Multimedia painting by Janet Bothne
Reggie's job is to take money from visitors and hand out maps of the Saybrooke County Historical Museum and to go and get coffee if her boss, Bethany, asks her to. She also sets up for meetings of the museum's advisory board (the rich people in town, plus the librarian). Sometimes Bethany makes her take people on tours, which she pretends to hate but actually likes. She savors the small power—what she will show them and what she won't.
This Saturday afternoon, she is sitting behind the ugly 19-century table that serves as the point of admission to the museum. It's May, two weeks away from the end of her junior year. No one has come in since the family from Pennsylvania who are still poking around upstairs. Reggie had asked Bethany if she could leave early. When Bethany said no, Reggie stole a key to the museum from a drawer in the unused desk in Bethany's office (which has three desks). The key is in the pocket of her khaki pants, which she hates. She hates brown. Bethany forbids jeans for staff, although the volunteers can wear whatever they want. Bethany wears long skirts that make her ass look fat and sweaters with pockets.
Reggie takes out her phone to text her boyfriend. His name is Trey Bobbs, but he likes to be called Bobbster, although no one does except for his best friend from kindergarten, Arlen. He doesn't text back, but after a few minutes, he calls her. "I stole the museum key," she tells him. She wants to impress him, but also it's sometimes hard to think of things to have a conversation about.
"What'd you do that for?"
She can hear voices in the background and guesses he's with his buddies, working on their cars. She hears the rise and fall of an engine being revved. "Are you still grounded from driving?"
He makes a disgusted noise, which means he is.
"Can you sneak out?" Reggie stretches her legs under the desk, trying to get rid of the restless feeling that makes them twitch. She can hear Bethany moving around in her office, talking to herself, like the crazy bitch she is. Upstairs, someone is thumping against the floor. Maybe the tourists are stealing something. She doesn't care, unless they take the dollhouse, which is the only thing in the museum she loves. The dollhouse is 120 years old. It has its own room, which has only the dollhouse and hundreds of dolls in it. Sometimes she goes there and sits with the dolls, wishing she was young enough to play with them, smoothing down their dresses and rubbing her thumbs over their china or cloth heads.
Trey is talking, and she half listens, sliding her feet on the floor. He can come over her house, he is saying, if his brother drives him. He can come over tonight, and they can watch TV.
"Why don't you make him bring you to the museum?" she says.
She can tell that only part of his attention is on her. "We could go to Subway for dinner," she says, thinking her way toward a plan.
"I hate Subway."
"Burger King then. And we can come back to the museum after."
"Why the fuck do we want to do that?"
Sometimes she thinks Trey isn't very smart. "I have the key," she says, emphasizing each word. "It will be closed, and I have the key." She waits for him to get it.
"Babe," he says, "that's brilliantastic!"
Bethany's door rattles, and Reggie ducks down as if she is looking at something in the museum visitor book. "I've got to go." She thumbs her phone silent and slides it into her pocket.
"Are they still here?" Bethany jerks her head up, toward the ceiling. Today's skirt is horizontally striped in blue and black, just long enough to show her bony ankles. She's wearing sandals with a great many straps and a long cardigan that sags a little in back from sitting on it.
"Who?" Reggie says, just to be difficult.
Bethany gives her a severe look but doesn't pursue the subject. "I want you to dust the war memorabilia room tomorrow."
Reggie makes a face. She hates the war memorabilia room, with its limp, moth-eaten uniforms and rows of bayonets. The black and white pictures are all of dead people—why doesn't anyone else find this disturbing?
Bethany sits down in the red velvet chair by the coat rack. "So, Regina, what are your plans for the summer?"
Reggie makes another face, which is supposed to express something like Duh. "I'm working here?"
Bethany waves her hand as if this is understood. "Surely you have something else going on. Campus visits? Re-taking the SATs? I have a cousin who coaches for that. I could get you in touch with her."
"I don't need to re-take it," Reggie says, although her scores were not all that fabulous.
"Of course," Bethany says, but not as if she believes her. "I went to Baldwin Wallace, you know, up in Cleveland. It's a nice little school, not too intimidating for the unwary freshman from the country."
Reggie rolls her eyes, even though Bethany isn't looking at her. She's examining the faded portrait of Mrs. Clemsonhauer, the former owner of the house and an early benefactor of the museum, who is looking down at them grimly, her bony-knuckled hands clenched on a large bouquet of roses.
"I went from there to Kent State, for my graduate work. By then I was ready for the larger intellectual arena." She eyes Reggie expectantly. "My degree is in library science, did you know that?"
"You told me." Reggie thumbs at her phone under cover of the desk. Trey is texting her, but she can't look down yet to see what he wants.
"So ironic." Bethany sighs pointedly.
Reggie knows she's supposed to ask why it's ironic. Sometimes she allows herself to be drawn in by these dramatic invitations, but today she feels as if she's on fire with impatience, the hairs on her skin prickling, her feet tapping, her fingers twitching on her phone, and she remains stubbornly silent.
Bethany sighs again and changes tack. "I'm sure you're anxious to get out of here."
Reggie doesn't bother to answer this truism.
"How's your little boyfriend? Trey, is it?" Bethany eyes her expectantly, eyebrows raised.
"You're going out with him how long now?"
Reggie shrugs, as if she can't remember, although it's one month and three days, exactly.
"You're very lucky to have this job," Bethany says, suddenly severe. "I hope you know that."
"Yes, ma'am," Reggie says, because she knows it annoys Bethany. "Can I go now? It's five o'clock."
Bethany gets up, groaning as if her back hurts her. "Oh, go. I won't get any work out of you now, will I? I'll just have to roust those people out myself, I suppose."
Reggie grabs her purse and summer reading book and is out the door before Bethany has set foot on the staircase to the second floor. On the other side of the door, the early summer heat wraps around her, taking away the mildewed chill of the museum's air conditioning.
When she steps out onto the street, she sees Donnie's battered Ford pickup. She wished she'd remembered to change out of her khakis before she left. She walks down to the curb where the truck is trembling and vibrating as Donnie repeatedly steps on the accelerator to keep it going. Trey is waving at her from the other side of Donnie, squeezed in between him and Arlen.
"Where the hell am I supposed to sit?" Reggie feels she could get more attitude if she were wearing her cut-off shorts and her Jonas Brothers T-shirt, but she does the best she can.
"Right here, baby," Trey says, gesturing toward his lap.
"Um, no." Reggie knows how that will go, with both Arlen and Donnie trying to get a feel in. She doesn't blame them too much since they're just stupid boys, but she's not in the mood.
"I'll sit in the back." Arlen gets out and climbs into the truckbed.
Reggie gets in, and the truck leaps away from the curb, Donnie's foot pressed down to the floor. She sits primly, braced so she doesn't sway into Trey's body.
"You mad, baby?" Trey puts his arm around her. "We can go to Burger King or wherever you want. We can go to Chipotle." This is a sacrifice, because Trey doesn't like Mexican food. He claims it makes him break out. "Anywhere."
Reggie maintains her silence. She wishes this were true, that she could go anywhere. Sometimes the town feels like a tight circle, pressing in on her, getting smaller and smaller. She knows the ways people get out: get married, get a job, go to college. But all of these seem flat and dead to her, impossible even. She imagines those who try them getting to the edge of town, where the old cemetery stretches in a march of gravestones across a hillside, and disappearing, blinking out like people on TV do when you turn it off. She keeps thinking of this stupid movie her English teacher made them watch because she was obsessed with musicals, about this town that didn't exist except once every hundred years. Otherwise there was only fog and smoke when you tried to leave.
"Just say the word," Trey says expansively. He pulls his wallet out to show her the bills. He must have just gotten paid by Mr. Walter, whose horse farm he works on. Mr. Walter is rich and eccentric (he's on the museum's board of trustees). He pays all the horse farm employees in cash. At Christmas, he invites them to his house and makes them all go sledding with hot chocolate and cookies after. There are always complaints because no alcohol is served. Trey points out that he could afford some wicked expensive booze if he wasn't such a weirdo. Still, Reggie would like to go... if she and Trey are still a thing at Christmas.
"Word," Reggie says, and Donnie and Arlen laugh like hyenas, Arlen leaning his head in the back window.
A few minutes later, they are jostling in the line at Burger King, ordering their usuals. They sit in the room with the play area, which is empty except for a couple of women ignoring their kids having a screaming fight in one of the tubes over their heads. Trey is picking his hamburger apart because he likes to eat it with a fork. Arlen is making a mess with the contents of several sugar packets and a paper cup of ketchup. Donnie is on the phone with his girlfriend, trying to persuade her not to break up with him. Reggie would like to give her a heads up: get out now, because Donnie is kind of an idiot. She doesn't hate him though, so she won't say anything, even though she sees his girlfriend in band every Thursday.
"So what are we doing?" Arlen says.
Reggie gives Trey a look, which he ignores or doesn't see.
"Let's go to the drive-thru beverage store," Donnie says. "Couple of six packs, and we're good to go." The drive-thru does a back door business for high school students if the right guy is working.
He starts to speculate about what movie they should watch. He has all eight of Fast and Furious and is finding it hard to choose among them. The kids are dragged out of the play area by their moms, and they leave. Trey is humming along to the piped-in music, his head bobbing.
"Trey," Reggie says, "we need to talk."
"Bobbster's in trouble," Arlen singsongs.
"What?" Trey says. "What'd I do? What does my baby need?" He hugs her with one arm as he eats his fries with a maniacal intensity.
"I need," she emphasizes the word, "to talk. With you. Alone."
Trey jerks his head, and Donnie and Arlen slide out of the booth, grinning. Arlen goes over to the play area and disappears into the tube slide, whooping. Behind him, Donnie hesitates, then shrugs and follows. Their feet make hollow stomping sounds as they make their way toward the top.
Trey has finished his fries. He chugs the rest of his Coke. "I'm all yours," he says.
If only, Reggie thinks. She'd like to have all of someone, or at least of someone's attention, some of the time. She pulls a piece of her hair forward and twists it into a tight rope. "Do you remember what I said before? On the phone?"
Trey looks thoughtful. "The key? But I don't know, babe. You don't want to get in trouble with your job."
Reggie is feeling annoyed. Aren't guys always supposed to be up for sex? What does it mean that Trey is hanging back? He's her first boyfriend, how is she supposed to know? "No one is ever there at night." She wishes she was wearing something sexier. "Don't you want to?"
"Sure," Trey says. He shakes the bag out, finding one more French fry.
Reggie isn't sure if she doesn't hate Trey sometimes. But he's all she's got right now. "Okay," she says. "You have to get rid of Donnie and Arlen."
"Isn't there supposed to be a ghost?"
There is, in fact: Mrs. Clemsonhauer, the last of her family, who died in the house ten years ago at the age of ninty-six. No one found her until weeks later. Bethany had described to Reggie with relish how her body had decayed away into her bed. The mattress had to be thrown out. "At least she didn't keep any cats," Bethany had said, shuddering.
Reggie says, "No," not wanting Trey to get sidetracked.
She's not sure why she's so determined to have sex in the museum, but at this point, nothing is going to stop her. Sex in the museum, she thinks—it sounds like a movie. If it was, she'd like to be played by the girl in the movie she saw at the mall with her BFF Tory, the one where her former boyfriend had to arrest her for murder, but then they went on the run to Las Vegas.
Forty-five minutes later, it's quarter to eight, and the light is fading. The air is heavy and blue. Reggie and Trey are smoking in Donnie's sister's car, which they've borrowed over Donnie's objections, waiting for it to be dark enough to break into the museum.
The streetlights are on, but Trey prudently parked the car in the alley behind the museum, and they are in a pool of darkness. When they get out, they can hear people laughing in the parking lot of Pizza Crossing a block away, but here it's quiet. They go through the gate to what used to be a backyard when it was a real house where children lived who played on swings or whatever. Did they have swings back then? Now there is a tiny square of lawn and an herb garden, planted with "healing herbs of the 19th century," according to a plaque.
Trey is looking through the window of the carriage house. "That looks like an old car in there." He rattles the lock. "I think there's a sleigh in there, too. Can we get in?"
"No." Reggie tugs at Trey's elbow and turns him around. "Trey," she says, "I want you so much." This is something women say on the soap opera she sometimes watches. It sounds much less convincing in her voice, and also, she is wearing the stupid khaki pants instead of an amazing dress and diamond earrings. But it seems to have the desired effect, because Trey grabs her shoulders and kisses her a little violently.
Reggie opens her mouth. Her lips feel bruised from Trey's hard chin, but she feels some satisfaction at having gotten his attention. This is it, she tells herself. It's going to be—she doesn't know what it's going to be—but the first step on a road she's making for herself. She's doing something that is no one else's idea, and this pleases her immensely. She hangs onto Trey's neck with one hand, and with the other, she sticks the key in the lock. When the door opens, she lets Trey pull her inside.
They're in the back hall by the pantry, which smells faintly of coffee and sugar. Bethany has a one-cup coffee maker. She makes cups all day long, bemoaning each one since she thinks she ought to cut back. She keeps some special cookies here, which she doles out to Reggie and the volunteers when she's feeling generous. Trey pins Reggie against the chest freezer, and she backs him off. "Not here, you idiot," she says.
She pushes him through the kitchen, toward the stairs.
"Is there a bed up there?" Trey asks.
In fact, there are three beds and a crib. Two are narrow, iron-framed, thin-mattressed. The other is the bed where Mrs. Clemsonhauer died, a giant four-poster, and Reggie has no intentions of having sex on it, even though the mattress has been changed. "I know a better place," she says, and pulls Trey toward the stairs. They go past Mrs. Clemsonhauer's portrait, but it's dark, and even if her eyes were following them, as Bethany sometimes claims, Reggie can't tell.
For some reason, she's thinking now of how she stole the key. She had gone into Bethany's office to ask her if she could leave early. She hadn't bothered to come up with a good story, just said could she go now. Bethany had been sitting at one of the three desks in her office, writing in her journal. Bethany keeps it in the biggest desk in a drawer she sometimes forgets to lock. Reggie had gotten it out to look at a few times when Bethany was otherwise occupied, but it was so boring, she didn't anymore. Bethany liked to write about what she called her soul thoughts, and also about her love life. Neither were inspiring, although Reggie found it horrifying that Bethany liked to go to a bar in Lancaster once a month and pick up men. She found it inconceivable anyone would want to sleep with Bethany, but apparently some did.
Bethany had put her hand on the journal page as if protecting it from Reggie's eyes, and she said no right away, which made Reggie mad. She might at least have thought about it or asked why. Reggie was standing by the third desk, the one closest to the elaborate stone fireplace. Bethany had gotten up and started rummaging in the closet, bent over with her head hidden and her butt sticking out. "No," she said again. "I need you this afternoon."
Reggie's hand had slid into the middle drawer of the third desk and found, as she knew it would, the spare key to the museum, smooth and cool against her fingers. Looking at Bethany's black and blue striped butt, she took the key out and put it in the pocket of her stupid khaki pants. When Bethany turned around, Reggie's arms were folded, her hands tucked into her elbows. Bethany had started to ask her the kind of pointless questions she always did, and Reggie had answered, her mouth wanting to smirk.
She will return the key, she reminds herself, as they go up the stairs, not bothering to be stealthy now that they're inside. She really only borrowed it. Neither a borrower nor a lender be, her grandmother always says, and Reggie almost says it out loud for some stupid reason. Trey stops at the top of the stairs, looking around. When he sees the display of Civil War muskets, he starts in their direction.
"We don't have time for that," Reggie says.
"Right," Trey says seriously. "I can take a look after."
They pass the room with the death bed. The plaque says, "Here the master and mistress of the house took their rest. Their babies were born here, in the happy circle of the family." Nothing is said about anybody dying there, of course. Bethany had informed Reggie that she rewrote all the plaques and informational cards when she took the job. According to her, she wanted to make the museum seem more intimate instead of part of something dead and gone.
The next room is the doll room, and Reggie pulls Trey past it quickly, as if he might be able to tell she goes in there sometimes and rearranges the dolls, which is not the same as playing with them. At the end of the hall, she opens the door to what is known as the sewing room. The plaque informs them the mistress of the house "came here for a few restful minutes away from her busy day, to weave and quilt and sew, producing art that was useful." Reggie thinks it doesn't sound like much of a rest. A quilting frame takes up space in one corner, with a half-done quilt in the seven stars pattern. There is a rocking chair in another corner with a ratty old sewing basket and a basket of yarn balls on a table next to it, and a spinning wheel, its spindle half full of coarse thread. In the front near the window is the reason Reggie has brought Trey here: a chaise longue, upholstered in rose-pink satin, tufted with buttons, trimmed with gold fringe. She knows what to call it because Bethany had rather meanly corrected her when she called it a sofa. Bethany enjoys correcting Reggie and the volunteers. She calls it "educating them about the treasures we've taken responsibility for." The nice thing about the chaise is that it's long enough so their feet won't hang over and wide enough for both of them to fit side by side.
Trey looks at it dubiously. "Wouldn't it be better on a bed?" He asks this as if he really doesn't know. She's been counting on him to have some experience. "It's romantic," she says firmly. More practically, there's enough light here from the streetlight outside that they'll be able to see what they're doing.
Trey looks as if he might be thinking about backing out and finding the muskets, so Reggie steels herself. "Trey." She takes his hand and puts it on her chest, leans in so that her mouth is close to his. "I've been thinking about you and me doing it on the—" she pauses for a second, knowing that if she says chaise longue, Trey will say something like WTF is a—"sofa. It's soft. See?" She lets go of him and drops onto the pink satin, allowing herself to bounce.
Trey's eyes glaze over, and she can see she has him on the right path. She unbuttons the three buttons of her navy pullover so that her bra (which at least is lacy) shows, and Trey tumbles down beside her.
He takes hold of Reggie's neck and starts kissing her, searching blindly for her breast, his hand sliding up under her pullover. This is familiar territory—they've done this before. "Mmmm, Reggie," he says, and she can't help but feel he says the same thing when his mama makes his favorite strawberry pie. Also, Reggie isn't sure how she feels about talking during sex, or making sounds. It seems undignified.
Trey's hand is rubbing her chest as if he can't find her nipple, and she wriggles impatiently under him, trying to get him in the right place. When he's there, she stills under the storm of heat and sensation from his mouth and his hand. Trey's mouth tastes salty and sweet: french fries and Coke. He says "Soft," against her lips, and she bites him a little, the pressure from her teeth calculated not to hurt. She feels soft under Trey, small even, although he's not much taller than she is, only an inch and a half. Sometimes she thinks it would be nice if Trey was more—she's not sure what—more aggressive? If he took care of her? Although she's not sure what that means. She has a picture in her head of the cover of one of her aunt's romances, a man with big shoulders surrounding a woman with hair so long it touches the hem of her dress. Reggie lets her head fall back as if it might make her chin-length hair stream like a waterfall.
Trey is pressing hard against her though, and it's time to take the next step, before he's too far gone. He's already thrusting against her thigh insistently, starting to pant. That's what they usually do, rub against each other until they come. Reggie wonders if Trey does his own laundry, or if he leaves his jizz-encrusted jeans for his mother to find. "Trey," she says into his round, familiar ear. "Trey, we need to—" And then she remembers that they hadn't gone to the drug store. "We forgot to get a condom," she says.
She rolls away from him, feeling disappointed, as if she's been robbed of something precious. But is she also relieved? The storm of sensation in her body makes it hard to think, her lips reddened and sensitive, her nipples puckered, her place down there open and warmly throbbing. "Trey," she says, although she doesn't know what she wants him to do.
He's getting up, and she readies herself for disappointment, but he's pulled out his wallet and he's holding something up. "Got it," he says. "I was keeping it ready, you know, in case."
"How long have you had it?"
"Since our second date," he says solemnly, which makes her smile.
Outside, the tree branches are moving in the wind that's come up, and the light from the streetlight throws shadows on the wall. The noise from cars and the Pizza Crossing parking lot is muted and far away. Inside, Reggie watches as Trey takes his pants off and puts the condom on. She can't help but think of sex ed in the health class they had together last year. There was a movie that was less helpful than it should have been because the class could not stop making inappropriate jokes. There was discussion of bananas and cucumbers, which made Reggie hot with embarrassment and outrage. Her mother had had to give permission for her to be there, and this just made things worse, as if her mother were in a conspiracy with the teacher and the school to make everything as awful as possible.
Reggie turns away as Trey struggles with the condom, not wanting to think of produce right now. She fixes her eyes on the wall opposite them, where there is a display case full of glittering spectacles mounted on the wall, wire-rimmed and frail.
They remind her of Trey's glasses-wearing ex-girlfriend, the person she thought he'd had experience with. They broke up three months ago, two weeks before she and Trey started going out, but he still goes over to her house to see her because she says she'll commit suicide if he doesn't. He's cutting her off little by little, he explained, and they don't do anything except watch her shows on Netflix, which Reggie believes because she chooses to.
Reggie's BFF Tory tells her that this isn't right. She reminds her that trust is important in a relationship, and how can you trust someone who is so freaking whipped by his psychotic ex? Reggie thinks Tory might be right, but Tory isn't looking at it from the standpoint of someone who had only four dates in her whole life before Trey. Tory is always talking about love and wanting to plan their weddings and make lists of names for their future children, but that isn't what Reggie wants, or at least not now.
"Let me, babe, Reggie, let me," Trey is muttering as he staggers toward her on his knees. He looks sweet, Reggie thinks, his hair all sweaty and mussed. She opens her arms and he falls on her, pushing his silicone-covered penis toward her. "I still have my pants on," she says, trying to wriggle out from under him. She gets her hands between them, struggling with the button of her horrible khakis. Trey tries to help her, which only makes things worse. She pushes her shoes off with her toes and they fall with a double clunk on the floor. Just as Trey has pulled her khakis down to her hips, they hear a noise from downstairs.
Trey freezes in place above her, except for his dick, which is still swinging a little. "What the hell?" he whispers. "I thought you said no one would be here."
In fact, Reggie hadn't said any such thing, although she certainly assumed it. There's an indeterminate noise, a kind of shuffling or sliding, somewhere near the steps. Suddenly she's sure that it's Mrs. Clemsonhauer. It's logical, really. If no one should be here, no real person, her frantic mind tells her, it must be someone who's not real. She looks at Trey, hoping he'll think of something, but he's frozen on his knees, one hand pulling at his hair. She wishes he had his pants on so she didn't have to look at his dick. The condom is green and a little luminescent, like the glowsticks they give you at the fireworks on the 4th of July.
He's muttering—about how his mother is going to kill him if he gets arrested, and he never should have, and this kind of thing didn't happen with his ex, and Donnie is going to kill him if his sister's car is impounded.
"Shut up," Reggie says, trying to listen. She thinks she can hear someone talking, and then plain as day, a laugh. Not a crazy ghostly laugh, just a laughing noise anyone might make. A woman. In fact, it sounds a little familiar. She sits up and pushes at Trey. "That's Bethany."
"My boss?" This makes it clear to Reggie that Trey doesn't really listen to her. She must have told him about Bethany a thousand times. "Put your pants on," she hisses. She can tell by the voices that Bethany and whoever are in the kitchen now. She hears glass clinking. They're having something to drink.
Trey has his pants on now. He's fumbling with the window. As if that was a good plan, Reggie thinks. "You—hide someplace."
"What are you going to do?" He sounds a little whiny, but really, she supposes she can't blame him.
"Hide," she says in a fierce whisper, and he looks around as if he could hide behind the spinning wheel or the rocker. "Not in here."
Reggie checks to see that her zipper is up. She smooths down her hair, slides her feet into her shoes, and picks up her purse. "I'm going downstairs," she says. "You hide, and then after they leave, you go out the back. I'll meet you by Donnie's car."
"It's his sister's car," Trey says sullenly, but she ignores this.
She opens the door and walks down the hallway, then, after taking a deep breath, down the stairs. They're curved, and she follows the arc of the bannister one careful step at a time, the walk of a person who is where she is supposed to be. When she gets halfway down, she sees Bethany and a man looking up at her, surprised (him) and annoyed (Bethany). "Oh my god," Reggie says, "I thought those noises were a ghost," which is perfectly true anyway.
The man is someone she sort of recognizes, an old guy on the museum's board. She thinks he's from the bank. "Now who's this little lady," he says.
"I work here." Reggie's heart is pounding, and her fingers are clenched on the strap of her purse.
"Not at night," Bethany says.
Reggie laughs in a way that she hopes seems carefree. "I just forgot something." She holds up her phone. "I left it upstairs when I was dusting."
Bethany doesn't look as if she believes this, but the old guy is chuckling. "I guess you kids can't go a minute without your smart phones, isn't it? My granddaughter takes hers to bed with her, just like a teddy bear."
"Just one minute, Bernie." Bethany takes Reggie's elbow and drags her down the hall to the information desk. "What are you doing here?"
They're standing in front of Mrs. Clemsonhauer's portrait, and Reggie thinks that it might have been better if it had been her ghost. "Like I said. I had to get my phone. I would have called you, but—" she holds up the phone. "I couldn't. And my mom was supposed to come and pick me up when I called her, so I had to do something," she improvises.
Bethany opens her mouth, and then there's a clunk from upstairs. Reggie tries to pretend she didn't hear anything. "What is that? Is there someone up there? Is that your boyfriend?"
Reggie keeps her eyes on Bethany, trying to look as if she has no idea what the noise was. Bethany's lipstick is a little smeared, she notices. And her blouse is unbuttoned at the top. "I guess you forgot something, too."
"I should call the police," Bethany says. "Maybe you and your little boyfriend are here to steal something."
Reggie rolls her eyes. "Who'd want all this old stuff?"
"Some of it is very valuable," Bethany says, "not that you'd know. You've never shown any interest at all—"
"Bethany, my dear." The old guy is back, and—oh, no, Reggie thinks—he has Trey with him. "I think I've solved our mystery. Found him hiding in the room with all the dolls."
Reggie is disgusted. Why there of all places? He probably knocked the dolls out of order. She looks at him, lowering her eyebrows and narrowing her eyes so he'll know she's mad at him, but he's not paying attention. He looks sick as a cat.
"Well, I'm calling the police," Bethany says. "Who knows what these two were up to?"
"I think that's pretty obvious," the old guy says. He's chuckling, as if this is the most hilarious thing he's ever seen: Trey with his boxer briefs hanging out of his pocket and Reggie with her shirt half untucked.
"This isn't a brothel." Bethany's voice is rising. "There has to be some respect for the past is all I'm saying."
"If it was a brothel, someone would be paying someone else," Reggie points out.
"I can't go to jail," Trey says with a wild look, which is ridiculous, Reggie thinks, since anyone can go to jail, especially if they're an idiot and hide in the freaking doll room where there is no cover whatsoever.
"Now Bethany," the old guy says. "Young people, after all. You know how they are. We don't want to crush their spirits." He winks at Reggie.
Bethany looks as if she'd be perfectly happy to crush someone. "After all I've done for you," she says. "I thought we were friends."
Reggie makes a face. As if she'd be friends with Bethany. "We weren't doing anything wrong."
"You were trespassing!" Bethany shrieks. "And you're fired."
"What about you?" Reggie says. "What were you doing here?"
"Mr. Becker wanted to look at the arrowheads that his family donated."
"That's right," Mr. Becker gives Reggie another wink.
"I'm going to be sick," Trey says, which is not so surprising. He's always had a tricky stomach, ever since they were in kindergarten.
Mr. Becker jumps back, pretty quickly for someone his age, and Trey hacks out what he had for dinner on the floor in front of Mrs. Clemsonhauer's portrait. She appears to be looking down at the pile of vomit with a disapproving air. Reggie can see a few undigested french fries.
Bethany makes a disgusted noise. "Get something to clean that up," she says to Reggie.
Reggie ignores her. She's not going to clean anything up if she's fired.
They all stand there, except for Trey, who's leaning against the wall, and Mrs. Clemsonhauer in her picture frame, as upright and thin-lipped as ever. Red and blue lights splash against the wall, and there's the little yip of the siren, the way the cops do it when they don't want to let the whole thing go, just a lick of sound to let you know they're coming.
Reggie turns toward Bethany and their eyes lock. Are you going to do it? Reggie is silently asking her. Are you going to get us arrested? She tries to look menacing, someone who is capable of outing Bethany's questionable behavior, someone who doesn't care that Mr. Becker is married (she's pretty sure), even though she feels sorry for Mrs. Becker, who is probably old and wrinkly with that kind of extra curly gray hair old women have. Probably even Bethany looks better in comparison to that.
Bethany is staring back with her own spiteful look, her lips pursed and nostrils flaring.
"Now Bethany, let me handle this," Mr. Becker is saying.
Bethany grabs Reggie's elbow and gives it a shake. "I can't believe you'd desecrate the museum like this." She looks like she might cry.
If Reggie didn't hate her, she might feel sorry for her. She looks stupid with a smear of lipstick on her upper lip. But she does hate her. She hates her stupid striped skirt and orange-rimmed glasses and the smelly hand lotion she keeps in her desk. She hates that Bethany went away for college and then came back, and that she can't even find anyone her own age to have sex with.
The hall light is sickly and dim, the corners shadowy. The air seems to be choked with dust that has sifted through the walls and the floor, the dust of a hundred years of antiques. Once the table in the hall was new, Reggie thinks. Someone bought it at a store and never thought it would turn out to be a piece of history stuck with a bunch of other pieces in a dead house. Probably Mrs. Clemsonhauer.
Reggie is feeling as if she might cry, but she can't, because that would make her like Bethany. Except maybe she is. Trey tries to take her hand but she shakes him off. Maybe she is Bethany, and maybe she too will go to college somewhere in Ohio, probably Athens, where her mother went, and she'll come back to Saybrook, and she'll get a job and have a closet full of striped skirts and make a big deal out of cookies from a stupid bakery the next town over.
Or she could marry Trey, who is trying to get her attention. Except no, because Trey will probably never ask her, because he's an idiot and wants to drive in NASCAR, and also because she might hate him, too. Why isn't there a third choice though? There should be a third choice.
Mr. Becker is opening the door to the cop, who is someone Reggie knows, Billy Jemison, who went to school with her sister. "What can I do for you, Officer?" he asks, as if nothing would please him more than to entertain an officer of the law.
Billy tells him that someone called in a break in—they saw someone trying to get in from the back of the museum. Mr. Becker laughs as if this is the funniest thing ever. "That must have been our young friends here," he says, waving his hand at Reggie and Trey. "Ms. Redinger was giving me a tour of the museum, after hours, you know, so as not to interrupt the flow of business."
Billy looks dubious but willing to be persuaded. "And the kids?" he asks.
Reggie thinks he has a nerve calling her a kid. He's only five years older.
"Regina works here," Bethany says reluctantly. "She knows the exhibits intimately."
"Trey is my boyfriend," Reggie says. "He drove me."
"I guess that's all okay," Billy is saying. "The alarm wasn't tripped, anyway."
While Mr. Becker is fixing it up with Billy, Bethany pulls Reggie aside. "I just don't understand." She is standing by the refrigerator, wringing her hands. Behind her head, there is a magnet that says "Museum Directors Are Exhibitionists."
Reggie doesn't know what to say to her. She's not even sure what it is that Bethany doesn't understand. Why she broke in? Why she wanted to have sex with Trey in the museum? What difference would it make if Bethany knew the answers?
"Are you firing me?"
Bethany looks tired. "I really didn't appreciate your nasty attempt at blackmail. Mr. Becker and I were here in a perfectly legitimate way, on museum business."
Reggie rolls her eyes and makes a circle with her finger and thumb, thrusting the finger of the other hand through it. Might as well go out with a bang, she thinks.
Bethany looks at Reggie's hands and then up at the ceiling, or at Mrs. Clemsonhauer's portrait. Her face pinches and purses itself as if she's in pain, and a sound escapes her tightened lips. A snort. She's laughing. "Oh, my god," she says. "I'm never going to have children. You realize that Reggie? I'm swearing off children, all because of you." She laughs again. Mr. Becker sticks his head back in from the hall, but she waves him off.
Reggie doesn't know how to take a Bethany who is laughing. She stands on one foot, and then the other, then tucks her shirt more firmly into her khakis. Her underpants are sticky, which is a little demoralizing. "So, am I fired?"
"No," Bethany says. She takes out a kleenex and blows her nose. "Now get out of here, and take your little boyfriend with you."
"His name is Trey," Reggie says.
"Trey, of course. Begone with the both of you." Bethany makes a shooing motion with her hands.
Reggie goes into the office, where Trey is sitting at one of the desks, looking glum. "Come on," she says to him.
"Are we arrested?"
"No," Reggie says. "Everything is fine."
They walk out past Mrs. Clemsonhauer's stern gaze. It is so weird, Reggie thinks, that she had been a real person who lived here when it was a real house. Reggie doesn't really believe in ghosts, but if there were such a thing as ghosts, and if Mrs. Clemsonhauer was one, Reggie might like to ask her some questions, like did she really like staying home and doing embroidery. If it was better to stay in one place or to leave everything you know. If having a baby was as squicky as it sounded. How it felt when you'd lived so long, and whether or not any of those dolls were hers. If Reggie were a ghost though, there was no way she'd stick around the same old house for hundreds of years.
Trey puts her in a headlock as a sign of affection and relief. "You were pretty bad-ass," Trey says, and then. "Mr. Becker told me I could have a summer job at the bank. Better than shoveling shit, am I right?"
Reggie decides that Trey is taking her to the prom. He damn well owes it to her for being so lame. And she's going to lay down the law about his ex. If she hasn't killed herself by now, she's probably not going to.