Dex fiddled a bit with a bounceboard on the ground, propping it up against a rock (grave?) and gave the camera the final once–over.
“Rolling,” he said. He pointed at me. “Go.”
I took a deep breath, readied myself, and went into a lengthy intro about the island’s history and a detailed, dramatic description of what it would be like to have been one of the lepers. I don’t know where it was all coming from. I had been going over in my head earlier some key points to focus on and what order to do them in, but the description about the Chinese lepers just came out of nowhere.
By the time I was done, I was shaking at the knees from the overload of nerves (and the cold) and I was out of breath from trying to sound clear, concise and confident.
“Cut,” Dex said slowly and a bit unsurely. He looked up from the camera, not looking impressed like I had thought he would. He looked utterly confused.
“What the hell was that? Better yet, who the hell was that?”
I felt a bit defensive. I thought I did an awesome job and I rarely thought that about myself.
“I was trying to be professional.”
“Yeah, well, you were, kiddo. You were. But that’s not why people love you. The world expects a pose from everyone these days. You have to loosen the fuck up. That wasn’t you.”
“Yes, Dex, it was me. That was me being professional and apparently people want that.”
“No, they don’t. They want you being you. They want your personality.”
“I’m a goof. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing half the time.”
He stepped out from behind the camera and took a step closer to me. “I know you don’t. That’s what makes you…charming. That’s why you’re doing this with me.”
I sighed, all confidence rolling out of me. Even when I try to change, I fail.
“See,” he said, walking forward until he was right in front of me. He pushed a piece of hair back behind my ear. I flinched slightly at his touch. I couldn’t help it. My nerves were jumping all over the place. “This is exactly why I don’t want you to give a shit about those comments. I know what they say. But that’s the opinion of a few people, and most likely, just one person. They’re just a jackfuck who doesn’t know what they are talking about. Everyone else, Jimmy included, they want you. Just as you, as Perry Palomino. And that’s why we’re going to have to do that all over again.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” I cried out. I was so ready to throw in the towel.
He cocked his head at me. “Just once. The information, it’s all great. I liked what you did with the lepers and everything. That’s perfect. But, come on, baby.”
Baby? He reached for my shoulders and shook them around, my boobs jostling up and down. He tried, with little success, not to notice.
“Relax. Get jiggy with it. Have fun. I know you’re a fun person. Let’s let everyone see that.”
Though I was appreciating how close he was to me and the fact that he was still holding my shoulders with his strong grip, I had to say, “This is still a ghost story, right? It’s not Girls Gone Wild.”
“Hey, you’re the one who put on that shirt.” He leered and walked back to the camera. “It’s just you and me here. Tell me about the island. I was barely listening the first time anyway. Things were, uh, distracting me. Tell me what you know. And go.”
And so I pretended that Dex hadn’t heard anything I said, and described everything as if it was for an audience of one. He asked the question, I responded, simple as that.
When I was done, Dex broke into that genuine, wide smile that so rarely stretched across his face.
“See how much better that was! Did you feel how much better that was?”
Not really, though I was more relaxed. I messed up a few times regardless of whether I was just supposed to be talking to Dex.
He could see I wasn’t convinced. “It was much better. And just one take. Now that that part is done, we don’t have to worry about it, and it’s right on time. Look at that fucking sunset.”
I turned around and saw the golden sun heading down for the horizon where a far–off freighter was making a nautical silhouette. My arms and chest glowed golden. And suddenly I was freezing, almost unbearably cold. The adrenaline of being on camera was gone and my goose bumps were out in full force.
I shivered and made a beeline for the tent. “OK, it’s time for a sweater,” I said through chattering teeth.
“Aww, don’t be so modest now,” I heard Dex call out from behind me.
I put on a Fu Manchu sweatshirt and my yellow coat on top and helped Dex put away the camera equipment before the darkness came. Then we got our lanterns and flashlights out and started setting out the small cooking stove on the picnic table adjacent to the tent. I heated up two cans of ravioli for us (yeah, totally gourmet) while Dex fixed another tarp across the table. It didn’t look like it was going to rain, but if it did, it would be nice to have a dry place to sit.
By the time the tarp was up and we were all organized for the night, it was pitch dark. We sat across each other at the table and spooned ourselves our dinner into our paper bowls. The lantern sat at the end of the table, providing just enough light to see by (and dare I say, the glow was pretty romantic). The Super 8 camera and the night camcorder were beside Dex on his bench, while the books and a heavy–duty flashlight were on mine. As far as I knew, we didn’t have any plans to go exploring tonight which suited me just fine.
But you never knew what might come exploring our way.
“There are no bears on the island, right?” I asked. I knew there probably weren’t – it was way too small for them – and I hadn’t read about it, but I figured it would be good to know since we had food out and all. Or at least the smell of food. I finished all of my ravioli in seconds flat.
Dex shook his head while he placed our empty bowls in the garbage bag hanging off the table. “No, but I wouldn’t count out those raccoons. I’ll put the garbage and the food away from the tent in case those little turds pay us a visit in the night.”
I didn’t like the idea of those nasty little creatures lurking somewhere in the forest, waiting for us to fall asleep. Beyond us and the tent, we could only see blackness. It was giving me the major creeps, not knowing what was out there beyond where the weak light fell.
I shook it off and noticed Dex was staring at me.
“What?” I asked.
“You OK?” he said.
“Yeah. Yeah, it’s just fucking creepy here at night.” That was starting to become an understatement and fast. The bad vibes and feelings that first washed over me when the Mary Contrary pulled into the cove were coming back, poking at me in different places. My mind wanted to think about the graves we could have been sitting on top of. It wanted to think about the coffins being delivered. It wanted to think about the hand coming up from behind and…
I turned around quickly, sure that something was coming. But only the salal bushes and the nearest trees glowed in the light.
I faced Dex with a sheepish grin.
“I’ve got your back,” he said, leaning over and fishing something out of the cooler that was on the ground behind him. “I’ll let you know if something is coming to get you.”
He produced the bottle of Jack Daniels he had bought at duty free and placed it triumphantly on the middle of the table. “I think this will cure what ails us tonight.”
“I might need the whole bottle,” I joked.
“We’ll see. You’re at least getting half of it.” He unscrewed the top and took a swig from the bottle, wincing hard before passing it to me.
“No glasses?” I said, taking it from him and eyeing it warily. The amber color looked pretty in the light but I knew it didn’t go down the same way.
“We’re roughing it now,” he said and nodded at the bottle. “Go ahead. I’m trying to get you drunk.”
I narrowed my eyes at him, sussing him out. He raised his eyebrow in a cheeky way. That fucker, I never knew when he was joking or not.
I sighed, closed my eyes and took a gulp. It burned my chapped lips and then my throat as it went down but luckily it wasn’t bad enough to come back up again. The distinctive taste of bourbon was conjuring up the memory of drinking it with Coke last night. A belated hair of the dog.
By the time the liquid reached my stomach and produced a pleasant warmth, Dex was taking another swig of it.
“Does that mix well with your new medication?”
He paused in mid–sip. I was vaguely aware that my question might have been a bit too personal. But he shrugged and finished swallowing.
“They’re all the same. I’m used to it by now.”
Then it was my turn to drink again. I took the bottle from him, our fingers brushing each other. It was one of those instances that had he been any other person, I wouldn’t have noticed every touch, every contact.
I was already starting to feel it. This was not a good sign. “Maybe I don’t need the whole bottle after all.”
“Whatever makes you feel good.”
“I should be feeling good very soon.” I took another swig, this one a bit smaller. It burned less. I felt floatier and the shadows around me danced in a non–threatening way. The heat in my belly was passing up through my nerves until it settled somewhere on my brain like a warm blanket.
“I wish we had music,” I said lazily, passing the bottle back to him.
“I have our phones,” he said.
That’s right. He still had my freaking phone.
“Am I allowed to have it back?” I asked, annoyed. I put my hand across the table, palm up. He took my hand in his and held it. An electrical charge I was sure I could only feel sparked from his fingers to mine. Once again I was torn between enjoying the butterflies flying around in my boozy insides and actually wanting my phone back. Gotta say though, at the moment, holding his hand was taking precedence. I was such a girl.
“Not yet,” he said, still not letting go. His hand was nice and warm against the cold.
“What if my sister texts me?” I implored him, not wanting to be swayed. “Or my parents? They’ll worry.”
“Oh, your sister already has and I said you were fine,” he said breezily. “She agreed with the idea of you taking an internet break.”
My heart skidded to a halt.
“W–what?” I stammered. “What…you can’t read my texts, those are personal! Oh God, what did they say? No wait, don’t tell me.” I started mentally going over every single text that would have shown up in the last 24 hours. The idea of him reading those was mortifying. My pride was dying a slow death inside.
He squeezed my hand and grinned. “You should see your face right now.”
He let go of my hand and casually reached for the bottle. “You are so gullible. You are so gullible, to me,” he sang in an incredibly baritone voice before taking another sip.
He finished and wiped his lips with the back of his hand. “You really think I’d go reading your texts? Wow, Perry, I’ve got to say…that hurts. That hurts big time”