First Look Book Club
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Suzanne Beecher

Dear Reader,

This week I've been looking pretty ragged. I feel like the girl who was trying to look her best for the prom, but her body decided to fall apart the week before.

I've got a Band-Aid patch on the index finger of my left hand. My lower teeth are wired and a piece of the wire has a sharp edge on it, so I'm covering it with a piece of wax--every time I talk, my tongue gets stabbed. I quickly realized that if I didn't cover up the end of the wire, that the next thing I'd be adding to my list of ailments would probably be a canker sore on my tongue. Part of a filling on one of my upper teeth fell out yesterday, so now I can't chew anything on that side of my mouth. And, I've got a red rash outbreak on the left side of my nose.

The only blessing in all of this is that I don't have to meet with anyone in person this week. Thank heavens all of my meetings are conference calls. But I do have a deadline to get myself back into some sort of normal-looking state, because next week I have several meetings out of town. Two of the business meetings are with people that I've never met before, and I'd really rather not have to show them a picture of me when I introduce myself explaining, 'this photo is really what I normally look like.'

I'm telling myself not to worry--stress might make something else erupt on my body--and that I have an entire week to get back into one piece. But it's difficult for me not to fret when periodically I picture myself at one of next week's meetings, and while introducing myself, I don’t think they’re listening, because they're concentrating on my red rash nose, thinking, 'I wonder if that nose thing is contagious?'

Thanks for reading with me. It's so good to read with friends.

Suzanne Beecher

P. S. This week we're giving away 10 copies of the book Sisters of the Lost Nation: A Novel by Nick Medina. Click here to enter for your chance to win. 

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(continued from Thursday)

Grace groaned. "Fine. But if you won't get me a new dress, you can get me a cell phone. I don't have one yet."

"Forget the cell phone," Chris said. "You're not getting one." Grace groaned again and pounded her fists against the table.

"You're so unfair."

"I'm not spending hundreds of dollars on something you don't need."

"Mom?" Grace protested.

"It's a lot of money," Dorothy said.

"Of course," Grace huffed. "The one thing you two agree on."

"Watch it," Chris said.

"It's not about the money, and you know it. You could buy me the phone if you wanted to. The checks just came in the mail."

Tribal members eighteen years old and up had started receiving monthly per capita payments shortly after the casino opened in 1994. In just two years, the money had turned things around on the rez. Suddenly there were shiny cars parked where rusty ones used to sit on blocks in wait of repair; air conditioners hung from windows that used to be wide open in hopes of a breeze; satellite dishes sat atop mended roofs; designer names like Polo, Guess, and Ralph Lauren appeared on waistbands, tags, and lapels; and—in the ultimate sign of mid-1990s wealth—some cut the cord and made their calls from cell phones. With a grand dropped into their mailboxes each month, it felt like the sky had started to rain gold.

"When you turn eighteen—"

"Three years!" Grace shrieked. "Everyone will have a cell phone by then."

"You don't need it," Chris said.

"Robbie didn't 'need' a gun, but you bought him one anyway."

"It's almost squirrel season!" Robbie said.

"You've never shot a squirrel in your life."

"That's because I didn't have a rifle."

"Fine," Grace said to her father. "I wanna shoot a squirrel too. Buy me a gun."

"The rifle's mine," Chris said. "I bought it for myself. Robbie's just using it."

"What?" Robbie's face fell. He hugged the rifle to his chest. "You told me—"

"See!" Grace said.

Chris pointed to the new couch, then the sparkling white oven, the refrigerator, and the newly installed dishwasher, which had required additional plumbing in the kitchen. "Are you forgetting about all this? I'm not made of money."

Grace slumped in her chair. "Maybe I'll just run away like Erica and Amber," she muttered.

"Off to L.A., are you?" Chris said with a smirk. Though no one had been able to track the teens down, some believed—too hopefully, perhaps—that they'd thrown caution to the wind and taken off for Tinseltown because of something Amber's dad had read in her diary, found crammed beneath her mattress. While Anna would have liked to believe that Amber and Erica were careless and carefree on the road to making their dreams come true, she didn't buy it. Not when they had per capita checks waiting at home. Still, she didn't dare voice what she feared had happened to them.

"It's just a phone," Grace said. "That's all I want."

"Sorry to break it to you, but we don't always get what we want," Chris said.

Anna knew that to be true. She dug her fork out of the mush and forced herself to eat so that she could leave the table, which, currently, was all she really wanted.

Day 33

5:01 p.m.

Her throat closed up as if an invisible hand had wrapped around her neck upon finding a chambermaid coat hanging from her card's slot in the timecard rack. It'd been ten days since she'd been up to the eighth floor, and she'd convinced herself that her new manager, Fox Ballard, wouldn't want her up there again, not after she'd confronted him about Missy Picote. She was starting to learn that Fox was all smiles when she kept her mouth shut, but a single question could quickly produce a frown.

She reluctantly slipped into the chambermaid coat and buttoned it shut. Nervous fingers left black smears on the fabric and the little nametag that read Anna Horn. She cursed and rushed to the sink to scrub her grimy hands. The filthy water that spiraled down the drain reminded her of when she used to give Robbie his bath. Wrangling him into the tub had helped prepare her for the demands of the hotel, she thought, as she ascended to the eighth floor, where she maneuvered one of the cumbersome housekeeping carts from its closet.

Suite 808 felt cold inside, as though the surly man she'd encountered in the road on her way to work had sauntered through. The thermostat, however, was set at seventy-eight degrees, the usual temperature for an unoccupied room. Anna lowered it in accordance with Fox's demands.

Luxurious as the suite was, it no longer dazzled Anna. It might as well have been a cave or something worse. She remembered when it seemed like a dream, so much better than home. Now it was like a cage, a cell.

She finished her duties fast and wheeled the housekeeping cart back to its closet. Though she no longer wanted to service suite 808, she felt a pressing need to uncover what went on behind its closed door, for Missy's sake. Which is why she left a wet rag on the vanity in the bathroom.

Hunkered down inside the housekeeping closet, her ear to the door, Anna vowed that she wouldn't fuck up this time. The emergency stairwell door clanged open down the hall. She tensed. It slammed shut. The lock of a room door snapped. The door opened. Then shut. Anna sucked in a deep breath and let it out slowly. Someone had entered suite 808, she was sure of it.

A few more minutes passed, then—fingers trembling—she grasped the handle and pulled the closet door open precisely as the stairwell door clanged again. Sudden sweat beaded on her forehead; her hand ached from squeezing the door handle too tight. She could've looked to see who was in the hall, but that's not what she wanted. She needed to see what was going on inside the suite, which meant she needed to wait.

A lock disengaged. A door opened and shut. The hall fell silent again, leaving Anna to assume that at least two people were now in suite 808. Loosening her hold on the handle, she counted to one hundred in her head, then again to ensure she'd allowed the occupants enough time to begin whatever they'd come to do.

There was no one in the hall when she peeked past the doorframe. Her moment was now. She gathered her nerve and crept from the closet. Her feet lost speed the closer they carried her to the suite.

Fingers slick with sweat, they slid over the keycard in her pocket. She removed it, careful not to drop it. Should she risk going in? Her head pivoted, eyes looking in every direction. She couldn't trust her ears to tell her if anyone was approaching. Fox had already snuck up on her too many times in the past.

Anna stepped to the side of the suite's door, dodging the peephole's line of sight. Fingers trembling, she wiped the sweaty keycard against her coat, then extended it toward the designated slot in the lock. Her eyelids shut as her hand plunged the card into the opening. The lock clicked. She grabbed the lever and pushed the door open, just a crack.

A voice from within froze her in place.

". . . nothing to worry about," it said. "Laissez les bon temps rouler!"-Let the good times roll, the same saying that glowed in neon lights above the roulette wheel in the casino attached to the hotel. It took Anna a second to register who the voice belonged to, but by then it was too late. The door's lever slipped from her hand as the door opened wide.

"Housekeeping," she blurted.

Face-to-face with Fox, her countenance mirrored his surprise, though they didn't wear matching expressions for long. His turned to fury as he bulldozed out of the suite, plowing Anna backward while pulling the door shut behind him. She'd been so stunned that she hadn't peered past him to see who else was inside.

"I left a rag on the vanity," she said. The sentence came out as an indistinguishable blur of sound.

"You know better," Fox growled. He latched on to her left bicep so tight she thought she felt his fingers beneath her skin. "Downstairs. Now!"

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