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Whoa. All I was going to do was apologize again for doing exactly that. Well, fuck. Forget it. I was done. I was out of here.

With a grunt, I got to my feet and stretched up into the moonlight that was now creeping from the nearby window. It would be an easy escape. I picked up my foot to go, but I stopped.

I couldn’t leave like this.

She looked so helpless at my feet. And I did have manners somewhere.

I reached for her hand. She eventually took it, feeling all too tiny in mine, and I brought her to her feet. She staggered a bit, almost keeling over, her camera swinging, and all I could think about was maybe she fell a lot harder than I thought. Maybe she wasn’t really “all there” and we’d need an ambulance after all.

I put my hands on the sides of her arms and stepped closer to her, trying to keep her from faltering. She was short as hell and that was saying a lot since I wasn’t very tall to begin with.

“You OK?” I asked, already knowing she was the type who’d say she was fine even if her limbs were chopped off. I saw a flash of something – hope? — in her eyes before she twisted us around and I was illuminated and her face was hidden in the dark. I searched out her features but couldn’t get them. It was unnerving to not see the round pale face and watchful eyes.

“Just a bit dizzy,” she said. The fact that she admitted that much didn’t sound very good. I began to think where the nearest hospital was, whether I could get her there in the Highlander, if I would need to call her uncle first. Who would then slap me with some trespassing charges and a possible assault charge, because men were dicks and no one would believe a girl could run into me, especially not one pixie-sized.

“Good,” I said, trying to look into her eyes, trying to keep things light. I smiled, thinking it might help my cause. “Promise not to sue?”

“I won’t. Can’t speak for my uncle, though.”

Damn it! Just where was he anyway? Why was she exploring a lighthouse in the dark with-out him?

“Why are you here?” I asked, more and more curious about this little goth girl.

She dropped her gaze to the ground, even though I couldn’t see her anyway.

“We’re having a bonfire at the beach,” she said. Her voice went higher, younger, and I got the distinct impression that she was feeling guilty about something. “I got sick of hanging around teenagers and wanted to come here. My uncle never let me come here when I was younger. I didn’t tell anyone, I just left. I was hoping to film stuff.”

Hoping to film some stuff? As if she couldn’t get any more intriguing. What kind of stuff, exactly. What had she heard about the lighthouse?

She let out a small gasp and started fiddling with something. Her camera. I picked up mine and shone the light on her and while she was squinting uncomfortably at the glare, I took her SLR in my hand and peered it over. Aside from scratches that were probably there before, there was no damage.

“It’s fine,” I told her, trying to sound reassuring. “I thought you wrecked the shit out of mine when you ran into me.”

I patted my camera which made the light bob against her face. She didn’t look very impressed. Who could blame her.

“You’re right,” I said, before she could. “Who cares? I probably deserve to have this camera smashed.”

Even though it would put me back at square one. I couldn’t think about that.

Thump.

I froze. The sound had come from upstairs. Where I had just been. Where nothing else had been. Unless…

I looked at her, putting the light closer to her face. It was Bad Cop time again.

“You sure you came alone?” I whispered.

She replied, “Are you?”

I nodded. She didn’t. It then occurred to me that I had no clue what her damn name was. She never offered it up. I didn’t know anything about her.

This could have all been a trap. They might have known I was coming here. I don’t know how, but maybe they saw the Highlander from a distance. Maybe trespassers were a weekly occurrence. Maybe they lured ghost-hunters here and then robbed them. Or raped them. I’d probably let little miss doe eyes do the honors, but I had no idea how strong her uncle was.

She dropped her eyes from mine and looked at the window. The only easy way of escape.

But if she was thinking of running, that meant she was afraid. It meant she didn’t know who, or what, was upstairs.

And if they didn’t come with her…they were already here.

I leaned into her and smelled something like a fresh breeze radiating from her neck. It took me a moment to find my tongue, find the words to say, “Are you one hundred percent sure that no one else came with you here?”

I wanted to pull away for her response but that energy, that smell, kept my nose and mouth locked near her neck for just a few more seconds.

EVEN DEEPER

“Oh come on, just shoot the freaking zombie already!” Matt or Tony yelled at me. I couldn’t tell which one. They both looked the same and sounded the same – deafening.

I’d been playing video games with Perry’s cousins for the last hour while she checked her emails and we waited for night to fall. My zombie-hunting “skills” seemed just as useless as my ghost-hunting skills and the noises and the graphics were fucking up my equilibrium. I mean, shit. After what went down in the car, running into that psycho, Dame Edna lady again, I was surprised it took me this long to realize everything was doing my head in. I had enough.

“That’s it,” I said, throwing my controller down on the couch and getting up. “I’ve died for the last time.”

The twins made a noise in unison. It sounded like false disappointment. It was eerie.

Then they continued playing like I had never even been there. Also eerie.

And nerdy.

I made my way over the kitchen and started to pull out my notebook from my overnight bag. It still smelled like apple pie here, the one that Perry managed to bake earlier. What possessed her to try baking was beyond my cloudy brain. Just one more thing to scribble down on my mental notepad headlined PERRY and sorted: things I needed to get to the bottom of.

It was good too. Not the best thing I’ve tasted in my life, but it was good considering she ran-domly cooked it in her uncle’s place. I couldn’t even remember the last time I had homemade apple pie. Had I ever? The only time I could think of was the God awful Christmases with Jenn and her white-ass rich folks, and if I knew them, they probably ordered those pies from some epicurean pie catalogue for old farts.

But the thing is, it wasn’t so much what it tasted like but what it smelled like. The damn pie smelled like home to me. But apple pie didn’t exist in my fucked-up youth, and if it had, it wasn’t at the hands of my mother. Perhaps a nanny had baked every now and then. I don’t know, I didn’t care to remember that shit. That whole period was blocked out for very good reasons.

But the smell still stirred up memories that never could have existed. It felt…like, warm. Good. Honest. How the hell did those things belong in my life?

I looked at Perry as she came into the kitchen and sat down at the table across from me. Her face was anxious, like she was having another battle inside that head of hers. There was something about her that stirred up the same feelings. Maybe this had nothing to do with apple pie at all. Maybe it’s that she made it, and when she handed over that first slice and met my eyes, I could see she made it for me. And no one had ever made me anything.

Naturally, I wasn’t about to tell her that. It was retarded, actually, to even think this funny little girl thought of me more than some crazy mustached fucker in her uncle’s kitchen. She just met me. She didn’t know me. And if she thought she did, she was mistaking me for someone else. Some-one who didn’t hide medication in a hollowed-out book.

I kept my mouth shut and began to write an overview of the day. I still managed to watch her at the same time, watch her debating whether to tell me something or not. A glint of something gleamed in her blue eyes. It was almost…hot. Was she thinking something naughty? I found myself shifting uncomfortably in the chair.

“So,” she said, her voice high and self-conscious. “A local ghost hunter’s club in Salem was hoping I could come aboard their team and perhaps show them around the lighthouse.

The…fuck? I stopped writing, trying to process what she was saying. Competition? Already? I knew I should have fucking got her to sign a contract. I knew I was being a fucktard by just trusting that she’d stick with me and not go to someone else with this fucking access, someone who actually knew what they were doing. All that shit we said to each other in the car, all the things I said – that didn’t mean shit, did it? Fuck I was a fool.

I cleared my throat and tried to sound casual. “And?”

She shrugged. “I haven’t gotten back to them.”

How considerate, I wanted to say but I shut my mouth. This was not the time to fly off the handle. I knew I wasn’t thinking straight lately, especially today, I knew I was predisposed to say shit I didn’t mean, hell, shit I didn’t even think. I couldn’t fuck everything up now, not when we were so close.

“Well, you can do whatever you want to do,” I lied through my teeth. “You’re a free agent. We haven’t signed anything.”

Cuz I’m a dick-grabbing monkey, that’s why.

My cell phone rang, preventing me from saying anything else ridiculous. It was Jenn but I was grateful for any distraction.

“Hey babe,” I said.

“Dex?” Jenn’s voice sounded tinny through the poor reception. “Sorry to bug you on your little adventure but Cynthia and Reece wanted to have a girl’s night out and…”

She droned on but I had quit listening and was watching Perry again. Her nose twitched (how cute was that?) and a faint flush of red crept up her neck and onto the side of her face. She straight-ened up in her seat as soon as she noticed me looking but it didn’t stop the girl from looking like she’d rather be in a million other places than sitting here in front of me. I hoped she wasn’t seriously thinking about that pussy ghost hunting club. Who the fuck decides to form one of those?

“….and I know you won’t be home till late, but I won’t be there until probably much later. Is that OK?”

“Yeah, that’s fine.”

“You sure?” Jenn asked and from her tone I knew she didn’t give a fuck if I said it wasn’t. She’d still go out, as she always did. I didn’t even know why she was calling to ask. Maybe she wanted to check up on me.

“Seriously, I don’t mind. Go do whatever it is you girls do.”

After I told her I’d be home in the morning now, I hung up the phone and decided to jump right back into it.

“OK, where were we?” I said out loud. What did we need to know for tonight?

“She doesn’t mind you staying another night?” Perry asked.

I raised my brow. Odd question. Why did she care?

“No,” I said, not wanting to talk about how pathetic our relationship truly was. I let my gaze fall to the window where the wind was shaking the trees loose. I breathed in and let that smell of home bring my heart rate down a notch.

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