Into the Hollow
He looked surprised. “Are you sure? It’ll just take a second. I’ve got spare linen in the closet, I think. Or I’m sure I can borrow some from Rebecca when I go to pick up Fat Rabbit.”
“It’s fine.” I turned away from him and choked back the tears that were just sneaking up on me. It was too much. Being here. Leaving home. Having no future to count on. Even though I wasn’t alone, I felt more alone than ever.
“Perry,” he whispered behind me. I felt him come closer to me, his energy radiating at my back. My skin prickled and I fought the urge to turn around and bury my head in his chest and cry until there was nothing left. I knew he would hold me for as long as I needed. I knew his touch would put my fears away.
But that fact was scary in itself.
I shook my head and looked up at the lights, blinking hard.
He placed his hand on my shoulder and my nerves instantly calmed, like they were coated with wine. I closed my eyes and a warm tear ran slowly down my cheek.
“Perry,” he said again, softer. His fingers tightened. “Baby, please.”
That word was like a nail into my chest. My reaction was instinctive.
I whirled around at him, my eyes aflame and throwing as much venom as possible.
“You don’t get to call me that anymore,” I spat at him. “I am not that to you. I never was.”
He took a step back, a wash of fright in his eyes. Maybe it was hurt. I didn’t know. I didn’t care.
“I’m sorry,” he said, sucking back his breath. And for what, it didn’t matter.
“Get out,” I said, trying to steady my voice. “Please. Go.”
He hesitated, then nodded and went for the door.
“I’ll go and get Fat Rabbit in a bit,” he told me, pausing in the doorway. I could feel the tension in his body, his muscles unsure whether to move or not. I felt just as torn. As much as I wanted to be alone, I still wanted him to be there too. I just wanted things to go back to the way it was. When he could touch me and it didn’t feel wrong. When I could like the things he said or the way he looked without hating myself for it.
I don’t know if my face betrayed any of that. But his head dropped slightly and his eyes softened with sincerity. “If you need me, you’ll know where I am. The room next door.”
And with that he left, closing the door behind him.
I stood there for at least a few minutes, an empty feeling spreading inside of me. Then I collapsed into the bed with silent tears that led to sleep.
When I woke up, my eyes were sticking together with dried and clumpy mascara and there was a snuffling sound outside the door. A light spilled in from underneath it, a shadow moving back and forth.
I frowned, momentarily forgetting where I was, and pressed at my forehead, trying to rub out the exhaustion and sleepiness that resided there. I was utterly exhausted from crying myself to sleep, from everything that happened earlier. But it was the good kind of exhausted, where your eyes are puffy and your heart is hard and you don’t feel anything anymore because you’ve already felt it too much. You’re spent. Somehow, mercifully, you just don’t care. Tears and a nap can be the best therapy.
I sat up slowly and took in a deep breath. I needed to hold it together. If I kept dwelling on things, I’d never get out of bed. I made the choice to come to Seattle. I made the choice to leave home. And, I made the original choice to leave Dex back in December. Those had all been in my control and I needed to own those choices.
I listened for signs of Dex outside and heard faint music and cupboards closing in the kitchen. The snuffling outside the door continued. For once, I wasn’t concerned that some ghost or supernatural being was outside. This was no demon. This was Fat Rabbit. And that dog’s face was a sure pick-me-up.
I reached for the door in the darkness and pulled it open to see the pudgy French bulldog’s face turned up at me in a sloppy, tongue-hanging out smile. He came in the room along with the light from the apartment, and immediately started jumping up on my legs and giving me doggy kisses.
“Hey fatty,” I heard Dex call out from the kitchen in a sing-song voice.
I poked my head out and looked at him. I had to blink twice to get my sight right. Dex was dancing in front of the stove to Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus”, a too-tiny apron wrapped around him, looking utterly ridiculous as he ground pepper into a steaming pot. The minute he saw me, he froze, pepper mill in mid-grind, then calmly turned down the volume on the music player.
I tried to stifle my amusement. “Were you talking to me?”
He gave me a wry look and went back to grinding. “No. Naturally Fat Rabbit’s name is just Fatty now. Fatty Rab, if I’m being more formal.”
“Naturally,” I mused, looking down at the adoring dog who was looking a bit plumper. He obviously wasn’t on the same diet as Dex.
I walked tentatively toward him, peering at his apron.
“Kiss the cook,” I read it out loud. “Classic.”
He looked down at himself and grinned. “It’s more of a suggestion than a command.”
“That’s insinuating you can cook,” I told him as I looked into the pot.
“It’s mac and cheese with cut up hotdogs,” he said, wagging his eyebrow. “Another classic.”
“Huh,” I said and sat down at the barstool. “Is that your dinner?”
“This is our dinner, kiddo,” he said, flicking a pinch of salt into the pot and grabbing for a bottle of hot sauce. “I know you’re used to gourmet grub every night, but at Chez Derry, this is what you get.”
I raised my brow at the presumptuous “Chez Derry” comment but ignored it. “So, tell me, is this what you’ve been feeding yourself because judging from the way your chest is trying to break free of your apron, I’d say you’re used to eating raw eggs and power shakes.”
There was a hint of satisfaction as he smiled, as if he was waiting for me to comment on his newly buff body. I looked away, wishing I hadn’t brought it up. Still, I was far too curious and his shirt was far too tight.
“I mean,” I continued, studying the lines on the counter, pretending my ass hadn’t once been rammed up against it in a fit of passion, “what the hell have you been doing?”
He took a hard swallow and averted his eyes to the food. “Shall we eat first?”
I raised my chin. “Seriously, Dex. You never did explain any of this.”
He sighed and plopped the wooden spoon back in the pot, flicking off the burner. He leaned with his hands on the counter and looked me straight on.
“When you left,” he started, pausing to lick his lips, “I wasn’t in the best of circumstances. That’s sort of putting it mildly. To top it off, I hated myself for what I did to you. I mean, I really fucking loathed myself. Do you know what it’s like, to really loathe yourself? So that you can’t even look in the mirror?”
I kept my face impassive, but I knew exactly what he meant.
“And, after some time,” he continued, “I decided I didn’t want to be that person anymore. That person never got me anything but a fuckload of pain and did the same for a lot of other people. So I started with what was easiest first – my health. I started going to the gym. I started running. I quit smoking, re-did my whole diet…for the most part, anyway. I’ll never give up Mr. Daniels or the occasional mac, cheese and hotdog night.”
I sat there in silence, watching his face carefully. His eyes were darker than normal, and there was a grim twist to his mouth.
He lowered his head. “I was trying to be a better man, Perry. For you.”
I shifted in my seat. “Dex…”
“And I’ll keep trying,” he quickly said, voice low and somber. “Until I get it right.”
Oh God, it felt like my heart was shrinking. I tightened my hands into fists and quickly loosened them.
“Please don’t try,” I told him, even though saying those words made my stomach roll. “That’s in the past. It’s over. It’s done.”
He rubbed the heel of his palm against his chest. “But it’s not over. It’s not done. I can see it in your eyes.”
I let out a deep breath, nausea prickling at my core, and started focusing on my cuticles. He came around the counter and stood right beside me. I felt warm and heavy at the same time and fought with myself to stay strong.
“It’s not over until you forgive me,” he said, voice low and rough, causing the hair on the back of my neck to stiffen. “I know you need time…”
I avoided the eyes that were boring into the side of my head. “I don’t need time. I do…I do forgive you.”
Suddenly both his hands were on the sides of my face, a hot and firm grip. He brought my face towards his and forced me to look at him.
His eyes roamed deeply in mine, searching every crevice. “No you don’t. You say it, but you don’t mean it. I want you to mean it. I need you to mean it.”
Is that why I’m here? I thought. Is that why you asked me to move in with you? To win me over?
But I couldn’t say it. My mouth opened and closed and I was just so lost in his eyes, trapped in his hold.
“You’re losing your touch at lying, Perry,” he said.
Then he kissed me. The shock of his parted lips on mine rendered me helpless for a moment. The only thing I could do was kiss him back, because my brain wasn’t working and that’s what my body wanted. That’s what my body always wanted. Him.
He let out a low moan that was more felt than heard and one of his hands disappeared into the back of my hair, pressing me closer to him. He tasted like I remembered and the memory caused my legs to part, my muscles to go slack. Shivers passed over the small of my back. I wanted to run my fingers over his arms and chest, feel how hard he was, then go south and feel him even harder. Even though, just kissing him, feeling his tongue against mine, made me crave him like a junkie craved their next high.
And I was terrified of coming down.
I pulled back, maybe too hard. Dex flinched, but dropped his hands away from my face. He was so still, so close and breathing hard, his eyes glistening and pupils larger than life.
“I’m sorry,” I said, having difficulty forming the words. “This isn’t…this…”
He nodded and straightened up. “No, I’m sorry. You’re right…this isn’t…”
He couldn’t finish the sentence either. It wasn’t wrong and it wasn’t right either. God, we were fucked up.
I gave him a small smile and smoothed down my hair. “If we’re going to be roommates for the next while, we should probably avoid doing…that. You know, make some house rules.”
He breathed sharply out of his nose but I saw the acceptance in his face.
“Sort of like, you do the dishes on certain days, I do laundry on others, no smoking, no kissing, no sex?”
I felt my ears burn. “Yeah. Something like that.”
“That doesn’t sound like a lot of fun.”
I shot him a killer look and he showed me his palms.