The Barrier: Case Two- Chapter Five

When they arrived at the mortuary, Gabrielle made no moves to get out of the van. “I will meet you inside, Caroline.”

Riley stiffened a little as Miller rolled her eyes. Did they think she was stupid? Miller thought to herself. Just bring the damn woman in if they were so certain she was an empath. It was not as though they were being subtle.

“So this might be hard for you, but Emily told me the group suspects you are an empath,” Gabrielle said to Riley. “I want you to come in with me and see if you can make contact.”

“And if I get nothing?”

“It might mean our assumptions are wrong, or they passed on, it might even mean they are afraid. There are no simple answers to many of the questions raised in this line of work. The point is to keep trying to seek them.”

“If I can’t connect with them, I am worried I won’t be any help,” Riley admitted. Ethan has said that he would have hired her regardless, but the pressure of what her place on the team would be if she wasn’t an empath started to build. She wasn’t normally like this, but her emotions felt like they were unraveling more and more, and she hated it.

Gabrielle looked at Riley carefully and considered how to approach her, given that she didn’t know her well. “Well, sweetie, you took the job, so toughen up. Sometimes you won’t be able to help beyond research. It can’t be about you though.” Gabrielle was sharp but still had a kind smile and hoped Riley could pick it up for what it was, tough love. “By the way, seeing kids is hard even for the strongest of us.”

“Thanks,” Riley said reluctantly. She took a fortifying breath and then got out of the car.

“That’s the way,” Gabrielle said, following her.

Inside the building, Gabrielle approached the person at the desk to explain who she was. They were let in, but the employee was clearly unhappy about it. Riley assumed that it was likely there were doubters in the town. Even with the paranormal world all but confirmed, there were still skeptics, and she couldn’t blame them. All but confirmed and confirmed were two different things, especially after centuries of doubts and questions. She also suspected that the person might consider them con artists. With evidence of spirits, more people willing to take advantage of those grieving surfaced.

Riley followed the Miller and Gabrielle trailing a little. Her nerves were starting to pick up. She was still filled with doubt, but also realized Gabrielle was right, it would not be easy to see what they were about to. She walked in and saw the two small bodies on the tables and sucked in her breath. It was beyond difficult.

Miller huffed, “I haven’t gotten anything, you can do your thing, Gabrielle.” She didn’t include Riley but looked at her pointedly.

Riley gave Gabrielle a nervous look but just got a shrug in return. Riley realized it was too late now, so if Miller was going to do anything about Riley coming along, they would just have to deal with it. As Miller passed her, Riley could feel that she was upset, and she sympathized.

“Come on,” Gabrielle said to Riley, waving her forward. “I will try to reach out too, but I am not as strong of a medium as Caroline and certainly not an empath, so you might have more luck.”

Riley’s hands were shaking, but she pulled back the sheets so she could look at the faces of the boy and girl. They were so young, she thought and blinked quickly to stop any tears. “I’m not sure what to do,” Riley admitted. “The only spirit I have knowingly had contact with came to me.”

“Tell them you are here, reach out to them with your emotions,” Gabrielle said quietly.

Riley looked down at the children and took her time, slowing her breathes as she had in the library. “Hello, Jose and Jennifer. My name is Riley, and this is Gabrielle. We are here to help you, we want to find out who hurt you. If you are here, can you talk to me?”

The two waited in silence for a few minutes before Riley shook her head.

“I am not getting anything either,” Gabrielle admitted. “They may have passed or might be nervous. Kids can be difficult,” Gabrielle said but quickly turned. “I can’t look anymore.” Riley wholeheartedly agreed and followed quickly behind.

Miller was sitting in the back of the van, considering what her next move would be. If Riley was an empath, it might mean the end for her position on the team. She knew she was not really part of it, and most of the team would be happy to not work with her again. She was a powerful medium, but there were some things she could not do that an empath could. Miller hated this feeling, insecurity was something she rarely bothered herself with. She had known Ethan would offer the woman a job the second she observed how Riley interacted with the team, her surprise had been feigned.

Gabrielle and Riley joined her not long after, and the three set off back to the house. It had started to get dark as they drove back, and Riley was impressed by the way the sunset looked. When they arrived at the house, Gabrielle and Miller went to the base, but Riley lingered outside. Partially to ensure she didn’t arrive with them but mostly to get a moment alone.

“Was there anything?” Ethan questioned the two mediums.

“I was unable to make a connection, but I am sure if we give them time, I will be able to,” Miller reassured them, which surprised the group.

Ethan studied her carefully before turning to the others, “It is time for more readings.”

Emily and Josh quickly scrambled and ran into Riley outside. “Want to help?” Emily asked, holding up the equipment.

Riley nodded and followed the two.

“I wonder what’s up with Miller?” Emily asked.

“Maybe she feels threatened,” Josh suggested.

“She shouldn’t. We aren’t even sure if I am an empath, and that little trip did not fill me with a lot of confidence.”

“Just because you couldn’t connect with the kids? There are so many explanations for that, Riley,” Josh reassured her.

“Plus, Miller couldn’t either, and we know she’s a medium,” Emily added, “She just doesn’t want to appear less useful than you.”

“For all we know, she’s not,” Riley replied sadly.

When Riley had walked ahead, Emily tugged on Josh’s arm a bit. “You know this means that Miller thinks she’s an empath too right?”

“Yes, but I think Ethan and Riley are right. Forcing the issue is not going to be helpful at this point.” Josh knew that Emily was excited, he had been too, but he realized they needed to back off. He also didn’t care for the lack of confidence that Riley was exhibiting.

“Damn you logical jerks,” Emily huffed, causing Josh to chuckle.

When they caught up with Riley, they noticed her looking down at the ditch with her flashlight, concentrating. It was a small irrigation ditch with cement walls, however it was almost completely empty. Riley kept searching with her flashlight over the area, an unsettling feeling weighing on her. Something was wrong.

“What’s up?” Josh asked.

“We haven’t really studied the ditch much,” Riley replied. “It would be really hard to drown someone in this, even a child.” At that moment, the feeling grew, and Riley shuddered.

Both Josh and Emily followed her line of vision. “You’re right, the water is pretty shallow,” Josh agreed. “After we get the readings, I’ll be sure to bring it up with Ethan.”

As they finished, the weight that Riley had been carrying only seemed to grow. Emily was starting to worry. “Hey, when we get back to the base, we will get back to research. The more we know, the more we can help Ethan. It’s not all about contacting spirits,” Emily tried to reassure her.

Riley nodded, and they tried to make quick work of the rest of the readings. As they got back, Riley looked up at the stars, it was such a beautiful sight, the sky filled with so many. She let out a sad sigh and began to think of the sunset and how she hadn’t seen it with Jack. She shook her head, annoyed that she couldn’t control her thoughts or feelings. She was only making everything harder for herself.

“Maybe extend your break a little,” Emily suggested. “Come in and help me when you feel better.”

“No, I’m okay,” Riley disagreed and followed them in. She quickly made her way to the couch in the base and started to do research. Despite how tired and upset she was, she threw herself into it. She wasn’t sure why everything felt so wrong, but she knew it wasn’t helpful and didn’t want to give it energy that she could use to help.

Ethan watched Riley as she worked and sighed at how tired she seemed. Worrying over this team was already aging him, and he couldn’t even imagine how adding Riley to the mix would impact him. He had also noticed how distressed she seemed and that he knew he was making it worse and felt bad, but his own doubts were creeping in. He had gone from elation over her agreeing to join to a feeling of dread ever since Emily once again brought up Sarah.

As time passed and people grew wearier, they started to leave the base in shifts to eat and sleep. After a few hours, Miller finally asked to be dismissed for the night. “You need the person best as sensing spirits to be in top shape after all.”

Riley stiffened at the comment while Emily openly glared at her. Even Ethan gave her his own displeased look but agreed that she should rest. Once he was certain Miller had had time to fall asleep, Ethan walked over to Riley.

“I know you did not nap today, go to sleep.”

Riley had been spaced out for several minutes at this point and took a bit to notice that Ethan had said something to her. “What?”

“Riley, I am not stupid.”

“You misunderstand, I didn’t hear what you said.”

“I know you did not nap today but instead, for some reason, went with Gabrielle to the morgue. Go to bed.” His tone taking on a sharp edge. Even as he said it, he felt disappointed in himself again.

“Well, considering how grumpy you are being, maybe you need to sleep too. I found some research for you to go over boss,” she said with a snide emphasis on the word. She handed over her laptop and left the base angry, although part of her was grateful deep down. She was exhausted.

Ethan looked through her research and was torn between being impressed and disappointed. Impressed because she had put a great deal of effort into researching the town. He had been right when he said that even without powers, she would be a boon to the team. Emily was a skilled researcher, but she was one person. Disappointed because they still had not actually found much that seemed to fit with the case.

He closed the laptop and stretched while he walked back to the monitors. He hoped someone would come relieve him soon. Riley was right, he was exhausted. He also knew activity tonight was unlikely. He thought about how much it had thrown him when Emily brought up Sarah, and realized he would have to really work on dealing with his feelings. If he didn’t, he was worried that his fear of failure would drive Riley away. A voice in his head reminded him that might be a good idea, but he shut it down. It wasn’t. Denying his team a new member, one they all seemed to like, and hurting Riley was wrong, no matter how scared he was. He also didn’t want to personally lose her. He might never act on his growing attraction, but he was hopeful about developing a friendship with her.

After what felt like hours of his mind going in circles and doubt and tiredness bearing down on him, Josh finally came to take over. Ethan was grateful and quickly made his way to the free bed.

The next morning everyone quickly cycled through the bathroom, trying to prepare for the day as quickly as possible. Their host had promised them breakfast, for which they were all grateful. Most of them had skipped meals not only yesterday but the entire trip here. Riley felt not only emotionally drained but physically as well. Her hair went up in a bun, unable to find the energy for even a standard braid. She, like the others, was overwhelmed by the reality of how difficult this case would be.

As she walked into the base, she tossed Emily a bottle of sunscreen. “Put this on.”

“Good call. I need you to link me the information you got last night.”

“Right.” Riley remembered that she had forgotten that step in her anger with Ethan. “I need to grab my charger.”

As Riley passed Ethan in the hallway, they both paused, tension building between them. “Did you sleep well?” he asked, then cringed a little.

Riley looked at him carefully and tried to read what he was doing without accidentally reading his emotions. “Yes. Did you?”

“I did not get as much as my body would have preferred but yes.” He paused and sniffed a little. “Sunscreen?”

“Yeah, it’s in the base for everybody, I assume we will be outside a lot,” Riley said with a shrug.

“A good idea.”

Riley rolled her eyes but smirked a little. “Apology accepted,” she said and walked away.

Ethan fought a little smile. It was not the best way to close out what had been a stupid moment last night, but he was glad there was some clearing of the air. Ethan headed to the base, and Riley followed suit, plugging in her laptop and sending Emily her updated research.

“We need to get our morning readings,” Ethan said as the group trickled in.

Emily was going over the footage from last night to ensure nothing was missed, so Riley gave Ethan a mock salute and left with Josh.

“Please say you found something.” Ethan turned to Emily. He knew she wouldn’t, but he really wanted to be wrong.

“Do you want me to lie?” Emily asked.

“No.” Ethan pinched the bridge of his nose. Things did not improve when Riley and Josh returned.

“Ethan, it’s been a day,” Gabrielle said to try to calm the agitated man.

“There are two dead kids, Gabrielle,” Ethan snapped back.

“Yes, and that is horrible, but we must also face the possibility that the cameras might be useless this time. There is other work we can do.”

“Why would the cameras be useless?” Riley asked.

“Spirits are not the only ones that hide,” Gabrielle answered grimly.

“Damn,” Riley said, figuring out her meaning.

“What did I miss?” Mike asked from his corner of the room.

“If it is humans, they know we are here and looking for them. They have all the incentive in the world to make sure we do not catch them on camera,” Gabrielle replied.

“Yes, and this is helping me to be patient how exactly?” Ethan growled again.

“You have a motivated team, and we have extra incentive as well,” Gabrielle replied.

“If it’s a spirit, it likely won’t hide forever. If it’s not, we will use other methods to flush them out,” Josh added.

Ethan hissed and looked no more relaxed, so Gabrielle guided him outside.

Riley watched and felt a slight twinge of sadness before turning back to the group. “They seem rather close?”

Emily and Josh chuckled.

“What?”

“I get what you are implying, and no,” Emily answered.

“I don’t know why it’s so funny,” Riley huffed.

“It’s only because you don’t know them like we do,” Josh reassured her.

“Gabrielle and Ethan care for each other a great deal and are even friends. But they also don’t get along at times,” Emily said with a smile.

“Gabrielle takes care of all of us and helps with Ethan’s patience. However, they both get on each other’s nerves and get exasperated with one another. They are too similar and too different in all the wrong ways for them to be what you were thinking.”

“It doesn’t help that Gabrielle is nosy,” Miller added with a rude tone.

“What some call nosy others call being a concerned friend,” Emily replied while rolling her eyes. “Not that you’d know,” she added under her breath, although loud enough that Riley was certain Miller heard.

When the two walked back in, they both looked tense, but Ethan did look less like he would jump down everyone’s throats at the drop of a hat. Riley walked over to him and gave him a sympathetic smile, and squeezed his arm briefly where it was covered. They both felt a little jolt, but Ethan appreciated the gesture and watched her walk to the kitchen.

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