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Chapter 14

“The Motel Pool is for Lovers”

The Middle of the Night

Motel Estándar Just Outside of Lawrence, Kansas

Alex dropped his phone on the counter and flipped on the air circulation in the bathroom to cover up the cigarette he was about to smoke. “Why did I send that text? Alex, you idiot,” he scolded himself quietly as he lit the cherry of a Marlboro light. His breath seemed to freeze in his throat as he waited for the phone sitting on the counter to vibrate twice. “Maybe it didn’t actually send,” he absent-mindedly mouthed as he checked the timestamp on the text message for the fifth time in the last hour.

He grabbed the phone and started typing out a second message before slamming the phone back onto the counter and scolding the idea.

Cigarette ash swept across the air as it fell to the toilet.

Alex’s hand stopped shaking long enough to notice how much blood was caked onto it. It felt as if his heart was skipping a hundred beats every time he closed his eyes and saw Paul Revere plummeting to the ground across the street from the hotel. If not for his forceful removal from the scene by Janey, the police would have arrested him on sight for any number of felonies he had or had not committed. The scenario played out over and over, with wildly divergent nightmarish results. In one, Paul died grasping his collar; in another, an officer thought he was the murderer—trying to finish Revere off—and shot him dead.

Even though none of those scenarios had come to pass, the human mind is rewarded no consolation in discovering and repeating new ways in which it could have been in a disaster.

Alex had been unable to get an update from the hospital, but knew that Revere was still breathing. The group had watched him be loaded into the back of an ambulance that was flanked with an army of squad cars. A man being stabbed and thrown from an abandoned department store is a news-making affair, so the four of them found themselves glued to the television screen throughout the night, hoping to get an update on the well-being of Paul (who was identified on the news as one Blake Albateek). If not for a hasty phone call from Stack, he would not have learned the victims’ identities in the brutal attack across the street.

Marie had somehow been less lucky than the thrice-stabbed revolutionary thrown two stories, shattering most of his bones on contact with the pavement.

He jumped at the sudden knock at the door on the bathroom door.

“Are you okay in there, Lex? Do you need anything?” Janey whispered through the door, careful not to wake the boys passed out on different ends of the bed in various states of sock. “I think there’s a magazine about canoe restoration out here somewhere,” she trailed off in jest.

Alex looked toward the door and then back toward his phone, which buzzed twice loudly on the counter. His hands fumbled across the marble-like finish of the plastic counter and tried to quiet the loud buzzing before Janey wondered why he was in the bathroom smoking and texting people.

“Why are you in the bathroom smoking and texting people?”

Okay, new plan, he thought for a moment before going off in an unspoken tirade about the usability of a “silent” function in modern handsets that was anything but silent. “Out in a minute,” he exclaimed as he checked the text on his phone, which contained a single word.

Pool.

His hand waved around the air in that way all smokers wave their hands around to hide odors. Surprisingly, it did little to mask the nicotine-soaked stench in the tiny plastic bathroom. He hopped to his feet and jerked open the door, startling Janey who was browsing through hotel literature to slide under the door.

“Did you want this one on proper check-out procedures? I was skeptical at first, but the section on taking the bathrobe home with you was a real pamphlet-turner,” she deadpanned with a smile. “Speaking of, you just blew smoke all over it didn’t you? Pretty sure you just bought it.”

Alex looked nervously to his phone and back to Janey. “Are you going to bed soon?” he asked nervously.

“If by soon, you mean forty-five minutes ago, then yes.”

“I’m probably heading out in a minute,” the phone slid back into his pocket.

Janey motioned to two couch pillows and a comforter from her bed, “but I made you this deluxe queen-sized carpet bed!”

He stepped closer and grabbed her arm. “Where’s your pistol?”

She gave him a sideways glance at the clear urgency in his voice. The gun slid out from her bathrobe pocket and she checked the slide for a round before holding it up for Alex to see. “I always have this on me.”

“Move the boys to the bed away from the door.”

“Alex, what did you do?” she scolded, no longer in a jovial mood.

He checked through the curtains for any sign of movement outside. “I sent a text message.”

Janey plopped down on her bed and buried her face in her hands. “Jesus, Lex—you didn’t?”

“I needed to know.”

She threw a pillow at him in disgust.

He threw one of the couch pillows from his makeshift bed back in trade. “That will be far more comfortable, thank you.”

“Curb the macho ‘needing to know’ bullcrap, do you have any idea how much danger you just put these children in? What the hell is wrong with you? I thought you were supposed to be this brilliant strategist.” She was beginning to raise her voice.

Alex put up a hand and motioned to ‘bring it down,’ before turning to the door. “She has a lot to answer for.”

Janey hopped off the bed and slammed the door back with her arm, cutting him off. “We have to get out of here right now.

He lifted her arm in the palm of his hand, calmly, which scared her even more. “She’s already here.”

She stood in stunned silence.

“Move the boys to the other bed and put the gun on the door. I’ll slide a room service menu under the door so you know to open it. Anything else happens outside that door, you friggin’ put ‘em down. You copy?”

Janey grabbed the desk chair and used it to rest her elbow as she kept the gun trained at the center mass of any would-be target on the other side of the door. “Copy that. Just go get it done so we can sleep.”

He turned back to the door but stopped short, knowing she had one more thing to add.

“Lex,” she began softly, “just one more thing.”

He knew her all too well.

“If anything happens to these kids, I’ll put you down,” she spoke in a startlingly low whisper.

He did not know her as well as he thought he did.

Alex grabbed the handle and swung it open, his other hand already pointing his pistol out into the exterior catwalk of the motel. The door shut behind him as he slowly moved down the third story of the outdoor motel that charged for trips to the ice machine. The pool was visible down below and there was a hooded female sitting in one of the deck chairs.

She was staring directly at Alex as he made his way down to the pool area. His phone buzzed twice in his pocket, which caused a quick pause near a custodial hallway to check it without unwanted supervision.

No guns <3

This rule remained a rule for approximately the same amount of time it took Alex to toss the phone back into his pocket and secure his grip on the pistol in the waistband of his pants.

The rest of the trip down to the motel courtyard was mostly quiet if not for the growing lapping of waves in the pool. The grip on his gun tightened as he scanned the fenced area for any unwelcome surprises.

Chloe Freimont was just sitting there, taking in her surroundings and looking as healthy and alive as ever (if ever excludes that time Alex had to identify her corpse at the mortuary).

He lifted the latch on the fence and recoiled at the rusty screech that echoed around the inward facing motel rooms. He mouthed the words “I’m sorry” as made his way into the caustic blue lights of the pool deck. Feigned embarrassment was a believable entrance, or so he thought.

She waved her arm to have a seat at the deck chair to her left; there were two glasses of whiskey on the rocks melting away on the table. Chloe grabbed for hers and took a slow sip; the subtle rise in the corners of her mouth gave Alex pause. The image of her enjoying drinks and food burned the subtle smile she didn’t even know about into his mind.

But Chloe hated whiskey.

He pulled the pistol from his pants and had the hammer back before she could put the glass down. His shoes slid across the deck to place his firing distance at least ten paces from where she was sitting. There was much that she was capable of, least of which was—

“I think that text was pretty clear about the no-guns thing. I won’t be sending the hearts anymore if we can’t follow directions.”

—Sarcasm.

“You’re dead,” Alex felt the words grind up his throat like sandpaper.

Chloe smiled and tossed the empty glass into the overgrown bush behind her. “That’s a solid opener, Alex. Though, and not to be a Debbie Downer Does Dallas here, but I have some pretty compelling evidence to the contrary.”

He stepped forward, his face contorting at the reality before him. “No. No. I was there, I saw your body, Chloe.”

“You saw a body.”

“Freimont, I saw your god damn body,” he struggled to steady his gun. “I know every inch of you.”

She dramatically waved her hand in front of her face as if to cool off. “Is it getting hot out here? I feel a run of the vapors coming on,” Chloe touted in a surprisingly well-executed accent of a Southern belle.

“One more. One more and I am putting a bullet through your forehead. Explain to me how you’re still alive!”

“Let’s start with how you’re still alive,” she spat with a venomous change in tone.

Alex took another step forward, keeping the sights of the gun squarely planted on her center of mass. “Explain to me. Explain to me as you would a child.”

Chloe stood up and cocked her head to the side. “Don’t shoot me in the face, please, because I’m not pulling the bitch card right now—but did you just quote Galaxy Quest?

His eyes darted to the side as his lips pursed in thought; as they darted back, he realized that he had. “Pretend that didn’t happen.”

She took a deep breath in preparation of the exposition dump forthcoming. “I have gone out of my way to keep you alive, you psychopathic man-child.” Chloe gauged the widening of his eyes and believed she had made the correct impression. “The returners are an anomaly that doesn’t mean anything—a blip in the fabric of accidental science.”

Alex was disturbed by what he was hearing. “No. That doesn’t make sense.”

“Of course it doesn’t,” she replied calmly. “Mr. Heton, do you know what a ‘risk matrix’ is?”

 He refused to answer with anything that wasn’t an eyebrow.

She smiled. “As I’m sure you know, it’s a simple organization of data to measure the likelihood of an event happening versus the consequences of any action taken to create the event.”

“Which has what do with this?”

“I trust you’ll forgive me for any data I gloss over with a gun to my head, but we should start with consequences. We can look at it both proactively and reactively.”

“Did you go to night school or something, when did you get so smart?”

“Shut up, Alex. Now, in the proactive column, which is where the stupid Buck Rogers bullshit you seem to peddle comes from, the belief is that the returners were brought back for a reason and we must band together to save the world.”

Alex sat down in a chair a few feet away, carefully keeping the gun trained on her in a more relaxed position. “And you think we just came back for no reason?”

Chloe turned her chair to sit face-to-face with her former boyfriend. “Stay with me here, Bieber-hair. On the other side of the spectrum, the reactive side of things, it’s possible that doing nothing will save the world and that bringing everyone together could destroy it.”

He scoffed. “How could that happen?”

She didn’t respond and instead turned to the pool as tears welled up in her eyes.

Alex could tell she was actively fighting real emotion. “Chloe…”

Her index finger waved him off as she tried to regain her composure with the help of a few tissues stuffed into her purse. “Okay. Let’s continue.”

He nodded.

“You were correct,” she said, sniffling through tissues and wiping the tears away. “It was my body at the morgue.”

Alex could feel the world grow gigantic around him and start to spin.

“That night in the taco place—you heard the gunshot down the street, right?”

He nodded again as he tried to stop his hand from shaking.

“I fired the shot.”

No. No. No. No. No. No. His hand wouldn’t stop shaking. Please don’t finish that sentence!

“There were two of me. How weird is that,” she asked with the deadpan of a witness to a serious trauma.

Alex stood up so fast the chair spilled backward and rolled across the deck making a terrible racket. Lights around the courtyard began to flip on,including the room Janey and the boys were currently in. He could feel a panic attack coming on and his knees buckled as he fell to the pavement, desperately trying to hold the gun on his target.

She limped over to the crumpled shape that was Alexander the Great just moments before who had become simply Alex Heton, newly traumatized accounting student. Chloe put a hand on his face with a gentle touch, sliding down his cheek the way she used to calm him down. “Two identical particles cannot occupy the same state at the same time. We are like atomic bombs, Alex.” She began to sob and struggled to get the words even a few inches out of her mouth. “I saw the look on my own face before I did it.” She sniffled and chuckled through the tears. “I was pretty mad at me.”

“So you didn’t kill those kids?”

Chloe’s look was sideways and angry. “In Kansas? Jesus, Alex. I killed Genghis and the other me—and Genghis was to keep you alive.”

“But you told me—”

“I told you not to go to Kansas because the killer was there! I might think you’re an asshole but I don’t want you dead.”

“So, who?”

She shrugged and inched closer to Alex. “Paul is the only one that got a look, and he’s in a coma right now.” Chloe put her head on his shoulder, much to the surprise of Alex. “That’s not all of it—Janey,” she trailed off.

He looked up to his motel room as the shape peeking through the curtains disappeared from his gaze. “Oh god. It doesn’t matter which side of the risk you believe, does it?”

“Nope,” she said, knowing he finally picked up on it.

“Even if we’re meant to be here, if there’s,” now it was his eyes fighting the incoming emotions. Swallowing became torturous. “It’s her, isn’t it?”

“I’m so sorry, Alex. I tried playing bad cop, but that is one tough chick, man.” She laughed.

“How many?”

There was a long silence at the pool as both of them looked up to the motel room they knew Janey was waiting in. Chloe swallowed hard, stood up from the pool, and said one final thing before walking off into the darkness.

“There’s four Janey’s.”

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