Emily was practically bouncing off the walls when Riley walked into her room. “I am so excited you are joining the team!”
Riley laughed a little, she was happy too, but the bittersweet feeling made it hard for her to mirror the enthusiasm.
“So our best bet is for you to pack a suitcase or two with enough stuff for a few weeks, then we can ship the rest,” Emily said, quickly shifting back into work mode.
“Shouldn’t we sleep?”
“Do you think you can?” Emily asked cocking her head a bit.
“Two suitcases,” Riley replied, realizing that Emily was right.
Emily smiled, “You should also bring some books and stuff. I am not sure how many cases we will take between here and going home.”
They both realized they wouldn’t be able to do the bulk of the work that night, lacking supplies, but it would be a good idea for them to get started and organized. Emily also hoped it would prevent Riley from dwelling too much. Riley, meanwhile, hoped they could streamline the process tomorrow by getting most of her stuff sorted that night.
The packing seemed to have the desired effect, with Riley not having much time to get caught up in her head and sad thoughts. By the time Riley had gotten her clothes sorted and started to think about which books to take on the road and which to ship, a few hours had passed, and Riley was feeling better about everything. Emily admitted defeat and went back to the guest room, and when Riley glanced at the clock, she realized she probably should attempt to get a little sleep as well.
The next morning Riley woke up early and was relaxing in the kitchen when Jack joined her. The two didn’t say much and mostly just watched each other sadly. Riley realized the matter was truly closed. It was time.
Not long after Jack left for Midnight Reflections, Ethan dropped by with packing supplies. Riley spent a little more time making sure things were sorted before leaving Emily in charge. Riley and Ethan then left to get some paperwork filled out and shipped off. She was impressed by how streamlined everything was, and it made her think of comments Miller had made.
“Have you done this often?” Riley asked.
“Found someone while working on a case and hired them?”
“Not exactly as it happened with you, but something similar, I suppose.”
Riley just looked at him, silently urging him to continue.
“Josh used to consult, but we needed someone who could cleanse a spirit for every case, so we convinced him to sign on full time. Mike started as an intern, and it turned into a full-time job when we realized it was better to have someone who focused on the audio and video equipment in charge of it. Emily came with me from England, I have been close with her and her brother for years. So yes, I have picked people up randomly, but you are the only person we have offered to join us on a case and then hired on. Our history with Jack makes it different, were there no prior connection, it is unlikely it would have unfolded this way.”
“Well, of course not, you wouldn’t have even met me.”
Ethan made a noise of agreement, but Riley could tell something was making him uncomfortable and assumed it was the conversation. She thought about what it might be then offered, “I did not mean to imply that I believed what Miller had said.”
Ethan gave Riley a confused look.
“I can tell you are uncomfortable, so I was making sure you knew I wasn’t accusing you of anything with the pet comment she made.”
“Ah,” Ethan replied. “I am, but it is not because of your question. I still appreciate the clarity, however.”
“My own sense of guilt.”
“Kids have to leave the nest at some point.”
“I agree, but rarely do I know the parent bird and am the one encouraging said leaving. I felt much the same when Emily joined me.”
“I can’t imagine you would have been able to stop her if you wanted to. I can’t imagine anyone forcing her to do or not do much of anything.”
Ethan huffed a laugh. “Few have tried. So you get along with her?”
“I like her a great deal.”
“Good, that could help a lot with this transition.”
“Emily has a spare room in her apartment.”
“Sounds perfect.” Riley smiled.
The two quickly finished up their paperwork and made arrangements for Riley’s things to be shipped to Washington. On their way back to Riley’s, they stopped to pick up lunch for the group, and Ethan texted for them to all meet at Riley’s house. However, when they arrived, they saw that Josh and Mike had already joined Emily to help pack Riley’s things.
Ethan glared at Emily as the three of them walked down the stairs together.
“I know boss,” Emily said, holding up her hands in surrender. “I am sorry Riley, I should have asked. I didn’t think to last night, and you left so early this morning. I know Ethan is anxious to get back on the road, and they only helped with books. Emily paused. “You have a lot of books.”
“You could have called,” Ethan snapped at the same time Riley said it was okay. Riley studied Ethan, uncertain why he was so upset, then realized that in his mind, her agreeing to come was on shaky grounds.
“It really is alright, Emily.” Riley rushed to reassure everybody. “I don’t imagine this is something you’ll make a habit of, and it is special circumstances.” She then turned to Ethan and addressed him specifically. “I wouldn’t have agreed to come if I was not sure.”
Ethan sighed in defeat but turned to Emily. “You still should have called,” but his tone was much less angry and concerned.
“You are right, but cellphone reception sucks here,” Emily said, and the group gathered around the table.
“We are pretty cut off,” Riley agreed, trying to change the subject. “Dig in.”
The group began to eat but was mostly quiet. Between the case and the sudden packing, it had been a rather rough few days.
“I need to meet with the mayor later, would you like to come with me?” Ethan asked Riley.
“Yes, boss.” She smirked at him.
Ethan couldn’t help the twitch in his lips. While part of him would always feel guilty for taking her away from Jack, he couldn’t help the joy he felt at having her as part of the team.
The group quickly finished their lunches, and Josh and Mike, now with Riley’s permission, continued to pack for her. Emily needed a break, so walked with Riley and Ethan to the mayor’s office. When they arrived, Riley was unsurprised at the looks they were getting. Everybody had been curious about the outsiders, and were even more shocked to see the normally isolated Riley with them. She gave everyone a friendly smile or nod, which they returned, but then would continue to stare.
“Why is everybody starring?” Emily asked quietly while Ethan talked to the mayor’s secretary.
“We don’t get a lot of outsiders, and I don’t tend to be around people often. I think the combination of the two is blowing people’s minds enough that they are forgetting their manners.”
Ethan nodded toward the women, and Riley went to join him. Emily agreed to wait in the lobby to keep the numbers down. Normally Ethan would handle things like this alone, but with how small the town was, he thought having Riley with him might be wise.
“Mr. Hill, I cannot thank you enough for closing this mess.” An older man greeted them as they walked in. “And Riley, I hear you helped?”
“Yes, sir,” Riley replied.
The mayor motioned to the chairs in front of his desk. “Well, I am happy you are getting out of your shell more. We’ve missed you since you stopped being so close to Jessica.”
“Sorry about that, sir.”
The mayor waved it off and filled out a check for the group. “For you, Mr. Hill. I hope you don’t mind if I call on you in the future. Once the library is open, and the town has seen results, I think it will be more likely that I can get approval for other parts of the town being investigated.”
“Well, you have PIRI’s contact information, and we would be happy to field your requests. Here is a summary of the case and our findings,” Ethan said, handing over a folder to the mayor.
The mayor grunted at this response, realizing it was not an agreement for future work, but did not press the issue. “Well, I appreciate the help again. Might I have a private word with Riley?”
Ethan turned to Riley, who nodded. “I will meet you outside,” she said.
When the two were alone, the mayor began. “You are leaving?”
“I think it is time.”
“Knows. I asked her to contact me if she noticed anything with Mr. Simmons and hoped that we might start at least emailing again.”
“It couldn’t have been easy for you. Everyone in this town is so damn suspicious, and then with your reactions to being touched. I hope that we did not make you too miserable.”
Riley shook her head. “I never fit in, no, but I was far from miserable, and nobody was ever cruel.”
“I am glad. You will come back to visit?”
“Of course. I also wanted to mention that you should consider having Jack get the books from the library.”
“That is a good idea. Until we meet again.” He nodded.
“Goodbye sir, I do wish you all well.”
Ethan raised a brow when Riley joined them in the lobby again, but Riley just shrugged. The mayor was not wrong, this town had never truly accepted Riley as one of their own. However, Riley hadn’t been lying either, nobody had ever been cruel to her. She had made a few good friends, but her inability to interact with others had caused her to push people away and turn inward. In truth, she had kept herself an outsider just as much, if not more, than the people in town had. It was time to move on and find a place she could belong, or at least a place she could try.”
Everyone went back to Riley’s place to continue packing. Her furniture would remain behind, so it did not take long to finish. It was a little shocking to Riley how quickly and easily they were able to pack up her life. She saw it as another sign that she was making the right choice.
After they finished, Ethan sent the team back to the hotel to get ready to leave. It would be late, but he wanted to get on the road and put some distance between them and this town. He hated to linger after a case, always wanting to get to the next one. Riley grabbed her suitcase and backpack and went to the bookstore to wait with Jack.
He wrapped his arms around her, and they watched the sunset together, this time with no resistance from her.
“You ready?” he asked.
“I am, actually.”
“I’m glad. This will be good for you. They can hopefully help you too.”
“Or at least help me understand.”
“Just don’t put up emotional walls to match the physical ones this time.”
“I’ll try,” Riley agreed. “It is already easier to be around them than anyone else but you.”
“That’s my girl,” Jack said, holding her as tight as she would allow for as long as she could.
When Ethan interrupted the scene, he felt another twinge of guilt, but it was time. Not long after Riley’s things were loaded, the group said their goodbyes to Jack, and they were on the road again.
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