Ignoring the tiny voice that said maybe my interest in Dex was less than Brannick-y, I reached out and took his wrist. This time I was prepared for the little buzz that went through me. "You know, I actually like this man-bracelet," I said, turning his wrist for a better look. I hoped it came off as jokey and kind of flirty, but really I was inspecting it for...well, anything. Maybe there were runes or something carved into the links.
Preening a little, Dexter leaned closer to me. "That's because you're a woman of taste. My Nana gave this to me. I have very strict instructions never to take it off."
I looked up sharply at that. "Seriously? Never? Why?"
For the first time since I'd met him, Dex seemed a little uncomfortable. Taking his hand back, he shrugged. "Superstitious thing, I think. Nana, like you, has a touch of the Irish in her." He turned his wrist, the silver gleaming in the fluorescent lights. "Supposed to be lucky, I guess." And then he flashed that grin again. "And clearly it has been lucky, because I was wearing it when I met you." He grabbed another fry from my plate. "My new best friend."
In spite of myself, I laughed. "Oh, so now we're best friends?"
He nodded very seriously. "Two fries I've stolen from you. That cements it."
By the time Dex drove me home, I was thinking less about his bracelet and his Nana and whatever it was I felt when I touched him and more about how nice it was talking and laughing with a boy. Leslie and Everton didn't seem to do much laughing. Mostly they were either crying or angsting or making overly dramatic declarations of love to one another. That had seemed kind of fun on the show, but I thought maybe this was better.
But those kinds of thoughts were pointless and stupid (and I clearly needed to stop watching Ivy Springs). It's a job, I reminded myself as Dex opened the passenger door for me. He is a job. You don't get to think things like how soft his hair looks. Or how nice his eyes are.
Dex walked me as far as the front door, and when he stopped there, my heart pounded in my throat. Oh, God, this was the part where kissing happened. I may never have been on a date, but I'd watched enough TV and read enough books to know that when you eat food with a boy and then he takes you to your door, kissing will occur.
And I was in no way ready for that. Kissing was another one of those things I'd meant to do more research on, just in case. Like, how did you know which way to turn your head? And what about teeth placement? What if there was a spit issue? Should I have taken Torin up on his offer to help me practice? Trying to keep the panic off my face, I turned toward Dex. "Right. So. Good night, then."
He gave a little bow. "Until tomorrow, Fair Isolde."
And then he leaned forward.
My heart was in my ears, and my hands were shaking. Okay, I could do this. It was just lips. Just lips pressing together, hopefully without spit. And tongues... tongues... Okay, actually, no. I could not do this.
I was just about to pull back when Dex reached out and...ruffled my hair. "Sleep tight!" he called cheerfully as he jogged down the front steps.
"Um. You too," I replied, but I was so dazed that I didn't get that out until he was already in the car, pulling away.
Was he going to ruffle my hair all along? Had I just imagined the way he'd looked at my mouth? Or had he seen the naked panic on my face and changed his mind?
I walked into the house and turned to face the little mirror in the hallway. At least that confirmed that, yup, hair and face, totally the same shade. "Magazines," I whispered firmly at myself. "Tomorrow."
Torin's face suddenly appeared, frowning. "Are you talking to me? And why are you all beet colored?"
Luckily, Mom walked around the corner, and Torin immediately vanished. "That took longer than I'd expected," she said, drying her hands on a dish towel.
"I ran into that kid. The one I think is Prodigium. We, uh, grabbed some food."
"And?" Mom asked expectantly.
"And I still don't know what he is." Taking a deep breath, I pushed my shoulders back. "So I wanna stay. A little longer. Just until I find out." After all, there was a chance this whole thing wasn't really over, no matter all the salt thrown on Mary's grave. If Dex's Possible Prodigium Powers had had anything to do with raising her ghost, I needed to know.
Frowning, Mom tossed the towel into the kitchen. "Do you think he's anything dangerous?"
My knees felt watery and my heart was racing. Yeah, Dex was dangerous, all right, but not in the way Mom meant. I gave her my best Tough Chick Grimace. "No. But if he is, I'll take care of it."
She watched me for a long time, so long that I was afraid she was about to say no. Instead, she shrugged. "Okay, then. This one is all yours."
I told myself that the relief flooding through me had everything to do with Mom's trusting me, and nothing at all to do with getting to stay in Ideal.
"But you just get one more month," Mom said. "No more. Anything longer than that can be dangerous for us."
"Right," I said, nodding. Mom never liked to work long jobs. The way she saw it, the longer you were in a place, the more you were expected to make connections, friends even. And Brannicks could never afford that. Too many questions.
"Mom," I said, scuffing my toe against the linoleum. "About earlier-"
The light in the hallway was too dim to see clearly, but I could practically feel Mom frowning. "It's nothing. Just...just, good night, Mom."
The words seemed to hang there in the hallway. Then Mom turned away. "One month, Izzy," she called, heading into the kitchen. "And then we're going home."
The next day, Dex wasn't on the bus, but Romy and Anderson were. As soon as Romy saw me, she grinned and waved me over.
"Hey," I said, finding my seat. "What are you doing here?" Anderson didn't usually ride our bus since he had his own car.
He slumped in his seat, a little sheepish. "My parents may have gotten their credit card bill this month, and they may have discovered that I used their American Express to buy some stuff for PMS."
"Check it," Romy said, nudging Anderson. He opened his backpack, and I could make out some black plastic device that I guessed was his EVP recorder. "I'm totally going to pay them back," Anderson said, zipping up his bag. "But it was on sale, so it made sense to go ahead and buy it, you know?"
"Absolutely," Romy agreed. "But it sucks that they took your car away."
Anderson shrugged. "Just for a few weeks. And hey, it means I get to hang out with you guys more."
I was apparently included in the "you guys," but you wouldn't have known that from the way Anderson's gaze lingered on Romy.
Covering a smile, I asked, "So where's Dex this morning?"
"He texted me that he was running late," Anderson offered, lifting his legs to prop his feet on my seat. As he did, his leg brushed Romy's, and I saw her give a little jump.
She cleared her throat, twisting her ponytail around one finger. "Did he say why?"
Anderson rolled his eyes. "You know Dex. He said it was because his Nana needed him to deliver a covert message to a Colombian drug runner, but he'd be in by lunch."
I snorted with laughter, but Romy frowned. "I bet it was another asthma attack. He's been getting them more often lately."
"Is it bad?" I asked. "His asthma?"
Romy and Anderson nodded in unison. "He laughs it off, but yeah," Anderson said. "It can be scary."
The image of Dex gasping for breath suddenly flashed in my brain, and I felt my chest tighten. A job, a job, a job, I repeated in my head.
"He hasn't lived here long, has he?"
Romy shook her head. "Just since August." And then suddenly she turned to Anderson and said, "Okay, you need to go away for a second."
His sneakers, which had been propped on the back of my seat, thudded to the floor. "Why?"
"Because Izzy and I need to talk girl stuff, and you can't be a part of that."
I don't know if Anderson was just used to following Romy's orders, or if he was terrified we'd start talking about Tampax, but in any case, he moved pretty quickly a few rows away. Reaching over the seat, Romy tugged my hand. "Come here."
Moving over to the now-vacant seat beside her, I raised my eyebrows. "What is it? Something about PMS? I mean, the ghost-hunting PMS, not the...regular kind. Unless you want to talk about that, because we can."
Romy waved her hand. "No, no business and not that kind of girl stuff. The more fun kind of girl stuff." She leaned closer, her dark eyes sparkling. "Do you like Dex?"
She'd whispered it, but I still looked around, hoping no one had overheard. "First off, shhhh! And...yeah, of course I do. I like all of you."
"No, but I mean do you like him? You know, in the carnal sense."
I rolled my eyes. "You've clearly been spending too much time with Dex."
Romy smiled and poked me in the middle of my chest with one lime-green fingernail. "And so have you, if what my sources at the Dairee Kween tell me is correct. Were you two on a date there last night?"
"Please," I hissed. "The shushing. Could you at least try? And no, we weren't on a date. We were just...hanging out."
"In the sexy way."
There it was again. That giggle. That sound I supposedly didn't make. "No," I whispered, trying to look stern. "In the friendly way."
"Mmm-hmm," Romy said, narrowing her eyes.
"What about you?" I said, ducking my head closer. "I saw you jump when Anderson's leg brushed yours."
Now it was her turn to hiss, "Shhhhh!"
Smiling, I leaned back in my seat. "Ah, I see. It's different when the shoe is on the other foot."
"There are no shoes on any feet," Romy insisted, but the tips of her ears had gone pink. "Anderson and I are just friends."
"So we're just two awesome, ghost-hunting girls with two boys who may be cute, but are most definitely nothing more than friends," I said, and Romy grinned.
"We are. Which is why I'm going to share this with you, even though I was going to hog it all to myself for the ride."
With that, she reached into her backpack. I don't know what I expected her to pull out. A tinfoil hat, maybe. A pamphlet on twenty-first-century ghost- hunting techniques.
Instead, she whipped out a glossy issue of Rockin' Grrls! magazine, complete with articles like, "What His Dog Says About His Kissing Style!" and "Is It Wrong to Be in Love with Your Stepbrother?"
"Perfect," I said.
Romy and I spent the rest of the bus ride reading Rockin' Grrls!, and then I spent the walk to class telling her all about Ivy Springs.
"So this Leslie chick works at a circus?" Romy asked as we slid into English.
"Not, like, all the time. Only since her mom married a trapeze artist."
Romy stared at me. "Okay, I clearly need to see this show immediately. You said you own it?"
When I nodded, Romy pointed at me. "Then you are going to bring it to my house next week, and we're going to watch all of it."