Sometimes I can’t, though. Like when I wake from a nightmare and the only way to calm down is to sprint full speed along the water, passing motorists watching me with startled faces through their windshields. Or right now, when I’ve just barged into a room where I don’t belong and Naomi is looking at me with…not horror anymore. She seems more thoughtful than anything, her attention straying to my balled-up fists, the sweat on my upper lip.
Before I can define her expression, she steps closer and takes my fist in her hand. And it’s like dropping from the highest point of a roller coaster.
“Everyone, this is my friend Jason. I wasn’t sure he was going to make it.” She faces the entrance, her face breaking into a wide smile. “Could we sort out his admission fee once the tour is over? I swear on a stack of Bibles he’s good for it.”
The guide and receptionist exchange a blank look. “Sure,” says the guide, signaling his crony who was standing too close to Naomi when I arrived. “Go ahead and get back to it, Keith.”
I commit the name to memory, but I’m distracted by Naomi turning her pretty, apple pie and Cool Whip smile on me. Some reflex has me taking my hand back and crossing my arms over my chest. I don’t need someone to cover for me—and I let her know it with a look. It makes a dent in her smile, and when she moves past me, giving me wide berth, I wish she was still holding my hand.
In silence, I follow her to the end of a long, wooden table littered with empty glasses and stand behind the stool where she perches herself, crossing those legs tight tight tight. Pink lipstick marks on five of the beer glasses proclaim Naomi as their owner, and I have to admit I’m surprised. After she cringed over a sip of Bud, I didn’t think she’d make it through the full tour.
Naomi tucks hair behind her ear and whispers at me over her shoulder. “You can sit, you know.”
However, I do move closer to her side so I can get a front row seat to her pout. “Fine,” she murmurs, watching me. “If you want to make everybody nervous.”
I toss a glance at the other members of the tour who are all in varying stages of drunkenness. Whether I liked Naomi covering for me or not, it worked. They already seem to have moved on from my odd entrance. “You’re the only one who seems nervous.”
“Well I’ve never been fired before.”
She hiccups and her cheeks go pink. “I’m drunk on a workday. I didn’t intend to be, but how was I supposed to know they made wine beer?”
“First of all, that’s disgusting—”
“Liar. You’re a wine-liking liar. I feel comfortable saying that since I’m fired.”
My sigh moves some of the finer hairs on her forehead, a clue that I’ve moved closer without realizing. “You’re not fired, beauty queen.”
“Isn’t that why you came here? To catch me in my cups?”
She’s unintentionally given me an out—no way I’m not taking it. “Yeah, but just for fun. So I could hold it over your head.”
“You have a weird idea of fun.” She breathes in and slumps a little—which is a whole hell of a lot for this woman. “I probably would have been able to stop at one, but I had a phone call with my mother.”
I go still. I’ve been unsuccessful during our first three meetings to get anything out of Naomi. Apart from her pageant titles and zip code, she remains a complete mystery. I feel almost guilty taking this chance to find out more, since she isn’t the textbook definition of sober, but I might not get another opportunity like this, and dammit, my curiosity is growing by the minute. “Oh yeah?” I take a glass of beer off a nearby tray and sniff it, drain it, almost spit it out when it tastes like chocolate. “It didn’t go well?”
Naomi catches the chocolate-inflicted suffering in my tone and presses her lips together. “Sticking with Budweiser?”
“I’ll never stray again.” I stab the table with a finger. “Phone call. Go.”
I’ve learned she doesn’t like taking orders from me, but she seems to have drowned that aversion with beer, because she doesn’t hesitate to continue. “I bet you think girls walking around with books on their heads only exists in old movies, don’t you? Not true. I got so good at balancing Moby Dick, I used to forget it was there.”
It’s a testament to my curiosity that I completely forgo a dick joke. “What does this have to do with your mother?”
A man in an Orioles hat turns to tell us to be quiet but thinks twice about it when I give him a dark look. “Because she’s three hundred miles away and I can feel the whale on my head right now.”