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22 A fter Alice scraped the decorative border from the nursery walls, she placed an ad in the university housing office. Summer break had just started, but within days someone called. Rune was her name. “Like the fortune-telling alphabet,” the girl said, her voice throaty and low. Alice imagined her with thick black bangs veiling her eyes, a mouth tense with secret sorrow. In person, there was nothing mysterious about her. She came to see the newly painted room when the neighborhood was silent and shimmering with midday heat. Clive was at a lunch meeting. Alice kept glancing over her shoulder as she led Rune upstairs. Tucked under the girl’s arm was an orange motorcycle helmet. Her short hair was spiky, inky roots giving way to shades of red. Henna tattoos snaked from beneath her jacket and encircled her slender fingers in ornate flourishes. She was remarkably chatty, hurling questions at Alice in a breathy contralto . How long was the walk to campus, to the nearest bank and grocery store? Could she have overnight guests? And could she pay half the rent on the first and half on the fifteenth, just until school started and her financial aid kicked in? Alice’s head started to pound. When they reached the room, the girl strode past her, craning her neck at the crown molding. “Female students only,” Alice had been careful to note in the ad. No dirty boxers piled everywhere . And a female tenant felt less intimidating. At the last minute she’d dragged in a wing chair from Clive’s office and angled it by the window. A perfect study spot. Any college girl would love it. “I guess this’ll work,” Rune said, tossing her helmet on the chair. She sat on the bed and bounced, as if testing the springs, then gazed at the wedding ring quilt, her lips curled in a halfsmirk . Alice pictured the quilt stuffed in the closet, replaced by a threadbare coverlet that smelled faintly tangy and unwashed. COLETTE SARTOR BANDIT 23 Sartor Rune flopped back. “Stars and moons would be nice up there. Bishop and I had them. They glowed in the dark. We made up constellations. Cat eyes in the north, a witch’s wand in the south.” She rested her cheek on the quilt and stared at Alice. “Who’s Bishop?” “My fiancé. Ex-fiancé.” There was the slightest hitch in her voice. She brushed her arms up and down, as if making angel’s wings in the snow. “He got the apartment. I got the scooter. He doesn’t know it yet.” Downstairs, the front door opened. Clive’s footsteps thumped up the stairs. “Come meet Rune,” Alice called and stepped into the hallway. He stopped on the landing. “Who?” “Our new tenant.” Like that, she’d committed herself. She hadn’t meant to and wouldn’t have if not for Clive’s knee-jerk frown. She itched to give him a little shove. “Professor Jacobs, hi.” Rune stood in the doorway, her fists balled in her jacket pockets. “I didn’t know you lived here.” “Have we met?” he said in his lecture voice. He smiled politely . “I was in your urban myths class last fall.” Alice watched his expression glaze. Students passed through so quickly, he often complained, that he’d stopped trying to remember their names. “I’m sorry,” he said. “You don’t look familiar.” Rune waved her hand dismissively. Her tattooed fingers flickered through the air like butterflies. “I sat way in back.” He peered into the room. “Is that my chair?” “I left the other one,” Alice said. Clive stared at her until she looked away. “I guess we’ll be seeing more of each other,” he said to Rune and marched down the hall. His study door clicked shut, an unfriendly, obstinate sound. Later that evening, he leaned against the doorjamb while Alice brushed her teeth. Next to the basin sat the portable tv tuned to a program about a teen rescued from her family’s handyman, who’d kept her captive for months. Alice had been following the story, aching when the parents pled on the news for their...


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pp. 22-38
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