The Club

Cally studies the rack of free weights and notes that someone has swapped the twenty and twenty-five pound dumbbells. She rearranges them, then picks up the forty-pounders sitting beneath the weight bench and returns them to the rack. On her way back to the counter, she sees a gold thread coiled on the floor. The necklace—a small cross on a cable chain—belongs to Janet Woodard. Cally examines it in her palm, tapping each of the pendant’s bulbous arms. Mrs. Woodard never takes off the anniversary gift—at least, she’s fond of saying so—and she has a habit of pressing the cross into the freckled flesh of her chest. A couple of months ago, Cally located the necklace on the Tiffany & Co. website. Now, curious what a $1,250 piece of jewelry will feel like against her own skin, she pushes it into the hollow of her neck with her index finger. The metal warms, and she closes her fist around it.

Across the otherwise empty room, Mr. Sloan is pedaling vigorously on a stationary bicycle. The salt-and-pepper strands on the back of his head curl with sweat. Cally strides past the treadmills and elliptical machines and stops beside the television monitor affixed to the front of his bicycle.

“Mr. Sloan,” she says, waving a hand near the screen.

Still pedaling, he yanks out an ear bud and looks at Cally.

“I’m sorry—it’s just that I found this.” She lifts the necklace by its broken clasp. “Do you know who it belongs to?”

He reaches for his water bottle and shakes his head.

“Then this isn’t Mrs. Sloan’s?”

He squirts a jet of water into his mouth, swallows, and says, “Why don’t you start with the sign in sheet?”

“I will. Thank you, Mr. Sloan.”

Cally retrieves an envelope from the supply closet and writes “Janet Woodard” on it. Then she slips the necklace inside and places it in the lost and found basket beneath the counter.

Leaning against the wall, she gazes past the leg press, whose cushions she needs to wipe, and out the window. The moss-strewn oaks hover like unwelcome beggars on the immaculate green of the sixth hole, and over the algae glazed surface of Lake Arenoso, five o’clock traffic is creeping down Bougainvillea Trail. Across town, she thinks, Sam is probably unloading a shipment of microwaves or telling some customer she can only get store credit or smoking a cigarette out back of Best Buy.

Cally wonders if it’s worth the money to go out for dinner at Applebee’s, or Chili’s maybe, because she doesn’t feel like hearing Sam complain about her cooking tonight. Then she remembers that she needs to fill up the car with gas because he forgot to after his paintballing excursion in Kissimmee. She sighs and thinks that maybe there are some Lean Cuisines in the freezer, but she’ll have to check when she gets home. Only three or four more months, she tells herself. Just a few more months, and she’ll have enough saved to move out.

The gym door swings open, and Cally instinctively straightens. Her supervisor, Dana, is big on posture, on non-verbal communication. They don’t want to see you slouching. They’ll think you’re lazy, or worse, that you’re sad, which will make them guilty and uncomfortable. They don’t want to see you slumping. They don’t want to see you at all.

Mrs. Sloan’s shoulders burned during her tennis match, and her flushed cheeks stand out against the tortoiseshell frames of her Gucci sunglasses. She sips ice water out of a Styrofoam cup and grabs a hand towel from the basket beside the door. Resting her back against the counter, propping herself up with her left elbow, she pats her face and neck with the towel, panting lightly.

Cally can smell her sweat, which has left a dark V in the back of her turquoise tennis dress. When she first started working as a trainer at the Club, the smells surprised her. It seemed unfathomable that people who could pay their way to wrinkle-free foreheads, perfect breasts, and sun-kissed hair couldn’t find a way to elude the stenches of body odor, of burps, of gas.

“How was the match, Mrs. Sloan?” Cally asks.

Mrs. Sloan jiggles her ice and stares at her husband, who is pedaling so furiously now that the machine is rocking on its supports. “Won the first set. Lost the second. Performed horribly in the third. Of course, I just moved up to level 3.5, so I guess that’s to be expected.”

“I saw in the August newsletter that you advanced. You should be proud.”

“You’re sweet to say so.”

Mrs. Sloan removes her sunglasses and begins cleaning the lenses on the hem of her dress. Thin is always the word that pops into Cally’s head when she sees Mrs. Sloan. It isn’t just her tiny ankles and wrists, her slender waist, or the ribbon-thin belts she sometimes wears to accentuate that waist. Her lips are barely broad enough to fill in with a pencil. Her suntan doesn’t stop the blue veins from showing through on her neck and forehead and the backs of her hands. Even her hair, dyed blond and highlighted to hide the streaks of gray near her temples, is always teased to give the illusion of volume and knotted into a loose bun at the back of her head.

“Mark’s dropped to a size 34,” she says, returning her glasses to her face. “You must really push him hard.”

Cally recalls Mr. Sloan’s first training session at the beginning of the summer, how quickly he learned the machines. He wasn’t like some of the other members—the ones who argue with Cally over how much weight they can handle, or who say things like, “Why don’t you show me how it’s done, darling?” and then leer as she demonstrates squats or chest presses. He’s good at following directions, focused, not interested in small talk. And while he politely listens to her tips, week after week, he always seems eager for their sessions to end so he can recede into his own head. Cally thinks Mrs. Sloan is lucky to have a man like him.

“Oh, he’s very self-motivated,” she says, shoving her hands into the pockets of her khaki shorts. “It didn’t take much to establish a good routine.”

Mrs. Sloan laughs. “Yes—self-motivated. That’s Mark alright. Sometimes I wish he’d be a little less motivated at work so we could spend more time together as a family.” She glances at her watch, held tight to her wrist by a hot-pink alligator-skin band. “I shouldn’t complain, though. He’s coming with us to the condo this weekend.”

“Is Elizabeth driving down?”

The delicate arcs of Mrs. Sloan’s eyebrows lift above the frames of her sunglasses. “Oh, I wish she would. But she’s got all of her new friends and sorority sisters in Gainesville. She doesn’t miss us yet. You know how that goes.”

Cally smiles and nods, as if she does know.

“Do you have any fun plans for Labor Day?” Mrs. Sloan asks.

Cally shakes her head. “Sam—my boyfriend—he’s got to work all weekend, so I’ll probably just sit around and catch up on Project Runway, or something.”

“It’s supposed to cool down to the seventies, would you believe it? You should really get outside and enjoy yourself. Aren’t your parents barbequing or something?”

“They don’t live in Orlando.”

“Are they far away?”

“My dad’s down in Haines City, but we don’t talk that much.”

“That’s a shame,” Mrs. Sloan murmurs.

Reaching for the envelope in the lost and found basket, Cally says, “I found a necklace on the floor today. I think it might be Mrs. Woodard’s.”

She pours the necklace onto the countertop, and Mrs. Sloan inspects it.

“Yes, that’s Janet’s alright,” she said. “I bet she’s panicking—she never takes that thing off.”

“Maybe I should have Dana call her,” Cally suggests.

“Why don’t I just drop it off on my way home?” Mrs. Sloan says. “She lives right around the corner from me.”

“I don’t know.” Cally paused. “I don’t want to put you to any trouble.”

“It’s no trouble.” Mrs. Sloan tilts her head. “Do unto others, right?”

Cally puts the necklace back in the envelope, seals it, and hands it to Mrs. Sloan, who calls across the room, “Mark, time to go. Supper club’s at seven, and we’ve got make a stop at the Woodard’s.”

Without waiting for her husband’s response, she turns to face Cally and pushes her sunglasses on top of her head. “You said you didn’t have plans this weekend, right?”

Cally nods.

“I’ve got an idea—feel free to say no if you want—but we haven’t found anyone to take care of Maximus, Parker’s guinea pig. The last time we brought him to the beach was an absolute disaster. He chewed through my Badgley Mischka one piece—can you believe that? I ended up having to buy this leopard print monstrosity from a surf shop. Anyways, what if you stayed at our house for the weekend and took care of Maximus? You could use the pool and watch Project Runway in our home theater, and we’d pay you of course. How does forty dollars a day sound?”

Cally knows better than to fraternize with the patrons, as Dana calls it—but this isn’t really fraternizing, she reasons, since the Sloans will be out of town. It’ll be a one time deal, a chance to set aside a little more for the security deposit on that studio she toured in Baldwin Park.

“Okay,” Cally says. “I mean, I’ll have to talk to Sam, but I think that should work.”

“Perfect!” Mrs. Sloan claps her hands. “You have no idea how much this has been troubling me. Why don’t you come straight from work on Friday, so Parker can run you through the Maximus routine?”

“Sure. Okay. Will you write down directions for me?”

“Do you have a GPS? I can just give you the address.”

Cally blushes. “No—I’ve been begging Sam to bring one home for me.”

“I don’t know how anyone gets around without one.” Mrs. Sloan shakes her head. “Well, give me a piece of paper.”

As Mrs. Sloan pens directions in tall, loopy cursive, Cally counts the number of convertibles in the parking lot. Six.


When Cally arrives at the Sloans’ house, she realizes they have two driveways—one that curves through the freshly mown lawn in front of their brick Colonial, and one that runs along the left side of the property, terminating beside a three-car garage. Cally pulls into the U-shaped drive and curses her dilapidated Ford Escort as she parks. Even though the weather is cooler than it’s been all summer, without air conditioning, her car still feels like an oven. In the five minutes it’s taken to drive from the Club, sweat’s begun beading on her back and dripping from the underwire of her bra. She’s sure she looks like she just stepped out of a sauna. After dabbing her forehead and nose with a Subway napkin she found between the driver and passenger seats, she pulls her damp hair into a ponytail and secures it with a rubber band.

Duffle bag slung over her shoulder, she steps between two white columns onto the front porch and tilts her head back to survey the enormous lantern suspended from the second story overhang. She stands on the welcome mat, which reads “God Bless Our Home,” and contemplates whether to use the door knocker or the doorbell. She decides on the doorbell.

While she waits, she looks over her shoulder and notices a man trimming a hedge across the street. He pulls a bandana out of his pocket and wipes his forehead, and she feels a rare surge of gratitude for her indoor job.

After several minutes pass, she leans to the left and peers inside a paneled window. There’s long hallway, adorned with a framed portrait of the Sloan family, and a staircase with a polished banister. In the entryway, sitting on an oriental rug, is a small table holding a wicker basket full of mail and vase of hydrangeas.

Cally rings the doorbell again. She steps back when she hears footsteps thundering down the stairs. The door opens, and there is Parker, whose acne has magically vanished since she saw him last—probably a month ago.

He assesses her with the indifference typical of teenagers of Club members, and then yells, “Mom, it’s for you.”

Mrs. Sloan materializes at the end of the hallway, a carton of strawberries in one hand and a bottle of Perrier in the other. For an instant, she looks confused. Then, darting toward the foyer, she proclaims, “Cally, you’re not going to believe this. You’re just not going to believe this. Of all weeks—for goodness’ sake—Maximus decided this one would be a good one to leave this earth. We found him dead in his cage yesterday morning.”

“Oh my God,” Cally says. She bights her lip, a feeling like wet sand welling beneath her ribs. “I am so so sorry.”

Mrs. Sloan leans in and says in a low voice, “I say it’s about time—that little critter outstayed his welcome by four or five years—but Parker was pretty upset. He’s had him since the sixth grade.”

Cally nods and shifts her duffle bag onto her left shoulder. She feels sweat trickling down her temple, and she wipes it away with the back of her hand. “Air conditioner broke,” she offers, swinging her thumb toward her car. “I’m sorry I’m so gross.”

“I’m the one who should be sorry,” Mrs. Sloan says. “I should have called you first thing. But we had to figure out where to bury Maximus, and then Mark had this crisis at work, and Parker sprained his pinky at football practice. It’s just been crazy.”

“Don’t worry at all, Mrs. Sloan.” Cally moves toward the edge of the porch. “I guess I’ll just head on home. Have a fun time at the beach.”

She walks back to her car, unlocks the driver’s door with her key, and reaches inside to unlock the rear door—the one with the long, rusted scratch on it. She looks back at the house and finds Mrs. Sloan still standing in the doorway, holding her berries and Perrier. Cally doesn’t know what to say, so she just lifts her hand and waves.

“I can’t stand it,” Mrs. Sloan calls. “The thought of you spending this glorious weekend all by yourself.”

“I really don’t mind.” Cally opens the back door and throws her bag onto the faded maroon upholstery. “I was going to be alone anyways.”

“No, I won’t hear of it.” Mrs. Sloan walks toward Cally but stops short of leaving the shade of the porch. “We’ve got a spare bedroom at the condo, since Elizabeth won’t be there. You’re coming with us to New Smyrna.”

“That’s so unbelievably nice, but I couldn’t.”

Mrs. Sloan looks surprised. “Why not? You’ve got your bathing suit, don’t you?”

“Well, yes, but I…” Cally trails off.

“Lord knows you deserve a vacation—you certainly work hard enough.”

Cracking the knuckles of her right hand against her hip, Cally says, “I don’t think Dana would want me to go. She doesn’t want us, well, taking advantage, you know?”

“Oh, sweetheart, you’re not taking advantage! I’m inviting you as our guest.”

Cally can envision Dana shaking her head, saying “What were you thinking?”—but her mind will not produce an excuse. Her tongue feels thick in her mouth.

“I wouldn’t invite you if I didn’t want you to come,” Mrs. Sloan continues. “And don’t you worry about Dana—I promise not to mention a thing.”

Cally nods, the heavy feeling in her chest evaporating. “Okay.”

“Good, good, good. I need your help packing the groceries, but first, why don’t you pull your car around the side of the house. Park in front of the basketball hoop, okay?”

When Cally climbs out of her car, she sees Mr. Sloan inside the garage. He is standing on one of the leather seats of his wife’s Suburban, securing a surfboard to the roof rack. When he hears Cally close her door, he looks up at her.

“Oh, Cally,” he says, jumping down from his perch and shaking his head. “Susan didn’t call you, did she?”

Behind him, a door opens, and Mrs. Sloan emerges, holding a cooler.

“Mark, sweety,” she says, “I invited Cally to come along. Isn’t that just great?”

He turns toward his wife, and Cally sees the muscles in the back of his neck contract. She cannot hear what he is saying, though she can see his jaw moving. She digs her toes into the rubber of her flip flops, tightens her grip on her car keys, and prepares for disappointment.

Instead, when Mr. Sloan finally faces her, he flashes a terse smile. “Cally, I want you to make me a promise.”

Cally nods.

“No push ups, no sit ups, and no beach runs,” he says. “I’m on vacation.”


After dinner, Mrs. Sloan asks Cally if she’d like to join her for a walk on the beach.

Mr. Sloan scrapes the last of the shrimp shells into the trashcan and says, “Will you drop this by the dumpster on the way down?”

“Sure.” Cally reaches out her hand, noticing how neatly he ties off the trash bag—two knots, perfectly centered. She takes the bag, and follows Mrs. Sloan outside. The rush of humid air comes as a relief. Out here, she doesn’t have to worry about breaking a long-stemmed wine glass, or getting sand in the white carpet, or saying one of those somethings that makes Mr. Sloan look at her like he knows her secrets.

The elevator smells like salt and sunscreen, and it slowly jolts to the first floor. As they cross the parking lot, Cally is the first to spot the dark form bent over the lip of the dumpster, legs kicking sporadically. She stops, pulse quickening, and nudges Mrs. Sloan.

“Excuse me,” Mrs. Sloan calls. “We don’t want to hit you with this.”

The man dislodges himself, and Cally sees that his face has scabs on it.

“Well ain’t that nice of you,” the man says, flashing a gold-rimmed tooth. “Not wanting to hit me and all.”

She feels her whole body tense, and she resists the instinct to run back to the elevator.

Mrs. Sloan tugs the bag out of Cally’s hand, walks to the dumpster, and pitches it inside.

“Hey, lady. Can’t you help a brother out? Don’t you got some spare change or nothing?” the man asks her.

“Leave her alone!” The words come out louder, more frightened sounding, than Cally intended.

“It’s okay, Cally,” Mrs. Sloan holds up a hand and turns to face the man. “Are you hungry?”

“Do I look like I had a meal this week?”

“Well, we’ve got some leftovers upstairs. I’d be happy to bring them down.”

The man crosses his arms. “What is it?”

“Low country boil—corn and shrimp and sausage and potatoes.”

He shrugs and scratches his arm. “A’ight.”

Fingertips tingling, Cally follows Mrs. Sloan upstairs and watches her load up a Styrofoam plate. When they return to the dumpster, the man is gone. Mrs. Sloan sets the plate of food on the curb, sighs, and says, “Maybe he’ll come back.”

The two women walk to the beach in silence. Cally is glad to slip off her shoes and step into the white powder, still warm from the midday heat. The sea oats on the sand dunes hiss in the evening breeze.

When she reaches soft, damp sand and feels the surf rush over her feet, Cally asks, “Why did you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Make a plate for that guy.”

Mrs. Sloan stares into the expanse in front of them. The ocean and the sky are the same watery gray, streaks of orange at either edge the only hints of a horizon.

“I mean, he clearly was a crack-head, or something,” Cally says.

“Walk with me,” Mrs. Sloan commands, turning south. Cally falls in line beside her, parting the warm water with her ankles.

A ways down the beach, Mrs. Sloan asks, “Are you a believer?”

“Believer in what?”

“In Jesus.”

Cally hesitates. “My mom sometimes took us to church when we were kids.”

“Why did she stop?”

“She died.” Cally likes the way those words linger in the air. She listens to the waves for a moment and continues, “Sometimes people used to think the tumor in her stomach was a baby. They would stop her in Food Lion and say, ‘Congratulations.’ My brother Josh would get so mad. He would yell, ‘It’s cancer, you idiot.’ But that just made everything worse.”

Mrs. Sloan places a hand on her chest and asks, “How old were you when she died?”

“I was eleven. Josh was thirteen.”

Stopping and reaching for Cally’s shoulders, Mrs. Sloan pulls her into an embrace. “Oh honey, I’m so sorry. You must miss her terribly.”

Her cheek resting against Mrs. Sloan’s collar bone, Cally stares at the twinkling condominium towers. She breathes deeply and wonders what perfume Mrs. Sloan is wearing.


The sense of possibility Cally felt at the conclusion of the beach trip has faded, but she thinks maybe she’ll find it again at Mrs. Sloan’s Bible study. She doesn’t even own a Bible, and she’s sure she’ll have little in common with the other “young ladies” who will be there. But maybe that will change.

That final night, when they returned to the condo’s boardwalk and stooped to find their flip flops, Mrs. Sloan seemed so convincing.

“God has a plan for you, Cally,” she said. “He wants to prosper you, to give you hope and a future.”

Still a little light-headed from homemade margaritas, Cally believed her, felt that she’d never been told anything so true.

Cally knows Dana would not approve of her going to the Bible study. Other members will be there, so it’s probably only a matter of time before she finds out. But when she does, Mrs. Sloan will defend her. Cally’s sure of it.

When Cally arrives, Mrs. Sloan is already talking to the circle of women in her living room. As she takes a seat next to a dark-haired girl in a silk blouse and pencil skirt, she wishes she’d chosen a dress over jeans and a button-down. She looks around the room and recognizes several frequenters of the gym. They’ve never said more than ten words to her, at most, but now they lift their hands, fluttering their fingers in discreet gestures of recognition.

“Everyone, this is Cally,” Mrs. Sloan says. “Some of you probably know her as the best personal trainer at the Club. Cally, I’ve been meaning to ask, is your name short for something?”

“Calliope,” Cally says. “I hate it. It sound’s like something you’d call a cat, so please just call me Cally.”

Mrs. Sloan nods and introduces the other women, one by one. Cally forces herself to return each of their smiles, then she fixes her eyes on the candle burning on the coffee table. She can see the reflection of the ceiling fan in the melted pool of crimson wax.

She does her best to listen as Mrs. Sloan reads a Chapter from the Bible about a woman named Esther who is married to a prince who is planning to kill all of the Jews. It is a weird story, and she doesn’t really know what it has to do with God or Jesus, but she tries to understand as the women talk about how intelligent and wise and beautiful and brave Esther is. Still, her mind keeps wandering to the windows she passed on her way to the Sloans.

She couldn’t help looking in the windows. Inside, she saw walls the color of raspberries and apples and marigolds. The walls in the duplex she grew up in were white—always getting smeared with oily fingerprints and grease from her father’s uniforms. So were the walls in the apartments she had lived in, walls she wouldn’t have been allowed to paint even if she had wanted to. Sam would probably laugh at her if she asked to paint his walls. He would ask her where she got that stupid idea and if she even knew how to paint and why she would want to waste money on something that stupid anyways.

After what feels like ages, the women stop talking about Esther and start talking about their problems. “Prayer requests” they call them.

“My boss is being such a jerk,” one says. “He moved Dave to the office with the window, even though I’ve been there longer and have sold more ads than Dave has. It’s totally sexist. He’s also always calling me really demeaning things like ‘sweetheart’ and ‘honey,’ so pray that I can know how to handle the situation.”

“I went ring shopping with James, and I’m getting so impatient,” another says. “I know I’m being a total witch all the time to him, because I’m like, ‘Just come on already and propose.’ So please pray that I can be more patient. And that he can get a move on it.”

It goes on like this until the dark-haired girl next to Cally—Morgan, was it?—finishes her turn. Everyone stares at Cally. Easy, breezy, beautiful, Cally thinks, as she looks at their blinking eyelashes.

“Would you feel comfortable sharing a prayer request?” Mrs. Sloan asks.

Cally suddenly feels angry. She feels angry at Mrs. Sloan for inviting her here and angry at herself for coming and angry at what these women think are problems.

“Every once in a while, Sam—my boyfriend—drinks too much, and when he does he hits me. Last night was one of those nights. So you can pray for that, I guess.” It comes out before Cally can stop herself, and she feels even angrier that she has said it. It is a lie—well, really just a half lie—because Sam has never raised a hand to her. It is her brother that used to hit her when he was drunk or stoned, but that was years ago. She can feel the red of her skin, so she gazes into her lap and waits for someone to say something. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Morgan’s manicured fingers twisting the silver bangle on her wrist.

“Cally, that is not okay,” Mrs. Sloan says. “It is not okay for a man to hit his girlfriend—no matter what. You should have called the police.”

The anger turns into fear, and she knows she needs to cover her tracks. “It’s really nothing. It hasn’t ever even left a bruise or anything. It’s really just him treating me like one of the guys.”

Cally scans the room from under her bangs. Everyone is staring at Mrs. Sloan, whose eyes are closed.

“Cally, I don’t feel equipped to deal with this.” Mrs. Sloan speaks slowly, deliberately. “I really think you should see a counselor. But if it were up to me, I’d say get yourself out of there as fast as you can. Just because there aren’t any bruises doesn’t mean it’s not abuse.”

There is another awkward silence, which Mrs. Sloan ends by saying, “Sarah Kate, tell us how your mother is doing.”

The woman shares that her mother has gotten through her second round of chemo, and Cally watches her thumbs turn white as she tightens her grip on her Bible. She starts crying, and Cally feels bad for her.

When everyone has shared, Mrs. Sloan prays. She prays for each of the women and saves Cally for last. “Father God,” she says. “We lift up Cally. Give her the strength and the bravery to do what’s right in this situation—just like Esther did. Show her your love, so that she can know what real love is.”

Mrs. Sloan’s prayer makes Cally want to cry. But she doesn’t want to cry in front of these strangers or Mrs. Sloan. She doesn’t want to cry at all.

After the prayer is over, a couple of the women cast cursory glances in Cally’s direction. Another focuses on smoothing the wrinkles out of her skirt, and another arranges the ribbon bookmark in her Bible.

“I have to go,” Cally says, standing. “Thanks for inviting me, Mrs. Sloan.”

“We always have cookies,” one of the women says. “Don’t you want to stay for cookies?”

Cally shakes her head. “I’m really sorry, but I’ve got to go.”

“Well thank you for coming,” Mrs. Sloan says, rising from her leather chair. “We hope you’ll come again next week. Would you like me to walk you out?”

“It’s okay,” Cally says, and she hurries to the door.

The inside of her car smells like cigarette smoke because Sam used it yesterday. As she drives down the wide street, her car bumping over the bricks, she looks in the bright windows of the big houses and wonders what the world would be like if people really got what they deserved.


Cally counts to three and rings the doorbell. A light turns on somewhere on the second floor. She tries to recall what she learned about yoga breathing, but she can’t remember whether she’s supposed to breath in through her nose or her mouth. She presses two fingers in to her throat and feels her bounding pulse.

Another light illuminates the stairwell and foyer, and she hears light, quick footsteps.

It is Mr. Sloan who opens the door. He is alone, a possibility she hadn’t prepared for.

“Cally,” he says, blinking and shaking his head. “It’s 2 a.m. What in God’s name is going on?”

Cally can’t bring herself to meet his gaze. She notices the fly of his khaki pants is unzipped. A strip of his white undershirt shows through.

“Oh God, Cally, what happened?” Mrs. Sloan’s words sound like a whispered screams as she rushes down the stairs. She is clutching a robe across her chest—the same brightly colored silk one she wore at the beach. “Did Sam hit you again?”

“Yes,” Cally said. Her hands feel numb, like they’ve fallen asleep.

“Mark, call the police,” Mrs. Sloan says.

“No,” Cally says. “Don’t.”

“Come inside.” Mrs. Sloan grabs Cally by the wrist and pulls her over the threshold. Mr. Sloan locks the door behind her. “We are calling the police, Cally. What if he followed you over here? We’re all in danger.”

“Wait.” Cally swallows. Her brain feels like it’s operating at half speed. “He didn’t hit me. Not tonight.”

Both Sloans stare at her, arms crossed, eyes squinted.

“I don’t understand,” Mrs. Sloan says.

“I left him, like you told me to,” Cally says. “Remember what you said at Bible study?”

Mr. Sloan rubs his right temple. “Well, what are you doing here?”

“I didn’t have anywhere to go. I thought maybe you’d let me stay with you until I got things figured out.”

Mrs. Sloan looks at her husband, who sighs, runs his fingers through his hair, and tells her, “I can’t deal with this. I’ve got to broker the Barnett deal tomorrow. I’m going to bed.”

He lumbers up the stairs, and Mrs. Sloan says, “Quiet, Mark. Don’t wake Parker.” She turns to Cally and says, “I’ll need to put sheets on the guest bed.”

“Thank you.” Cally throws her arms around Mrs. Sloan, who pats her back cautiously. “I knew you’d help me.”

In the guest room, Cally sits in a wingback chair and watches as Mrs. Sloan tugs the corners of a fitted sheet across the queen size bed. The way her lips are pressed together makes her mouth look like an incision in her face. Cally worries that maybe she is upset.

“I can’t thank you enough,” Cally says. “Really.”

Mrs. Sloan whips the flat sheet across the bed and gives it three hard shakes. “No, Cally. I don’t think you can.”

Maybe it’s best to keep quiet, Cally thinks. She runs her fingers through the tassels hanging from the corners of the decorative pillow on her lap until Mrs. Sloan is finished.

“The bathroom is through that door, there, and you can turn on the ceiling fan here, if you get hot,” Mrs. Sloan says from the doorway.

“I’m sorry I woke you guys up,” Cally offers. “I really appreciate this.”

“We’ll talk in the morning.”

After Mrs. Sloan shuts the door, Cally slips off her shorts, crawls into bed, and turns off the lamp on the bedside table.

She finds that from the middle of the bed, she can fully extend her limbs without anything dangling off the mattress. The cool sheets hiss against her skin as she opens and closes her arms and legs.

“Now I lay me down to sleep…” She whispers the words her mother taught her as a child, but she cannot remember what comes next.

About the Author

Lucy Bryan Green

Lucy Bryan Green lives in State College, Pennsylvania, where she teaches creative writing and composition at Penn State University and attends University Mennonite Church. She holds a B.A. in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an M.F.A. in creative writing from Penn State University. Her novel, Guarding Eden, was a semi-finalist for the Pirate's Alley Faulkner Society's 2012 Faulkner-Wisdom Competition. Her short fiction, personal essays, and book reviews have appeared in Superstition Review, So to Speak, Word Riot, New Letters, Sojourners magazine, Green Mountains Review, and The Georgia Review, among others.