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Like a Prayer

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Tara prays. Tara has always prayed. At night, like her father taught her, now I lay me down to sleep/I pray The Lord my soul to keep. At mealtimes, when it's her turn to say grace. At church and Sunday school and whenever everyone else tells her, and if she's not sure she feels God, at least she feels like a good girl. She tries to stop when her mother dies, but she can't. Maybe Heaven is real, maybe it's not, but there's no one else to talk to, and she likes to picture her words floating up to the sky.

Girls and magic come at the same time, morphing from an uncertain stammer in the back of her mind to a thrilling certainty at the core of her being. Invisibility is her best trick. Girls like her should get picked on, but she wills herself to be a ghost, and she is. Even at home, she can glide through the hallways without anyone seeing. That's how she gets into her mother's trunk, finds old spell books warped by moisture and chewed by mice but still legible. Even in the dark, by the dim glow of her flashlight, the words shine. She learns to conjure light and make papers drift on a silent wind. At school, she's careful, but she gets caught once or twice. It frightens the other girls just enough to make them stay away.

Tara knows it's wrong to take advantage of being a ghost, but she can't help it sometimes -- especially in the locker room, where she glimpses nipples and bottoms and thighs while the other girls are busy pretending she doesn't exist. She takes those images to bed at night, when her fingers wander beneath the sheets and then beneath the waistband of her flannel pants. At Sunday school, they say it's an abomination, but it makes her feel alive.

Her father says she's a demon. Not possessed by a demon, but actually a demon. Like her mother. It's so absurd, Tara doesn't know whether to laugh or cry. For two months she cuts herself because she thinks demons deserve that kind of pain, but cutting makes her feel ugly and broken and the magic makes her feel beautiful and good. After that, she tries to pray because surely she needs saving -- her father says she's a demon, but sin feels good. The prayers don't work, at least not how they're supposed to. She starts to ask God to make her whole, but instead she asks him to make her herself instead.

She writes her father a letter. Demons are real, and they are everywhere, but not how he thinks. Hate is a demon. Fear is a demon. Judgment is a demon. Magic and love are the only exorcism that counts.

In the morning, she takes the bus to Sunnydale.