“When she died,” he said slowly and with patience.
Right. I kept my mouth shut and did a once over of the room again. It was too bad, in a gruesome way, that the slippers weren’t there anymore because he might have been able to get a reading off of them. I know he said he picked up on their last thoughts, but surely he could do more than that. Then again, what could I do? I was hovering by my desk, watching my room with eagle eyes for something I couldn’t see myself.
“She’s angry,” he said. “But it’s stronger than hate. It’s evil.”
“Evil?” I repeated. I felt suddenly cold all over and wished I was wearing more layers.
Maximus opened his eyes. They looked at me, through me, like I wasn’t there.
“She’s gone,” he said softly. Then he relaxed a little, his shoulders and arms dropping.
“Are you OK?” I asked him. I took a step forward.
He nodded and winced, as if he was in pain. His eyes were watering.
“Is it painful when you do that?”
“That one was,” he said, his voice straining.
“What can I do?” I joined him at his side and took his hand in mine.
He rubbed his forehead with his free hand, then shook out his shoulders and arms and legs.
“Bah. It’l pass.”
“So you know for sure it was Abby?”
“I thought so,” he said, then sat down on my bed and put his head between his hands, combing them through his thick, glossy orange hair. “But then, it didn’t make sense. If it’s her, she died and went to someplace where she should have never come back.”
I wiggled my fingers nervously. “Where is that?”
“I don’t know,” he said, his voice muffled. “I don’t know if I want to know.”
I sat down beside him. “I don’t either. But I think we might have to if we’re going to solve this. No trying, remember?
He slowly raised his head and eyed me. He was paler than usual and a thin sheen of sweat had broken out along his wide forehead. “I’m going to have to poke around the rest of the house, if that’s OK.”
“I feel like…maybe it’s not just Abby.”
My eyes felt like they were going to pop out. “I have more than one ghost?”
He sighed and straightened up. “I don’t know. It felt like it.
Oh, fucking brilliant, I thought. I have a special ghost.
He got up and reached down for me, scooping me to my feet by the elbows.
“Is there anywhere else where there’s been activity?” he asked.
I thought about the obvious places like the study and the kitchen. Then I remembered.
“Ada’s room,” I said. “That’s where she thought I was cal ing her.”
“I hope she won’t mind,” he said with a small smile. “I reckon you don’t want to piss that lady off. And I have a feeling she doesn’t like me too much.”
“No, you don’t want to piss Ada off,” I replied, and we left the room and went down the hal . I could hear my parents downstairs talking to each other and the drone of yet another inane TV program.
I knocked at her door. She had her Do Not Disturb sign hanging from the knob but it was always like that.
I heard a mumbling and grumbling from behind the door.
She opened it, not at all surprised to see us.
“Wel ?” she asked impetuously.
“Can we come in? Please?”
She sighed like this was the greatest inconvenience of all time then stomped over to her bed, flinging herself down butt first and crossing her arms. She eyed us like we were about to rob the place. What happened to the chipper girl I met this morning?
“We just, uh…” I looked at Maximus for help. He looked uneasy around Ada and I didn’t blame him. Being in a ful - fledged teenager’s room didn’t help either.
“You want to do a reading,” Ada fil ed in for him. She balked at our surprised looks. “Whatever. You told me he was like some weird ghost whisperer.”
“I did not cal him weird.” Real y, I hadn’t.
“That’s all right, darling,” he said to me. Ada looked like she was going to barf at his southern-style sentiment.
“You’re right. I do want to get a feel for things. Do you mind?”
She sighed, then shook her head no. I closed the door behind us and joined Ada on the bed beside her.
“Would it kil you to be nice to him?” I whispered harshly in her ear.
“Ladies, please, silence,” he said. He stuck out his arms and closed his eyes, like he was expecting to be rained down with riches.
Ada and I sat side-by-side and watched him. It felt nice, actual y, to have Ada in on the ghostly stuff. I didn’t know if she felt the same way, though.
After a few minutes ticked by, according to her bedside clock, Maximus opened his eyes.
“It wasn’t as strong in here. But it was here at some point.”
He looked at Ada. “You seen anything strange? Felt any cold spots?”
She shook her head adamantly to both of those.
“Heard any talking, maybe whispers?”
At that Ada became stil . Her eyes flashed guiltily and she looked down at her hands.
“What?” I asked her, prodding her gently with my shoulder.
“I heard whispering.”
I let out a small gasp as my chest tightened up. Not my baby sister as well .
Maximus came over and squatted down on the floor in front of us, placing his hand on her knee.
“Where did they come from? What did they say?”
She pointed to her closet and then to the foot of the bed.
“They say Perry’s name. And sometimes, I can’t understand them. It’s like another language or something.”
I eyed the closet. A ghost in there would be Ada’s worst nightmare. No one goes in Ada’s closet.
“It’s happened more than once?”
“A few times,” she continued. Her admission shocked me.
“Why didn’t you tel me?” I asked her.
She shrugged. “You’ve got a lot on your plate. I can deal.”
“Wel , you shouldn’t have to.”
She fixed her gaze on me. “And neither should you.”
“Dinner’s here!” my mother yel ed from downstairs as we heard a single knock at the front door.
Ada rushed out of the room, glad to leave us behind. I walked unsteadily over to the door and Maximus held my side the entire way. I couldn’t believe that Ada was hearing voices too. It gave me more credibility that these things were actual y happening, but I didn’t want her to suffer the same way I had. She didn’t need any of that.
With those thoughts running through my head, it was no wonder I could barely touch my food, even the beef and broccoli, which I adored. I put it into my mouth anyway, chew, chew, chew, swal ow. But I didn’t taste it.
It was weird to sit at the dinner table with a guy and my family. I couldn’t even cal him my boyfriend, because he wasn’t. He was just a man I made out with, who liked to cal me darling, and who I hoped had some sort of answer to the destruction around me. But I was the only who felt a bit awkward by the whole thing. well , not counting Ada.
Maximus talked to my parents like he’d known them for years and even though it tickled me that they were getting along so well , it pissed me off at the same time. I think it’s because they never had a nice thing to say about Dex (with reason) and I didn’t feel the same way about Maximus as I did about him.
Your heart needs time, I thought to myself. I was right, too. Everything with Dex was such a fast, precarious, passionate blur. I needed someone steady and normal (relatively) and good. Dependable. Like Maximus. I might lack the passion at the moment, that yearning in places other than between my legs, but I had just met the guy.
And yet there he was, shoveling chow mein in his face while talking to my parents. And I was dwel ing on this when there were other things to focus on. Dangerous things such as multiple ghosts.
I started piling some lemon chicken on my plate in order to look busy when the doorbel rang three times with a slight pause in between each one.
My heart thudded about loudly. After everything, I didn’t think I could take any more.
“Who wants to get that?” my mom asked, the fear ripe in her voice.
“I wil ,” Maximus volunteered, like I knew he would.
He patted me on the arm as if to say he’d be right back and took off toward the door. My dad, feeling unsuited as the man of the house, took off after him, and of course I had to fol ow as well . Because I was scared and stubborn at the same time.
With the door open, they were staring at something on the steps, Maximus’s tal frame beside my dad’s short and stocky one, the light from the motion sensors shining down on my dad’s bald spot.
Before I even saw what it was, I knew what it was. The pig’s head.
And I was right. As I poked my way between the two men, I saw the poor hog’s gory, disgusting, chopped-off head lying on the front stoop. Its eyes were gouged out. A nice, evil little touch.
I was more annoyed than scared. I walked back in the house, shaking my head, as Ada and my mom came cautiously around the corner.
“Oh, very mature Abby!” I yel ed up at the ceiling, shaking my fist dramatical y. “Couldn’t think of anything better, could you? Is that all you got?”
“Perry,” I heard Maximus’s warning tone. “I wouldn’t…”
I shrugged and in the back of my mind I realized I was that close to accidently enacting a scene from I Know What You Did Last Summer. I pushed past Ada and my mom, tel ing them, “It’s the head of the pig. You don’t want to see it,” as I walked back into the dining room.
I plunked myself down in my chair and let out one exasperated sigh. My head was swimming. Every thought had importance. Every thought was a loaded gun.
My dad cal ed the cops from the kitchen phone, while Maximus and the rest of them came back into the room.
They all stood behind their chairs, staring down at me and down at the food. I guessed everyone’s appetite was gone after that.
Ada announced she was tired of the fuzz and going to bed and Maximus helped my mother clear the trays and put them in the kitchen. I thought about how nice that was of him, even though part of me felt like he was sucking up. The bitterness of the thought was surprising. I mean, I wasn’t helping. But I had a lot on my mind.
When he was done, he came back into the dining room and took the seat beside me.
“How are you feeling?” he asked. His voice was gentle.
I eyed him. “I haven’t been babbling in Latin, if that’s what you mean.”
He paused and licked his lips. “What makes you say that?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. Isn’t that what the demonic people speak?”
“I think you watch too many scary movies.”
Or maybe I don’t watch enough, I thought. They could teach me a thing or two.
He looked up at the clock on the wal and from the hesitant vibe that was rol ing off of him, I knew he was thinking about leaving. I couldn’t let him, though. Not after last night. Not after today.