The room was dark and hot - quiet except for the water dripping from the leaky faucet in the restroom, and the static coming from the rabbit-eared television set in the corner. The motel room was cheap, just a step above a storage facility, in the respect that at least all the junk in it matched.

It smelled like cigarettes and inexpensive beer - Miller, to be exact. Not a personal favorite of hers, but it got the job done just as well as any of the more expensive drinks.

She knew he was out in the parking lot, sitting in his car, the heat probably blasting from the vents that smelled of cologne, thanks to the ninety-nine-cent clip-on air fresheners he bought in bulk from the gas station nearest to his work and kept on hand in the glove box and around his apartment. He was likely waiting for just the right moment to make his entrance. The entrance was everything, after all. Properly executed, it could start the night off correctly, but one wrong move, and it could cause his guest to lose focus before anything had even begun.

She didn't really think she was considered a guest at this point - having shared as much as they did these last few years, they were far past the place where conventional social niceties played a part. On the other hand, she was quite sure you didn't dress the way she was currently dressed if you were just intending to "hang out with a friend" - a tight black top with tears in the fabric, exposing stomach and just the right amount of cleavage, thanks to a safety-pin holding just enough of the cloth together, and a short black skirt with a chain link belt made of silver keeping it up. The little links would tinkle together whenever she moved even the slightest bit, adding a new sound to the room.

She would never even consider wearing this outfit in public, but he had "requested" (I.E.: "ordered") that she have it on tonight, and telling him that she would rather not was simply out of the question.

"Our time on this earth goes by quickly enough, Lillian," he would tell her, voice as even as always, just barely chastising, dark eyes looking deep into her own lighter ones. "Should you really be wasting our time - mine and yours - by trying to convince me that you know what you're talking about? That you know better than I do?"

And really, what sort of response could she give to that? Because what he had said was simple and direct and right - he was right. He was always right.

Lily moved a hand in front of her face, trying to make out the shape of her long, pale fingers in the dark, only to find that it was impossible to do so. She closed her eyes and let herself fall into the near-silence in the room, allowing it to swallow her up and drop her into a different world; a world where the rules were straightforward, and discomfort made up practically every feeling. There was no thinking here, and time ceased to exist. A second became a minute, became an hour, became a day. Moments were fluid, and they melded into one another, like honey in a mixing bowl.

She could feel her hair - long, deep brown and layered - falling in her face and rubbing against her cheeks, but she couldn't see it. The almost pitch-black darkness didn't allow for that.

The sound of the television static rang in her ears now that she was focused enough to hear it, and she found herself pacing back and forth along the well-known path from the front door to the restroom as she waited, eyes still closed. He enjoyed making her wait; it built up the anticipation, he said. And anticipation - though not everything, as entrance was - was nonetheless important.

She didn't hear him when he finally came into the room, his car safely parked in an empty space - there were many to choose from, after all - and locked. He had come directly from work, having packed a change of clothes in his locker. He changed in his vehicle, unafraid of being seen, since Lillian's car, his own, and the car of the motel manager were the only ones around. And even if there had been people around, he was sure it was too dark outside for them to have seen into his windows, anyway. The sky was black and lacked even a single star to brighten it, an extreme change from the pinkish-purple color it had been during the drive here.

"Hello, Lillian."

The sound of his voice, smooth and deep, caused her eyes to fly open and sent a spark of surprise through her body, making every nerve come alive for just a moment, before dulling again. It was a feeling akin to sticking your burned hand into a bucket of ice just seconds after the fire had touched your skin.

She didn't answer him, nor turn around - she knew the rules well enough by now to know that he didn't want her to. Instead, she listened to the sounds he made as he closed the door and went about his business - the sound of him dropping his backpack on the bed, the sound of him going to the unused closet and taking out a folding chair, the sound of him moving that chair to the center of the room, pulling it open, and placing it on the carpet, the sound of him yanking the chain that turned on the light which hung, suspended, from the ceiling.

"Sit down," he demanded, and she did.

She got her first good look at him of the night when he stood in front of her. His hair, originally a dirty blonde, was dyed black and lengthy, coming to a stop just below his shoulders. His skin was slightly tanned, and he wore a long, dark jacket with silver buttons over a black tank top with some unknown band name on it, both the name and the logo faded with age and almost unreadable. If you caught a glimpse of him at work, you would have seen a name tag pinned to his standard issue gray and white shirt that read "Shay" in blocky, bold letters.

He usually wore glasses when he drove, but appeared to have switched them out for contacts on this night, which made his normally long face seem just a little shorter, somehow. His black pants were made of fabric (he had never been much for jeans), and he had his favorite pair of worn, high-top sneakers on his sockless feet - ideal for playing basketball, the only sport he actually enjoyed.

His body went crooked as he rested a majority of his weight on one foot and looked Lily over, appraising her as though she were a pig ready for market. He did this each and every time they got together, and yet it still made her nervous. She held her breath, waiting for him to say that something about her appearance was wrong.

But he didn't. He just continued to look at her, his face expressionless, his pink lips pressed together in a tight, thin line.

Lily began to disappear into the silence again, the room around her fading slowly away to nothing, as though she were watching it vanish from sight in a rearview mirror. She had no idea how long she spent that way, but she was brought back to reality when Shay grabbed onto the roots of her hair and pulled on them until she feared the strands would give way, coming out in his strong hands, like the fur of a shedding dog.

She blinked away the slight blurriness in her eyes and saw that Shay was still standing before her, though he had released his grip on her hair and had obviously been busy while she was mentally checked out - there were two empty beer bottles placed on the table directly in front of the window, near the armchair, the air smelled like fresh cigarette smoke, indicating that he had partaken in a grit or two, and, to her own surprise, her hands were bound behind her back with a length of rope. How had she not felt him tying her wrists together? It didn't seem possible for her not to have noticed such a thing.

He had taken off his jacket and muted the television, the static on the screen bathing a small portion of the carpet in pale blue light, and he held a third beer in his hand, the bottle already half empty.

"I don't care what people say about Miller," he said conversationally, "cheap or not, it's better than that hundred-dollar Sam Adams shit. What do you think?"

Lily, knowing absolutely nothing about beer, just nodded. But Shay wasn't exactly waiting for a reply, and simply continued his speech,

"The bottles themselves are thicker, though." Lily didn't know if this was actually true, but again, he wasn't looking for a reply.

He held the dark glass up to his eye and looked through it at the distorted image of the young woman before him, her previously-styled hair messy, her expression vaguely anxious, speaking as he did,

"You don't believe me about the thickness, do you, Lillian? That's fine. I can prove it to you."

He finished off the remainder of the beer, his Adam's apple bobbing up and down against the thin skin of his throat as he swallowed, then moved his fingers upwards along the length of the bottle, now holding it by the neck.

He lifted the bottle up and flicked his wrist, flipping it end-over-end several times, catching it smoothly each time and enjoying the sight of Lily's eyes following it. He caught it once more, pulled it back over his shoulder, and brought it crashing down onto the very top of her skull.

Lily wasn't even able to truly process what had just happened before she felt her scalp beginning to bleed. Glass fell in an easy shower into her lap and onto the floor of the motel room, some of the shards sticky and stained red.

Shay chuckled darkly as a thin stream of blood flowed from the top of her head, dripping, just barely, into her eyes. He leaned forward, forehead nearly touching her own, and said quietly, almost laughing through his words,

"And that's just the beginning."

The words seemed to echo and multiply inside her brain, repeating themselves over and over, as though spoken by several dozen people, mere seconds apart from one another, yet always sounding exactly like the one before.

"And that's just the beginning. . . And that's just the beginning. . . And that's just the beginning. . ."

"That's just the beginning. . ."