It's Saturday morning. The streets of Miami are congested with roadworks, traffic jams and re-routes. Normally, I'd be on top of that, thinking three steps ahead, prepared to deal with whichever obstacle life may throw at me.
A horde of vacation-goers was never one of them.
"Hey, Jamie, it's me," I speak into the phone. Technically, I may still be behind the wheel, though moving less than a mile in the last half an hour hardly counts as driving. "I'm just calling to let you know we're going to be a little bit late." Deb rolls her eyes. I glance at my watch. "Well, a lot late. We're caught in the traffic."
I sound the signal, when another asshole attempts to cut through. On a normal day I wouldn't bother. A normal Dexter would let the slide.
All we need is to get there and all will work out. One nice day on the beach.
"I know. Yeah, the same. Just, tell Harrison - tell him I'm on my way. We're still going, okay? Make sure he knows that."
Deb huffs against the passenger window, knees pressed against the glove box. The AC is on, but there's nothing improve the view, or the fact that she's stuck here with me.
"When is this going to end?" she comments, and I know it's not just about the traffic.
Spending quality time with others is not my forte, not even an acquired skill. Even in my marriage with Rita, I kept my distance. My old apartment. The tool shed. The padlocked chest that contained my secrets, the only evidence of who I really am.
How I wish Deb hadn't pried it open.
"When things are back to normal," I supply, calmly and I manoeuvre back into the first lane.
"Normal?" she retorts sarcastically. "What is that and how did I miss it?"
The joke is double edged. It cuts us both. The vision of Harry sighs in the backseat.
"Deb," I relax, let go of the wheel for a bit. "You know I worry... about you."
This vehicle is not going anywhere, so we might just as well talk.
"How can I not? - After your 'accident'." I raise my brows at her.
"What is that supposed to mean," she sounds surprised, confused. Dismayed even.
I'm about to find out more, but we're moving again, somewhat. Nervous jittery drivers..
"How can you simply veer off the highway," I spell it out, hoping to bring some clarity, "On a straight road?"
"Well, Dex. Shit happens."
Not this kind of shit. Not to us.
So I keep piling up the evidence.
"I know you weren't driving under influence. No drugs. I had Masuka do your tox screen - it came back clean. So, what gives?"
"I was tired. Must have fallen asleep or something..."
"Except you work all sorts of hours, and it's never happened before."
Her mouth parts, gasps for air. Something is unravelling. I can see it.
"Deb, just. Tell me." I have to know. "Did you-"
I can't even say it...
"I did not crash on purpose, if that's what you mean." Deb cuts me short. "A fucking suicide? Jesus Dex, don't you think I'm better than this?"
The van before us starts moving.
The strange part is, I believe her, when she says it like that. Staunch and certain. But I need more.
"Then - why?"
The gap on the road widens, we're facing a twenty feet empty space, and the cars are honking behind us. I can't drive. Not when I need to see her.
Pulled to the roadside, the cars begin to pass us, the cluster is resolving, while we stay.
I let go of the wheel and wait, Debs eyes dark as coal on mine.
"Have you- have you ever driven alone, at night? Going 90 miles per hour, and - for no reason - switched off the lights?" Deb's voice is quiet, eyes distant. Her gaze settles amidst the passing the sea of cars. "Suddenly, you see nothing around you, and everything from afar. The night, the city, but nothing from a few feet ahead. You're flying, at full speed, and you don't see shit. You have no idea where you're at. All you can do is trust, the road, your feeling... that the road is still there, under you."
"How- how often do you do this?" I ask, when I get past the pit in my stomach.
"Once, by accident" she shrugs, pokes the lock with her knee. "Twice, three-four times. Guess that was the last."
"This. is. crazy."
"Crazier than killing people?"
Really? Is she really bringing this back to me?
For once, when I am not the problem here.
I grip the steering wheel, rest my forehead against it. I can't believe this. That she did this, risking her life like that.
"Deb, I do what I do because I need to. Not because of some-"
"Need?" She cuts through my ramblings. "You do what you want to do it, because it's the only way you know how to-..."
- be alive.
Her unfinished sentence hangs between us, and I know the answer.
Worse yet, I'm out of ammo, my arguments that failed me will failed her as well.
"I know I've changed you - turned you into something you're not. And it's my fault. I don't know what to say except I'm sorry, and I want to help you through this... But this risk-seeking behaviour is not the way to do this. It won't end well." I run out of air and excuses.
"Really?" she lets out a surprised laugh. "You're really going to lecture me now?"
"For God's sake, Deb, think about Harrison." I push just a little bit further. And further still. "You're the closest thing to a mother he'll ever have. Don't make him lose you, too."
I wait. Deb's feelings for me might be complex at best, but not when it comes to my son.
"Asshole," Deb mutters. "Why'd you always have to play the Harrison card?"
"I'm not playing anything."
I stop to look at her, our car stranded by the road: a mono-dimensional vastness, surrounded by space.
"I just need you to promise me- Promise me you won't do anything to put yourself in harms way. Deb, I can't-..." frustration takes over me.
She looks at me and my desperation must be obvious to the eye. I can't lose her.
Over anything. Least of all myself.
"And you?" she measures me, with that cold calm she must have learned from me. "What do you promise in return?"
I already gave up my trophies, promised to stay off the cases. What else can I do?
She can't ask me to lay off the killing again, not after...everything.
Her face hardens. "No more crap you bring into our lives. None of those psychopath buddies. Trinity, Travis, Hannah, Rud..." she chokes on the last word, but won't correct herself. "Enough of this shit. From now on, it's business only. You taking care of your - need -, and that's all there is to it. A job. No more cat and mouse, do you hear me?"
"Back to the basics," I agree.
That's what Harry taught me, what The Code stands for. What kept me alive so long...
The elements of play I added to it myself, allowing a bit of fun, to indulge in. Harry never truly approved of the kick I actually got out of it. The symbolism I looked for. The Ritual.
And look where it has gotten me.
"I promise." The road is clear, where there had been a jam, just half an hour ago.
Deb nods, calmer than in days.
I turn the ignition.
Jamie greets us at the entrance, the half-packed bag ready with towels and sunscreen. Few toys that still need to be picked out, a lunch box in the freezer.
"Auntie Deb." The kid runs to Debra's waiting arms.
"Come here, buddy," she laughs and she half-hugs, half lifts her up in the air, and breathes in his sent. "I have missed you."
I know the feeling. The peace he brings. The last remaining piece of innocence in our lives.
Now that I've already ruined Deb.
"Everything okay?" Jamie asks, touches Deb's arm lightly, and looks at me with genuine concern. Quinn has obviously spilled more beans than necessary, which in turn, leaves less explaining to me.
"Yes, no one's hurt." I glance at Deb. Feet in the air, Harrison makes a few twirls in the air before she sets him down, safe. Jamie smiles one last time.
"Good. Let me know if you need anything."
It strikes me - in my beach chair, watching Deb chase Harrison through the sand - how much we look like a small family unit. For an outward glance, however misled, would mistake Deb for a mother rather than an aunt to my son. I wonder what it's like for Harrison, how he'll understand this model of ours.
As sad as it makes me, Rita is all but gone from his life. Neither of us really got to know our real mothers.
At some point he'll be asking questions. If he's smart.
Perhaps he already does.
All this running in the sun must have worn her out, for she's soon back at my side, while Harrison starts piling lopsided towers from wet mud. There's not many others here, just two guys with a frisbee, and the rest, even further away.
I always preferred solitude, and secluded beaches. But even here, the people get to us. Judging the directionality of the wind and their aim, their playing is bound to invade our space.
And, sure enough - the red disc lands in the sand, just a foot away from the mud towers.
Harrison sees it and picks it up before I can say 'no'.
Awkwardly, he makes his first attempt at throwing it back.
"That your son?" One of the guys asks, as he comes to claim his frisbee. Between nodding at me and smiling at Debra, I can't really tell who the question was aimed at. I answer anyway.
"He's a great kid."
And how would you know?
The guy is really getting on my nerves, and is he has eyes on Debra. Still, I remain civil. Try and smile.
His buddy waves at us, too. Great. My smile grows heavy.
"Hey Jim, stop bothering that couple."
Jim laughs. And leaves.
I nod, thankful that he's going.
"Why'd you that?" Deb turns to me, eyebrow raised. I match her expression "Say nothing?"
"It didn't seem to matter what he thought. We're family either way."
She seems unconvinced, and strangely annoyed. All I did was spare us from the intrusion.
Unless... I squint again. "What, did you like him?"
Deb scoffs and appears amused. I suppose not.
I am reacting all wrong today. Maybe it's the heat?
"Fuck, Dex - never took you for that type."
"I just want to take care of you."
"Take care or control?"
Her eyes are hidden behind the shades, so I can only see her mouth, pressed shut.
"Deb... I care about you. You know that, right?"
She says nothing for a while.
"You see, at times... you remind me of him."
I open my eyes to a squint. She's been looking at me.
"No." She pauses. "Rudy."
Brian, I want to correct. I decide not to.
"Deb - we share around fifty per cent the same genetic material." It's only normal, we were related - blood-brothers.
If anything, I'm surprised this topic hasn't come up earlier.
"No, not like that..."
It takes a moment to sink in, to grasp the significance of what she's hinting.
"You're both... assertive, manipulative, possessive like shit."
"Deb, I'm not-" I jump to my defence, but she isn't having any of it.
"And I liked it. Jesus fuck. I liked it, Dex. It felt safe. Like someone had thought of everything. Like I was being taken care of." She smiles. "Ironic, huh?"
Yeah. Ironic. The word that sums up most of my human contact.
Like I'm some huge twisted joke by the universe.
"And this - reminds you of me?"
I gape, wordless, exposed.
Then, I feel irritated... The conversation with the frisbee-guy from earlier pops up in my mind.
She's called me a control-freak before, but never in such comparison. Never so definitively. And all I want is to refute this.
I am doing this for you. - She wouldn't believe that anymore.
I would never hurt you, like he did.
Except, I already did.
"I dream of him, too..." I say instead.
A piece of truth for the starving.
Her eyes turn to me suddenly, and I wonder if she'll accept this. Me.
"... how it would have been. Together. As a family."
She looks at me, and her voice softens. "Do you ever - regret any of it?"
It makes me think, for a second. But not longer.
"Being forced to choose, maybe. But choosing you... never."
Deb says nothing again.
"There's was too much false promises." I assure myself, remembering our road trip. Nebraska. It was wrong from the start. What I experienced was but a glimpse.
And I desperately, desperately want to be right. I want this to last.
"It would have never worked." I drop to a whisper. "That's why I had to kill him."
The wind picks up around us and Deb is oddly quiet. For all his crimes, we both mourned Brian.
"I guess I should thank you for this."
I look back and remember. Deb's arms around me, trembling, in that oversized police jacket in the ambulance - before Harrison, before Rita became my wife, and I knew she was the single important thing I could never lose from my life. Not even now.
"You already did."
Next up, the evening. Thanks for the support and encouragement so far!