Bad Girl

Indianapolis, 1995

Lucy sat down at one of the few empty tables on the perimeter of the hotel bar and hoped none of the waitresses would notice her. She was fifteen years old, and even wearing the makeup she’d taken from her mother’s vanity, she knew her chances of getting served a drink were remote. Worse, she was taking up real estate that legal customers willing to pay ten dollars for a mediocre glass of wine could have inhabited. And there were plenty of them about, the bar nearly full and the hotel lobby bustling with well-dressed adults older than her mom.

The convention didn’t technically begin until tomorrow morning, so none of them wore name badges. But she felt sure her eyes were passing over famous mystery writers, perhaps even people she’d read. The man she’d come to see, Andrew Z. Thomas, the convention’s guest of honor, for whom she’d stolen her mother’s car and driven six hundred miles on a learner’s permit, had yet to make his appearance. Just the thought of him being in the same building made her knees feel weak.

“Hi there.”

Lucy turned and met eyes with a waitress now standing at her table, a pretty girl, probably in college, her dirty blond hair drawn back into a ponytail.

Lucy said, “Could I just get a water, please?”

“I’m afraid you can’t sit here, sweetie.”

“Why not?”

“How old are you?”

“Twenty-two.”

The waitress laughed. “I’m twenty-three, sister. You ain’t twenty-two.”

“Please don’t make me leave. I don’t—”

“I’ll get in trouble if the manager sees you sitting in my section. I’m sorry.”

Lucy stared at the waitress, then lifted her handbag off the table and climbed down from the chair. They’d already refused her a room because of her age. Now this. What a mean hotel.

She was two inches shy of five feet, and she felt even smaller threading her way through the groups of conversing adults in the lobby.

“—got a two-book deal for mid-six figures, which just strikes me as a crime considering his last didn’t even hit—”

“—switched agents—”

“—not sure if my editor’s coming or not. She was supposed to have finished my manuscript by now—”

“—and every time I turn around, Darling’s right there, like he’s stalking me or—”

The smell of cologne, perfume, wine breath, and cigarette smoke overpowering.

She broke out of the crowd and found a cluster of unoccupied chairs and plopped down in one. From this distance, the din of conversations mixed together like the static of a waterfall. She leaned back in the leather chair and stared up the full height of the twenty-one story atrium, the uncomfortable pang in her gut not all that dissimilar to what she experienced every day in the high school cafeteria. Invisibility. The people around her untouchable, unreachable, as characters in a movie while she watched them onscreen from the darkness of an empty theater. This sense, that had been with her for as long as she could remember, even before her father had died, that she wasn’t a participant in any of this. In anything really. Only an observer.

When Lucy straightened in her chair, she saw that a man now sat across from her. He looked old to her, though he wasn’t even thirty. Sports jacket. Khacki slacks. Sending out big wafts of cologne which she thought smelled pretty. He seemed either angry or nervous, and he kept looking at his watch like he was waiting for someone, but if he was, they never came.

She watched him, and the third time their eyes met, the man gave a thin smile and nodded.

He didn’t have a name badge either, but Lucy took a stab anyway. “Are you