Vinnie was loud and effusive, insisting on a cousin’s hug that went on for an extra beat. “Come in. You’re visiting me, right? Not some silly rump down the hall.”
“First you, then the rump.”
Another woman shared the room. Sitting before the window, a closed Bible in one hand, her pretty, suspicious face watched Quentin drop on the sofa. Their hostess made introductions.
“Mary Jean,” Quentin repeated, immediately forgetting the unwanted name.
“Tea?” asked Vinnie.
The question was aimed at him, apparently. “Angel Sweet, please.”
She vanished around the corner, water running in the kitchen, then gas. Boom went the blaze on the tiny, unseen stove. Quentin looked at the Bible-girl, and she looked away.
Vinnie returned. “So what brings you out, Mr. Maurus?”
“Oh, I can imagine your demons.” Vinnie settled between Bible-girl and him. A long hand slapped his knee. “Still reading about thunder lizards?”
Vinnie looked at the Bible-girl. “Quentin is something of a scientist. He thinks a lot about the past.”
“And the future too,” he added.
That earned a brief, half-curious glance from the Bible-girl. “Why are you here?” she asked, point blank.
“To ask a question,” he confessed, looking at Vinnie. “About you know who.”
“Except I don’t see that woman anymore,” Vinnie replied. Without hesitation. Without pain or rancor.
Quentin said nothing.
“Is she still in that awful apartment?”
“Is it awful?”
“I’ve heard so. But I’ve never seen it.” Vinnie narrowed her gaze, smiled. It was a sailor’s expression, the storm passed and quiet seas ahead.
He said, “I talked to her the other night.”
“She is a troubled person. If you want my opinion.”
“I just asked for it,” he said.
The Bible-girl was staring at him. As soon as his eyes met her, she said, “I know the future.”
“Misery beyond all calculation.”
“That’s your prediction?”
She nodded, confidently when she promised, “Misery is our fate.”
This angel of doom was suddenly interesting, and prettier too.
Vinnie stood. Then to someone, apparently Quentin, she said, “Come help me now, please.”
He couldn’t remember visiting the kitchen. Around the corner, out of sight, Vinnie ambushed him with a deep, long tongue-twirling kiss perfected on the mouths of uncounted women. Pulling back, she laughed at his surprise.
“Why do that?”
“To get your attention,” she said brightly. “Did it work?”
She held his hands tightly, sitting on the little room’s one stool. Vinnie had a long body and short legs. Even sitting, she seemed tall. Her nose was level with his chest. Her voice worked hard to stay quiet and confident. “I don’t see Farah. Ever.”
“I thought you might know something.”
“She’s an odd creature.”
Vinnie looked at his face, his chest. “Compared to you? Hardly.”
The blue flame was roaring beside them, water boiling. Hung on the far wall was a framed print showing God’s daughter and a flock of sheep. A lamb lay in Her lap, and beside Her, noble and sturdy, stood an old ram with battered horns and what appeared to be one blind eye.
From the living room, the Bible-girl called out, “Lavinia?”
“I’m not that odd,” Vinnie whispered, off the stool and grabbing two cups from the tiny sink.
Quentin was careful with his cup.
Sloshing tea, Vinnie hurried into the living room. Hoping for a fresh topic, she shouted the word, “Anyway.”
Quentin sipped too soon.
The Bible-girl leaned forwards. “You don’t go to Warner. Do you?”
Over his burnt, thoroughly kissed tongue, Quentin said, “I graduated.”
“I should have figured that.” Then a reflex question: “Why aren’t you in the army, or somewhere?”
“My foot’s missing.”
Both women looked at his shoes. Then with a soft, marginally empathetic voice, Vinnie asked, “What happened?”
“A mowing accident. When I was nine.”
“No, that’s not it.” She scrunched her eyes. “Your father is a Hero. I remember.”
“And I remember steel blades hacking up my foot.” Quentin grabbed his right shoe, laughing when they flinched. “Just kidding. Yeah, I have a deferment.”
Then the Bible-girl said, “You’ll lose the deferment when the war comes.”
“The final war,” she said with a quiet, gray tone. “The Book of Truth talks about today. About these exact times. Satan’s legions rising in the East, but the world and heaven are waiting to be won by us, as they should be.”
The creature was insane and gorgeous. Unavailable and toxically desirable.
Then wanting nothing to do with the world’s end, Vinnie popped to her feet, and with an extravagantly painful smile said, “I hate to do this, but I’ve got my own studies. Sorry, sorry, sorry.”