“Maximus,” I seethed, knowing it was him without even turning around.
“Hello, Dex,” he said in a distinctly Newman-esque voice.
I folded my arms and eyed him. “Okay, how can you say you’ve never heard of Vegetable Lasagna but you can do an impression of Wayne Knight just fine?”
He didn’t smile. “We need to talk.”
I grabbed a Bloody Mary and took a long spicy sip. Damn, that was good. “Are you breaking up with me? No wait, did we keep you up last night?”
“Dex, this has to stop.”
The clerk handed me the take-out box with the Benedicts inside, a grease spot already forming. I took another sip, studying Maximus’s face. Sometimes the amount a person had changed could really take you by surprise. We all get older, but it wasn’t until now that I realized how different Maximus really was from the boyish imp I knew back in college. Granted, he was always built like an ox, four inches above six feet, his hair always red and his face both tanned and faintly freckled. But he used to have this youthful glow about him that was kind of hard to explain without sounding gay. An energy, a vibrance. His eyes used to sparkle, and yes, this was growing increasingly homoerotic, but it was the truth.
Now though, for the first time, I felt like I was really seeing how much older he was. I was older too. I had a few grey hairs popping up along the sides of my head, I had crinkly lines around my eyes that never used to be there, and I certainly wasn’t handling hangovers as well as I used to. I was fairly close to being a normal 32-year-old male, albeit one that actually wasn’t very normal at all.
But Maximus looked tired. His skin was more ashy than weather-beaten, his hair had lost some of its luster (and I noticed this because he used to douse his hair in beer and lemons until it was shiny enough to see your reflection), and there was a bit of a paunch starting up where there was only brawn and muscle before.
“What are you staring at?” he said, and I became aware that he was waiting for me to respond to something. What was it? Oh yes, Dex this has to stop.
“I’m staring at you, ginger Elvis in the peanut butter and banana sandwiches era. Why do we need to talk? What needs to stop?”
He looked out the window and said, “Come with me.”
I rolled my eyes and asked the clerk to put the Benedicts in a bag since I was already juggling two drinks, and ran out into the street after him.
It was pleasantly warm here in March, jeans and tee-shirt weather. The tourists were around, but not in droves, and who cared anyway because I was a damn tourist myself. I followed Maximus down the street, watching the occasional car bump by, shock absorbers getting an endless workout, until he stopped at a wide open park on one side of a church. There was a statue of Andrew Jackson on a horse in the middle, and we sat down at one of the many benches that were in a circle around it. Some were filled with people sipping morning coffees, others were filled with sleeping homeless people, but for the most part the park was dead quiet.
“All right, so what do you want to talk about?” I asked him. I was almost finished with my Bloody Mary and the longer I’d have to sit here talking with Maximus, the more I’d want to finish Perry’s. “Is it the zombies? Is that what needs to stop, because while I agree that zombies have to be stopped on principle, I just don’t think you and I are the ones to do it.”
“Please, I’m being serious.” And he was.
Still. “About the zombies?”
“You and Perry. It has to stop.”
“Dude, don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m not sure how many times I need to tell you to fuck off before you get it. I’m sorry Perry isn’t around to kick you in the shin, but I’ll be more than happy to provide an acceptable substitute. My knee, your balls. My fist, your nose. Take your pick.”
“Can you just for one minute get your head out of your ass and listen to me.”
The tone he was using made prickles of unease creep along my neck. Delusional or not, he meant every word. The smile disappeared from my face.
He wiggled his jaw back and forth and then pressed at it with his fingers. A few moments passed. In the distance, I saw mule-pulled carriages line up near the river. He exhaled slowly.
“This is going to sound strange, so just hear me out. You can swear and posture and do whatever it is you do when you hear something you don’t want to hear. But for now…let me speak.”
“You and Perry are not meant to be.”
He raised his meaty hand. “Not finished. I can’t really go into the details at the moment because you wouldn’t believe me anyway, but I just wanted to put this idea in your head. You and Perry are not meant to be. I’m not saying this out of jealousy or hatred or spite or anything. Believe it or not, I am saying this, telling you this, because I care about you. I care about both of you. You love Perry, I know that, but not all love leads to good things. Take it from me, sometimes we want to do everything and risk everything for love and it doesn’t mean shit. It all falls through. Being in love, having love in your hands, doesn’t mean that you’ll always have it. And in your case, it doesn’t mean that good will come out of it. Wars are started over love, people are killed over love, lives are ruined over love. If you and Perry ever become something more than you are now, if you ever impregnate her, if you want a baby, she—”
And that hit me like a ton of bricks.
“I’m done listening,” I interjected, and leaped to my feet as if I’d been stung with a cattle prod. I’d been listening in a state of disbelief, in a state of good humor, in a state of reluctance, not really understanding a single word this crazy man was saying, but bringing Perry into it, bringing a pregnancy into it, that was too much. I had my limit and that was it.
I stood over him, feeling red hot rage flow through every part of my body, daring me to let loose on him. “Don’t you ever talk to me about this again, you understand? Don’t you fucking dare. I can’t say what I’ll do to you if you do, but I can say it won’t be pretty. And I mean it. You’re a sick, jealous son-of-a-bitch. You know that Perry had a miscarriage, with my baby, you know that, and you have the fucking nerve to drag me out here and tell me this shit? You have another thing coming, and I don’t know what it is, but you’re not going to like it. Now you’re going to shut your fat mouth and never bring this up with me—or her—again or so help me god, I’ll be straining your dick through your teeth.”
I tossed my empty Bloody Mary at him, the ice rattling out of the cup and raining down on him before he had a chance to duck. Then I stormed back into the Quarter, trying to swallow down the parasitic anger. I couldn’t even begin to fathom what he was trying to do, but all I could figure was that I had majorly underestimated him. He was either more jealous of me or more in love with Perry than I had thought. No wonder he was looking so ugly if this was what was eating him up inside.
By the time I got back to the bed and breakfast, I was a lot calmer. I’d also finished Perry’s drink which helped. I got her a new one but the Benedicts were cold. She didn’t care though. She’d been worried when she woke up and couldn’t find me around. To see her worry like that about me pretty much melted my heart.
I decided to keep what Maximus said to me a secret. It wouldn’t do Perry any good to know how obsessed with us he was, and it would only freak her out. I just wanted to get through the next week or so without being arrested for manslaughter. As much as the idea of zombies interested me, I was all for shooting at the haunted house, seeing the usual funny lights and maybe something chilling on the EVP recorder, and getting the hell out of Louisiana. I wanted to go back to my normal life, with Perry in my bed and Fat Rabbit on the couch, and unspoken dreams of her and I together.
Unfortunately, just because I felt that way didn’t mean Perry did. She was excited about the potential zombie situation and was looking forward to meeting Rose at noon. She’d told me that Rose had interested her since there weren’t many people out there who could see ghosts, at least none that we knew. She wanted to see if Rose ever had a Pippa in her life and wanted to know what other abilities she had. From what I saw last night, she at least seemed to have the ability to make other people zone out. She’d be an excellent spy, though I guess it helped with bartending as well.
We met Maximus down in the lobby at twenty minutes to twelve. He was chatting to the plucky receptionist, who was batting her grey hair down nervously, obviously charmed by the fuckhead.
“Vegetable Lasagna,” I called out. “Let’s go.”
He turned to face me and I had to immediately forget the terrible things he’d said to me earlier, otherwise I’d never even make it through the day.
I forced a smile and jerked my head toward the door. Then I grabbed Perry’s hand and pulled her outside. She was wearing leggings and boots again, with a skull-embossed sleeveless dress on top. It was so nice to see her showing more skin, although I’d probably find it a lot more distracting as the months got warmer.
It wasn’t long before we were outside of Nameless. The bar looked different in the daytime, both sweeter and older, like so many of the buildings in the Quarter. Strands of Mardi Gras beads hung from the sign and awning, tossed there only weeks ago.
Now that I was really getting a feel for the place, I could sense this vibe of resilience underneath the rough city streets, this pride and strength to keep going, to rebuild, to forge on. But even with that spirit everywhere, I could sense spirits of another kind. Sprits of history, spirits of loss, spirits of revenge. This didn’t happen often to me, only a few times when I used to live in New York, but now that I was sober I could feel a layer of supernatural chaos underneath everything. I wondered what looking though the Veil here would look like.
As we waited for Rose to show up—the bar had already been open for several hours—I studied Perry. She seemed to be okay at the moment, not edgy or nervous like she could be if she was experiencing the same feelings that I was. The minute she looked even the slightest bit uneasy, I’d be there telling her she wasn’t alone in this. Until then, it was another thing I was keeping to myself.
Finally Rose poked her head out of the bar. She was wearing worn jeans that fit her like a glove and a dark grey tank top that showed the slightest sliver of her flat belly. She was in good shape, looking as if she ran several miles before breakfast. I wondered if the Rose that Maximus had known was softer in body too.
“Y’all ready to meet the Mambo?”
“I can do the mambo,” I said. “Mambo Number Five.”
Perry let out a derisive laugh. “Thanks, I just got that song out of my head.”
I shrugged. “Well, it was my song back in the day, but I never got to sing about Perry.”
“You guys can be cute later,” Rose said. “In private. Without me there. Let’s go.”
“There is no private for these two,” Maximus muttered as he brushed past me, following Rose. I was almost fooled for a second into thinking this morning had never happened. There was no delight in our loud antics anymore. Well, no petty delight anyway. That was some top-notch sex.