her hunger faded. She could smell the sweet scent of something, just at the edge of her memory, the smell of the garbage can and the dishes in the sink faded, replaced by the saccharine smell of donuts and hot chocolate and Saturday mornings cuddling on the couch, everyone together, back when she was even littler, before daddy left.
She could feel something pulling at her, dragging her back. She could feel the warmth of that place, that memory, the smell of coffee on daddy’s breath, the bristles of his chin when he snuggled them, him and momma on each side of them.
Someone else was there. She felt the tugging again, and she shrugged it off.
Something wasn’t right. There had been someone else there. She searched her memory, but couldn’t place it. It seemed important, but she couldn’t tell why. Alice kept digging and the tugging sensation got louder, more insistent. She just wanted to snuggle in daddy’s shoulder and fall asleep next to… next to someone.
Travis! She wanted to fall asleep next to Travis. That’s who she had been thinking of. She was relieved to have thought of him, and somewhat ashamed that she had forgotten him. Of course he had been there. Everything was going to be alright now that she had remembered him. But now that she had remembered him, the details of the memory started to come back to her.
Daddy and momma had gotten into an argument about the donuts, and daddy had called momma some not-nice words. Travis had been there, next to her, and they had been shoving each other and wrestling with daddy, and Travis had pushed her and she had hit her head on the coffee table, and then momma and daddy had started yelling at each other.
Alice blinked. Travis was pulling on her arm with the the strength his nine-year-old body could bring to bear, but he had started out so small, and it wasn’t until puberty that he sprang up like a weed. Even two years younger, at seven, Alice could still out muscle him sometimes, and this time she had held firm, staring out the window at the man with momma. They weren’t kissing anymore, and momma was leading him to the back door, the one where she and Travis were to supposed to stay in their rooms if she came in.
Travis was speaking. “Come on!” he said in a loud whisper. “We’ve gotta hide or we won’t see!”
They ran together and got under the tablecloth to the dining room where they could see through the lace, but wouldn’t be seen as long as they stayed still and quiet.
The kitchen door swung open and momma came in. She smelled like perfume, and hair gel and alcohol. She stumbled in over the threshold and steadied herself at the table to take off her heels. The man stood outside on the stoop, politely waiting. Nothing of him came into the house, not even his smell.
Momma turned back to him, giggling, “Are you going to just stand out there all night?”
He smiled. Alice gasped and felt her heart flutter. Travis elbowed her in the side to shush her.
Now that the man was closer, Alice had a good look at him. He had sharp features, hook nosed and thin eyebrows, calm gray eyes, filled to the brim with loss and pain and sadness that threatened to overflow at any moment and beckoned Alice to step out and take care of him.
He spoke in a crisp accent, foreign somehow, but he spoke well. “I may seem old fashioned, but where I am from it is polite to wait until a lady has invited me into her home.” He held his hand up in a gesture that was half defensive, half apologetic.
Alice’s momma dropped her shoe on the floor like it was something dirty, and walk back over to the door with a sway to her hips that Alice only saw when her momma was trying to get a discount at the department store. “Is that right? Is that what you think of me? A lady?”
She came right up to the door and leaned forward, just up to the threshold. “So you wouldn’t take advantage of a woman all alone, defenseless?” She shimmied down slowly as she spoke, until she was crouching with her hands on the floor. When she stood again, a small article of black lace was on the floor between her feet. “You must be quite a gentleman.”
The man leaned forward, bringing his face within an inch of Alice’s momma’s, and stopped short just before kissing her. “I am only a man. I do not know if I could restrain myself in such a situation. Were I to come across such a woman, of course.” He pulled back as she leaned forward and continued. “Fortunately, you are far from defenseless.”
Alice’s momma leaned out the door and reached up with one hand. Alice couldn’t hear or see what happened next, but then her momma led the man in through the door by his tie. She walked slowly, drawing him along behind her. The man followed, slowly at first, then faster, until he was pressed against her back, first placing his hands on her hips, then sliding them around her waist. Alice’s momma stopped walking, then she pressed back into the man. His arms came up and tightened around her as he lowered his mouth to her neck.
Alice woke up to the sound of Bruce’s phone beeping and vibrating across the table in front of her. She had eaten an entire bowl of mac and cheese and then passed out, drooling on the kitchen table in this weird house. She wiped her mouth and rubbed her eyes, then picked up the phone and put Bruce’s idiotic passcode in to see what the message was. It was from Esther, no text, just an image, and when Alice opened it up and got a look at it, she felt the bile in her stomach rise, and she dropped the phone.