"Hi, Krista, it's Brenna. I am stuck at home with a crazy sister."Brenna woke up in time for Officer Henderson's shift to end. She said her farewells to him and introduced herself to Officer Cruz, a woman taller than Brenna herself but not quite Grace's height. Although relieved, Brenna was also disappointed that Matt hadn't been assigned to protect her.
"The dead woman was Fiona Leary, a secretary for a high-priced mediator."
"Her boss's name is Tricia Meadows, and she hasn't been seen since yesterday morning."
"Tricia Meadows is the woman who attacked me last week."
After a quick dinner, Brenna brought her sewing downstairs. At a recent convention up the coast, she had received several requests for doll clothes. One of the people asking about the clothes had even shown her the doll in question, fragile-looking, posable, about two feet tall. Some research online gave Brenna the measurements she needed to work with. With a lull in her travels and not much else to do with her hands, she sat down and started with a simple design of her own creation. Fitting would be a problem, but she could always get the doll owners to put the clothes on before buying the outfit. On the spot alterations wouldn't take Brenna much time as long as she didn't get a sudden rush. Brenna chatted with Officer Cruz as she worked. Cruz watched in amazement as the young brunette worked on the tiny stitches needed to make the sleeves.
Grace returned home long after dark. She waved to her sister and the police officer before going to the kitchen. The younger Halliday woman returned to the living room with a can of Pepsi in her hand. She introduced herself to the officer, then asked of she needed a refill on her coffee.
Brenna looked up as Grace sat on the couch. "Feeling any better?"
"A little. Sorry about getting all insane." Grace opened her cola. "Thanks for kicking me out. I needed the fresh air. The bleach was getting to me."
"Any time, Gracie."
"Have you seen Dad?"
Brenna returned to her sewing. "Not yet."
"Good. There's something else I need him to pick up." Grace picked up the cordless phone. "Do you think a centerpiece is a little much?"
"It's your party, Gracie. Have whatever you want."
"Do you think I could get a swan carved from ice? Yesi was showing me photos of her cousin's wedding and they had an ice floral bouquet that looked lovely at the reception until it melted."
"I think it's too late," Officer Cruz said. "My brother's wife wanted an ice carving and was told that they need at least a month's notice."
"Well, damn." Grace set the phone down. "I'll have to remember that."
A car stopped outside. Officer Cruz got to her feet. She walked to the curtain, a hand on the butt of her gun. Looking outside, she spotted a man getting out of a black car. "Are either of you expecting someone right now?"
Grace looked over to her sister. "Aunt Dawn, but she's should be here around eleven with her family."
"It's just one man, coming to the door."
"Could be Dad," Brenna said. "Is it an older man?"
"Looks like it," Cruz said. "Still, stay away from the windows and door. I'll check him out."
Brenna heard the front door unlocking. "It should be okay, Officer. Dad has keys."
From the front hall came, "Girls, are you home?"
"It's Dad," Grace confirmed.
"In the living room, Daddy."
Gary poked his head into the living room's entrance. "There you are. I need some help with the grocery bags." He noticed the police woman standing at the couch. "Oh, hello. Can I help you, Officer?"
"Officer Cruz is here to make sure I'm safe, Daddy," Brenna explained. "You probably heard the news?"
Officer Cruz shook Gary's hand. "Hi. Your daughter is the only eyewitness we have to confirm the killer's identity. We don't know if she'll try anything, but it's better to be safe than sorry."
"I see," Gary said.
Brenna set her sewing down so she could run over to hug her father. "Hi, Daddy."
Gary kissed his eldest daughter's forehead. "Is it safe for the girls to help me bring in the groceries?"
"I'll go out with you," Cruz said.
The group trekked outside. With the police officer watching, the Hallidays split up the bags to bring in without needing a return trip. Grace took over putting the food away so as to keep the kitchen clean. Brenna returned to the living room to resume her sewing. Gary joined his elder daughter, sitting on the couch to watch TV. As Officer Cruz returned, Gary asked, "Is this really necessary?"
Before Cruz could answer, her radio crackled. "Excuse me," she said. She left the room.
Gary looked over at Brenna. "How are you doing, Bren?"
"I think it's overkill. She's not coming after me. She has no way of knowing who I am unless she saw my license plate. Even then, why now? Why not sooner?" Brenna shrugged. "I can handle her again if she comes after me."
Officer Cruz returned. "I have to leave," she said. "Detective McCoy needs available officers. He believes that you'll be safe for now, Brenna. If there is any problem, though, call 911 immediately. Better to have a false report from here than have the suspect strike successfully."
"We'll call," Gary promised. "Thanks for looking after my girls."
Brenna smiled. "Thanks for being here."
"Let me know how the outfits turn out. I'd love to see what they look like." Cruz left. A few moments later, her patrol cruiser started up, then drove off.
"Outfits?" Gary asked.
Brenna held up her project. "I'm trying something new. Doll clothes. If they work, it'll be something else I can sell on the convention circuit."
"Looks really intricate."
"It's not that bad." Brenna shrugged. "Something to keep me busy and use up my scrap box. They might even help me get gas money faster out of town."
"Not a bad idea. I'm sure you can make it work."
"I hope so. I'll have to ask Missy about what's coming up."
"Still not feeling up to the Comic Con?"
A shudder worked through Brenna. "Too big, Daddy. Way too big for me. Too many people."
"Is the new prescription working?"
"It is, but I don't want to test its limits. Besides, Gracie's graduation is the same weekend. She'd kill me if I went to the Con instead of her ceremony."
"Damn straight I would," Grace said as she entered the living room. "I want you there, Bren."
"I want to be there, Gracie," Brenna said. She held up the tiny shirt she was working on. "What do you think?"
"You're not thinking of wearing that Sunday, are you?"
"It's not for me. I'm trying out making doll clothes."
Grace raised an eyebrow. "What kind of doll?"
"Never mind." Brenna returned to her work.
"No, really, Bren, what kind of doll? That shirt – it's a shirt, right? – is larger than any of my Barbies."
"Just a doll I saw at a convention. Several people asked about clothes for it."
"Cool. Good luck with it." Grace walked behind her father. "Have you had dinner yet?"
"With Amy. Sorry, Gracie."
"That's okay, Dad."
Gary checked his watch. "Dawn and Keith should be here soon."
"I know. I have some sandwiches in the fridge for them. There's even some egg salad in there if you want any, Bren."
"Thanks, Gracie," Brenna said without looking up.
Grace kissed her father on the cheek before disappearing again. Gary flipped through the TV channels, finally settling on a black and white movie. Brenna kept sewing, looking up from time to time to see what was going on in the movie and to stretch her fingers, keeping them from cramping. At eleven, Gary turned the TV off. He got up and stretched. A car stopped outside. Brenna set her sewing aside to go look out the window. She saw her youngest cousin getting out of the back of a minivan. "They're here," she announced.
Gary opened the front door for his late wife's sister and her family. He hugged Dawn as she entered, then shook Keith's hand. Rae slipped inside, avoiding contact with family. "Don't mind her," Dawn said. "She's in a rebellious phase." Rae only rolled her eyes at the comment.
"There are sandwiches in the fridge," Grace said. "Help yourself."
Rae disappeared into the kitchen. Before Grace could do anything else, she found herself engulfed in a massive hug from her aunt. "Aunt Dawn!" she gasped.
"I am so proud of you!"
Dawn released her victim and entered the living room. "Brenna! Come here and say hi!"
Brenna set down her almost completed shirt and got up. "Hi, Aunt Dawn. How was the trip?"
"Long. Traffic was just bad through Los Angeles. To be expected, really, but Keith's GPS was supposed to help us avoid it."
"It helps to turn it on!" Rae called from the kitchen.
"Raven, mind your mother," Keith said.
"I don't see why I couldn't have come down here with Summer and Rory, Dad."
Dawn shook her head. "Rae, enough. We've already discussed that."
Brenna gave her aunt a hug. "We've got the bedrooms ready and there's a tent outside for whoever wants to use it."
"You girls must have worked so hard."
Brenna heard Grace clear her throat. "Grace did. She wanted to make sure everything went perfectly this weekend."
Dawn turned back to Grace. "Is that right? You must be tired."
"I'm fine, Aunt Dawn," Grace said. "I can show you where you'll be sleeping tonight. Just upstairs. We can put your luggage there for now."
"It's been a long day for all of us," Keith said. "I'd like to get some sleep."
Grace started heading up the stairwell. "This way, then. You'll be in Dad's room."
"Gary, we can't kick you out of your bedroom," Dawn said.
"I don't mind, Dawn," Gary said. "You and Keith can have the bedroom. I've can use the spare room. It's not like I have to work this weekend."
"Still, I feel bad."
Brenna pressed through the commotion, escaping to the kitchen. She found Rae sitting at the island counter eating a sandwich. "Hi, Rae."
Between bites, Rae answered, "Hi, Brenna."
"How's the sandwich?"
"It's a sandwich." Rae shrugged.
"That bad a trip?"
"I will be happy when I get a car of my own. I never want to take a road trip with my parents ever again." Rae repressed a scream. "They kept arguing about the route until we got off the freeway at your exit. Eight hours of bickering."
"Yeah, it's the reason I don't go in the same car as Grace anymore, the constant fighting." Brenna opened the fridge and grabbed one of the egg salad sandwiches.
"Now imagine being in the back seat and not able to go anywhere to escape."
Brenna nodded. "Yeah, not so good. Grace wasn't certain where you wanted to sleep tonight. There's a tent out in the backyard if you prefer, or Grace is willing to share with you."
"I want some time alone. The tent's fine." Rae sighed. "Next time, I'm flying down. No more of this bull."
"It'll be a few years," Brenna said. "I think next graduation will be yours."
Brenna bit into her sandwich. "Not bad. You can put your stuff in Gracie's room when you're ready. I'll find a flashlight for you if you want the tent."
"Thanks." Rae finished her sandwich and left the kitchen, passing her mother coming in.
"Someone mentioned sandwiches," Dawn said.
"In the fridge." Brenna set her food down. "Want me to get it for you?"
"Sit, eat, Brenna. I can get it." Dawn opened the refrigerator. "There they are." She grabbed two sandwiches and closed the door. "How are you doing?"
Dawn joined Brenna at the island. "Really? Nothing bothering you?"
"The usual, you know?"
"Find anyone special yet?"
Brenna blushed. "No. Well, maybe." She shrugged. "I'm not sure."
"Care to tell me? Or am I being too nosy?"
"I ran into an guy who was in my classes in high school. We've had, not sure what we had. Not quite dates. A couple of dinners, but nothing you'd call romantic or anything." Brenna sighed. "I don't know if it'll go anywhere, really. I've had the talk with him, sort of let him know what he's getting into if he wants to see me and he hasn't run away."
"Warned him? Oh, Brenna, don't tell me you scare off your potential beaus."
"I don't want him to think I'm easy or all I want him for is, um, I don't know," Brenna hesitated.
"A roll in the hay? To father your children? Hot and messy sex?"
"Yeah, those," Brenna mumbled.
Dawn smiled. "Brenna, you are a sweet girl. He'll know that you love him."
"But how am I supposed to tell if the Blade keeps wanting me to throw myself after almost every guy on the street?"
"It's like having a reverse gaydar. I don't go off around gay men." Brenna laid her head on the counter top. "I keep thinking that I'm just going to kidnap some guy and, you know."
"I see." Dawn got up from her stool to walk behind her niece. She massaged Brenna's shoulders. "Your mother was the same way, really. She was really lucky she found your father."
Brenna felt tension evaporate from her shoulders and back. "You're not going to tell me about my mother's sex life, are you? I get enough of it from her."
"How is Joni doing?"
"Mom's still the same. I'm surprised she isn't here tonight. Unless that last murder really did summon a demon and she's found someplace safe."
"Right, you were investigating that. How is the investigating?"
"The police know who the killer is. They even had me under protection earlier."
Dawn stopped her massage. "Protection? Are you in danger?"
Brenna sat up again. "I doubt it. The woman never had a chance to figure out who I am."
"I hope you're right."
"So do I." Brenna finished her sandwich. "I'm going back to the living room. I've got a shirt to finish."
"I'd love to see it when you're done."
"I'll show to you tomorrow. I should be done by the time Aura and Summer arrive." Brenna cleaned up the counter, hoping to avoid the wrath of Grace.
With the crowd of people in the front hall gone, Brenna returned to the living room without being flagged down or snagged. She picked up the uncompleted tiny shirt and resumed work, bending down close to it to get a good look at the seams. The young brunette lost track of the time as people went to bed. By the time Brenna felt exhaustion set in, it was well past four in the morning. She stretched, working out kinks that had built up. She peeked outside the front window, looking for her cousin's car. Not seeing it, Brenna walked to the kitchen to check on Rae. A single dim light was on in the tent, letting Brenna see her cousin sleeping.
Brenna stopped at the fridge to pour herself a glass of orange juice. As she set down the jug, she heard a car creaking to a stop at the front. Brenna hurried to the front door to open it. Her cousin Summer was getting out of a compact sedan. Aura emerged from the driver's side. The older of the two sisters waved to Brenna.
Slipping on her sandals, Brenna ran outside. "Hi," she said as she got closer. "How was the drive?"
"Long," Aura said. "I should have stopped at a motel somewhere so I could sleep. I almost missed the exit."
"It wasn't that bad, Rory," Summer said.
"Says the girl who fell asleep outside San Francisco."
"I didn't fall asleep there."
"You were snoring before we hit Los Angeles." Aura turned to Brenna. "I couldn't put earphones on to ignore her because, well, driving and all that."
"I wasn't snoring, Rory."
"Anyways, I could have used a nap after dealing with the LA freeways. My poor little car couldn't keep up with the traffic."
"I try to avoid LA completely," Brenna said. "My van just won't fit."
"Are Mom and Dad here?" Summer asked.
Brenna nodded. "They got in before midnight. They're asleep right now. Rae is, too."
"Poor Rae," Aura said. "We should have brought her with us."
"Definitely," Summer agreed. "There was enough room in the back for her."
"What's wrong?" Brenna raised an eyebrow. "She didn't look all that happy when she got here, but that's almost normal for her from what I've seen of her."
Aura opened the hatchback. "Mom and Dad are fighting almost all the time now. Rae's a little sensitive to it."
"A little?" Summer said. "Understatement much?"
"Okay, Rae's taking the brunt of it. I'm not home most of the time now because of work and looking for my own place." Aura pulled out the luggage from her car's cargo space. "Summer works in the evening, so she misses the bulk of the arguing. Rae, though, she gets the front row to herself as she's doing homework. I kind of feel for her."
"What are your parents fighting about?" Brenna asked.
"Everything," Summer said. "It's not like they're angry with each other, though."
"They just need time apart, really." Aura closed the hatch on her Yaris. "Mom has her business, sort of, and Dad's working reduced hours for the city. With us girls out most of the time, they have to talk to each other and I think they forgot how."
Summer picked up her suitcase. "And Rae feels like she's stuck in the middle. And you know how Grandma Novotny's girls are, with our special abilities and all. Rae just gets all the negativity washing over her."
"Anyway, Brenna, I'm tired and I'd like to get some sleep before the sun rises."
Brenna picked up Aura's travel bag. "You're with me in my room, Aura. Summer, you can take the couch or sleep with Grace, your choice."
"I'll take the real bed, thanks. Rory, you really need to get those seats looked at."
"The seats are fine, Summer. It's your bony ass that's uncomfortable."
Brenna led her cousins inside and upstairs. She showed Summer to Grace's room before bringing Aura into hers. After changing, the two women slipped into the double bed and fell asleep.
"It's so nice you girls can work together."
"Then we can go and kill them now."
"When is the moment right?"
"I need coffee."