Sunday Serial: Giving up the Ghost chapter 8

Chapter Eight: Hero and Jenny have a delightful dinner.  Hero runs into that nice, young man, who might be a stalker intending her harm.

I sat lost in my own thoughts for a few minutes, and Aidan seemed content to let me think about everything he’d said. I glanced at Jenny and saw that she was just as lost in her thoughts.  The only thing that I was sure of was that if Dee was murdered, I was going to find out who was responsible.  But to do that, I’d need help.  The only person I could think of with any sort of detective skills and knowledge of the preterworld was Kyle. 

“Aidan, do you know a detective named Kyle Smyth?”  I asked. I wasn’t sure if I could deal with finding out he’d lied about knowing Dee, on top of everything else. I liked Kyle and I wanted to believe him, but more and more his ability to show up at the right time was becoming too convenient.  If this group of super-witches was really out to get revenge, he’d be a great first wave.

Aidan smiled, “Of course, the young Detective Smyth took over his kinsman’s role as our investigator.”

“So he really is a like a cop for preters?” I couldn’t keep the surprise out of my voice. I glanced at Jenny and noticed that she didn’t look happy about this at all.  I wondered if she’d already guessed that I’d be interested in asking for his help.

“Of course, he is.  He’s already contacted me regarding Dee’s passing.  Of course, I never give out information without family approval. But if you wish, I will tell him what I know.  I am certain he is capable of bringing Dee’s killer to justice.”

That left me stunned.  I wasn’t sure how to respond to Aidan’s claims that Kyle was a vigilante.  “So, Dee knew him?” 

Aidan’s smile seemed to slip a little, but maybe I was just imagining it. “She paid him, and his kinsmen.  She started the tradition of having a few of us on the human police force at all times.  Many in the Smyth family were already police officers when she moved here, so she continued to use them.  They help hide our existence from humans and they take care of preter crimes that the human justice system cannot deal with.”

I nodded slowly.  This seemed like confirmation of Kyle’s story.  I couldn’t think of any reason that Aidan would lie to me about Kyle or any of Dee’s history. What would he have to gain anyway?  I noticed that Jenny still didn’t look happy, but she was now nodding toward the clock. I realized that we had taken up over an hour of Aidan’s time.    

“I’m sorry Aidan, I didn’t realize how late it had gotten.”  I started to rise, and he stood when I did.  “Aidan, thank you so much for everything,” I said and collected my copies of the forms. “I really do appreciate your help with the funeral and with the preter stuff.”

“Of course, Hero, dear.” He said. “If you wish, I will see if I can find a lemuria who would agree to train you. It would put Dee’s networking to use in a way I think she would approve of. I would also be happy to contact the young Detective Smyth with the information I have given you.”

“Thanks, I’d really appreciate the help with finding a teacher, but I’ve already met Kyle and should probably talk to him myself,” I said and realized that I did appreciate it. He seemed so genuinely saddened by Dee’s death that I realized I couldn’t help but like him. 

As Jenny and I started to make our goodbyes, Travis returned and I noticed that Jenny slipped Travis her phone number. I thanked Aidan again and told him I’d see him at the service. Both of us were pretty sedate on the drive home. We were actually on my street before Jenny spoke.

“So, do you want to go back to your place and talk, or did you want to get something to eat?”

“I don’t think I can process anything else tonight,” I said running my hands through my hair. “I just want, I want normal.” 

“Maybe dinner would help?” Jenny asked.

I think I wanted to talk, but I also tried to remember the last time I’d eaten and came up blank. I did remember Jenny had brought some sort of takeout over before her big changing into bird girl routine, but we’d never gotten around to eating it. I was guessing that whatever she had brought over wasn’t worth eating now. “Can we talk and eat?  That’s normal, right?”  I didn’t miss Jenny rolling her eyes at my normal crack. I’m sure it was easy for her; she’d grown up knowing that she was something other than human.  I’d had a few hours to process the news, and that was coupled with dealing with Dee’s death, which was now a murder.  At this point, normal was all I wanted.

Jenny passed the apartment and cut through the residential streets to head back downtown.  It was a weekday, so downtown wasn’t too packed, yet.  We should be able to pick a restaurant and be in and out before the heavy party crowd came in.  I looked over the restaurants: deli, tapas, Chinese-fusion, and sushi. 

“Sushi?” I asked.

Jenny pursed her lips, “Hmm… ok.”

I paused normally this was a game we played.  I’d make a suggestion and she’d counter with claims that the restaurant had gotten terrible reviews, and I’d counter back with some equally ridiculous claims about bad reviews about the place she’d chosen. Then she’d counter with the same. We’d finally settle on something, usually, the first place suggested. I know it was a silly thing to do, but it was our silly thing. I raised my eyebrows at her, “Are you ok, like are you overwhelmed too?”

She shrugged and opened the door, “Yes, and I’m a little tired.  Using my powers took more out of me than I’d expected.”  She got out of the car, “I usually only, change when I’m going to eat.”

That was something I hadn’t considered.  What were the consequences of being a preter?  “So like if I do stuff, like preter-stuff, what will happen to me?”

Jenny paused and took my arm as we walked through the parking lot.  “I don’t know about you, but for us, it’s tiring to change without…” she paused and looked at the ground, “without eating.”

I swallowed, “So, what do you eat, exactly?”

She kept her eyes on the ground as if the asphalt had suddenly become the most interesting thing in the world. “Um,” she lowered her voice, “people’s life force.” She took her arm out of mine and hitched her purse up higher unto her shoulder. “Like their energy, or chi or whatever.”

I kept walking, noticing that she had sped up. “Ok, do you need to do that or something?”  I felt really awkward. Like I was talking to an addict or something and wasn’t sure what language I should use. I’m sure there was preter etiquette, but I had no idea what it was, but my lack of etiquette probably explained Travis’s suppressed laughter when I asked his dad about the moirae thing. 

Jenny stopped and looked up at me. I took a step back.  I couldn’t help it because her eyes were glowing, literally glowing a vivid blue. She stared at me a moment, and at that moment, I really felt like I was on the menu. Worse, at that moment, I wanted to be on the menu. I shook my head, reminding myself that I was supposed to be immune to her.

Jenny blinked, and the glow seemed to be fading.  She took a shuddering breath, “Ok, rule number one.” She held up her finger, “Don’t ever ask a preter that unless you’re ready to be dinner.”  Her voice was low and husky. I noticed that she didn’t move any closer to me.

“I think I’ll stick with not being dinner.”  I shrugged, hearing my own voice squeak.  “Sorry, but this is all new to me.”

She hid her face in her hands a moment.  When she looked up again, her eyes had stopped glowing. “Sorry, it’s just like a reflex thing. An instinct.” She kept her distance but started walking again.

I took a few quick steps to catch up, “So what’s rule number two?”

She looked confused, “Rule number two?”

“Not asking about eating habits must be rule number one, so what’s rule number two?”

She managed a smile, “Never ask what someone is.”

I shook my head, “So major faux pas with Aidan?”

She nodded, “But not in the etiquette sense.”  She paused, “Sure, it’s kind of rude, but mostly it gives the other guy an advantage. If he knows what you are, and you don’t know what he is…” She finally looked up at me, “It can be dangerous.”

I considered that as we walked across the parking lot.  While I seemed to be able to shake off the effects of Jenny’s voice, I had to wonder if I didn’t know about it, could I?  So letting someone know what I could do and not knowing what he or she could do, did seem like a liability.  Once Jenny had herself under control again, I’d have to ask if there was some kind of preter-radar.  Thinking about Aidan and Travis, I couldn’t figure out how Jenny knew what they were.

We’d cleared the parking lot.  The four restaurants all shared outdoor patio space. We turned toward the sushi place, the farthest on the left. We passed through the mostly empty patio and went inside. 

They’d managed to keep the place from being too American garish. Keeping the waving cats to a minimum, but that coupled with the decorative paper screens gave the place a tranquil vibe. The host led us to a small table in the front next to the window. We could look out at the main drag through downtown. Normally we both loved a table by the window. If nothing else, watching the antics of drunken college kids was entertaining. Tonight, both of us were far too distracted to care about how the college kids were carrying on.

I toyed with my water glass, wondering what I could say. I wanted my Jenny back, not this sad, sullen Jenny. Of course, I knew that we both wanted to talk about Dee, and about the history lesson we’d gotten from Aidan, but I wasn’t ready to go back to the world of weird. “So, can I ask what was up with you and Travis? Or is that rule three?”  After I asked, I quickly opened my menu, and half hid behind it.

Jenny laughed.  “Sorry, to get all…” she waved her hand as if that explained her mood and the incident in the parking lot. “Aiden seemed so old school that Travis surprised me.”

I glanced at her over the menu, wanting to make sure she was ok but afraid of seeing the glowing-eyed predator from the parking lot. I let out the breath I’d been holding, seeing my Jenny with a sad smile.       

I set my menu aside. “Was it the tattoos?”

The waiter came by, forestalling her answer. We both ordered our sushi and drinks. It was starting to feel like a normal night again. I didn’t want to risk ruining the night with more questions, so I tried to keep it light. “What morticians can’t be metalheads?”

Jenny rolled her eyes at me. “It’s not that.” She sipped her drink, “Do you realize how rare he is?”  She paused and laughed, “I guess you couldn’t know. But basilisks are super rare.”

We both paused in our conversation as the waiter returned with our sushi.  We spent a few silent minutes with wasabi and soy sauce, and even more enjoying some great sushi before we got back to our conversation. 

“Ok, it’s killing me. Is it breaking rule number two if I ask you about…” I paused, “Someone else?”

She shook her head before daintily putting another piece of sushi in her mouth. 

“So is Travis a moirae? And is that why you got all goo-goo eyed at the end?”

Jenny choked on her sushi. She took a sip of water. “I did not go goo-goo eyed.  I don’t ever go goo-goo eyed.”  She pointed her chopsticks at me, “I don’t even know what goo-goo eyed looks like.”

I pulled my best wide-eyed, swooning southern belle imitation, “Oh Travis, you’re just so dreamy.” I said in a terrible southern accent.

Jenny broke into giggles. “I so didn’t do that.” She glared at me a moment, “Did I?”

I held up my fingers, mimicking an inch. 

She put her head in her hands. “He’s not a moirae, he a basilisk, the first I’ve ever met.”  She said from behind her hands.

“And, again I ask, what does that mean?”

Jenny looked up and laughed, “basilisks are immune to all of us.”  She started eyeing my forgotten plate, looking ready to snap her chopsticks on my yellowfin.

I took another bite. “So you can’t go all… bird girl on him?”

Jenny hesitated a moment, “Bird-girl, is that how I looked to you?”

Now I was worried. I couldn’t tell if I’d hurt her feelings or not.  “Um, kind of. Like a hawk or falcon or something.  One of the sleek, sharp raptor birds.”  Still no response from Jenny.  Damn, had I said the wrong thing?

Her lips slowly rose into a smile, “Really!?”  She was loud enough that the few patrons at the sushi bar turned to look.

I nodded quickly. “Totally, and you had kind of sparkly wings.  Is that good?”

She wore a small, secretive smile. “Yes, yes it is.”  She seemed content for a moment to think about my description of her. 

I took the opportunity to finish my dinner before she started poaching my fish.  I was working on my last piece when she spoke again.

“With Travis, I can go all fabulous bird-girl, but it won’t affect him at all. And I can’t hurt him.” She said the last part in a whisper.

I paused with the fish half-way to my mouth. I remembered when we were young, around twelve or thirteen. Dee had sat us both down and given us a comprehensive talk about sex ed. It was more than just STIs and unwanted pregnancies; nope Dee had explained a lot of about female pleasure and the importance of partners that respected us. But I remember how she’d talked a lot about being respectful to our partners in return. And even at the time, it had felt directed a Jenny to be careful about hurting people. As a teen, I’d assumed it was because everyone loved Jenny. She was beautiful, and boys were always “in love” with her.

I swallowed the fish. “Could you…” I paused, “hurt someone?”

Jenny ran her chopsticks through the leftover soy sauce making some random patterns, before answering.  “Yes.”

Just the one word. No explanation seemed forthcoming.  “Oh.”  Ok, I admit it, that was a weak response, but what could I say?  Up until earlier today, I was pretty certain the scariest thing about Jenny was her at a wedding expo. I tried to think of what I should say, something to comfort her, something to let her know I still trusted her and she was still my best friend.  I was working up to my second, “oh” or maybe an “uh-huh,” when the waiter saved me.

He asked if we needed anything else.  I was about to say no, when Jenny chimed in, “Sake, please two glasses.”

As the waiter, left Jenny looked at me again. “You need to understand that all of us are dangerous in our own ways.  When I’m… eating, I can lose track of what I’m taking. I can go too far.” She kept her eyes trained on me.

I nodded weakly. Suddenly her comment, this afternoon, about not killing people made more sense. I wondered if she had hurt people, but I couldn’t ask. I decided that it didn’t matter.  Even if she had, it was an accident. I laid my hand on hers, “It’s ok Jenny. We don’t have to talk about this if you don’t want to.”

Jenny sighed. “No, we should.” She ran her hands through her hair.  “I just don’t want you to be afraid of me or look at me differently.”

I started to interrupt, but the waiter returned with the sake.  Jenny poured for us both.  I noticed that she didn’t hesitate to toss her glass back and pour another. 

Jenny sighed and slid her glass around on the table.  “Do you remember Aaron Wallace from high school?”

I searched my memory. I had a vague mental image of a guy in a basketball uniform. “Wasn’t he a basketball player?”  Then it clicked, “Yeah, the guy who overdosed or something and ended up in a coma during our junior year.”

Jenny nodded and swallowed, “He didn’t overdose. I was with him that night.” Jenny’s voice was barely a whisper, “But it was an accident.”

I stared at her. It must have been a full minute of silence.  “Wait, how could you have…” I let my words trail off.  I wasn’t sure if I was afraid to ask the question or afraid to hear her answer.

“It’s what we do,” she twisted the napkin, “If I’m not really, really careful… especially when I’m having sex, it’s hard and I made a mistake back then.” Her lower lip started to quiver and her eyes glistened.

I reached across the table and took her hand, “It was an accident.” I said. It didn’t sound like enough, but I was still trying to process the realization that my best friend could put someone in a coma.

She shook her head, “It’s not ok because I’ve always tried to be careful. I don’t want to be like them.” 

She seemed to be getting the crying under control. At least she’d blinked the tears away, and while her voice was still shaking, her lip had stopped quivering. All of those times that Dee had insisted that both of, Jenny and I, were more than our blood were starting to make sense. She’d always emphasized our experiences and choices, rather than our blood families.   

“Jen, you’ve never been like your family. I know you wouldn’t hurt someone on purpose.” I racked my brain trying to think of what I should be saying because what I was saying didn’t seem to be having any effect on her.

She wiped at her eyes.  “Really?”

I wasn’t actually sure I’d heard her at all. I gripped her hand tighter. “It wasn’t your fault. I know you, and you wouldn’t hurt anyone.” I paused, “Unless a Vera Wang was in danger.”  I offered a small smile with my wedding dress joke.

Jenny tried to smile, but failed, “For a Vera Wang, I could seriously hurt someone.”  Even her attempt at a retort sounded weak.

I poured us both another glass.  “So you’ve told me all your secrets, and you’re still my best friend.”  I raised my glass, “To best friends, who are family.”

Jenny hesitated a moment before she lifted her glass and finally echoed my toast. We both drank. Jenny shook her head and wiped at her eyes again. “So am I a raccoon?”  She asked pointing at her eyes.

Her mascara had run a little.  Not enough that I would care, but I was sure Jenny would.  “Maybe a little,” I answered.

Jenny shook her head and grabbed her purse.  “I’ll be back.”  She made her way toward the bathroom.

I wondered if she was really only going to fix her makeup, or if she was still upset. I considered following her, but I decided she may need her space. I noticed that the restaurant had filled up a little more since we had come in.  The sushi bar was packed, and at least half the tables had filled up.  I turned back toward the window, sipping at the last of the sake.

“Hero?”

I knew that voice, even with the hesitation in it. I turned and wasn’t entirely surprised to find Kyle standing next to my table. “Um, Detective Smyth, hi.” I managed a smile, but after all of Jenny’s dire warnings, I couldn’t help but question his motives. Even if Aidan had said that Kyle was the local preter-cop, he just seemed to show up an awful lot. And Jenny’s warnings about lilus and their stalking habits kept echoing in my head, worse her warnings about him mingled with his own claim that he was interested in me. 

I’d trusted him and I’d really started to like him, but like everyone else, he’d lied about what he was. He hadn’t told me the truth, even when we were alone at my apartment. I did feel a little twinge of guilt when I noticed he looked a little sad that I’d gone back to calling him, detective.

“I didn’t mean to intrude or anything.” He started and I watched his eyes take in the two glasses on the table. “I just saw you and thought I’d say hi.  I haven’t heard back from my uncle yet.  According to my mom, he’s on a fishing trip.”

I wasn’t sure what I should say. I’d checked Dee’s phone book and there was a Detective Ron Smyth listed in it. Aidan had vouched for him, but I still wasn’t sure I trusted him, especially knowing that Dee’s death wasn’t an accident. And I really didn’t want his attention to be part of the sexing, stalking, killing part.    

The silence stretched between us. I glanced toward the bathrooms but didn’t see Jenny returning. Finally, I had to say something, anything.  “You know what I am don’t you?”

He raised an eyebrow, “Do you really want to talk about this here?” he asked, his voice low.

I glanced around the restaurant, gesturing toward the growing crowd and noise. “Like anyone is paying attention?” I paused, “And even if they heard us, who’d believe it?” I glanced around the restaurant filled with what I assumed were normal humans. “Are you interested in me because of what I am,” I started, “Is it because I’m a lemuria?”  There, I’d said it aloud.  And even if I wanted to deny the entire preter world, Kyle’s lack of confusion or shock only confirmed that I had truly entered a bizarre new stage in my life. He really wasn’t human.

He nodded toward Jenny’s chair, “Can I sit?” His voice was still low, clearly, he was uncomfortable talking about preter-stuff in public. Jenny wasn’t and Travis hadn’t seemed concerned about it, but the mortuary wasn’t quite as public.

I nodded.

He sat. “First, I take it your friend warned you about me?”

Again, I nodded.

He scowled, “Maybe someday you’ll tell me all about what she said.”

I started to interrupt, but he kept going.  “First, Dee asked me to keep an eye on you. Period. She was worried and based on her death and the attack on you at her house, I’d say that she was right to be worried.” He paused and took a deep breath, “And second, Hero, I like you.” He looked me in the eye, “And no, it’s not because Dee asked me to protect you or because you’re a lemuria. It’s just because you’re you.” He ran his hand through his hair, “But you must have noticed that I haven’t really used my powers on you at all.” He’d leaned forward and lowered his voice. “So, I didn’t tell you what I was.  If I had, would you have let me anywhere near you? You already believe everything that siren has to say about us.” His voice turned bitter.

I blinked. I wasn’t about to tell him that I’d only found out about the preterworld a few hours ago.  Jenny was right, that would be giving him the upper hand. As for his powers, I didn’t even know if I could notice when he used them, which led me to wonder if I would be immune to him like I was immune to Jenny.  “So, I’m just supposed to believe you? Dee never said anything about you. And you show up an awful lot. And always at the most convenient times.”

He sat back his expression incredulous, “I’d hoped that you would believe me. But think about it this way, I’m a cop. I try to keep preter-crime under the radar. I heard the call on Dee, and I went to her house to make sure it wasn’t a preter issue.  It’s part of my job.” He bit his lip in thought.

I couldn’t help but notice that it made him look adorable. I really wanted to back down, to give him a chance to really explain. Right now he was on the defensive, and I couldn’t be sure that he wasn’t just saying what he thought I wanted to hear.  I wanted to ask him point-blank whether he knew anything about Dee’s murder. But I couldn’t. Dee had lied to me.  Jenny had lied to me. I wasn’t about to let some stranger, who’d already lied once, gain my trust.

“Was her death a preter issue?” The word still felt weird when I said it, but I found it was getting easier and I didn’t know if I liked that.

His expression shifted.  “I honestly don’t know. I couldn’t find any evidence to point toward a preter-cause, but then, my skills are pretty limited. I called the moirea to ask him, but I need your permission to get him to tell me anything about her death.”

I managed to hide my shock.  It was just further confirmation that the preterworld realty did exist.  So, Aidan was telling the truth too. It troubled me to have become some distrustful in such a short amount of time.  It’s not like I was all open with strangers, but generally, I didn’t meet a person and assume that they were going to lie to me.  I didn’t like the change in myself at all.  “I don’t know if I want to give you permission.  Not yet.” I managed to stammer.  I picked up my water glass, taking a sip. I wasn’t sure if he was buying my “act casual” routine, but at least holding the glass kept me from fidgeting.

He nodded, “Fair enough, but if there is a threat to preters, I’d appreciate knowing that much.  I’d like a chance to try and keep us all safe.”  He managed a small smile, and I felt my heart speed up a little.  “And,” he continued, “I need to apologize. I should have been upfront with you from the start, but I have to be careful at work. I didn’t want my colleagues to think that we knew each other, and well I doubt Mrs. Finch knows anything about us and I’d like to keep it that way.  Later, I guess I just wasn’t thinking about work, I was thinking about you.  And I figured if it was a preter thing, you’d tell me.”

I set my glass down a little hard and he reached across the table to steady the glass, his fingers brushed against mine. 

Before I could say anything, his eyes darkened and a small smile crossed his lips. “If I really wanted you to trust me, you know what I could have done to you when we met,” He leaned across the table, his voice dropping, “And you know I could do far more than make you trust me.”  He gave me a slow smile, “Trust would only be the beginning.”

I bit my own lip at his tone.  If I thought Jenny had something going on with her voice in bird-girl form, Kyle put her to shame. Maybe I wasn’t immune to what he could do because I believed him whole-heartedly at that moment.  He could do those things, but how was I supposed to know if he had? I was pretty sure that I was already at least a little in lust with him. He caught my eye and I definitely saw something, lust, desire, passion, whatever. I looked away first.

He shook his head slightly and his eyes drifted across the restaurant.  I followed his eyes and found a small group of what could only be cops seated across the restaurant, watching our interaction. We’re they all lilus or just his work buddies watching him try to pick-up a girl in a restaurant?

He caught me looking. “And no matter what your siren friend said, I’m not stalking you. I didn’t even come here looking for you. It’s a weekly thing with me and other detectives.”  His voice was still husky and passionate. 

I found myself nodding at his explanation, and realized with a voice, a tone, like that he could be reading me the stock reports and I’d still be getting hot. 

Maybe he noticed my response because he suddenly looked away and when he looked back he gave me a shy smile. “Um sorry to go all…” he waved his hand slightly, in a gesture reminiscent of Jenny’s apology for her glowing-eyed issues in the parking lot.  I guess all preters used a noncommittal hand gesture to mean, “Sorry, I let my powers show for a second.”  He went on, “It’s just hard to ignore the signals sometimes.”  He looked at the table, “I didn’t mean to pull that crap with you.”

I frowned, realizing that he had been doing something.  Whether it was his voice or something else, it had some effect on me, but I realized that even if I found him alluring, I still managed to keep my suspicions about him. Even with his sexy-voice, I knew there was no way I would have left the restaurant with him or anything.  So maybe I was immune. But I was concerned about this claim about signals. Maybe it was part of Jenny’s rules.  I decided just to ask. “Signals?”

He looked sheepish, “I can hear your heartbeat, and while humans would miss it, I can see your eyes dilate and other stuff…” he looked down blushing, “All the physical signals that you might be interested.”

I must have looked angry, and I might have been but only because of what he said was true. I was interested.  Mostly I was trying to figure out how to hide all the “signals” he claimed I was broadcasting.  I was pretty sure I couldn’t keep my heart from beating faster or my eyes from dilating through sheer force of will. 

He gave a rueful grin, “Now, I probably just look like an ass.  A guy just trying to pick you up.”

He almost sounded hopeful, like that was really how I would interpret this awkward conversation.  I sighed. “Look, I don’t know what your deal is.  I don’t know if I can trust you or not.  I do know that I won’t be on anyone’s menu. And I’m not sending signals, maybe your radar is off.”

He snorted, “My radar isn’t off.  And you’re going to tell me that you’re not on your Roundelay friend’s menu?  You’ll trust her, but you won’t even give me a chance to prove myself?” He shook his head.

Ok, that made me mad.  Even if Jenny and I had our issue in the parking lot, I wasn’t about to let him imply that she’d hurt anyone. It wasn’t her fault she came from a messed-up family, and who was he to judge her for that? “Jenny has been my best friend since first-grade.  She would never hurt me.” I hissed at him. “Even Dee trusted her.  If you knew Dee, you should know that. You’re going to tell me that Dee asked you to watch out for me, and never mentioned Jenny?”

The last part seemed to make him sit back and think a second.  He switched from thinking to looking chagrined pretty quickly.  “Wait, Dee meant her…” He wouldn’t look me in the eye anymore.  “Damn it.” He muttered, more to himself than to me, “I’m sorry Hero, but I think I’ve made a mistake.” He mumbled, “I’ve misjudged her, but would you at least consider that she’s misjudged me?” He asked, in a low voice. “I get it now.  She’s the Roundelay who left the family. But can’t you at least consider the idea that not all lilus are stalking-sex-killers?” 

I simply cocked my head at him, still simmering, but also trying not to laugh at his description.  It was pretty close to what Jenny had told me about lilus.  Maybe he had a point.  Aidan had also questioned Jenny about her family and only seemed to relax when she told him she was estranged from them.  Now that Kyle knew who she was, he also seemed willing to accept her.  So maybe I should at least give him a chance.  I couldn’t think of anything to say, mostly because I didn’t know what I thought at all.

He stood up and stood beside me, “Sorry?”

I managed a tight nod.

He leaned over and whispered in my ear, “And I wasn’t planning on sexing you to death, Hero.”

His voice was husky, and I felt a blush creep over my face.  Before I could think of anything snarky to retort with, he finished his message.

“But you would have loved every second of it if I had.”

Part of me wanted to yell at him, to call him out on the sheer audacity of his statement. And the other part, I’m ashamed to say was too busy clamoring for me to call him out on his claim.  To demand that he prove it. I finally laughed aloud. I watched his eyes darken and his shoulders tightened and he walked away.  I almost called him back to explain. I wasn’t laughing at his claim or anything like that. I was laughing out of nerves, or at this point in my day probably hysteria. I clapped my hand over my mouth and stared after him.   

I watched him rejoin his cop buddies and noticed that he took their ribbing at striking out with me gracefully. He mostly seemed to try to smile at their jokes and stare into his beer.  He didn’t look back at me at all.

I decided that I needed to consider Kyle on his own merits, and not on this wacky preter world. Was it possible that he wasn’t out to kill me?  Aidan had vouched for him as the “preter-cop” and he’d said that it was probably super-witches who’d killed Dee.  Even if I didn’t want to admit it, his story for showing up at Dee’s that Sunday made sense.  If a prominent preter died, it made sense for him to check it out. 

I suddenly wondered if I’d just blown off the one person who could help me find out what had happened to Dee.  After all, he’d already asked me for permission to find out what Aidan knew, and I’d just laughed at him.  As I pulled my gaze away from Kyle, I saw Jenny finally returning to the table.  That definitely put a halt to any plans I’d had of going over to try and apologize.

She looked flushed and she seemed to have her usual luster back.

I pushed all my concerns about Kyle aside, and I raised an eyebrow at her as she sat down. 

She looked abashed at her lengthy absence, “Um, Travis called.  Sorry, but I got caught up in talking to him.”

“Uh-huh,” I nodded and decided that maybe I should get her out of the restaurant while she was riding high on the Travis’ call.  I was pretty sure that seeing Kyle again would only piss her off. “So, are you interested in him?”

She nodded and smiled, “Yup.” She grabbed the bill and tossed down a few twenties.

I took the opportunity to glance back at Kyle.  His seat was empty.  “You’re not going to tell me anything else, are you?”

She shook her head, still smiling.

I sighed, “I should probably get home anyway.  I’m still a little overwhelmed by everything.”

I convinced Jenny that I didn’t need a babysitter and just wanted to be alone.  She insisted on coming up with me and making sure no monsters were lying in wait at my apartment.  There wasn’t. It was just my empty apartment.

“Are you going to stay over?” I asked Jenny, noticing she hadn’t set down her purse.

She frowned and glanced at the clock.  “Um, I want to, but I need to go out for a little while.  Will you be ok alone?”

I sat heavily on the couch, “Sure, but what’s up?”

She chewed on her lip, “Remember in the parking lot, what I said about eating.”

I nodded slowly and thought I realized what she meant.  “So, you’re going to go and…” I let the words trail off.

She nodded slowly.  “I’ll be back in a couple of hours.”  She still looked torn, she clutched at her bag and shifted her weight back and forth.

“Jenny, it’s ok,” I said trying to smile. “I’ll just hang out and watch tv or whatever.”

Jenny walked over to me and sat down, “Hero what about Sosostris? I grew up on stories about them, as like preter-boogymen. Like I wasn’t even sure they were real until today, but the things they were supposed to have done…” She shuddered.

Now her hesitation started to make more sense. And now I was scared. “Could they find me here?”  I whispered, looking around my tiny apartment as if the super-witches were hiding in the shadows. “I mean the break-in happened at Dee’s house, maybe they don’t know where I live.”

She seemed to consider that. “I wouldn’t go out if I didn’t have to.” She was still unsure, and her voice shook. “Keep your phone handy.”

I nodded, “I’m sure it will be fine.”  I said with far more confidence than I felt. I gave her shoulder a nudge, “Go, eat and come back.”

She rose slowly, and I could see the debate in her eyes. 

“Go, and eat,” I said a little more sternly.  I stood up and unfolded the couch to emphasize my point.  “I’ll be here when you get back.”

She finally left, with more promises to come back as fast as she could. 

I sat on my bed and turned on the TV.  I hoped the noise would distract me.  I kept flipping through channels, trying to find something that would distract me. I settled on some cop show, but that made me think of Kyle. I passed a few more channels and left it on some old black and white movie.

I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but I must have fallen asleep because the movie had been replaced by static when I opened my eyes. I stared at a second and heard the tinny sound of voices in the static. I blinked and rubbed at my eyes, and for a second a saw a face in the tv, the same face that had been in the wedding photos.  

I jumped and I admit it, I stifled a scream. All my jumping around must have jostled the remote because the channel switched to an infomercial. My heart was pounding in my chest and a gasped for air, before laughing at myself.

I’d fallen asleep and had a nightmare. That was all.  Everything that had happened over the last 48 hours had finally taken its toll on me.  I glanced back at the TV, and it was still the same overly-excited salesman waxing on about his remarkable product.  Shaking my head at myself, I turned off the TV and got up to make coffee and wait for Jenny to come back.

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