Part 1 of 2
~ fate, divine intervention, and all things we don't understand ~
As transparent and drained as Roxanne felt, Adrian still saw her. He crouched on the early spring grass in front of her, where she sat beneath an oak just touched with green.
"Baby Doll," he said. He touched her fingers and her Tarot cards with a hand covered in silver rings. "What do you have for me today?"
"Anything you want," she replied, and meant it. She smiled into his sky-blue eyes, which were smudged with old black makeup. Big rock-and-roll show the night before at the Rolling Thunder Tavern; big show this afternoon, here at the fairgrounds.
Ghosts of the tequila she'd been drinking the night before rested uneasy in her head and stomach. All night, she'd dreamt endless frantic images like a movie with its reels jumbled. She'd snapped awake again and again to stare into the corner of her room, sure she was missing something essential, bringing on catastrophe because she didn't understand what the dreams were trying to tell her.
She offered Adrian the Tarot deck. She studied his face while he drew, longer and more intensely than she did the cards when he flipped them over.
It was an uninspired reading. "Baby," she said, and licked her lips. "Baby, I'm sorry. I'm not worth shit today."
"I'm not sure tequila enhances your psychic abilities, at least in such vast quantities." He grinned, remembering God knew what from the night before. She certainly didn't remember much.
He swept the cards into an untidy pile. "Still," he said. "You're fine. You cleared some shit up for me. Are you coming to see us play?"
He kissed her forehead and was gone.
She closed her eyes. Some sunlight would feel like heaven right about now, but the sky was stubbornly, uniformly gray. She'd better try to clear her head a little. There were palms to hustle, fortunes to tell.
She took some deep measured breaths, focused on relaxing each of her muscles. She envisioned her breath as white light entering the center of her, just below her navel and filling her with—
Peace. It slipped over and through her like hot honey, sunlight concentrate. It surrounded, but did not penetrate, her headache. It did make the pain easier to live with, removed it from her immediate awareness.
She opened her eyes and took a slow look at the festival crowd. It was not much more than a trickle this early on.
She watched the belly dancers go by, flesh rolling, eyes flashing. Their conga player caught Roxanne's eye with a grin. She knew exactly what he was remembering. A few minutes later, he brought her a cardboard cup of coffee with cream.
She kissed him in thanks. He touched the back of her neck, then ran to catch up with his dancers.
Roxanne sipped the coffee and stroked her cards and looked around to see who needed her the most.
She whipped her head around when she heard it: an impossibly long, impossibly lonely wail spiraling up into the cloudy sky. The sound filled her belly until she thought it would burst; it was like it would never end. Then the note pulsed, switched, and she saw the musician on the small collapsible stage behind her. He stood next to the mic, his cupped hand and breath coaxing the sound from his harmonica.
Her nerves lit with a flare—a sensation like a match striking up her back. Her gaze sharpened, telescoped. His nails were long and she was close enough to see a line of dirt under each one, which should have disgusted her but didn't. He wore a big turquoise ring, the surface of the stone raw and bumpy. His face was thin, delineated by delicate cheekbones and jaw, and there was a relaxed but earnest slant to his shoulders and hips.
"Holy fuck," she breathed, just a little prayer to the goddess of instant lust.
She watched as he played three more songs, trading his harmonica for a guitar after the first. His body moved comfortably, but his eyes flickered from his hands to the crowd and back, wary.
The moment after he finished the last song, he opened his eyes, and a hard mask dropped over his narrow features. A small, barbed smile creased his face as he thanked the crowd. He cased his harmonica and guitar, scooped up his take, and stepped off the stage. He was headed off by a trio of admiring young women. He stood and talked with them, the small smile growing into a wiseass grin; laughing with them. At them?
Roxanne shuffled the corners of her cards together on her thigh, focused herself through the pain in her head, and called him. Come over here, to me. Now.
She saw his body jerk a little, and it seemed his eyes flicked around the crowd, searching, but with the way her head was lowered, she couldn't see him well enough to know for sure.
When she looked up, he was gone.
It didn't work this time. She was startled, uneasy, disappointed. Her hands were disconnected from the rest of her, riffling the cards into a bridge, flattening it, starting over.
Five minutes later, she was staring at the toes of his cowboy boots and the shredded hems of his jeans. She looked up. He leaned over to hand her a plastic cup of wine. She didn't like the feeling of him standing over her, so she stood and caught her balance, which threatened to tip.
"White. Is that right?" he asked.
She shrugged. She'd drink anything that would get her drunk, but it was true she liked the candy taste of white wine the best.
She took the cup with one hand and grabbed his hand with her other. She flipped it over; it was long and slender, yet tendony—a guitar-playing hand. She stared hard into the scrawl of lines in his palm, followed them, tried to decipher. She saw herself written across his palm, ending with—
"I heard you call me. What do you want?"
Roxanne glanced up, at the mask of indifference that had dropped so abruptly over his open face when the music ended, aging it, protecting it. Over the vulnerable face he'd worn while playing, that he probably wore when he was fucking. The one she'd give anything to see again.
"You heard me?" They usually heard her, they just didn't know it. Obeyed, but didn't know who or what or why. But he was different.
He nodded solemnly, sipped his own cup of wine, and stared into her face.
They stood with his hand clutched in hers, as if they were in the center of something that spun almost, but not quite, out of control. His eyes locked on hers kept her back in flames and holding his hand was like holding a handful of cold fire; freezing and burning, magnetic and repellent at the same time. She realized that her headache had vanished and her stomach was rock solid.
"What do you ride?" Her eyes flicked from his palm to his face, back and forth.
She hesitated. Tension gripped her with its claws. "Are you my cowboy angel, then?" Images of the cowboy angel had ridden through her dreams for years, but his face had always been well hidden.
He smirked. "No. Are you mine?"
She laughed. "I don't think so. But look," and then she stopped, because if he didn't already know, she didn't want him to know that Death rode with him.
~ lust, temptation, bondage, and commitment ~
They spent the night in a motel bed underneath a window that was flooded with fiery orange neon light. She knew from experience that sex with strangers was exciting, but awkward, too.
There was no awkwardness this time; their bodies came together with the ease and comfort of familiarity.
Again and again through the night, just as she'd doze off, she'd wake suddenly to find him looking at her in the ashy-orange dark, the intensity of his gaze pinning her to the mattress. She'd feel his callused fingertips on her and then in her, his mouth and teeth and jaw pressed against her collarbone.
After the last time that night, she looked out the window and saw dawn breaking, pink and gold on the horizon; she turned her head to see his profile, his closed eye and the fine arch of his eyebrow, and thought, I want to keep this one. She murmured some strange words that came to her, saw his lashes flutter, and let his come dry on her belly to bring it all home.
In the afternoon, he got up and walked into the bathroom. He emerged twenty minutes later with wet hair, twenty minutes that Roxanne had spent lying naked and staring out the window at a piece of flawless blue sky. Her entire body felt looser and more relaxed than it ever had before.
She was thinking that there was nothing more perfect in the whole damned world than that color of blue. Thinking, Roxanne. Baby. He is a very dangerous man. Remember what you saw in his palm and get the fuck out now.
He opened the door to the outside, letting a wedge of sunlight fan across the floor. He stood in the doorway and turned to look at her, put an unlit cigarette to his lips. She stared at him with a frightening obsessiveness. Taking slow stock of details: the turned-back cuff of his denim jacket, the fine-link silver chain around his wrist, his light brown curls springing up as they dried.
His eyes darkened and he spoke, the cigarette bouncing with his words. "Are you coming with me?"
She sat up. "Yeah."
Nick was a gypsy, constantly on the move. They rode mile after mile, Roxanne's arms wrapped around his waist, Triumph roaring between her legs. Street fairs, open mic nights, bars; he played for the door, for the passed hat, sometimes for real money. Always moving, always singing.
His voice seemed to her vast and gorgeous like a mountain or waterfall, gravelly from smoking but still golden, and the notes from his harmonica were pure desolation. Listening to his music night after night, in smoky bars or in the open night air, she felt herself edging close to the rim of an abyss; a pit opening inside her chest, one she knew she could fall right into one day and never come back.
They fucked in motel shower stalls against the tiles, on floors, and tables, and beds. Sometimes they camped, and did it like wolves in the forest, Roxanne on her hands and knees on his sleeping bag, and him gripping her hips from behind.
In Nashville, she saw him smash a bottle over a guy's head, ending their fight. Glass and blood flew in a spray—both looked shiny black in the single light fixed to the outside of the bar—and the guy dropped instantly to the asphalt. And she might have puked if Nick hadn't clutched her arm and dragged her to the bike, if they hadn't been speeding into the night just ahead of sirens.
When they finally stopped forty-five minutes later, taking an anonymous exit into the woods of Tennessee, he was laughing. They got off the bike and he pushed his body into hers, wedging her between him and the bike. "A little bit of fear is a good thing," he told her.
She pushed right back, dug her fingernails into the creases on the sleeves of his leather jacket. "Were you afraid?"
"Fuck, yeah, I was. Did you see that guy? He could've stomped my guts out." This made him laugh harder, and they stood that way in the dark for awhile until she kissed him, smothering his laughter. The stars were stark and white in the indigo sky, the cool breath of the mountains different from any air Roxanne had ever felt. Forest night noises echoed around them, and forever after, whenever Roxanne heard summer crickets sing, she would think of this.
~ illumination, creation, emotion, and blindness ~
She stayed at the motel, missed the gig, and missed the thin sheaf of bills she regularly earned from her fortune-telling. She'd told Nick to go ahead, and he'd left without a word.
Her body sank into the spongy mattress. She spent a while staring at the ceiling, trying to breathe in the pure white light and failing. Then she picked up the phone and dialed.
"Where the fuck are you?" Adrian's voice was cold, shaky. Furious.
"I took off for a while, that's all." She rolled over on her stomach and picked at the rough synthetic surface of the motel bedspread.
"Took off for a while? With some guy, right?"
"I'm with someone, yeah."
"Somebody you know or somebody you just picked up?"
"Well, I know him now." She laughed, but it came out wrong. Not like a joke, more like shame.
"Don't you know that's the kind of shit that gets you found strangled at the side of the road? People fucking die doing stupid shit like this!" When he drew in breath to go on, she gently hung up.
People fucking die doing stupid shit like this, she repeated to herself, smiling a little. That's right. People fucking die.
That night she dreamed: she was looking for Adrian, searching the empty fairgrounds, the stage and dressing room of the Rolling Thunder Tavern. The places were all abandoned, instruments lying forlorn. She had the truth in her hands and she wanted to share it with him:
The threat of Death isn't always so bad, Adrian. There are worse things. Like boredom. Like playing the same songs in the same bars over and over; like reading the same tired fortunes to the same pathetic, disappointed people your whole life. Like settling for one decent lay, one moment of isolated joy, once in a goddamned blue moon.
She never found him, though.
Nick played more nights than he didn't; mostly he played guitar, the harmonica resting in a weird kind of brace around his shoulders, and he sang the blues or folk or country or a mixed set, whatever came into his head.
The first time she saw him play piano—in the lounge of an upscale bar in Louisville, at the sound-check—she was stunned. It transformed him into something semi-divine. He watched his fingers uncertainly for a few minutes then threw his head back and closed his eyes; his voice grew stronger and the movement of his hands more decisive. He seemed to grow both taller and larger, thicken and become more real.
They drank hard most nights, because the drinks were all on the house. No matter how hard he'd been drinking the night before, though, dawn saw him out sitting and smoking on the steps of the motel, or cross-legged in the grass if they were camping. He cradled his guitar in his arms, a pen clenched between his teeth, a battered green notebook balanced on his knee.
He wrote his own songs, and practiced the ones he already knew.
And if Roxanne's dreams were vivid and distressing enough to wake her early, and the angle was right, she would pull the curtain aside and watch him from the window. A look into him just being Nick: nothing to her, nothing to a bar owner, nothing to an irate guy he was arguing with or fighting, nothing to an audience. Just Nick. And he gave nothing away. When he should have been wide open, all masks aside and completely distilled, he was still an armor-plated mystery. Her fingers itched for her cards, to make him draw, to strip him down and lay him out in a Pentacle, a Celtic Cross.
Those times when she happened to wake at dawn, and saw him sitting with his guitar, she went out, too, and lit a cigarette from his, and sat silently, looking at the horizon. She came to love the horizon at dawn, the way light crept so innocently, making everything pink and lavender, moving so slowly that it could catch the moon out; suddenly, there would be the sun and the moon, sharing the sky. These things stayed true, no matter what shithole motel or stretch of trampled ground they happened to be occupying.
Eventually, his fingers would slow and stop on the strings, hovering; he'd put down the guitar, and look at the sky. It was her turn. She'd pick up the pen and draw, salvation eternal from the time she was very small. Drawing, she could slip into a hollow where time didn't exist, and neither did sadness or pain or riding a lonely road with a man who remained a stranger to her.
The first time they fell into this pattern that would become ritual, she looked up from her drawing to find him smiling at her. The kind of unguarded smile that rarely found its way to his face, and it caused a feeling inside her chest like an avalanche, made her think Love had come to call. But even then, she sensed that Love had points and sharp edges.
When he hit her, it came like thunder out of a clear blue sky. He lifted his hand almost lazily and, like a cat batting at a moth, smacked her, openhanded.
She stared at him. "Wow," she said through rapidly puffing lips. "I never saw that coming." Then her eyes filled with tears and she looked away, wiping blood away from where her bottom lip had gotten caught between her teeth and his ring.
She glanced up long enough to see his body go still; the mask slammed down, stiffer and colder than ever. Then he got up from the concrete motel steps they were sitting on, picked up his guitar case, and walked away.
The sky turned purple, then dark, and the lights came on in the parking lot, and she just sat there. Even when the wind started kicking up, pushing through the leaves on the trees with a whisper, then a roar, she sat. She watched clouds pile up and obscure the stars. Fat raindrops started splatting down on her, coming faster and harder. Was that how Death would come, then—was the picture coming clear? A death as trite and meaningless as being murdered by her lover?
She thought about Nick playing music, considered how she could see him across a bar and nothing else and no one else existed: only him, singing, or blowing those sad fucking notes. How even in a crowded bar, her hands would itch to touch him, and how those flames he ignited up her back never, ever, went out.
She thought about calling Adrian, thought about disappearing into the night, but she didn't move, not even when she finally saw Nick staggering up the sidewalk through a curtain of rain.
He must have been stumbling almost blind; he was wearing black sunglasses that ran with rain. Rain slid down his cheeks, dripped off his jaw. He stopped in front of her, set his guitar case on the ground and just stood there for a minute. Then he dropped to his knees.
"My God," he said, in a choked voice, and put a hand on each side of her face. His kiss on her split lip was as gentle as the rain, but it broke open and bled again anyway; his thumb skidded in blood and water on her chin.
She reached up and pushed the sunglasses up on his forehead. His gray eyes were cloudy and wide, shocked and drowned. They searched her face with something like desperation.
"I think," he began. Their faces were close enough that she could feel little puffs of breath on her lips as he spoke. "I think a man who would hit a woman isn't worth being with, don't you?"
She nodded dumbly, thinking that was rather an understatement, and he laid his head on her shoulder as though looking into her face had exhausted him. He was heavy, and she figured he'd pass out soon. She stood up, pulling him with her, and picked up his guitar, keeping her arm around him.
"Come on," she sighed.
Who are you, Nick? she thought, watching him slowly pick chords on the guitar. He sat cross-legged on the bed next to her, his back curved like a capital "C." The black tattoo above his left nipple looked cobalt in the rainy-day light. His face was drawn in concentration, eyes closed, mouth slightly slack and crooked—it was very close to the face he wore when he fucked her, she'd been right about that.
Did your daddy beat the hell out of you, babe? Did he give you that scar on your back?
"Let me read the cards for you," she said, hugging the pillow.
He opened his eyes and glanced at her. "No."
"What are you afraid I'll see?"
He grinned in answer, a hard, sharp one; one that mocked. Who it mocked, him or her, she didn't know.
She asked him again, the question she asked when she'd called him to her and he came, months ago. "Are you my cowboy angel, then?"
He licked his bottom lip, chewed it a little. "Maybe. I don't know." He turned and looked out the window, his hands arrested in position on the guitar. He was trying to tell her the truth; she hadn't expected it. He was the only person she'd ever said that to who acted like he knew what she was talking about.
"Well, if you won't let me read for you, why don't you come over here and fuck me?"
He turned back to her with a wolfish smile. "That I can do."
He put the guitar on the floor and crawled over on top of her.
She was thinking about the cowboy angel as she laid her hands flat across the hard ridges of his ribs, and felt them breathe, and put her mouth on his neck, and tasted salt. In the end, the cowboy angel brought your death; he took you to the gates of Eden.
~ balance, one from two, and order from chaos ~
She stared at him often, storing up every detail that made her heart swell, until one day, he caught her staring at him where he stood on an empty stage with his guitar, fiddling with the mic. She was startled to see contempt surface on his face. She stood very still, resting her elbow on the edge of the stage, and watched his face like she would a growing storm.
"I'm more than the sum of my parts, Roxanne," he said. He twisted a peg on his guitar viciously. She winced, expecting the string to break.
That's all you give me. Parts, she thought, but didn't say. It wouldn't be worth it. She averted her eyes, followed his glare down to her hands.
She turned the deck over; she hadn't realized she was holding it. The edges were fuzzy with love and wear; this was her first and only deck. She examined the top card, a stylized black and white and gray Lady holding two vessels, one of water, the other of wine.
She turned from him, not wanting him to see her unexpected grin, or the tears that came with it. Pour water into wine and they are one, sure, she thought. It makes them both undrinkable, though, the wine diluted and the water tainted.
Already the small lounge of the club was filled with the denseness of his anger and frustration, as flammable as gas fumes.
"Maybe you should take this out on the sound guy, not me," she said. She stuck the deck into her bag, threw the strap over her shoulder. She needed to get her brain straight; her own strong emotions would influence any reading she gave that night, would give everything she saw a melancholy cast. She walked over to the bar and asked for Jack and Coke.
Despite problems with the sound in the beginning, the show was decent, and Nick closed his set with "Ladies Love Outlaws," opening his eyes once to grin an apology at Roxanne after singing the first verse. She raised her glass to him solemnly, then smiled.
Three in the morning saw them staggering drunk in the parking lot with the members of the headlining band; they were all laughing, smoking, unwilling to call it a night.
"You're fucking great, man," said the guitarist, pointing at Nick. "Those fingers of yours. You'll be playing arenas one day, mark my words."
Roxanne pulled out her cards. "Let's see if your prediction is accurate." She waggled the cards at him.
Nick laughed. "You're not reading me, babe," he said.
"You don't want me to add you all up," she said, disappointed, thinking of his earlier remark. She'd hoped that, drunk as he was—and he was reeling, his eyes weasel-red—he'd let his guard down.
"Hey, is that Tarot? You can read mine," the drummer said. He reminded her vaguely of Adrian because of his long dark hair. He sat down cross-legged right on the asphalt. "C'mon."
Roxanne hunkered down in front of him, her skirt billowing and settling around her. "Cross my palm with silver." When he started to protest, she said, "It's symbolic." He flipped a quarter at her. She snatched it out of the air and winked at him, offered him the deck.
She laid his chosen cards out in a Celtic Cross between them, and as the reading grew, so did her disquiet. She'd never seen such a dark spread; with every card it got worse. She kept her face impassive, or at least she hoped she did, and couched her warnings in calm phrases and stock platitudes. Her drunkenness may have caused her to say too much, though, because the drummer started looking narrow and watchful, his eyes dark and serious.
She gathered the cards back up slowly, looked up at Nick while she did it. He was looking at the drummer with fear and dread on his face, then his eyes flickered, and met Roxanne's; his face went cold, impassive, the fear wiped away so completely it might have never been there at all.
The laughter had gone out of the night, and the band members watched her with expressions bordering on hostility. She put the deck into her bag and stood, licked her lips and shrugged. People don't want the truth, that was the paradox of fortune-telling. People don't want the truth, even though they ask for it.
Roxanne put her fingertips to her lips, kissed them, and waved the kiss toward the four silent men. "Great show," she said. "Good night."
Nick took her hand when she offered it, and they turned to walk toward the motorcycle where it waited under several oaks at the edge of the lot. His fingers were cold. As they walked, she said, "You read the cards as well as I do."
He was silent, shook his head, glanced up at the sky.
He lifted her, put her on the bike seat sideways, pulled her thighs up around his hips; he put his hands on her hips, and the small of her back, her breasts, up under her shirt. He bit her ear. "I don't need the cards, Roxanne," he whispered. "And neither do you."
And she unbuttoned his jeans, and he lifted her skirt, and they stayed there drunk under the trees for a long time.
Adrian's voice was subdued, scratchy. "I'm glad you called."
He was in a bar, maybe Rolling Thunder Tavern, maybe someplace else. His band got around. She could hear them tuning up in the background.
"I wanted to let you know I'm okay."
"Good, that's good to know. I've been worried."
There was a long silence, in which Roxanne could almost hear many things being said; a desperate voice in the void between his phone and this one in the motel room, garbled and fizzed. She closed her eyes, she didn't want to hear all those things he wanted to say, anyway.
"Are you—are you gone for good, Roxanne?" He seemed to be gulping something back: air, beer, emotion? She hoped he wouldn't choke.
"Jesus, I don't know, Adrian. It's cool; I'm having fun. I'm not gonna worry about it right now."
"Okay, we're checking, I gotta go," he said, speaking so quickly he stumbled over the words.
She thought it more likely that he was starting to cry, or was afraid he would, but she let it go, and said good-bye, and did not say that she missed him.
~ chaos, disillusionment, ruin, and revelation ~
"I was watching you," Nick said.
She always grew still when he talked; he so seldom told her things he'd done in the past, or how he felt. So much she didn't know about his brain and what went on there. She relied on her sixth sense, on touching him, on listening to the tone of his voice change.
"While I was waiting to play, before we met. I was watching you." He was on his knees, straddling her. He tugged the button on her jeans while he talked; he unzipped them, not looking at her face.
She wondered why he was telling her now. She started to wonder who called out to whom. She started to wonder which of them walked around with Death in the palm of their hand. No, he'd answered. Are you mine? She felt a little dizzy. But all she said was, "Yeah?"
"Yeah. You looked . . . not content . . . in the moment, I guess. Pretty." He hooked his fingers in the front pockets of her jeans and pulled. They slid down her hips and thighs to her knees. He pulled them, then her underwear, completely off and flung them both across the room. The underwear landed on the corner of a picture frame and she laughed.
"You wanted me then?"
He lay on top of her so that his chest was on her belly. "Yeah, I wanted you then."
"Why'd you act like a son of bitch, then? Like it killed you to talk to me?" Then she gasped, because he was pinching her nipple. Hard. He often pinched harder than she necessarily liked.
He smiled, but it was almost a sneer, and she didn't like this conversation; she was sorry he'd told her anything at all.
He didn't answer her for a moment, because he was concentrating on his own jeans, his jaw digging into her belly. Then he said, "Because that was the way to do it. You like me this way. You like mysteries."
She started to protest, but his face was abruptly in hers, and he was pushing into her; she raised her knees and pressed her thighs against his sides. They were temple to temple, cheek to cheek, and she felt his breath hot in her ear.
And then when his breath had become ragged, almost like a sob, he spoke again. His voice was thick and warped, full of something like despair. "I think if I stopped . . . I think you'd leave me."
She couldn't answer, because by then she was burning, being consumed, and falling into ash.
The first indication she had that anything was wrong was the way his body suddenly stiffened all over; it woke her from the semi-trance she always settled into whenever they rode for more than an hour or so.
Then, the bike was slipping and sliding from side to side, the back wheel fishtailing.
She clutched Nick tighter and bit down on the scream that wanted to come. Screaming wouldn't help anything. She wanted to close her eyes, shut out the cars and trucks whizzing around them, but she couldn't. She had never felt more like useless baggage.
The sound of the motor was loud in her ears, as it usually was, but now, underneath it, was a high sickening whine that drilled into her ears and made her grit her teeth. Images, feelings, from her restless haunted dreams filled her: smoke and fire, sparks and cold wind, sick fear and triumph. Her guts tightened, drew in on themselves. Nausea swept over her; saliva flooded her mouth. And she held on.
The pitch and yaw of the bike refused to smooth out. It bucked under them like something alive and with a will of its own. Roxanne could feel Nick's muscles flex and change as he fought with it.
Dump it! She tried to send the thought from her head to his, and wasn't surprised when he veered toward the shoulder of the road.
He knew how to land, and she didn't, and so he was up and moving before she was. She lay in the gritty weeds of the shoulder, wind knocked clear out of her, staring at the sky and thinking, Am I dead? though of course she knew she wasn't. After a moment, she was able to suck in a tearing breath. It came out a scream.
"Roxanne! Are you hurt?" Nick was asking her, and no, she wasn't hurt, but she was furious and terrified.
And she was screaming at him, flying at him, pushing him, taking no notice of how white and terrified his own face was. She felt she could never push out all the screams that piled themselves up in her throat. She tried.
After a minute of staring at her, Nick grabbed her, pinning her bent arms to her chest. She pushed against his chest with her hands, but it had no effect; he had her in a bear hug.
His hand cradled the back of her head, pushed her face against his chest, damp with fear-sweat. She heard his heart pounding triple-time.
Her screams tapered off into sobs, and what she sobbed over and over was, "I don't want to die!"
"Shhh," he said.
"Baby," he said.