"Any good-looking farm boys?" she asks.
I laugh. "We just arrived, and you think I already scoped out the town?"
"I would have," Sweets says, and that's probably true. She is what some would call 'big-boned', others would consider 'tall', and real connoisseurs would call 'a challenge'. With her long blonde hair and six-foot-eight frame she literally stands out in a crowd. She's not a giant orc or some sort. She's just long, tall, and pretty. And pretty damn scary when she's mad at someone. Her big brown puppy-like eyes, a major weapon in the hunt for the next boyfriend, turn into pools of endless darkness whenever she gets angry. Potential boyfriends fear her, former boyfriends even more so.
She claims to be going steady lately but I don't believe her. She never mentions the same name twice, and she simply isn't the type. I think. But hell, what do I know? She has a love life of sorts whilst I just barely understand the concept. Still, whenever we meet in person we feel like close relatives. I understand the way she thinks. I can finish the sentences she started as if we're an old married couple. And yet, I don't know her at all.
But that's okay.
I know everything I need to know. She's a good friend, no, a great friend. She listens when I need to get something off my chest. She lifts me up when I'm down and out, and puts me down when I give in to undeserved optimism. We discuss idols and fashion and she makes me say positive things about her outfit for her next party. We exchange hear-say, tall tales, and juicy gossip about people we never met. And best of all: whenever I don't feel like talking she provides both sides of the conversation.
"At least you got coverage," she says.
"For now. You know how my mom is. She always manages to find a place so remote, they have to bring in electricity on horseback."
Sweets laughs. "You'll get fixed internet this time?" She's talking about a landline, anything not wireless. She always asks. Phone companies and ISPs know all about making money, and they'll make sure the customer pays. And though prices went down I'm still not on an unlimited bundle. With data limits and the poor coverage in your typical backwater town I always find myself hunting for some free Internet connection.
I'm not sure what Sweets gets out of our endless chats and calls. For me, it's as if I live a normal life, chatting with a good friend who's living just two blocks away, and not all the way down in Florida. For her... I don't know. I'm afraid to ask in case she figures out she could spend her time in better ways. She often tells me she's jealous of my roaming about, and each time I reply I'd rather live her steady life. I'm not sure who of us is lying the most. But as long as she's willing to be my friend I'll take it. And as long as I can stand her showing off yet another revealing dress, I'll survive.
I check my phone and scan for Wi-Fi networks. It finds two, both password protected. "Not on my phone. Maybe. Wait."
There's a little folder on the wobbly table, with the logo of the Sonata Grand Hotel printed in the top right corner. Inside are a few flyers for local attractions, which include an authentic glass-blower, a bowling alley that is only open on weekday evenings, an invitation for a 'grand 'summer fiesta all Mexican style'. And finally, there's a small menu belonging to a restaurant we passed on our way into town. I'm pretty sure the place was boarded up, and the invitation is three years overdue. At the bottom of the stack, there's a little piece of crumpled paper. I pick it up, and yes, the hotel has free internet! Though only on the ground floor near the reception.
"That sucks," Sweets agrees when I tell her.
We both fall silent. Me, glumly, and she, probably considering her next date.
"Did you watch the news?" she asks.
"Nah. I've been a little busy. We had to leave ahead of schedule."
"I bet you had nothing to do with that."
"It wasn't my fault." It was, but I'd be the last one to admit it. "Why do you ask?"
"I heard it on the news. Twenty-seven times, huh? All those poor girls… Was there any significance to the number? Some kind of poetic justice?"
"Not really. It just… happened. I didn't expect to make the headlines. Someone gets murdered every minute, so this would have been just one more. Who'd pay attention?"
"It's one murder every half hour," she corrects me. "Did you know medical errors kill about thirty times as many people every year? And that there's a suicide every ten minutes, in the US alone?"
I watch the news on the TV loop back to the burning houses and the bodies. "You're watching right now? It seems they have to update the statistics, no small thanks to my little contribution."
She ignores my sarcasm. "Done any shooting lately?"
"Not really. You?"
"Nah. No killing either." She sighs. "You know, Speckles, life has been boring since you've been gone. Nothing's happening. I miss you."
"I know. I miss you too." I do. It isn't a lie.
"At least you can call me. This time your phone is working."
She's silent for a moment. Then, in a small voice, she calls my name. "Eleanore?"
I sit up. Sweets calling me Eleanore is rare. Nobody calls me Eleanore, not if they want to stay on my good side. Not if they don't want to end up on my naughty-people-list. Which includes parents and teachers, so Mom's included twice. "What?"
There's no reply.
There's only her breathing, and I silently start counting. She isn't the person to stay silent that long. I'm getting a little nervous at thirty. Thirty-one. Thirty-two. At thirty-three, Sweets asks, "Do you still have it?"
It takes me a long second to figure it out. "Yeah. That is if you're talking about the book?"
"Yeah." Another pause. Outside a large engine comes to life, blue and red lights flash through the frayed curtains as a siren starts wailing.
"Speckles?" she asks.
"Be careful. Don't get killed, okay?"
"I've got no immediate plans of that kind."
The engine growls, the police car accelerates and I imagine how the lights disappear in the distance as the siren fades away.
"If you do, make sure you read the book first."
"I... What? You told me not to read it," I say.
She laughs, but her tone is a little off. "Things have changed. Just do it, the reading I mean. Promise."
Which I do. I promise to read the damn thing.
She sighs again. "I... I'm sorry. Anyway, I have to go. Send me an email once you've got your Internet working. Oh, this may sound silly but, well... Let's not talk about the book again, okay?"
"Last time you asked me to keep a secret we were both six, and it involved a little dog and the contents of its bowels. My hindside still smarts even thinking about it. You're scaring me, girl. What's going on?"
"I can't tell. I..." There's a doorbell ringing in her background. "I'm so sorry, Speckles. I -" As the bell keeps ringing she makes it quick. "Gotta' go! Greets to your mom and read the book, just never mention it."
And she's gone.
I stare at my phone and wonder what that was all about. The thing buzzes in my hand. There's a text that says, 'Don't talk about the book. Delete this message. Love you. C.'
'C' for Candice. Yes, that's her real name, now I remember. Candice Thistle, who hates her name just as much as I hate mine. To me she's Sweets, to her I'm Speckles, and that's what matters. Still puzzling over her words I put the phone aside, pick up my black case and lay it on the bed to check the contents. My rifle. My guns. Her book, wrapped in brown paper. Some weapon oil, a bottle of holy water, my collection of crucifixes, a candy bar, and three hand grenades. It's all still there.
Just kidding. I never bring a candy bar.
Let’s get one thing straight. I hate guns almost as much as I hate rabbits. They are dangerous, and the world would be a much better place without them. Then again, the world would be better off without vampires, income tax, and Brussels sprouts. But vampires exist. And so do Brussels sprouts, skinwalkers, spirits, sorcerers, witches, demons, werewolves, social workers, even ghosts. Or so my Uncle Charlie claims. Claimed, whatever.
He must be right. Brussels sprouts are real and horrible, and I've dealt with ghosts as well. So who am I to say the other terrible things are mere figments of his imagination?
I mean, in the end, someone has to police those sprouts...