When she was done, Roman turned to me.

“And where do you come in?”

I cleared my throat, feeling like an idiot for being on the outside. “The little one called me. I was the only one who believed what was wrong with Perry.”

“What was Perry’s state of mind before all of this happened?”

I opened my mouth but had no idea what to say. How was Perry? How did I leave her? She had been ruined, just like me. We’d ruined each other and left the other one for dead.

Ada was watching me, her blue eyes sparkling hotly. She was not amused.

“Perry’s state of mind?” Ada repeated. “She was emo as shit.”

Yeah, it was going to take a while before I was out of the doghouse.

Ada came up to me and stuck her pointy finger underneath my chin, her nail digging in uncomfortably. “This asshole broke up with Perry. Broke her poor fucking heart right in two. I’m only tolerating him because he was the last chance we had.”

Right. So now I knew it for sure. She was relying on me because she had to. She dug her finger in deeper, emphasizing her point, and my eyes went to the floor. Shame didn’t quite explain it. She thought this was all my fault. Everyone now knew this was all my fault. The floor seemed to wave underneath my gaze but maybe that was the water in my eyes.

“I see,” Roman said slowly and with a heavy sigh.

“Yeah,” Ada continued, “basically slept with her and ditched her, used her...”

“Hey, okay, wait a minute,” I said, stepping away from her lethal tips. “That’s not exactly what happened.”

She glared at me with all the condemnation a teenage girl could muster (which, by the way, is a lot). “Oh yeah, perhaps you better explain what happened. Why Perry cried in her room for days wondering what the hell went wrong. You weren’t there. You didn’t have to help her day in and out, hoping that one day she’d come out of it and realize what a goddamn asshole you are. You didn’t see the way you left her. You didn’t have to help her pick up the pieces.”

She looked at Roman with persuasion. “Plus, there was the whole him getting her pregnant and miscarriage thing.”

Boom.

I was sucker punched right in the heart. Right in the motherfucking heart. It stopped. My lungs stopped. Everything stopped, hanging in the room with those words.

Miscarriage.

Pregnant.

Miscarriage.

Pregnant.

I had gotten Perry pregnant? I…I…no…

No. It couldn’t be.

I brought my eyes to Perry and saw her there. Saw her sadness. Saw her truth.

There were no words. There was nothing.

I had gotten her pregnant. She had been pregnant with my child.

For two seconds my heart could have burst with such happy heat. For the unimaginable, undeserving, unbelievable concept that Perry had a life inside of her that was both hers and mine. The one thing I’d always wanted but never dared to dream. It had happened. It was ours.

Once.

My heart shrank. Because she’d lost the baby. She’d lost it. What was ours. What was love. What was life.

There was pain and then there was agony.

Hello, agony. I’d been waiting for you. Finish me off.

Please.

“You didn’t know,” Roman said as he stared at me, stating the obvious.

I looked away from Perry’s eyes, not wanting her to see me like this. Ada placed her hand on my shoulder. “Hey, sorry. I’m sorry.”

I shrugged her hand off, unable to breathe, unable to think. “I need to get some air.”

“No,” Roman commanded. “You’re not going. We have to discuss this, all of this. It will help me figure out what happened. What’s in her.”

“What’s in her?” I glared at him. Wasn’t it obvious? “A demon, that’s what.”

Roman shook his head. “No. You’re right, but it’s not just that. There are three entities lying there.” He pointed over at her. “One is Perry. One is demonic. The other is another entity. It is weak and it has no power anymore. But it is a spirit, a vengeful one. And if my guesses are correct, there was something haunting Perry before. Something that was wronged or ignored. It made a powerful pact, deal if you will, to gain Perry’s soul. But was lost before it could even happen.”

He looked to Ada. “And this miscarriage. Perry would have been at her lowest, most vulnerable. It’s times like that, or pregnancy, when something foreign can grow and latch on with the baby. Even if the baby was eventually lost. Though you can bet it was because of this spirit.”

At the mention of baby, my lungs felt kicked. I turned through the smoky haze and leaned against the wall, trying to keep myself from disintegrating right there and then. Perry had been pregnant and it was ripped from her. Just the right time for someone else to move on in. And I knew who it was. I should have known all this time.

“It was Abby,” I said, choking on my words. Roman appeared beside me, puzzled.

I explained, “She was haunting me when Perry was with me in Seattle. She’s an ex...she died. Years ago. But she comes around every now and then. You know, she died because of me. And I don’t think she’ll ever forget it.”

Abby. As if this couldn’t be more of my fault. I got Perry pregnant, I hurt her deeply, then my dead ex-girlfriend decided she wasn’t done. When I was younger and at the mercy of my mother, hiding from her while she searched for me in a drunken rage, I often wished I was someone else. And when she died—at my own hands—I thought Declan Foray O’Shea was the biggest waste of space that this planet had ever seen. But now…now I wished I hadn’t been born at all. It would have saved us all a lot of trouble.

“She will now,” Roman said, his voice hard. “The demon gained access to Perry through her, played on her fears through her. To get to you. This spirit is no more. Demons don’t keep their bargains.”

I shook my head. “So that’s it. It has one ex-girlfriend of mine. And it’s not satisfied. It wants the only person left on this earth that I...that I’d do anything for. Just throw her into the pot, who cares. I lost her once, I cannot lose her again.”

“Life is unfair for a lot of people and for a lot of reasons,” Bird spoke up quietly. “This isn’t about you Dex, though I know from experience your intentions are good. This is about Perry. This is about what we can do to help her. We can’t waste time placing blame on each other or being angry. That’s what it wants. We need to help her. And we need to hurry. You can deal with everything else afterward.”

It was hard to listen. It was hard to know that Bird was right. That it wasn’t about me. It wasn’t about my feelings, my guilt, my problems, my shame. It was about Perry. I was here to save her, or die trying. And I wasn’t dead yet.

I turned around and faced the room, not caring if they saw the tears in my eyes. I only cared about one thing. Make that two things.

I walked over to Ada and stuck out my hand. “I’m extremely, unrelentingly sorry for what I did to your sister. To Perry. And, by default, to you. Little Fifteen.”

Ada looked at my hand like it was covered in herpes. Then she gave me a small smile and shook my hand. It gave me strength.

“Good,” Roman said, looking us over. “We need a united front against this. Even with Bird acting as my helper, I will need you both to be strong and to have no fear. You have to believe that we can beat it. We are superior to this beast and we will get it out. But you must have conviction in your beliefs. To doubt is to endanger all of our lives, and especially Perry’s.”

Bird began to drum lightly while Roman brought up a small wooden bowl from the floor. He took it over to Perry, his eyes ruthlessly cutting into her, looking for the monster underneath.

“And so we begin the sacred ceremony,” he announced. “An exorcism is a battle. I will lead it until the end.”

He raised up the bowl and started yelling in his native tongue, short and sharp words that seemed to sink into you like rain, tangible and real.

Perry immediately reacted. She began writhing back and forth underneath the straps, panting hard like a wild beast. Motherfucking steam rose from her body, giving me the chills. What the shit was happening?

Roman was relentless. He was fueled by the beast’s misery, by Perry’s agonizing reaction. It was hard to watch but I couldn’t look away, no matter how hard I tried. The floor, Ada’s tortured face, Bird’s steady drumming; I kept being drawn back to Perry, like she wanted me to watch. Like it helped in some way.

Roman paused and dipped his thumbs into the wooden bowl until they were blackened with soot, then approached her. She flung her head back and forth, trying to escape his hands but he succeeded in getting one swipe down her cheek.

Then she bit him on the hand.

I cried out as the blood ran down her chin. I couldn’t help it. To say I was horrified was an understatement

But I wasn’t the one doing the exorcist. Roman didn’t seem to feel any terror. He jabbed an ink-black thumb straight into Perry’s forehead and her head flew back from the force, letting go of his hand, which he calmly took back.

The monster smiled, bloody teeth, bloody lips, bloody gums. Perry was completely gone. And as if it needed to hammer that point right on home, it spoke through her, in a voice that I’d never forget. A voice straight out of the earth, omnipresent and overpowering.

“Think she’ll be so lucky this time? After what you did to little Jim?”

It was loud and malevolent. I was sure the ground was going to open up beneath us and we would fall into the fiery pits of hell. This couldn’t be real. After everything I had seen so far, even in the last twenty-four hours, it still couldn’t be real.

But it was.

And Roman, bless his crazy ass soul, he was not phased. He kept repeating his words, his voice becoming stronger, clearer. She started screaming and banging the back of her head against the mattress, making Linda Blair’s performance in The Exorcist look like a mere temper tantrum.

Everything got louder, so damn intense. Perry was covered in sweat and started to slide out from under the straps.

“Dex, Ada!” Roman yelled. “Get a hold of her legs.”

We both rushed forward ready to hold her down but the moment our hands touched her skin, it was like we were grabbing a hot iron.

We quickly let go, my hand inflamed and red. She was a hundred degrees.

“She’s burning hot!” I cried out. “You’re killing her!”

“Do it!” Roman yelled. And maybe the power of Christ compelled me or something, but I went back. I grabbed her leg, holding her down, wincing through the pain as my skin singed from the contact.

“United front, Dex,” Roman said through gritted teeth. “You can’t let your feelings get in the way. We must do this. You too, Ada.”

Ada sniffled in response, obeying him through her tears. It was killing her inside to do this to Perry, as much as it was killing any of us.

And the monster inside Perry wasn’t done with us yet.

“You killed him. The mother killed herself shortly after. You ruined a town,” the monster seethed out through Perry. “You’ll ruin her. I will ruin her. You are powerless, foolish and weak.”

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