If you’re going to spend the day with me, you’ll have to take the baseboards.
I hate cleaning the baseboards and, for some reason, all the women who stay at the Mid-Night Inn are crazy about clean baseboards. But we don’t get that many women here, really. Most of the guests—our manager Billy makes us call them that, not “customers”—are guys. Guys and bickering families with a bunch of kids, all with sticky hands.
We only get two kinds of guests at the Mid-Night Inn, anyway: Desperate people who can’t quite make it to another, better place further down the road and coupon clippers looking for the cheapest, lowest-rent option they can find. We’re cheap, sure. But that’s because the baseboards might come with a little dust, OK?
Lu doesn’t mind the baseboards, so she does a better job when she’s on the cleaning cart and I’m behind the front desk. To pay her back, I get the higher stuff she can’t reach when I’m on the cart, cobwebs on the second floor walkway and stuff like that. If you spend a day with me, you’ll spend it with Lu, too. Lu and me—we make a good team. We have fun making fun of Billy, goofing off, talking about the things we wish we were doing, other than cleaning at a crapheap roadside motel. Lu is pretty much my best friend, even though she’s older than I am and has three kids and a husband. I have none of that—just me and my mom. But I’ve been friends with people I had lot in common with before, and it didn’t stick. Like, everything in the world in common, and then poof, she’s out of my life forever.
It’s weird to think about that now, how I used to have a best friend and now—who knows where she is? Well, I heard she lives in Chicago, actually. Maddy Bell. Probably has a great life, everything she ever wanted. She was always prettier, always had Beck, her boyfriend, hanging all over her. I got better grades, maybe, and got into less trouble. Not that any of that ever panned out. But she was always braver than I was and, yeah, on the track team, she was always a split second faster.
It’s crazy the difference a split second can make.
Ten years. Our high school reunion is coming up. I don’t plan on going, but I wonder . . . well, it doesn’t matter. I wonder a lot of things. What would have been different if I’d won a couple of those races back in school? What would I be doing if I hadn’t left college after one semester? If my dad hadn’t died and my mom hadn’t been so sad all this time? What if—but I could spend the next ten years playing that game. The game nobody really wins.
If I were Maddy Bell, I would never come back here. But what if she does? What if she walks through the front door of the Mid-Night some night? Maddy Bell, all big time and as beautiful as ever?
I don’t know what I’d do, but I bet it wouldn’t be pretty.
You can read more about Juliet in Little Pretty Things, published by Seventh Street Books.
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About the author
Lori Rader-Day’s debut mystery, The Black Hour, received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Library Journal and was a finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award and the Anthony Award for Best First Novel. Her short stories have appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Time Out Chicago, Good Housekeeping, and others. Little Pretty Things is her second book. She lives in Chicago. Visit Lori at www.loriraderday.com