Dex slowly turned and looked at me, the whites of his eyes glowing madly in the sparse light.
“We better leave,” he said quickly, turning around and yanking me towards our car.
“What is it?” I cried out, still wanting to see despite the thick fear in my throat. I looked back as Dex dragged me forward, his grip on my arm strong.
Something shadowy moved in the backseat again. The car rocked back and forth for a few seconds…
The head of a coyote poked out of the car. Seeing us, it jumped out of the backseat and onto the road.
I gasped. Dex turned to look and stopped.
The coyote held us in its gaze, its eyes strangely familiar. I’d seen coyotes before; they were a nuisance in the countryside around Portland. But there was something strangely terrifying about this one. Maybe it was the circumstances…had that coyote just eaten everyone in the car?
I couldn’t tear my eyes away from it. It just stood there, as still as the air around us, but I had this feeling like it already had its teeth in me. Its eyes were the strangest green color. They sparked with intelligence. Did coyotes even have green eyes?
Suddenly, I felt a hard pull on my arm again. Dex dragged me towards the Jeep. I looked back and the coyote was gone.
It was like some heavy fog lifted from my eyes, as if the last few seconds had been a dream and I was finally coming to. We quickly got in our vehicle and without saying a word to me, he thrust it into gear and we sprinted down the highway at an alarming speed.
I stared at him. His hands were back to holding the steering wheel with a Kung-Fu grip, his mouth was set in a firm line and his eyes…well, his eyes weren’t fearful but they were lost in thought.
I wanted to ask him what had just happened…where did the occupants of the car go? Why was there a coyote in the car? Why did we have to leave so fast? But I could see I wouldn’t be getting anything out of him tonight. I had to come up with the answers by myself. I turned my attention to the blackness sweeping past us, made more mysterious now knowing a party of people could be out there, just wandering the desert.
I didn’t know what had happened to the people in the car, but I knew they weren’t attacked by a coyote. Coyotes wouldn’t dare attack a party of humans, no matter how hungry they were. If anything, the car was abandoned and the coyote was scavenging for any…leftovers. I shuddered at the thought of rogue body parts in the backseat.
I wasn’t quite satisfied with that conclusion but it had to do for the remainder of the drive. Within an hour we were pulling up to a nondescript motel perched at the edge of a deadbeat town. We hadn’t said a word to each other the whole time.
My room looked straight out of a bad 70’s porn. The wallpaper was peeling in the corners, there were nicotine stains on the walls, and the bed was one of those coin-operated models. The only thing missing was the shag carpeting.
I plunked my bag on the lone chair, not willing to trust the patchy ground, and carefully sat on the corner of the bed. I had a bad experience with bedbugs once and that was in a quality hotel. I didn’t want to think of what could be hiding in the scratchy sheets here.
I sighed and took stock. Had my life really come to this? Staying in a gross motel in New Mexico on some crazy ghost hunting expedition? Things always sounded cooler before you actually lived them. We hadn’t even seen any ghosts and already I had the creeps, which explained why I jumped out of my skin a bit when there was a sudden knock at the door.
I got up and peered through the peephole. My heart eased as I saw Dex, though I wasn’t quite sure who else it would have been.
I opened the door. He leaned against the frame, not moving. He looked a bit stoned; his eyes were glazed and looking past me at some blank spot on the bed. A toothpick jutted about lazily in his mouth.
“Um, hey. Good hotel pick, by the way,” I joked. “I was thinking we could put our beds beside each other and race down the hallway…might cost a couple of bucks extra though.”
He grinned. “Are you coming on to me?”
I wasn’t but I felt heat come to my cheeks anyway. I rolled my eyes. “What do you want?”
“Just checking up on you,” he said defensively.
“That’s…considerate. What’s wrong with you?”
The glaze left his eyes for a second before he laughed it away. “OK, suit yourself. Thought you may have wanted some company.”
Was he coming on to me? I narrowed my eyes, studying him. I can’t say the thought didn’t entice me. But aside from his languid gaze, I couldn’t pick up on anything different. It was just Dex. Standing seductively in the doorway of my seedy motel room (OK, so you can see why I would naturally jump to such conclusions).
And suddenly, while this dialogue was going on inside my head, I realized the situation had become awkward. At least for me, anyway. Dex didn’t seem disturbed in the slightest.
Regardless, he said, “Anyway, we’ll be setting off at 8AM tomorrow. The town of Red Fox is about a two or three hour drive from here. Just be ready and primped and all that before then.”
“Do you think I’m gonna get much sleep…or primping…done in this place?”
He laughed. “Princess, I don’t care. See you in the morning.”
And with that he spun around and walked to his room next door. I heard his door close. I slowly shut mine and felt incredibly alone. And miffed. Princess? Who did he think he was?
I turned and nervously eyed the bed. I decided to sleep on top of the sheets that night.
The day was already hot and arid, even at 8AM. The hotel manager said they were having an unseasonably warm fall and we would probably approach the upper nineties later that afternoon. As I stood outside by the Jeep and waited for Dex to finish up paying for the rooms, I welcomed the impending heat. I think it was the Pacific Northwestern in me; most of the year we were enveloped in depressing dampness so I soaked up every warm opportunity I had.
The sun sat loftily above the mountains, its sharp light clearing the cobwebs from my foggy head. I was running on very little sleep. When I wasn’t freezing cold from the room’s air con which just wouldn’t switch off, I was dreaming about bedbugs and/or some coyote zombies. After last night’s “incident” (and I’m sure there will be many of them) I convinced myself coyote zombies were an actual thing.
It wasn’t long before Dex emerged from the office and made his way out towards me. He had black shades on, a plain black tee shirt which fit him perfectly and his black cargo shorts. Against the dry backdrop he bared a resemblance to an emo Man in Black.
“The desert seems to suit you, Mr. Cash,” I said, smiling. He didn’t smile back. He went straight for the back of the Jeep and started riffling through his bag in the trunk.
I peeked over as he frantically started dumping stuff everywhere, searching for something.
“Is everything OK? Did your credit card not go through?”
There was no way I could afford to pay for us.
He quickly shook his head. “That’s all fine.”
He sighed loudly and stood up, his hands pressed against the sides of his head. The next words out of my mouth were going to be ‘what is it?’ but there was something hostile about his current crisis. I decided not to say anything and see what would happen.
I bit my lip, looked away at the mountains and kicked up the dust on the ground with my vintage cowboy boots.
He exhaled again, almost like he was begging me to say something, then quickly turned and ran back into the hotel. He went past the lobby, I guess to his room.
It was obvious that he had forgotten something. I looked in the back where his bag had expunged its bowels. Things were scattered everywhere, but as far as I could make out, all of the camera equipment was present. And he had packed several pairs of underwear (boxer briefs, in case you were wondering. I know I had been).
If we had our gear and were able to pay for the hotel, I wasn’t sure what he was freaking out about. So, I just leaned back against the Jeep, the hot exterior already singing my skin, and waited. I was determined not to freak my own self out just because Dex had lost something important. Lately, when I found myself getting panicky over other people I started reminding myself that it wasn’t my problem.
“We’ve got a problem,” Dex said as he came out of the building, his jaw stern, eyes hidden by the shades.
My heart did a few slow thumpa-thumps. Spoke too soon.
“What?” I asked slowly.
He pointed to the door. “Nevermind. Let’s just get going. Can’t do anything about it right now.”
I exhaled and shook my head at him as I got in the car. He didn’t notice.
I waited for him to say something but five minutes into the drive, he seemed more interested in popping his CDs into the player. As he fumbled for a Deftones album, I caught a shimmer from his left hand. I looked closer. He had a friggin’ ring on his ring finger. It looked exactly like a wedding band.
My heart went thumpa-thump again. Only the feeling was much more devastating than anything else that caused my chest distress in the last 24 hours.
Did Dex get married over the last few weeks? I didn’t even know he was engaged - he had always referred to Jenn as his girlfriend.
I felt stupid and naïve and, also, a bit sick. I couldn’t help my feelings. It was now obvious that I liked him a lot more than I had let myself believe. If he was married now…ugh. I just felt like it was all over. My despair surprised me.
I think he must have noticed the sudden weight of my mood because he gave me a curious look.
“What? I know you love Chino.”
I shook my head slowly (though yes, I did love the Deftones’ singer) and nodded at his left hand. How could I have not noticed it yesterday?
He looked down at it and wiggled it around in the air. It was hefty platinum ring and looked handsome on his long fingers.
“Ah, you like it? I’m not much of a ring man but I thought it looked passable.”
“When did you get married?” I said, my voice a little squeakier than I would have liked.
He raised his glasses on top of his head and stared into my eyes. His own looked red and a bit wired. He searched me earnestly for a moment before a smile slowly broke across his wide mouth.
“You’re kidding right?” he asked.
I didn’t know. I shrugged, confused.
He laughed and put his sunglasses back on.
“OK kiddo, I guess now’s the time to fill you in on some things.”
He reached into his pant pocket with his other hand and fished around for something. I watched, still, but my heart was doing summersaults inside.
“Put out your hand,” he said.
I put out my right one. He took my left one instead, flipped it palm down, and slid a ring over my own ring finger.
I looked down. It was a pretty silver ring with a solitary pear-cut diamond on it.
I didn’t know what to say. Or think. What the hell was going on? I felt the tiniest flicker of a shameless, hopeful thought forming at the back of my head.
“Now we are betrothed,” he announced, which only caused the flicker to flame.
“Ummm….,” was the only response I had.