Ashes to Ashes Page 6


He put his elbows on his knees and his fingers together like a steeple. “Do you ever get scared?”

I snorted. “Yeah. Of course.”

I mean, they were ghosts. We weren’t seeing puppies. We were seeing the dead, and both of us knew very well that the dead had the power to kill us. Of course, they had the power to kill anyone, but when they found someone who was actually able to see them, able to communicate with them, it made things a bit riskier. They wanted to be around us, they wanted the attention they so rarely got. That’s why when we went ghost hunting with Rebecca, she was never in any real danger. It’s not that she wasn’t scared herself, there were a few times where she was freaking out on behalf of what we said we were seeing, but we both knew the ghosts wouldn’t usually bother with her. She didn’t see them, so she didn’t really exist herself. Sometimes I felt like Dex and I were the ghosts—that the dead could only see us—and every other normal person was just a passing shadow to them.

“Me too,” he said, his eyes focusing now on the surfers. “I keep thinking I’ll get used to it, but I never really do. Some days I can just kind of, you know, gloss over them. The old man bleeding on the sidewalk that people are walking past…I can almost pretend he’s real. As if that fucking makes it better. But I can ignore it. Then sometimes I have a strung out woman with a broken neck in my face, flies coming out of her nose and…” He trailed off and I saw a shudder roll through him.

I reached for him, putting my hand gently on his leg. “I know what you mean.”

“And then it just slaps me in the face. Hey, I’m a fucking freak. Hey, this is the reason I was put away in a mental institute. Hey, this is never ever going to go away.”

“Unless we go on medication,” I said quietly.

He shook his head. “No way, baby. I’ve seen the light. I can’t go back to hiding from it. This is me. This is us. No other way around it, we just have to deal.” He tilted his head down and eyed me. “You know that. It’s us against the world.”

We both fell into silence that was occasionally punctuated by the cry from a soaring gull. How right he was.

Eventually he cleared his throat and gestured to the houses that lined the beach to the right of us. “Could you imagine yourself living here in five, ten years?”

I eyed the houses, all of them grand with large landscaped lots and views to die for. “Sure. I guess. It’s nice here. But I think I’d have to be independently wealthy.”

“So say you were. Say you could live anywhere. Where would you live?”

I pursed my lips as I looked at him curiously. “Why are you asking?”

“Why not? We’ve never really discussed our future with each other…have we?”

I swallowed hard, those damn butterflies making an appearance in my insides.

“Of course,” he went on, “I’m being a twat in assuming that I’m actually in your future…”

I gazed at him steadily, my eyes focusing on his ear, where just the tip had been left scarred from his encounter with the voodoo priestess in New Orleans. “Dex. I just got a tattoo for you. I let some humorless dude brand me with a needle and ink in a place I look every single day.” I waved my wrist at him. “Of course you’re in my future. You’re the only thing I know about the future.”

His eyes blazed passionately before he broke his stare. “Then if that’s true…where do you see us?”

Now what was he getting at? What did he want me to say? That in five years I wanted to be married to him, to have his babies, to be putting up a white picket fence? These were dreams that I rarely allowed myself to entertain…none of that ever seemed possible for us, no matter how in love we were.

“I see us…happy,” I answered feebly.

“Doing the show?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think so. It doesn’t feel like enough, if you know what I mean.” His blank stare told me he didn’t. So much for mind reading. “I mean, I think, I feel, like the show is a means to an end for now…but it’s also the beginning of something, not the end. I think one day we’ll be doing something that’s more…respectable. Something that matters.”

“And me?”

“And you’re there with me. I don’t know what it is, but we’re doing it together.”

“I don’t think you can count wild monkey sex as a career, Perry.”

“I’m counting it as a perk,” I said with a smile. “But I think we’re both destined for something more. I’ve always felt that, right from the very start. I think in five, ten years, Experiment in Terror will be a memory. A scary, kind of fun and meaningful memory, but something in the past.”

“And we could be living in Seattle…or Seaside…”

I took my hand off his knee and started pushing my fingers into the cool sand. “Anywhere. San Francisco. Boston. Anywhere. As long as I’m with you, I’m happy.”

I could feel his eyes boring into me, and by the time I looked back up, he had taken out his phone and was glancing at it. “We oughta get back to Rebecca. She’s probably getting sucked into a timeshare by now or getting cotton candy stuck in her hair.”

Dex helped me up off the log and took his sweet time brushing the sand and bark off my backside. When we were back at the Lewis and Clark statue at the end of the promenade, he put his arm around me and pulled me in close. “Are you ready to say hi to Uncle Al and your dopey cousins?”

Are you ready to start making amends with your family, is what he was really asking, even though my uncle Al was barely part of the equation.

I let the strength and warmth of Dex’s hold wash over me and nodded. As long as he was at my side, I’d manage.

At least I’d try.

CHAPTER FOUR

It was just before seven when Dex pulled the Highlander down a coastal lane past the beach town of Manzanita. Uncle Al’s property took up a large chunk of land that I was sure the state was eager to own. There were pastures and an abandoned barn where an old dairy farm used to be, a couple of miles of beachfront, as well as a small forest that dipped into the shores of Nehalem Bay. And, of course, somewhere on the bluffs, the charred remains of a lighthouse that may or may not have blown up on our behalf.

“God, this is weird,” Dex said under his breath as we parked at the end of Uncle Al’s driveway. The house, a large rancher, looked the same, and my twin cousins, Matt and Tony, had their two cars parked outside. I remembered Matt’s truck well—Dex and I had to share the backseat together rather awkwardly.

“Oh, it wasn’t awkward for me,” Dex said with a knowing smirk as he jammed the Highlander in park.

I flushed at the unexpected intrusion. “Could you hear me think that?”

He slid his hand across the steering wheel. “First time in a while, but it was so worth it.”

“You heard her thoughts?” Rebecca asked, leaning forward. “Lucky duck. I never hear anything.”

I gave her a look. “You know you’re not missing out.”

“Well now I want to know what wasn’t awkward.”

Dex turned to her. “Perry and I were squeezed in the back of that old truck there while we went down the road. Her boobs were banging around from the potholes and I was trying to keep my massive erection hidden.”

She wrinkled her face. “Ugh. Nevermind, you guys keep your thoughts to yourself.”

I frowned, both turned on and strangely flattered. “You had an erection from that?”

Rebecca’s manicured nails fluttered in my face. “I said, keep your bloody thoughts to yourself. I don’t want to hear about anyone’s erections. Boobs, maybe.”

Dex sighed. “Rebecca, you’re missing out on so many beautiful wonders about the male body.” He gave me a sly look. “And yes, I had a hard-on most of the time I was around you. Why do you think I was so fidgety? It wasn’t always the meds, baby. It was your tits and ass and face and everything else I thought I could never have.”

I couldn’t help but smile at that, at finding out what he first thought of me. And now I wanted to prod him for more. God, I was such a doofus.

Fortunately Rebecca was spared from further tidbits because the front door to the house swung open and Uncle Al appeared in the doorway, eyeing us suspiciously like we were lost tourists or trespassers.

I took in a deep breath. “We better get out and say hello before he pulls a Clint Eastwood on us.”

We climbed out of the car, the scent of the dunes and meats grilling on the BBQ bringing me back again.

I’d last seen my uncle and cousins in December, so there wasn’t much difference to them over the last six months. But oh, wait. Behind the jovial grin of Uncle Al and his thinning slicked back hair was the look of a man in peace, a man in love. Before I had a chance to wonder if he was still with the woman he had been seeing, I saw her appear behind him: a tiny woman with vivid eyes and a long, delicate face. Marda, I think her name was.

I quickly tugged down the sleeve of my shirt, planning to keep my tattoo hidden from him until my parents had a chance to see it.

“Perry!” my uncle exclaimed, throwing his arms open. As if I were a little girl again, I ran over to him with a shy smile on my lips and threw myself into his embrace. He smelled like this strong cologne he always wore but I inhaled the scent anyway.

“Hey, Uncle Al,” I said as I pulled away, looking up at him. “You’re looking great.” A little bit tubbier but I wasn’t one to talk. Looks like we’d both put on the “love pounds.”

“Perry, bella,” he said, giving me another quick hug. “You’re still blind, I see.” He winked at me and then turned to his lady friend. “You remember Marda, of course?”

“Of course,” I said, offering my hand to her but she pulled me into a hug instead. I felt like I was crushing her bones. “Nice to see you again.”

I looked behind me at Dex and Rebecca who were hovering between us and the car. Dex was trying to smile but I could tell he was nervous; he’d taken off his hat and was holding it anxiously in his hands. You’d think he was about to meet the President or something. It was actually damn endearing.

“This is Dex and Rebecca,” I said, though I knew he knew who Dex was. He knew very well. Not just because of the ruckus we caused in his lighthouse, but because he saw how in love with Dex I had been. He was the one who told me that my infatuation for him was creating a hole in my heart and that I’d get hurt and be stronger for it. Well, he was kind of right about all that.

“Hello, Dex,”my uncle said, walking toward him to shake his hand. Dex smiled sincerely and I could tell he was giving him one hell of a handshake. It was a lot different than the first time they met. Dex was really trying to make a better impression.

“Thanks for having us over,” Dex said. “Really appreciate it.”

Oh boy, was he ever trying.

Even Uncle Al seemed a bit taken aback, raising his brows before shrugging. “It’s no problem at all. When Perry said she was coming for a visit, I was overjoyed. We all were. We never get to see her anymore.” I detected a bit of strain in his voice when he said that, probably thinking about his brother. I wondered how often he talked to my parents and if they talked about me. I guess I’d have to pry him for info after he had a few glasses of wine.

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