The sound of screams is the background noise to Everett’s day. From 10:30 A.M. to 7:30 P.M., Thursday through Sunday, he hears their roar, and depending on the wind, their echoes. Whether the screams are from fear or excitement, he cannot tell from the distance, all of them melding together into an auditory behemoth, unable to be broken down and deciphered.
Through the window of the motel lobby, Everett guesses that they’re a mix of both as he watches people zip up, down, and around tracks of metal—going down 100-foot drops and flipping upside down on a set of three loop-the-loops.
That’s how he would describe his job—although he’s fully prepared to receive more than a few confused looks for it. Thrill isn’t exactly synonymous with front desk manager at the Parkside Motel, and it definitely wasn’t listed in the job description, but there are plenty of days he feels like he’s riding his own rollercoaster, a cross between slow rises and breakneck descents.
The most budget-friendly option of the hotels near Amazing American Amusement Park, Everett sees everyone from sweaty families dragging to their rooms on their don’t-break-the-bank vacation, to the couples practically running through the door to check into the room they use for a half an hour before returning keys with faces flushed and buttons mismatched. He’s seen tantrums induced by too much time in blistering hot weather, and fights by too much time with a bottle. He’s witnessed things that seem like small potatoes compared to what he goes home to, and those that make him grateful that it’s all he has to go home to. Ups and downs, no experience quite the same. See, rollercoaster?
“You ready for your first late-nighter?” His boss, Damian, asks, and Everett can already feel that this shift will be no exception.
He breaks his attention away from the window, where outside, the sky’s alight by the glow of the amusement park rides and signs—all neon blues and violets and jades, like they’ve manufactured their own aurora borealis out of light pollution. Fake, but still beautiful.
“Yeah,” he nods, reaching out a hand to straighten the room number tag on one of the keys, one of the motel’s flairs of old-school charm. Typically, he works until around nine, and the latest he’s ever stayed was to cover for his friend, Pete, until ten-thirty. Tonight, he’ll be there until the A.M.—one A.M. to be exact—as a favor to Damian, who’s supposed to be on for that time, but had last minute plans. Truthfully, the favor is also one for himself. “I think so, at least.”
He’s heard “horror” stories, of needing to break up fights, or call for emergency medical episodes, the panic, the stress. “You’ll be fine. You know what you’re doing. This is nothing you can’t handle,” Damian tells him.
“Yeah,” Everett repeats, just like he has Damian’s words internally. This is nothing you can’t handle. Unbeknownst to Damian and everyone else other than his dad and his best friend, Fitz, Everett has handled plenty of crises at homes—drugs, fists beating against doors, fights veering into brawls—all related to his mom and the pills she can’t part with.
Home is its own rollercoaster, only instead of the safety-tested metal ones across the street, it’s made of rotting wood that could collapse under them at any moment. Screaming is the background noise there, too, but with no question as to the source: fear and anger.
It’s actually why he felt a bit relieved when Damian asked him to work late. More hours at the motel mean fewer hours at home and less likelihood he’ll encounter those problems. Of course, that is tempered with the fear that their rollercoaster will finally implode when he’s not there, and he’ll come home to splintered wood and wounded passengers. His muscles tighten at the thought, his stomach corkscrewing to fit not-so-snugly between his lungs as it anticipates the 100-foot drop to come.
“Let’s go through everything one more time, and then I’ll set you free,” Damian says. For the next ten minutes, he runs through nighttime procedures, and answers any questions Everett has, before, just as promised, he takes his windbreaker from the backroom, throws it over his arm, and leaves through the front door, whistling “Feeling Good” on his way out.
For a while, that is the only time the door opens. The night is always slower, with guests coming in sporadically for quick check-ins or questions on towels or cable. No one is irritable, belligerent, or making Everett lunge for the phone to call 911. It’s one of the most relaxing nights he’s had in a month, maybe longer, and he can’t help but find it sad that his job brings him more peace than his home.
Just after ten, the office door creaks open, and a slight figure in a coat with the hood up slinks in despite the fact that there’s no weather outside that would necessitate a hood. Mud is caked on the sleeves, on shoes, and on pants, although, based on some smears, it looks like there may have been some efforts to clean up. Everett tenses, his posture losing its slouch in the cushy desk chair. This may be his horror story moment.
“Hel—” he clears his throat to dislodge the words. “Hello, may I help you?”
The figure lifts its head, and slides the hood down with it, the light clearing away the shadows the face had been hidden in. On first glance alone, he’d say the person is a girl, his age, or at least close in either direction.
Speckles of dirt across pale skin, a swollen cheek blooming with purple and blue around a pale green eye. She sweeps some honey-colored hair into her face, as if that can cover the mess, but it does as well as a clear-glass vase hides a wine-stained carpet. Instead, in the process, she reveals something else. Her hand wrapped in a turquoise and cobalt scarf, and blotted with blood in several places, one spot of red much larger than the rest. A sign of bleeding through.
Everett has never dealt with this before. He doesn’t know what he’s doing. He’s not sure he can handle whatever this is going on, because clearly, someone has hurt this person in front of him.
“Holy shit, are you okay?” he asks. So much for getting rated as professional on their customer service survey. “Sorry, it’s just that—” you look terrible? I’m afraid for your safety? I’m kind of afraid for mine? “Are you okay?”
“Uh. I’m—” The voice comes quiet, like it’s been locked away for months and is poking its head out to see if the coast is clear. “Can I get a room here? The sign, it says vacancy.”
“A room?” Obviously that’s why she’s here, but the banality of it in contrast to her appearance throws him nonetheless. His eyes flick to the hooks along the wall, and the two brass keys left hanging there. “Yeah, we have one. But, I’m sorry, don’t you need help? You look hurt.”
Her gaze follows his to her hand, which she shakes, along with her head. “I’m fine. I just need a room. Can I get one, please?”
Everett wonders—is there protocol for this somewhere? A section in the handbook to which he can turn to figure out just what he’s supposed to do in a situation like this? He doesn’t remember any, and it certainly never came up in his training. He would’ve remembered that.
Without knowing what he has the right to ask and do, he sees only one way forward, and he’s not exactly a fan of it when there’s so much more that should be done. “Yeah, yeah, you can.” He angles towards the computer, drawing out the keyboard tray from beneath the desk. “What’s your name?”
The girl blanches, and grabs onto the edge of the desk, the color draining from her knuckles as well. “I, um, I… do I need to give you that? If I can pay in cash?”
“Yes.” Across the desk, the girl mumbles obscenities to herself. If she is throwing up warning levels, they’d be at a DEFCON 1. “Is there a reason you can’t?”
In the three feet in front of the desk, the girl paces—two steps, pivot, two steps, pivot—and at no point does she let a non-swear word leave her lips.
The corkscrew tightens.
“I’m sorry, I can’t do anything more until you give me a name.”
Slowly, she nods. “I know,” she says, and releases a shaky breath. “If I tell you who I am, can you promise not to tell anyone? For safety?”
Everett is good at keeping secrets. He has done so for the past three years. This should be no different, no easier. “I promise.”
“Thank you,” she breathes and takes her backpack from her shoulder, unzipping it, and rooting around until she pulls out a wallet. From it, she produces a driver’s license and hands it to him. “It’s Adelaide Walker.” On the card is the same girl, minus dirt and bruises. His eyes go to her birthdate. April 18. Just a few days after his. From Ashwood, a couple of towns over, if it could even be called a town instead of a glorified woods.
He writes down her name in his own notebook for their records, but realizes he’ll need another to put into the computer for his coworkers to find her when checking out. “Is there something else we can call you while you’re here? So you don’t have to give your real name if I’m not here?”
Adelaide’s eyebrows scrunch together in thought. “Um… how about… Dylan Montgomery?”
The corner of his mouth pulls into a smile. “Nice one.”
Hers does the same until she winces. “Thanks.”
Everett slides the ID back across the desk, and Adelaide immediately shoves it back into her wallet. “Is the cash alright?” she asks.
“Yeah,” he nods. “It’s $60 a night.”
“Got it.” From her wallet, she counts out twelve $5 bills, and with each, he questions if he made the right choice. His promises have hurt himself only. In keeping someone else’s, is he helping or worsening Adelaide’s situation? Will she be a face he sees on the news later of someone found dead, murdered, and he could’ve prevented it?
“Can I just ask: if this is for your safety, should we be calling the police or something? Is… is someone hurting you?” he asks, counting out the bills, and lifting his eyes once he’s done. Adelaide’s own are welling with tears, as she looks between the edge of the desk, and him. Not good. Not good at all.
“Uh.” She blows air through her lips, and again, tries to reposition her hair to cover the swelling. “My, my dad, he’s not a good person,” she starts, and although there is more to the story, like there is so much more to his own with his parents, he doesn’t get any more from her. “At some point, I’ll need to call the police. Maybe tomorrow. I just need to figure out what I’m doing, make a plan.”
“I’m sorry,” he says and she shrugs.
“You’re not him.”
“No, but I know what it’s like. Kind of. To have a parent not be what they’re supposed to be. I’m sorry you have to go through that.” Everett guesses with a fair amount of certainty that their stories aren’t the same. He has no idea what her dad is like other than he has abused her, and unlike his mom, he may not have an addiction. But he sees himself in her nonetheless. He’s been on the receiving end of his mother’s vitriol, of her shoving arms, and her kicking foot. He knows hurt and what it’s like to want to escape your home. He’s ridden that rollercoaster hundreds of times.
“Thanks,” she whispers. He nods, and returns to checking her in.
Once he has the paperwork all sorted out, he plucks one of the keys from the wall, and gives it to her. “You’re in 106. Out the door and to your left. We have a vending machine two to the left down from you with chips, sandwiches, drinks, if you want anything. If you need anything, or if your dad shows up, just give us a call by dialing one. The phone dials out so you can call anyone you need to.”
She runs her thumb over the key in her palm, from the keychain up top, to the “E” shaped metal on the bottom. “Okay, 106. Great. I appreciate it.”
“No problem.” Adelaide makes for the door, but Everett can’t let go of the feeling that there is something else he needs to do, one that he can do out of the many he can’t.
Adelaide pauses, chin landing on her shoulder. “Yes?”
“I don’t know what happened to your hand, but it doesn’t look good and I have a first aid kit.” Without breaking eye contact, he squats down to find the white box on the second shelf of the desk. “If you need any help?”
The truth is, he also knows that the moments he has been all alone after an incident with mom are the ones he’s felt the most alone, and he doesn’t want her to go back to a depressing, solitary room after the hell she has been through. No one should have to do that.
That tiny smile returns to her face. “That would be great. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” he smiles, and pops the first aid kit open by its plastic latches, and spins it towards her. “Where do you want to start?”