His face went cold. “I did what I had to do.”

“What the fuck does that mean? No one said you had to side with her parents and make her look like a nutcase. No one said you had to pretend that all this supernatural stuff was bullshit. No one made you do this stuff. You fucked it up yourself.”

He grew silent. I didn’t like the silence. I wanted him to come back at me with words. I wanted to keep wanting to hit him.

“That’s not true at all,” he said quietly. “You have no idea.”

“No idea about what? You were being a selfish prick.”

“Oh, and you weren’t? You destroyed her.”

“And you turned her in. Fine pair of men we make.”

I clenched my fist and sat back in my seat, suddenly angry at myself as well. All Perry needed, deserved, was a man in her life that would love her, support her and make her his world. He had his chance. So had I. Now I was afraid it was too late.

“Anyway, I didn’t turn on her. Her parents wouldn’t have believed me at any rate.”

I shook my head. “That’s not the point. You should have sided with her no matter what the cost.”

“The cost would have been greater than you realize,” he said. His drawl was low and there was a hard edge to his voice. It commanded my attention.

What the fuck did that mean? I want to ask him that but I wasn’t sure what kind of answer I’d get. Something about all of this was tugging at me but my brain couldn’t really focus on what or why.

“Why did you come here?” I asked.

He twitched then composed himself. “What do you mean?”

“Why did you come to Portland? Why did you contact Jimmy?”

He shrugged. “I wanted a change of scenery.”

I watched him closely. He wasn’t meeting my eyes.

“You have good timing, you know that?”

“It depends on what you mean by good,” he mused.

“Just funny how I’m out of the picture and you immediately swoop in.”

“Hey, I had made plans to come here while you were still…in the picture.”

That was true. Jimmy had told Perry and I about Max the night of the Xmas party. The best night of my life turned the worst night of my life. Still…

“And in Red Fox…” I wondered aloud.

Max gave me a funny look. “Red Fox? What about it?”

I didn’t know, exactly. I wasn’t sure where I was going with it, only that something was off, like a missing puzzle piece. I started to think back about Max and what I actually knew about him. Despite being in a band together, sleeping with his girlfriend, spending most of our NYU days working on the same films, frequenting the same bars, I still didn’t know that much about Mr. Maximus Jacobs.

But then again, he could say the same about me.

“Who are you?” I asked, looking him square in the face. “Really?”

He blinked. “Maximus. Just Maximus. Not your buddy. Not your pal.”

“Yet, you’re always around at the most…pressing moments. Trying to help me out in the most backward way possible.”

“Can we go now?” He straightened out his long legs and put his hand on the key. “If you reckon bailing you out of jail is backward helping, you’re the one who’s got things turned around.”

“I don’t trust you,” I told him but buckled up my seat belt.

“I don’t like you.”

“Why did you bail me out then?”

He sighed as he started the truck. “Because I like her.”

His eyes were completely sincere. I know what that look meant. He had it bad for her. Well that made two of us. Whoop dee fucking doo.

“You can’t have her, you know,” I said. I meant it.

“That will be her choice.” He shrugged like it was no big deal. No big deal that he had already lost.

“She already made her choice. I thought that was quite apparent.”

“Yeah, well we’ll see when she’s normal. Which she is now, thank the Lord.”

I bit my lip and looked out at the darkening afternoon. “How far away is the car?”

“Not far. Then you’re free to do whatever you like.”

I opened my mouth to speak but he cut me off. “Whatever you like providing you don’t go to her.”

“Don’t you fucking tell me what I can’t do.”

“I’m not,” he said testily. “You reckon her parents are going to welcome you with open arms if you go back there? They’ll call the cops again.”

“They can’t arrest me for visiting.”

“I wouldn’t press your luck.”

“You care about me again?”

“I’m not bailing you out twice.”

“You won’t have to.” I wasn’t just going to show up. I brought out my phone and started to text Perry. But I didn’t know what to say.

“What are you doing?” Max asked, looking over.

“Do fuck off.” I decided to text Ada instead. I wasn’t sure where Perry was, if she was OK. Just because Maximus said she was didn’t mean it was true. I also didn’t know if her psycho parents were monitoring her phone or something.

I texted, The douchecanoe bailed me out. Where’s Perry? Can I see her?

I waited a few moments for an immediate reply and when I didn’t get one, I put the phone back in my pocket.

“Don’t do anything stupid,” Max warned. “Believe it or not, I really do care about her. We were lucky that she’s fine, that the doctors didn’t find anything wrong with her.”

“That wasn’t luck,” I told him. “That was me. If I hadn’t of showed up…”

“If Ada hadn’t have reached out to you.”

Fuck. I hated it when he was right. I didn’t want to think about what would have happened if Ada hadn’t called me that day.

Max lowered his voice. “You know I wouldn’t have let anything happen to her. I wasn’t going to let them put her away. I wasn’t going to let it go that far.”

“Just far enough, right? And for what reason then?”

“I told you.”

“No, you really didn’t. You’re acting like you’re serving some higher purpose here.”

A weird thought struck me. Was he serving some other purpose? I squinted at him, taking in the ginger. I thought about what we had talked about minutes earlier. His appearances in my life. His “ghost-hearing” abilities. Some things fit together, some things didn’t.

He didn’t say anything. I was tempted to ask the “who are you” question again but I knew it would get me nowhere. He was my old college buddy Max, that’s all he could be. That’s all I wanted him to be.

My phone beeped and I jumped in my seat. Everything had me on edge.

I looked at the text from Ada: WTF?! OK I’m glad ur out. She’s OK - sleeping. Maybe come by around 11 when the rents R asleep.

The thought of Perry lying in her bed, sleeping, brought a smile to her face. As creepy as it sounds, there had been so many times I’d watched her sleep. Just a ratty Slayer concert tee, bedhead, no makeup. She looked so beautiful, so serene, even when she was drooling.

My heart flipped in my chest, a mix of hope and sadness. I swallowed the feeling and buried it by telling myself I was going to do whatever it took to make things right between us again.

Whatever it took.

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Tags: Karina Halle Experiment in Terror Fantasy
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