Into the Hollow
And yet my lungs were constricting.
I knew it was just Dex but that was the problem. I didn’t know which Dex I had or which Dex I wanted, if any of them. That’s where the nerves came from. My uncertainty. Everything had changed. And changed again. One second I wanted to run into his arms and thank him for saving my life. Then in the next second I remembered what had happened between us. I remembered the pain, the darkness, the hell I went through. I knew it wasn’t fair to blame him for demon possession but sometimes I found myself cursing him for it. If he hadn’t left me like he did, had sex with me and just used me like some old dishcloth, I wouldn’t have broken in half. I wouldn’t have seeped open and left that space for something else to come in.
And the miscarriage. What, for one very brief time, had been a baby. That killed me in ways I never thought it would. I never thought much about kids and lord knows twenty-three is too young for me to be having them but…it really ripped at something deep inside, something I never thought I had. It was a weird sense of loss and something I couldn’t even explain.
You’d think I’d be used to that, the unexplainable. But when it came to my feelings, when I couldn’t figure out what they even were, that’s when I was really scared. That’s when my nerves would clamp up my throat, squeeze my lungs and make me feel that standing underneath a bare tree was the safest, smartest option for me. I wasn’t in the house, I wasn’t in his car. I was just me. In-between.
Eventually though, I found my footing. Some perverse need to choose. I walked out from under the broken canopy and made my way onto the street. There was the car up ahead, parked on the side of the road, facing the other direction, like he had driven past the house first, then turned around at the end. Funny to think that had happened while Ada and I were attempting to be telepathic inside my bedroom.
I stepped quietly, afraid my feet would echo down the street and be carried off by the breeze and into the house. I knew my parents would flip the fuck out if they knew what I was doing. I kept going.
I wasn’t far from the car when the driver’s door flung open. My insides whirled feverishly, my breath halting. In that moment I realized he still had that power over me, to make my body react when my mind wanted to turn away, and I hated him for it.
Dex stepped out, almost in a hurry. I hadn’t realized I had stopped where I was and was just standing on the road, staring at him in a hiccup of time. I only had a few seconds to take him in, his black cargo jacket, his messy, wind-tossed hair and beautifully scruffy face, the flash of emotion in his dark eyes, buried under the furrow of his brow.
Then he was running toward me and for a moment I thought maybe something was wrong and that I should run too. Then I thought maybe something was right and I should run anyway.
He ran to me and engulfed me in his arms, holding me tight to him, raising me a few inches above the ground. I was caught so off-guard, I could only let him hold me. My breath was gone, squeezed out from the intensity of his hug. I didn’t think I could hug him back even if I wanted to.
He held me like that, my feet dangling, his strong arms keeping me as close to him as possible. His face buried in my neck and his familiar smell draped over me like a comforting blanket while his breath tickled my skin until my hairs stood on end. I decided to ignore my brain for a second and just enjoyed the sense of being completely embraced.
“Perry,” he mumbled, his lips grazing my throat while he spoke. “Perry...”
He never finished his sentence. Instead he eventually pulled his face away, my skin still feeling hot from his contact, and lowered me to the ground. He kept his hands on my arms, keeping me in place, as if he was afraid I’d run away. With his back to the streetlight, his face was encased in shadows but I could still see his eyes glinting. I couldn’t read them except that they looked slightly feverish.
I cleared my throat. “Hi.”
A quick smile flashed across his lips. “I’m sorry for just dropping by like this, I just had to see you. I was worried sick.”
I smiled wryly. “You were worried sick about me? You got carted off to jail.”
“You got carted off to the hospital,” he said gruffly. I noticed then he was holding my hands in his and squeezing them. I eyed them with uncertainty and he let go, taking a step back from me as he did so, as if he was only just noticing he was intruding in my personal space.
“I got out,” I said reassuringly. “And apparently so did you.”
He glanced briefly over my head at my house then said to me, “Look, can we go in the car and talk? I promise not to keep you long.”
I nodded and followed him back to the car, wondering what it was that he wanted, wondering how his shoulders got so much broader. I hopped in the passenger side and was met with a rush of warmth from the heater.
I don’t know why things felt awkward between us when the last time I had seen him, he was holding onto me, promising that they’d never take me. Of course, that didn’t work and I didn’t fault him for that. But being apart again, even for just a few days, reminded me of how much had changed between us. And sitting in the dark car, only the familiar glow of the console lighting us up, there was a discomfort in my seat. I wondered if he felt the same.
I tried not to study his face but now that I could see it clearly, it was hard not to. There was a line of worry on his forehead and his brown eyes were searching my face, alternating between washes of sorrow and apprehension. He never lost that unnerving way he looked at me – that would always be Dex. I just hoped he wouldn’t look too deep. I felt the walls around me going up slowly, brick by pasted brick.
Finally, I looked away and studied the dashboard as if it were suddenly fascinating.
“I’m surprised the car is still holding up,” I remarked, remembering how it had crashed into a tree only days before, bashing the front side and the headlight. It almost hurt to remember when I was wrapped in duct tape, with a terrible darkness inside me trying to get out.
“I’ll get it fixed when I go back home.”
“When are you going?” I asked, keeping my voice light, still avoiding his eyes.
I felt him pause, growing tense for a second, and I quickly added, “Not that I’m trying to get you to leave.”
His smile was tight. “Tomorrow, probably. I just…wanted to see how you were doing. You look better.”
“Do I?” I looked down. “I thought I looked slimmer in the duct tape.”
Again, that pained smile. “How are you feeling?”
I shrugged. “I’m tired. Sore, still.”
He nodded absently, his thoughts elsewhere. I wanted to tell him what Ada and I had discovered but for some reason I couldn’t find the words. It was ludicrous but Dex was always the one to believe me when no one else would.
I opened my mouth to give it a shot, but he beat me to it and said, “Listen…”
He looked down at his hands and cleared his throat. The atmosphere in the car changed dramatically from the strange awkwardness to full-on jangled nerves. I watched him closely. He did in fact look really nervous, biting his lip, blinking fast and at nothing.
“What?” I asked.
I could hear his breathing intensify.
“You need to get out of that house.”
I shouldn’t have been surprised to find out we were on the same page, but I was. I tried to hide it by eyeing him uncertainly.
“What do you mean?”
He lowered his eyes and voice. “You know what I mean. Perry, you can’t stay there anymore. After everything that’s happened…it’s not safe.”
“The demon is gone.”
“Your parents aren’t. And frankly, my dear, I wouldn’t be surprised if some other supernatural hitchhiker came and found a ride through you. You’re too weak-”
I glared at him. “I am not weak.”
He looked at me steadily. “You’re the strongest woman I have ever known. Ever. But it, they, found a way in. I can’t risk that happening again. And like hell I’m going to let you stay in a house where your parents are jonesing to put you away like some animal.”
“I wasn’t aware you had control over my life.”
He sighed and leaned in closer. “I know you’re still angry-”
“Huh!” I exclaimed, folding my arms. But he quickly went on.
“But putting that aside for a moment,” he continued, “you know you can’t stay there. I know you know it. I know your sister knows it. Your grandmother sure knows it. We all do.”
“Well what do you suggest I do then?” I asked carefully.
He bit his lip, a gesture I used to find adorable. Now, it didn’t do anything for me. Not much, anyway. He let his eyes roam out along the empty street. Either he was deep in thought or biding his time.
Finally, he asked, “Did you like Seattle?”
I sucked in my breath. He wasn’t asking me what I thought he was asking me…was he?
His eyes were guarded in the dark but I could read sincerity on his expressive forehead, like part of him was taking a chance that the other part didn’t dare take.
There he went, biting his lip again. He ran a hand through his thick hair, giving the ends a bit of a tug. I remembered tugging at that hair, vividly.
“I mean,” he ventured, looking at me with a hint of anxiety, “I think you should come live with me. In my apartment. In Seattle.”
Now, I know it was just what Ada and I had been discussing but I was not prepared to hear the offer come from his own mouth. Dex was asking me to move in with him? What the hell kind of sorcery was this?
He quickly continued, “I don’t mean like you have to be my permanent roommate or anything. Just until you get on your feet. It can be a place for you to stay in the interim. Or longer, you know, if you wanted to.”
I looked away from him, my eyes widening, heartrate speeding up. This was all kinds of right and wrong. Especially wrong. So much wrong.
I shook my head and struggled for words. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Saying yes would be a start.”
“I need to think about this…”
“Please, don’t think long.” His voice had dropped another register and was laced with a kind of urgency that made my skin feel tight.
He reached over and grabbed my hand and I let him. I looked down at it, at his long, strong fingers wrapping around mine, feeling like his hand was different in some way. But that was crazy. It wasn’t. He was still cocky, self-assured Dex…asking me something I never, ever dreamed possible.
I knew my choices but I didn’t have to like them. If I went with Dex, I knew I’d be safe. But would my heart? How could I ever trust him again? How could I think that living with him, even as his roommate, even for a short while, wouldn’t be emotionally damaging in some way? After everything that had happened to me, I was sick of my heart being stomped on and would do whatever I could to prevent that situation from happening again.
But then there was Maximus. He was less messy for my emotional well-being. But let’s face it, it’s not like there was nothing between us. I had sex with the man. Several times. And no, I wasn’t really in my right mind when I did it, but it still happened. It still made things awkward. It still put another well-hung elephant in the room. Not to mention that I didn’t really trust Maximus. Sure he bailed out Dex, but that only made me question why? At times he seemed to be my greatest supporter yet he could rat me out to my parents in a heartbeat. I just didn’t know where I stood – with either of them.