Into the Hollow
“Kidding,” he said. He cleared his throat and went back around to the stove. “So, hungry now?”
Actually, I wasn’t. All I could think about was how cold and empty my mouth felt without him there and food wouldn’t cut it. But I told him I was famished and we soon settled down on the couch to eat and watch mindless television. He sat in the middle, and I shrank up in the corner with the vague fear that if I touched him, I’d be straddling him in seconds.
I turned in early with bedding he had found. After texting back and forth with Ada, failing to ignore the huge mess I left behind, I was left in the dark room with only my thoughts.
Somehow, despite the fact that I had just left home for the first time, that I just hurt every member of my family, and that I had no clue what the hell I was doing, I could only think of Dex. Sleeping in the next room. Alone.
My insides swirled as I replayed the kiss in my mind. Moving out wasn’t a mistake. But moving in with Dex might have been. I didn’t know how long I could go with someone like him around me all the time. Scratch that, not someone like him. Him, period. No matter what happened, he was Dex and I was Perry and that combination only led to trouble.
With a sleepy head, I started plotting out my next plan: get a job, fast, and move out, even faster.
“Shut your piehole, Fatty Rab!” Dex bellowed from the bathroom where I could hear his electric razor running.
There had just been a knock at the door, which got the mutt all excited and yappy, even though it was just Rebecca coming by to take me out for lunch.
“I’ll get it,” I told Dex, and wiped my hands on my jeans. I was a tiny bit nervous about seeing Rebecca again. The last time I had seen her, I wasn’t very cordial. She had come to Portland to try and convince me to give Dex another chance and I pretty much told her to fuck off. I cringed a bit, remembering my behavior. Perhaps I was already not in the right frame of mind at the time.
I took a quick breath and opened the door. Rebecca looked immaculate as always, dressed in a red shift dress under a grey tweed, funnel-necked coat, with spiderweb tights and platform booties. Her hair was still a shiny, raven bob and her face was bare except for red lipstick. Next to me in my ponytail, mutt-slobbered jeans and black-and-white striped sweater, she looked positively Hollywood.
She gently pushed away Fat Rabbit who was attempting to claw up her tights, and with a wide smile, embraced me in a hug. Whatever nerves I felt quickly dissolved.
She pulled away and held me in place, eyes warm and shining.
“I’m so sorry to be last minute. I know you only got here last night and I was texting you like a twit, forgetting that I don’t have your new number.”
“Yeah, thanks for phoning me at 7:00 AM,” Dex yelled from the bathroom. “It wasn’t like I planned on sleeping or anything.”
She rolled her eyes and then gave one quick last hug.
“So, how are you settling in here?” she asked.
I looked at the stack of boxes right beside us that still hadn’t made their way into the den.
“Well, I’m not quite there yet.”
She smiled sympathetically, taking note of my eyes that I knew were still puffy from yesterday. “You’ll get there. This must be all so overwhelming for you.”
I raised my brows wryly and lowered my voice. “You don’t even know.”
She patted my arm gently and yelled past me. “Hey, Dex, I’m going to be taking her out now. Will you be here later?”
“I’m taking the car to the shop,” he said and I felt a pang of guilt in my chest from the memory of trying to take his car off the road, the horror of the crash. I know it wasn’t me doing the actions, but still.
“But you can just give Perry your spare keys,” he continued and he stepped out of the bathroom. “They belong to her now anyway.”
I tried to not let my jaw hit the ground as he walked toward us. He had shaven, so he was less beardy and more stubbly, which showed off the strong lines of his jaw, the twinkle in his brown eyes. But that wasn’t what had me in lustful awe.
With only a white towel wrapped around his waist, Dex was looking…unbelievable. While he always had a nice and rather firm body, now he was definitely packing some serious muscle. His chest was hard and sculpted and I wouldn’t have recognized it had the words And with madness comes the light not been tattooed across it. Now, it was a lethal combination.
Below his chest, there was a genuine six-pack, precise squares etched on his tight stomach and his hips had those lines of perpendicular muscles leading in a V down into his towel. For a second, I was caught up in a whirl of desire and I mentally kicked myself for instigating a no kissing, no sex house rule.
“Oh, Dex,” Rebecca chided from beside me, bringing me back to reality. “Put your shirt back on. Are you trying to turn me straight or something?”
He grinned cheekily, dimples cutting in, and I then noticed he had his eyebrow ring back on. That, his smile, and his tattoo were the only things that reminded me that this was still Dex and he couldn’t be trusted. Especially now, especially with that body.
I was starting to be distracted by the round girth of his shoulders and upper arms, when I felt Rebecca tug at my arm.
“Come on, let’s let this show pony get back to his grooming,” she said. I let her lead me away to the door, walking backward.
Dex smiled at me, a smile I was unable to return, and he turned around to head back into the bathroom. I caught a glimpse of his smooth, wide back and something else. A new tattoo, words written across the back of his left shoulder. Before I had a chance to read it properly, he was gone.
“He got a new tattoo,” I commented to no one in particular as Rebecca pushed the dog away and opened the door.
She nodded. “Come on, we want to hit Icon before it gets too busy.”
I snatched up my purse and jacket and we left the apartment, Dex’s tattoo on my mind. I couldn’t even imagine what it could have said.
It turned out that the Icon restaurant was just down the street from the apartment, which was super handy, considering it was my new home, something I needed to keep reminding myself of. It was a weird feeling. The walk also gave me time to pepper Rebecca with questions. Surely, she knew this was coming.
“Thank you for taking me out for lunch,” I told her.
“When did Dex get that tattoo?”
She smiled quickly to herself before answering. “A couple of weeks ago. I went with him.”
“What does it say?”
This time her smile was for me. “You’ll have to ask him that, Perry. It’s fairly personal to him.”
Personal? This was going to drive me nuts. What on earth could be personal to Dex?
The restaurant was a popular place for lunch thanks to an extensive unique menu and a detailed décor of pink walls, candy-shaped glass objects, marble-cracked tables and a million lamps. I was so tempted to launch into a discussion about Dex but I did that the last time Rebecca took me out for lunch. So I feigned ignorance and asked her how she and Emily were doing.
She pressed her lips together and looked down at her tea. “Not too well, actually.”
She nodded then raised her chin. “Thank you. It’s fine. It’s just a rough patch. We all get those.”
“I suppose so,” I mused, trying to remember the last time I was in a relationship. The whole thing with Mason in college was one giant rough patch.
“Em is just younger and that’s always been our problem. She’s…hard to keep down. Not that I demand anything of her.” She sighed and smoothed her hair back behind her ears. “But you know, I love her. I would like to make this official.”
“Official, like marriage? Can you get married in Washington State?”
“There are legal unions here, like you have in Oregon. But I want the real deal. We’d just go up to British Columbia and make a honeymoon out of it at the same time. Well, that’s what I proposed.”
“You proposed?” I tried to picture Rebecca on one knee in her designer goods.
She let out a little laugh even though I could hear the pain in it. “No, I guess I’m not very romantic. I think I just blurted out, ‘hey let’s get married in Canada” and that’s when all the problems really started. I scared her. And to be honest, she scared me. I thought we were more serious than that.”
I fiddled with my napkin. “It’s just a bump in the road. You guys seem meant to be together. You’ll pull through.”
She took a slow sip of her tea, her lipstick leaving neat prints.
“As will you,” she replied knowingly.
“Yes. You. Moving here and everything. This can’t be easy, especially after what happened to you. Dex told me a few things this morning, about going to Idaho…I was there when Ada called him, you know. He nearly collapsed on the street. I’d never seen him look so worried.”
He wasn’t worried enough, I thought angrily, the rage sneaking up on me and making my head feel hot.
She went on, “You don’t have to tell me, but I’d like to hear what happened. The whole story. I’ll believe you.”
And from the earnest expression on her brow, I knew she would. I took in a deep breath and told her the entire story of my possession, starting with when I saw her in Portland and ending with Dex being tossed into jail.
It was no surprise then that by the end, Rebecca was speechless and I was breathless. The waitress delivered the artisan pizza we were sharing and Rebecca stared at it dumbly.
“So…wow…Perry, I don’t know what to say.” She delicately shook her head as if that would move some sense into it.
“You don’t have to say anything. But that’s how I ended up here, with Dex.”
“I can’t believe you survived all that…I’m just amazed.”
I examined my pizza, ignoring a pinch near my heart.
“I’m just so sorry…I’m so sorry.”
I looked up at her. “Why are you sorry?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. I saw you. I should have helped. I should have done something.”
“How could you have known? I was fine at the time.”
“Were you really? You were pregnant Perry. With Dex’s child.”
I felt like I just got a cold punch to the gut. My hand involuntarily rubbed at my stomach.
“I’m sorry,” she said again.
“Quit saying you’re sorry,” I snapped. “I’m fine. It’s over and done with.”
“Does he know?”
I licked my lips, unsure of what to say. “Yes. He knows. He found out, though, from Ada. And not in the best way.”
“How is he taking it?” she asked in a hush, her delicate face crunched in concern.
I flinched. “He? I don’t know. Ask him about it.”
“You haven’t talked about it?”
I put my pizza down and gave her a steady look. “Rebecca, I don’t know which way is up. One minute Dex breaks my heart, the next I have a miscarriage. Then I’m fucking possessed and being dragged to a shaman to exorcise the demon. During that time, I go to another freaking dimension with my dead grandmother, where Dex shows up and saves my ass. We’re spit out, he’s arrested and I realize that moving in with him is my only option of staying safe and sane in this world. And so far, I don’t think it’s doing my sanity any good. Have we talked about it? Sort of. He seems strangely upset. But I just…I can’t deal with anything right now, let alone that. I just want to eat my pizza without adding tears as an extra topping. OK?”