In which the girls meet a real cowboy and things blow up

Six and a half hours later, they pulled into the Bill Pickett Arena on the west edge of town. They could have done it in five and a half if someone (Mikey) didn’t need to pee so often, and if someone (Dani) hadn’t remembered that some diner in Lusk had prize-winning apple pie. Luckily someone (Jen) had remembered the speed trap right when you come into Cheyenne. Nothing like a speeding ticket to slow down a trip. Ironic, that.

At the end of summer the foothills of the Rocky Mountains were painted in shades of brown and yellow. The hills were low here, not the dramatic peaks of the actual Rockies, just a rolling swell of land stretching off to the west. A tell-tale line of green behind the arena hinted at a river. The air smelled like hay and dust and horses, which wasn’t surprising given the handful of trailers parked in the dirt lot and the horses tied up near them. A few more horses grazed in the fields next to the parking lot. Dani parked the wagon on the paved part of the lot.

“Well?” She turned to Mikey. “Where now?”

Mikey checked his phone. “I texted him when we turned. Hold on.” A chirruping sound announced a new text. “He’s coming out. C’mon.” He scrambled out of the car before the women could even open their doors.

Dani and Jen got out of the car a little more slowly, taking in the area, Dani caught Jen’s eye over the top of the Roadmaster, waggling her eyebrows at Mikey’s enthusiasm. Jen had one foot up on the door frame and she’d propped her elbows on the roof, looking as relaxed as Dani has seen her in a while. Her thick black hair hung below her shoulders. She was getting back some of the golden glow that her mother fought so hard against. The paler Jen was, the happier Khun Honey was. But Dani loved the tan. It brought out the hazel in Jen’s eyes.

It had been a long time since Dani had road tripped with her best friend. This time, though, it was ghosts bringing them together again. Literal ones and the more figurative ones that haunted the blank years of Jen’s absence.

Dani stood up and twisted the stiffness out of her back with a groan.

“Tough drive, old man?” Jen asked with a smile.

“Karl!” Mikey’s yell pulled their attention away from each other. He ran across the parking lot towards the rangy cowboy headed their way. With a whoop, he leapt into the man’s arms. They could hear his deep laughter right before Mikey kissed the breath out of him. As the kiss went on, Dani cheered and clapped, Jen right there with her. “Go, Mikey! Woo hoo!”

Mikey slid down to the ground and walked back to the car, dragging Karl by the hand. When he got close enough he punched Dani hard in the arm.

“Ouch!” Rubbing her arm, she pointed at Jen, “Jen did it, too!”

He stuck his tongue out at Dani and smiled at Jen. “I like her better.”

Karl kept his left arm around Mikey as he shook Dani’s hand. “Karl Morrison.” His handshake was firm and sure, hands work-hardened. He was about ten years older than Mikey, tall and rectangular, with faded jeans and well-worn boots.

He reminded Dani of her elementary school principal in the way he sized her up. And, as with Mr. LoMonico, she had the feeling none of her charm will make the least bit of difference. She decided then and there to play it straight with him. No pun intended. “Danielle King.” She nodded across the car. “My partner, Jen.”

“Nice to meet you, ladies. Nice car.”

Dani liked him already.

“Oh, Karl, you’ve made a new best friend. Any friend of the Master of the Road is a friend of Dani’s.”

“That so? I’ve always like a nice Woodie.” Ignoring the groans, he patted the old station wagon on the roof. He motioned towards the large brick building with a tilt of his head. “Why don’t we go inside, get some privacy, some coffee, and we could talk.” He headed off towards the arena.

Mikey took off after Karl with a skip, but Dani waited for Jen to come around the front of the car. They walked side by side, Jen hovering to Dani’s right and a half a step behind.

 

Inside, they passed the ticket booth, the concession stand, and a trophy case. A walkway curved behind the wooden benches lining the empty sawdust arena below. There were some chutes on one end of the space and a couple of small holding pens on the other side.

“Sorry about the tight squeeze.” Karl pushed open the door to a small office. “I’m squatting here while the school is going on.”

Dani poked through the random papers and mostly empty file cabinets. “So you’re not here all the time?” She cataloged the minimal furniture and objects in the room, idly determining which would make the best weapon for some kind of attack, as if the grip of her Glock 19 isn’t pressing cold against her side in its holster. Having only one plan was how you get dead. She noticed Jen scanning the sightlines as they both maneuvered until their backs were to the wall, and they had clear views of the door and the windows overlooking fields running down to the first rise of hills.

“Usually we’re down by Castle Rock,” Karl answered, walking over to a small tabletop fridge. “This was just kind of a one-off.” The encouraging rattle when he opened the fridge caught Dani’s attention. He pulled out a couple of brown bottles, holding them out to the room. “Beer?”

Mikey took one.

“What do you have?” Dani liked to know her options.

Karl handed Mikey his beer. “Got, ah, Fat Tire and,” he moved some bottles around in the fridge. “Some 1554, and one Easy Street left.”

“I’ll take a Fat Tire, can’t go wrong with the classics.”

Karl popped the cap and handed it over. “One for Jenny here, too.” She gestured at Jen with the bottle and saw Jen’s raised eyebrow. “What? You want a 1554? I didn’t think you liked the dark beers.”

“And I though you thought microbrews were for hipsters. No offense,” apologized to Karl.

“None taken.”

“Can cowboys be hipsters?” Mikey asked. “Can you combine subcultures like that?”

Dani shrugged. “When in Rome. You don’t turn down local beer, Jenny. It’s rude.”

Jen held back an eye roll, so Dani kept her smirking to a minimum in return. They clinked their bottles together, meeting each other’s eyes before drinking. Jen took a sip and frowned, eyebrows raised.

“Everything okay?”

“It’s good,” Jen said.

“That it is.” Dani took another swallow, relaxing a little as the minutes ticked by and nothing jumped out at her. It’s always been tough for her to relax in a new place, new circumstances, but Jen was here now and that helped. Still, she felt kind of trapped in the small room.

Mikey was perched on the desktop. He cleared his throat, and Dani lifted her beer in a small salute, giving him her attention. He pointed at Karl who was settled on the chair behind the desk.

“So,” Karl began, “You want to hear more about the job or keep flirting?”

Dani flicked a look over to Jen, then over to Mikey who shook his head no the minutest amount. “The job,” Dani answered

“Mikey told us you’ve been having some incidents?” Jen was using her sincere voice and the wide eyes, the way she did when she wanted something from people. Sadly for Karl, he wasn’t immune to the face. He looked at her like all people, gay, straight, bi, young, or old, did when she used the face on them. Like they wanted to mother her or sleep with her. Or mother her and then sleep with her. Or the other way around. Whatever.

People trusted Jen in a way they don’t trust Dani. Dani was tall and butchy, her arm muscles stretching against the flannel shirts and light brown hair cut like a boy’s. Jen looked like your baby sister, or that sweet girl that lived across the street. Tiny, non-threatening. Obviously non-white but in a hard to pinpoint way. With her black hair in two long braids and her gauzy peasant blouse, she could be on her way to Coachella.

That was what made Jen the more dangerous of the two.

Dani wasn’t hiding anything. What you saw was what you got. She knew she came across as an ex-cop, a little dangerous and a lot cocky. And she was. Jen came across as gentle, despite her molten temper and fists of fury.

Karl ran his hands through his hair, glancing at Mikey. Mikey nodded in what Dani imagined was supposed to be a reassuring manner. She knew how Karl felt; she was seen it a thousand times. Things you’ve been thinking seem simultaneously more real and more ridiculous when you say them out loud.

Mikey took Karl’s hand. “Tell them what you told me, Karl. Believe me, Jenny’s seen shit you can’t even imagine. Things you don’t want to imagine.”

Dani held up her empty beer bottle at Jen. When Jen nodded yes, Dani crossed the room to the fridge, pausing with one hand on the door. “Karl? D’you mind?”

“Help yourself.”

Dani pulled out one for herself, one for Jen. Held one up for Mikey who shook his head. Karl’s first one was mostly untouched, so she didn’t bother. She popped the caps and walked over to Jen. They leaned against the wall, shoulder to shoulder. “So, Mikey said it was mostly normal poltergeist level stuff? Things thrown across a room, stuff moved?”

“I guess. If you call that normal. But, yeah. Stuff was moved, broken. Tires slashed. The vandalism seemed to be specifically targeted at a couple of people.”

“Who?” Jen asked.

Karl frowned and contemplated the ceiling. “Marge Keller was the first one. All her framed photos were smashed. Then David Espinoza. All his CDs were pulled out of their cases and snapped. All the air was let out of Kim’s tires. Every one of them – truck, trailer, ATV.”

“That didn’t sound supernatural,” Dani said, shifting restlessly. Jen hip-checked to make her stop fidgeting. “It sounds like a pissed off girlfriend or something.”

Mikey rested his hand on Karl’s shoulder. “Tell them.”

Karl rolled the beer bottle between his palms. “Truthfully, I thought the same thing at first. I mean, there’s a lot of people in the circuit, even on our smaller IGRA circuit, but you tend to run into the same ones over and over, especially the professionals. And sure, there’s drama, just like everywhere.”

“Remember Kristen and Amber in Cheyenne?” Mikey said. “That thing with Ken?”

Karl scoffed and shook his head at past drama.

Dani straightened up, finger raised, to ask more about Kristen and Amber and Ken when Jen’s pointy elbow caught her right in the ribs. Dani was usually better at ducking Jen’s blows considering Jen still used the same moves she did in kindergarten. “Ow.” She elbowed Jen back just as hard. “Prude.”

Jen was about to retaliate and Dani was planning her next move when they froze at Mikey’s pointed throat-clearing.

Dani quickly snapped on her most innocent expression. Mikey was obviously even less impressed than her elementary school teachers had been.

“Sorry,” Jen apologized. “So was there, uh, drama around these incidents?”

“Not drama, really. Poor communication, maybe. Someone said they saw David with some guy who wasn’t his boyfriend, that new guy from out by Grand Junction. But I think they were just looking for his dog.”

“But then it got worse,” Mikey prompted. Karl’s expression was pained and he ran both hands through his short hair. “You’re gonna think I’m crazy.”

Dani snorted. Jen fought to hold back a smile. “Look, let’s shortcut through the ‘you won’t believe me’ and ‘try us’ part of the conversation and tell us what you saw.”

The papers on Karl’s borrowed desk fluttered with the force of his exhale. He threw back the now-warm beer, earning him an approving look from Dani. “I think I saw a ghost.” Mikey rubbed his shoulder.

Karl’s smile as he leaned into the touch was sweet. Good for Mikey. Dani liked the old cowboy. Mikey should think about taking a break from dating other starving artists and wannabe musicians who were one step up from grifters. Date somebody with a job.

“Jennifer’s been seeing ghosts since she was eleven.”

“Really?” Karl’s eyes widened.

“Yes. When I was eleven, I fell through the ice into the lake. I was clinically dead for twenty-four minutes.”

Karl whistled. “Holy cow. And since then you see dead people?”

Dani is impressed by Jen’s restraint when instead of leaping across the room and strangling Karl, Jen just rolled her eyes at the reference. “Yeah. I do,” she answered.

“Are you seeing any now?”

“I don’t think so,” she answered. “Unless you’re dead.” She cocked her head like she was appraising him. “Are you?”

“No, of course not. Do I look like a ghost?”

“Ghosts look anyway they want. Sometimes I can’t tell ghosts apart from real people. That was fun in middle school.”

Okay, enough of that. Dani put her arm around Jen, giving her a squeeze. “Nobody in this room is dead. Yet. Though if Mikey tries to play any of that crap he calls music again, I can’t vouch for how long he has to live.” No one laughed.

Outside the window, the sun was sinking into that perfect golden hour light, making the hills glow and throwing sparkles off the pond. Dust rose from the far holding pens and the light streaked through it like a picture of God in a Sunday-school classroom. The barking of dogs and the voices of the small crowd of men and women practicing roping on some barrels drifted through the window.

Dani turned back to Karl. “Okay, tell me what you saw.”

“I was looking out the window there and I saw some girl walking across the field. Normal kinda gal. Young, not too tall, skinny, tight jeans, cowboy boots. I’m thinking something was off about her and then, poof,” Karl spread his fingers wide. “She disappears. From the middle of the field.”

“Could you have lost sight of her?” Jen asked.

“Yeah, sure. But the thing was.” He leaned closer, looking around as if the ghost might be in the room. “I saw her again. By Kim’s trailer. And I was sure I could see right through her. I yelled, and she looked up at me. I think,” he stopped, shaking his head. “This part was probably the sun, but it looked like her eyes were red. She pointed at me, and I am not embarrassed to say it scared the piss outta me. Sorry, ma’am,” he said to Jen. “Then she disappeared again.”

The room was quiet for a long second until Jen realized everyone was looking at her. “What?”

“Well? Is it a ghost?” Mikey asked.

“How the hell would I know?” Jen crossed her arms over her chest.

“You’ve seen them,” Karl answered.

“Yeah? Wel,l so have you?” She pushed off from the wall, pacing, gathering her hair in her hand and tugging it as she walked. Mikey handed her a fresh beer as she passed by him.

“Thanks,” she said. “Sorry. I’m sorry. It’s just so much pressure. I feel like if I get things wrong, people will get hurt.”

“Have you guys done this a lot?” Karl asked the girls.

Dani frowned. “Investigate? Yeah. I’ve been a PI for the last five, six years. Since I quit the police force.”

Karl gave Dani a glare rivaling any Jen had ever thrown at her. “You know what I mean. Ghosts.”

“No,” she confessed. “This is only the second time.” Dani leaned up, stretching her back out. Between the drive, the beers, and the slanted afternoon sunlight coming through the windows, all she wanted was a nap. “I guess we’ll need to do some research. Right, Jen?”

Jen’s shoulders slumped, her eyes half-closed. “Yeah. Try to find out who it could be, if it was a ghost. What they want, if we could give it to them.”

“Ghosts want something?” Karl asked. “Like unfinished business?”

“Yeah. Sometimes. Sometimes they’re just lonely. When I was little, I mostly saw other little kids who wanted to play.”

“I don’t know if that’s sweet or terrifying.”

Mikey walked over to Karl, sat in his lap and puts his hands on Karl’s shoulder. “It’s terrifying. Trust me. I remember hanging out with her and suddenly she starts talking to invisible people.” He shuddered. “And you get this feeling that someone’s watching you, from just outside your peripheral vision. Or that someone’s almost touching you.”

Karl pulled him in tight. “God.”

Dani’s mouth twisted in a half smile. “Hey, maybe you’ll get lucky and it will be a run-of-the-mill crazy person.”

“Great,” Karl said faintly.

“Library tomorrow?” Jen asked. “Research any deaths?”

“Yeah, sounds great. I’ll talk to the vics, see if we could find some pattern. See if it’s tied to the place or something you brought with you. But for now, dinner? Find a room? I thought I saw a place out by the highway.”

Karl and Mikey stood. “Don’t worry about that. I’ve got a trailer you can use for a few days. Belongs to a couple of friends of mine who aren’t using it during the week.”

The muffled boom of an explosion rattled the window and a flare of red light flooded the room. Dani hit the floor hard, pulling Jen with her. Turning her head, she saw Mikey on the floor, his scrawny body thrown over Karl’s larger one. Jen scanned the room from the floor. They could hear the screams of people and horses. Karl struggled to get up, but Mikey held him back, looking at Dani. She held up a hand and listened. Not hearing any more explosions, she nodded.

Outside the window, chaos shattered the idyllic picture of seconds before. Flames engulfed one of the trailers parked near the back of the lot, the ground around it scorched black. A few men and women stood in shock, while others scrambled to drag horses away from the danger and a few hauled buckets of water to the burning wreckage.

Karl and Mikey tore down the hallway, Dani right behind them. Jen grabbed the fire extinguisher as she ran past it.

 

The flame had burned down and scattered embers glowed red through the field by the time they reached the lot. Muddy runnels formed around tires and feet and fence posts on the soaked ground. A couple of people with buckets of water and fire extinguishers walked into the fields around the arena, eyes locked on the ground, looking for any stray ember. Dry grasses waved in the sunset breeze, brown and yellow, stretching away north and south from where they stand. The place was a tinderbox.

The wind blew the smoke from the smoldering remains of the trailer towards Dani. Underneath the smell of kerosene and melted plastic was that sickly-sweet acrid smell Dani was unfortunately far too familiar with. Karl’s hand flew up to cover his nose and mouth, his eyes wide and terrified. “Oh god,” Mikey whispered, pulling Karl against him.

Jen leaned towards Dani, hand discreetly over her nose, too. After that last case, Dani knew Jen hated the smell of burned flesh even more than she did. “I’m gonna,” she tilted her head pointedly in the direction of the crowd gathering around the scene and circled her finger.

“Yeah, good. See if you could find out, ah, who that might be.” Dani ran her hand over her mouth and exhaled as Karl turns his stricken-glance to her.

“Yeah.” Jen jogged away.

A dark-skinned woman with salt and pepper hair strode rapidly up to them. She checked out Dani, frowning when she couldn’t place her. She grabbed Karl by the upper arm. “Karl. What the hell is going on?”

Dani watched where the woman gripped Karl, relaxing when Karl reached up to pat her hand.

“Gunny. Thank god. I have no idea what’s going on. Whose trailer was that?”

Gunny shook her head and smacked her cowboy hat against her chaps, back and forth. Dani found the sound of felt brushing against leather oddly soothing. “I don’t know. I think it was Carol, Luce’s girlfriend. You know, that barrel racer from Laramie?”

The sound of sirens rose and fell and Dani could see the lights coming towards them in the rapidly darkening sky. She needed to check out the tanks before it got too dark and before the fireman taped off the scene. “Mikey, I gotta talk to Jen. You okay here?”

“Yeah. Go. I’ll take care of these guys.”

Dani clapped him on the shoulder before running to the car. She rummaged through her bag, pulling out a flashlight and the thing she got off the internet that was supposed to read ‘spectral presences.’ It looked like a bad prop from Star Trek – Classic Trek – and made her feel ridiculous.

Near the burned trailer, Jen talked with two young women, one hand absently petting the dog leaning against her leg.

Dani quickly checked Jen for injuries. Ridiculous, she knew. Nothing could have happened in five minutes. But she still couldn’t quite believe Jen was back in her life. She kept expecting her to disappear like one of the ghosts. “Hi,” she greeted the new women. “So what do we got?”

“Best guess? Propane tank explosion.” Jen answered. “Doreen and Sunshine here said they saw flames by the back of the trailer right before it exploded.”

Dani raised one eyebrow at Jen. Sunshine? Jen silently conveyed shut up quite clearly with the twitch of the corner of her mouth. “Yeah?” she asked the girls. “Did you see anybody near it?”

She got a double head shake in response, though one of them, Doreen she thought, was a second slower to answer.

Jen noticed, too. “Doreen? Did you see something?”

“I – I don’t know. Maybe.”

Red lights flashed across the parking lot as the fire trucks pulled in. They didn’t have much time. Dani elbowed Jen discreetly, flashing the EMF meter at her.

“Tell me, whatever it was. It might help,” Jen told the woman as Dani walked to the remains of the trailer.

There wasn’t much left of the old trailer and what was left was doused with water and fire extinguisher foam. She waved the meter near the blacked propane tanks: red lights across the board. Either there had been a ghost or the thing just randomly made that sound. How would she know? She stared across the fields to the dark shadow of the foothills as though she’d be able to see a vengeful spirit laughing at them. That would certainly help clear things up, but the field remained stubbornly empty.

A couple of firemen were headed their way and Dani knew that if they didn’t disappear, they were looking at hours of investigations and yellow tape and interviews. Since she left the force, she was never excited about getting up close and personal with any kind of law enforcement. Truthfully, she hadn’t been a fan even before that. She attributed her brief stint as an officer of the law to a kind of temporary insanity brought on by a complete and total lack of any other idea of what to do when she’d graduated college with a degree in liberal arts. With an emphasis on 20th century gay literature. That certainly had turned out to be a lucrative combination.

Given her experience, she wasn’t looking forward to interacting with the firemen, either. It wasn’t like she could tell them the arsonist was probably a ghost. How, exactly, the ghost blew up a trailer wasn’t really Dani’s concern. What she and Jen needed to figure out was who it was and what it wanted what to do about it before someone else got killed. If the last case had taught them anything, it was that destroying the resting place and the bones could banish a ghost. The problem was identifying those things. Just because Jen could see a ghost, didn’t mean she knew who they were. Sometimes they didn’t want to talk to her. If Dani was a vengeful ghost, she certainly wouldn’t be telling anybody her name.  Ascertaining the identity of the deceased involved lots of investigation. Tomorrow was going to be interviews and research for sure.

 

It was close to midnight by the time Jen and Dani got settled in the borrowed trailer, which was tiny but well-appointed. The maple wood, and the mauve and gray color scheme put it at close to thirty years old, but it had a small TV/VCR combo and a stack of tapes Dani was going to sort through if they had any down time.

Dani sat at the table in a t-shirt and boxers, rapidly working her way through a huge sandwich. Thank god for late night delivery. Jen stepped out of the closet-sized bathroom, hair wet, her long t-shirt clinging damply to her. She pulled the cotton away from her legs with a frown. “I hate getting dressed when I’m still wet.”

“Just be glad this thing has a shower,” Dani mumbled around a huge mouthful of turkey, bacon, and guacamole. She held the sandwich out to Jen. “This is awesome. Want some? Turkey and guacamole. Practically vegetarian.” Jen’s looked skeptical but she leaned forward to bite into the proffered sandwich, groaning happily as she swallowed.

“Right? Trust a college town in a state with legalized marijuana to have excellent sandwiches.”

Jen opened her mouth to take another bite, but Dani snatched the sandwich away before she could. Jen’s teeth closed on nothing. “Mine.” She shoved the other white-paper wrapped at Jen. “This is yours. Extra veggies. Spicy mustard, like you like.” She slid over a can of root beer and a bag of potato chips. Jen’s smile was so bright, you’d think Dani had made the food herself. “Stop grinning like a loon. Eat.”

“You remembered what I liked.”

“I made you lunch for basically six years. How could I forget?” Jen was the youngest of five. There were four boys and then her. Lunches at her house varied between plain bologna on white bread and Thai-style dishes. Jen hated both choices. Kids made fun of her ‘weird food’ and bologna was gross. So Dani had shared her lunch for a while, until her mother had asked why she was always so hungry after school. Dani told her. The next day, while they were making lunch, her mother told her to grab two bags instead of one.

“Yeah. Thanks for that, again. And tell your mother thanks again. It meant a lot to me.” Jen sat with her back pressed against the wall, leg up on the bench seat, one arm stretched out across the banquette. She stared out into middle distance as she tapped her bare foot against Dani’s shin with the rhythm of the song in her head. Outside, some night birds were singing, and every now and then a horse whickered or a dog barked. The breeze coming through the screened windows carried a hint of autumn. It was a gorgeous night.

“This is relaxing,” Jen rubbed her foot against Dani’s shin and smiled at her.

Dani rolled her eyes, shoving the last of her Cheetos into her mouth and brushing the clinging orange dust off her hands. “Yeah, except for the charred corpses and the killer ghost, it’s great.”

Jen balled up the wax paper wrapper and threw it at Dani’s head. “Why do you have to ruin the mood?”

“What mood? No wonder you never dated, Nu, if you think eating sandwiches while looking at your freakishly tiny body sets some kind of mood.” She couldn’t stop the smile spreading across her face. Damn, she’d missed Jennifer. It was good to have her around, even if it was her own special kind of torture. She’d gotten used to suppressing that urge over the years.

She slid out of the bench seat with a yawn, Jen’s eye on her the whole time. Jen’s toes were cold when Dani grabbed them, shaking her foot back and forth. “C’mon. Bedtime. And put some socks on. I don’t want to feel your cold, clammy feet on my back in the middle of the night.”

“Yeah, okay.” Jen dragged herself out of banquette. “Research tomorrow? I’ll hit the library while you poke around here?” Dani nodded. Jen rubbed her hand up and down her arms, smoothing away the goose bumps. “We need to figure this out quick. That was one pissed off, dangerous spirit.”

“Did you see it?”

“No. But I could almost feel it. So could Mikey. He said the aura around here was quote ‘red-black and gross.’“

“Our ghost is also quite determined. Propane tanks were a bitch to make explode.” Dani slipped behind Jen to get to her duffle bag, steadying herself with a hand on Jen’s hip as she squeezed behind her. Jen’s skin was chilled with the night air and the dampness of the shower.

“And you know that how, Bill Nye?”

“Saw it on Mythbusters,” Dani said into the duffle bag as she dug for some pants to sleep in. “They had to use a mini-Gatling gun with incendiary bullets to blow it up.”

“Oh, you must have been so jealous.” The skin around Jen’s eyes crinkled with her smile.

Dani had to smile back. “You know it. Never fired one of those.”

Jen laid a hand heavily on Dani’s shoulder. “Dream big, little girl. One day.”

Dani swatted her hand away. “Bite me.” She sucked in her gut as Jen passed behind her to open the plywood door to the bedroom. Jen’s hand lingered on Dani’s side as the door swung open, fingers slipping into the gap between t-shirt and waistband of her shorts. Dani sucked in a breath. Jen was going to be the death of her and she didn’t even realize it.

“There’s only one bed,” Jen announced.

“Yeah?” Dani asked, half paying attention.

“I could sleep out here, I guess.” Jen frowned, looking back at the dining area table. The bed it set up into would be about four and a half feet long, a tight squeeze even for her.

“Yeah. That’s not gonna work. Just get in bed. I’m going to set the salt lines.” That was one thing all the websites and books had agreed on. Salt kept out some of the scary things that go bump in the night, most particularly ghosts. She slipped on her jeans and grabbed a bag of rock salt. It might blow away overnight, and she felt ridiculous circling the trailer in it, but she was lining those propane tanks anyway. Better ridiculous than dead. A little protection was better than nothing.

After she spread the salt around the tanks, and debated putting a circle around the entire camper, she leaned against the trailer, looking at the stars and breathing in the thin air. Pulling out her cell phone, she punched in a text to Mikey. Salted?

Like a big pretzel, he texted back. The phone buzzed again. I can see you standing out there. Go to sleep. Jen’s waiting. She thought about texting him again, but couldn’t think of exactly what she wanted to say. She lined the metal steps of the trailer with salt as she walked backwards into the little box. The knowledge that Jen actually was waiting inside, safe and alive, where Dani could see her and touch her, sat warm and comforting in her chest.

Jen grumbled as she slid into bed, already warm with Jen’s body heat. “Cold,” she muttered as Dani’s arm brushed her.

Dani stretched her foot down to find Jen’s sock-encased feet. Good. Jen’s ice-cube toes were legendary. “Go to sleep, Jenny.” Dani turned on her side, sliding until she felt Jen’s back warm and strong against her. They hadn’t had a sleepover since Jen had dropped out of college and out of their lives. It had been a long time since she’d felt Jen’s body rising and falling against her in her sleep. It felt different than she remembered – still calming, but there was an awareness of Jen’s body that prickled on her skin, at the places where they touch, and in the palms of her hands. She forced the thoughts away, matching her breathing to Jen’s and counting sheep until she slipped into sleep.

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