Brenna gripped her van's steering wheel hard enough to turn her knuckles white. "Mom, I am doing the speed limit." Despite her argument, she glanced down at the speedometer. It read fifty-five miles per hour, the designated limit. "Fifty-five, right on the dot."
The ghostly apparition of Brenna's mother sat in the passenger seat. "It sounds like your going faster."
"That's the engine, Mom." Brenna rolled her eyes. "It's a diesel. It always sounds like this on the highway." She spied the sign for her exit off the freeway. With exaggerated care for her mother's sake, Brenna signaled and changed over to the off-ramp. As she slowed the van down from highway speeds, she said, "See?"
"Don't take that tone with me, Brenna," Joni warned
Brenna held in an exasperated sigh, knowing it would just escalate the argument. "Sorry."
"And try to smile. Your sister doesn't graduate university everyday."
With a forced smile, Brenna answered, "I know. Good for Gracie and all that." She signalled to turn on the main road into her neighborhood. "She worked hard." Blue and red lights in the van's side mirror caught the young woman's attention. She pulled over to the side to let the emergency vehicle pass.
A police cruiser passed by then rolled to a stop in front of Brenna's lavender Savana van. "I told you that you were speeding," her mother admonished.
Brenna shut down the engine and reached with a hand covered in a lace glove for the license she kept in the visor. "I wasn't speeding," she said through clenched teeth, not looking at her mother at all. She rolled down the window as the police officer walked to the van.
"License, registration, and proof of insurance," the officer said.
"Is there a problem?" Brenna handed the paperwork to the cop, not looking at him directly.
"Can you turn on your hazard lights for me?"
"Of course." Brenna did as she was asked. The officer walked to the back of the van, out of sight of the mirrors.
"Not bad looking," Joni remarked. She swiveled around in her seat, sticking her head out the side.
"He looks your age and he fills out that uniform well."
Brenna sighed. "I am not going to hit on a cop who pulled me over!"
The officer returned to Brenna's window. "Is there a problem, ma'am?"
"Just a bad day." Brenna shook her head. "Was I speeding, officer?"
"No, but you do have a tail light not working Miss," the officer paused to read the name off Brenna's license. "Halliday. Brenna Halliday?"
"That's correct." Brenna worked hard at not even glancing over at the officer.
"You didn't happen to go to Kearny High School, did you?"
Curiosity got the better of her. Brenna turned to look at the cop. "I did . . . Matt?" Recognition hit at the same time a deep need did. She felt herself turn warm. Brenna clenched her suddenly sweat-drenched palms, ignoring her mother's tsk of disapproval. "Matt Larson? I didn't know you joined the police force."
Matt shrugged. "I started this year after I graduated from the Academy. Do you still live around here? I thought you'd moved away for college."
"Ask him over," Joni suggested.
"I'm still living at home, with Grace and Dad."
Matt looked down at his open ticket book. "Normally, what happens is I'm supposed to write you a citation, which includes the court date. After that, if you can get the light fixed before court, the ticket's written off. What I can do, though, is drop by and help you replace the light. The work gets done and neither of us have to appear in court."
Brenna looked dubious. "And you won't get into trouble?"
"Not if you don't get caught again for the light." Matt smiled.
"Say yes, Brenna," Joni said.
"Sure, okay. As long as you're not in trouble. Need my address?"
Matt waved Brenna's license. "Got it here. Are you going to be around in the evenings or over the weekend?"
"The weekend isn't good. Gracie's graduation is coming up. She's told me to be out of the house for this weekend." Brenna grinned. "But Thursday is good. Really good."
"Great! See you then!" Matt returned to his car.
Brenna collapsed on the steering wheel. "Thanks, Mom." Sarcasm oozed from the words.
"What? I'm not allowed to help my eldest daughter get a date?"
"It's bad enough the damn Blade is trying to get me to hook up with every man that passes in front of me. I don't need my own mother's ghost setting me up as well." Brenna took a deep breath.
"I was only trying to help."
"I know." Brenna squeezed her eyes shut.
Joni's voice softened. "It's hard, I know. I was lucky enough to meet your father same time as when I inherited the Blade. When we get home, set up an appointment with Dr. Womack. It'll help."
Brenna sat back up and started the diesel engine. "All right."
The remainder of the trip was uneventful. Brenna kept her turns so that the broken tail light didn't need to be used. As she approached her home in the middle of the block, she spotted a black car she didn't recognize in the driveway. She pointed it out to her mother.
"Company?" Joni shrugged.
Brenna parked the van on the street in front of the house. The lavender Savana shuddered once before shutting down. The young woman made sure that the parking brake was on before she unbuckled. She got out of the driver's seat, crouched down, and walked to the back to grab her travel bag. A last visual check to make sure that the small curtains were down, then Brenna stepped out the side door on to the sidewalk. She stretched, letting her legs recover from the drive home.
The front door banged open. Grace, Brenna's younger and only sister, ran out to greet the elder Halliday child. "About time you got home," Grace said before she pulled Brenna into a hug. "Oh, man, where have you been? You smell like you've been lost in the woods for days."
"It's so nice to see you, too." Brenna returned the hug. "And I didn't have the money to spring for a hotel room for the past five days. I need a shower. Is Dad home?"
Grace shook her head. "He's going to be late getting out of work. Which means we can come up with reasons why he should return that thing in the driveway."
Brenna pointed at the black car. "That's Dad's? Since when?" She started walking over to the vehicle.
"A few days after you left. He hid it from us."
"He did a lousy job of hiding it, parking it out in the open like this."
Grace rolled her eyes. "You know what I mean, Bren. It takes a few weeks to get a new car. Dad was planning on this without even asking us."
"So? It's his money and his choice. I'm kinda happy the Volvo's gone."
Joni joined her daughters at the car. "Bren, do you even know what this car is?"
Brenna took a closer look at the vehicle. "A black car? Okay, it's not practical in the desert, but I'm sure Dad would have sprung for air conditioning."
Used to the one-sided conversations her sister has had, Grace pointed at the model tag on the front grill. "It's a Challenger. A muscle car. For cruising."
"Like he did when he met me. Tell your father that he has to take it back. He's only having a mid-life crisis over my dead body."
Brenna faced her mother. "Mom, do you ever listen to yourself at times?"
"You know very well what I mean, Brenna."
Turning abruptly away from the black Challenger, Brenna walked away from both the car and the argument. "I'm not going to tell Dad to get rid of the car. If you don't like, you both can tell him, but leave me out of it." She stepped up the small set of stairs and entered her home.
Hearing the storm door close behind her, she continued upstairs to her room. Brenna closed the door, removed her gloves, then tossed her travel bag on her bed. Dad doesn't need the station wagon anymore, she thought; everyone has a car. Why shouldn't he get something he wants to drive? He's gone through enough already.
Brenna dumped the contents of her travel bag directly into her laundry hamper. She then pulled out a change of clothes from her drawers and closet. Outside, she heard a car stop in front of the Halliday family home. Brenna peeked out from her curtains and saw her father getting out of a bright red sports car. As she watched, her father leaned back in to give the driver a kiss. Brenna pulled back before her father turned around.
"Brenna, go ask your father who she is." Joni had her arms folded across her chest.
"Mom, I'd like to point out that you're dead. You've been dead eleven years. The only reason you're still here is because I need training in the Blade. I'm beginning to wonder if you've taught me everything and are hanging around to haunt the family. If that's the case, then I should be urging you to move on."
Joni gasped. "Brenna Louise!"
"Isn't that the reason the Soul Blade exists, to help the dead move on? At least I can talk to ghosts and help them go without smacking them around with the Blade. So, do I still need training even after eleven years or are you just here to make sure nothing changes in the family?"
"I thought you couldn't pay attention in your university classes."
Brenna shook her head. "Mom, Dad loves you. But other than when I'm the intermediary, he can't talk to you, and I'm not comfortable being around when you two want to get more intimate."
"So you're going to let him kiss that woman?"
"I don't think he's going to listen to me or Grace on this." Brenna picked up her bathrobe and draped it over her arm. "I'm going to grab a bath so I can feel civilized again."
Jenna Wilcox stepped out of the elevator and into the parking garage. The sounds of Animotion could be heard from the earphones connected to her pink iPod, the only splash of colour on her sombre business suit. She took off her suit jacket and slung it over her shoulder. The worries of her day at work as Assistant Human Resources Manager (acting) melted away the further she walked from the elevator. It was an in-grained habit of hers, making sure work problems remained at work. Lomax's issues could wait until morning.
The employee level of the parking garage was nearly deserted. A small number of cars, most belonging to overnight staff, remained. The only footsteps echoing through the level were hers. As she walked around a support column, she pulled out her keys. Jenna flicked the alarm on the key chain. Her car, a Saturn hybrid, responded with a loud whoop-whoop and a flash of its headlights. Grooving to "I Engineer", Jenna reached her car, unlocked and opened her door. She slipped inside, locking the door once it was shut.
"Can't be too careful, can you?" a voice said behind her. Before she could turn to look, cold metal cut deep across her throat.
"Are you lost?"
"It's called 'finding a boyfriend'."
"Bladekeeper, you are needed."