“Funny, I thought you’d be more into it than that,” he joked. I stared at the ring, then at him and then at the ring again.
“This isn’t exactly filling me in on anything. I would have remembered if we had gotten married,” I finally managed.
“Well, it would depend on how drunk you were.”
I gave him an impatient look. The flame was going out.
He smiled at me and shook his head. “OK, well here’s the thing. We’re going to have to be married for the next couple of days. Hope that’s OK with you. And if it’s not, tough tits.”
“The house, the people we are staying with in Red Fox, the people with the ghost problem, are a devout Christian couple.”
“I thought they were Native American…”
“They are. But converted to Christianity, I guess. Anyway, the only way they said they’d let us stay with them is if we were married. And so I told them no problem, we were. Been married for three years.”
This was not going to go well. I was a good liar when I had to be, but I always got the feeling that people could see straight through me. It was probably a confidence thing.
Not only that but Dex and I were not even a couple. I didn’t see how anyone would possibly buy that we were husband and wife. This scheme seemed cooked up out of a Three’s Company episode and we all knew how those ended.
“You’ll be Perry Foray.”
“That sounds way too much like Perry Farrell,” I said.
“Then it’ll be easier for you to remember.”
He turned his attention back to the dry, endless road and turned up the stereo as if to signify the conversation was over. I will admit that I was feeling a lot better about this scenario than the other scenario (that he had gotten married to Jennifer), but…
I reached over and turned down the volume. He looked ticked but I figured if we were fake married, I could start acting more like a bossy wife.
“What was the other thing?” I asked.
He shrugged. “I don’t know.”
I sighed. “You lost something. Said you’d tell me about it in the car. We are in the car. The marriage thing obviously wasn’t it. So what was it? Are we getting divorced now too?”
He briefly bit his lip. If I could see his eyes, they probably would have been roaming fretfully.
Finally he said, “Yeah. Well, it’s not a big deal.”
“You said it was a problem.”
“It’s my problem.”
“Well,” I couldn’t help but smile. “Now that we’re married, your problem is my problem.”
A wry tug at his lips. “Oh is that how relationships work?”
“I hear the good ones do.”
He nodded, looking serious, and said, “I forgot my medication.”
His medication. Dex’s pills that kept him at an even keel. Least, that’s how I understood it. As I said earlier, all I knew was that he was bi-polar or something akin to that but I had yet to really understand what that meant with him.
“Oh. OK. Can’t you go to a drugstore and get a refill?”
“No,” he said simply.
“I’m sure if they called your doctor they could do a transfer or something.”
“No, not these pills.”
Uh huh. Not only did he forget them but they seemed to be ultra top-secret medication as well. Why did everything have to be so difficult with him?
“Are you going to be…OK?”
He shrugged, which didn’t really assuage my fears.
“I don’t know. I’ve only been on these pills, well, since we last saw each other.”
“Did I drive you to new medication?”
“You could say that.” It didn’t seem like he was joking.
“Gee, thanks,” I said, mildly hurt. Though this was nothing new, it didn’t help to hear it from him. What was it about me that drove people up the wall?
He gave me a quick smile. “Don’t flatter yourself, kiddo. There was a lot going on and anyway, I think our whole, uh, situation, was enough to cause anyone to re-evaluate things. Didn’t you start to question whether you were losing your mind after the lighthouse? You know, almost dying at the hands of a…thing?”
Before I had time to think, I said, “Yeah, but you were losing your mind way before that.”
He stiffened at that remark.
“I’m sorry,” I said quickly. “I…”
He raised his hand to shut me up.
“The point is,” he continued, “I thought I should be in a better frame of mind if we were to continue to do this whole fucking circus. So, no, I haven’t been on them long enough to miss a dose and know what happens if I do. But if it’s anything like before, it shouldn’t be that big of a deal.”
I still felt uneasy.
“You’re not going to murder me in my sleep are you?”
“Maybe,” he said, not smiling. “It’ll be easy to do since we’ll be sharing the same bed. I expect you’ll put out now.”
He looked at me, mouth shut and taught.
I assumed he was kidding but there was always that tiny part of me who never knew what to believe. I swallowed hard and turned my attention to the landscape that was becoming more rugged and blistering as we drove on.
Out of the corner of my eye, I eventually I caught Dex grinning. Of course it was a joke. I felt like this might be the longest weekend of my entire life.
Two miserable hours later, we pulled into the sleepy, somewhat desolate town of Red Fox. The air-conditioning in the car decided to putz out 30 minutes into our drive, which meant the last two and a half hours we had the windows down, but with the outside temps, it didn’t do anything to cool us. It was like having a hot blowdryer on your face. My hair was an absolute rat’s nest, tangled to shit, my face was as dry as the cracked desert floor that tumbled by monotonously, and my entire back was soaked with sweat.
Dex didn’t look so good either. He was getting a bit twitchy and irritable, which I would have before attributed to driving in an oven, but now that I knew about his pill situation I couldn’t help keep that in mind. He knew it, too. He kept nervously glancing at me from time to time, wiping the sweat off of his brow and flinging it out the window.
Dry, rolling ranches dotted with sheep and cows announced our arrival into the township. As we got further in, the acres were replaced with a simple mix of adobe storefronts with “For Lease” signs, peeling bungalows with broken fences and rusted bicycles, and a scattering of crooked trailer homes. I’d never been in the Southwest before, but from what I gathered, it looked like a forgotten town, where residents clung desperately to their roots, no matter how badly the rest of the world moved on. There were quite a few Native Americans driving around in faded trucks or strolling the streets nonchalantly. The heat didn’t seem to affect them in the slightest.
We drove through the dusty streets, over the gritty pavement and potholes, until we came to a low wood building at the edge of town. It reminded me of that last structure of civilization that always sat at the edge of an old West main street. Indeed, there wasn’t much beyond the building except the highway and endless scrub which stretched into the surrounding mountains.
Dex drove up beside a weathered Ford truck and put the car in park. He closed his eyes and let out a long sigh. A bead of sweat dripped down his nose.
I peered at the building. A small, hand-painted sign said “Rudy’s Place” and beside that, a neon Budweiser logo. A bar. It wasn’t even noon but Dex drove us straight to the right place. Suddenly, nothing seemed as important as a cold, refreshing beer.
“You read my mind,” I told him.
He didn’t open his eyes or wipe away the sweat droplet, which now hung from the tip of his nose. It started to bug me.
Without thinking, I reached over with my hand and wiped it off. To his credit, Dex didn’t flinch. He opened his eyes though and gave me a strange look.
“We’re meeting someone here,” he said in a tone that insinuated I should know.
“Whatever, I can’t sit any longer.”
I rolled up the window, grabbed my purse and stepped out of the car. I had no idea who we were meeting, I just needed to get out of the car, even though being outside wasn’t much better.
It was absolutely sweltering. You know when people tell you it’s OK because it’s a dry heat? That’s bullshit. 100 degrees dry is still 100 degrees and I was sweating like a pig. I stretched my legs back and forth and tried to take in a breath of fresh air but all I got was dry dust.
A pretty, pale pink adobe house across the street caught my eye in a weird way. There wasn’t anything really unusual about it except for surprisingly colorful flowers adorning the sides. It would have been a soothing sight among all dirt, except for seven large crows perched ominously in a dead tree in the front yard. It was such a weird contrast – perhaps that’s why I felt drawn to it. The murder seemed like a black blot on the smooth façade of the only nice building in town.
And then, a movement at the window of the house caught my eye. There was someone standing there, watching me, watching us. I wished the glare of the window wasn’t obscuring so much, but from what I could make out it was a woman. A woman in a long, poofy, shiny gown with…
I stopped myself. It couldn’t be, could it?
I squinted, straining against the sun. It looked like there were multi-colored dots or pom poms on the dress, scattered throughout. I had seen that before. It made my ears ring and my blood whoosh loudly in my head.
“Hey,” Dex’s voice broke into my trance.
I looked behind me. He was standing by the door, beckoning me over to the bar with his finger, as if he had been waiting a while. Though, maybe he had.
I looked back at the house. The woman in the clown-ish dress was gone. Only the crows remained, as if they were her loyal guardians. I waited a few beats before walking back to Dex.
He took off his sunglasses, shoved them in his pocket and peered at me.
“You OK there, kiddo?”
I nodded, knowing there was no use explaining what I probably didn’t see. “It’s hot.”
He gave me the once over. “You can’t handle the heat, huh?”
Phhfff. As if he could. His shirt was clinging to him (to his pecs, nicely), his hair was a damp mop on his forehead, and if it wasn’t for his telltale smirk I would have thought he was close to passing out.
I crossed my sweaty arms and nodded at the glass door. The layer of grime gave no glimpse to the inside.
“So, who are we meeting here?”
“An old friend.”
He rolled his eyes. “Max. My old friend, Max. He was the guy who told me about this place.”
“How do you know him?”
Dex squinted off into the distance, pursed his lips slightly. “In college. We were in the same band.”
“Sing Sin Sinatra,” I said excitedly, remembering that he used to be the singer in a lounge/rock band. He never talked about it much and there were no YouTube clips so I didn’t know too much about them. But I did know he had an amazing voice, no surprise considering how sexy his gravely speaking voice was.