“I’m sorry,” Maximus said quickly. He reached out and placed his hand on my arm and gave it a quick squeeze. “I didn’t mean to intrude by dropping by like this. Are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” I squeaked and tried to act more composed.

“I’ve just been sick lately. Nothing to worry about, though.

Anyway, Maximus…what the hel ?”

“Right,” he grinned again and leaned back in his chair. “I forget that this is all new to you.”

I must have shown my confusion on my brow because he continued, “I moved to Portland about six weeks ago. I thought Jimmy or Dex would have told you.”

At the mention of them, my face grew cold as stone.

Jimmy had mentioned something about Maximus and Portland back at the Christmas party in December, but at the time I had been so focused on not pummel ing the snot out of Dex’s girlfriend Jenn, that it hadn’t real y sunk in.

“It must have slipped my mind,” I said somewhat truthful y.

He scratched his cheek, his stubble making a scratchy sound. “No worries. But here I am. I was biding my time, wondering if I should look you up. Then Jimmy gave me the push.”

I raised my brow. “Jimmy gave you the push?”

What did Jimmy have to do with Maximus anyway? It had struck me as weird that he had been the one tel ing Dex and I about him.

“You real y have been out of the loop, haven’t you darlin’?”

I wasn’t a fan of the word darling, but it sounded oh-so charming coming out of his mouth.

“I’m sure if you’ve been talking to Jimmy, you know what happened.”

He nodded with sympathy. “Yes, I do. I heard. That’s partly why I’m here.”

“Here, in Portland?”

“No. I was always planning on moving here, or at least the Pacific Northwest, anyway. But I got in touch with Jimmy a few months ago, inquiring if there was any work for me.

Dex and I did go to the same school, remember. well , Jimmy wasn’t too sure about me and my ways, I could tel .

But then a position became…available.”

I looked at him sharply. “What position?”

“We want you back on the show.”


“Show…,” I stammered. “Experiment in Terror?”

“Yes ma’am,” he said, and leaned forward across the table. He smel ed like cinnamon.

“I quit the show.” Boy, did I ever, in the world’s most dramatic quitting scene.

“We know. But the reason you quit wasn’t because of the show itself. It was because of who the cameraman was.”

My face scrunched up at the thought of Dex.

“I reckon I’m right, aren’t I?” he said. His jade peepers were looking inquisitively into mine. Man, I knew I was so easy to read.

“Wel , yes. But that’s not the whole thing.”

“So you wouldn’t come back on the show if there was another cameraman?”

“No,” I blurted out. I didn’t even think about it but that’s what my first reaction was. No way, no how. Dex or no Dex, I was done with that whole thing. It was life-threatening, unpredictable and an unreliable way to make an income.

My parents would kil me, if the ghosts didn’t get me first, and, to be honest, I didn’t want to be in any situation that would have me wishing Dex was with me.

He cocked his head. “You sure about that?”

OK. So I wasn’t. I looked down at my yucky rag ful of milk, then up at the counter where Shay and Ash were busy.

I was probably pushing it by continuing to talk to Maximus instead of working.

“I should get back to work,” I said, getting to my feet.

“Hey,” he said, coming around to me. Next thing I knew I was in a cinnamon-scented hug with someone over a foot tal er than me, wrapped in very firm, very wide arms. I had no choice but to rest my head against his hard chest.

“I’m real y sorry about what happened,” he said into the top of my head.

I tried to shrug but he held me there.

Final y he released me and my cheeks went hot from the unexpected intimacy.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said shyly, stepping back and avoiding his eyes.

“You don’t have to answer me now, you know. You can think about it. There’s some other stuff Jimmy has me doing on the side, so it’s not a huge rush. We just think it would be a great thing, for all of us.”

“I’l think about it,” I told him and shot Shay another glance. She and Ash were ful -on gawking at me.

I took a step toward them and was about to tel Maximus I’d see him sometime when he reached out and grabbed my arm. He pul ed me back to him. His boldness surprised me.

“That’s not the only reason I’m here,” he said, and for a change I saw his cheeks flush the same color as his hair.

He dropped his arm from mine and reached into the front pocket on his shirt. He snapped it open, pul ed out a cream-colored business card and held it out for me.

I took it from him as he handed me a pen from the other pocket.

“Could you write down your number? It seems you’ve changed yours.”

“Oh, right. Yes.” I wrote it down on the back and gave it back to him.

“I’m going to cal you now,” he said simply. “Wil you answer?”

“Um, yes?”

“What wil you say if I cal to ask you to the movies?”

“Um…” Now I was total y caught off-guard.

“Um, yes?” he asked hopeful y, his ful lips twitching at the corners. “Don’t tel me you’l think about it.”

I didn’t know what to say. He was asking me on a date.

This was more than surprising. It was intriguing. A rare butterfly fluttered around in my stomach and that’s when I realized I hadn’t felt any cramps for the last five minutes.

I tried to play it cool.

“Yeah, sure, yeah, that would be great,” I stammered.

“Thank you.”

So much for playing it cool.

He grinned at me in return and stuck my phone number into the pocket. He did a mini bow and drawled, “I’l be seeing you darlin’” before turning his sturdy frame around and sauntering out of the shop.

If this was a romance in the South, where he was from, I would have dabbed my face and chest with the rag ful of dirty milk.

I walked back to the counter, unable to hide the strange smile on my face. There were no other customers so Shay and Ash were able to interrogate me uninterrupted.

“Who on earth was that hunk of fine meat?” Shay asked, putting a thrust to her hips.

I laughed. “He’s an old friend of mine.”

Ash stil didn’t look too impressed. He gave me a funny look and turned to clean out one of the blenders. “He didn’t look like just a friend.”

I put my hands on my hips. “Wel he is. He was on the Red Fox episode when we were in New Mexico.”

“Thought he looked familiar,” he grumbled, and turned on the water ful blast so he couldn’t hear me. If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought Ash was jealous. Poor guy.

There was a chance he had been sending me signals all along but I was too clueless and self-absorbed to pick them up. Can men and women real y not be friends after all ?

Seemed all my friendships had something unrequited going on and they never ended well .

“You gave him your number sweetie,” Shay said knowingly. “Something tel s me you may be more than friends now.”

I waved at her but smiled and blushed at the same time. I had never given Maximus much thought, despite thinking he was a good egg and a looker at that, but now things were different. Especial y now that I knew how he felt about me. It made my toes tingle.

After I reveled in my giddiness, Shay tapped me on the shoulder and placed a mop in one hand and a disinfectant spray in the other.

“Hate to burst your bubble, girl, but there’s a bathroom that needs cleaning.”

And there went my high.

I gave her a defeated smile while I swal owed my sigh of disgust and trudged off to the women’s washroom with the mop and spray in hand. I entered the empty room cautiously, afraid of the smel I knew what was lurking, afraid that for some reason it would trigger my cramps again or make me lose my lunch. At least I had a mop to clean it up.

The bathroom wasn’t too bad today, despite the shop being relatively busy. I locked the door behind me and got to work, making sure I was both thorough and quick in case a customer was waiting.

I tackled the toilet first, trying not to lean over the bowl too much. The smel was vague but it was present.

While I worked, I thought about how strange it was to have two people from my past show up in the last two days.

First Rebecca, wanting to check up on me – or make me feel sorry for Dex. Then Maximus, wanting me to rejoin Experiment in Terror, but with him, and then asking me out to the movies. It had been a good few months of anonymity, of avoiding the past, of hiding from it. But somehow, it had found me. No matter how hard I tried to stay away from ghost-hunting, from Dex, from that life, I was pul ed back into it. I wondered if it would ever go away and I wondered if there was a reason for it. Something I didn’t understand yet.

Something beyond this world.

I was busy, deep in thought and scrubbing the stopper in the sink, when it happened.

The lights in the bathroom suddenly went out.

I let out a cry of fright. Then a cry of agony.

A rush of pain hit my insides, so intense that I could only drop to my knees on the cold, hard ground. I fel over, clutching my stomach, feeling the slick tiles beneath my head. The ground trembled as if people were running outside of the bathroom, in my direction.

And then I heard a noise I never thought I’d hear.

The consistent drone of a wasp flying around somewhere near my head. I froze automatical y, my breath stopped and I didn’t blink.

The door shuddered back and forth and I heard the cries of Shay outside of it, but I couldn’t pay it any attention.

There was a wasp in the dark bathroom with me.

I’d been in a similar situation before.

Without warning, the buzzing from the wasp stopped.

I felt it land on my cheek, its tiny legs brushing against my skin.

If my world was black before, it now turned even blacker.

Whether it was from pain or from fright, I don’t know. I was gone.

When I woke up, I was lying on a stretcher being wheeled down a hal in what looked to be a hospital. all I could see were the panels in the ceiling above my head as they slowly went past. They were perforated and white, except for the corners, which seemed to leak this black fluid. It came out in clumps, narrowly missing me as it fel to the ground in a splat.

I turned my head, it was as heavy as a pipe, and looked at the person beside me pushing the stretcher. He was a doctor, or a surgeon. He was wearing a mask, his kind eyes focused on mine.

“Not much longer til you meet her,” he said through the mask, the fabric bumping up and down with his mouth’s movement. “Everything is going to be just fine.”

“What happened to me? Where am I going?” I asked, my voice coming out congealed like jel y.