Into the Hollow
Dex and I exchanged a glance out of the corner of our eyes.
“Are you talking to us?” I asked Maximus.
“Max, who is it?” my mother’s voice rang out.
“Fuck,” I swore under my breath. I think a part of me thought I could get moved out of there without anyone noticing and I could just leave them a note or something. It felt an awful like I was running away from home and, you know what, I was OK with that.
“Perry, what-” she said then stopped dead as she saw Dex. Her face went from impassive Swede to full-on IKEA rage. “What the hell is he doing here?”
Impulsively, I grabbed Dex’s arm and said, “Mom, we need to tell you something.”
“We?” she questioned, her voice turning up into an ugly sneer. She marched toward us and suddenly I was afraid of her throwing a punch at him. I had deliberately picked 2pm knowing that my dad wouldn’t be back from his classes until at least 4pm but maybe my mom had always been an equal threat in the abuse department.
“Mrs. Palomino, it’s all right,” Maximus said, putting his arm out to catch her. She shrugged away from his grasp and continued until she was straight up in Dex’s face.
“You get the fuck out of this house and stay the hell away from my daughter.”
My jaw nearly plummeted to the ground. I had almost never heard my mother swear before and on top of that, she was acting like she actually gave a shit about me.
Dex managed a small smile and without faltering said, “I’m afraid that’s impossible Mrs. Palomino. I’m here for your daughter. I’m going to be doing the opposite of staying away from her. She’s moving in with me. She’s coming to Seattle.”
My mom cackled like a witch, her face fighting between belief and disbelief. “You really think I would believe that?”
She looked at me with incredulous eyes. “Why is he here, Perry? Did you invite him?”
I looked at Dex who was keeping his eye on my mom and then I turned to Maximus. He gave me a sympathetic smile and I knew I had no choice but to bite the bullet.
I met her blue-eyed gaze with what little reserves of strength I had left. “Dex is telling the truth. I…I don’t think I should live here anymore. I think it’s time for me to move out.”
She blinked at me a few times, her brain trying to fight the sincerity she heard in my voice. “But…pumpkin. That’s OK. We can work through this. Just don’t move in with him.”
“I can’t wait. There is nothing to work out. I need…I want to get out of here. Now. I’m going with him. I love you but it’s time for me to go.”
Her face fell into quiet lines. A flash of bitterness swept across her brow.
“You don’t know anything about love,” she said in a low voice, her accent heavy.
I hadn’t prepared for that remark. That stung. That felt like a blow to the chest and a kick to the guts and I tried oh so hard to not let that all show up on my face. There were so many things I could launch into if I had the chance, but this wasn’t that argument.
“I’m sorry,” I said, trying to keep my voice steady. I noticed Dex had inched closer to me until his hard arm was flush against my shoulder. “I’ve made my choice.”
I tried to brush past her and go for the stairs but to my utter surprise, she pushed at my collarbones until I stumbled back a foot or two.
I felt Dex’s hands grab my arms and hold me with a vice-like grip while my mother came up to me, her once pretty face now boiling red with anger, her eyes sparking like a defensive animal.
“You’d choose to go with him over your own family?” she sneered. “You’d give us all up over a man? A good for nothing man who left you pregnant and on your own with only your family to look after you!”
Earlier, I had started to think that Dex was breaking some new record for not lashing out but that was gone in an instant.
He pulled the back of me closer to his chest and shot over my head, “Hey, for your information, ABBA, I had no fucking clue that she was pregnant and if I had, I can assure you things would have been a hell of a lot different.”
“Right,” my mother muttered, shaking her head in disgust.
“Exactly fucking right,” Dex yelled. “And don’t you dare start throwing this love shit into this mix because if you actually knew a damn thing about that, your daughter wouldn’t literally be dying to get out of your house of horrors. That should say something about your fucked up righteousness, the fact that she is moving in with the good for nothing man who left her, instead of rotting here with you!”
“Whoa now,” Maximus interjected, raising his hands in a sign of peace. “Let’s all calm down here.”
“Fuck you, ginger balls,” Dex sniped and pulled me toward the stairs. I let him lead me up them and usher me into my room. He shut the door, clapped his hands together and said, “Well that went well! Let’s say we get your shit out of here before your dad comes home and I have to take both of them on.”
I could only stand on the spot and look around me like a dumb cow. The fear and hurt and words and everything was swarming over me like a tidal wave and my brain was struggling to process what had just happened.
Next thing I knew, Dex was crouching in front of me and holding my shoulders, his eyes searching mine and just inches away.
“Focus, Perry. We have to get out of here while we can. It’s only going to get worse.”
Tears threatened my eyes as I fought for the words. “I…I can’t leave like this.”
He shook me slightly. “You have to. You have to now, right now, because this is the only time you are ever going to get the upper hand.”
“But my mom doesn’t think I love her,” I whimpered.
“Well, my mom never loved me, so we all have our demons. But yours, yours have the potential to get much worse if you stay here a second longer. When people are angry, they do strange things, and I feel like this whole situation is more than personal to your mother. You hear me, kiddo?”
I nodded, my mind dwelling a bit on what relationship Dex must have had with his mother while he flung open my closet and let out a satisfied sigh when he saw my suitcase. “All right, this is a start. But this can’t be all of it. I know you…you must have a caravan out back full of ugly concert tees or something.”
I was about to tell him I had some boxes underneath the bed when the door opened and Maximus stepped in.
“Am I interrupting something?” he asked, shutting the door behind him.
“My God, you just can’t keep away can you?” Dex mumbled, tossing the heavy suitcase onto the bed like it was a magazine.
“Perry,” Maximus said, looking to me with imploring green eyes, “you can’t leave like this now. Your mother is downstairs crying her eyes out.”
Gee, that was just what I needed to hear.
“You know what,” I said, crossing my arms, pretending I wasn’t crumbling inside, “I don’t really give a flying fuck what you have to say. You should be happy that you get to take over my room when I’m gone, though you may have to fight Ada for it.”
“So you’re that eager to go that you’re not even going to stick around to say goodbye to your sister?”
“Are you trying to make me feel guilty?” I came at him with my finger poised, ready for eye-gouging.
He didn’t back off. “I’m just trying to bring you the truth. I’m trying to help you. Both of you.”
He eyed Dex who was watching him like a big cat ready to pounce. He turned back to me. “But I can’t help you if you won’t listen to reason. You’re both hopeless. And, I’m sorry, right now you’re acting a bit crazy.”
The minute that word left Maximus’s mouth, I knew there would be hell to pay. I didn’t appreciate being called crazy. Dex hated it.
Dex was on him in a second, the cat finally pouncing. He grabbed Maximus around his throat and lifted him up, throwing his back against the wall, causing the window panes to rattle. I heard my mom utter a cry from somewhere downstairs.
“The only crazy person here,” Dex growled as he brought his face right up to Maximus’s, “is you, if you can’t see the bigger picture. Go on sucking the Palomino family dick if it makes you feel better. I’ll feel better knowing Perry is safe.”
While Dex was spurting these things into Maximus’s reddening face, my eyes drifted down to the floor. The room spun around me as I clued in to what I was seeing. Dex was actually holding him up around his neck with one hand. Maximus’s toes were dangling several inches above the ground and considering the height and weight difference between David and Goliath, that feat was nearly impossible.
“Uh, Dex,” I said softly.
He pried his eyes off of Maximus and followed my gaze. A wave of shock rolled over him when he realized what he was doing. He let go and Maximus’s feet landed with a loud thump.
“Oh, sorry,” he said, clearly flustered. He went over to the suitcase, pretending to be busy, but from the tense way he held his back, I could see he was bothered.
Maximus was rubbing at his throat lightly, faint pink fingermarks running across it. He didn’t seem upset but he was watching Dex and thinking hard about something.
“Where’s the rest of your stuff?” Dex asked and I told him to look under the bed, my eyes never leaving Maximus’s pensive face.
“Not used to being beat up on, are you?” I asked him carefully, wanting to talk about it. But maybe I was just overreacting. Dex was on an adrenaline high and your body can do some pretty freaky stuff.
Maximus slowly brought his face toward mine and smiled. “I don’t know, I reckon you did a pretty good job.” He tapped the spot on his face where I’d scratched him mid-sex, back when I was all demonic. He knew exactly what buttons to push with us and he was pushing the same ones again.
If Dex wasn’t tense before, he was now. I was ready for him to flip around and go after Maximus again, but he didn’t bite. He just kept his mouth shut and picked up the first box. He turned around and I could see the temper swirling around in his eyes, the killer grip on the box’s edge. He gave Maximus a forced smile that looked completely menacing.
“Please move,” he said, gesturing to the way he was blocking the door. “I’d like to get out of here before I break your nose.”
“I’d like to see you do it,” Maximus answered, not moving.
“Oh, come on,” I chided them. “You can measure penises after I move out.”
“You don’t think I can do it?” Dex continued, ignoring me.
“I know you can do it. I just want to see it.”
“I’ve done it before.”
“I want to see you do it…now,” Maximus replied. I didn’t like the squirrely way he sounded, like he was attempting to do Dex a favor or something.
“Dex,” I said loudly. He and Maximus were locked in some internal showdown, brown eyes against green, short against tall, caveman against caveman.