That was it. I had enough of this top secret mumbo jumbo bullcrap. I stopped dancing for a second and stiffened my limbs. I looked him square in the eye, demanding the truth.
“What the hell did he do to you?”
Maximus glanced uneasily in Dex’s direction. He was back at the booth, drinking and laughing along to something with Bird and the two cougars who had sat down with him. One of the cougars, the more attractive blonde in overtly pink lipstick, had her hand on his leg.
“I’ll consider going with you if you can give me an example of all this bad blood that doesn’t seem to stop gushing all over the place,” I goaded, hoping he would take the bait, hoping he wasn’t going to say something that would actually want me to leave Dex behind.
“He slept with my girlfriend.”
So it finally came out. Figures it would be that.
“I see,” I nodded. “No wonder he was so possessive of Abby. He was just projecting himself.”
“He did this after what happened to Abby. When I was really there for him, helping him through all his shit. He just went and slept with her.” From the tone of his voice I could obviously see it was something he hadn’t gotten over.
“It’s been, like, ten years, hasn’t it? Let it go,” I told him.
“You’ve obviously never been cheated on,” he sulked.
“I have, actually. I know very well. And yeah it makes me angry but people make mistakes.”
“You’re excusing it?”
“No. I am not. Not at all. I fucking hate my ex-boyfriend for doing that to me but, you know, I moved on. I don’t forgive him for it but I can’t let it eat me up inside either.”
“We were so close to actually getting somewhere. Then he just…blew it for all of us,” he sighed and twirled me around.
I was pulled into his chest, confused. “Blew it?”
“The band. We were so close to making it, and then he had to go and get himself…he just lost it. Lost himself. And left us. We could have been something. I mean, really something.”
“Wait, so what you’re really upset about is the fact that your stupid band broke up?” I didn’t mean to call the band stupid but the conversation was getting stupid.
He didn’t say anything.
I went on, “His girlfriend dies. Dies. He blames himself. He sleeps with your girlfriend. Then quits the band. Before you said it was because he, well, kind of lost it –”
“Oh, he lost it,” he interrupted.
“Yeah. And understandably.”
“We were so close,” he repeated. I wasn’t sure if he meant this time about the band’s path, or his relationship with Dex, but he probably meant both.
“And now what are you doing? Are you playing in a band? Are you practicing music?”
“No,” he mumbled. He was starting to look uncomfortable, maybe ashamed. I didn’t want to add to it but someone had to be the voice of reason. I wonder if this is what Ada felt when dealing with me. The fleeting thought of Ada made me feel warm inside, stronger almost.
“Maximus. I admit I don’t know you. And I don’t know Dex as you say you do. But if you’ve been harboring some…futile…grudge all these years, why the hell did you contact Dex to come out here?”
At that, the song ended and the dancing came to a halt. He was pondering it over, his eyes anxiously roaming the space above my head as people came on and off the dance floor.
“I really wish you’d come with me,” he said carefully and with sincerity, sidestepping the question entirely. “Dex really isn’t the person you think he is. I don’t want you to find that out the hard way.”
Now that I knew what was what, I had to take everything Maximus said with a grain of salt. I sighed, rolled my eyes and walked back to the table. Why couldn’t Maximus have been the normal, much-needed, no agenda foil to Dex? I suppose his job title of ghost talker should have told me a lot to begin with. I didn’t think I was ever going to meet anyone normal as long as I was filming ghosts for a living. Then again, that was people. Everyone had their baggage. God knows I was at the top of that heap.
Just as we got back to the table, the blonde cougar gave me a territorial glare and quickly grabbed Dex’s hand and yanked him up with her.
“You’re dancing with me sugar,” she cooed. She put her arm around him and he laughed, clearly enjoying the attention.
“Like I have a choice,” he grinned at her. I don’t think she picked up on the sarcasm. She dragged him off as “Crocodile Rock” came on.
He winked at me as he brushed past and I stifled a laugh. I had to see this.
Maximus and I sat down with Bird. I guess the other cougar had gone off somewhere.
“This will be interesting,” Maximus commented as he plowed into his next beer. I wasn’t sure if that was a guess or a statement.
I took a sip of my own beer and watched the scene.
On the dance floor Dex actually blended in. He had on his red Charlie Harper-esque bowling shirt and had plucked a black cowboy hat off of someone and place it on his own head, giving him that spiffy, cleaned up rancher look. Not that it was my cup of tea but I had come to the conclusion that you could dress Dex up like Steve Urkel and I’d still find him attractive. Sigh.
The dancing was something else. The cougar was a quick mover. Obviously she spent a lot of years dancing at bars and manhandling young men. But Dex…that was the surprise.
He moved like…I don’t know. Using Gene Kelly as an example was pretty outdated but that’s the first thing that came to my head. The man could dance. And to Elton John, no less. He was doing a bit of line dancing, a bit of swing, a bunch of something else I didn’t know, and mixing it all together in some bizarre act that would have easily draw applause on So You Think You Can Dance.
It at least drew applause from the people watching. Even Bird was mighty impressed.
“Your husband is quite the dancer,” he commented while adjusting his own hat.
“Yeah,” I breathed. I stole a peek at Maximus. He didn’t look surprised at all. I suppose he already knew this trick that hid up Dex’s sleeves, one of many I was sure. And then I understood. Maximus was jealous of Dex, always was. Maybe he wanted us here to use Dex (that seemed to be what Dex thought with his “fifteen minutes of fame” comment) or maybe he wanted to destroy him. Either way, I could see it in his eyes, which turned such a cool shade of jade as he watched Dex, that there was a lot of hate. And some love, too. Dex seemed to have that affect on a lot of people, myself included.
I looked back at Dex. The song had finished and already he was with some other woman. This one was younger, maybe mid-twenties, with a shapely figure and a cute face. A twinge of jealousy ran through me. Ugh. Maybe I had more in common with the Cajun than I had thought.
“That doesn’t bother you?” Bird asked.
I looked up at him sharply. This was the one circumstance where I could admit the truth. I could sense Maximus eyeing me expectantly.
“It does,” I said slowly. “But I suppose I’m the jealous type.”
I looked at Maximus and met his eye with all seriousness. “And who isn’t?”
He nodded. He was going to draw his own conclusions from that and I couldn’t say that he’d be wrong.
I sighed deeply and found myself peeling the label off of my own bottle.
Then I stopped. To hell with that.
I drank the beer instead.
The song ended and I could see a bunch of women approaching Dex, probably asking him to dance or offering to buy him a drink. He was like the Cary Grant of the Red Fox dance floor. OK, also an outdated reference.
The next song came on. Billy Joel. “She’s Always a Woman.” It’s like the jukebox knew. This was our song, or at least our singer. Well, not really. But in my head it was. It reminded me of Oregon, when I was first getting to know him. When I found out he could sing. When I found out we were in for so much more that we thought.
My heart sank a little bit over those first few piano notes. But Dex shook his head at the ladies, said something to them with a smile, and flashed his ring. Then he pointed at me. And my heart, my stupid heart, stopped.
He walked off the floor, grinning at me, like he had some fantastic present behind his back. He stopped in front of our table while the disgruntled women looked on. He tipped his hat (or whoever’s hat that was).
“It’s our song,” he said. He held out his hand. I took it, as if in slow motion, and let him lead me onto the dance floor.
He put one arm around my waist, holding me snuggly against him. It was a different kind of awkward than it was with Maximus. It was a wonderful, head-spinning awkwardness that made my heart beat out of my chest and my knees turn to putty.
He held my hand with his other one and grinned at me, our faces so intoxicatingly close that he grazed the top of my head with the felt brim of his hat. I kept my eyes on those cocoa brown orbs of his. It wasn’t hard.
And then…then he started singing along with Joel’s voice. Softly, quietly. I was such a sucker right there and then and he knew it, that bastard. If he wasn’t holding me up, my spine would have collapsed in a warm puddle of blissed-out nerves.
He leaned further in and sang into my ear, a deep murmur that sent shivers through me that I tried to contain. Why was he doing this to me?
We didn’t say anything else to each other. We just moved as one, gliding through the night. It was like a telephoto shot, he was the only thing in focus. Everything else just slipped away, a blur. It was wrong in so many ways, but it felt so right. I felt whole, as stupid as that sounds. I felt like nothing else mattered but this moment right now. Fuck the skinwalkers, the filming, the ranch, the show. I just needed this. I wanted this.
I closed my eyes and, despite trying to save face, I laid my head on his shoulder. Everything that was cooped up inside, all that crap, all those worries were gone and it was just us. He smelled like aftershave, that sweet tobacco and something else that made my blood pump hot with desire. He sounded like roughed up velvet. He felt like I never wanted to take my hands off of him.
I love you.
My eyes snapped open in pure terror. Did I just think that? They stayed wide open, my body tensing slightly. As we made our slow turn, I could see Maximus and Bird watching us intently, but they had no bearing on what just happened. I loved him?
I lifted my head up and pulled back ever so slightly. Dex lowered his brows knowing something was off. The song ended.
We stopped but he still held me. And just like that I was scared. Terrified of these feelings inside of me. I wanted to get away, I needed to clear my head. I hoped to God that U2 wasn’t the next song.
“Whatcha doing wifey?” he asked curiously.
“Song’s over,” I said trying to sound as breezy as possible. I don’t love you, I thought. That was crazy talk.
He looked around him at nothing and everything, appearing to listen. Then he said, “Is it?”
“Just the Way you Are” came on the speakers next. Are you serious?
Dex laughed. “Don’t look so worried. Best fifty cents I’ve ever spent.”