The more we all talked though, the more we were all assured that none of us were crazy, even if at times I really had felt like I was. A lot of that could be blamed on the drugs. Apparently I was dosed with something similar to peyote that caused disorientation and hallucinations. That fact made me second guess some of the things I saw, but there was no denying what Dex and I witnessed in front our eyes. Just our luck though, that no one else saw it. Maybe it was always going to be that way with us. Maybe that’s why we were “special.”

Still, I had wondered if the drugging substance was the same as what I had found in my pants, but Maximus told me that Bird had slipped that in my pocket as a means to protect me. It was just simple white ash. I couldn’t say it helped me escape from the tack room, but I couldn’t say it didn’t, either.

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At the end of the night, I couldn’t say much, actually. Dex and I were squeezed on the armchair together, and as they all talked and made up plans, I felt myself nodding off.

“Before we forget,” Fred, the sheriff said, getting up off the couch. He reached beside him and handed us a bag. We peeked lazily inside. It was our shoes, pants and Dex’s iPhone. Everything that we had left at Rudy’s, plus his laptop that they found while out combing the desert.

Dex looked overjoyed to be reunited with his electronics again. I looked up at Fred, who had a grandfatherly face and a huge beard.

“What’s going to happen to Boy Boy?” I asked. “What about Rudy’s bar?”

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“Don’t you worry about those things. I’m sure Boy Boy will show up and I know Will could use a good friend right now. Everything’s in our hands. You guys just go home.”

Maximus got up and stretched his large frame. “He’s right you know. I got us all hotel rooms.”

Thank goodness. I couldn’t stay here another night without going insane, and I knew that the place would be buzzing with the investigation until the wee hours of the morning.

We shuffled out of the house. Fred patted us on the back and sent us off. We didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to Will but maybe that was for the best. We did get a chance to wave at Miguel, who stood on the porch, shotgun in hand. He kept his face stony and tipped his hat at us. For some reason, it meant a lot.

We got into Maximus’s car and drove in silence up the road. A few minutes later, the Jeep came into view, stalled in the middle of the road, just where we had left it.

Maximus parked his car and handed me a room key. “Here you guys go. Room 13, for luck. See you in the morning.”

I looked down at the room key. There was only one of them. I guess I was sharing with Dex, then. I met Maximus’s jovial eyes. He smiled to himself.

We got out of the car. He waited until Dex was successfully able to start the car before driving off.

We didn’t waste much time either. I never wanted to see the dark, unending desert again. Dex gunned the car and we drove straight to the hotel. The drive was quick and silent and I don’t think either of us breathed until the lights of the hotel came into view like a comforting beacon. We exhaled gratefully and made our way to the room.

Maximus’s car was parked just a few doors down, another promising sight.

Dex flung open the door. It was a small room, a bit dusty with a few roaches scattering when I flung on the light, yet it was the most welcoming sight. It was downtrodden but it felt safe.

Of course, there was only one bed. Figured Maximus would set it up like that for a laugh. I didn’t care though. Even if I had been put in another room, I would not have been able to sleep without Dex at my side. Especially not on this night, of all nights.

We put our bags down. I pulled out a clean tee shirt and slipped it on in the bathroom. I didn’t even look in the mirror. I was too tired and on autopilot to deal with anything else except going to bed and putting this whole trip behind me.

I came out of the bathroom and Dex went in. We still weren’t saying much except for a few small talk phrases. That was fine with me.

I got in on my side but left the side table light on.

Dex came out of the bathroom. I turned to look at him. He was thinner now, somehow. I felt like I was looking at him through new eyes. I was envious of how he could lose weight after only a few days, but I think I was feeling a bit skinny as well. His chest was bruised and scratched up from who knows what. He looked like a rough and tumble warrior, world weary after war. I liked that idea of him very much. The tattoos scrawled across his chest and arm only added to the appeal.

He got into bed and switched off his bedside light.

“Do you mind if I keep mine on?” I asked. He shook his head.

“Of course not.”

He rolled on his back and stared up at the ceiling.

“It won’t keep you up?”

“Kiddo, nothing is going to keep me up tonight,” he answered. He turned his head to look at me and opened his arm invitingly.

“Are you going to come here or not?” he asked, half serious.

I smiled shyly and moved over, resting in the crook of his arm and placed my head on his warm chest. His heart thumped steadily beneath it. The sound was undeniably soothing.

With his other hand he brought the blanket in higher around us, tucking us in.

I started to drift off. But there was one thing I had to say.

“Dex,” I whispered.

“Mmmm?” he grunted.

“I hope you never stop feeling alive.”

I could have sworn his heart skipped a few beats. He tensed. Then relaxed.

“As long as you’re around,” he said softly, “I’ll be alive.”

“Dex,” I said again, mumbling into his chest.

“What?”

“I was fired from my job. Last week.”

“I see. Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

“I don’t know.”

“You’ll be OK, kiddo. You’ll see.”

He squeezed me with his arm and placed a poignant kiss on my forehead.

“I told you I’d get to the bottom of you,” he said.

I smiled. I hoped he would. Bit by bit.

The next morning we said our goodbyes to Maximus. It seemed we had many goodbyes over that weekend but this time we knew it would stick. For now, at least. He seemed adamant that he would be visiting the Pacific Northwest soon.

The drive back to the airport was a long one. Thankfully, the air conditioner was working again and blasted away the thick, muggy air that swooped down on the plains with the incoming clouds. There was a constant threat of rain that never came. It suited our moods.

As Dex drove, I flipped through all the stuff we captured on our cameras and found that the majority of the stuff was fairly useable. We didn’t capture anything conclusive, not that I thought otherwise, but if Dex could do his editing magic, I think we had a damn good story.

We talked more about the show, what we should do next and what our plans were. We knew we were extremely amateurish. If we were going to be taken seriously at all, we would need to invest in fancy gadgets like EPGs, motion detectors, heat detectors and all that sort of stuff the pros on TV all had. Once we had equipment like that, it would help us out immensely in providing some sort of proof that people needed, instead of just some low-budget version of Cloverfield or The Blair Witch Project.

I also thought we needed to come up with some sort of plan with regards to the victims. If we were going to go around messing up people’s lives and filming them, whether we were invited or not, we needed a way to fix things after we left. It was a tricky subject. Who would we call? There are no Ghostbusters to capture them into a neat little box. There were priests, but not everyone was religious. I don’t even know what Dex believed in.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” he told me. “One thing at a time.”

We were almost to Albuquerque when we had to stop and fill the rental SUV up with gas.

He started pumping and I walked around the car, stretching my legs and arms. I walked over to a fence post that bordered on the desert. Here the sun was peeking out, giving hope to the doom and gloom we had driven through. I hoped this was a sign of leaving that past behind.

I sighed and took in a deep breath. I still couldn’t really think about what happened. Dex and I didn’t talk much about it in the car, other than in business terms. To keep having our lives at stake…that was something to think about, too. I mean, did I need special health insurance or something? What if I had died last night? What would have happened?

Of course, I couldn’t get insurance without a job anyway. And that’s what was waiting back at home for me. After all of this, I was going home to the same old situation. It wasn’t as terrifying as before. Nothing would ever be as terrifying after this weekend. But it was still something I couldn’t run from, no matter how hard I tried.

And I couldn’t run from my feelings for Dex either. I turned around and watched him top up the tank. I wished the mere sight of him didn’t set my insides ablaze.

He was going back to Jenn. Did that kiss mean anything? Was it one of those, ‘I’m going to die so why not,’ kind of things? Or did it mean more? And now that he survived a weekend without drugs, did it mean he didn’t need them in the first place? Maybe there was nothing wrong with him in the end.

Too many questions. I thought I’d get answers to something this weekend but all it did was raise new ones. I had a feeling this was going to happen every time I was with him.

I kicked a stone with my boot and started sauntering back to the Jeep. Our flight was departing in a few hours and we needed to get going.

Dex was waiting for the receipt to come out of the gas pump when I heard a SWOOSH from above me and saw a shadow cross the ground.

I looked up.

A huge hawk passed by my head, with inches to spare, and swooped towards the back of Dex’s head, claws outstretched.

“Dex!” I screamed and started running towards him.

Dex turned in time to see the hawk coming at him. He ducked, grabbed the gas pump from its holder and swung it at the bird.

He missed but the hawk veered off, crying loudly.

I ran up to Dex, heart in my throat, and we watched it fly into the sky.

“That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen,” a woman cried out from behind us.

We both turned and looked at her. The plump, thirty-something woman held onto her dazed, ice cream eating son and made her way to her car, shaking her head in disbelief.

Dex smiled at her. “We’ve seen crazier.”

The woman looked perplexed, but continued on her way. The little boy locked eyes with me in all childlike awe.

Dex walked around and got into his side of the car.

I neatly placed the gas nozzle back, got in my side, and we drove off down the road, towards civilization and the way home.

I kept my eye on the door side mirror to see if the hawk would appear, flying behind us, but it never did. Until next time, maybe.

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