A/N: Please go back and reread chapter one if you read it before 9/10/17. I've updated it with a longer version.
Sasha was off of Bonnie's mind quickly as the school day moved on. Her college prep class was right after lunch, conducted by a professor from the community college in town. She was determined to make a good impression. As far as she knew, she was the only junior who had been allowed to take the class. Her commitment to taking college credit courses to get a jump on her nursing degree had finally won over the school counselor.
Madison had desperately wanted in, too, since it would be full of college-bound, senior girls. But Madison hadn't been able to charm Dr. Theo into letting her into the class, so she was left out. Living vicariously through Bonnie would be the closest she could get.
The college prep class had been very different from most of her first day experiences. Every other class had been focused on introducing them to the way the class would work, even though every class in high school worked the same way. But this class had launched right into material. Bonnie had grabbed a seat right at the front of the class, hoping that she would be noticed by the teacher - professor, rather - but Dr. Needra had barely acknowledge her or any of her classmates.
Instead, the imposing woman had immediately launched into a lecture about the stark differences between high school and college, the amount of work required for a single class, and how the added stress was known to affect students. Time flew by, and it wasn't until they were all nervously filing out of the room that Bonnie noticed Joshua had been a few rows behind her the entire class.
"Hey, Bon-bon," he said to her. He clicked his teeth together in a wide grin and stopped, apparently oblivious to stopping the flow of students down that aisle. "Looking good." Bonnie looked up at him, since he was considerably taller than she was, and gave him the coldest glare she could muster.
"Don't call me that. I have to get to my next class." She ignored his hand reaching towards her arm and shoved past him. The adrenaline from that short interaction didn't calm down until halfway through her world history class that ended her day.
Joshua's grin, bright white and huge, stayed in her mind even as she waited in the pick up lane at Meghan's school. It was that grin that she still thought about whenever she needed a smile on her own face. She couldn't help but instinctively respond whenever she imagined the sound of his teeth clicking together.
But it wasn't a real smile that the though brought to her face. It was a defensive smile, one that she had used all her life, but particularly with Joshua. He would always nag her about not being cheerful enough, so she had learned to snap that smile into place to appease him.
When she pulled up near the pickup spot in the long line of cars outside her sister's school, Bonnie peered through the mass of middle school students. She spotted Meghan with her friends, who were all crowded around her and looking at her phone. The phone wasn't new, or fancy. It had been Bonnie's for three years before she handed it down to Meghan, so she wondered what was so interesting to hold their attentions so closely.
Bonnie honked to get her sister's attention. Meghan's head snapped up, and she quickly shoved her phone in her pocket before running over. Meghan turned back to her friends as she got closer to the car, and Bonnie thought she saw her sister put a finger to her lips in a shh gesture.
"What was that about?" Bonnie tried to keep her voice casual as Meghan slid into the seat beside her.
"Nothing, we were just gossiping about another girl."
"What? You know I don't like mean girls, Meghan." Meghan rolled her eyes and fastened her seat belt. She pulled her phone back out and quickly her fingers were back at typing.
"Well, too bad. What's for dinner?"
"I thought we could stop and get some burgers, and a salad for Mom." Bonnie saw Megan wrinkle her nose out of the corner of her eye. "What's wrong with that?"
"Burgers are just so…blah. Can't we get something like sushi, instead?"
"Not on a budget like ours, we can't. Back to school special at the diner is three dollars a plate. So that's what we're getting, or you can eat a sandwich for free at home." Meghan sighed, her typing never pausing. Bonnie felt her own hip buzz, but kept her hands on the wheel, trying to set a good example.
The diner was just around the corner from their home, so they usually picked up food and took it with them. That would definitely be the plan today, since as they pulled in, Bonnie could tell the diner was packed. There was only one parking spot open, and it was barely even a parking spot, tucked at the end of a line at an odd angle. The giant Bonneville only just made it into the spot, and the passenger side mirror pushed into a bush as it did.
"Do you want to come in?" Bonnie asked. Meghan didn't even respond, just shook her head. "Alright, you want the usual?" Again, there was only a silent nod in response.
There wasn't anyone waiting at the front, just a 'Seat Yourself' sign. Looking around, it didn't look like that was even an option. She recognized plenty of people from school, but no one she knew well. There was a wave from across the main seating area from Hannah, who she used to play softball with. She returned the wave, but didn't go over. They probably hadn't actually exchanged words in two years.
The line was long, nearly to the side exit, and Bonnie regretted leaving Meghan in the car. Although her sister was allowed to be home 'alone,' she was still never really alone, since their mom was always there, albeit usually asleep.
She was about halfway through the line, maybe ten minutes later, when a familiar red head popped through the front door.
"Sasha! Hey!" she waved, successfully getting the new girl's attention.
"Bonnie! Right?" Sasha ran over and gave Bonnie a hug. It struck her as strange when Sasha had to double check her name, but she returned it all the same.
"Yeah, Bonnie. Here for the back to school special?"
"The what? Oh, no. My mom is gonna be working late tonight, so I thought I'd stock up on burgers and fries and keep her company. What's the special?"
"Oh, you're in luck." The line moved ahead of Bonnie, and she grabbed Sasha's shoulders to push her in front of her. "Three bucks a plate, which includes just about everything. First day of the school year is always packed in here, but it's worth it."
"Great! What are you doing tonight? Wanna come hang out?"
"I really can't, I've got my little sister, and we have to take food to our mom. What does your mom do?"
"She just bought an old hotel here, it's been closed for ages."
"What? She bought a hotel?" Sasha laughed.
"Yeah, it's what she does. She buys them and renovates them, sells them again, and turns the money right back around into a new one. That's why we move a lot. It's the Regency, this time, or used to be. Do you know it?"
"Oh yeah, it's been shut down as long as I can remember. Kids used to hang out there, but it's all fenced up now. Sounds like a big project."
"Yep yep, big projects are what Mom's all about. Are you sure you can't hang out? I really need some help catching up with some of the math material. I was homeschooled part of last year and math is definitely not what Mom's all about."
Bonnie glanced outside, trying to see the car. She felt bad about abandoning Meghan on the first night of school, leaving her to take care of their mother, but she probably didn't mind, since she wouldn't have her big sister nagging her.
"Let me check with my sister after we get out of here. I could use some time out of the house."
In the end, Bonnie pulled away from her house, nervously leaving Meghan alone after they ate. She already knew where the old Regency Hotel was. Sasha had assured her that they weren't going to have to put up with the dingy hotel, but that her mother had set up a temporary trailer on the site to work from.
Bonnie pulled up to the hotel just as the sun was starting to disappear behind the tree line. The Regency was old fashioned, and it had been built that way. It wasn't nearly as old as it looked. Bonnie thought it might have been built in the forties, but it looked like it was a Edwardian era creation.
With the red and orange light pouring onto it from behind Bonnie, it was really beautiful, but creepy all the same; creepy in a way that made her pull her long knit sweater around. It was too early in the year for a sweater, probably, but there had been a couple of cool days already that August, so she was taking full advantage.
Sasha had told Bonnie that she could get to the courtyard where the work trailer was set up through a gate built into the right side of the hotel. A path led Bonnie there. At first she thought the path was regular gravel, but she could just tell in the fading light that it was actually what looked like seashells.
"Bonnie!" came a shout as she opened the gate. Sasha ran down the couple of steps from the trailer and continued towards Bonnie. "I thought I heard a car door. What do you think of the hotel?"
Bonnie looked around them at the stonework and out towards the small spires that jutted up from the far corners. "Well, honestly, it's just like I remember from the first time I ever drank. Makes me feel a little queasy," she added with a laugh. Sasha grabbed her arm and drug her towards the trailer.
"Yeah, we heard that kids hung out here a lot. The realtor said no one local wanted to do anything with it because they had too many memories here."
"Really? I didn't think it had been that kind of place for very long, honestly."
"Oh yeah, apparently it was only open for like, ten years, before it went out of business. Town was too small then. But Mom figures that Odessa has grown enough to support it now. There's some office buildings starting to spring up."
They entered the trailer as Sasha started on this, and she kept going while Bonnie tried to adjust to the chaos around her. The trailer was large, one room, like the 'portable' classrooms the middle school had started to use with the peak in the student population. Piles of paperwork abounded, half-completed poster boards showing flow charts leaned against everything vertical, and a veritable smorgasbord of office and craft supplies flowed out of bins and bags everywhere. A folded out card table next to the door held a pile of food from the diner.
"So we figure there's going to be some traveling, plus that giant part is getting renovated soon, and really there's a ton of local places to eat that are total gems. You'd be amazed how far people will travel for a unique cupcake." Just as Bonnie started to wonder if Sasha's mother was actually around, she got her answer.
"There needs to be some marketing done, though," said a muffled voice. Sasha's hair had noting on the bundle of curls that popped up from behind a desk towards the far wall. "Hi, you must be Bonnie. Thanks for coming and keeping Sash company. I'm Heather."
Heather was seated on the floor, and now that she looked more closely, Bonnie could tell that she was working on a poster board leaned against the desk. The surface of the desk was full of markers, pushpins, and what looked like a scrapbooker's dream. It was the only bit of true organization that Bonnie could see.
"Hello, Mrs…Heather…" Bonnie realized as she started talking that she didn't know Sasha's last name, and so I couldn't even begin to guess at her mother's. The trailer was silent for a moment as Bonnie looked between Sasha and her mother. She was just about to apologize when the two burst out laughing.
"Oh, just call me Heather, really. Anyways, Sasha's right about what we're hoping for the hotel. She keeps up more with my work than with her school work." Heather leveled a steady look at Sasha. "Which is going to change, this year."
Sasha grinned at Bonnie and ruffled her own hair a little. "Yes, Mom, of course. But for tonight, I don't have anything really important for school. What can I do?"
"Pass me some of the fries from over there." Bonnie took it upon herself to grab the fries, while Heather continued. "And Sasha, get me that flow chart. No, the blue one. I think I've got a better idea about it."
They spent a few hours this way, and as Bonnie was leaving, she still had no idea how Heather's brain worked. She seemed to jump from one task to another every couple of minutes. When she returned to something, she always picked right back up where she left off.
"She's a task switcher extraordinaire," Sasha said as they walked back to Bonnie's car. "She says it keeps her from getting bored." Bonnie shook her head.
"It would drive me crazy. It kind of did drive me crazy at first, trying to keep up with her." Sasha laughed.
"Don't even try. She gets more done than anyone possibly can, and everything comes out great, but you can't follow her process."
"Sorry I have to bail, it doesn't seem like you're off duty yet."
"Well, actually I do already have some homework. So I'll probably tell her good night and head home."
"I managed to make it through the first day without any work, but I need to go make sure my sister has done everything she needs to."
"Yeah, and she's pretty much my responsibility. Our mom is sick, and dad's been gone for years." Bonnie felt pretty open with Sasha, but she wasn't ready to give the full back story there.
When Bonnie got home, all the lights were off and there was no sound in the house. She checked her watch. It was barely 8:30, so she couldn't believe that Meghan was asleep yet. They had major fights at least twice a week over bedtime, which Meghan insisted she was too old for.
Peeking into Meghan's room, she saw no suggestion that her sister had even been in there. No purse, no book bag, and the bed certainly hadn't been slept in.
Panic started to stir in Bonnie's stomach. She went to ask her mother. She hated waking her up at night, because getting to sleep wasn't easy with her pain. But she didn't know what else to do. Bonnie thought about how to not worry her mother until she knew exactly what was going on.
"Mom, hey," she said from the doorway.
"Hmm?" Definitely asleep. Damn.
"Did Meghan tell you about her day at school?"
"Oh, no, honey. I slept on and off all afternoon. She hasn't been in here." Bonnie could just barely make out the bedside clock being turned a little. "Almost bedtime, isn't it? I guess I'll hear about it tomorrow."
"Yeah, I guess. 'Night."
Bonnie wasn't sure what to do next. Meghan wasn't home, and neither were her things. She knew she wasn't allowed to leave the house without permission, and she hadn't said anything to Bonnie about leaving. She tried to take a few deep breaths, but they came in too sharply and she could feel her heart racing. Where could Meghan possibly be?