The Barrier: Case Two- Chapter One

Riley glanced out the window from the backseat as they drove away from the bookshop and took a fortifying breath. She was happy with her choice, but she would miss Jack so damn much. Ethan watched her briefly and wanted to say something, anything, but realized that all that would help would be time. He was surprised how quickly he was becoming attached to her but didn’t want to examine it too closely now, possibly ever. His experience with relationships was not a lot, and most of it was not all that positive either. It left him on shaky ground, and he did not want that.

Ethan was unaware that Riley had many of the same feelings. While it had initially bothered her now, the strong reaction when they first met made her curious. Her feeling for him were developing rather quickly, even with the struggles they had faced. She was also nervous though, he had no reason to suspect it was returned and almost no experience at all in these matters.

Riley mostly paid attention to the scenery as they drove and let her mind wander. She knew she wouldn’t be able to settle for a bit as her mind raced through thoughts about leaving, Jack, and what had happened at the library.

When they stopped at a gas station, Emily turned around in the front seat. “Are you going to sleep?”

“Not likely,” Riley answered.

“Do you mind trading with me then?”

“Not at all.”

Emily paused for a moment. “You know you can tell me, and well anybody on the team, no, right?”

“What?” Riley was confused by the response.

“I just don’t want you to feel like you are the new person, and you have to walk on eggshells. If we ask for something, you can say no.”

“I do know, you are all good people,” Riley said and smiled a bit. “Now, let’s switch.”

Emily grinned, and the two women traded. Emily pulled out a blanket and pillow and stretched out as much as she could in the back. Riley didn’t blame her, the lack of sleep was taking a toll on her as well, but the emotions of the day were stronger.

Ethan nodded at her when he got back into the van, and the group got back on the road. After time had passed and Riley was fairly certain she wouldn’t wake Emily, she turned to Ethan.

“So I assume at some point we will actually discuss what my official job is?”

Ethan grimaced a little. “Yes, we will. I apologize, I do not like to linger after cases, and we have another to get to.”

“It’s fine, I figured we’d get to it, but I would like to know.”

“Of course. Your role will be as an assistant, for lack of a better term. For now, I will primarily have you helping Emily with research and all of the paperwork involved with cases. However, if we see your abilities develop more, you will likely shift to working more closely with Miller, Mary, and Josh in actually identifying and clearing spirits. I will always have you helping Emily to some degree, though, depending on how the cases unfold.”

Riley nodded. “I imagine a lot of jobs in this field are not formally defined.”

“It certainly depends on the person. Mary consults as a medium and priestess, so her jobs are fairly limited, although most people pitch in on the cases in whatever capacity we might need.”

Riley chuckled a little, she knew what Ethan was saying but not saying.

“However, for people like Emily and Josh, you are correct, anything and everything they can do falls under their duties. As a full-time worker you will fall into the latter like them.”

“What if I don’t have powers?” Riley asked, a bit nervous.

“I consider that incredibly unlikely. However, to calm your concerns, if it was a fluke and Abigail just imprinted strongly on you, you will still be a great use to the team. Emily has needed help for a while, but we are hesitant to bring in new people.”

“So I don’t have to worry about being dead weight?”

“I would not have hired you if I thought that were a possibility.”

“Other than your friendship with my guardian and a desire to help me?”

“As I said when I first mentioned the job, there are ways I could help you that do not include giving you a job.”

“That’s good to hear still.”

Ethan was uncertain about her tone. “I am serious, Riley.”

“As am I. I want to be here, but don’t want to be a burden. If you say I won’t be then, I will try to take it to heart.”

Ethan gave her a short noise in reply. “Tomorrow, after you have rested, Emily can help you learn about some of what she does. Having actual work to do, I hope, will help.”

“It will.”

“When we get back to Washington, we will run some tests and work out your abilities and then go from there. For now, try not to worry about it too much, there is little we can do at the moment. Try to rest, the cases can be hard, and you have been thrown into the deep end.”

“Thank you.”

Ethan paused. “Thank you for taking the job. For giving this a chance.” He left out the thankfulness he felt at having another chance to himself.

Riley hummed in agreement and relaxed more in her seat. She wasn’t able to get any sleep, but it did give her a chance to calm her mind a little. The group did not drive too long before Ethan finally decided he needed to stop at the next town. He pulled into the first middle-of-the-road hotel he could find. They tried to avoid going too cheap with their equipment, and the amount of time the group spent in hotels, but also did not want their budget to go mostly to hotel rooms.

Josh pulled the second van in behind them while Ethan got out to check everybody in. Riley helped the men remove just one of her suitcases as well as Ethan’s and Emily’s. When that was done, Riley leaned into the backseat to wake Emily.

It took a few times, but eventually, she got a half-awake Emily out of the back of the van, then she immediately slumped onto Mike needing his support. Mike blushed, and Riley chuckled as she grabbed both her and Emily’s bags. The group walked in, helping Riley to get Emily into the room the two would share.

When everyone else left, Ethan hesitated. “You will be okay?”

“Are you going to hover the whole time?”

“No, only for a bit then I will be my normal grumpy self, and you will wish for these times.”

“I am sure I will enjoy you then as well. I am really okay. I am still a bit out of sorts from the case, and of course, I miss Jack, but I am happy with the choice I have made.”

“Alright.” Ethan nodded briefly. He found himself not wanting to leave, which annoyed him. “I will see you in the morning. I put a wake-up call for everybody.”

“Thanks, sleep well.”

Ethan nodded and left quickly before he found other reasons to needlessly draw out the conversation. Riley sighed and leaned against the door a little when he left. The exhaustion finally seemed to catch up with her, and she made her way through an abridged version of her night routine.

The next morning Riley was startled by an unfamiliar ring, and it took her a second before she was able to answer and acknowledge the wake-up call. After that, she had to calm herself as she sat in the bed and processed the unfamiliar location. Thankfully Emily being in the next bed over helped.

“Emily,” Riley groaned after a few minutes had passed.

“Yeah, I heard.” Emily sat up too and looked over at Riley, sensing something was off. “You okay?”

“Just forgot where I was and panicked a little.”

“Ah,” Emily said with understanding. “Sorry about that.”

“No, I am sure it’ll get easier.”

“Well, I will offer you a rare treat, the chance to sleep a little more, and I will shower first. You won’t get it often, so enjoy.”

Riley chuckled but lay back in the bed while she heard Emily moving around. She did not go back to sleep, but it did give her a chance to calm her heart a little more. By the time Emily was out, Riley was already gathering her stuff to trade off.

Both women dressed in mostly comfortable casual clothing, considering the long drive ahead of them. They packed up the little they had removed and went to the dining area to meet everybody. It wasn’t the fanciest breakfast, but it was free and more than just sweet pastries. Riley made a beeline for the coffee, though.

Ethan was already waiting, and it didn’t take long for Josh and Mike to join.

“I hope everybody slept well,” Ethan said. “It will be a long drive for the next few days. I hope to make good time.”

“Where are we going?” Riley asked, realizing she had no clue.

“New Mexico,” Ethan answered briefly.

“La Llorona,” Riley whispered quietly to herself.

“Not far off,” Emily replied casually.

“Wait, are you kidding?”

“We will not know until we get there, but there is concern that the case is related to the legend,” Ethan answered. “Emily will be showing you how we do paperwork and research on the way, and you will be able to read the case overview. Try to keep a clear mind, however. Spirits can be tricky, or people can emphasize the wrong things in their desire to connect an experience to some legend of another.”

“Yes, boss,” Riley said with a bit of a smile.

Ethan fought a smirk and glared a little, which only made everybody else laugh. “Yes, yes,” he finally huffed. As the group finished packing up, Emily sat at the table with both her and Riley’s laptops working through a few things. She finished shortly after the group, and then they got back on the road.

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