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“I am.”

“Do you care for the company of a gentleman?”

I looked around me mockingly. “I would but I don’t see any.”

He chuckled to himself and tucked into his food. “Wel you just let me know then.”

“You can come if you help me. And not laugh at me. Not judge me.”

He paused, his eggs balancing on his fork. “Why would you say that?”

I leaned forward, making sure he knew how serious I was. “I’m getting books out on demon possession.”

I could so tel he wanted to say something to change my mind but to his credit he swal owed it down. Literal y, I could see his Adam’s apple bob against his long throat.

“What brought this on?” he asked in a steady voice. His eyes were a bit glazed as if he were already judging me in his head.

“It’s just something I’ve obviously been thinking about.”

“But Perry, demon possession is one thing. A ghost is another. They aren’t the same things.”

“They are similar,” I protested.

He shook his head adamantly, his eyes widening. “No they aren’t. A ghost is the spirit of a dead person. They’re stil human beings, or at least were once. A demon isn’t from this world. It’s not human. It has no sense of humanity.

It is pure…evil.”

He noted my face and added, “I’m not trying to scare you. I just think we would both know it if you were possessed by a demon. I reckon we wouldn’t be sitting here having this conversation. Now, a ghost, maybe Abby…we can work with that theory. We’l go to the library and get cracking on this.”

To be honest, I was a bit amazed at his support. It calmed my nerves and gave me the strength to finish the rest of the food (despite Maximus’s overuse of hot sauce) and gave me the first sense of hope that I’d felt in a long time, the feeling that we were actual y going to do something about it all and I finally stood a chance.

I suppose that sense of possibility translated into some pretty amorous feelings because before I knew it, he was taking his shower and poking his red head out from the curtain and inviting me to join him. What I thought earlier, about there not being a next time between us, was out the window. At least for the time being. Traces of dirt from my feet swirled down the drain but Maximus was so distracted by the blowjob that he didn’t notice. I felt the negativity wash away with the dirt as his fingers slid softly, and slickly around my clit, and I was even able to orgasm without feeling like everything would go to hel .

Needless to say, we were both fresh-faced (wel I was, his face stil looked beat up, thanks to my nails) and affectionate as we set out into the bright sunshine and made our way farther downtown, hopping on and off the free public trams. I figured the big, bad brick Central Library would be our best bet for finding some occult-like things.

And if I didn’t find anything there, the extensive Powel ’s Books would be our second best bet.

The Multnomah Central Library is a historic behemoth.

Within a few minutes of scrol ing through their online catalogue system, we found a plethora of weird, spooky and unexplained titles.

Luckily they were all spread out on the same floor. Some sections dealt with ghosts and UFOs while others dealt with demons and witchcraft. Despite what Maximus had said about demon possession being out of the question, I was stil curious and when I told him in the ghost aisle that I was going to go check out those books, he didn’t object.

That area of the floor that held the occult books was a little more remote and quiet than the other one. I felt a hush around me as I located the catalogue numbers on the side of the stacks. I did a quick look around for some sign of life.

It’s not that I thought it would be busy but the fluorescent light above was flickering on and off and that was always something that put me on edge.

I brushed off the creepy feeling and went down the aisle, the tal shelves looming over me, like they were threatening to topple over and crush me to death. I stopped at the right numbers and began flipping through the books.

It immediately felt wrong. I felt like just picking up the books and flipping them over in my hands was inviting something dark and dangerous into my life. Of course, that was ridiculous – there was already something dark and dangerous in my life. And it wasn’t just me.

My back erupted in a mixture of icy prickles and cold sweat and I tugged at the back of my jacket, trying to ease my tunic off my sticky body. Even though I was in a public library, it was a quiet Monday, I was away from Maximus and the library itself was old and ripe with history. If I closed my eyes I could imagine the way the section looked at the turn of the century. Perhaps the occult books were sealed up in a special tomb, covered in cobwebs and surrounded by dripping water.

A cold breath blew against my cheek.

I let out a small cry and jumped, dropping my books. I ignored the pain as the largest book landed on my toe, and I looked around wildly. The lights flickered, the aisle was empty.

“Jesus, Perry,” I swore at myself, then cringed at my poor choice of words.

I squatted down to the ground to pick up the books. As I did so, I looked across the tops of the books on the very bottom shelf.

I saw a pair of legs from ankle to knees standing in the other aisle. They were bare with tons of little scratches on them in red criss-cross designs. They were as stil as death and the bookshelf was the only thing separating us.

I paused, my fingers blindly coiling around the spine of the thickest book. I didn’t want to take my eyes off the legs, especial y since no one was standing there two seconds ago.

The legs turned and walked slowly, soundlessly, to the right. I careful y rose, trying to catch a peek of movement in between the books but I couldn’t see anything. I watched anxiously, my pulse pounding rapidly in my throat, and waited for the person to turn the corner and show themselves.

A soft laugh from behind me.

I spun around, keeping the treacherous books close to my chest. A hardcover at the end of the aisle was pushed out of its spot by something on the other side and fel to the ground with a thunk.

It could just be an actual person, someone careless, I told myself. Just someone looking for books on gardening and not realizing they’re making a mess.

From the opposite shelf, and closer to me, another book was pushed out, splatting face down and open on the library’s carpeted floor.

I took a step back.

A hand reached out from between the shelves and grabbed the belt around my waist.

I cried out and pul ed away from the female hand that tightened its bony grip around me. In my panic I glimpsed up at the shelf and saw the red, gleaming eyes looking at me. The bottom half of her face was obscured but I knew what her teeth looked like and I knew she was smiling wickedly.

With a final tug I ripped myself out of her grasp and, losing my balance, flew back against the other shelf, nearly knocking it over as the pointy edges of books dug into my back. I wasted no time in getting to my feet and racing out of there, hearing the continuous sound of fal ing books in my wake.

I ran throughout the stacks, my heart racing, ignoring the dirty looks of old people reading newspapers and students trying to study at random desks. I ran until I found Maximus with a mound of books spread out on a table, flipping through the pages.

He looked up at me and immediately got out of his chair.

“Perry, what happened?”

I shook my head, too out of breath and scared to speak.

He was getting better at reading me. He put his hand on my shoulder and hunched over, looking at me closely. “Do you want me to go take a look?”

I shook my head again. “Can we go?”

“Of course,” he said, and immediately began to pick up a few books, leaving the rest for the librarians to pick up.

He eyed my chest. “You’re taking that?”

I looked down. I was stil clutching the largest book to my chest, holding on to it for dear life. It was dark brown with the dust jacket missing and read Demonology 101 in gold script. I guessed it was coming with me.

“So what did you end up doing all day?” my mother asked during dinner, another mound of mashed potatoes and fried chicken that I didn’t want to touch.

Oh you know, I thought as I made fork impressions in the potatoes. Woke up after a night of sex and sleepwalking, had breakfast, gave an awesome blowjob in the shower, went to the library for books on possession, saw a demon.

The usual.

Instead of saying all that though I looked up and gave her a smile. “Went to the library, got some books.”

“Are you working tomorrow?” my dad asked. He was looking worse for wear, with puffy rings of sleeplessness beneath his eyes. After Maximus and I left the library, he wanted to know if my dad needed a hand in cleaning out the study. By then it was too late; my dad had the cleaners in the wee hours of the morning and everything was done.

Looking at my dad, I could see how much of a strain the whole situation was putting on him. I wasn’t the only one suffering.

“No, I’m not on many shifts this week,” I said. It was true, too. I mean, I wasn’t on any shifts until I could prove to Shay that I wasn’t a psychopath, and I had a feeling that was easier said than done.

I expected him to grumble in disapproval but he didn’t.

He just went back to eating.

I looked over at Ada, who was being unusual y silent.

She was eyeing my neck strangely and as soon as she caught me looking, her lips squirmed into a knowing smile. I had a feeling I probably had a huge hickey and I immediately moved my hair over to that side to cover it, which in turn made Ada laugh.

“Maybe you should ask Perry how her night was,” she said gleeful y.

My parents exchanged an awkward glance and I shot her the dirtiest of looks.

My mom cleared her throat. “I’m sure Perry had a lovely time with this Max character. He seems like a real dol .”

“He is,” I agreed, and sat up straighter in my chair, prepared to go into my spiel. You see, I had a plan.

“Mom, dad, I was wondering…things are going real y well with Maximus and I want to keep seeing him. Since I’m trying to save money,” I gave my dad a pointed look, “I thought perhaps we could have a date in. Like, here.

Because his apartment is too small . And I wanted to cook him a real y nice dinner.”

My mom snorted, the first time I’d heard her laugh in a while. “Perry, you can’t cook. You can bake, but you can’t have apple pie for dinner.”

“Yes you can,” I said quickly, “But the point is that I wanted us to have some alone time. Here. So…if it’s not too much, I thought maybe you two could go out for dinner.

You know, on a date of your own. Then we can all have our private time.”

“What about me?” Ada asked with annoyance.

“Oh, you have friends, go hang out with them,” I told her.

She was put out as she crossed her arms and sat back. I wanted to wink at her because the truth was, Ada wasn’t going anywhere. I wanted the time alone with Maximus so we could do a cleansing ceremony on the house and Ada, even though she didn’t know it yet, was a needed participant in the event.