When the two women made it back to Jack’s house, Emily quickly volunteered to take her shower second. They both knew Riley would take longer, but she also clearly needed it more.
Riley was grateful and could feel her emotions starting to settle a bit more as the dirt and grime from the night before washed away. She also allowed herself some emotional release with a good cry. After her tears had dried, she quickly finished up and got out to examine her body. She had more bruises than she had realized last night, and they were significantly more tender now. It made sense that being dragged as she was was harder on her body than they had noticed in the moment.
Once she was dressed, she tracked down an extra toothbrush for Emily and some clothes. She imagined that Emily would head back to the hotel soon, but in the meantime, it might be nice not to have to get back into what she had worn last night. Emily was grateful; while her shower was shorter, it still did wonders for her.
When they were done, Riley started making tea and toast for them. “Sorry, I don’t feel up to cooking a full breakfast,” Riley said.
“Honestly, I mostly just want to sleep anyway. I understand why you needed to have the couch, but I am running on fumes.”
“Sorry about that.”
“Don’t be, not trying to be passive-aggressive. Just won’t always be the case in the future.”
“You assume there will be.”
Riley sighed. “Probably, but I need to talk to Jack.”
“Was it hard for you? Leaving to come here and start over?”
“It was and wasn’t. Ethan is an old family friend, so it didn’t feel exactly like leaving everything behind, even if it was close. Mostly though, it was a chance for me to get out of my family’s various shadows. They’ve been doing this work for generations, and I never felt like I could be my own person, instead I felt like part of their unit. I love my family and miss them terribly, but I needed to leave and start my own life. They weren’t thrilled, but understood and supported me.”
Riley felt the words hit a little close to home. Taking care of Jack and being the strange girl in the town had been her identity for so long, but it wasn’t one she had chosen or ever wanted.
Emily noticed that Riley seemed to go deep in thought. “I don’t want to pressure you, but you should really consider it. I don’t know Jack like you, of course, but I think he’d want you to find your path as well. Even if it’s not with us.”
“Sometimes I feel it’s too late, that I put it off too long.”
Emily shrugged. “You put it off longer than some people, sure, but everybody’s circumstances are unique. The difference between late and too late is up to you.”
Riley reflected on Emily’s words a bit, but found she was too tired and still not in full control of her emotions. So she didn’t want to make any decisions now. “Let me show you to the guest room. It’s connected to Jack’s part, so when you wake up, you’ll have to come to my area to wake me.”
“Thanks so much, I imagine the bed will also be a bit better.”
“Living out of hotels is hard, I’m guessing?”
“I find there are rather large disparities between them, so it can change from place to place. I am always grateful when a case doesn’t require them, though.”
Riley showed Emily to the guest room, then made her way to her little apartment. She quickly thought to set an alarm on her phone, and was grateful she did because she was fairly certain she fell asleep before her head even made contact with her pillow.
A few hours later, when Riley’s alarm went off, she groaned. She didn’t want to get up, but knew if she allowed herself to sleep all day it would just mess her schedule up worse. She was happy to note that it seemed most of what she was feeling this morning had receded. It was still there to an extent, but much easier to recognize as not her own feelings and box away.
She quickly freshened up and moved to the main part of the house to knock on Emily’s door. Emily called out that she was awake but needed a few, which Riley could understand. She started some coffee and waited for Emily in the kitchen. When Emily joined, she was grateful for the offering.
“I should swing by the hotel and change,” Emily said. “Then maybe we could take them some food to the library.”
“That sounds good. We can take the car this time and make everything faster.”
“Thanks.” Emily smiled.
The women made their way to the hotel, and Riley waited in the lobby while Emily got changed and refreshed. The two then made their way to a sandwich shop and got a variety of food for the group. Ethan and Josh were grateful while Mike smiled but seemed nervous.
“I honestly believe we do not have to worry about anything happening tonight,” Ethan said as they were eating. “However, Mike and Josh have volunteered to stay over just in case.”
“Really?” Emily said, looking at Mike in surprise.
Mike shrugged, trying to appear more casual than he actually was. “I believe them when they say it’s unlikely. Besides, I thought you and Ethan would like some time with Jack.”
“Oh my gosh, yes!” Emily shouted in delight.
“You two can go be at the bookstore today, and I will go out with him this evening,” Ethan confirmed.
“You don’t need help?” Riley looked to Josh and Mike.
“I will admit I didn’t get much of a break, but you need time with Jack more than I need a bit of sleep,” Josh answered.
Riley’s brows furrowed at that. It seemed everybody had decided that this was, in fact, her path. “You know I haven’t been officially offered a job or agreed to take it?”
“Well, then the offer is official. Go spend time with Jack, and after I do later tonight, you can ask his advice,” Ethan said.
“Just like that?”
“I thought it was clear I had already offered it. And of course, we have things to discuss but not now.”
Riley nodded but became rather interested in her sandwich, so the group decided to drop it. Instead, they spent time filling Mike in on what had happened the night before.
“I am glad I wasn’t there,” he eventually shuddered.
“Aren’t you with the team on some cases?” Riley asked.
“Yeah, but I prefer to limit my contact as much as possible. I would rather just help with the setup and breakdown, and otherwise leave whenever possible. When not, I rarely leave the base. I don’t know that I will ever adjust to knowing that spirits are real.”
“That’s fair. I think a lot of people feel like that. Still, as scary as it was, I don’t think Abigail’s intentions were ever bad. I just think she lost too much of herself and, on top of that, didn’t know how to communicate with us.”
“She hurt you, though,” Mike protested.
“She did, but upon reflection, I kind of forced her hand when I left. I was her only connection, so when I came back, she must have been desperate. At least that’s what I theorized, but I only believe in that theory more when I think about it.”
Mike nodded, but Riley could still sense a heavy discomfort coming from him.
“It is true that spirits can often lack a true connection to who they once were,” Ethan agreed. “But that is not always the case. You will need to be aware of that.”
“I understand,” Riley answered. “I really mean specifically her.”
“Good,” Ethan gave a nod. “And I agree about her desperation, although I am less forgiving about seeing you injured.”
The group agreed with Ethan, but they changed the subject to lighter topics, getting to know one another a little better. When they finished eating, Riley gave Ethan a ride to the hotel, then she and Emily dropped off the car at Jack’s to walk to the bookstore. When the two women walked in, Jack and Emily beamed at each other as though they were long-lost friends.
“Emily! It is so lovely to finally meet you in person,” Jack said, pulling her into a hug.
“Oh same, I was so excited when we took the case, and then got nervous Ethan wouldn’t give me the chance to see you.”
“He wouldn’t dream of it, if only to avoid hearing me grouse about it for the rest of my life.”
Emily and Jack both laughed at that, then Jack moved to Riley. “How are you today?” Jack asked before holding out his arms.
“I’m sorry,” Riley winced, refusing the hug.
Jack waved the apology away. “It’s okay, my girl. I have a book in the back for Emily would you mind getting it for me?”
“Would I mind letting the two of you talk behind my back? Of course not,” Riley said but gave him a good-natured smirk.
“How did she do?” Jack asked when Riley was out of earshot.
“Excellent. In fact, she solved the case for us. We’re pretty sure she’s an empath.”
“I had always thought the same, but she seemed hesitant to discover what was wrong with her, and I never wanted to push her too hard. Especially if my suspicions were correct.”
“Understandable,” Emily agreed.
“Does that mean that Ethan plans on offering her a job?”
“Already did. I think they both are planning on talking to you about it tonight.”
“Riley has never needed my permission to do anything.”
“I am sure she hasn’t, but that doesn’t mean she won’t want your advice. As for Ethan, I think he just wants to make sure everything is okay with you. He really wants her to join, we all do. I think he wants to stack the deck as much as possible in his favor.”
“I can’t fault him for that, she’s special.”
“She is,” Emily agreed with a sad smile. In all of their excitement, it dawned on her that she had not truly considered how close Jack and Riley were and what this would mean to the both of them.
“Can I come out now?” They both heard Riley call out and laughed.
“Yes dear,” Jack quipped back.
Riley came out looking mildly amused and annoyed, but handed the book over to Emily, who immediately shrieked, “I can’t accept this.”
“Too bad, it’s for you,” Jack insisted.
“Do you know what this book is?”
“As we were the ones to track it down for you, yes,” Jack answered with a chuckle.
The group saw a curious customer looking over, and Emily beamed. “It’s an ancient book that references modern technologies like computers. Many don’t even believe this book is real.” Emily turned back to Jack. “Thank you so much.”
“You are most welcome. Now since the two of you are here, why don’t you help me with some work.”
The three spent the day working on orders, helping people, and talking and enjoying each other’s company as much as possible. When sunset came, Riley looked out at it a little sadly. Ethan joined them not long after, and the two men made plans to go out while Emily would spend the night with Riley again.
“Don’t overdo it,” Riley said as they made their way to the door.
“My dear, I simply cannot promise that.”
Riley huffed. “Jack.”
“Of course not.”
After the men left, Riley and Emily made quick work of finishing closing down. The two grabbed some food, and then headed back to Jack’s to watch movies.