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.
We found parking on the street just as the monorail trundled past our apartment, heading down 5th Avenue, and made our way up to the apartment. As soon I as stuck my key in the lock, I heard tiny little paws and claws scampering on the ground and knew Fat Rabbit was launching himself across the floor at rocket speed.
I turned around and eyed Rebecca’s bare legs. “Be prepared.” Fat Rabbit had already ruined countless pairs of tights from jumping on her, much like Dex had ruined countless pairs of underwear by ripping them off of me.
I eased open the door to see the drooling, elfin little face of Dex’s French bulldog jumping up at me, emitting frantic barks of joy. I’d gotten used to the little bugger, but Dex was still his master, his alpha. Fatty Rab treated me like another dog, which was fine since I didn’t have to be the one to discipline him. Actually, it was kind of charming when Dex did have to lay the smackdown on him (not literally of course). There was a warm feeling in the back of my head, the surprising idea that he’d be a very good father.
But that was my silly brain always getting ahead of everything. I constantly needed to remind myself to concentrate on the present before my mind started fantasizing about all these ridiculous plans for my future. One step at a time….
I shooed the dog away with my boot, knowing Dex wasn’t home yet, and we walked into the apartment. Not a lot had changed since I moved in. It was my place too now, and it felt like it, but it wasn’t like I’d always harbored dreams of redoing Dex’s place. I had some vintage travel posters framed and put on the walls alongside signed concert posters, a few skull-embossed pillows added to the couch, a potted plant in the corner near the balcony, and a small herb garden I started on the windowsill, but that was about it. It was very us—whatever that meant.
I made Rebecca and I a cup of coffee with our new espresso machine, somehow managing to spray coffee all over my shirt. While I was in the bedroom changing, I heard Dex come in. Well, I heard Fat Rabbit erupt into a chorus of happy barks.
I slipped on a long-sleeved Henley, unbuttoning the top few buttons (Dex always said you gotta work with what God gave you), and made sure the sleeve covered the plastic over the tattoo. I poked my head out the door to see him throwing his car keys into the bowl on the kitchen counter before scooping Fat Rabbit into his arms.
Dear Lord, there was never anything hotter than watching Dex cuddle his dog. And as usual, he was looking good. The “pinch me, is he really my boyfriend?” kind of good. I literally asked myself that every single day.
He was wearing his only pair of blue jeans (most of his pants were either camo, grey, or black) that were so worn it looked like he’d had them since he was a teenager. They made his ass look amazing, regardless. On his feet were his black army boots. His t-shirt was white, not too tight, but you could still see his amazing shoulders and pecs, and his biceps popped with that early summer color. He’d picked it up at some thrift store, probably because it said Ride the Mustache across it.
He gave Fat Rabbit a kiss on the head and said hello to Rebecca.
“Where’s Perry?” he asked. Before she could answer, his dark eyes quickly flew over to me and he smiled as bright as day, his dimples showing on his scruffy face. “There’s my woman.”
It felt like warm honey poured down my spine and feather-winged butterflies flew up my limbs. All it took was to see him, to hear those words that I was his, and I was falling in love, so hard and so fast all over again. It made me forget all my problems, lifted that ominous weight off my back. He worked better than any anti-depressant.
I grinned back at him as he put Fat Rabbit on the ground and walked over to me. He put his arm around the small of my back and pulled me close to him before kissing me softly on the lips. He pulled away and brushed my hair behind my ear. From the way his dark eyes were glinting as they searched mine, I had to wonder what was on his mind, if somehow he already knew about the tattoo.
“Hey kiddo,” he said, voice rough and soft at the same time.
Rebecca cleared her throat from across the room and Dex looked back at her.
“Sorry,” he said, though I knew he wasn’t. “I guess you don’t want to get in on this action. Do you?”
She rolled her eyes and I quickly smacked him across his chest. He grinned cheekily back at me and ran his hand through his thick black hair before taking mine in his and leading me over to the couch.
“Now I can tell you two are hiding something from me because you both have these devilish little girly smirks on your faces,” he said as he sat me down.
I looked over at Rebecca, eyes wide, and she quickly shrugged just before he turned to her.
“But,” he continued, giving her the stare down, “before I get it out of you by nefarious means, we have to talk about the show.”
I swallowed hard, a lump forming in my chest. I really hoped Jimmy wasn’t ragging on him again about making Rebecca the host. Dex noticed the look on my face and said, “Don’t worry. I think this is very good news.”
Rebecca stepped closer, folding her arms. “Well, what is it?”
“We’ve got a show. And it seems like it’s going to be a good one.”
I exhaled noisily at that.
“It’s about time,” Rebecca said. “Where?”
He took in a deep breath before saying, “A haunted school. On the Oregon Coast.” He looked at me expectantly. “It’s just an hour away from your Uncle Al’s.”
I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. “Oregon?”
“We’re going back to the beginning, baby,” he said, wagging his brows. “Only there’s no lighthouse this time. As shit-your-pants scary as that Old Roddy fucker was, we’ve got a school of dead children. But we can handle it. And if we can’t, well that’s what Jack Daniels is for.”
Rebecca pursed her lips. “Okay, I’m going to need a bit more information than school of dead children, Dex. What was wrong with all the suggestions I kept giving to Jimmy? There are heaps of haunted places around with actual documented phenomenon. In all my research, I’ve never come across any kind of haunted school before on the Oregon Coast.”
“To be fair, Becs,” Dex said with a leveling gaze, “you’ve only been doing research for, what, two months? Jimmy said this just came to his attention the other day. He’s already discussed it with the sponsors and the school and they’ve all agreed to it.” She frowned at that, probably feeling that her role as production manager was getting stepped on a bit by Jimmy himself. “And anyway, he showed me the location and gave me the lowdown on the whole place. It seems legit.”
He walked over to the fridge and pulled out a beer. “Anyone want one?”
Rebecca and I shook our heads while he came back, swigging on a bottle of Heineken. He sat down on the couch beside me, his arm coming around my shoulder.
“Where on the coast?” I asked him, my mind still stewing over the fact that I’d be not only returning to Oregon, but near the place that started it all, the place where I first met Dex. It was a fucking trip to think how full circle this could be, to go from running into him in the lighthouse and staring at his face for the first time to sitting beside him in our apartment, his arm around me, in love. Did I even realize at the time what this strange man would become to me? Everything.
“There’s a small town called Gary on the coast, just north of Tillamook. I know you and I have driven past it before.”
I frowned, my memory jogging in place.
He continued, “There’s a giant smokestack there leftover from a mill that no longer exists. I remember you telling me it looked creepy. I thought it looked like an ancient dildo.”
“You would,” I said. I had a faint image of it in my head. “Is there a large G carved into the mountainside?”
He nodded. “Yeah. The town itself is nothing to look at, but there used to be a sanitarium there. Sea Crest. Until the 50s it was used for children with Tuberculosis. They believed the fresh ocean air would, I dunno, clear their lungs or something. But it never did. There was no cure until there was a cure. It was basically a house of death. The kids would die in the end, all of them dropping like flies. You came in to Sea Crest by the front door and you came out by the morgue.”
I shivered despite it being warm in the room.
“Sounds like a bloody good time,” Rebecca said under her breath.
Dex slapped his knee, making me and Fat Rabbit jump. He seemed to be a little too enthusiastic about this. “Speaking of blood, when the patients died, the doctors would put them on this special slab and drain their bodies of blood. Apparently in the upper floors of the school, you can see the rivers of blood in the floor that they couldn’t seem to clean away.”
“How is this still being used?” I asked. “I mean, a school?”
He shrugged. “I know. Apparently it’s a grade school for artistically gifted children. Their old school was in Tillamook but it burned down a couple years ago. Parents didn’t want to have to pay for a new building with an increase in tuition so they decided to take over the old sanitarium.”
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