Ashes to Ashes (Experiment in Terror #8) by Karina Halle
It’s been two months since I first told Dex Foray that I loved him. Two months since we’ve lived together, as an actual couple, in his Seattle apartment. And two months since Rebecca Sims joined us as our welcomed third wheel in the Experiment in Terror show. It goes without saying that they’ve been the best two months of my life.
But, like most things, it hasn’t been perfect. My relationship with my family is now awkward as all hell—I mean more so than it used to be, and that says a lot. I’ll talk to my mom and dad maybe every two weeks, and it’s just one of those please shoot me in the head kind of moments where you’re grasping for shit to say and your mouth is moving and suddenly you’re talking about the weather or the latest celebrity scandal or things you can’t even remember just to keep the conversation going, just so it doesn’t lag and you don’t have to address the giant flaming pink rollerblading elephant in the room.
Yeah … about that giant flaming pink rollerblading elephant. That would be that I left my parent’s house, where I had spent most of my twenty-three years, and decided to move in with my partner. Dex. The guy that my parents absolutely hated because I had an ill-timed fling with him back when he had a girlfriend (no judging), and he turned into a dick right after I slept with him (please no judging), and I ended up miscarrying his baby (okay, the judging is inevitable). I’m not saying any of that lightly because it pretty much ruined the fabric of my being and introduced demonic possession into my life experiences, but I mean, you can kind of understand why my parents think Dex Foray is public enemy number one.
Obviously, they don’t approve of my new life. I can tell that from the things they aren’t saying and the questions they aren’t asking. They don’t even wonder when or if I’m coming home; it’s just such a non-issue that it’s become an issue. At least for me. I want them to care. I want them to say something, even if it’s just to scream at me.
The only person that I talk to truthfully on a daily basis (even if it’s just mainly through texts) is my younger sister Ada. She’s happy for me, happy that things are going well with Dex (even though she often starts the conversation with, “You guys still together? Yes? Okay cool,”) but she doesn’t pull back from telling me how badly she wants me to come back home, even just for a visit.
The thing is, I’m totally scared. One part of me wants to go back, to try and smooth things over and make things right. Maybe if they see Dex again, months later and in a better context, they’ll learn to like him. To see the things I see. To see how well he treats me. And I want to see Ada and hug her and make her feel like she doesn’t have to face my parents alone. But the other half of me thinks it could be a mistake—that they’d never open up to him, and I’d regret even trying to make amends. I could make things worse.
I needed a sign.
“Ouch, Jesus,” I swore at the stabbing pain at my wrist. I glared up at the burly, bearded tattoo artist who was glaring back at me.
“Try not to flinch,” he said gruffly, his gloved hand hovering over my bared wrist.
“You’re almost done, honey,” Rebecca said in her soothing British accent, patting my other hand. “Few more minutes. Looks fab.”
I sighed and tried to relax my body. Now that I wasn’t daydreaming, everything was very real. I was with Rebecca, lying on my back in a Seattle tattoo parlor, getting some ink on my wrist. My first tattoo, and though it didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would, it was still extremely uncomfortable. It probably didn’t help that it was on one of the more sensitive areas. I was just lucky I decided to go with one color of ink—blue—instead of getting it filled in.
Oh yeah, I was getting a tattoo of an anchor. Cliché, I know, but I got it for Dex. After all, he had a tattoo inspired by me on his shoulder, and I figured it was only fair. And, you know, he was my anchor. When he’d given me the anchor silly band back on D’Arcy Island, that stupid little gesture meant so much to me. Then, when I’d ripped it off after, well, the “incident,” I’d missed that symbol. Through all the ups and downs we’d gone through, in the end, he was still my rock. And an anchor was a hell of a lot sexier than getting a big ass boulder tatted on you.
“He’s going to be so surprised,” Rebecca said as the tattoo machine resumed its buzzing.
I ground my teeth together against the vibrating prickles. “Uh huh. I hope so.”
I asked Rebecca to accompany me here so I wouldn’t have to go through it alone. I wanted it to be a surprise for Dex, so I just told him we were going out and doing girly things. I know his dirty mind was probably imagining us heading to some International Pillow-Fighting Convention, and a tattoo parlor was the last place he’d think of. I wasn’t really the tattoo type—my interests in life were so wavering and fleeting, but my love for Dex was as permanent as ink. I wanted him to know that.
“Okay, you’re done,” the man said, lifting away the needle, the room growing temporarily quiet without the constant buzz.
He grunted in response and motioned for me to sit up. I slowly did so and stared at my left wrist. It wasn’t bleeding like I thought it would be since I’d felt him periodically dabbing it with cloth as he worked. The tattoo was shiny and raised, the skin around it red, but it looked beautiful. Simple but beautiful. And I suddenly felt infinitely cooler.
I looked up at Rebecca for her approval as the artist started wrapping it in black plastic. Her matte red lips were stretched into a smile, her eyes sparkling with delight. In fact, she looked borderline ecstatic which I found almost odd.
“He’s going to love it,” she said. “Really, really. It’s going to mean so much to him.”
I smiled. “Good.”
It’s not that Dex didn’t know how I felt about him. After what happened to us in New Orleans, and how he’d almost died right before my eyes and I almost lost him in so many ways, I’d had verbal diarrhea of the lovey-dovey kind. But for some reason, at times I could tell it was hard for Dex to believe me. When I told him I loved him, he had a knack for turning it into a joke, like, “You say that to all the boys,” and while he played it off in his cheeky way, I could tell it came from somewhere. I hoped the tattoo would ease that for him.
Like I said, they’d been the best two months of my life, but things weren’t perfect. It’s hard to truly appreciate things when somewhere in the back of your mind you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop.
I swung my legs off the table, admiring even the black plastic around my wrist. That, combined with my new twelve-hole forest green Doc Martens and my leather jacket that was too hot for the surprisingly warm May weather, I felt better than I had in weeks. See, along with the whole impeding feeling of doom that I couldn’t shake (and I had no idea what it was about either), I’d gained some weight after moving in with Dex. I could blame his diet all I wanted, but the fact was he ate fairly well and still went to the gym every day, so there goes that excuse. I knew they were “happy pounds,” like the in-love equivalent of the freshman fifteen, but it still had me a bit bummed out. Dex loved me the way I was, but I still felt like I had to be something he could show off, something like his ex-girlfriend Jenn. I’d lost the shape I worked hard for over Christmas, and I always had the fear that one day he’d realize I wasn’t good enough for him.
“Come on,” Rebecca said, tugging on my arm toward the cash register. “Let’s get you home to your man.” She clicked her way over to the counter in her sky-high red heels, her small ass sashaying in her pencil skirt. Rebecca was the opposite of me. Since she and Emily broke up, she’d been doing nothing but losing weight, something she didn’t need to begin with.
It didn’t help that when we had our last meeting with Jimmy Kwan at Shownet over Experiment in Terror, he brought up the fact that Rebecca should be in front of the camera. He wasn’t trying to boot me off, so he said, but that two hot girls were better than one. Luckily Rebecca refused, saying she was only good as a production manager and that her days of hosting ended when Wine Babes did. And even though Rebecca was his good friend, Dex agreed. I probably would have hit him if he didn’t.
Ever since we’d come back from New Orleans, we’d done about five shows together as a “threesome.” It wasn’t until the fourth show—investigating the haunted town of St. Augustine in Florida—that we really found our rhythm and clicked. Though filming hadn’t changed much, Dex and I had to adjust to a more regimented schedule, running on Rebecca’s time now and not our own. I had to admit it helped—we never wasted too much time in one space, and we were always in the most opportune areas, but there was a learning curve all the same. We had to stop being “Perry and Dex” and remember that Rebecca was counting on us as well. Then there was the fact that Rebecca wasn’t, well, she wasn’t like us. She rarely saw anything supernatural, and I know it started to bug her too when Dex and I would be freaking out or talking to ghosts, and she’d be staring at nothing. By the fifth episode, a haunted library in Eureka, Rebecca decided she’d only be around the actual filming when we needed a hand—otherwise she’d be somewhere else and leave the ghosts to us.
“I wonder where we’re filming next,” Rebecca commented as we walked down the street to her car.
I shot her an odd look, wondering if she’d heard my thoughts. I still had this tendency to project my thoughts and lately I’d been picking up on other people’s. It usually happened with Dex, though on occasion I’d find it in some random person. But Rebecca had never been on the receiving end of Perry telepathy. At least not yet.
“Did you hear what I was thinking?” I asked.
She smiled. “No, and believe me, the day I hear you, you’ll know. It’s just we both know that Dex is having that meeting with Jimmy today. I’m assuming it won’t be about me being a host since I nearly ripped him a bloody new one. Hopefully it will be another assignment.” She unlocked the door to her hatchback and I got in in the passenger seat. “I mean, it’s been three weeks since we returned from California and I know the library episode wasn’t a complete disaster.”
I nodded as she took us out of the Queen Anne district and headed back to downtown Seattle. I rubbed the plastic over my tattoo, wanting to peek at it again but having to restrain myself. “I know. It’s like I know there are tons of paranormal hot spots all over the country—more now than ever, according to websites.”
She brought out a cigarette and rolled down the window before lighting it. “I sent a bunch of suggestions to Jimmy too, but I think after Florida, he wants to keep us closer to home.”
“Because he’s cheap.”
She exhaled a cloud of blue smoke. “I guess having a sponsor didn’t really help.”
“At least it’s paying for your salary. We didn’t have that before.”
She gave me a shy glance. “So you’re saying you don’t totally resent me for being on the show with you?”
I looked at her incredulously. “What? No! What makes you say that?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. I feel like the third wheel sometimes.”
“You are the third wheel,” I said. She gave me a half smile and I quickly continued. “Meaning, you’re the wheel. You steer us, you keep us going in the right direction. Yeah, it’s different for me and Dex, but sometimes I think it’s because our relationship has changed too. Everything is different from the way it used to be and that’s not a bad thing. Thanks to you, the shows are tighter and we’re not wasting as much money, and Jimmy doesn’t yell at us as much. The shows look better too—just having you around to put up a second light or whatever. Seriously, Becs, you’re awesome. You’re the reason Dex and I can still do this. You’re a lifesaver.”
“Well, you’re way more fun to work with than Jenn,” she said. “Though that’s a given.”
Sometimes I’d forget that Dex started out at Shownet by being the cameraman for Wine Babes, filming Jenn and Rebecca as they talked about pairing certain wines with McShit from McDonalds. That’s how he hooked up with that bitch to start with. I tried to shrug off the questions, wanting to ask Rebecca what they were like when filming together versus the way Dex and I are. I was under the impression that they were off humping like bunnies every time they worked together, and though Dex and I weren’t that different, I think he was slightly more professional around me. Which was good…right?
I rubbed my lips together, keeping my mouth shut, and sat back as Rebecca put Lana Del Ray on her stereo. I let the music rush over me and fidgeted in anticipation of Dex’s reaction to my tattoo. I really hoped he wasn’t going to think it was too much. Sure, we’d been together for two months as an actual couple, but things were still so fresh and new for us in so many ways.