He trailed off, his eyes leaving mine and stared out the back window, watching the dusty road disappear behind us. His blush was gone and he had turned a wicked shade of alabaster. This big, burly man with his sexy snarl looked like a freckled little boy, sleeping with the nightlight on.
Instinctively, I reached over and brushed his hair back lightly. He had nice, thick hair.
He gave me a quick smile. “Well, let’s just say I wouldn’t wish death upon my greatest enemy.”
“Jesus. Can we shut up with the death talk, please?” Dex grumbled, eyeing us in the mirror, anger sparking.
Maximus looked sheepish. “Sorry man, I forgot.”
Dex shot him a sharp look but Maximus was turning around in his seat and didn’t notice. I did though. What did that mean…“I forgot?” Forgot what? I know Dex’s family was dead…I guess that had to be it. But it felt like something much deeper and rawer than that.
And being me, I couldn’t let it rest. I wanted to know and if I brought it up later, I wouldn’t have Maximus there for support and whatnot.
“Well you picked an ironic profession if you didn’t want to talk about death,” I challenged. I meant to say that a bit nicer.
Maximus turned his head to look at Dex. Dex didn’t move or say anything but his grip on the steering wheel tightened.
“Skinwalkers aren’t technically dead though,” Maximus said.
“I’m not talking about skinwalkers, which by the way, I am not totally sold on yet. I just mean with Dex. You, Dex, what’s with the ‘shut up with the death talk’ all of a sudden?”
Dex slowly moved his eyes up to the mirror to meet mine. I hadn’t seen him glare that good for a long time. He was the king of glares. Sometimes they were sexy (probably by accident) but they were always effective. When his black, arched brow lowered and connected with those dark eyes and his lips set in a snake-like twist, he just radiated intensity. The depths always surprised me. It was like looking into a cave and thinking you could see the back of it, but it just ended up being a trick of the eye. There was always more, another twist, another turn.
This was the best exampled I had seen yet; I thought the glass in the mirror might shatter.
It made me sit back in my seat just a bit, but I wasn’t going to back off.
“What?” I shrugged, playing the ignorant card. I tapped Maximus on the shoulder. “Tell me more about what people feel when they die.”
“Uh,” he glanced warily at Dex. Dex looked right back at him.
“Don’t let me stop you,” he sneered. “If she wants to know, she wants to know.”
Maximus looked back at me, his voice a bit shaky, “Okay then. Well, it depends.”
“What was the scariest reading you’ve done?”
“I reckon it would have to be this woman who was murdered. By her own daughter.”
I grimaced. “Ugh.”
Maximus quickly glanced at Dex and continued, “Yeah. She was sick. No one could figure out what was wrong with her. Her daughter was taking care of her and I guess it got to be too much. She smothered her with a pillow. You can’t… imagine what that woman felt as her own child killed her. To raise someone and love someone that much and then for them to turn around and take your life, like it all meant nothing, was-”
Dex suddenly slammed on the brakes and the Jeep was careening off to the side of the road. We stopped on the shoulder in a mist of red dust.
“What is it?” I cried, thinking we had almost hit something.
Dex got out of the car and slammed the door. I looked at Maximus, mouth agape. He looked uneasy.
“You stay here, please,” he said. “I’ll be right back.”
“No!” I protested but it was too late. He was out of the car.
“This is how people get killed in horror films,” I pouted to myself, wishing the dust would clear so I could get a proper look outside.
I had no idea why we stopped. It was like Dex just had enough. I was starting to feel bad for provoking him but maybe it was something else. Unlikely, but possible.
Seconds later Maximus got back inside, coughing from the air outside.
“Well, what happened?” I asked anxiously.
He let out a low groan. “Oh. You know Dex.”
I leaned forward on his seat and tried to see out the front. The red cloud was clearing and I could see someone, I presumed Dex, walking away from the car.
“Where is he going?”
“Just give him a few minutes,” Maximus replied simply. I looked at him closer, at the freckles on his nose, the sienna hairs of his five o’ clock shadow. He moved his head to face mine and gave me a little smile.
“You guys sure are fucked up.”
“Me?” I said.
His smile grew wider. He stuck the tip of his tongue out between his teeth.
“You’re almost worse than he is,” he said rather suggestively. “It’s OK, I’m all for women with a little more adventure to them.”
I couldn’t tell if he was kidding so I ignored it.
“Yesterday, you told me I couldn’t trust Dex,” I said.
“I told you that you shouldn’t. Not that you couldn’t.”
“Why did you say that?”
“Dex isn’t well…”
“Well, I know that Sherlock.”
He squinted those emerald peepers at me. “Watson, more like it. You know he’s a few cards short of the deck.”
“Yeah. I mean, who can’t see that. Plus he actually told me. He’s bipolar or something and, you know, right now he’s not even on any meds so he’s all out of sorts.” I felt strangely defensive about Dex’s mental health.
“Do you reckon he’s bipolar?”
I thought about it. “Maybe. I mean, I guess. Why would he lie?”
He adjusted in his seat to get more comfortable and rested his chin on the back of it.
“Dex is one of the greatest liars you’ll ever come across. The man turns it into an art.”
That wasn’t good to hear. I felt a bit icky, as if he was about to spring something on me that would change my view of Dex forever. I didn’t want to change my view about him. I liked him. A lot.
Maximus was watching me closely. “You’re worried about him.”
“Well, uh,” I stammered. “Sure.”
“I wouldn’t. He’s been this way a long time and he’s still around and kicking. Doing better now more than ever. I mean, have you seen his girlfriend?”
My face fell for a split second but I pushed it into blasé territory before he could notice. “Yeah, I know who she is.”
“When we were together at NYU, he was always all over the place. Like a wind-up toy. Sometimes he would be on and when he was on, he was really on. Ideas coming from all over the place, intelligent debates that would last into the wee hours of the morning, and just creating the most incredible shit out of nothing…especially, music. He would write the craziest songs yet they always worked. We didn’t end up using those songs, after all we were a cover band, you know, Henry Mancini and all that, but he still wrote them. And his voice...and he would write too, like thoughts, fiction…just stay up all night drinking and writing pages of…anything. He would never share that with anyone, but I caught a few glances here and there. That boy had a wicked imagination.
“And then when he was off, he was off. Just shut off from the world. It was hard to tolerate the two sides of him, especially when he would be on doing rehearsals, and then would shut off on stage. You can imagine that doesn’t go over very well. But I mean, he was it. He was our singer. He was the guy we wanted to be even though none of us would admit it. And sometimes, he was a very good friend, when he wasn’t being tortured by some personal demon of some sort. He never let us in close but when he took the effort to put himself aside for a change, he was fiercely loyal.”
“I can see that,” I said, nodding.
“And then he fell in love. With a real sweet girl. Abby. She was kind of a fangirl at first. Frankly I think she was after me but I had a girlfriend at the time. She was far too nice for Dex but he went for her. I guess sensed her vulnerability or whatever. She could put up with a lot and she really cared. But the more involved they got, the more Dex, like…fell. My Lord, I have never seen a boy that smitten over someone so meek and mousy but that’s what happened. That’s love, you can’t explain it. He was apeshit in love. And soon, he became more possessive. He was jealous. And at first he had no reason to be. But the more, uh, crazed he became, the more Abby pulled away. I know she started cheating on him. My girlfriend became friends with her and she told me. I ended up telling Dex. I shouldn’t have but, you know, honestly I thought the moment those two broke up, the more Dex could concentrate on his music. It was very Yoko Ono and John Lennon.”
“Except John Lennon doesn’t die in this case,” I said, fascinated by what I was hearing.
His face tightened. I felt the energy in the car drop.
“No. But she did.”
I was stunned but managed to ask, “How?”
Please don’t let Dex have killed her, I thought absently.
“Happens every weekend,” Maximus said sadly. “Driving drunk. Dex had gone over there as soon as I told him and he ended up finding Abby and some guy in bed together.”
I gasped, personally knowing all too well what Dex had gone through.
Maximus continued, “I think he may have punched the guy or threw him out. I’m glad nothing worse happened to him because when Dex loses it, he really goes all out. He and Abby had a yelling match. The people at the dorm said they heard glass breaking, lamps were thrown, though I don’t know who did what. It was an epic fight, I know that much. Dex has a short temper anyway. Abby was so distraught that she had to call my girlfriend to come get her. Of course, I was with her so I came too. I could put Dex in his place if I needed to. He’s a scrappy fighter but I’ve got a clear head. And maybe I could talk him down.
“We came and I had to kick down the door. Felt very badass. Dex was sitting on the couch with his head between his hands. Eyes all wide and wild but strangely…empty. He said Abby had locked herself in the bathroom with a bottle of gin. My girlfriend tried to coax her out of the bathroom but none doing. Eventually I had to kick that door down too. Just totally destroyed that apartment. The bathroom was empty, as was the bottle of gin in the sink. And it was a big bottle. The room was on the first floor and the window was open. She went out that way, then I guess went to her car and drove somewhere. We don’t know where, she never called anyone from her phone. I guess she was too drunk. Drove straight into a tree, about five minutes away from the dorm.”
I didn’t know what to say. My fingers were at my mouth.
He noticed and gave me an empathetic shrug. “There’s been too much death in his life. Dex couldn’t handle it. And then he really lost it. Basically lost his mind from the shock and blame.”
“But it wasn’t his fault,” I said. My heart ached.