“No, it wasn’t. And Abby was known to drink a lot and drive from time to time, long before she met Dex. But given his…past, he automatically blamed himself. He started behaving irrationally. He had to drop out of school, out of the band, then basically out of life. He… shoot, I don’t even think I should be telling you this much. Sorry Perry, that’s all I’ll say. It wasn’t even my place.”

He looked regretful and let out a long sigh.

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“And you’re saying I’m just as bad as he is?” I reminded him.

“I guess you aren’t. So far.”

I hit Maximus lightly on the shoulder. “Very funny.”

“You’re a good girl, Perry,” he admitted. “I just think you two can be a bit too alike. Two wrongs don’t make a right. And I mean that in the nicest sense.”

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I sat back in my seat, feeling like crap. All this new information about Dex was a bit overwhelming. I couldn’t help but feel so bad for him. How horrible would that be? Accident or not, I know I couldn’t deal with it very well. I had a hard enough time dealing with my own past that was nowhere near that bad. No wonder he didn’t want us talking about death.

“Excuse me,” I told Maximus. “I’m going to go get him.”

“If you know what you are doing,” he replied. “Just don’t forget about me here. I think I’ve got ten minutes before the heat eats me alive.”

It was disgustingly hot in the car. I hadn’t even noticed this whole time. Even though sitting in there and talking to Maximus was intriguing and I adored listening to his southern drawl, I couldn’t leave Dex out there, now knowing what had happened to him. I had this urge to run up to him and give him the biggest hug, even though Dex was not a huggy type.

I stepped out into the dust and closed the door so no more would come in. It had died down but was still fanned by passing cars.

Dex’s hunched figure stood by the side of the road. It wasn’t like he was hitchhiking, he was just standing there, looking bleak.

I ran down the shoulder while being careful with my ankle and stopped beside him. He kept his eyes forward. I followed his blank gaze across the road. On a fencepost, among pointy scrub and cacti, was an owl. It was staring back at us, big eyes sticking out of its snowy head like black marbles, unmoving.

We watched the owl in silence for a while, before it flew off with huge pumps of its wings that disturbed the brush around it. I kept my eye on it until it was just a dot on the horizon and then disappeared from our sight.

I looked up at Dex. His face was smooth, maybe a bit of worry in the forehead. He was smoking a hand-rolled cigarette that smelled heavenly. I had smelled it on him earlier in the bathroom.

“May I?” I asked, putting my hand out for it.

He finally turned to look at me. “What?”

“Can I have a puff? It smells good.”

He stared at me thoughtfully and had another long drag himself.

Eventually, through a large puff of white smoke, he said, “No.”

I looked back to where the owl had been.

“How long had that owl been there?”

“Since I walked over here.”

“Is that why you pulled over?” I tested.

He flicked the cigarette out onto the road, right on time for a passing truck to drive over it. He looked into my eyes, his gaze steady and poignant.

“No,” he said flatly.

“I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

“For being inconsiderate.”

“Inconsiderate of what?” he replied lazily.

Oh jeez, he was going to make me spell it out for him, wasn’t he? I didn’t want to get Maximus in trouble. I had a feeling he probably wasn’t supposed to enlighten me with Dex’s troubled past.

“I am just…sorry. OK?” I held out my hand. “Friends?”

He looked at my hand and then back at me, seeming to think about it. After five seconds, I felt a bit foolish to have my bandaged hand sticking out like that, unshaken.

“Yeah,” he said slowly. “We’re friends.”

He took my hand in his and turned it over. “How does it feel?”

“It’s sore but I’ll live. My nurse did a good job.”

He nibbled on his lip, a gesture I was starting to find adorable.

“I guess we are even.”

“How so?”

“Nevermind.”

I grabbed him at the elbow for emphasis.

“No, please, don’t nevermind me,” I pleaded. “Remember that talking thing we talked about yesterday.”

“Vaguely,” was his reply.

I sighed. He was impossible.

“Just…,” I started. Then threw my hands up in the air. It was too hot and dusty here to be arguing and it was a fairly one-sided argument. I didn’t know why we were suddenly even and maybe it was better that way.

I started walking to the car.

“Perry,” he said. There was a melancholy infliction in his voice that made me stop and turn around.

“I was hoping you’d come out and get me.”

I put my hands on my hips and cocked my head, pondering that revelation.

“Well,” I said, feeling truthful. “I’m always going to come and get you.”

We stood there on the side of the road, just looking at each other, with ten feet between us. Neither of us said anything, maybe we didn’t need to.

I waved him over to me. He shuffled forward. I grabbed his hand, dry and rough, and gave it a squeeze. A literal spark, a current, rushed from his hand to mine. In seconds it caused internal shivers around my neck. I don’t know if he felt it. He eyed my hand anxiously, at first anyway. Then squeezed back. More sparks.

Too bad I couldn’t enjoy them for long, before random images of Jennifer flashed through my head and made me realize I may not be helping the situation at all. So I let go of him slowly, and together we walked back to the car, and to Maximus, who was no doubt sweating like a poor dog that’s been forsaken by its owners.

CHAPTER NINE

“Apparently skinwalkers can’t be killed,” Maximus said from across the room. He, Dex, and I were holed up in our bedroom at the Lancasters. Dex was on his laptop reviewing footage he shot earlier that day in town, mainly establishing shots of scenery, as they didn’t find anyone to interview, while Maximus read through the library book, occasionally pointing out things of interest which I would scribble down in Dex’s planner.

We were all waiting for dinner to be ready. As soon as we got back from lunch, Will informed us that we would all be having a great feast tonight (his words) with everyone, meaning Bird, Shan, even Miguel. Of course, Maximus was invited too. The idea of this gathering put me in a weird “Us versus Them” type mood but at least the more people that there were, the less awkward it would be with Sarah. Maybe I wouldn’t have to talk at all.

I was too introspective today for chit chat, anyway. I was curled up in the rocking chair in the corner while the boys sat on the end of the bed, and when I wasn’t writing things, I was watching Dex. He sat cross-legged, his grey cargo pants contrasting with his bright green socks, never once looking up at me or Maximus while he intently studied the screen. Occasionally he would rub his goatee in some rough, nervous gesture, or he’d pop in a piece of Nicorette for a few seconds before spitting it out.

I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. Ever since I heard his back-story, or at least parts of it, my thoughts kept turning back to Dex. About what happened. And what else there was to know. How could this guy, my madcap, smartass Dex, have gone through so much? And how could he be OK? I mean, he couldn’t be. No wonder he was on medication. And not even at the moment. My heart pinched in the most unexpected way. I felt so much for him at that moment, it kind of hurt. My emotions and my hormones were having a catfight in my chest. I just wanted to walk over to that bed and…

“Perry,” Maximus’s voice broke through my thoughts like a rake. “Did you write that down?”

At that, Dex looked up at me before I could look away. His eyes were soft, shiny pools from across the room. I held his eyes with mine. My heart clenched again, intensifying my feelings, steadying my gaze.

“Bullets dipped in ash?” Maximus added, a bit louder this time. I closed my eyes. I felt the current I had with Dex power down, like I was turning off like a fuse box. Did he feel it too? I opened my eyes to check but he was focused on the computer again.

I turned my head at Maximus, trying to hide my annoyance.

“What was that?”

Maximus did a quick sideways glance at Dex for observation, then laid a prominent smirk on me. “I said…one of the ways you can kill a skinwalker is bullets dipped in white ash.”

“Oh, white ash. So simple,” I quipped. I wrote it down knowing full well we weren’t going to be using any guns with ash bullets inside them.

Maximus flipped a page, shrugged. “Hey, you never know out here.”

“And that’s the only way to…get rid of them?” I asked.

“As far as I know. Unless the person has a change of heart and decides to stop doing evil or something.”

“So what the hell can we do?” I said, frustrated.

They both looked up at my tone of voice.

“What, we’re going to shoot some animal with white bullets?” I continued, “I don’t think so.”

Maximus gestured at the book. “Hey, no one said we’ll be doing that. I’m just reading it out loud.”

“You don’t get it,” I sighed. “I mean, so say everything goes as planned…I mean, no, wait. What even is the plan?”

I looked at Dex for an explanation. He seemed puzzled, I assume more by my outburst than the lack of a plan.

“Well,” he cleared his throat. “I, we…get to the bottom of it and–”

“In the next day?” I interrupted. “So we find out it’s a curse, or maybe it really is a haunting of some sort, or perhaps just the crazy ass mythic skinwalker…then what?”

“We film it,” he replied.

“And then what?”

“And we show it?” Dex looked adorably confused. “Have you forgotten some things about what we do?”

“And then we go back home. But what happens to the Lancasters?”

“That’s not our problem,” he said bluntly, almost smiling.

And there was Dex, back to being a heartless beast in an instant. I looked at Maximus for help. “Do you know what I mean?”

He nodded. “I do. But, I mean, Dex is right in a way…it’s not our job to deal with people’s problems. I show them to people. You record it to show to other people. We aren’t, well, Ghostbusters.”

“Why do think they wanted us here in the first place?” Dex asked me seriously. “Will just wants to prove he isn’t crazy. If we see it too, if we film it, then it means it’s real. It means he’s not going insane on this ranch with his wife looking the other way. Pardon the pun. He hasn’t thought as far as how to get rid of it, whatever the fuck this is. That will come later.”

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