I dismissed the thoughts as I pulled on my head. I was ninety percent certain that Shannon was the culprit which meant I could relax. No one would be trying to off me today. I could walk freely among the children and not worry about anything more than getting food on my outfit. The darlings tended to have their hands full when they wanted to hug me and would through their arms around me ad nauseam without thinking to pass along their booty to their beaming parents first. Consequently, at the end of the day, I became a walking billboard for the park’s menu. I usually ended up smelling like I’d been dipped in a vat of hot oil, and it wasn’t pleasant. However, I was so ecstatic not to be the target of someone’s venom, I didn’t mind the thought of all those spoiled children ruining my day. Much.
I got up and reluctantly left the sanctuary of the green room. Hundreds of screaming brats greeted my ears. Even though they were muffled by the giant head I was wearing, I could still hear more than I wanted. I would like to wear earplugs as I worked, but I couldn’t risk missing a request from one of the kids while I was off in my own world. I had tried it once when I first started working, and Eddie had caught me at it. He reamed me out but good and threatened to fire me if I ever did it again. At that time, I valued my job too much to do anything that smacked of insurrection. Now, however, I couldn’t care less; I’d have to think about bringing my earplugs tomorrow.
“Mommy! It’s Maisie. She’s back!” A towheaded boy with his front teeth missing raced towards me, cotton candy in one hand, a hot dog in the other. He flung his arms around me, nearly knocking me backwards. He was pretty strong for a small fry, and I had to dig in my heels so I wouldn’t fall over. “I missed you, Maisie! Do you remember me? It’s Ryan Wheeler. I came here five times last year.” He let go of his death grip but kept his hands on me.
“Ryan Wheeler,” I said in my high, rodent-like voice. “Of course I remember you. How could I forget?” The little tyke was smearing blue raspberry cotton candy down the front of my costume with one hand while patting me on the back with the other—most likely spreading mustard while he was at it.
“Ryan Schubert Wheeler! You leave that nice mouse alone,” Mrs. Wheeler, a harassed-looking blond scolded her son. “You’re making her costume dirty.” She yanked her son away from me and scrubbed at his hands. A little too late for that, I thought but didn’t say it out loud.
“It’s ok, Mrs. Wheeler,” I said, forcing myself to be nice. “I like getting hugs from my friends.”
“See, Mama?” Ryan caroled, breaking free from his mother. “Maisie doesn’t mind.” With that, he hugged me again, making a total mess of my outfit. I sighed inwardly. Even though the dry cleaning didn’t come out of my pocket, and we each had more than one outfit so we could rotate—outfit, not head—it was still a pain in the neck to get the damn thing cleaned.
The rest of the morning followed in that vein. Because I hadn’t been around for a while as Maisie, there were more kids than usual who wanted to have their picture taking with me, to hug me, or to just plain bug the shit out of me. I put up with it the best I could, but by lunch time, I was ready to scream. I tried to remember how glad I was not to be targeted for death, but that feeling faded rapidly. I needed to take a break and fast or else the little tykes wouldn’t be so happy to see me. I didn’t want to go back to the green room, however, so I skulked behind it, hidden by bushes and shrubs. I wished I smoked so I could have something to do and not look like a stalker, but it was nice to get away from other people, anyway.
After a few minutes, I became aware that I was not alone. It was equally obvious that whoever was hovering did not know I was nearby. I could hear two voices, one high and one low. My guess would be that it was one female and one male, but I wouldn’t bet on it. I stilled myself so I was absolutely frozen. If I was any more invisible, I wouldn’t be there at all. I tried to breathe as quietly as possible so that my neighbors wouldn’t realize I was there. They were speaking very softly so I had to strain to hear any of their conversation at all. The lower voice spoke first followed by the higher voice.
“…don’t think she knows…questioned her….”
“…not stupid….suspicious…take care of it….”
“…better off dead….”
The last statement hit me in the gut. For some reason, I thought they were discussing whether they should try to kill me again or not. I tried to tell myself that I was just being paranoid—understandable after what’s happened the last week or so—but the more I listened, the more convinced I was that I was the she in question. I badly wanted to peek and see who was talking, but I couldn’t risk it. The most I could do was wait for them to leave before vacating my own hideaway. I just hoped that nobody spotted me and tried to talk to me before the other two left. Since I couldn’t hear them very well, I let my mind wander.
I tried to dismiss my suspicions as ludicrous because I wanted this to be over. I hated having to be afraid for my life. I hated watching over my shoulder wondering who was friend and who was foe. I wanted to go back to thinking about important things such as whether Rafe and I could live together without killing each other. I didn’t see how that was possible, but I wanted to give it my proper attention which I could not do when I was under this stress. I wanted to return to my apartment and not have to worry about things such as my father being shot in his own damn house. I didn’t think that was too much to ask, but apparently, it was.
“…love me?….love you….”
There was a prolong silence interspersed with smacking sounds. I presumed that the couple was kissing, which increased my suspicion that it was one male and one female. There weren’t many gays working at the park, or at least, none that were openly out. The kiss seemed to go on interminably, and I pondered the possibilities of who it was. The problem was that there were countless employees working at the FunLand, and it could be any one of them. I wasn’t egotistical enough to believe that the kissing couple had to have been talking about me, but it seemed like a likely possibility. I sighed in relief when I heard them part and leave. I slipped into the green room so I could call my mother on my cell phone to find out how my father was doing. He was resting at home, but he didn’t look very good. She answered on the first ring.
“Hello?” My mother sounded tired as if she hadn’t slept last night. Chances were that she hadn’t because she never slept well when one of her loved ones was hurt.
“Mom, it’s Trish. How’s Ba?”
“Oh, Beezus, he doesn’t look good at all. He’s so pale, and he couldn’t sleep last night.” My mother’s voice was mournful as she relayed the news.
“What about the sleeping pills? Didn’t he take one?”
“You know your father,” my mother said with an impatient sigh. “He hates taking pills. I had to scream at him for half an hour this morning just so he’d take one of the painkillers.”
“He’s going to be ok, though, right?” I didn’t know why I was seeking my mother’s reassurance as she couldn’t guarantee anything. “I’ll be home at the regular time.” I clicked off the phone and shoved it back into my purse. After, I girded my loins (and put the damn head back on) to face the masses. I really hated this job.