Into the Hollow
“Such a bad winter,” my mother said, following my absent gaze. We hadn’t even seen much snow this year, so I didn’t even know what she was talking about. I guess my mother had relegated herself to making small talk with me. It was better than, “so a medicine man helped cure your fever, huh?”
I made a grunt that didn’t mean anything and at the microwave’s loud beep, she bustled over to it and put the steaming bowl of marinara in front of me.
“Thanks,” I said, poking at it with my fork.
“Eat slowly.” She smiled cheerily and I wondered if she had recently gotten her teeth whitened. “It takes up to twenty-minutes for your brain to know it’s full. That way you’ll eat much less.”
I put fake gratitude in my eyes and was about to take a deliberately slow bite when the doorbell rang. I jumped in my seat and the pasta almost went flying off the fork.
My mother didn’t seem too concerned about the door and went out into the hall. I was praying it wasn’t Dex. It was too early and I wasn’t ready yet. Oh, I was nowhere near ready for this.
I sat rigidly, waiting to hear who it was, the air held in my lungs.
The sound of the door closing was followed by two pairs of footsteps coming down the hall.
A tall, red head poked around the doorway and smiled at me.
“Good afternoon, little lady,” Maximus said. He leaned against the doorframe and folded his arms. Like usual, he was wearing plaid, purple this time, and was giving off an air of comfort which annoyed me. It was like he belonged in my house or something.
Ex-house, I reminded myself. Ex-house or so help me God.
Mom scuttled past him, her cheeks flush as if his company made her all girlish or something. “Come on in Max. Are you hungry? I could make you something?”
I pretended that didn’t bother me and kept my eyes on Maximus like he was going to shapeshift if I looked the other way. I couldn’t believe that it wasn’t long ago that we were standing in the kitchen, doing a cleansing ritual. I couldn’t believe I had been naked in his shower, getting off on his big fingers, having him come in my mouth. That didn’t seem like me.
It wasn’t me.
“I’m fine, Mrs. Palomino. But thank you,” he drawled. God damn stupid accent.
She clapped her hands together lightly. “All right then. I’ll leave you two to it.”
She left the kitchen. I wished he would have gone with her so I could have breathed a bit easier, but instead he sauntered his giant frame over to me and pulled out the stool.
“How are you?” he asked. It was innocent enough but I couldn’t help but give him attitude.
“How do you think I am?”
His eyes drifted down to my chest. I tried to not look down. That was the last time I wore a tank top around the house. His eyes came up to mine before it became awkward. “You’re looking mighty fine.”
I wasn’t buying it. “Why are you here?”
He rubbed at his broad chin, still grinning. “I’m here to see how you’re doing.”
Was he? I couldn’t help but think back to the car the other day when it seemed like he could hear my thoughts. Did I want to try it out on him now? He definitely wasn’t a normal man, I knew that much. But just how different was he? Was he really a ghost-sensitive type like Dex and I were, or was he something else? And was it only certain types of people that could potentially hear my thoughts, or was it everyone?
I decided it wasn’t safe. I had a hard enough time trusting anyone already.
Though the expression on his face was gentle and somewhat cheeky, I could pick up a vibe of something else. Beneath the laissez faire façade, he was studying me.
I cleared my throat, suddenly feeling on the spot, and pushed my bowl of pasta toward him. “Do you want this? I lost my appetite.”
I nodded and looked back at the window, the grey sky my failsafe.
I saw him start to eat out of the corner of my eye, happy that the mouthfuls were keeping his giant mouth occupied.
I decided to take the nice route out of all of this.
“Thanks for bailing Dex out of jail.”
He made an amused sound as he slurped up a noodle. “No problem.”
“Did you do it because you like the guy or did you do it for me?”
I realized right then I was being a tad presumptuous with his feelings toward me but I pushed through it and looked him straight on.
He eyed his next bite of pasta like it was a question. “Well, I guess you could reckon I did both. Dex didn’t deserve to be in jail. And I knew you’d be distraught without him.”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” I said automatically.
His eyes narrowed into brief green slivers. “Interesting.”
“I thought you would have gotten over your little problems by now.”
I leaned away from him. “Little problems? Need I remind you what those little problems did to me? Fuck, you men are all the same.”
“I’m just saying,” he said slowly, “that you seemed to have gotten over them when you were with me. That’s all.”
“I wasn’t me. I was possessed.”
He turned back to his pasta. “Darling, if you want to tell yourself that...”
Without meaning to, I punched him hard on his arm and the fork and pasta were finally set free across the kitchen, clattering to a stop on the floor.
He sighed and put his head in his hands.
“Sorry,” he said, even though I was the one who should have apologized. “I shouldn’t have…I should have known it wasn’t you.”
I breathed out in a huff and got off the stool. I threw the fork into the sink with a clatter and fished out a new one from the cutlery drawer.
“I’m sorry,” I said, handing him the new fork. “You don’t even know me. It’s not your fault.”
He gave me a sheepish look between his parted fingers. “You have to understand that when a gorgeous gal is throwing themself at you, it’s really hard to say no. I knew you weren’t quite yourself. I just reckoned it was a revenge thing…not a possessed thing.”
I allowed myself a small smile. “It was both. Sometimes I think you can’t separate the two.”
“I know what you mean,” he admitted. He held out his hand. “Friends?”
I hesitated, then shook it quickly. To his credit, he didn’t try to hang on any longer than he needed to.
“So,” I began. “You’ve checked up on me and eaten my lunch. Anything else you need?”
He grinned. “You’re not getting rid of me that easily. I promised your mother I’d spend some time with you.”
My face wrinkled with disgust, the feeling spreading through my veins. “Why? I don’t need a babysitter.”
He twirled pasta around his fork, watching the turns. “I know. But it makes your mother feel better.”
“So…so I can tell her you’re doing great. And then she can relax and maybe not watch you 24/7, worrying that you’re not well.”
My hands suddenly felt cold.
“Is she really worried?”
“You have no idea,” he said, then took a pointed mouthful.
I rubbed at my arms. He eyed me.
“Are you feeling chilly?”
I ignored him. The clock on the wall read twenty to one. What were the chances of getting Maximus to leave before Dex showed up? What were the chances I’d be able to keep the whole thing a secret with him staring me down like some test subject?
I started to loathe myself for getting involved with Maximus in the first place. I should have known better than to get with the guy who was always showing up at the most opportunistic times, including right now.
“Well,” I said, pushing away from the counter, “you’ll have to amuse yourself for the next while.”
He cocked a brow.
“I’ve got womanly stuff to attend to,” I finished.
He nodded, perhaps buying it. Or at least getting that I didn’t want him anywhere near me.
“I’ll be right here, little lady,” he said, the hope inside me deflating like the tomato he speared with his fork.
I quickly ran up the stairs before he had the chance to say anything else.
I saw the Highlander out on the street, a black metal beast waiting in the low fog, and booked it down the stairs before Dex could ring the doorbell. The last hour had been the longest of my life and the stored up energy insured I got to the door in seconds flat.
I opened it to see Dex coming up the stairs. He looked different in the daylight, his nose a bit swollen and tinged with a purple bruise that had spread to his eye. It had been courtesy of my father and I only then realized how brave he was for coming back to the scene of the crime.
If he was nervous in any way, he didn’t show it and his confidence gave some strength to my fluttering heart. His eyes were brown and clear, brow set in a determined fashion. He was wearing his black cargo jacket, hands thrust deep in his pockets and collar turned up against the cold. The newsboy cap perched on his head gave him an air of unique distinction though his face remained scruffy with a day’s old stubble.
He didn’t say anything but as usual with us, he didn’t need to. His look said it all: Are you ready?
I nodded grimly and opened the door a bit wider, my heart thumping wildly in my chest. He walked past me into the foyer and I pretended the smell of his skin and shampoo didn’t cause butterflies in my stomach.
“Perry?” I heard Maximus say from the living room.
I stood my ground and Dex stood beside me. His hands remained in his pockets though I was scared enough that I wished they were holding me instead.
Maximus appeared a few moments later, staring at us from down the hall. He didn’t look surprised at all, if anything he just looked disappointed and maybe embarrassed.
He strode down to us and I could feel Dex stiffening up beside me. That strange energy I sensed in the car was back and it was doing funny things to the hairs on the back of my neck.
To his credit, Maximus stopped a few feet away and wiggled his lips in thought.
“Well, I figured this would have happened,” he remarked casually. Everything was always so laid back with him, wasn’t it?
“Because you know everything,” Dex countered.
Maximus looked behind him for a second and lowered his voice. “Look, I knew Perry was itching to get out of this joint.”
“How did you know that?” I whispered, my voice sounding hoarse.
He chuckled. “Why else would Dex dare show his face here after what happened?” He gave Dex a pointed look. “You do realize that this can’t end well.”
Dex took a step toward him and looked him dead in the eye, brimming with intensity. “I realize that. That’s why we’re getting out of here. Perry’s better off in Seattle than she is here. Even if she did move in with you, you’re still too close to…this place.”
Maximus rubbed at his jaw and for once looked a bit put-out. He looked up at the ceiling and the spaces around our heads without really looking at us. “If you would just give me some more time with them, they’ll back off.”