I looked up and down the street. “Well, where to?”
“Wanna get the best Bloody Marys in town?” she asked.
“Is the Pope Catholic, and does he wear a funny hat and drive around in a Popemobile and live in Vatican City and—”
She raised her hand. “I get it, Dex.”
We walked down Royal Street for a bit in silence.
“I hope you’re not taking me to your bar, because I’m sorry, you don’t put enough horseradish in your Bloody Marys. Ever try a Caesar? Now that’s something you guys should be doing.”
“No, it’s not my bar,” she said, and we took a left down a street until we ended up near a bustling restaurant by the river where a three-piece band was lazily playing in the shade.
We placed our order with the waiter and I asked her how Ambrosia was doing.
“She’s fine,” she said. “She got some shots for some diseases even though she was telling the doctor that she could concoct her own herbal solution. But you know western medicine. If you can’t buy it from a pharmaceutical company, it doesn’t work.”
I nodded politely, waiting for her to jump on me about how horrible a person I was.
She cleared her throat. “Max called me this morning. He told me everything.”
I winced, the sun coming out in full-strength and blinding me. “I see.”
“I am so sorry,” she told me, leaning forward. Even with the sun’s glare in my eyes, I could see the sadness in her face, her grey-blue eyes mirroring my own. She really was a very pretty girl, her delicate doll-like features could have snared any man. I could see why Maximus had been so crazy about her, even more so when I remembered that she hadn’t always been so hard.
“It’s okay,” I told her, smiling at the waiter when he brought us the Bloody Marys.
“It’s not okay,” she said with quiet anger. “How could it be okay? I can see how much you two love each other.”
Oh, fucking ouch. That was an arrow to the chest. I tried to regain my breath and said, “I love her. She doesn’t know how she feels about me.”
“She loves you,” she said simply. “Even if she won’t admit it to herself, she does.”
“And she told you this?”
“No, she hasn’t. She doesn’t have to. I just know.”
“Well, Maximus never told me you were psychic,” I said, and took a sip of the Bloody Mary. Salty, spicy, sweet—it was perfect. “Wow, that has been the best one so far.”
Rose ignored me. “You’re pretending like you can’t do anything about it.”
I looked at her sharply. “I can’t do anything about it. Don’t you fucking think I would if I could?”
She sat back in the seat and crossed her arms, examining her fingernails. “You’re taking the easy road out. You’re just giving up.”
“I am not!” I yelled and pounded my fist on the table. The cutlery jumped. People turned and looked. I tried to rein it in.
She looked at me carefully. “Dex. I was stupid. I gave up. I thought I couldn’t live a life with Max because he’d remind me that I wasn’t normal. Then I lived a life without Max and realized it was much, much worse. Max kept me normal. He kept me sane. He loved me. And I loved him just as much. I fooled myself into thinking I was being noble and making a sacrifice so that I could have a better life. It didn’t work that way. I should have held on to him. I should have compromised. I should have made it work. The alternative has torn me apart.”
I sucked in a sharp breath through my teeth. She didn’t understand; it wasn’t the same. “If I go with Perry, she may die. If she ever gets pregnant, it could kill her.”
She shrugged. “So then adopt if you want children.”
“That’s not the point,” I said, glaring at her glibness. “The two of us together, we create fucking holes in the universe. We’ll make things worse for each other and for other people.”
She tilted her chin down. “I saw more demons and more ghosts when I was with Max. I’d rather live my whole life with them everywhere I turn than live this one without him in it.”
“There would be so many consequences,” I added.
“And what about the consequences of you not being together? This isn’t your decision alone, Dex. If you want to really be selfless and noble here, you’ll have to tell her. Acting like an asshole isn’t going to explain anything. Your Perry, she’s been through a lot with you. She deserves more than this.”
“If she knew…what if she’d want to get pregnant, just to prove a point?”
“Is that really what she’d do?” she asked carefully. “Or is that just what other people are afraid of?”
I mulled on that, sitting back in my seat. I took a long suck of the Bloody Mary, hoping the vodka would go to work a little faster.
“Don’t let other people tell you how well you know someone,” she added. “Don’t let other people, no matter who they are, decide what happens to your life and hers. You will live a lifetime of regret if you let others influence your decisions. Believe me.”
I eyed her. “So then, who influenced yours?”
She looked down at her hands. “Maryse.”
Now it was starting to make sense. Why she broke up with him. Why she walked away.
“Then why don’t you and Max try and make it work now? You’re here. He’s here. You still love him, don’t you?”
She smiled softly but it never reached her eyes. “Some risks get scarier as you get older. The less you have to lose, the less you want to try.”
“So there’s no hope.”
“Sugar, we’d be dead without hope.”
I sighed, feeling like we’d just gone around in a circle.
“What a bunch of fucked up, lovelorn, ghost-seeing shitburgers we are,” I said.
“Don’t forget crazy,” she added.
“That is forever and always a given, sweetie.”
She sipped on her drink, her nose scrunching up at the clump of horseradish I saw get sucked up her straw. I started thinking it was nice that Rose pulled me aside to discuss my love life without trying to make me feel shitty, that she was so concerned about Perry and I to do so.
Then I could see the uncomfortable look on her face, even when the horseradish was long gone, and I knew that wasn’t the real reason why she took me all the way out here to have a drink. There was something else.
“What is it?” I asked wryly.
“It’s Maryse, actually,” she admitted. “I’m worried about her. She feels like the whole zombie thing, that they’d be going after her next. That she’s being targeted and will end up a sacrifice.”
I hated to sound callous, but in the grand scheme of my personal situation, I could only say, “So?”
“So, I believe her. I think that whoever is raising the dead, they are doing it to show off, to show how much power they have. But they can’t keep it up forever. They’re going to need more and more power, and the only way to do that is through sacrifice. Chickens and snakes, they won’t work in the long run. The person will start going after people with power, people like Maryse.”
“Isn’t she already hexed anyway?” I pointed out, remembering the creepy poppet in her lair with the nail driven through it.
“I think she is, but I think her weakness is being done remotely. They aren’t cursing her to take power from her, they’re cursing her so she can’t get involved, so she can’t fight back. They will want her in the end. And I think the end is near.”
“We’re talking about the living dead here, Dex. It’s going to be dramatic.”
“So what are you going to do?” I asked. Because we’re all getting the fuck out of here, I continued in my head.
“What can I do? This is the occult, a different type of supernatural. I’m not magical like they are. I can’t do hoodoo or hexes or raise the dead. I can’t do anything.”
“Shouldn’t you at least be keeping an eye on Maryse then? Surely you could have told me all this shit over the phone. Or better, by email.”
She shook her head. “Ambrosia is with her now. The doctor’s sent her home.”
“I told you, she has her own ways of getting better.”
She probably just flashed the doctors her gorgeous smile and that was it, I thought, feeling weird about it. I eyed Rose, who was staring at the live band. We play for tips, their cardboard sign said.
“Do you…do you trust…Ambrosia?” I asked, even though my words had trouble getting past my lips. Damn, was I drunk already?
“Of course I do,” she said absently, her attention still on the band.
“I was under the impression that you didn’t really like her.”
“Ambrosia Paris?” Rose asked in an odd voice. She turned around to face me, a wide smile on her lips. It was so out of place on Rose, it looked kind of creepy. “Everyone loves Ambrosia. How could they not? I do. And I know you do and Maximus does and Perry does.”
Okay, so Rose wasn’t as perceptive as I once thought. To be safe, I reached into my pocket and started rubbing the now greasy Van Van oil bottle on my fingers.
“Listen,” Rose went on. “I was wondering if maybe you’d help me get to the bottom of this. All of you. At least make an attempt before y’all go. I’ve got a few guns in my truck now. Why don’t the four of us go to Treme tonight and see if we can find any zombies. If we can find them, we might be able to find the ritual scene. If we find the scene, we might find the person responsible.”
“That sounds like a terrible idea.”
She looked at me with pleading eyes. “Come on, Dex. I know this is driving you crazy too.”
“Actually, I have other things to worry about.”
“But maybe you’re only worrying because you’re being forced to. Maybe you’re not thinking clearly because of what’s going on around us. Don’t you feel it? That feeling things are being controlled around us, like there’s a heaviness in the air we’re breathing?”
“I think that’s called humidity.”
“And then there are your dreams on top of everything.”
I looked at her sharply while my heart skipped a bit. “My dreams?”
“Maximus told me. And he told me he saw it too. Li Grand Zombi. Dex, if you see that again, you’re in a bad place. You’re lucky that didn’t try and drag you to the Kalunga with it.”
“Kalunga,” I said. “That’s the word my mother used.”
“It’s Kongonese. And it means the Veil. Where your mother, where these spirits are coming from. This isn’t a coincidence. Whoever is creating these zombies, they are fucking with us, pardon my French. They are conjuring up these spirits for us, to terrify us, maybe destroy us. Maybe to get us weak enough for a sacrifice.”
“But I saw my mother before I got here.”