"Interview with Unnamed Source One, San Diego, Sunday morning, at nine forty-five."
"One of the rituals bound a piece of the soul to the body so it could walk around."
"I want to see your cousin's email."
"You should have your offering before the end of Monday."
Brenna backed her lavender Savana back beside where her father's Dodge had been but currently wasn't, much to Krista's amusement. "Nice job," Krista remarked.
"Grace told me to not park in front of the house." Brenna shut down the van. "Did you want to check out my pimped out van now or later?"
Krista craned her head to check out the back. "Now's good. It's not like the email is going to disappear on us."
Brenna crawled out of her seat and into the cargo area. She spread her arms wide. "This, as you can see, is the spacious living area." She backed up a bit, then unlatched her bunk. "And it converts into a one-bedroom with a flick of the fingers."
"Awesome, Bren." Krista scrambled into the back. "The ceiling's a little low, though."
Brenna put the bunk back up. "Not a problem. Check out the big blue room just beyond this door." She opened the back door and jumped out. "All the space you'll ever need. And changeable, too! Don't like the view? Drive somewhere else. Somewhere else not guaranteed."
"I love it!"
Brenna pointed at the locked boxes under her bunk. "I keep extra stuff in there, things like fabric, a cooler, camping chairs. My tent should be in there somewhere."
"Why a tent?"
"The van gets stuffy at times. And, if I'm out in the middle of nowhere, I want to be outside."
"I have vacation time due me in July." Krista jumped out of the Savana. "We are so going on a camping trip then."
"Deal." Brenna closed up the van, then led her friend into the house. "Dad's computer is upstairs. Want anything to drink?"
"Not now. Can you print what your cousin sent?"
"I can try." Brenna continued to lead Krista up to her father's computer. She powered it up, then signed into it.
"You really need your own PC, Bren."
Brenna shrugged. "I can't afford my own right now. Eventually."
"Missy knows a guy who could help."
"I know. She even offered him to me." When Krista giggled crazily, Brenna realized what she had said. "Not like that! I meant that she offered his help to me."
"That's not much better, Bren."
Brenna logged into her Hotmail account. She cleared out the spam, then found the email from Summer. Reading through the message, she saw an attachment to download. After a few moments to let her father's anti-virus scan it, Brenna opened it. "Summer was busy," she said when she saw the number of pages.
The Hewlett-Packard laser printer warmed up, then started spitting out pages. A few minutes later, Brenna picked up the small bundle of warm paper. "We can spread out on the dining table."
The two young women returned downstairs. Krista took about half of the stack Brenna carried and sat down. Brenna took a seat facing her friend. Both started to go through Summer's work. "Does your cousin know how to spell?" Krista complained. "Could she at least learn to listen to the spellchecker. Gah!"
Brenna reread a passage. "This is interesting."
"You found something?" Krista peered over the top of her pages.
"A ritual to put a man completely at your control."
"Not quite what we're looking for Bren." Krista lowered her papers. "However, useful. What does it need?"
"Lead, absinthe, and laudanum."
"So, you could control the guy for a few months before he dropped dead. No thanks."
Brenna tossed the page over her shoulder. She kept reading through Summer's notes. Paragraphs trailed off, sentences were left half finished, ideas were broken into point form then never followed up. Brenna started to feel sorry for her cousin's English teachers. "Hey, Bren!" Brenna looked over to her fellow sufferer. "I think I found something," Krista said.
Brenna stood up and stretched. "What is it?" She walked around the table to stand behind her friend.
Krista laid her page down on the table. "Right here," she said, pointing at a passage. "It mentions a ritual to hide evidence from witches and other busybodies."
Brenna adjusted her glasses and read the highlighted section. "Okay, 'to protect thine self, to hide wrong doing, or to avoid the inquisition (like people expect those!)'" Brenna read further, but couldn't find any other mention. "Someone really needs to talk to that girl."
"Who let her watch Monty Python?"
"Who let her graduate? I'm going to give her a call."
Krista picked up her purse. "Hang on. Do you have a speaker phone?"
"I think Dad does for when he's working from home. Upstairs by his computer."
"Good. I want in on this."
The two women returned upstairs. Setting up the phone so both she and Krista could use it, Brenna dialled her aunt's number. After the first ring, Brenna's cousin Rae answered, "Hello?"
"Hi, Rae. It's Brenna in San Diego. Is Summer around?"
"Oh, hi, Brenna. You just missed her. She just left for work. Can I tell her you called?"
"Please. I was reading the notes she sent me and I just had a few questions about something she wrote."
"Summer sent you notes?" Rae's voice revealed a great disbelief. "My sister Summer?"
Brenna rolled her eyes. "Yes, Rae."
"Oh, Bren, have her call you on your cell phone," Krista suggested. "In case we're out tonight."
"Bren, who was that?" Rae asked.
"Rae, that was my friend Krista. Krista, say hi to my cousin Rae, Summer's younger sister."
"Hi, Rae. So, Rae, tell me you can write better than your sister."
"Please. Our cat can write better. Oh, wait, Mom wants to talk to you, Bren."
Brenna heard the phone being transferred. "Bren?" her aunt said.
"Hi, Aunt Dawn."
"Do you know anything about Grandma Novotny's books going missing?"
Krista patted Brenna on the back. "You're on your own for this."
"It's my fault, Aunt Dawn," Brenna started. "I asked Summer to look up a few things for me."
"She can't read the missing books, though. Did she send them to you?"
"I don't know, Aunt Dawn. I'll keep an eye out for them and let you know."
"Thanks. Say hi to your dad for me."
"I will. Bye, Aunt Dawn." Brenna hung up the call. She turned to her friend. "I'd really hate to be in Summer's shoes right now."
Brenna shrugged. "Summer said she went to the university to get help translating them. Maybe she left the books there."
"I hope so for her sake. So, what now?"
"Want a late lunch? We've got stuff in the kitchen."
"Sure. And then can we just veg out on the couch? I'm not up for another road trip."
Sunday afternoon television led to a lot of channel flipping until the women found a movie they could agree on. With tall glasses of water beside them, Brenna and Krista stretched out in the living room to watch TV, letting the afternoon pass.
The front door banged open. Several sets of heavy footsteps tromped inside. "Brenna?" Grace called. "Brenna! Are you here?"
Brenna dug a melted ice cube out of her glass. "In the living room."
Grace poked her head in the room. "Is Dad out?"
"I guess. His car's gone." Brenna popped the ice into her mouth and let it melt.
"I can see that. Hi, Krista." Grace waved to Brenna's guest. "Bren, did Dad leave a note."
Brenna struggled to sit up properly. "Not that I found. Why?"
"Did he go out yesterday?"
"Yes, Grace. He and Amy went antiquing."
Grace scowled. "So, they've been gone almost two days now?"
"Dad came home late last night. I went out this morning before he woke up and came back after he had left. Why?"
"I want to barbecue tonight. We picked up the food, but I wanted to ask Dad if we had enough propane."
"I don't know, Gracie. You might have to check for yourself." As Grace started to leave, Brenna added, "Wait, who's we?"
Piper, a tall woman with long blond pigtails, and Yesi, a dark-haired Latina stepped in front of the doorway. "Hi," Yesi said.
"Hi. I'm Krista."
"Krista, want to stay for dinner?" Grace invited. "We bought lots. Mainly burgers and sausages. I even got Brenna her tofu dogs.
Grace took her friends back outside. The storm door slammed shut behind them. "Sorry about that, Krista. I wasn't expecting them to swarm us."
"It's okay. I kinda miss the noise. I have siblings, too, even if we're spread out all over the country."
Brenna got up off the couch. "Want a refill?"
Krista shook her head. "Nah, I'm fine."
Brenna wandered out in to he front hall and looked outside. She saw Grace and her friends getting bags of groceries out of her sister's Volkswagen. Turning away, Brenna went to the kitchen and sat down on a stool at the island counter. She sighed.
"Okay, Bren, what's wrong." Joni stood in the middle of the counter, visible from the waist up.
Brenna looked around before answering. "I don't know, Mom. It seems like I'm the only person here without a life."
"I wouldn't say that, Bren. You have a life, too."
"Then why am I the only person I know not following her dream?" Brenna lay her head on the counter. "Gracie's going to be a lawyer. Krista is practically a reporter. Missy's got her own business that keeps her going. What do I have to show for since dropping out of school?"
"So that's what's on your mind." Joni crouched down to Brenna's height. "Bren, you've got your sewing still. I've seen you working on clothes."
Brenna raised her head. "It's not the same, Mom. I wanted to be a designer. I wanted to work at one of the fashion houses."
"You have to start somewhere."
"I know, but I'm not starting at the ground floor here." Brenna sighed again. "More like the fifth parking level below the ground. With the power out."
"I know, honey, but you just have to work around it until you get the Soul Blade settled in."
"Sure. Did you have to put your dreams on hold indefinitely?"
Joni smiled. "Bren, it's not going to be indefinite. I had to set aside my dream for a few years, too."
"It's been six years for me, Mom. Six, since I dropped out of college. I could have had a diploma and gotten an internship. How long did it take for you to get back to your dream?"
"Brenna, it wasn't that simple."
Joni switched to her mother voice. "Brenna, listen to me. I sacrificed my dream while I figured out the Blade. Did you think I wanted to be a housewife and mother?"
"What did you want to do?"
"I wanted to own my own business. When I was sixteen, I wanted to have a business teaching people to ride horses." Joni sighed. "Two years later, I dropped the bit about horses. Allergies. But I still wanted to own my own business. I never got to do that. But I did start a business with your father after I had you. It wasn't my original dream, but I got to work with your dad. The fringe benefits worked out for both of us." Joni smiled. "You have to adapt, Bren."
"I've tried. I've gone from internship to travelling to fairs and festivals and conventions to sell art and get commissions. I sleep in a van, Mom. A van, because I can't afford to stay at a hotel. Even if I could, I wouldn't be able to sleep in the bed. Right now, my dream is to be normal. I want to go out in public without taking an unhealthy amount of hormones. I want to touch stuff with my bare hands and not see everyone else who touched it, too, especially beds. I want to meet a man who I like because of who he is, not because the Blade wants someone to take it up when I die."
"Brenna, it's tough--"
"Mom, I know it's tough. I don't think you know how tough it is for me." Brenna got up off the stool. "I'm just tired of being different. You keep wondering why I hang out with Missy and Krista. They let me feel like I belong somewhere. They keep an eye out for me so that I can relax. Being on guard is tiring, Mom. I'm on call, and I don't even get paid for it." She turned to leave.
Joni began to follow her daughter. "Brenna, wait."
Brenna stopped. "What, Mom?"
"I hate seeing you like this. I didn't know what to do when I was alive, and I don't know now. Is there anything I could say to help you?"
"I really don't know any more, Mom. I really don't."
Brenna returned to the living room and flopped down on the couch. "Sorry about that, Krista."
Krista shifted to sit beside her friend. "You look down, Bren. What happened in the kitchen?"
"Nothing." Brenna shook her head. "I'll be okay."
"I'll be the judge of that." Krista wrapped her arms around Brenna. "What happened?"
Brenna shrugged. "Nothing from today. Just stuff."
"What stuff?" Krista gave Brenna a squeeze. "We've been best friends since kindergarten. Talk."
"I've just had too many ups and downs this past week. I mean, here you are, in town, which is great. And then there's the bodies and all that crap." Brenna snuggled in closer to her friend. "I just want a break from the world."
Krista held Brenna tight. "You need a vacation."
The storm door slammed again. "Brenna?" Piper called. "Grace wants to know where the tongs went." She looked into the living room. "Do you-- Oh, sorry. Didn't mean to interrupt."
Without looking up, Brenna answered, "Try the middle drawer beside the sink. That's where I last saw them."
Piper backed away. "Kitchen, sink, middle drawer, got it. Thanks." She walked away quickly.
"Okay, Brenna, get up," Krista said.
Brenna shook with silent laughter. "Tell me you saw her face."
Krista pushed Brenna up. "She's going think we're lesbians now."
"No, she's going to think you are. She's going to wonder about me."
Brenna kept laughing. "Piper and Grace helped me at a bar one night when the testosterone was flowing. Grace told her that I had issues with men, so Piper knows I'm straight."
"I've got to tell her that I am, too." Krista started to get up.
Brenna grabbed her friend's arm. "No, don't. It'll be funny to watch tonight."
Dubious, Krista sat back down. "Okay, but if this comes back to haunt me, I'll know who to blame."
"Trust me. And Gracie will set her straight later." Realizing what she said, Brenna added, "So to speak."
"That's when Piper walked in."
"Do you believe in the occult, Ms Halliday?"
"If the killer does, then there's the motive."
"Good night, Grace."