She scrunched up her forehead, the day’s waning makeup crusting a little at the corners.
“I know I heard the doorbel ring three times.” She turned to the stairs and shouted down them, “Mom! Who was at the door?”
“I don’t know, sweetie,” came the response from the kitchen. She sounded a little put out. “Kids playing nicky nicky nine doors, maybe.”
I exchanged a look with Ada. At eleven o’ clock at night?
In this neighborhood? both our eyes seemed to be saying.
My mom appeared and came up the stairs with a tray containing a hot bowl of chicken noodle soup (no chicken chunks), a glass of orange juice and a bottle of Nyquil.
I eyed the NyQuil. “You trying to drug me, mom?”
“It’s to help you sleep. Get back in bed, Perry,” she said, and shooed me into my room. I did as she said and placed the hot water bottle on my pelvis. The cramps had already died down a bit thanks to the pain meds. I swal owed the sticky plastic cup ful of NyQuil, hoping the stuff would make me pass out. My mind was racing and it needed to be put to rest. I was hearing things and seeing things, most likely brought on by my delirious pain of earlier. Most likely.
When my mom left, Ada sat on the bed beside me, her long legs folded up until her chin rested on her knees. I felt safer having her there. Maybe she knew that.
“Today total y sucked, right?" wi she said.
“Right,” I said, sinking deeper into the mattress. It was a fucking weird day. First Rebecca appears randomly, stirring all these feelings I wanted to keep at bay. Then the incident in the club, the vomiting, the cramps, fol owed by thinking someone was in my room and nicky nicky nine doors.
“Your friend Ash was nice to drive you home.”
“He’s a nice guy.”
“Do you, like, like him like him?”
I smiled. “Like him, like him? No. He’s too young for me.”
I sensed Ada tensing up. I turned my head to look at her.
Her eyes were bright and shiny. Oh dear.
“Is he young enough for me?”
“Hel no. He’s twenty. And you’re stil fifteen.”
“Only for a few more months,” she protested.
“And you have a boyfriend,” I pointed out. She had been going out with this Layton fel ow for the past few months. I’d met him. I wasn’t impressed. Especial y when he cal ed me “Ghoul Girl” and threw up the gangster symbol.
“I don’t know,” she said wistful y. “Sometimes I think I don’t like Layton anymore. He just doesn’t get me, you know. I want a guy who gets me.”
“Oh, I know,” I told her, feeling drowsier by the second.
“He thinks my fashion stuff is stupid. He thinks I should be a cheerleader, but I think cheerleaders are stupid. Cuz they are. And he won’t take no for an answer.”
I eyed her careful y, speaking through a thick, dry mouth.
“What do you mean he won’t take no? Is he pressuring you to have sex?”
Her cheeks flamed and I knew the answer was yes. Ever since I had found condoms in Ada’s drawer, I thought she was already having sex. The fact that she wasn’t brought a wave of relief to my tired soul.
“Ada, the guy is not for you. Not only should he respect your wishes, but he sounds like a douchebag. And believe me, I know douchebags. You need someone who likes you no matter what. Your fashion, your ideas, your blog, your scary mood swings, your secret love of Japanese pop music and your aversion to physical activity. Everything.”
She looked at me with shy eyes. “I just want to be liked for me.”
Her honesty pinched my heart. “I know. Everyone does.”
“Have you ever had that? Had someone who liked you for everything that you are? You know, without shady motives?”
I gave her a sad, drug-induced smile. “No. I haven’t.”
Her face fel . It matched the sinking feeling in my heart.
“But it doesn’t mean I won’t,” I added with some sincerity.
“Even when they find out about your…um, powers?”
It was startling to hear her address my ghost-hunting business as powers, especial y in such a serious tone of voice, but I guess she wasn’t all that wrong.
“Wel . Now I’m thinking twice,” I joked, almost slurring.
Ada opened her mouth to say something and then slowly shut it. She pursed her lips and let out a deep breath through her nose. There was something else on her mind.
“What is it?” I asked lazily. Sleep was just seconds away.
“What if…what if I’m just like you?”
What the hell is that supposed to mean, I thought and fought to say it out loud to her. But my mouth was too weak to form words. My eyes closed and the formidable pul of slumber won.
Despite the bouts of pain that stil stabbed me from time to time, I managed to show up to work the next afternoon, much to the surprise of Ash and Shay.
“Honey, if you want to go home, go home,” Shay said to me as I put on my apron. “Ash said you were almost dead.”
I rolled my eyes and looked at Ash. “It wasn’t that bad.”
“Perry, you nearly chewed through my seatbelt,” he said, widening his eyes believingly at Shay.
“Your seatbelt is from 1982,” I told him. “It’s old.”
“Hey, I’m from 1982,” Shay cried out. Shay wasn’t old by any means. With her bubbly personality, youthful Pakistani complexion and round face, Shay looked younger than I did. She was also the nicest boss ever, providing you didn’t get on her bad side.
“1982? Nah, you mean 1992,” I said, covering up smoothly.
Shay shook her head and let out a laugh. “OK, Scary Perry, if you say you’re fine, then I believe you. You certainly act fine.”
The fact was I was faking it. The medication made me tired and even though it dull ed the pain, it was stil there. It’s a strange sensation to feel the throbbing but not the pain. It couldn’t be a good thing; my body surely knew that something was amiss in my nether regions. The only good thing I had going for me was that I got a fine sleep thanks to the Nyquil and I didn’t have to ride my motorbike Put-Put to work; my dad had a meeting at a church and said he’d drop me off. Both my parents were OK with me staying home but I could see I made my dad just a little bit proud when I told them I’d manage and that making a living was more important.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t total bul shit.
Anyway, I was soon sucked into the world of lattes and cash machines and overpriced pastries while trying to keep my cramps at bay. The distractions were certainly helping and I was almost grateful for the dude who spil ed the entire container of milk on the fixings counter.
I was crouched down wiping the spil up from the floor with a wet rag when I heard a voice emanate from near the cashier.
“Pardon me, ma’am, would there be a Perry Palomino here?”
For the second time in two days, my heart skipped a beat and then froze.
I kept low and pivoted in time to see Shay behind the counter, pointing my way. In front of her was a very tal , very well -built man dressed in hiking boots, faded jeans and a green checkered shirt underneath a tan leather jacket.
He didn’t have to turn his ginger head in order for me to know his eyes would match his shirt exactly. But he did and looked right at me.
To say I was devoid of thought would be an understatement. As with Rebecca the day before, I could only blink, my arm continuing to mop up the milk like it was on autopilot.
He smiled, a wide flash of white teeth against weather- beaten, freckled skin and sauntered over to me like he hadn’t a care in the world. He stopped right before me so I was nose to his boots, which were just as worn and dusty as his jeans.
“Miss Palomino,” he drawled in his light Louisiana accent. He held out his large hand for me. Without thinking, I put mine in his. It looked so small in comparison.
He lifted his hand up until I was at my feet. I had risen as if he had Jedi powers.
“What…uh, what?” was my very intel igent response.
He squeezed my hand and that action sent two competing feelings through my body. One was uneasiness, that this was a friend of Dex’s, or an ex-friend, but at least an associate to a past that kept trying to rear its head in my life. The other feeling was one of warm shivers because he was oh so handsome, maybe even more so now that we were out of the grime and desolation of Red Fox (where I had met him before), and he and Dex never real y got along to begin with.
Stil , the question remained and I couldn’t help but blurt out, “Maximus! What the hel are you doing here?”
“Why Perry, you haven’t changed at all ,” he said with a smirk. “Do you mind if I steal you away from your, uh, position, for a few moments?”
I looked over at Shay. Even though she was in the middle of talking to a customer, her eyes met mine and she gave me a slight nod and a deliciously bemused smile.
Unfortunately, Ash’s expression was one of utter distrust for the tal , handsome stranger. I couldn’t blame him. Maximus stuck out in Portland like an exotic flower in a bed of weeds (even though half the weeds probably got a similar shirt from Urban Outfitters).
He continued to hold my hand while I awkwardly held the milk-soaked rag in the other and he led me to the corner of the shop where a table sat unoccupied.
In true gentleman fashion, he pul ed out my chair and gestured for me to sit down.
I did, feeling out of it and stupid. He pul ed up the other chair, his long legs sprawling out underneath. He rested his elbows on the table and looked me over slowly.
I made sure to do the same to him. It gave me time to gather my thoughts.
I had only known Maximus for a short amount of time. A weekend, real y, back in October. It was the second Experiment in Terror episode that had Dex and me trotting out to New Mexico to uncover a so-cal ed poltergeist. Only it wasn’t a poltergeist at all , but the work of an evil shaman, or medicine man, and his bewitched lover, who conspired to bring her husband’s ranch to its knees.
Maximus was the one who had set it all up. He had been cal ed in because he is, in some ways, like a ghost whisperer. Obviously he doesn’t have Jennifer Love Hewitt’s boobs in this case, but what he does, or what he says he does, is pick up on the readings, or “imprints,” of the people who died. He can figure out what they were doing and thinking in their last moments of death. Some of Maximus’s “power” went further than that, I believe, so that it was almost a psychic ability. But neither Dex nor I saw any sign of this condition when we were with him in Red Fox.
The only thing Maximus deduced was that “nothing died there,” which could have been a lucky guess. Dex seemed to think that Max was just ful of it and trying to scam the living by saying he could talk with the dead.
I wasn’t sure what to think. In some ways I’m the same, so it’s not like the ability is far-fetched or impossible. On the other hand, I never saw any proof of this power directly. He had proved before that he cared for me and for the Lancasters, yet I was always a bit suspicious of his true motivations. Maximus and Dex had a fal ing out after col ege, after Dex’s ex, Abby… Stop, I shouted to myself. I didn’t want to think about that anymore. Even the sound of her name caused a shiver to run through my already weak body.