Ashes to Ashes Page 5


I rolled me eyes and ran over to the bathroom door and pounded on it. “Hey, you haven’t packed yet!”

The buzzing stopped momentarily. “It’ll take me two seconds.”

Right.

I went back to the room and started flipping through his closet, pulling out a leather jacket, a cargo coat, a hoodie, and a long-sleeved dress shirt for when he’d meet my parents again, then headed to his dresser. I rummaged through his drawers, picking out a few t-shirts and folding them before I tackled his boxer briefs. I only pulled out one pair before I heard the bathroom door open and Dex cry out, “What the hell are you doing?”

I whipped around to see Dex charging toward me and slamming the drawer shut. Thank god I removed my fingers just in time.

“What’s your problem?” I asked him, noting how his body was now blocking the entire dresser, his eyes wide with panic. He’d trimmed down a lot of his beard and ‘stache so it was just sexy scruff, and put in his eyebrow ring. He was looking good. But obviously nuts.

“What are you doing?” he asked again.

I gave him an odd look. ”I’m trying to pack for you.”

“I told you I’d do that,” he said, though he was starting to relax.

“Well I’m not counting on that. Why are you acting so sketchy? I’m allowed to touch your underwear.”

“Not when there might be skid marks on them.”

“Ew!” I wrinkled my nose. “Holy TMI, and also, don’t you know where the damn laundry basket is?”

He shrugged. “Now that you know what you’re up against, you can continue packing if you’d like.”

I shook my head and gave him a wave of disgust. “No thank you, it’s all yours.”

He grinned at me like he’d won some kind of war, and I could do nothing but take my suitcase out to the front door just in time to hear the buzzer from downstairs.

Fat Rabbit immediately started barking, staring up at me with a forlorn expression on his wrinkly face. He always acted a bit weird whenever we went away and the suitcase was a clear sign. I hoped he wouldn’t give the new sitter too much trouble.

I buzzed the woman up and turned to see Dex strolling proudly out of the bedroom with his duffel bag in tow.

“See,” he said, “packed in seconds flat.”

I narrowed my eyes suspiciously, figuring he’d probably forgotten a bunch of stuff like deodorant and socks.

When he got next to me, his face grew serious and he reached out to touch my hand, holding onto my pinky. “Are you okay? You’re the one who is acting a bit sketchy lately.”

I nodded but still said, “I don’t know. Just feeling antsy for some reason.”

He raised his brow. “Some reason? Kiddo, going home to see your parents isn’t some reason. It’s a big deal and it’s okay, I get it. But I’m here for you, you know that. Right?”

There was a quick knock at the door which set off Fat Rabbit again so I quickly shot him a smile. Having his support would help, but it wasn’t enough to make my nerves stop rattling.

I opened the door to see a pretty woman with a warm smile and honey-tinted skin, dressed in form-fitting yoga pants and a tank top that conformed to her lithe body. Immediately I felt a prickle of insecurity and self-loathing, mentally comparing my body to hers.

“You must be Ana Rita,” I said, trying to ignore my shortcomings. “I’m Perry, come on in.”

“Thank you,” she said warmly. I saw her eyes flit over my shoulder to Dex and her smile broadened. “Hi. Dex, right? We spoke on the phone.”

Dex nodded and shook her hand. “Thanks for agreeing to watch the little bugger. Hope you’re prepared for lots of farts in your future. From the dog, of course.”

She went down into a crouch to pet Fat Rabbit who was wriggling all over the place like a spazz, drool flying everywhere. I watched Dex carefully to see if he was checking her out. If he was, he was being real subtle about it.

“You sure you’re comfortable staying here?” he went on while Fat Rabbit finally calmed down enough to be sitting in front of her. “Fat Rabbit doesn’t do well in other people’s houses, he tends to take dumps in your shoe, so we just find it easier to have people come here and sit for him.”

She glanced up at him, brushing her light brown hair out of her face. “It’s no problem. It’s nice to have a change of scenery from time to time. You sure you’re comfortable with me being here?”

“Any friend of Rebecca’s is a friend of mine,” he said, and then gestured over to the kitchen counter. “Instructions are there. Call us if you have any problems.”

I waved goodbye to Fat Rabbit while he bounded past Ana Rita and over to Dex where he delivered a bunch of last minute sloppy kisses. Once we were in the elevator, I looked over at him. “She seemed nice.”

He shrugged. “As long as the dog is alive when we come back, I don’t care.” I guess I was staring at him for too long, studying the set of his firm jaw, because he looked over at me with interest. “What?”

“Nothing,” I said. Like hell I was going to tell him I was feeling unworthy because the dog sitter happened to be a hot chick. I needed to get the fuck over myself before I royally screwed things up one day. A guy can only tell you you’re beautiful so many times before it seems like a lost cause, and I didn’t want to seem like one with Dex.

He studied me for a moment and I could tell he wanted to say something, but thankfully he let it go, probably chalking it up to my nerves again. Once in the parking garage, we loaded our bags in the Highlander, Dex having brought the camera equipment down earlier, and headed off to pick up Rebecca.

We drove down the interstate until we got to the turnoff at Longview and started heading out to the Pacific. The minute the Highlander was heading west, away from the direction of Portland, I let out the longest breath of air.

Rebecca, who had been talking nonstop about a chick she met at a party the night before, leaned forward and tapped me on the shoulder. “Relax, Perry.”

I shot her a smile over my shoulder. Even though we were heading to the coast to look for ghost children, she still looked fabulous in a retro cherry-printed white sundress, a lace cardigan, and cat-eye shades. “I’m good.”

“Anyone feel like having a late lunch in Seaside?” Dex asked.

“As long as we’re at Uncle Al’s by seven, sure,” I said. I used to go to Seaside all the time as a child so it would be nice to visit the quaint town with its promenade, crashing waves, and old timey shops. I hoped I could avoid the enormous candy stores where I used to spend hours picking out saltwater taffy.

An hour later we rolled into town, wrestling with early-season tourists for a parking spot. We grabbed a quick bite to eat at a chowder place that Dex swore on the bible was the best he ever had, and he wasn’t far off. We still had a bit of time before we headed down the coast again, so I suggested we go for a walk on the beach. It was sunny and warm, with just a light breeze, and on the Oregon Coast you had to take advantage of that when you could. I guess Rebecca thought we wanted some privacy because she told us to go ahead; she wanted to do some shopping in town. I didn’t know what she could possibly buy aside from chocolate-covered bacon and clothing with tacky seagulls printed all over them, but we left her to her own devices and headed out to the sand.

“Fuck me, this feels good,” Dex said as we stood at the top of the steps before heading down onto the beach. The ocean was blue and glittering from the sun, the sand glowing golden white. Kids ran up and down with their kites, making sandcastles and running back from the cold surf.

Dex took in a deep breath. “Feel that sea air. That’s got to be good for you.”

I gave him a funny look, shielding my eyes with my hand. “We live by the ocean, Dex.”

“Bah. Puget Sound doesn’t count,” he said. “I mean the real ocean. This. There’s nothing between us right now and Japan. Just water and waves. Makes you feel free.”

“You don’t feel free otherwise?”

He gave me a lopsided grin and took my hand in his. “Come on.”

He led me down through the dunes, my boots slipping awkwardly as I walked, until we came to the hard-packed sand near the pounding surf. We walked side by side, not saying anything to each other, just watching the people around us, the miles of flawless beach, the sand dollars that crunched under our feet.

We stopped where the pine-dotted bluffs of Ecola State Park jutted out into the water and the beach curved inward, and sat down on a washed up log. Out on the waves, surfers vied for the perfect set, looking like vertical seals in their shiny black wetsuits.

The light wind tossed my hair into my mouth, already tasting like salt, my vision blurred by the strands. I felt Dex’s fingers on my face, tucking my hair behind my ears.

“Feels familiar,” he said in a low voice. “Doesn’t it?”

I thought about it for a second and realized it did. Even though the cameras were back in the car and we were just sitting here looking at the coast, the smell of sea spray, the sound of surf and the feel of sand under my feet brought me back to when we first met each other, just an hour south of where we were.

I looked him over, remembering how he was when I first met him. He still had on the same newsboy cap, though now his eyes were dark and shiny instead of dark and manic. There was no cigarette dangling from his crooked smile and his mustache was trimmed beyond rapist standards. It was still Dex but now he was my Dex. It was kinda hard to wrap my head around it now that we were back at the beginning.

“It feels good,” I told him. “Weird. But good.”

“Just like me,” he said before sucking in his lower lip and turning his gaze to the shore.

“You’re better than good,” I said.

He nodded with a smile. “And weirder than weird?”

“I think we both are, when you think about it. You’re the only person I know that knows what I’m talking about when I say I saw the creepy lady in black at the convenience store.”

He pulled the brim of his cap down, shielding his eyes from the glaring sun, and stared at the grains of sand that danced at his boots, whipped around by the wind. “I’m starting to think the douche magoose who works there thinks we’re both a bit nuts.”

“His name is Paul,” I said sternly, sticking up for the harmless hipster who works at the store across the street from us. “And yeah, he probably does. I just pretend I don’t see her. I do that with everyone.”

He gave me a sideways glance. “How often do you see them?”

It suddenly struck me as odd that even though Dex and I suffered from the same affliction and were intimate with each other on a daily basis, we never ever talked about the things we saw. I chose to suffer in silence, even though I knew he’d understand if I told him.

I brushed a wayward strand out of my eyes, mulling it over. “At least once a day. I think. It’s hard to tell, in Seattle anyway. Sometimes I think I’m looking at a ghost but it turns out to be a meth head.”

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