“So I have stuffed animals, so what?” I asked defensively. I thought my Alice in Chains and Melvins posters made up for that fact.
He smiled, shrugged. I put Tim back down in the pile with the rest of his friends.
“So?” I asked, turning around to face him, feeling all nervy again.
He was looking over my walls. “So what?” he repeated blankly.
I reached over and smacked him lightly on his shoulder so his focus was on me.
“Dex. What are you doing here?”
He frowned. “You’re not happy to see me?”
My head craned back on my neck, caught off guard. “Well, yeah, but…I mean...”
“It’s OK, I won’t hold it against you. Unless you want me to.”
I raised my brow.
He grinned, a very quick flash, before he wiped it off with the back of his hand. Then he was all serious, his lips in a tight line.
“I couldn’t let you back out of the show,” he admitted. “I knew if you talked to your parents you’d just fuck it all up even more.”
I winced. That wasn’t very nice. But Dex was nothing if not brutally honest at times.
“It’s just a two–hour drive,” he continued, oblivious. “I’ve done more for a lot less.”
“You should have told me,” I said.
“Yeah? And have you freaking out for the next two hours? Come on, kiddo, I think I know you by now. This way was easier. And it worked. You can thank me, by the way.”
“What do you mean, it worked?”
He walked over to my bed, humming some song to himself. He lied down on it, putting his hands behind his head and kicked the mattress with the back of his heel. “Not bad, not bad. Could be a bit bigger, though. How do you fit your boyfriends on here?”
As annoying as he was being, it was a nice change to see him being a little more playful than the last time I saw him. Still, I didn’t want him to get the wrong idea and I wanted to be a little bit serious about the situation. I went over to my chair, pulled it over to him and sat down.
“Dex. What did you talk about with my parents? What was the business?”
“Oh,” he said as if he was surprised. “I just told your father that you’d be in some legal trouble if you broke your contract.”
My jaw opened a little bit.
“Uh, you have some balls, you know that?”
“Oh, I know.” He grinned to himself.
“I’m serious. That’s like…that’s like threatening my father. My father does not take threats well. Believe me.”
Dex looked at me, turning his head to the side. “You give your parents too much credit. Your dad is just a dude. He may be your big, scary father but to me he’s just a man who likes his wine, indulges in hypocrisy on a daily basis, and does what he can to be the main provider of the house. He responded just like I thought he would, like any man would. To reason. To logic. If you backed out of the contract, ShowNet would take action. You can’t break it without just cause and the fact that you haven’t figured out how to have a proper relationship with your parents is not just cause. Sometimes you need someone on the outside to point out common sense.”
I mulled that over with a mix of emotions. I didn’t like how Dex assumed he knew my parents better than I did, and I didn’t appreciate his condescending opinion on our relationship. He knew nothing about me and my parents – he hadn’t been here, growing up in this house, dealing with all the shit we had to deal with. But on the other hand…it worked.
I didn’t feel like giving him credit though.
“And then…” I coaxed him.
“What? He agreed. He gave me some big long spiel about how disappointed he was in you and how he raised you better than that, which I tried not to laugh at, and how this show was not a proper career and blah, blah, blah–”
“Yeah, I’ve heard enough of that today, thank you.”
“But then he came around and said it was only professional to do the right thing. Which is to keep doing the show. But you’re going to have to start paying rent here. Sorry about that.”
“What!?” I yelled, the loudness of my own voice surprising me. It didn’t surprise Dex, though. He only looked mildly apologetic.
“You’re 22. You probably should start paying rent. I have to pay my mortgage. It’s called being an adult. Responsibility.”
My fists began to clench again. I’d have a heart attack by the time this dreadful day was over.
“Thanks for the lecture, Dex. I turn 23 next week.”
He chuckled. “That’s not helping your case.”
I sighed angrily and walked over to my dresser. I spotted a vial of this herbal remedy you sprayed in your mouth every time you were upset or about to have a panic attack. It was probably all a placebo effect but that didn’t matter if it worked, did it? It was almost empty.
I sprayed it into my mouth as Dex got off of the bed and sauntered over to me, curiosity flickering in his eyes.
“Breath freshener?” he asked, taking it from my hands and reading the label over. He looked disbelieving and gave it back to me. “You’ve had quite the day, haven’t you?”
“How can you tell?” I muttered sarcastically.
“It’s written all over your face,” he said pointing at my eyes. “Those bags belong in cargo hold.”
I gave him my most withering look. “Did you come here to make things better or make things worse?”
I aimed the spray into my mouth but the nozzle was turned the other way.
I ended up squirting Dex right in the face.
He winced hard, grunted and turned away. I swear it was an accident but it was a perfect one. I burst into giggles.
He wiped his watering eyes and stepped backward.
“I guess I deserved that,” he said, blinking rapidly at me. “What’s in this, pure alcohol? No wonder it calms you down.”
He came forward again and rested his hand on my shoulder. I felt that warm current flowing between us.
“Look, kiddo, I saved your ass,” he grimaced, wiping away a tear.
“It’s a pretty big ass.”
The smile came easily to his lips, his eyes red but dancing. “We both know how I feel about your ass.”
Ah, yes. He had grabbed it while we were slow dancing at the bar in Red Fox. It was the first time anyone had complimented my bubble butt. Well, anyone of importance, that is. And just like that I was starting to get inappropriate thoughts, images and feelings in my head, swimming around in a heady circle.
And the reality, that he was in my bedroom, standing close to me, his hand on my shoulder, wasn’t helping matters either. I became aware that I hadn’t said anything and the silence was getting awkward.
I cleared my throat. “I’m thankful you saved my ass. I really am.”
He squeezed my shoulder. I stared up at his face, his strong jaw and expressively wide mouth flanked by his barely there ‘stache, his low, dark brow that sheltered those all–knowing eyes that shined like polished coffee, the way his black hair flopped lazily across his handsome forehead. Wow. Thoughts like that weren’t helping the awkwardness either.
He’s your partner you idiot, I told myself. I broke my study of him and focused on the rescue spray in my hands. “So we’re still on for this weekend?”
With his hand still on my shoulder he said, “How about right now?”
“How fast can you pack?”
“Sorry, you didn’t answer my ‘what?’” I wasn’t supposed to be ready until Friday.
Finally he took his hand off of me. My shoulder felt cold and exposed without his comforting palm. He walked over to my closet and flung it open.
“It’s just as nineties as I thought,” he said to himself, inspecting the haphazard contents. “Should I just start grabbing stuff? You kind of wear the same thing every day. Let’s see, we need leggings, a band t–shirt and skirt. Maybe jeans.”
I marched over to him and shut my closet door, facing him with my arms held against it like I was guarding some secret passage. “Seriously, where could we possibly be going tonight? Also, I wear my band shirts to sleep.”
“I’ve seen you wear them at other times. Weren’t you wearing a Kings of Leon shirt last week?”
“Dex!” I said through gritted teeth. I hated KOL with a passion. And also, he was pissing me off with his avoidance.
He yawned. Don’t tell me he was bored?
“Here’s the plan. I drove all the way down here to, uh, fix things. Now it makes perfect sense that you come up with me tonight to Vancouver. BC. Canada. Not the fake Vancouver across the river.”
“Are you kidding me?” I said. “It’s like nine o’clock at night!”
“OK, maybe we won’t make it as far as Vancouver, but anyway, we’ll get as far as we can. We have a hockey game to attend!”
“What?” I rubbed my temples again. None of this was making any sense.
“You said last time that it would be ‘great’ if we actually hung out in a normal setting and got to know each other as people instead of running around with ghosts and scaring our panties off each other.”
It’s true. I did say that. Not the panties part but I did mention, offhand by the way, that it would be nice if we could just hang out like normal people did. Like friends. But I didn’t see where this was going.
He read the confusion on my face. It wasn’t hard. “There’s a Canucks hockey game against the Rangers tomorrow night. I got us tickets. We have to go to Vancouver anyway, to talk to someone about the filming. So you know, I was just trying to be a good guy and please you.”
“Phhff,” I sniffed. “Please me? What if I said I hated hockey?”
“I’d never speak to you again,” he said, narrowing his eyes. It was hard to see how serious he was. He hadn’t really mentioned hockey before, at least not when I was listening, but he also took the weirdest things very seriously. “Is it true?”
“No.” I didn’t have anything against the sport, I just didn’t know anything about hockey. Understandable, since we had no NHL teams in Oregon, just the minor league Portland Winterhawks.
“Good,” he said, still watching me carefully. “Then we can still be friends.”
“So, we leave tonight…go to the island on Friday?”
“Correct–a–mundo. Then we come back on Sunday, just in time for your birthday on Monday.”
“You know when my birthday is?” I was sorta touched by that. It was sad that I was so easily impressed.
He tapped his head. “I’m more observant than you think. Now, without any more jerking off from you, I suggest you get packing as fast as you can. I’ll help. Where are your bras and underwear?”
I rolled my eyes, pulled out my overnight bag and started cramming crap in there.
* * *
I don’t think I’ve ever packed so fast in my life – I obviously needed to get out of that house more than I knew.
With Dex at my side it also kept any exchanges with my parents at a polite distance. My dad even helped us rummage through the garage to find me a sleeping bag. Staying on the island did not involve staying in any fancy cabins. We would be camping the entire time. Yeah, in November. In Canada. Fun times.