Bird looked at Perry with utter regret, then gave me a tight-lipped smile. “Roman’s upset because I didn’t tell him how bad she really was.”

“I didn’t know,” I said defensively. I turned to Roman. “I didn’t know until last night. You speak English, right?”

“Yes, I speak English,” Roman snapped. He waved his hand at Perry dismissively. “She’s too far gone; this is unfixable.”

No. No. I couldn’t believe that. I would not accept that. We didn’t come all this way to give up. Perry was fixable. End of story.

I grabbed Roman by the front of his sweatshirt and brought him right up to my face.

“You’re going to fix her,” I snarled, my eyes piercing into his. “She’s a lot stronger than she looks. She is still in there and you’re going to help her, or so help me God.”

“You’ll need your God if you think you’re going to win this battle,” Roman said. He exchanged a measured look with Bird and then gave me short nod. “Okay. Let’s see what we can do. Just, please release me.”

Just like that, huh? That seemed a bit too easy. Still, I took my hands off of his sweatshirt and backed off. I shot Perry a quick glance, wishing that she could know what I was trying to do for her, and walked around the car, trying to control my emotions. It was getting to be too much now. We were so close. So damn close.

I could hear Roman and Bird talking to each other in their native tongue as they looked over Perry and I could only hope that Bird was doing what he could to encourage him. Ada was standing by the rancher, wringing her hands together, looking like she was going to lose it at any minute. Poor girl had gone through so much. I regretted bringing her along for her own sake, though she saved my ass a bunch already.

“Hey,” I said to her as I stood beside her. “You okay?”

She nodded even though it was quite obvious that we weren’t okay. We couldn’t be further from being okay. We were down and out and struggling to hold onto hope, hope that was currently looking over Perry like she was a lab specimen.

“Bird will help us,” I told her. “He won’t give up on her. You’ll see.”

Ada bit her lip, blinking fast.

“And neither will we,” I added. I reached down and grabbed the cold, tiny hand of Little Fifteen and tried to give her the strength that I sure as fuck lacked.

She squeezed back, her eyes wet as she looked at me, pleadingly. “But what if we can’t save her? What if it’s too late? What if it’s all for nothing and we lose her right here in the middle of nowhere?”

I could tell she was having doubts now, doubts about bringing Perry all the way here when maybe she would have been better off at home. Doubts about trusting me, assuming that I knew best. I’d be lying if there wasn’t a part of me that was wondering the same thing.

“We’re going to get through this,” I told her, wishing I could make us both believe it. “All of us.”

A monstrous groan came from the car as our attention went back to it. Roman and Bird had a wriggling Perry in their arms, carrying her toward us in a hurry.

I kept the rusted door to the house open as they took her inside. I could feel the waves of animosity rolling off of Perry’s body, the hate, the need to win and destroy everything she was inside. It felt colder than the winter wind that was whipping through the sunshine, blanketing us with a sense of defeat.

Ada and I followed close behind, navigating through the small house. It totally looked like a single dude lived here, though, aside from a room that looked like a grow-op, it was hard to tell that the single dude was also an exorcist. Maybe I expected more native, medicine man-type artifacts, but the place was pretty bare, with a lot of dust floating in the air.

They took Perry into a large room with just a bed in the middle and an armchair in the corner. There was a pretty bad ass painting of a raven on the wall but it didn’t look very homey or lived in. Still, it was better than a hospital. It had to be.

I began to take that thought back after they placed Perry down on the bed and Roman brought three leather straps out from under her.

“What are you doing?” I asked, taking a step toward him.

Roman ignored me and went around to the other side, pulling out three more straps. Then he leaned over Perry and started strapping her down, across her chest, hips and legs.

“Is that really necessary?” I exclaimed, about to pounce on him. This was no better than a hospital at all!

Ada reached out and dug her long nails into my arm, pulling me back.

“You know it is,” she said quietly, her eyes warning me.

Damn it. She was right. Of course she was right, we had her covered in duct tape—in fact she still was. We had to do what was necessary and Roman was no different. But it didn’t mean I had to like it.

Roman took out a pocket knife and snapped the blade out. Ada gasped from beside me but he quickly took the knife and sliced it down Perry’s middle. I winced as he did so, afraid that if she moved violently at the wrong moment, she would get hurt. But Roman was quick and soon she was free from her duct tape prison.

“I won’t rip it off,” he said to her. “I know it would hurt you, still.”

“I hope you’re talking to Perry,” I said.

Roman gave me a grave look. “I am. I can see she’s there, too. But you both must understand that I may have to hurt Perry at some point.”

Wait a dipshit minute here. I didn’t agree to that.

“What? No!” Ada protested for the both of us. “You don’t hurt her. You hurt what’s in her.”

Roman frowned, eying the both of us with frustration, sticking the knife back in his pocket.

“Sometimes you don’t have a choice,” he said matter-of-factly.

“Is that what happened with the last boy, the one who died?” I found myself saying, the fury in my voice surprising me.

Roman’s eyes grew cold at what I said. Ah shit. Stupid move, Dex. Way to insult the only man who can save her.

“I barely touched the boy,” he said, pronouncing his words with deliberation. “He would have died anyway. I did get the demon out and that’s what counts. Do you think it’s easy to see that happen? He was only four. I had to move towns; everyone was saying I did something wrong. But I didn’t. The damage was already done when he came to me. It was too late.”

Beneath his anger at me, I could feel the regret and sorrow in his voice. I felt like shit for being so callous. Tension cloaked us as I tried to think of something to say. Luckily Bird came back into the room holding a large box which he placed in front of Roman.

He gave me and Ada a stern, shape-up-or-ship-out look. “If Roman seems cold, it’s because he has to be. The medicine man can have no emotional attachments to the person in question. He can have no fear. Evil preys on fear. It feeds on emotions. Even love.”

Roman started lifting things out of the box. But I wasn’t interested in the contents. I was interested in Perry. Because she was watching me. She was. Her head was lifted and her eyes were on mine and I was drowning in their depths, not caring if I’d ever come out of them, because, for once, they were her eyes. She was still here. We had a fighting chance.

Then, just like that, I lost her again.

Bird and Roman brought out a small drum, incense holders, little wooden bowls and bags of earth-colored herbs and a bunch of dried plants. Roman looked up at Ada and I and said, “We have to set up for the ceremony. You will have to leave the room.”

I shook my head. “I don’t think so.” Like hell I was going to leave her now, not when she was so close to coming back. What if my presence was helping her?

Then again, what if my presence was making her worse? I didn’t want to think about that one.

Bird got up slowly and placed his hand on my shoulder. “I know you care about her. But she’s not going anywhere for now. We have to cleanse the room. Then you can come back in.”

Roman said something to Bird in the native language and Bird nodded sharply before looking back me. “Please? We must hurry.”

I couldn’t argue with Bird. With a sigh, Ada and I left the room together. We gave Perry one last look, trying to tell her we’d be back to fight with her, before Bird closed the door on us.

CHAPTER EIGHT

We weren’t really sure where to go, what to do. Ada leaned against the door, trying to hear what was going on but I went down the hall and flopped down on Roman’s sagging couch, the springs creaking under me. There was no way I could listen to what was going on inside, without knowing exactly what it was. It would be too painful to make my own conclusions in the dark. I could only put what little faith I had left into Bird. I had to hope for the best. I had to have hope, even when hope seemed impossible, eaten away by the darkest monster.

Eventually, Ada came over. She sat beside me and put her head in her hands. I rubbed her back lightly, not sure if there was even a point in trying to comfort her. I sure as hell couldn’t be.

“What does it sound like?” I asked.

She shrugged. “Nothing too bad. I don’t hear Perry, just Roman and Bird chanting some stuff.”

I nodded, glad it wasn’t worse. I fished some Nicorette out of my pocket and popped the last two pieces in my mouth, chewing away like it was going to save my sanity.

We didn’t say much to each other. There was nothing we really could say. Talking seemed futile. Thinking seemed useless. I just stared over her white-blonde head and out the hole-covered screen door, to the back yard that seemed to stretch on forever in hills of dust and light. Yesterday I had been having pizza with Rebecca, thinking I’d never see Perry again. Now, I was with her, but her soul was far away. It didn’t seem fair. It didn’t seem easy. All the back and forth between us, all our struggles with each other and with ourselves and we still weren’t fixed. We were still both terribly broken, and for once, it seemed like Perry was the one beyond repair.

After what seemed like forever, Roman opened the door and stuck his head out into the hall.

“You can come back in now,” he said, retreating back inside.

Ada and I exchanged an anxious glance and got to our feet. The room now was completely black with the shades drawn tight and a bunch of smelly smoke lingered in the air.

Ada coughed and waved it away from her face.

But Roman was quick. “No,” he said, firmly grabbing Ada’s hand in mid-wave. “Don’t move it. It is to help us. Breathe it in. It will help purify you both.”

I did as he said, hoping that a lungful of sage and whatever else it was would be as good for me as a cigarette. Christ, I could have killed for one.

He shut the door behind us and told us to stand at the foot of the bed. We both approached Perry with trepidation as he went to the other side of her. She looked no worse than before, but also no better.

Roman kept his eyes on Perry as he said to us, “Tell me how this all started.”

I gave Ada a look. I was a late party to this whole thing. She nodded, knowing it was her responsibility, and stepped closer to Roman, going over everything that happened from the start. It hurt to hear it all over again.

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