At the front door, Rose fixed her eyes on the final barrier, painted white on this side and green on the other, not even a deadbolt engaged. Margie backed up until she bumped into her friend, who jumped with a squeak of panic, but the two said nothing and Margie watched the boy hold Quinn’s quivering hand for any sign that he might go back on his word.
Rose reached for the door.
They looked back.
She twisted the knob.
They looked back.
The door cracked open letting in winter’s wind.
They looked back.
Rose stepped outside.
Margie looked back and saw the boy pull Quinn toward his room, and she gave them a final smile, glad some of them were getting away.
After everything, they just walked away and they were fine. Physically.
Margie immediately moved out of her co-op and into an apartment but there were too many people she didn’t know.
“It’s only been a month,” Rose said as Margie packed up the essentials. The non-essentials were still in boxes.
Rose wasn’t much for chores, but she could order her friend pizzas in exchange for a place to stay. The doorbell was the only reason Margie got up anymore. Never for a knock, though. The terms of their living arrangement went unspoken and some days it seemed like Margie wasn’t even aware of it. She threw her toothbrush into a box of unwashed dishes and taped it up.
There was no talking Margie down anymore so she found a place near a cornfield, flat open land that, for the season, she could see the “neighboring” suburb small on the horizon. A few days there and Rose could see Margie getting suspicious at the window. Beneath the guise of morning power-walking moms who had already thrown their kids on the bus, Margie knew what lurked.
After years of the life slowly killing her, she started trading stocks again, just for herself, getting into Bitcoin. The GPUs hummed as they heated the newly installed panic room. Margie lived in there. The electric buzz kept her thoughts from wandering.
Rose talked about it a lot in therapy. And a lot about what happened. In full detail. She’d been diagnosed and prescribed something she only fulfilled because her psychiatrist was going to refuse to see her otherwise but she never even looked at the bottle because it wasn’t true.
Therapy wasn’t helping yet. It might never.
But it was something to do.
She wanted so desperately for Margie to come in, once, to try. She refused. Margie was too busy. Too busy to sleep or clean up or even shower most days. She had abandoned all routine and when they talked, the few times they talked, sweet, gentle Margie had become angry. Quietly so.
A tornado came one night, nothing serious, the power didn’t even go out, but Rose hadn’t grown up with them and so she did what the news said. Go to the unfurnished basement and sit outside Margie’s panic room. It was too loud and stuffy in there for Rose.
“Did you hear that?” she asked listening to the news on her phone.
Margie hadn’t even heard Rose.
“We’re down here till 5 am.”
Margie tabbed to a spreadsheet and entered some red numbers after a transaction had processed. There wasn’t much to do between transactions but to wait, to refresh. She could’ve browsed the news or YouTube or listened to music to pass the time, but instead her eyes stayed dryly on the screen, watching the live update, not trusting them and refreshing anyway.
“I guess you’re always down here till then anyway.”
Upstairs, not that Margie ever saw, Rose had packed a bag. All her belongings. A few shirts that might’ve been Margie’s but she wasn’t sure and opted toward getting more use out of them than her friend. If not for the tornado, tonight she would’ve left.
The power cut out. The lights went. The whir of the GPUs slowed before silence. The basement was lit only by Rose’s phone that searched for a cell tower that wasn’t functioning.
The power stayed off.
“Get the breaker.”
There was a threat in there but Rose didn’t want to find out what it was. She also didn’t want to ask where the breaker was, having never had a home or this problem come up, but she found it by the light of her screen and she flipped the big one and nothing happened so she switched all the small ones and nothing happened and she switched them all back and nothing happened and she was afraid to admit it.
The next day, Margie went out to buy a backup generator because overnight delivery would take too long but she never bought it. She never even got into the store or out of her own neighborhood.
Instead, she turned around and caught Rose about to leave for therapy, one last session before leaving.
“We have to go,” Margie said.
“Your favorite concert in town or something?” Rose asked.
In the bedroom, Rose found her packing a bag. There wasn’t much in it other than her wallet, pants, and a coat.
Rose’s heart sank. She went over to Margie to hug her but got shoved off. “Hey, I see her too sometimes. All of them. But it’s been months, Marge. My therapist says--”
“Fuck your therapist.”
“Then the panic room! That’s what it’s there for, right?”
“I shouldn’t have wasted time coming here.”
Rose grabbed the key from the counter. The look in Margie’s eye as she strode toward Rose with a silent demand terrified her enough to bolt for the panic room herself.
Using the spare key, Margie drove away.
On I-72, going about a hundred in silence because there was no traffic in the Midwest and even the cops she passed expected this behavior on empty roads. It was the end of the month. They’d met their quota already. They didn’t stop Margie. Nothing could.
The bluetooth kicked on as a call rang in. She wasn’t going to turn around and there was no reason to answer if Rose was going to grovel or lecture or whatever she wanted, but when the third call came, each immediately following rejection, Margie accepted and screamed, “WHAT?”
There was deep breathing and a familiar whir of GPUs in the panic room. “Why didn’t we stay?
Through the receiver, Margie heard a knock.
“Why didn’t we do something?”
Margie said, “We did all we could--we ran.”
A knock then mechanisms of a vault lock clicking through and the hinges of a door opening. The call ended. There was silence in the car again.