I could tell my parents were having a hard time coming to terms with the situation. They were still mad at my lies, disappointed in my choices but at the same time they understood where Dex was coming from. As much as they hated the idea that I had involved another person in my problem, they had no choice but to accept it. And having Dex there, an accomplished (sorta) and mature (again, sorta) man there probably helped.
And Ada…well, I knew how Ada felt about the whole thing. Just as we were coming out of the garage, she yanked me aside.
“You’re totally going to sleep with him now,” she hissed roughly in my ear.
I ignored her. There was no way I was going to get caught in that argument again, not with the subject slinking around in front of me.
Luckily we made it out of the house in record time and were soon cruising through the darkness on the I–5, heading north. Dex’s black Highlander was packed with everything from filmmaking equipment to a tent and camping gear.
Dex is one of those people who prefers to blast the music loudly and keep chit–chat down to a minimum. This trip was no exception. I found a strange comfort in our shared silence now, just hearing the music and the sound of his toothpick as it flitted against his teeth. When we first met I was so nervous being alone with him, I just needed to blab about anything to fill the air. I felt just a teeny bit proud that I knew Dex enough now that if we needed to talk, he’d be the one bringing it up.
Which is what happened an hour into our journey. I was in the midst of checking my emails on my phone when I felt him give me a curious look. It sounds stupid but you can always tell when Dex is looking at you. At least I could, even from miles away. Something about those eyes…
“So I’ve seen you’ve got your fair share of haters on the blog already,” he said. “Good job.”
I sighed loudly. I had wanted to talk about this for so long.
“You’re telling me,” I said, giving him a pained and drawn–out look.
He seemed to think on that for a moment; a hint of gentleness graced his expression.
“Well, that’s the nature of the internet,” he mused matter–of–factly. “If you didn’t have haters, then I’d worry.”
“Yeah but they are really mean,” I pointed out.
“The internet is full of meanies. Their opinion doesn’t matter.”
Yes, it does, I thought.
He picked up on that. “Okay, it shouldn’t matter.”
“Maybe we should close down the comment section… it reflects badly on the show, doesn’t it?”
He chuckled to himself and shook his head. “No can do, kiddo. Don’t underestimate the power of creating a community on the web. By having a place for people to voice their opinion, no matter how fucked it is, attracts more people to the site. The more people to the site, the more people to watch the show, the more people to watch the show, the more ads we get, the more ads we get, the more pay I get, and eventually you. It’s a numbers game. You just have to buck up and ignore the haters. Everyone gets them, from the smallest blogs to the biggest websites.”
“Besides,” he said, slapping me on the leg. “I think it’ll be good for you. Toughen you up a bit.”
“I’m already tough enough,” I muttered.
“If you were that tough, this wouldn’t be bothering you. It should be water right off your back.”
My eyes automatically narrowed into two little slits. He took his eyes off the road and smiled when he saw them. Not the response I was going for.
“Is that look supposed to scare me?” he asked, his lips twitching in amusement.
I wanted to explode on him, just start shooting the salvos and bring up a lot of crap about my past, so he had an actual idea what it was like to be me. But I couldn’t. Because what he said actually had a point to it. I always considered myself tough…going through drugs and other problems while in high school, growing up with a family shrink (all my doing), the stunt woman classes I had taken for a defunct career. I had been through a lot – mentally and physically. So how was it that a few comments from people I didn’t know were weighing on my mind so much?
I kept my mouth shut and looked out the window at the black rushes of roadside that flew past.
“Honestly,” he spoke in a more serious tone. “It’s not worth your time, Perry. You’re better than that. And the more successful this gets, the more successful you get…it’s only going to get worse. But you’ll be OK.”
At that last bit he reached over for me again, but instead of slapping my leg, he squeezed my knee. It was borderline ticklish. Any more pressure and I would have been squirming. He didn’t remove it right away, either, and I could feel his eyes coaxing mine to meet them.
Too many feelings were running through me and my body was responding; my tongue felt dry and thick, the skin on my upper neck danced nervously, the hairs coming alive. I looked at him. He seemed concerned or interested in my response but there was something else lurking behind those brown eyes. Something I couldn’t place my finger on. It was almost as if he was undecided. A restlessness.
“So where are we staying tonight? Your place?” I found myself saying.
At that his eyes flinched and he quickly withdrew his hand.
“No,” he said, pursing his lips. I obviously said the wrong thing. I wanted to push it.
“Does Jenn object?”
If he flinched it was barely detectable. He did crunch down hard on his toothpick before saying, “No, no. She…it’s just better if we get as close to Vancouver as possible. I think Bellingham is probably a safe bet, just find a Motel 6 there or something like that. If we went through the border now we’d cause too much of a fuss…especially with all the gear back there. I don’t want to tell them we’re there on work since we would need a visa and all that.”
I nodded, not really convinced by his spiel but it did make sense. I wouldn’t have blamed Jenn anyway if she didn’t want me in their apartment. Still, the apprehension that Dex subtly gave off was enough to make me store the memory in my mind for future use. There was something else, and maybe one day I’d figure it out.
“And where are you from?”
I leaned forward in the car and smiled up at the questioning border guard, who looked like he had taken on too many shifts in a row.
We were in the border lineup heading into British Columbia, a place I hadn’t been to for at least five years. It used to be a popular jaunt for cheap shopping back in my high school days, but with their rising dollar and the visitor paranoia after 9/11, I hadn’t been itching to come back. I was just glad I actually had a passport (thanks to various trips to Sweden to see my grandfather Karl over the years) since that whole regulation had changed too.
I understood why they were being thorough but it didn’t stop me from feeling extremely guilty. And yeah, Dex and I were actually fudging the truth a teeny bit.
“I’m from Portland, Oregon,” I said as confidently as possible. Even that felt like a lie.
He peered at us suspiciously, doing a once–over of the SUV with his eyes.
“How do you know each other?” he asked.
“We’re a couple,” Dex said smoothly, flashing him his joker grin. The guard did not find it as knee–shaking as I did.
“From different states?” the guy asked, trying to get a better look into the back.
“Yes,” Dex said. I could tell he wanted to elaborate more but he obviously knew in these instances the less you said the better. We had decided that if we were a couple, it would attract less suspicion.
“What is your business in Canada?”
“A hockey game tonight and then a few days of camping afterward.”
The guard locked eyes with Dex, trying to read him. Good luck with that, I thought while keeping the fake smile plastered on my own face.
Finally he said, “Go Canucks,” and waved us through.
I gave him a short wave and once the car was a safe distance away, we both breathed a sigh of relief.
“Damn, he didn’t even ask about what booze we had,” Dex said, slapping the steering wheel lightly. We had stopped at the Duty Free store and he picked up a bottle of Jack Daniels and a carton of cigarettes. “I could have bought a few more bottles.”
“What kind of weekend did you have in mind, Dex?” I asked teasingly.
The corner of his mouth lifted. “Oh, you’ll see.”
Last night we had finally found refuge in a motel a few miles south of Bellingham, Washington. We had gotten there pretty late, so we both retired to our (separate) rooms right away. It was nice to be back on the road and staying in strange motels I normally would have passed by. It made me feel like I was out there doing something.
Anyway, bet you thought this was going somewhere interesting. Nope. I slept in my room, he slept in his. We got up this morning fairly early and started on our way to the Great White North which, at this point in the year, was blindingly green in the faded morning light of autumn.
Our plan was to check–in to our motel in Vancouver in time to meet with some park ranger who Dex wanted to talk to. Then I guess there was this hockey game. The following day we would head out on a ferry to Vancouver Island, meet up with another friend of Dex’s and borrow his boat to take us to the island. It sounded all very convoluted but I wasn’t one to complain. I was just glad to be with Dex on another adventure, even though I was a bit in the dark about this one. Then again, all I had to do was ask.
“So,” I said while watching the farmlands and bloated creeks roll past, “what exactly is at this island we are going to? I thought you’d have a stack of books all ready for my homework.”
“I was hoping I would, but what little has been written about this island can only be found at the Vancouver Public Library and fuck if I have a library card. That’s why we’re meeting with Bill.”
“Ranger Bill,” I mused.
“Yes. Hopefully, he can bring us up to speed.”
“So, you’re saying that you, Declan Foray, isn’t even that all sure of what we are investigating?” I asked mockingly.
“The island was a leper colony for many years at the turn of the century. A lot of men died there, Chinese mostly. That’s enough for now.”
“What is your middle name, by the way?” I asked.
“So when I use your name when I’m angry I can throw it in there.”
He glanced at me and smirked. “Damned if you’ll get it out of me.”
“Can I see your passport?” I asked innocently.
He quickly snatched it from the cup holder he had stuck it in and slid it into the pocket of his grey cargo pants.
“It can’t be worse than Declan.”
“Oh really, do you really want to get pulled into a discussion over who has the most ridiculous name here because that is a fight you can’t win.”
“I’m pretty sure I can take you on,” I said smoothly.
He opened his mouth to say something, then sucked it back. Finally he eyed me playfully.