He walked back to the barn, leaving us alone with Will.
“Ok then,” he clapped his hands together. “How about we get your stuff and show you to your rooms? Maximus, are you staying too?”
Dex and I both looked at him. He gave Will a quick smile, “No, I’m booked in at the hotel. Wanted to give the happy couple some privacy.”
He locked eyes with me for a second. Suddenly, I felt like I couldn’t let him go.
But he looked away, walked over to his truck and gave us a wave.
“Give me a call in the morning Dex,” he drawled before popping in the driver’s seat and leaving us in the heat. Even with Dex beside me, I now felt dangerously alone.
Once Maximus left, Dex and I settled into the room Will and Sarah had assigned for us. It was small but homely with a large queen bed and peeling periwinkle wallpaper. The rabbit-eared TV was on a handmade dresser, the same as the wardrobe and side tables and matched the gnarled-fence around the property. Turns out Will was quite the handyman and made most of the wood furnishings himself.
“I’ll call you for supper,” Will said before closing the door.
I looked at Dex. He was lying on the bed, arms behind his head, fingers tapping on the top of his skull. His face was unreadable.
“Not going to bother unpacking?” I asked and started to put my clothes away in the various drawers.
He didn’t say anything, just continued tapping. I didn’t like it when Dex was in silent mode, it made everything more awkward and sharing a room with him was already going to be awkward to the max.
I finished putting everything away and fixed myself up in the bathroom. It was quaint and clean with its claw-foot tub and old sink. This look would totally be in vogue in any bed and breakfast. I looked at myself in the mirror, my first look this whole day.
I looked tired, of course. There was a fine layer of dust on my hair and my lips and the skin around my nose were cracked beyond belief. I felt chagrined that I walked around all day looking like this, especially around Maximus. Not that I was thinking of pursuing him in any way (seriously, I wasn’t), I just hated to think I looked like crap around tall, handsome men. Even if they were gingers.
Then there was Dex. He was acting peculiar. I guess no more than usual, but I’ll admit I was disappointed that he hadn’t once asked if I was OK or expressed any interest in my well-being. Maybe it was the medication (and lack thereof), maybe it was Maximus, or maybe it was something else entirely.
After I slipped out of my sweaty, dirty clothes and plunked on light leggings and a flouncy jersey dress that I figured was flattering yet demure enough for a supposedly hardcore Christian couple, I stepped back into the room. Dex was still on the bed. He hadn’t moved an inch. He was staring at a blank spot on the wall, still tapping away to an imaginary beat.
“What are you drumming to?” I asked.
He didn’t look at me, just kept tapping away on his head. It was annoying, made even more so by the fact that I was trying to pick out the beat. It definitely wasn’t Slayer.
I sighed, loudly, and threw my dirty clothes across the room. They landed on the rocking chair in the corner, sending it to and fro with aged wooden squeaks. Still no response.
My next move was strangely impulsive.
I leaped onto the bed and straddled him. My arms took his out from behind his head and pinned them onto the bed.
“Hey!” I yelled in his face. “Hubby!”
He looked up at me, surprised and maybe a bit scared. I felt foolish for a second but ignored it and plowed on. I pressed his hands further into the pillow and looked straight into his wavering eyes.
“You’re going to pay attention to me now, OK? Like it or not, and I know we don’t like it, but I’m your fake wife and we’ve got a fucking job to do so I would appreciate it if you could at least just acknowledge that I’m in the room with you. OK partner?”
The fear slowly seeped off his face until I saw an expression I knew all too well. Sarcastic smile tugging at his mouth, brow aloof, eyes blasé. Of course, this regression back to quintessential Dex made the fact that I was just inches from his face, and physically pinning him down on the bed, very intriguing. And potentially embarrassing. My face was red hot in an instant.
I shoved at his hands again before coming off of him and sat on the far side of the bed. I eyed his reaction warily.
He sat up slowly and let out a chuckle. He looked over at me and grinned. “So I guess there’s no question as to who wears the pants in this relationship, huh?”
I shrugged, exasperated. “Just trying to get your attention.”
He nodded, closing his eyes briefly. “Sorry if I’m a little spacey. It’s…”
He didn’t finish. He didn’t need to. But it still didn’t explain everything.
“You didn’t seem all that concerned with what happened to me in the barn,” I couldn’t help saying.
His eyes grew darker, like a thunder cloud had blocked out all light. He sat up straighter and leaned forward so he was closer to me. He opened his mouth to say something but nothing came out, at first. He looked down at his hands and thought things through.
“I’m sorry,” he ended up saying.
That was it?
“There’s something else,” I said, prodding him.
He sighed so lightly that it barely registered.
“I don’t know what to say,” he said. “You really gave me a fright.”
I couldn’t help but let out a laugh. “I gave you a fright? Dex, one minute I’m looking into a horse stall, the next minute I find my own hands around my neck. And meanwhile my partner just stares at me like I’m the devil.”
“I didn’t handle it very well, I know. I’m sorry. I just…I’m not really sure what’s going on with me at the moment. I don’t feel like I’m processing things like I should.”
“It’s cuz you aren’t on the pills, isn’t it?”
He looked at me sharply. I thought he was going to say something biting but he hesitated. His features relaxed.
“It would seem so.”
“How are you feeling?”
He shook his head. Not good enough. Why wouldn’t he open up to me?
“Talk to me,” I implored. His lips grew tighter. I leaned in closer.
“Please,” I said, trying to get him to relent. I peered at him hopefully. “I know we don’t know each other all that well. In fact, when I think I am finally getting to know you, you do something different and I feel like I have to start all over again. And that’s cool, I get it. I know I’m complicated too. But please, you have to start talking to me. Even if we aren’t friends, we’re at least partners. Business partners. This project, this show, it means a lot to me and I know it means a lot to you too and if it’s going to work at all, you’re going to have to start trusting me. And I’ll start trusting you. And that starts when we begin, you know, communicating with each other.”
I gestured to the room, the waning afternoon light leaving long shadows on the walls. “Look where we are. We’re playing house, with people we don’t know, in New Mexico. I’m nervous. I’m scared. I have bad vibes about this place, there’s a woman who doesn’t want us here, some Mexican who says I won’t last a day, I saw some scary fucking shit in that barn, you’ve got your so-called ex-friend here who had to warn me about you–”
“Warn you?” he perked up, eyes blazing.
“And then I’ve got my partner, who I’m sharing a bed with, who I don’t actually know all that well, who is going through all sorts of problems of his own and not letting me in on any of them. If you can’t talk to me Dex, then I don’t know who you can talk to. Maybe your girlfriend, but she’s not here. I’m here. That says a lot, I think. I’m here and I need you to talk to me because this weekend is only going to get worse before it gets better. We both know it.”
I gulped in a bunch of air. It was exhausting saying all of this but I felt relieved. I watched him carefully, pleading internally for my spiel to work, for him to just say something to me so I could understand.
He was silent for a while, mulling things over, staring at the pattern on the duvet. Then he leaned in slightly, looking me straight in the eyes.
“My heart is racing. Constantly. I’ve got a bunch of irrational thoughts running through my head. I feel agitated. I feel impulsive and I’m worried I can’t control myself. I don’t know what I want to do exactly, but I’m afraid to find out. I want to scream, I want to run around. Everything is rubbing me the wrong way. I, too, have got a million bad feelings about this place that seem to quadruple by the minute. I want to get in the car and drive far away. I feel fucked up. I mean, really fucked up. But I also feel. See, I’m not used to that. And my mind is going a mile a minute but its fucking brilliant at the same time because I’m getting ideas and these ideas want to make something out of this hellhole. I love it and I hate it. This is how I am feeling. I’m fighting it.”
I tried to take that all in. “Maybe you should just…go with the flow?”
He smiled sarcastically, more for himself than for me.
“I don’t think you’d like that.”
“How do you know?”
“Just a hunch. I…well, I don’t think you’re going to want to hear this but since I’ve said too much already…I’m a bit afraid of you.”
My heart stuttered a bit and I found my eyes narrowing involuntarily. It wasn’t as insulting to hear as you might think, though, probably because I was certain Dex had told me this before, back when we were investigating the lighthouse.
“Why is it,” I said calmly, looking away at the shadows on the wall, “that you always end up being afraid of me when there are other things to be afraid of?”
“I know it doesn’t make sense, I know you’re not…scary.”
I rolled my eyes. OK, I was starting to feel a little bit insulted.
“Well, Maximus doesn’t seem afraid of me,” I said haughtily.
Dex didn’t look amused. “I know. That’s because he wants to get in your pants.”
I can’t pretend the thought didn’t intrigue me and pick me up a bit. What I really wanted to say was “Really?” and pry him for information like a schoolgirl. But I didn’t.
“Very funny,” was my reply.
“Look, I don’t mean any disrespect by it. And I know that’s hard to believe coming from me. I think…I think that contrary to what you may think about me, I, in the end, actually don’t know much about you. That doesn’t help. I can see your brain going a mile a minute too. I know you’re thinking a bunch of different things and that I’m not going to be on the receiving end of any of those thoughts.”
Another intriguing thought. Did he want me thinking about him?
“I need you to talk to me too,” he finished.
“I am talking!” I exclaimed.
“Not right now. You expect me to talk, to ask you things but you don’t do the same thing in return. You’re such a typical female.”