Ashes to Ashes Page 7


The rest of the introductions to Rebecca and Marda were quickly made before we made our way into Uncle Al’s cozy living room to have a drink. The twins were nowhere to be seen; apparently they were at the beach trying to impress some neighborhood girls, much to Uncle Al’s dismay. He said Tony and Matt were still a bunch of troublemakers, and when you added women to the mix, it usually ended in disaster.

“Ain’t that the truth,” Dex joked as he sat down on the loveseat. He looked up at me with an expectant expression, wanting me to sit with him. To tell you the truth, I hesitated. With Rebecca taking an armchair and my uncle and Marda on the couch, there wasn’t anywhere else for me to go, but I didn’t want to immediately announce to Uncle Al that Dex and I were a couple. I mean, I figured he knew since I was living in Seattle, but then again, I had no idea how much my uncle knew about the falling out.

Dex didn’t let me hesitate for long. He reached up and pulled me down by the arm until I was sitting back in the loveseat and his arm was placed snuggly around me. I dared to meet Uncle Al’s eyes. He was staring at us with judgement. Figures. But before I could feel uncomfortable about it, he wiped the expression off his face, as if he realized he was doing it, and got off the couch.

He pointed at me and Dex. “What do you two want? Beer? Wine?”

We both took a beer while Rebecca went for a small glass of wine. The wine would be better on my figure but beer was easier.

We lapsed into easy chit-chat, most of the attention on Rebecca since she was from England, and Uncle Al waxed poetic about his time living there when he was a “young lad.” Rebecca wasn’t always the most talkative person but she certainly was tonight, maybe because she felt awkward, maybe because the whole situation was still a teeny bit awkward in general. Yeah, the whole elephant in the room? It was languidly parked behind Uncle Al’s couch and no one would dare to look at it.

Finally Matt and Tony came home to alleviate some of the tension. Like, straight up.

“So you two are shacking up now,” Tony said as he nodded to Dex. “Cool.”

I rolled my eyes. “I live with Dex, if that’s what you mean.” I quickly eyed Uncle Al who just clucked his tongue and excused himself to go check on the grill. Marda followed after him, the screen door swinging shut.

“I had a feeling this would happen,” Matt said as he grabbed a beer from the fridge. Though they were under twenty-one, the rules were always lax for them.

“You did?” I asked.

He grabbed an extra can of beer for Dex and threw it at him. Dex caught it without looking, also eager to hear what Matt had to say.

“Totally,” Matt went on, leaning against the counter and cracking the beer open with a loud snap. “Don’t you guys ever see those movies where the girl and the guy are, like, under duress,” he said duress like he just learned it from his Word of the Day toilet paper, “and they totally hit it off after? Like Speed with Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. Meet on a bus. Bus gets a bomb on it. They make out. Awesome flick, even today.”

Dex grinned and then took a large swig of beer. “Thanks, man. I think Keanu Reeves is a fine actor if you put him on mute. Otherwise, it’s…”

And then Dex launched into his repertoire of Keanu impersonations. They weren’t half bad, and I’d heard a lot of them before, but when the twins encouraged him to try talking like Jeff Goldblum, I had to draw the line.

Luckily Uncle Al came back in with the grilled chicken and everyone gathered around the table before Dex could continue talking about Chaos Theory.

“So, Perry,” Tony said as we all dug into the food. The chicken was grilled perfectly—no surprise there. Uncle Al took the barbeque to a new art. Summer was almost here, but I knew he’d been using the grill all winter long.

“So, Tony,” I said to him, pointing my fork at him with a smile.

He looked to me, Dex, and Rebecca. “Tell me again why you’re here. I mean, in Oregon. On the coast. It’s another episode, right?”

I felt defensive for one second before I remembered that both Matt and Tony watched the show and totally believed in what we were seeing—and doing.

My shoulders relaxed. “Yeah, it’s a haunted school.”

“No way,” said Matt. “Not the one in Gary that used to house the sick kids.”

“The very one,” Rebecca said. It was the first thing she’d really said to them other than, “Hi, I’m Rebecca,” and the twins eyes flew to her and her cherry-print dress.

“And you’re the new partner,” Tony said, trying not to drool. “You know, I used to watch you on Wine Babes all the time.”

I groaned internally. I felt like I was about to have fucking déjà vu.

“Were you ever in Maxim like Jennifer was?” Tony asked.

Yup. Déjà vu. My upper lip involuntarily curled. Dex put his hand on my knee. Uncle Al looked at me with a dry expression.

Rebecca let out a laugh. “Me, in Maxim? Oh mercy, I’m not a bloody whore, you know. My tits and arse aren’t for the world to see.”

And Rebecca saved the day.

“That’s a shame,” Tony supplied.

“Anthony!” Uncle Al warned. “Eat your damn food and shut up.”

“Back to the ghosts,” Matt said, always the smarter one. He eyed me closely. “Have you been there before? It’s really fucking creepy.”

“Language, Matthew,” Uncle Al said.

Matt took a long gulp of his beer, staring at his dad over it before saying, “Whatever, Dad.”

“No, I haven’t,” I said. I haven’t been to Oregon for months, I wanted to say. “But apparently all the hauntings started recently.”

“Don’t you think that’s odd?” he asked, leaning forward like it was a conspiracy theory.

“Why?”

He took a lazy bite of chicken. “I don’t know. We always knew about that place…our friends live in Gary and they’d go there at night, way before it was a school. They said they’d see soccer balls going down the dark hallways by themselves and shit. They’d hear, like, the wheels of a gurney being pushed. Children crying. It’s just funny that the school has been operating for a while and only now they think there are ghosts.”

I thought back to the teacher, Brenna McSomething, who reported the hauntings. I had to wonder if she was anything like Dex and I, if her very presence caused things to happen. And if her being there caused the hauntings to increase…what would it be like for Dex and I?

“Perry?” Dex asked gently, his hand pressing down on my leg.

I looked up at him and his deep, dark eyes, and realized that everyone else was staring at me. “Sorry,” I said. “Must have zoned out.”

“Matthew, please stop with this ghost talk,” Uncle Al chided him. “It’s not appropriate for dinner.”

Matt mumbled an insincere sorry and Marda quickly took over the conversation by asking us if we were hooked on any TV shows. Rebecca, her, and Tony got in an argument over Breaking Bad for a bit until it was time for dessert.

Dex leaned into me, his breath hot on my neck. “I really hope they’re serving pie,” he murmured.

I flushed from my head to my toes and bit my lip. I shot him a sly glance, glad my hair was shielding my red cheeks from everyone else. “You remember that, do you?”

His gaze intensified, mouth parting open. “You have no idea. Of course, you were the one who was baking it.”

“You know you can have pie any time you want,” I teased him.

“Are we talking pussy or pie right now?”

I giggled, hoping no one could hear him. “Take your pick.”

Alas, it wasn’t pie but plain old ice cream with chocolate syrup. I opted out of it, relishing another beer instead. As soon as we were all finished, Rebecca and her impeccable manners started taking all the plates over to the sink to do the dishes, and naturally I had to help her.

Meanwhile, Dex took that moment to pour Uncle Al another glass of wine and ask him if he could speak with him, in private.

Rebecca and I exchanged a look as my uncle agreed, looking as surprised as we were, and the two of them walked out of the kitchen and into the backyard that overlooked the beach. I could barely make them out through the window above the sink.

“What’s going on?” I asked Rebecca. “I know he hates doing the dishes but…”

She glanced out the window, watching as their shapes disappeared into the darkening sky, then busied herself with the scrubber brush. “Oh, I don’t know. I guess Dex just wants to make a good impression, that’s all.”

“Did he tell you that?”

She paused for a moment before scrubbing at a tough stain. “Not in so many words. But he’s here for you, Perry. He just wants everything to be okay. And he wants your family to accept him. He knows it’s an uphill battle but you know Dex. He’s determined once he puts his mind to something.”

I know I doubted Dex every now and then but hearing that really made me feel good inside. Solid. I could only hope that whatever he was saying to Uncle Al, that my uncle was being nice about it all.

They were only out there for five minutes before they came back inside. Uncle Al came in first, his face red, but whether it was from wine or anger, I didn’t know. Dex followed shortly after, his beer almost empty and dangling loosely from his fingers. While my uncle disappeared into the living room where the twins were watching a movie with Marda, Dex loitered in the kitchen for a moment. He didn’t meet my eyes, and instead pulled out a chair and sat down.

I glanced at Rebecca, who gave Dex a strangely sympathetic glance before she turned back to the dishes.

“Dex,” I said quietly.

He looked up. His face was open, expression blasé, but there was something troubling about his eyes. They looked haunted.

“Are you okay?”

He smiled but it failed to make his eyes crinkle. “Yeah, I’m fine. Bit of heartburn though.”

“Maybe it’s the beer,” Rebecca suggested.

He answered that by finishing it off and getting back up. He headed for the front door. I hastily put down the plate I was drying and ran after him, stopping him just as he put his hand on the knob.

“Where are you going?” I asked, feeling suddenly uneasy about his change in mood.

“Got a bit of a chill,” he explained, looking over my shoulder toward the living room. “Summer’s not here yet. I have my jacket in the car. I’ll be back.” He leaned forward and kissed me lightly on the cheek before stepping out into the night.

I went back to helping with the dishes but wasn’t the least bit surprised to see that Dex didn’t come back in until we were done and watching some lame ass Ben Stiller movie with everyone else. There was no room beside me on the couch, so he sat on the ground, his legs stretched out in front of him. He wasn’t even watching the movie; instead, he was staring blankly at a spot on the carpet.

I felt a pair of eyes on me and looked over to see Uncle Al staring from across the room. It took everything I had to keep from glaring at him in return. I came here hoping to make amends with at least part of my family. I had no idea what the hell my uncle was thinking, but whatever he heard about me from my parents, it was obvious that it was affecting him in some way. If he said something upsetting to Dex, I could damn well count on him feeling the same way about me.

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