The Barrier: Case One- Chapter Two

Riley was in her room pacing an hour or so after she had left the shop. She had gotten home and tried everything to distract herself to no avail. She was annoyed with Ethan, annoyed with Jack, and in all honesty, annoyed with herself. It had done no good to be rude to Ethan and only served to make things uncomfortable between them. Still, his words had stung. She had never considered herself “just a shop girl,” and it wouldn’t even bother her that he said that if she could honestly tell herself, this was the life she had chosen and wanted. But she knew it wasn’t.

She was here still because it was easier, and she was frankly scared to leave. She finally let out a deep sigh and collapsed on her bed. She glanced down at her hands and noted that they were still shaking, which only furthered her turmoil. Reactions this powerful usually meant something, but she didn’t want to think about the implications of what it might in this case.

A bit later, Riley heard some voices and glanced out her window to see the familiar shape of Jack walking home with Ethan following behind. The two were saying their goodnights, she assumed when they looked up at her watching. Ethan gave a bow that was small but emphasized enough that she could see it from a distance and in the relative darkness of the neighborhood. Riley, in return, just let her curtain drop again. She appreciated the gesture but was not ready yet.

Riley lived in a small detached apartment over Jack’s garage. Her little place resembled a studio with a small kitchen area that she rarely used. Generally, she made both her and Jack’s meals at his place. Living with your parents well after graduation was fairly common in this town as it was so small. People didn’t want the town to expand too much, so multi-generational homes that were passed down were common. Riley did appreciate that she had a bit more freedom and privacy than most, but still felt a bit like it added to her arrested development.

Riley was still sitting on her bed when she heard Jack shuffling in the yard. He was likely a little tipsy from sharing the scotch he thought she didn’t know he had with Ethan and contemplating coming to talk to her. She was ashamed of herself, but she turned off the light to discourage the attempt. It was rare that Riley did not make an effort for Jack, but tonight she couldn’t. She comforted herself with the knowledge that it was late enough that they both needed to turn in anyway.

The next morning Riley woke up early and felt pretty horrible. Her night had been restless and her mind racing. Most of her anger had dissipated and was replaced with guilt and confusion. Only a little of the feeling of being disrespected was left. She assumed at some point during the day she would have to see Mr. Hill for an apology from him; he would most likely be at least partially sincere, she thought. She was also not pleased with herself for shutting out Jack last night. The last of her thoughts she was mostly trying to ignore was curiosity and confusion over the spark still.

Riley quickly showered and got ready for the day. Since her emotions were so out of whack, she took some precautions. She dressed in dark jeans and a long-sleeved black shirt. She also made sure to grab her gloves, although she hoped they wouldn’t be necessary. The shirt was thin enough to help counter the warmer weather, even with long sleeves, however she hated to wear gloves all day. She quickly did her long dark hair in a loose ponytail and did some light makeup.

Riley went by Jack’s long enough to cook for them. She didn’t know when Jack would be up, so she made sure that it could be easily reheated for him without losing too much quality. It was still a bit early, but Riley was ready to head over to the shop anyway. She had a lot of nervous energy and needed something to focus on, otherwise she would just sit and think. There was always work for her to do at the shop.

Riley was happy to see the mailman waiting for her when she arrived. “Wanted to see if you would be here early since you normally are. Let you get a jump on this,” he said, pointing to the few boxes next to him.

“Thank you,” Riley said with a smile as she signed for the delivery. If she hadn’t been here to meet him, she might not have gotten them until much later in the day.

Once the boxes were in, Riley put in her earbuds and let herself get lost in the music and the store. She loved the quiet mornings and evenings here when she got them. She could lose herself in her music, the smell of the books, and the feeling of rightness she would get in those moments. They were rare, and she embraced them.

When it was time to open, Riley was startled to see Mr. Hill waiting outside. “Have you been here long?”

Ethan glanced up from the book he was reading and checked his watch. “Only half an hour or so.”

“You could have knocked.”

“After last night, I did not want to disturb you.”

Riley sighed. “I assume you want to come inside and get this out of the way?”

Ethan smirked, a little surprised at the response. “Yes.”

Riley finished a few things to open up the shop while Ethan watched her. He was more than a little awkward, and Riley was a bit pleased to see he was off balance. Still, she took pity and eventually gave him her full attention.

“I owe you an apology for my rude words. They were inappropriate and judgmental,” Ethan started.

“Thank you, Mr. Hill. I owe you an apology as well. I was also rude to you last night. I find tardiness is often a sign of disrespect, and you were exceptionally so.”

“In my defense, I told Hippie I would be here at some time. I do realize, however, that it was rather late. We have been on the road for weeks and got into town later than I had expected. I also had work to complete before I could break away. I do understand that tardiness can be rudeness, but with even our small interaction last night, surely, you see, I would not do something so passive if I meant to be disrespectful. I am, after all, rather direct, even when in the wrong.”

“I can respect that,” Riley said, then winced at the word choice. Ethan simply gave a short chuckle in response. “So, where do we go from here?” she asked.

“Well, I know that Jack was rather enthusiastic that we should meet, and I can only speak for myself, but I shared in some of that excitement. Putting my foot in my mouth the first chance we got to meet though was not great, but also not entirely out of character.”

“Then perhaps it worked for the best?”

Ethan had no idea how to respond to this. It was clear that an apology accepted was not all it would take to get into Riley’s good graces, though.

Riley huffed when she saw him stiffen. “I was teasing,” she said with a smirk.

Ethan nodded but wasn’t entirely convinced it was all a joke and was still uncertain what to do.

“So what grand plan did you and Jack come up with last night?” Riley continued.

“Not so grand, just taking you to lunch so I could apologize.”

“Well, we’ve both already done the apology bit, so it’s done.”

“I would still like to take you to lunch, get to know you.”

Riley paused and looked at him, studying him and trying to sort her own feelings on the matter. She did want to get to know him, but also wanted to avoid having to deal with that spark. Still, it would be rude, and before last night getting to know Mr. Hill had been something she desired. “Fine. I usually take lunch around one.”

“I will be here.”

“So three then?”

Ethan sighed at Riley’s smirk. “You are not going to make this easy, are you?”

“We were both out of line, and I did goad you, but you wounded my ego with the shop keeper comment, so no, I won’t.”

Ethan nodded and moved to leave before pausing. “I wonder if you could help me find a book, actually.”

“This is a bookstore.”

“Yes, thank you,” he replied with some snark.

“Sorry,” Riley said, but her grin was wide. Better this than angry, Ethan thought as he handed over a piece of paper he had jotted down an author’s name when he came across it in his research. “This way,” she called out, walking down one of the aisles.

When Ethan caught up, Riley was already holding two books but seemed to be looking for another. “There are three editions,” she informed him.

“I had not realized.”

“Many don’t, not even experts like you. The book is not popular in the first place, so few pay attention to the other editions. The original was just his experience with the paranormal. Very unscientific, all feeling. The 2nd was done without his help and stripped almost all of his interpretation away. Sadly, it is the most popular of the three, but the one you want is the 3rd.”

“Oh?” He prompted. Based on what she had said, he already agreed that the 2nd would not be the best but wanted to hear her reasoning.

“I have a feeling you are testing me,” Riley huffed but continued. “Too much emotion without science is unhelpful, but the paranormal is not an exact science. Feeling and experience are needed. The 3rd has both.”

“Not a test, curiosity,” Ethan corrected. “I assume you have read them?”

“A few times, although the 2nd less than the others. Which would you prefer?”

“I will take all three. Might be worthwhile to note the differences between them.”

Riley hesitated for a moment. “I could help with that. If you don’t need them quickly, I can go through and mark important differences. I did it with my own copies.”

“I am in no rush. It was mentioned to me, and I thought while I was in town.”

“You’d use it as an excuse to drop by and initiate conversation with me after last night?” Riley interrupted and finished for him.

Ethan looked a little embarrassed. “Perhaps.”

“There are worse excuses you could have used,” Riley said with a shrug. “If you’d like, you can pay for them now, and I will try to get them done as soon as possible. I may have to ship them to you, though.”

“Of course.”

“Is that all?”

“I suppose. I will see you for lunch then?”

Riley nodded and finished out the transaction. As Ethan left, Jack walked in. Jack paused and looked nervously between the two. Riley went back to her book to draw out his discomfort while Ethan took pity and nodded at the older man.

“All is well?” Jack asked.

“You mean, did your plotting work?” Riley replied.

Jack looked only slightly abashed, so Riley rolled her eyes and smiled. “We are going to lunch together,” she finally answered.

“Glad to hear it, dear,” Jack said, giving her a grin. He walked back to his office to work on some paperwork while Riley tucked into the books for Mr. Hill. It would be a long day, she suspected.

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