She nodded at the distance behind my shoulder. “Your friend.”
I spun around and saw Dex standing in the forest, his dark figure half–hidden by the trees, watching me. It had been awhile since Dex had given me the creeps like that.
I turned back to look at Mary but she was gone. I was alone on the beach.
I looked back at Dex and walked toward him, mulling over what had just happened and what he had seen. Had he seen Mary? Or had he seen me talking to myself like I had feared? No wonder Mary said he thought I was sick in the head.
I stopped a few yards away from him, trying to suss him out. Technically I should have been rightly pissed off at him leaving me in the woods like that, so I went with that emotion.
“What the hell, man? Way to leave me alone in the woods like that,” I said, crossing my arms.
He frowned and stayed suspiciously silent.
“Why are you just standing there like a creeper, huh? What’s your problem?” I asked.
He seemed to snap out of whatever it was clouding over him and looked apologetic.
“Sorry. I thought I saw something.”
“Thought you saw something? Dex you took off, didn’t even bother to check if I was behind you. You know I can’t keep up with you!” My voice was shrill as the indignation I felt earlier came back. “What happened to all that shit you said about having my back, huh?”
He puffed air out of the corner of his mouth and threw his hands up in the air. “I’m sorry, OK? I thought you were able to follow. I didn’t go that far but by the time I came back you were gone. Look, I’m really sorry.”
I didn’t like this at all. And I was starting to lose my trust in him. Sure, Mary’s words were floating around in my head, which didn’t help, but the fact was he had just promised to never leave my side and then went against his word only an hour later.
He came out of the trees and walked up to me. I stood my ground.
“What the hell were you chasing anyway?” I growled.
“It was a deer,” he said, chagrined. He rubbed his chin and looked away. “I know, I’m an idiot. If it makes you feel any better, I got totally lost trying to get back to the campsite.”
“That’s because someone switched the markers,” I said. “How did you know to find me here?”
“I heard your voice. What do you mean someone switched the markers?”
“I mean what it means. Someone switched the markers. If it wasn’t for where you threw the cigarette package, I wouldn’t have noticed.”
“So that’s where that went,” he mused. “I was trying to do a Hansel and Gretel trail.”
I looked up at the sky and the waving tree tops treetops. The night was coming in fast.
“We’ll get going,” he said, taking my arm. I flinched a bit. “What, you hate me now?”
I didn’t hate him. I was just annoyed. I felt like he totally interrupted my time with Mary, as silly as that sounds. And I wanted to talk about it with him but knew he probably wouldn’t believe me anyway.
I shrugged him off and began the slog up the coast, back to the campsite. We didn’t say much to each other, except near the end.
“Who were you talking to on the beach?” he asked hesitantly. I could tell he had wanted to ask me the entire journey. I gave him a quick look. He seemed more curious than concerned. Still, I didn’t want to give him any reason to worry.
“I was talking to someone?” I repeated casually.
“Yeah. But I didn’t see anyone else. I was watching you for a couple of minutes.”
“Watching me? That’s creepy.”
“No, you’re creepy.”
I stopped in my tracks and raised my brow incredulously. “I beg your pardon?”
He stopped too and started fishing around for his gum, avoiding my eyes. “Sorry.”
I narrowed my eyes at him, daring for him to meet them. He didn’t. He popped the Nicorette in his mouth, three pieces at a time, and slowly chewed them, keeping his eyes on the space above my head.
I let out an angry sigh, not wanting to deal with him or what he thought of me. We got back on our way, easing into the campsite just as the clouds turned black and the light of day was gone.
Dinner was another lazy mess of a meal. Dex threw some of the bacon he had made earlier into some penne pasta and called it a day. That was fine with me. I should have been absolutely starving from the day’s events, not to mention the constant battering from the weather but by the time the dish was in front of me, I could barely bring myself to eat it.
He also made some coffee to keep ourselves us warm; of course, we mixed the coffee with Jack Daniels and creamer. Sounds disgusting but it took the edge off while sharpening my mind at the same time.
We sat in relative silence, one more uncomfortable than usual. Dex flipped through the books about the island, though I could see from his ADD eyes that he wasn’t really absorbing anything in. His mind was elsewhere.
So was mine. It was Mary I kept thinking about. And why not? Whether Dex saw me talking to myself or not, the fact was Mary had been there. I had felt her. I could hear her voice in my head. The details of her skin. The cracks in her one lens.
If Mary and John had a child together, why did John tie her up in the woods? Sure, I could understand the scandal. But so would Mary. Why would John do something like that to the mother of his child? Then again, Mary had called him her “friend.” Not her boyfriend or husband or partner. There was so much more to this that I needed to know.
Especially if John and this San person were here on the island. If John could switch markers around, couldn’t he harm me or Dex? If he was as solid as Mary and really meant to keep us here, what could we do to stop him? He could be watching us right now, hidden in the shadows of the trees, away from the light of our lantern.
A shiver violently rocked my body at the thought.
“What’s wrong?” Dex asked quietly. He had put the book down and was looking at me intently.
“Can’t seem to get warm,” I mumbled, pulling my jacket in tighter around me. I had changed two times already and it just seemed to be a revolving closet of dampness.
“No. What’s really wrong?” he asked, his tone serious. “You look scared to death.”
Did I? I shrugged, trying to play it off. “That’s nothing new.”
“What aren’t you telling me?”
“What aren’t you telling me?” I turned it around.
He leaned forward across the table and clasped his hands, fire burned somewhere behind his pupils. “What do you want to know?”
I pursed my lips and thought about it. What did I want to know? How did I explain a feeling?
“I want to know what you’re thinking about me. I feel like you’re making all these assumptions about me in your head. It’s like you’re afraid to talk me about them.”
“I feel the same way.”
I gave him a look. “Come on.”
He leaned back and took a straight shot of Jack Daniels out of the bottle. “Maybe we should play truth or dare again.”
“Maybe you just give me the truth. You saw me talking to myself on the beach and now you think I’m nuts, is that it?”
“That’s part of it. Also the fact that you rushed into the ocean this morning to save a little girl who wasn’t there.”
“Fine then. I’m nuts. That should be the least of your concerns.”
He squinted at me, thinking. “I care about you. I care about you an awful lot.”
His voice was gentle and sincere. His words made my heart thump, made a rush of pins and needles appear at my finger tips.
He reached out and grabbed my hand. I watched him, wide eyed.
“And because I care about you, I care about you. I don’t… like I said earlier, I’m worried about what this island is doing to you.”
“It’s not about me. It’s about you too. There are people here, sabotaging us, right?”
“Flipping markers, slashing the Zodiac?”
“You don’t believe that. You know something that I don’t and it’s driving me crazy.” He squeezed my hand hard, till I felt the blood run out.
“Ow,” I squeaked and tried to take my hand away from his. He held on and leaned even further forward, his head blocking the light of the lantern.
“What are you hiding from me?” he whispered, his dark eyes roaming all over my face in crazed search for answers. “Who were you talking to? What did you see?”
I wanted to tell him. I wanted to let him know about Mary and what she said but I was too afraid. I couldn’t let him in. I felt like it was my secret and one he wouldn’t understand even if he let himself believe it. I don’t know why I was seeing these things and he wasn’t, but without him seeing Mary and Madeleine himself, I just couldn’t trust what he was going to do with the information.
“Please, just tell me what you’re thinking, Perry. What is going on in that head of yours?” He reached over and tenderly caressed my head with his other hand. It felt nice. But it wasn’t nice enough. Funny how things had changed. It was only a month or two ago that I had met Dex for the first time and had asked him the exact same things about himself.
My eyes felt dead. I gave him the corresponding look.
“I’m cold. I think I’m turning in.” I yanked my hand out from his and started to get up.
He actually looked hurt. Hurt and frightened. It only last lasted a second but it was enough for me to see. A twinge of guilt flashed on my conscience but I brushed it aside. He was a big boy. Time for him to wonder about some things for a change.
“Perry,” he called after me as I rounded the table. “We are leaving first thing in the morning.”
Good luck with that, I thought, and got in the tent.
I didn’t bother brushing my teeth or taking off my makeup. I just wanted to go straight into the bed and put the day behind me. I quickly changed into my pajamas, which were, thankfully, still quite dry, and attempted to get in my sleeping bag.
It was wet. Soaked through with dampness.
“Ugh,” I cried out. I had spread it out hoping it would have dried but I guess being put in the sleeping bag earlier when I was soaking wet was too much for it.
Dex poked his head in the tent, bringing the lantern inside with him.
“The sleeping bag is soaked.” I felt deflated. Now what? Was I going to sleep on the picnic table?
“Get in my sleeping bag,” he said, coming in and zipping the tent shut behind him.
“Where are you going to sleep then?”
“In my sleeping bag?” he asked, putting the lantern down and taking off his jacket. “It’s big enough for two.”
Amazingly, the idea of sharing a sleeping bag with Dex sounded like a terrible idea. There was a weird distance between us that I wanted to keep. I didn’t want to be up close and personal with him. I didn’t want to cave in.
He started to take off his pants. I wasn’t sure what to do. I looked away.
“Oh geez, kiddo. When did you become such a prude?” he joked. I looked back at him. He was already in his pajama pants and slipping a shirt over his head. “We’ll be warmer this way anyway. I think it’s going to get really cold tonight and you’ve had a rough day.”