"We're just a happy family, aren't we, Gracie?"Brenna woke up with a horrid taste in her mouth. She blinked several times, trying to get her eyes to focus properly. Her head ached until she closed one eye. It took her several minutes to realize that she wasn't in her bedroom. With a groan, she sat up on her bunk. She noticed a small stool holding a stack of her clothes, still folded, with a sheet of paper held down by her reading glasses.
"Okay, what do we do about this killer?"
"You're going to be okay."
"I love you, Gracie."
Once the van stopped spinning for her, Brenna reached over and picked up the paper, sliding it out from under her reading glasses. Grace had written the first past of the note large enough for Brenna to read without the glasses: "Bren, aspirin, water, and breath mints under your clothes." The rest of the letter was in small print Brenna couldn't make out.
Brenna folded the letter up and set it on the bunk. She lifted up the clothes from the stool and found the promised painkillers. She swallowed two tablets, washing them with the bottle of water Grace had been kind enough to leave her. Making sure her curtains were all closed, Brenna then got changed out of yesterday's clothes and into something fresh. She sat back down on her bunk, waiting for the headache to start fading.
Joni entered the van's cargo area from the front. "Brenna, how are you feeling, honey?"
"Hi, Mom. My head's okay, starting to get better."
"Good, because we need to talk."
Brenna sighed. "About what?"
Joni floated to stand in front of her eldest daughter. "About the lack of progress you've made on these killings. Really, Brenna, do you even know how many there are yet?"
"Mom, not now." Brenna buried her face in her hands. "It's too early for this."
"You are not taking your responsibilities seriously, Brenna. Really, going out and getting drunk last night? Then making Gracie drive you home? I am really disappointed, Brenna."
"I'm not allowed to see my best friends from high school any more?"
"Not when you have other duties."
Brenna peeked out the van's curtains. She recognized her home sitting peacefully outside. "Okay, Mom, what am I supposed to be doing instead? I'm not the police."
"You can still go out and look around, Brenna." Joni started pacing, her legs disappearing below the van's floor. "I shouldn't have to think of everything for you."
"I've done everything I can think of, Mom." Despite her efforts, Brenna felt her voice getting louder.
"Oh? And have you looked at the crimes scenes? Not just with your eyes, but with whatever you call that ghost sight of yours."
Brenna rolled her eyes. "Yes, Mom. There wasn't a damned thing there."
"And did you touch it?"
"I did that last night, Mom. And, you know what?" Brenna couldn't help but yell, "It was a stupid idea!"
"Don't take that tone of voice with me, young lady."
Brenna ignored her mother and continued, "If Grace hadn't been there, me and Missy and Krista, we could be dead or in a coma. So, yes, I tried that. No, there wasn't a ghost there. What else can I do?"
"Dead?" Joni stopped her pacing. "Brenna, are you sure?"
"That's what Grace told me she foresaw. Well, not dead. Missy and Krista would be in comas. I'd be a vegetable."
Brenna shrugged. "Whatever erased the emotions also wiped the event out. When I tried to read the building, it started to pull me away, too. So, yes, I've tried everything I can." The young brunette opened the side door. "I've got work to do and I really need breakfast. Unless you can figure out something new, I'm going back inside." Brenna slammed the door shut.
The young brunette stormed up the walkway to the front door. Brenna took a deep breath, trying to calm down before she went inside her home. I've got a headache, she thought, and Mom just bitched me out because I'm not living up to her expectations. Can this day get any worse? Brenna took a second breath, then entered her home.
The smell of breakfast being made greeted her. Brenna closed the door gently, then made her way to the kitchen. "Hi, Daddy, she said as she entered. "Sorry for--" Brenna cut herself off when she saw who was cooking.
Amy turned to see who arrived. "Hi. It's Brenna, right?"
"Yeah, Brenna." The older Halliday caught herself staring at her father's friend. Mind, Amy was wearing one of Gary's shirts, an apron, and not much else. "I'm interrupting something." Brenna backed out of the kitchen. Once in the dining room, she turned and fled upstairs to her bedroom. Her mind whirled. She patted her pockets for her cell phone, then remembered she left it in her van.
Brenna peeked out her bedroom door. Seeing no one, she dashed out to grab the cordless phone in the hall and returned to her sanctuary. She dialed her sister's cell number. On the second ring, the line was picked up. "Grace Halliday's office, Ms Gutierrez speaking."
"She's busy at the moment. Who may I say is calling?"
"Her sister." Brenna sat down on her bed, confused.
"One moment, please." Just before the mouthpiece got covered, Brenna heard a giggle.
"Hey, Bren, what's up?" Grace said after few seconds.
"What the hell is going on?"
"That was Yesi practicing for her new job Tuesday. What's up, Bren?"
"Amy`s still here."
"What are you talking about?"
Brenna huffed. "Amy's downstairs making breakfast wearing one of Daddy's shirts."
"I know-- Wait, she's in one of Dad's shirts?"
"Okay, okay, you don't have to shout. Did you read my note this morning?"
"Yes. Thanks for the clothes and the aspirin."
"The whole note, Brenna? Even the part where I mention that Amy stayed the night?"
Brenna closed her eyes. "I missed that part."
"Brenna, I am going to super glue your reading glasses on so you can't take them off again."
"Mom came by, okay?"
"Where are you now?"
"Bren, here's what you're going to do. You're going to go back downstairs, join the breakfast if Amy's made enough for all three of you, and be pleasant. You're going to pretend you saw nothing out of the ordinary."
"What?" Brenna stood back up. "Grace, I can't go back down! It'll be embarrassing!"
"Brenna, Just because you're avoiding sex like the plague doesn't mean the rest of us have to. Jeez, they're consenting adults."
"But what if I can't look her in the eye?"
"And look at her where else? Dad's shirt?"
Brenna felt her cheeks grow hot. "I'm not ready!"
"They know you're up, Brenna. At least say good morning to Dad. I have to go." Grace disconnected the call.
Brenna stared at the phone in her hand. "Brat." She took a few deep breaths to let the warmth in her cheeks fade, then returned downstairs. Her father and Amy, who had found a pair of jeans to put on, sat at the dining room table, eating the eggs Amy had been making earlier. "Morning, Daddy," Brenna mumbled. She sat down and grabbed a banana from the the fruit basket. "Amy." She kept her eyes focused on the table.
"Morning, sweetie," Gary said. "Sleep well?"
"Yeah, I guess." Brenna shrugged.
Amy started to get up. "Did you want breakfast, Brenna?"
"I'm good. I'm not that hungry."
"Are you sure? I made extra."
"I'm a vegetarian."
Amy smiled. "I know. Gary told me. Are you completely vegan or do you allow yourself to eat eggs?"
"No, not a vegan. My doctor recommended against it."
"Great! Well, maybe not great, but you know what I mean. There's no meat in the eggs, just mushrooms, green peppers, red peppers, onions, and some spices from the rack."
Gary raised a forkful of his breakfast. "Try it, Bren. It's really good."
Amy blushed a little at the compliment. "I'm not that good, Gary."
Brenna slipped into the kitchen before her father and Amy started to get embarrassing. She found the breakfast on the stove under a pot lid. Still having reservations, she tried a forkful. To her surprise, Brenna found the eggs tasty. She piled more on a plate and sat down at the island counter, leaving her father and his girlfriend some privacy.
Amy brought the plates in from the dining room as Brenna finished her breakfast. "Say, your dad and I are going antiquing today. Want to come with us?"
"No, thanks. I've got some work I have to finish today. You two go have fun without me."
"Are you sure?" Amy moued.
Brenna set her fork down. "I'm sure, really. I just have these sewing projects to get done and in the mail."
"Okay. I'll let Gary know." Amy returned to the dining room.
Brenna closed her eyes, centering herself. She picked up her plate and took it to the sink. She heard someone come in behind her. "I'll deal with the dishes. You two go have fun."
"Are you sure?" Gary asked.
Brenna set the plate down. "Yes, Daddy. Really." She turned around to face her father.
"Come here, Bren." Gary held his arms out for his eldest daughter. Brenna ran into his arms, hugging him around his waist. "What's wrong, sweetie?" He rubbed Brenna's back.
"Nothing, Daddy. I just walked in on something I wasn't expecting. Is she making you happy?"
"I am happy being with her." Gary kissed Brenna's forehead. "Are you sure you don't want to come with us today?"
"I'm sure, Daddy." Brenna broke away from her father. "Go and have fun, okay? I'll deal with everything else here. And I've got people waiting for me to finish costumes."
Gary smiled. "As long as you're okay with everything."
Brenna nodded and put on a smile. "Don't worry about me, okay? Go have fun."
"And you remember that you'll always be my little girl." He kissed Brenna on the cheek. "I'll call if I'm going to be late so you don't worry."
Brenna spent the morning cleaning the house, working off her annoyances and frustrations by attacking stubborn spots. She opened all the windows to let the odor of cleaning product clear out. As noon approached, she retrieved her belongings from the lavender Savana and put a load of her delicates in the washer. After a quick lunch, Brenna returned to her room and kept working on the costume requests. The first costume took shape quickly. By the middle of the afternoon was ready, it was ready for Brenna to start adding the detailing.
The second request kept Brenna working until dusk. She only noticed because the light in her room grew dim. Setting down the sewing, Brenna worked her fingers, letting them stretch and flex. She checked her alarm clock; it was coming up to seven o'clock. The phone rang, loud in the quiet of her room. Brenna grabbed the handset and hit Talk. "Hello?"
"Hey, Brenna, is that you?"
Brenna recognized her cousin's voice. "Summer, hi!"
"Do you ever check your email, Brenna? I was waiting for your call all day."
"Sorry, Summer. I got caught up in other work. What's up?"
"Bad things. Really bad things. It took me a while, too. Did you know that Grandma Novotny had books written in Romanian and Croatian?"
Brenna blinked at the non-sequitur. "No. Summer, what does that have to do with anything?"
"Everything. I had to go to the university to find someone who even recognized the language. By the way, Mom is upset with me for taking the books out of the house. I'm not taking the fall alone."
"I'll talk to her, okay? What did you find out?"
"It'd be easier to read what I sent you, Bren."
Brenna sighed. "I will, Summer. Can you give me the short version for now?"
"Sure." Summer took a deep breath. "First, not a ghost, but you probably know. Second, most likely a spell. Third, watch out for zombies."
"Can you give me the longer version?"
"Okay, no ghost has the ability to wipe out emotional signs."
Brenna nodded. "That, I got. You said it was a spell."
"No, most likely a spell," Summer repeated. "There are other possibilities, but nothing even these books mention except as footnotes and historical references."
"Summer, there's no such thing as magic spells."
"Brenna, what's that thing you do? You know, where you get this beam of light out of your hand? Not to mention, ghosts. Most people don't believe in those, either."
"Okay, I get your point. And it's not magic I'm doubting. It's the idea of spells. Spells might exist."
"Can't be that powerful, though. I think I met the murderer the other day."
"Whoa, no way! Brenna, did you catch him? Did he attack you? Are you okay? Wait until Mom hears about this."
"Summer, wait, no. Don't tell your mom. She'll ask Dad and he doesn't know anything about it."
"What about the killer, though? Aren't you afraid he'll try again?"
"The killer's a woman, and, no, I don't think she will. I'm fine, but she got away. And if she knew any spells, she would have used them on me when she attacked." Brenna thought for a moment. "Summer, could this be a ritual instead?"
"I suppose. The guy doing the translation was doing his best, but he's better at modern Romanian, not an ancient version of it. He was kind of cute, though. I hope I run into him on campus this fall."
"Speaking of zombies . . ." Brenna teased.
"Oh, right. One of the spells or rituals or whatevers that wipes out the emotional traces binds a piece of the soul to the body, animating it."
Brenna hmm'ed as she thought. "Can't be that one."
"The bodies were found at two of the murders."
"Maybe the killer wanted them to walk out of the morgue later," Summer suggested.
"Kind of difficult without bones."
"Oh, ew, Brenna!"
"I'll check my email and read what you sent. Thanks, Summer."
"Any time, Bren. Hey, are you going to be at your sister's party next weekend?"
"Yeah, of course. Why?"
"Just wondering. Rory was asking, mainly because she was worried you and Grace were fighting again."
"We're not fighting."
"Anyway, I better go before Mom starts yelling about the phone bill. Say hi to Grace and Uncle Gary for me."
"I will. Take care, Summer. See you next week." Brenna hung up the phone. She mulled over what Summer told her. Zombies.
Brenna stretched, easing muscles tight from sewing. She went downstairs to the dark kitchen. Without turning on a light, she made her way to the fridge. The phone rang again, startling her. Brenna picked it up on the third ring. "Hello?"
"Brenna, are you okay?" she heard her dad ask.
"Hey, Daddy. I'm fine. It's just quiet here when no one's around. What's up?"
"Amy and I are still on the road. We're going to stop somewhere for dinner, so go ahead and have yours. Don't wait for us."
"Okay, Daddy. How was antiquing?"
"We had a great day, sweetie. What about you?"
"I got the place cleaned up and my projects closer to being done."
"I'll let you go, then. We're about to be seated. Say hi to Grace for me."
"I will, Daddy. Bye."
Brenna set the phone down, disconnecting the call. Dinner for one yet again, she mused. It's getting to be a habit. Back in the fridge, she found what she wanted and made a note to go shopping for groceries. Amy's breakfast took a bit of a chunk out of the vegetables available. Brenna took her salad into the living room to eat in front of the TV. She flipped around the stations until she found an old black and white horror movie to watch.
"Can I give you a maybe?"
"I won't be able to let you sample the next offering."
"Bren, you're looking a little green."
"How many bones are there in a human body?"