I heard a sharp giggle and flipped over to see her sitting on her window seat, on the phone with someone. She was listening intently and smiling broadly, her cheeks pink. I immediately knew it was a boy.
My phone was lying beside me in bed and everything came flooding back to me. The fight with my parents, what Dex had said. As disappointed as I was to realize that it wasn’t a dream, I was too exhausted, emotionally and physically, to care as much as I did earlier. My heart and head were heavy and even when I tried to think about everything that had changed, I was numb.
There was also a tiny bit of relief washing over me. That was the one bright side to all of this: I didn’t have to lie anymore. That weight was no longer on my shoulders.
I eased myself up on my elbows and rubbed my temples. Naps always made me feel more tired than before I went to sleep, and this was definitely no exception.
“Yeah, it’s OK,” Ada said into the phone, her voice a few octaves higher than normal. “I should stay home. I don’t think my parents would let me out anyway. They’re stupid.”
She burst into a flurry of girlish giggles before saying, “OK hottie, see you tomorrow. Bye.”
She hung up her cell, staring at it for a few moments with a goofy grin on her face before placing it down beside her.
“Hottie? Who was that?” I asked groggily, not meaning to intrude but insanely curious just the same. I knew Ada liked guys, but I didn’t recall her ever calling any of them “hottie” before.
I fully expected her to tell me to mind my own business but instead she rushed over to me and held out her pinky finger.
“Pinky swear you won’t tell Mom and Dad?”
I took her pinky in my own and promised. For once Ada looked and sounded like someone I could relate to.
“Okaaay,” she grinned and went over to her designer bag and started rifling through it. She pulled out a high school yearbook photo, you know the terrible ones you got to hand out to your friends and sign the back of. Not that many people ever wanted mine with my double chin and blue hair and all.
I took it and looked it over. The cute, albeit older, face of a buzz–cut boy stared back at me. He looked like a jock with nary a spark of intelligence behind his dull eyes.
“That’s Layton. He’s my boyfriend.” She pronounced ‘boyfriend’ like it was joke. I could see from her eyes she wasn’t joking though. She was head over heels and trying to play it cool.
“How long have you guys been dating?” I asked, feeling just a tad protective. I remembered last month I had found a box of condoms in her drawer (I wasn’t snooping if that’s what you think) and prayed she wasn’t using it with this guy. He looked too old for her.
“Oh, since the beginning of the school year,” she said in a tone that was both casual and proud.
“And he’s a good kid?”
“Yes,” she sighed, and snatched the photo out of my hands. “Are you Mom now?”
“I’m just wondering.”
“You don’t trust my judgment.”
“I…” I put my hands up in the air and ended up shrugging. “He looks cute. I’m glad he makes you happy.”
“He does,” she squealed. “He’s more than cute, he’s fucking hot. And he’s on like every sports team there is.”
I never pegged Ada to be the type to think dating a jock was cool, but if it was popular, then that explained a lot. Ada operated a successful fashion blog and who knows how many people she won over on a daily basis from just showing off her enviable body and insane wardrobe.
I wonder if she gets any hateful blog comments, I thought. I made a mental note to ask her later.
The image of the condom box flashed in my head again. I had to say, “I hope you’re not sleeping with him.”
“Perry!” she admonished. “That’s none of your business.”
“Maybe not…and I don’t want it to be. I just want you to be careful. Things can turn ugly really fast and if you’re not careful…” Fuzzy, angry memories drifted into my head. I waved them away.
“I am careful!”
“So you are having sex!” I exclaimed.
She leaped off the bed and crossed her arms. “For your information, no I’m not. And like you’re a saint…you’re sleeping with Dex.”
Now it was my time to leap off the bed. “I am not!”
The accusation was ludicrous (though immensely appealing).
She raised her penciled brow at me. “Right,” she said slowly. “You just spend all this time with this ‘hot’ older guy, you know, being chased by ghosts or whatever and jetting all over the place. Sure you’re not fucking him.”
My jaw dropped. It all sounded so vulgar coming from her mouth. Suddenly I felt ashamed that I had those feelings to begin with. And why did she use air quotes around “hot”?
“First of all, Missy,” I said, sticking up my fingers and ticking them off, “I’m 23–”
“Whatever. I’m 22. Which means I’m old enough to be able to handle having sex with someone. Second of all, Dex has a girlfriend. Third of all, Dex is my partner. Yes, we spend a lot of time together, but it’s on a purely professional level.”
More images flitted into my head while I was saying that. The way he sometimes looked at me, like he was searching deep inside my skull to discover how I was really feeling. The times I found myself being comforted in his arms. The way I had fallen asleep with my head on his bare chest, hearing his heartbeat lull me to sleep. The way his lips felt on my mouth, the jolt of electricity that made dying almost seem like a fair tradeoff.
“Yeah, well you obviously want to sleep with him and it’s only a matter of time,” she said, stuffing the photo back into her purse like it was a secret document.
My ears pricked up at that comment but I brushed it away. “I doubt it, Ada. It won’t happen.”
“I hope you’re right,” she said as she walked over to the side table and picked up the cold mug of tea. “Do you want me to make you more tea since this went to waste?”
“Sure and what do you mean, you hope I’m right?”
“I’m sure you can figure it out,” she said overconfidently and walked out of the room.
Figure it out? Figure what out?
I hopped off of her bed and followed her into the hallway like a curious cat. She had stopped halfway down the staircase and was just standing there, staring into the living room just as she had done earlier when I was fighting with my parents. A horrible feeling swept across me. What was she looking at? Were my parents both dead in the living room?
I didn’t even let my mind dwell on that morbid thought. I walked down the stairs to join her and heard my dad’s voice boom, “Just know I don’t like this one bit,” letting me know that they weren’t dead after all.
I stopped beside my sister and followed her gaze.
My dad and mom were sitting in their armchairs. It was like they hadn’t moved at all. The glass fragments and paintings were still on the floor.
They weren’t alone. On the couch across from them was a man.
It took a few seconds to realize that I knew who the man was. I knew his slouchy position as he leaned forward on his cargo pants, his grey hoodie, his floppy, messy dark hair.
My nerves were on fire, gluing me to the spot. I wanted to look at Ada to see if she could see what I was seeing but I couldn’t look away.
I closed my eyes tightly, thinking it was some fucked–up illusion. It wouldn’t have been the first time.
When I opened them, the room had gone quiet and my parents were looking up at me. Dex slowly turned his head in my direction and our eyes met. Those eyes of his were unmistakable. Dex was in my living room, talking with my parents.
What. The. Fuck?
I was speechless. And thoughtless. I could only stand there, staring. I’m pretty sure my mouth was agape too.
“Perry, seems you have a visitor,” my mother said.
I barely heard her. My eyes were still locked with Dex’s. They were masked and offered no clues to what was going on. But the tiniest twitch of his upper lip said enough.
Out of the corner of my eye I became aware that Ada was watching me closely. Everyone was waiting for me to say something.
So I said the first thing that came to my mind. “Dex…what are you doing here?”
He pursed his lips and let it slide. He casually looked at my dad, who had stood up.
“Dex came all the way over here from Seattle to talk business. Your business,” Dad said in that command respect sort of way. It was the professor in him coming out.
I finally looked at Ada. Her eyes were wide but she seemed to be enjoying the whole situation.
Dex was looking at us. He got up, easing himself off the couch, and sauntered over to the staircase, eyeing Ada with a bemused smirk.”This must be Little Fifteen.”
“The name’s Ada,” she said in her angsty teen voice, the amusement disappearing from her face. “You must be Perry’s crazy partner. You’re a lot shorter than I thought you’d be.”
I closed my eyes in embarrassment while Dex said, “Ah. I can already tell you guys are related. The Snarky Sisters.”
I opened my eyes at that just in time to see Ada muster the evilest stink eye as she flounced down the stairs and went into the kitchen. I looked back down at Dex.
“Sorry to just show up unannounced. Can we talk?” he asked in that rich voice of his. I glanced over his head at my parents. They seemed to expect it. I don’t know what they had been talking about but it was obvious Dex needed to bring me up to speed in private.
I nodded and looked up the stairs. My bedroom seemed like the most obvious place. I could almost feel Ada snickering in the kitchen at how absurd (and fitting) the situation had gotten in the last few minutes, from talking about how I hadn’t slept with Dex, to leading him to my bedroom. It was insanity.
I walked up them with Dex coming up behind me. I felt shaky, nervous and pale. I wasn’t prepared for this. I could almost feel the energy he radiated glowing at my back. Then vanity kicked in. Was my bedroom clean? Did I have underwear flung all over the place? I must have looked like absolute shit from crying my eyes out.
I opened my door. The desk lamp was already on but that light was a bit too romantic so I flipped on the overhead lights and ushered Dex inside. He stopped in the middle of the room and looked around, taking it all in. I closed the door behind us and did a quick scan to make sure nothing was out of the ordinary.
It was messy as usual but my underwear and embarrassing items were tucked away for once. Well, I guess the row of stuffed animals I had could have counted as embarrassing. Least they were when he laughed and lazed over to them, picking up my tattered monkey Tim.
He waved it in my direction. “How old is this poor guy? His fucking eye is hanging out.” He flicked it with his finger and it waved back and forth like a pendulum.
I gasped and ran over, plucking Tim out of his destructive hands. “That’s Tim and I’ve had him since I was two years old.” I held Tim to my chest in protective instinct. Dex stared at me with utter amusement.