“You know, Perry, sometimes I get this uncanny impression that you are flirting with me.”
It was true. I let myself feel awkward for exactly 2.5 seconds before I said, “You think the waitresses at Denny’s flirt with you, Dex.”
That was also true. And I didn’t blame them.
“Because they do,” he finally said. “Who can resist this handsome mug?” He stroked his broad jaw and I tried my hardest not to nod along.
“Complete with rapist facial hair,” I added.
“Touche,” he said. “Tomorrow can we make fun of you? I mean, if it won’t make you cry and hole up in the bathroom for hours?”
“Ha,” was my reply. I turned my attention to the landscape. Despite it being November it almost looked as fresh as a summer’s day. Some of the trees still had leaves on them. Probably helped that, like all of the Pacific Northwest, it did nothing but rain up here. Yet on this gorgeous, clear day, rain was the furthest thing from my mind.
Dex flipped White Zombie’s “Astro Creep 3000” on the mp3 player and by the time the album was over we were crossing a bridge and heading into Vancouver, the city rising around us like a kingdom of tall glass buildings, clear water and snowcapped peaks.
We ended up staying at a Best Western right on the entertainment strip of Granville St. For once it wasn’t a motel but Dex justified the cost since we were only staying one night and we had a whole weekend of backwoods camping to do. It wasn’t even that nice of a hotel but I was pretty excited nonetheless.
We quickly got settled in our rooms and headed out the door. Dex had been on the phone with the ranger and wanted us to meet him at a coffee shop on the corner of Stanley Park. Dex had been to the city a lot more than I so we opted to get there by taking the scenic route, the seawall that took us along False Creek before it opened up into English Bay.
It was a gorgeous day in the city. People were jogging past us in next to nothing, ignoring the temperature, which wasn’t cold but it wasn’t exactly balmy either. Families pushing strollers made up the other half of the population on the seawall.
At one point it seemed like Dex was going to overthrow a stroller in order to get past their ignorant monopoly of the path.
“No patience for the wee ones?” I asked as we scuttled past the offenders before they came after us with the baby launchers.
“No patience for their parents,” he scowled, and kept walking at a fast pace. My fat little legs strained to keep up with him and the sun was overheating my yellow peacoat. When we got a safe distance in front of the stroller mob, he stuck his hands in his black jacket pockets and shot me a curious look.
“Like you’d have any patience for the ‘wee ones’ either,” he said.
I couldn’t disagree with him; the idea of babies and children always made me feel uncomfortable. It wasn’t that I didn’t want them for myself…I knew I would, some day. But that I was uneasy with them. They weren’t like animals and they weren’t like little short fat people. They were like another species altogether and one that I didn’t understand at all. And they didn’t seem to understand me either.
“I don’t have patience for a lot of things,” I said. “You and Jenn are not planning on having kids anytime soon, I take it.”
I said it as a joke, not as an actual personal question. I mean, we weren’t that close. But Dex didn’t seem to take it that way. If I hadn’t been watching his “handsome mug” as closely as I was I probably would have missed the whole thing. But I had been watching him as I always did and I saw the flicker of horror snake across his brow and burrow beneath his eyes. In a moment it was gone, but it had been there. It was a mixture of fear, disgust and shame and it matched the terror I had seen on his face many times before. Only those times he was actually in a life or death situation.
I wasn’t surprised when he changed the subject. “I think I could live here,” Dex noted.
He was staring out at the sparkling bay as we hurried along on the wall. I had to agree. The way the weak sun hit the water was hypnotic and spread out in front of us like a wavering welcome mat. The far off islands were dark lumps of green and on some of them was a light sugar dusting of snow. The sky was cloudless and cheery, bouncing off the mixture of high rises that bloomed to our right.
“Sure. If you don’t mind being Canadian,” I said.
“With our economy these days? No, I wouldn’t mind.”
“You’d probably have to marry a Canadian first.”
“Mmmm,” he grunted as we narrowly squeaked past another stroller army. “Too bad you’re American.”
I let out a shy laugh. Why did he have to say things like that?
We shuffled along in silence, his attention turned to the beauty around us. My attention was locked inside of me, where my confused emotions turned and churned like the waves that lapped to the side of us. I hated feeling like this. I hated how easily my feelings got involved in every single thing he did or said. I always thought maybe it intensified when we were apart, you know, like a celebrity you’d pine after from afar. But it only grew when we were together. Sometimes it felt like looking at his face and just accepting the way things were between us was the hardest thing in the world.
“You OK?” he asked as we rounded a corner where a large Inukshuk stood stoically over an expanse of beach. I must have been inside my head for the last five minutes.
I shot him a quick smile. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just taking it all in.” I gestured at the gorgeous landscape for emphasis.
I could tell he wasn’t satisfied with that answer but for once he just let it go. Maybe we both were hiding things.
It wasn’t long before we came to a Starbucks on the corner of two busy streets.
“What does Bill look like?” I whispered to him as we walked inside. The shop was pretty much packed to the doors. The scent of coffee and sugar assaulted my nose.
“No idea,” Dex said, and walked forward. Maybe he could sniff him out.
He walked straight over to where a middle–aged bearded dude was sitting, engrossed in a newspaper and sipping a tall coffee. We stopped in front of him.
“Are you Bill Ferguson?” Dex asked.
The man looked up, surprised. Maybe he did sniff him out after all.
“Yes. Are you Dex? Sorry I wasn’t expecting you for another ten minutes,” he said as he glanced at his heavy–duty watch.
“I walk fast.” Dex smiled, all cheese and elbow grease.
I waited anxiously for my introduction but there was none to be had.
“Oh, OK,” Bill said quickly, folding up his newspaper and getting out of his chair. “It’s pretty crowded in here, did you want to take this out to the beach? It’s a lovely day and I could bust some litterers while I’m at it.”
“Just out there?” Dex nodded at the seawall we had just walked along. Bill nodded.
Dex turned to me. “Do you mind getting me a venti dark roast. Black? We’ll be right out there somewhere.”
Before I had a chance to object, Dex and Bill turned and headed out of the Starbucks.
What the hell was that? First there was no formal introduction and now Dex was ordering me to get his coffee. What was I, his gopher? He didn’t even give me money.
I stood there for a beat, watching them wait outside at the intersection. It was almost like Dex needed to explain who I was in private, or had to discuss something else in private. I hated being clueless about something I had a part in, especially this time since I was making it my mission to appear more professional. No way was I giving those anonymous internet idiots another excuse to poke fun at me.
I sighed and ordered Dex’s gigantic coffee as well as a skim latte for myself and went out to the beach.
It took me a minute to spot them – there were an awful lot of people walking about, considering it was mid–day during a workweek. But maybe they were all unemployed like I was.
I eventually found them sitting on a long and sturdy piece of dried up driftwood. Even with Dex’s back to me, I recognized him anywhere.
I slogged across the beach, kicking up the sand, until I was standing right in front of them, catching them in the middle of some conversation.
Dex held his hand out for the coffee but I kept it at my side.
“Aren’t you going to introduce us?” I asked, smiling at Bill.
“Bill, this is Perry, Perry this is Bill.”
I handed the coffee to Dex and then stuck my hand out for Bill. We shook. His handshake was disappointingly weak.
“Dex was just filling me in about your project,” Bill said. I thought I detected a hint of animosity in his voice or maybe I was just extremely paranoid. Probably the latter, though it did depend on what he and Dex had been talking about.
“Oh yeah, what do you think?” I asked, not letting on that I actually knew less than he did. I sat down beside Bill so he was sandwiched in the middle.
He turned to me, the sun glaring off of his balding peak and exhaled slowly.
“Frankly, I think it’s a waste of your time,” he said gruffly. “We’ve had film crews over on that island, archeologists. The heyday is over. There’s a plaque now to commemorate the ones who died there so we’ve done what we can. I’d prefer if everyone just moved on so it could just be a park, just be a campsite that families go to for a nice holiday.”
I could feel Dex staring at me intently but I didn’t want to meet his eyes.
“So you’d rather we didn’t tramp all over your island cuz it may scare off future campers, is that it?” I asked, which was somewhat ballsy.
“You’re pretty direct.” Bill chuckled unpleasantly.
“Only when I need to be.” It was then when I shot Dex a look to tell him to shut up.
“Look,” said Bill. “The park board has no problems with curiosity. But, personally, I’m uneasy about the island being exploited for a TV show–”
“Internet show,” Dex interjected.
“That’s even worse,” Bill continued. “Internet show. You two aren’t from here, you don’t understand the history of the place. You just want to make things up in order to sensationalize it for a few viewers. You may end up doing more damage to the park than the government did back when it was a leper colony.”
“That seems a bit unfair,” I said. “We work history into our show, we don’t ignore it. We plan to show it as it is. I mean, hell, I think a haunted island would draw more visitors to it, don’t you think?”
“No,” said Bill. “And D’Arcy Island doesn’t need more visitors. It’s fine the way it is. People go there to escape the crowds on other islands and nine times out of ten, nothing spooky or mysterious goes down. I’d like to keep it that way.”
“When was the last time you were on the island?” I asked.
“Five years ago,” he answered.
“So why all the concern if you have nothing to do with the place? You’re what, working in the city parks now?”
“I have my reasons,” he said grumpily, pulling his coat in closer around him as if he was suddenly cold.