“Dex? Dex?” Jimmy’s tinny voice came through the phone in my hand. I forgot he was still there.
I lifted it to my ear. “Yes, Jimmy, sorry, working out the kinks here.”
“I can hear that. If you want a minute to discuss it with Perry, I can wait. I’d try and leave your feelings toward Maximus out of it.”
“Fine. I’ll call you back in a few,” I told him and hung up. I felt like tossing the phone as far as I could, but I reigned in Hulk Dex and tried to think about Perry.
I exhaled sharply and cracked my head back and forth before turning to her and said, “So what do you want to do? We’ve got a few minutes to decide.”
“Well obviously you just want to say no and shut this whole thing down,” she said, sounding annoyed.
“Look, just a few minutes ago you were horrified at the idea of bringing him on board.”
She pulled at her hair hard, looking frustrated. “Well yeah, I am. The three of us can’t even have a conversation without a fight breaking out.”
“That wasn’t a fight,” Maximus piped up cockily.
She glared at him. “You, shut up.” She then looked at me. “I think it’s a bad idea, but I think right now, at this very moment in time, the other option is even worse.”
I took a step toward her, reaching for her hand, and lowered my voice as I gazed at her. “Baby, I told you I would take care of you.”
She smiled and laced her fingers into mine, which was doubly nice considering who we were in front of. I could feel him frowning at us behind me. “I know you can take care of me. But I have to try and take care of myself too. Let’s just give this a shot. If it doesn’t work, then we can still quit and do our own thing. But if it does work, this could change a lot of things for us. I would…I would just feel a lot better knowing I had a solid job to rely on.”
My heart felt like it had been stabbed with a very fine needle and I fought hard to keep it showing on my face. I hated, hated, hated that I wasn’t enough for her at the moment. It was stupid and selfish and immature to think I should be her world and her only world, the only thing she needed, but damn. I needed that from her like I never needed anything before.
I smiled at her, hiding everything, and said, “Fair enough. If that’s what you want, then that’s what we’ll do.” I really, really hoped I wouldn’t start resenting that.
I turned around and looked at Maximus. He was eyeing our hand-holding with puzzlement, and I couldn’t wait to rub this shit in his face but now wasn’t the time. “Fine. Perry says yes. I guess that means I’ll just have to suck it up and deal with your ginger-ass ruining everything.”
He looked my way, observing me like only he knew how to do, like he was on the inside of a joke I knew nothing about. “This is really going to tear you up inside, isn’t it?”
I forced myself to shrug nonchalantly. “Well, I got through college with you following me around like a lost pooch, so I suppose I can get through this too.”
He raised a brow but didn’t say anything. I knew what he was going to say too, that I didn’t actually get through college, that Abby started showing up and ruining everything, that he stopped being my friend, that I was locked away and everything was taken from me. But I suppose even he knew when to keep his mouth shut.
“You better call Jimmy,” he said, turning his attention to the market and the people going to and fro with bags of specialty olive oil and dried peppers.
And ginger-douche bossing me around had begun. I exchanged a tepid glance with Perry then dialed Jimmy’s number.
“Well,” he answered. “I don’t have all day.”
I took in a deep breath, looking deep into Perry’s baby blues. She was hopeful. That was all I needed. “We’ll do it. I suppose we don’t get to negotiate this a bit further.”
“Nope. From now on, you’re the cameraman and editor, same as ever. Perry is the host. Other than that, Maximus Jacobs is in charge of absolutely everything.”
“Thought you’d agree,” he said. “Now the best part of this whole arrangement is that I don’t have to deal with you and you don’t have to deal with me. Everything will be dealt with through him.”
“Where did we go wrong, Jimmy? Don’t the good times count for anything?” I pleaded mockingly.
“Things went wrong the day I met you. Take care, Dex. Watch out for Perry. And listen to the redhead.”
He hung up and I stared at the phone dejectedly before shoving it in my cargo jacket. Well, that was that.
I looked at Maximus, who was grinning to himself and pretending to not pay attention.
“I feel like I just signed a deal with the devil,” I said.
He grinned wider and eyed me briefly. “Oh, Dex, didn’t you know? I’m one of the good guys.”
I saw my mother again. Well, I didn’t see her, but I could feel her and that was more than enough.
I woke up in the middle of the night, 3AM, right on the fucking dot, and had to piss like a racehorse. Perry was snoozing beside me, beautiful and peaceful in the dim, and I was careful not to wake her.
I didn’t feel that anything was wrong at first, in fact I didn’t even turn on the light, keeping the door open and using the hazy glow from the hallway to illuminate the bathroom. It wasn’t until I was pissing away, when I heard the door slowly shut behind me. The bathroom grew very cold, very suddenly, and I knew that it wasn’t caused by some random breeze.
I shook the last drops off my dick and was about to get out of there when the door clicked fully shut. I tried to swallow my panic and fumbled for the knob. When I found it, it wouldn’t open. It was locked. I was trapped. Oh my shit.
I put my hands along the wall, feeling for the light switch, debating how long I had before I started screaming for Perry to come help me, when I felt it. Hot breath on my neck. The presence behind me was nearly indescribable, both familiar and malevolent. I knew it had come from the mirror.
Then the light turned on by itself and I knew I could turn around and see cold, dead eyes staring right at me. I could come face to face with the oldest of my demons. But I didn’t. It took all my courage to keep staring at the door, to put my hand back on the doorknob and force it to turn with all my might.
And turn it did, like it hadn’t been locked at all. I bolted out of the bathroom, not daring to look behind me, not even checking to see if she was following me to the bedroom or not. God, I hoped not. I had no idea what would happen if Perry got involved.
I closed the bedroom door behind me and locked it, as if that would do any good. The bathroom light spilled in from underneath the door frame, a reminder of what was out there.
I crawled into bed, spooning Perry and pulling the covers over my head. I didn’t sleep until the dawn broke through the clearing sky.
“You look tired,” Perry said to me as the cab rattled along the I-5.
I gave her a dry look and squeezed her close to me. “Thanks. How would you like it if I said you looked tired?”
I shook my head and kissed her forehead. “No, you look beautiful as always and supremely asstastic.”
The cab driver eyed me in the mirror and I merely smiled at him. We were heading toward the airport, Maximus having wasted no time in getting us on our next shoot. I barely had time to convince Rebecca to look after Fat Rabbit again.
Our destination: New Orleans. To be honest, I was pretty excited since I’d never been to NOLA before, or Louisiana. Unfortunately, Maximus was from the state, and his knowledge of the land would ensure that neither Perry nor I would have much say in anything.
Maximus had told us that NOLA was just swimming in haunted houses and estates, which was common knowledge, I mean even I knew that. But he said that there was one old mansion that had been flooded during Hurricane Katrina. Ever since then, the paranormal activity levels had been off the chart. A few ghost hunters had already been there and weren’t able to walk away with much evidence aside from the usual orbs and cold spots, but he figured with our “abilities” we would have a much better chance of capturing something. He said he had a contact in NOLA that would help us find something worth filming, even if that house fell through. Which, in other words, meant the three of us were staying in the Big Easy for as long as it took to come back with a show.
“I thought I heard you get up last night,” Perry said, bringing me back to the moment. “But when I looked at the time on my phone, it was like 4AM and you still weren’t back in bed. What were you doing?”
I froze—my blood, my veins, everything was ice.
“What?” I asked, barely able to pronounce the words. “What…you said I didn’t come to bed until 4AM?”
“Until at least 4AM. That’s when I fell back asleep,” she said.
I rubbed at my face, squeezing my chin. The fuck? I got up at 3AM, and I wasn’t in the bathroom for more than two minutes…was I?
“What were you doing?” she continued.
“I, uh, couldn’t sleep. I was watching TV with Fatty Rab. Infomercials.”
She raised her head and studied me. The thing was, I knew I sounded like someone in a horror movie, when there’s obviously something very wrong going on and the person stupidly says “I’m fine” when they clearly aren’t. I knew that’s what was happening here but I couldn’t help it. “Baby,” I said to her, “I’m fine. Just couldn’t sleep. I get insomnia sometimes. Get used to it. Just a roommate quirk, like how you put empty cartons of milk back in the fridge.”
It’s funny how I was able to tell her about the time I saw my mother in the motel in Snowcrest. But now, to tell her again, would make something out of something that I desperately wanted to go away. My mother wanted attention, she always did. I wouldn’t give her that. She would be my secret for as long as I could keep it.
I suppose it didn’t matter, because I could tell that Perry didn’t believe me. I could see the doubt in her eyes, but I could also see the respect she had, the respect she’d followed from the day she first met me. Perry had already sussed out so many of my terrible secrets from the very beginning, if not knowing exactly what they were, knowing that something was wrong. She was devastatingly perceptive.
“All right,” she said, settling back in the seat and ignoring the dig about the milk cartons. Seriously though, that was annoying.
We got to the airport a little bit early, hoping to beat Maximus so we could get our seats next to each other and away from him, but the flame-haired bastard was already there and waiting at the checkout for us, carry-on in hand.
“About time you two showed up, I was getting worried,” he said in all seriousness.
“It’s like ninety minutes before our flight,” I protested.
He shrugged and I felt like kicking him in the knees. This was going to be a hell of a long trip.
He handed us our tickets. “No worries.”
I glanced at the ticket. I had an aisle seat. I tore Perry’s out of her hands and peered at it. Window.