Mama called her pretty and put her in lacy dresses, twisted her hair into painful braids. Kara didn't like dolls; she role-played one for too long, until Mama couldn't afford the dresses anymore and stopped calling her pretty.

Kevin said she was pretty. He was the first boy she told about her plans: join the Marines, go to law school. When she thought she was pregnant he called her a slut and never spoke to her again.

Her squadron leader's breath smelled of alcohol when he called her pretty. He stuck his hand up her skirt; she broke his wrist.

During her first stay in Saint Petersburg she visited the churches. It fit her cover as an art student; she drew sketches of the buildings, of the paintings inside. Christ's face stared down at her from inside an onion dome: brown eyes and hair, wearing a martyr's frown, his expression never changing.

It makes her wonder how things would have been different without those pictures of her father on the wall in Grandma's house, his face always young, ink fading every year from his brown hair. He stood there, tall and rail-thin in his Marine uniform: forever patriotic, forever half-smiling.

monster (i)
Aunt Treenie didn't fuss about dresses. She never wore them; instead she wore hospital scrubs, or jeans on her days off. Treenie read books to her; she let Kara climb on her lap even when Kara had mud on her clothes.

"You're a book monster," she would say when Kara brought her another book to read.

"No, I'm a word monster," Kara told her. Indignant the first time, later giggling as it became a ritual response.

Kara loved Treenie more than Uncle Jamie or Grandma. Maybe more than she loved Mama, but she couldn't say that, because Mama would yell.

She fucks her partner on her first long-term assignment. They're posing as husband and wife: her the clueless housewife following an oil executive husband. They need to create a plausible couple; breaking the physical boundaries works to enhance that.

The fourth time, after she screws him into the mattress, he tells her his real name-like it matters to her, like she cares.

"Mine's Suzanne," she tells him with a soft smile. He looks at her, grateful, and acts like they have a shared secret.

Perfect for their cover, but honestly, she was bored, and he's sufficiently good with his hands.

monster (ii)
She hadn't lied to John about visiting home; just twisted the facts a bit.

Five years ago her mother was in a trailer park in Houston. But Kara didn't give a damn about finding her mother, like her mother didn't give a damn about her.

Home wasn't Grandma's old house, demolished years ago to make room for a highway.

Instead she drove the car past Mercy General, staring at the nurses going to work in their scrubs, looking for one particular gray-haired woman. After two hours her eyes were burning. She dropped off the rental car and never went back.