He pulled away, his eyelashes grazing against my cheeks and whispered, “Thank you. Thank you for letting me in.” There was so much sincerity in his voice, this funny man of mine, that I couldn’t help but put my hands on both sides of his face, feeling the strength in his fine jaw, and looked him deep in the eyes until I hoped he could see my soul.
“I’m not letting go of you,” I said softly, feeling like my heart was beating just for him. “Not ever. This is permanent.”
The words felt so heavy leaving my lips, but they were nothing but the truth.
Dex proceeded to make love to me right there—I mean really make love. That looking deep into your eyes, slowly devouring every inch of your body, coming so hard that it feels like your souls are fusing together as one, seeing stars, kind of love. Cheesy maybe, but god I loved him, and this, us, felt so incredibly real. So incredibly right.
When we were finished, I kept the bandage off the tattoo and a smile on my face for the rest of the day.
I woke up in a cold place. That’s all I could feel, this terrible chill that enveloped my body from inside and out, an icy hand that gripped my organs and froze my heart.
Where was I? I tried to open my eyes but my lids seemed fused together. I was lying down, on my back somewhere, seemingly all in one piece.
Another dream? I hadn’t had a nightmare or anything like this for what seemed like months.
Perry, a familiar voice came floating into my head. Open your eyes, darling.
I did as the voice asked and saw nothing above me but grey, heavy clouds. I slowly sat up and when I realized what I was looking at, I was struck with a mix of fear and relief.
Everything around me was grey—monotone—fields that stretched on forever with grass that did not move and air that felt thick like soup. Smelless. Soundless. Tasteless.
In front of me was my grandmother, Pippa. She wasn’t close, just a few yards away, but even then I could tell there was a marked change in her. Despite the fact that she was dead, the times I had seen her in the past she’d looked a lot more vibrant. Now she was skinnier, and dressed in a shapeless dress and long coat that hung off her bones. Her hair was thinning more, the curls dull. There was no makeup on her face at all, making her look both more human and more vulnerable.
“Pippa,”I said, never feeling comfortable enough to call her Grandma. “Where am I? Am I in the Thin Veil?”
We are somewhere I think is safe, she said without speaking.
Am I dreaming? I asked, remembering I could just think it and she would hear it. I was wearing every day clothes, not Dex’s t-shirt I fell asleep in every night. This had to be a dream.
She held my gaze steady, her eyes still full of life even though the rest of her seemed to be wasting away.
I’m sorry I haven’t been around, she said.
I swallowed and nodded, noticing the tense tone of her voice.
Things are changing over here, she said. Things are changing for me. I’m afraid I won’t be able to see you very often.
I don’t know. But I feel it. I know you can see it in me. Though I am dead, I am also dying. And you…you are growing stronger.
I bit my lip. I don’t understand. Stronger how?
You are able to put your thoughts in other people’s heads and you’re starting to pick up on their thoughts. Not with everyone, but with others like you. Like me.
So? I mean, what’s the use in that? I don’t want that, I don’t want people to know what I’m thinking, and I don’t want to know what they’re thinking.
You will learn to block your thoughts and learn to block theirs. But that is beside the point. You are gaining these gifts at rapid speed, which means you have the capacity for immense power.
I’m not a fucking superhero.
Don’t swear, Perry, she chastised me, her nostrils flaring.
Sorry, I replied.
I’m trying to warn you.
Then come out and say it. You know this passive aggressive dilly dallying has never worked in my favor.
I would tell you more if I knew for a fact, for certain. Alas, I do not. She looked up at the sky, frowning. I followed her gaze but saw nothing out of the ordinary for whatever world we were in. She went on. But I do feel things, and I have…instincts…that I never had when I was alive. The demons on the other side are growing. The ones that make it through to the Veil are strong. The ones who make it through to your side are even stronger. It gets worse each year.
My heart slowed a few beats, but still I raised a brow, forcing myself to be cynical rather than scared. Is that so?
She smiled lightly which only made her hollowed out cheekbones more pronounced. You feel it. Everyone on your side feels it. The disasters, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes. The daily violence. The fall of humanity. Everything crumbles for a reason.
So what do I have to do with the fall of humanity? I asked. What she said did make sense but you could probably say that about humanity at any time during our planet’s history.
You don’t have anything to do with it. But maybe you will. Or someone you know will. Someone who is as equally special as you.
Dex, I said, exhaling slowly.
Yes, she said. I think he might be a target. Could be. Or maybe your sister. Or maybe other people that I do not know. I just know that when demons get to the other side, they look for a host and they go after the ones with power.
Been there, done that, I said, narrowing my eyes at the memory. Have the t-shirt.
This isn’t the time for jokes, Perry.
Well what the hell am I supposed to do about it? I asked, raising my hands in frustration. I don’t even know where I am and you’re telling me that more demons are looking for people like me.
Her eyes turned soft, her mouth grave. I just wanted to warn you. Nothing I said is necessarily true. It is just what I feel and what I fear. If something did happen to you, to Declan, to Ada, to…she trailed off and swallowed hard. Just know I had to tell you, even if it turns out to be nothing.
Well, let’s just hope it’s nothing then, I said, because honestly, dealing with this seeing ghost business is hard enough. Thank God for Dex, because if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t know how I’d cope in this life, always seeing things that others can’t.
It is lonely. And I wouldn’t wish it upon my greatest enemy. I felt a life of isolation and sorrow roll off of her and onto me.
Suddenly her head jerked up, and this time there was something to see in the sky. I couldn’t quite make it out; it seemed to be both very close and very far away. It looked like a bat, a giant black one, with a wingspan that grew larger as it grew closer.
“Time for you to go,” Pippa said.
Everything shimmered, rippled, a dance of air on a palette of grey.
Then I was back in the apartment, standing in the living room in Dex’s t-shirt, my legs and feet bare and cold. I heard a little snuffle from beside me and saw Fat Rabbit roll over on the couch, seemingly asleep and uninterested.
The fuck just happened? Was I sleepwalking, dreaming I was in the Veil with Pippa? Or had she actually, physically brought me there? Wasn’t that supposed to be dangerous in a way?
I just know that when demons get to the other side, they look for a host and they go after the ones with power.
I shuddered at her words as they played over in my head. I’d already faced my demons, I’d already gone to hell and back. There was no way that could happen to me again. No way.
But what about Dex? asked the voice in my head. Ada?
I knew I’d do whatever I could to protect both of them. But I also knew I couldn’t freak out over an unsure warning in what might have been just a dream.
It had to be a dream.
I sighed. I headed to the bathroom to pee when suddenly there was a burst of vibration and a buzzing sound. With my hand at my chest, I spotted Dex’s cell on the kitchen counter, dancing and skipping from a muted phone call.
I frowned and quickly went over to it. Not only was it four in the morning, but the number was 1-234-56789123456789, something I had never seen before.
I picked it up and pressed answer. “Hello?” I said quietly, not wanting to wake Dex if I didn’t have to.
There was silence though I thought I heard breathing.
“Hello?” I asked again.
Someone cleared their throat. “Sorry. I may have the wrong number. Is…is Declan Foray there?”
“Declan?” I asked, always finding it funny when people addressed him by his full name. “He’s sleeping.”
“That’s a shame,” the man said. I couldn’t really figure out if he was young or old. He had a clipped way of speaking.
“Can I take a message?”
“Who is it that I am speaking to?”
I paused, feeling funny about the whole thing. “Perry,” I said reluctantly.
“Are you his girlfriend? His wife?”
I would have snorted at that if I wasn’t so creeped out.
“Who is it that I am speaking to?” I asked.
“I must have the wrong number,” he mused slowly. Then the call went dead.
I stared at the phone, trying to wrap my head around it. Then I shrugged and headed back to the bedroom. It was time to go back to sleep.
I didn’t really remember the phone call, nor my dream about Pippa, until a couple of days later when we were getting ready to leave for Oregon. I left out the dream since it was probably nonsense anyway—I was under a lot of stress when it came to seeing my parents, so my mind was probably concocting a bunch of nonsense—but I told Dex about the call. It didn’t seem to interest him a bit so I left it at what he thought it was—a pushy telemarketer in the night.
“The dog sitter will be here in ten minutes,” I yelled at Dex from the bedroom. He was in the bathroom and taking forever. “And then we have to be out of here.”
I heard him mumble something that sounded like, “Relax, kiddo,” followed by the buzz of his electric razor.
I sighed. Rebecca had been Fat Rabbit’s regular dog sitter until she joined our team. Now we’d been trying to find the right one for a while. The last one we had was Dex and Rebecca’s friend Seb, and when we returned home, we were paranoid that Seb had turned the place into a marijuana grow-op. Even the dog seemed to be extra lazy upon our return. As soon as the new sitter, Ana Rita, showed up, we’d take off for Oregon.
I still hadn’t told my parents about it. In fact, I hadn’t told Ada either. We’d decided to head straight to the coast and then stop by Portland on the way back, so at this point I’d only called Uncle Al. He sounded overjoyed to hear from me—it’s wasn’t like I regularly talked to him anyway—and it calmed my nerves a bit.
But only a bit.
Because I was pretty fucking nervous about this whole thing. The child ghosts at this school weren’t even entering my head—I was worried about my parents and their reaction to me showing up. I was worried about how they would or wouldn’t accept Dex. Even though I’d cut the ties and I was more than old enough, they were still my parents and they still had a strange hold on me.
I looked over my shoulder at my small suitcase I’d packed on the bed. Then I looked at Dex’s duffel bag on the floor. I peered inside. It was completely empty.
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