When the ruddy-faced doctor at the Joshua Tree Medical Clinic announced, “It’s back,” Vera nodded, picked up her old purse from the floor and tucked it under her arm. She was still nodding when the pleasant red-headed receptionist called out, “Have a nice day,” as she exited through the sliding glass doors of the clinic. The dry heat hit her like an oven. Nice day, unlikely.
The air conditioner in the Buick spewed a lukewarm stream. On either side of the two-lane highway that beautiful shimmering floor of ancient trees beckoned to an ancient sea. On certain mornings, Vera swore she smelled its salty breeze. She longed to plunge into a water so cold it could erase everything. A semi behind lay on its horn and she turned in the direction of the green blinker on the dashboard. In the shade of the K-Liquor Mart sign, Vera shut off the engine. She took a deep breath. Frank hadn’t yet spotted her through the store window. She gripped the wheel, watching her knuckles turn white.
There was the issue of Rain.
* * *
Six weeks ago, her daughter Stevie the-queen-of-heartaches had showed up unannounced with a surprise at their new motor home. “Her name is Rain,” Stevie informed them, dropping a sleeping child into Frank’s recliner.
“Why not Thunder or Lightning?” Frank asked under his breath.
They’d been in a middle of a game of Scrabble and Frank hated to be interrupted when it was his turn.
“I just need you to watch her,” Stevie snapped. The circles under her blue eyes were darker than Vera remembered from the last time.
“Vera, did we put a babysitting ad on craigslist?” Frank asked.
“She’s not mine, if that’s what you’re thinking,” Stevie challenged.
“That wasn’t my first thought,” Frank replied. “But it was in the top five.”
Three in the afternoon on a Thursday, a year since any communication and already they were at it. Vera laid a hand on her husband’s broad shoulder. It wasn’t Frank’s fault that he’d inherited Stevie at sixteen when it was too late to change things.
Stevie skulked to the fridge, opened the door and peered inside. “She’s three, no wait, four, I think. She likes oranges, Cheerios, bacon, not bananas.” She pulled out a Coke and opened the can. “Oh, and be careful, she’s got this weird thing for cotton balls. Really packs them in.”
“I hardly ever serve cotton balls anymore,” Vera joked, but nobody laughed.
Stevie took a swig of Coke and scanned the room. “Not bad. Hey, where’s Bob?”
“Hit by a UPS truck,” Frank said.
“Jesus,” Stevie sighed. “I warned you.”
Frank grunted and slid his big frame out of the dining nook. “Good to see you, Stevie.” He walked to the door. “Call your mother more often.” It slammed hard behind him. They listened to his heavy boots descend the metal steps and walk the gravel path to the Mart.
“He never liked me,” Stevie said, sliding into Frank’s seat at the table.
“Bob loved everybody,” Vera replied, and her daughter laughed.
One day, the blind basset hound had pushed the unlocked mobile home door open with his nose and found his way down the stairs, around the store parking lot and onto the warmest patch of sun—in the middle of the highway. Frank had buried Bob down deep where the coyotes couldn’t get to his body. Now dog food commercials left him as misty-eyed as Christmas movies on Hallmark.
Stevie moved the Scrabble tiles around, her stringy blond hair shadowing her face. “He has the Q and the Z, but no U.”
“It’s good to see you,” Vera said, trying to keep her voice steady. “Everything all right?”
Stevie shrugged, “Peachy.” She grabbed a handful of Frank’s jellybeans from the candy dish on the table. “I thought he had diabetes,” she said, spilling out the syllables one by one.
“I can scramble you an egg.”
Stevie returned her gaze to Frank’s Scrabble tiles. “I’m clean, mom.”
Vera listened to the wind pick up, scattering bits of leaves and trash across the yard, surprised to feel a spark of hope ignite. “That’s good,” saying the words easy and slow.
“He could spell qi,” Stevie said.
“You can spell it c-h-i or with a q and an i,” Stevie said, moving Frank’s tiles around. “It means inner life force.
One day, the blind basset hound had pushed the unlocked mobile home door open with his nose and found his way down the stairs, around the store parking lot and onto the warmest patch of sun—in the middle of the highway.It’s Chinese. Every person is allotted a certain amount each lifetime. When it runs out, you’re out. But then you get a new life with more. I think I believe it.”
“Qi,” Vera repeated. In her religion, you only got one life and then it was up or down. “I like it. But, don’t tell Frank. I’m winning.”
Stevie pulled the curtain aside and peered out the window. A Camaro with darkened windows waited near the mailbox. Vera wondered if Frank had bothered to stop and inquire, probably not. A while back they’d agreed: they didn’t have any more money to spend on rehab or any inner spirit left to recover from heartache. Where Stevie was concerned, it was better for their marriage to assume that things wouldn’t get better. More than likely Frank was walking up and down the aisles inside the Mart getting rid of a slow burn.
“I could make you and your friend pasta for dinner?” Vera suggested.
“Jesus, stop,” Stevie said, sliding off the bench. “I gotta pee.” She disappeared down the short hall, sliding the bathroom door closed behind her.
Once, she’d been a pleasant person. Her name was Stephanie then. Stephanie was a bright, pretty kid who’d taken to water like a fish. “Stephanie has talent,” her junior high swim coach, Mr. Ambrosia, had told Vera. “UCLA, maybe even Texas A&M. Real potential.” And real curves and a sweet disposition.
After they won the lawsuit against the school district, Vera moved them to the desert. Yes, she’d been single and working two jobs, but she was the only line of defense against the ugly in the world. Why hadn’t she noticed sooner? They tried child therapists, family therapists, and various medications. Vera apologized until her face turned blue and capillaries broke in her eyes but no one could resuscitate the daughter. Frank appeared solid and steady, but Stevie wasn’t interested in a good male role model. She’d escaped into the wrong crowd with the right drugs. Would it be smack or meth or the needle? It was a marvel a heart still beat in her tortured body, that it would continue once Vera’s had silenced.
“Stevie, there’s something we need to talk about,” Vera started.
“Oh, hey, Mom, can you spot me some cash? I lost my ATM card somewhere in Colorado. It’s a fucking mess. You won’t believe this. I went to the bank, but they needed my driver’s license. It’s expired, whatever, I don’t carry it on me. I can’t drive. They made me call an eight-hundred number and some woman with a seriously heavy accent said the bank could only mail a replacement card to my address on file. But I’m in-between places. Rick moved that bitch in, whatever, we have to be in LA tonight.”
And there it was. The longer the story, the bigger the lie. Vera reached for her wallet and pulled out forty dollars. Not enough to buy real trouble.
Stevie stuffed the twenties into the front pocket of her jeans. “Thanks.”
“How long do we have to watch Rain?” Vera asked, feeling the return of the hard edges.
“I gave her dad your number,” Stevie replied, draining the last of her soda and setting the can on the counter instead of putting it in the recycle bin.
“Good to know you still have it.”
“I’m sorry.” Stevie threw her bony arms around her mother’s neck, “I’m such an asshole.”
Vera took a deep hungry whiff, hint of beer and cigarettes, and yes, the faintest trace of sweetness. I’m sorry. It’s my fault. She tightened her jaw to stop the unconditional from rushing out and pried her daughter’s arms from her body. “Enough, Stevie. Enough.”
As the dark Camaro peeled out onto the highway, Stevie’s arm shot out the window in salute. Vera gave her the finger. To grieve the loss of the dead was too unbearable.
A while back they’d agreed: they didn’t have any more money to spend on rehab or any inner spirit left to recover from heartache.A short time later, Frank returned with orange juice, milk, and Cheerios because he was a good and reliable person. The little girl devoured two bowls and fell back to sleep on the pullout sofa without a single question. Frank and Vera finished their game of Scrabble without a mention of the word qi, but Frank won anyway.
* * *
Now, six weeks later, everything had changed.
Frank caught Vera’s attention through the front window of the Mart. Quite a few customers were lined up at the cash register. She faked a smile and gave him the thumbs up. He held both up at her. Her hand shook as she unzipped her purse, pulled out a gold tube, and carefully applied cherry red to her chapped lips before returning to work.
Later that night after a dinner of cold fried chicken and pork ‘n beans, Vera washed the dishes while Rain, emotional, recounted a children’s story about a lost kitten.
“It was white,” Rain repeated at Vera’s side. “But it had a black spot. And it was lost. In the big city.”
“Honey,” Vera assured her. “I read that book to Stephanie when she was little. In the end, the mama kitty finds her kitten and they all live happily ever after.”
Rain wiped her nose with the back of her small arm. She stared at Vera with big saucer eyes. “Truth?” she asked. The kid was way too smart. She ran to Frank, sitting in his recliner watching a ball game. He pulled her up onto his big lap. “I don’t remember that ending, Pa Frank.”
“Rain of the forest. Rain of the sea.” Frank sang in deep baritone. “Rain, the dark-haired beauty queen of the desert.”
It was a miracle, each day that passed without a phone call. At church people assumed she was Stevie’s. Folks had prayed on her troubles, so the delusion fell easy. At first, they’d been afraid of what Rain might say, but the girl acted like they were her real grandparents. Every day, Vera meant to bring it up to Frank, but the days kept passing, and in all fairness, Frank hadn’t mention it to her, either.
He carried Rain to the sofa bed. “We will never lose you in the big city,” he said.
“You have to say, promise,” Rain said, looking up at him. “Twice.”
“Promise. Promise,” Frank said. “Promise, three times.”
Vera pulled the covers up under the child’s chin, examining the defined cheekbones, the jutted chin, the dark hairline that grew low over her forehead. Where was the mother?
* * *
One month later, the well-tanned cancer specialist at the Palm Springs Clinic pronounced “metastasized.” While he rattled on about the minimal benefits at this stage of chemotherapy, Vera traced the hardened crescent moon of the old wound across the taut skin where the right breast had once lived with the left. Frank had spread aloe and kisses across her old road map of a scarred chest. She grabbed her big white bra with the foam prosthesis and stuck it in her purse. “To hell with appearances,” she said, but the specialist rattled on.
A brown-skinned receptionist quietly handed Vera a scribbled prescription for oxycodone, one of Stevie’s favorites, on her way out. She rode the noiseless elevator down to the sparkling empty lobby and called Frank from her cellphone. “Store busy?”
“Nothin’ me and Burt can’t handle,” he said, over the din of after-school teens loafing near the register. “Everything all right?”
“Peachy. I’ve decided to stop wearing a bra,” she announced. When he didn’t respond, Vera added, “Sign me up for Beer & Brawl’s white t-shirt contest.” That at least got a laugh.
At church people assumed she was Stevie’s. Folks had prayed on her troubles, so the delusion fell easy. At first, they’d been afraid of what Rain might say, but the girl acted like they were her real grandparents.
The sky was bright blue, the 10 freeway shimmering ahead. She shivered and rolled down the window. It was hot, but she didn’t feel warm.
Inside the Dairy Queen, Vera picked a booth near the back. She slowly spooned cold sweet vanilla into her mouth trying to fill the emptiness and watched the people in line. A short man held the hands of two small fat boys. Three teenaged pimply girls giggled behind a tall handsome boy. The boy pretended not to notice. Sweet young boys and budding teenage girls with promise. Vera unfolded the map and spread it across the table. It was a three-hour drive to Lake Havasu. They’d leave Burt in charge and the mobile parked behind the Mart so as to not arouse suspicions. With the camper on the truck, they could enjoy themselves until the weather turned.
“Planning a vacation?” Betsy asked, sliding her wide frame into the booth across from Vera.
Vera jumped. “Jesus.”
Betsy laughed and set a small milk carton down, sloshing white liquid across the table. “Sorry, sorry, but I am clumsy.”
The woman reeked of cheap drugstore perfume. Vera blotted the wet map with a napkin, trying not to show her irritation.
“I told the leader at Weight Watcher’s this morning, ‘You don’t understand the power of my drive,’ but I resisted and ordered a small two-percent. Hopefully, my lactose intolerance won’t act up.” She stared at Vera’s sundae. “You should join Weight Watchers, Vera. We could be buddies.” Betsy turned her focus to the map.
“Havasu. Frank wants to teach Rain to swim.”
“Take her to the Y.” Betsy shivered, holding up the stump of her left arm as evidence. “Less dangerous.” A boating accident one summer in Wisconsin.
Betsy smiled. Vera smiled. Once, they’d been friends, not the best, but good enough. Ah well, old age showed unattractive in different ways. Vera scraped the last bite of fudge into her mouth.
“Wanna split a dog?” Betsy asked, slurping down the last of her milk.
“No, thanks—” Vera started, but stopped at the word MISSING stamped on the side of the cartoon. Underneath was a black and white photograph of the child living in their house.
“Must’ve been quite a shock finding out Stevie had a kid,” Betsy said, slowly crushing the carton with a fat, pink palm. “She’s good-looking, no offense, but she doesn’t look like either of you. What is she, half Mexican? Excuse me, Latino, whatever it is they wanna be called these days.”
Vera quickly refolded the damp map. “Sorry, Betsy. But I promised I’d make mac ‘n cheese for supper.”
“It’s only three-thirty.” Betsy stared into her eyes. “Vi, are you all right? You look a little drained of color.”
“It’s the air-conditioning is all,” Vera said, standing. She picked up the smashed carton. “Let me recycle this for you.”
“Huh?” Betsy asked, a look of confusion crossing her face as Vera jammed the evidence into her purse. “All right, thanks.”
“No, thanks—” Vera started, but stopped at the word MISSING stamped on the side of the cartoon. Underneath was a black and white photograph of the child living in their house.“Good luck with Weight Watchers,” Vera added, then quickly left before the idiot said another word.
* * *
After two weeks at Lake Havasu, Frank looked well-rested and Rain looked well-fed. In the mornings while it was still cool, Vera sat in a lawn chair under an old beach umbrella and read her romance, while the two, well-slathered in sunscreen, waded out into the shallow reddish water—Frank wearing swim trunks, a faded Dodgers t-shirt stretched over his thick middle, and Rain, skinny with a protruding girl belly, in a new pink suit she’d picked out herself from Walmart.
Frank balanced the shrieking girl on his shoulders and slowly lowered himself blowing bubbles underwater. Rain shrieked and the two laughed so hard it was like chords of music to Vera’s heart. He’d married her sans uterus and never complained once about not having his own family. Now, twenty years later, she watched her lumbering husband patiently make circles with his arms in the water and a little girl’s mirror in unison. She’d always suspected that Frank loved children. His never having mentioned it made her love him all the more. What had she done to deserve such goodness? Suddenly, a rolling wave of tiredness coursed through her body. She felt a little frightened over the imminent.
Rain Gomez was snatched from a small town named Cortez down near the four corners in Colorado. Three months ago. In broad daylight. By a “skinny white woman with stringy blonde hair wearing a black leather jacket.” In almost every case on the missing children’s website, the words “Taken in broad daylight,” were near the top paragraph, as if children were only safe under the dark of night. Vera remembered how easily Stephanie would slip through her fingers under a clothing rack at Target, behind a tree in the park, and recently, a Camaro with darkened windows. She’d known Stevie capable of many things, but never child-stealing. Funny to learn that kidnapping was in the family genes.
“Ma Vi!” Rain called out. The child dunked under water, then popped up, sputtering and coughing, wet strands of hair clinging to her cheeks. “See my can hold my breath as long as my want to!”
Today several fellow-vacationers had looked more than once in the little girl’s direction. And a woman with binoculars had been enough to arouse Vera’s anxiety. “I can,” Vera called back. “I can hold my breath as long as I want to.”
Later that night in bed, Vera suggested, “I think we should drive on.” There were dozens of small towns along the Rockies—Durango, Buena Vista, even down into Cortez, the four corners, where history got interesting.
“All righty,” Frank said, patting her bottom. “Lots more fun to be had.”
If Frank knew about the black and white photo on the milk carton, which she’d destroyed with garden shears back home, he showed no signs of wanting the party to end.
* * *
The third week they stayed in a faux-chalet motel in Durango with a pool and cable television. It was hotter than normal for Colorado. They spent a lot of time when they weren’t in the water napping on the queen beds in the air conditioning. They ate dinner each night at Denny’s—Rain’s favorite, always fried chicken. The waitresses fawned over the girl wearing an oversized pink sunhat to hide a new, very bad, haircut. Even though she was nauseous, Vera tried to eat enough so as to not arouse Frank’s suspicion.
By the end of the week, they had poked in and out of art galleries and shops in historic downtown, eaten ice cream and buffalo burgers, and were ready to move on. But before they did, Frank wanted to take Rain on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.
“The train departs at eight-fifteen, so we gotta get a move on! Oh, Rain, but it will be beautiful, traveling along the winding Colorado river with you, Rain of the forest, Rain of sea,” he sang. “Rain, the beauty queen of the desert.”
Vera declined with a headache. She was having a hard time waking up over the weak coffee Frank had brought up from the motel lobby. After the door closed behind them, Rain chattering away, Vera lay back against the headboard and tried to take in a deep breath. She may as well have been sipping air through a straw. Maybe it was true what Stevie said about chi because Vera could feel it draining from her body.
For the first time since they’d left Joshua Tree, Vera dropped the façade. She took an oxycodone, then lay back on the bed in the dark, the air blowing ice cold across the sweat beads on her skin. So, this was bone-tired. Against the dark pain, she cried out for Stevie the queen of the heartaches, whose cell phone had been disconnected. I’m sorry. I love you, still and always. I see. I see it now, this life, this life offers beauty and pain up to its very edges, take it, take it.
Hours later a voice brought her home, “Ma Vi! Ma Vi.” Rain wrapped her arms around Vera’s neck, planting little kisses across her check. Vera struggled, clawing her way back. “Settle down, gracious,” she snapped as Frank flipped on the light by the bed.
“We got pizza for dinner,” he announced, holding a large box in his hands.
“Roni with cheese,” Rain said, jumping on the bed. “Cause we all like it.”
Vera shook her head. She reached for her glasses on the nightstand. “I must look a fright.”
“You sleep all day?” Frank asked, a worried look on his face.
“What time is it?”
Rain interrupted, holding up Frank’s phone. “Ma Vi, lookey,” she said, sticking the screen in Vera’s face. “My took a selfie. And drank a Shirley Temple. But don’t worry, it isn’t real, only make believing.”
In the photo, Frank and Rain sit in the train’s dining car under a plastic dome. On the table, maraschino cherries sparkle inside two glasses of soda. They grin for the camera. Rain’s little body leans against Frank’s, pink sunhat pushed back from her smiling face. They could be related.
“It’s the funniest thing,” Frank told Vera, biting into a slice. “A woman on the train recognized Rain.”
“She had a weird finger,” Rain said.
“It was in a splint,” Frank explained. “She swore up and down that she recognized Rain.”
“I said my name was Susan,” Rain jumped in.
And so Vera told them about the MISSING girl on the milk carton.
* * *
Cortez. The four corners. Land of the Anasazi. Canyon of The Ancients, the ancestors, tall silent red rocks which had stood the test of time.
“This is a cute little town,” Vera declared, trying to sound joyful but ending flat.
Frank pulled the truck alongside the curb. “It’s nothing more than fast food, a drive-thru liquor, and a hardware.”
Rain sat quietly between them.
Vera grabbed the AAA travel book from the dashboard and opened to a cornered page, trying to steady her shaky hand. “Rain, did you know that your town features real live stagecoach rides?”
The child pondered Vera’s false cheer. She climbed up onto her knees to get a better view through the windshield. “My going to be lonely,” she prophesied.
“No such thing as alone when you’ve got people who love you,” Frank said.
Vera could hear the tight pain in his throat. She took the child’s small hand and squeezed it.
Rain bit her lower lip, fighting back big tears. “But, you love me.”
Frank worked his jaw hard. He reached over and placed his hand on theirs. It was heavy and hot and felt all right. The three stared through the front windshield at a Ruby’s Diner just down the street.
“First,” Frank said. “I could use a slice of pie.”
“I like cherry,” Rain announced. “But only with white ice cream.”
In the distance, dark ominous clouds threatened an afternoon storm. Frank helped Vera down the sidewalk to the diner. Her legs felt like jelly and they took their time, Rain hiding at the edge of his left side. Once inside they ordered three slices of cherry pie with vanilla ice cream from a young man with angry acne across his forehead and listened to the thunder growing closer. There were only two other customers—an old man in a cowboy hat sipping a cup of coffee, and a young woman with a pierced eyebrow eating a greasy burger.
On her way to the ladies’ room, Vera spotted the MISSING poster with Rain’s face. She ripped it from the wall and took it into the ladies. In the disabled person’s stall, she sat down on the toilet and closed her eyes against the stabbing pain. Relief, relief what in the hell was this life about anyway? She opened the poster and saw the number scratched in red ink with a name. Five, four, three, two, she grabbed the sticky metal bars on either side and with a grunt and stood. Thunder bellowed nearby. Rain, likely.
The payphone by the emergency exit was keyed with four letter words. She took a Wet Wipes from the pack in her purse and cleaned off the numbers as she dialed.
He answered on the fifth ring, voice thick with sleep. “Yeah.”
“Is this Dylan Gomez?”
“I ain’t got your money,” he yelled, slamming down the phone.
Back at the table, Vera flattened the crinkled poster.
“Rain, can you show us which way?”
Rain stuck out a small arm and pointed west, her dark eyebrows knitted together.
The waiter gave them a suspicious glance as he set down the check, but then it could have been Vera’s imagination. By then, her fever was one hundred and four.
Rain lived in a clapboard house of peeling green paint and old furniture on the front porch. A brown muscled dog in the yard lunged as they approached, but his leash caught up short. “Get back, Harley,” Rain commanded. The dog whined and sat back on its haunches. Vera and Frank each took a small hand and they walked shoulder-to-shoulder up the concrete steps and across the squeaky wooden porch to the front door. Vera had to stop twice to catch her breath.
Rain let go of their hands and peered inside through the locked screen door “D?” she called out. A TV blared a news program inside. A young man appeared. He couldn’t have been more than twenty-five. “Girl?” he asked, peering out, and not in a way that seemed excited or relieved, but more like he wondered if he were still stoned on the sagging couch in front of the television.
Rain nodded her small head. “Yes,” she whispered.
The winds picked up in the cottonwood tree and the dog growled low.
Dylan Gomez stepped outside. He wore faded jeans but no shirt. His chest was shiny brown and shrunken. His dark hair grew past his shoulders. He had her eyes. But his were rimmed in red. The heavy pit in her stomach told Vera that she had made the wrong decision. He reached out and grabbed the little girl by the arm. “Where in the hell have you been?”
“Easy,” Frank said, his voice steady. “She’s back now.”
“I’m sorry, D,” Rain whispered.
“Girl?” he asked, peering out, and not in a way that seemed excited or relieved, but more like he wondered if he were still stoned on the sagging couch in front of the television.Dylan Gomez’ fingers gripped her arm turning the flesh under his tips white. “Cops been lookin’ for you.”
Frank took a step toward him. Dylan couldn’t have been more than five-seven. He looked up at Frank. The dog barked, straining at its leash.
“Let go now,” Frank said. “Let her go.”
Ignoring the warning, Dylan jerked Rain closer. “Do it again—I’ll give you somethin’ to be sorry about.” Dylan turned to Frank and Vera. “You with child services? Did the cop catch that bitch?”
A shiver ran down Vera’s spine and she grabbed the back of a rusted chair to keep from falling.
The dog lunged to the end of its leash, barking with fury. “Come on, girl. Inside.” He jerked her toward the door.
“D, don’t,” Rain cried. “It hurts.”
“I said let her go,” Frank commanded.
“Fuck you,” Dylan said. “She’s mine.”
And so, Frank cold-cocked him.
* * *
The sky cleared without a warning just outside of town, the storm leaving traces of dark wet pavement and small puddles in its wake. They drove to Monument National Park. Frank paid the fee at the ranger kiosk and drove into the park. He found an empty campsite off the main road, far from any facilities or tourists, and parked beside a large boulder. The last of the day was sinking soft pink light toward evening.
After he made Rain an impromptu treat of cheese and Cracker Jacks in the cab to keep her occupied, he joined Vera in the back for their conversation.
Vera said she was glad that she’d done it the way she had and hoped that Frank wasn’t too mad. The sheets of pain made it hard for her to sufficiently explain her reasons, but they had loved each other long enough to let misunderstandings slide. She wouldn’t go into hospice. It was best to give things their proper respect. They’d lived in the desert under stars their whole married life.
Frank wiped the tears from his face. He gave her a pain pill. He pulled the quilt over her shaking frame. “Your daughter finally did it,” he said, kissing the top of Vera’s head. “Get some rest.”
As night passed, Vera flew, circling over the canyon of red arches while her husband seated in the cab of a truck below stared out into the darkness and made plans for the small peace offering curled in sleep beside him.
In the morning, Frank’s voice carried through the heavy fog. “Thought we’d head on down to El Paso, then through the Franklin Mountains down into Chihuahua, Mexico.”
“My has never been to Mexico,” Rain sang, patting Vera’s head a rat-a-tat-tat with her small hand.
Peachy, Vera thought, feeling the pills enter her blood stream. Maybe there was chi and maybe there wasn’t. Maybe it was one time and that’s all you got, no matter how badly you screwed it up, oh well, it was all just water flowing underground until it reached the ocean. And then . . . cold refreshment.