Here’s the second chapter of Kindred Spirits to give you a taste. If you missed the first chapter, head here to read it.
Derek couldn’t sleep. He’d been doing just fine until about forty-five minutes ago, when he’d woken to what he thought was the sound of voices. Of course, they faded as soon as he was fully conscious, which told him he must’ve been dreaming. Even so, to be on the safe side, he’d gotten up and done a tour of the house, checking that all the doors and windows were locked and the alarm system was still armed. Peeking out through the blinds, he saw no one in his yard, nor in the street out front.
Satisfied, he’d gone back to bed, where he’d lain wide awake for the last half hour. The story his station had aired that night—make that the night before, he amended as he looked over at the clock and noted it was after four the next morning—didn’t sit well with him, and he wasn’t sure why. It wasn’t guilt, that much he knew. He usually slept like a baby after his segments aired, and up until thirty minutes ago, tonight had been no exception. That crackpot scam-artist Wilson woman had gotten what she deserved.
She was what was bugging him, he realized with a jolt. It wasn’t just because she wasn’t what he’d expected. She was attractive, for one thing, and devoid of all the new age mystic, hippy-dippy nonsense he’d come to expect from her type. There was also the fact that his production team hadn’t turned up any evidence that she was actually scamming her customers, at least monetarily. But plenty of that sort weren’t in it for the money. They were attention-hungry emotional vampires who got off on preying on people’s vulnerabilities.
But there was something familiar about the Wilson woman, and it went beyond the fact that he was well acquainted with her type. He felt like he knew her—or should know her—from somewhere, but he couldn’t put his finger on it.
It didn’t matter. She still needed to be exposed, and he was glad he’d done it.
He rolled onto his side and closed his eyes stubbornly, but sleep still wouldn’t come. He kept picturing her face looking out at him through the van’s passenger window. Her expression had been cold, impatient and irritated and accusing, and startlingly familiar. He couldn’t stop wracking his brain to figure out why.
And there had been something else in her eyes, too. Something he didn’t like to think about, no matter how justified in his actions he knew himself to be. Her eyes had held a look of hurt. Not just hurt, but betrayal, and also a sense that she wasn’t surprised. Like he’d done this to her before, and she was stupid to expect anything different.
She’d looked at him like she knew him. And that this was just par for the course.
Derek muttered a curse as he threw back the covers and swung his feet over the bed. It was approaching five o’clock, and getting back to sleep seemed like an unlikely prospect. At least it was a Saturday—his day off. He decided he’d have coffee and breakfast and then go for a run to clear his head. After that, maybe he’d do a little more digging on Christine Wilson.
In the kitchen, he turned on the automatic coffee maker that he’d filled the night before and then grabbed his favorite mug from the dish drainer next to the sink. He set it next to the coffee maker, then went to the fridge.
As he rummaged for something to whip up a quick breakfast, he heard a sound like something sliding across the counter. Pulling his head out of the fridge, he looked over at where he’d set his mug and frowned. He could’ve sworn he’d set it to the left of the coffee maker, but now, it was on the right.
“You got four hours of sleep,” he muttered to himself. “It’s a wonder you’re not seeing the condiments do the can-can.” He leaned into the fridge to get a carton of eggs, then turned back around and promptly dropped them on the floor at the sight of his mug floating in the air in the middle of his kitchen.
Derek stared, mesmerized, as the mug began to move about as if doing a little dance in the air. Then the cold, sticky-slimy egg guts oozed over his toes, snapping him out of his trance-like state. He swore and jumped back, ignoring the oddly-behaving mug as he ran to grab a wad of paper towels and contain the broken egg mess. Once he was sure the eggs wouldn’t spread any further, he stood up and looked at the mug, which now hung suspended in the air.
He reached out and took hold of it, plucking it out of thin air with no resistance. He stood there a moment, just looking at it in his hand, trying to wrap his mind around what he’d just seen. He couldn’t do it. Finally, he rubbed his face and decided everything would be better once he’d had his coffee.
Almost on autopilot, he went to the coffee maker and started to pour some into the mug, but at the last second, he thought better of it. He set the mug on the breakfast bar, then retrieved another mug from the cupboard and filled it instead. He turned and leaned against the counter, keeping both eyes on the floater as he sipped his breakfast blend.
Several minutes went by in which nothing happened. By the time he finished his first cup, he felt better able to deal with this situation and started going over the possibilities.
He could’ve dreamed it. Maybe he’d dozed off without realizing it. Maybe it was like sleep paralysis, except without the paralysis and just the wild hallucinations.
That didn’t really make him feel better. Besides, unless he was still dreaming, he’d definitely broken the eggs. The evidence still lay soaking in a wad of paper towels on the floor.
A joke, then. Someone, somehow, had gotten in and rigged the mug. But how? Wire and tiny drones? He scanned the ceiling and didn’t spot any remote-control flying objects. He crossed to the breakfast bar and passed his hand over the mug. No wires. Maybe the drone had been attached to the mug somehow?
Derek picked it up and examined it. It looked normal in every way. The weight felt the same as it had the countless times he’d picked it up. It was a solid, molded piece of ceramic. No moving parts, nowhere to hide a chip or a tiny motor.
Who would do something like that to him, anyway? He couldn’t think of anyone who had a motive, except … of course. Christine Wilson. Except that was ridiculous, wasn’t it? Even if she could rig up such a thing, how would she have gotten in? His house was locked up solid. The alarm was still armed.
Derek rubbed his face and went to pour some more coffee. As he took a sip, he was about ready to go back to the waking dream theory and forget he’d seen anything strange when suddenly, the mug shot off the counter. He spat out his coffee as the thing started doing cartwheels in the air. Then, just as suddenly, it dropped with a crash and shattered all over the floor.
Instinctively, he backed all the way up to the edge of the kitchen. With his heart beating like a hammer, he tore his gaze away from the broken shards of his former favorite mug and went to the utility room. He registered on some level that he was in a mild state of shock as he went through the motions of doing something sane in the midst of insanity.
Focusing on the task at hand, he found a discarded pair of flip-flops next to the door leading out to the garage and slipped them on to protect his bare feet. Then he found a broom and dustpan and headed back into the kitchen.
And froze in his tracks.
All of the cabinet doors stood open.
Before he could finish, a door slammed. Then another. One by one, each cabinet door slammed shut, moving from the far end of the kitchen toward where he stood.
Derek dropped the broom and dustpan. He was halfway across the house before he heard them clatter on the kitchen floor.
“We scared him,” said Jimmy.
“Yeah!” Ron could barely talk, nearly doubled over with laughter. “Did you see how fast he took off after the cabinet thing?” She held her hand up for a high-five, and it hung there a moment before she registered the look on his face. Feeling sheepish, she lowered it and tucked her hands under her arms.
“I didn’t want to scare him!”
“I really don’t see how that was avoidable,” Ron said. “But look at you! Look how far you’ve come already. You did great! Now he’ll have to start paying attention.”
Jimmy shook his head. “How’s it going to help if he’s too scared to even stick around?”
Ron waved a dismissive hand. “He’ll be fine. A guy like that’s not going to let a little thing like inanimate objects becoming animated chase him out of his own home.”
“How do you know? Do you even know my brother?”
“No, but I know his type.” She went to him and put a hand on his shoulder. He seemed surprised at the touch. “Look, kid, one thing you’ve got to get through your head is that he’s not your little brother anymore. He’s a grown man . . .” Her voice trailed off as she realized how familiar those words sounded. Frowning at the thought, she went on. “I know it’s hard. It’s hard to watch them outgrow you. To think they don’t need you anymore.”
Jimmy went to where Derek had set his coffee down and fingered the mug. “Nah, I get it. Derek’s been a man for a long time now. I know he doesn’t need me.”
“But you need him. Otherwise you wouldn’t still be here, right?”
“Why are you still here, Jimmy?”
“I don’t know. What else is there?”
“When you died, didn’t you see a light?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Why didn’t you go into it?”
“Because Derek did need me. He was only thirteen when it happened. Just a kid. And he blamed himself. He still does. I just want to tell him it wasn’t his fault. I’m the big brother. It was my job to protect him.”
Ron could relate. All the times she’d gone all mama bear over someone messing with Chris, especially after their mom had died . . . “I get it. But you did protect him, didn’t you? Is that how you died?”
Still staring at the mug, he nodded. “I just need him to know that I’d do it all over again.”
“You want to tell him that?”
He let out a brief, sharp laugh. “How?”
“My sister, the one he was a jerk to? This is what she does. She helps people like you take care of unfinished business so they can move on.”
“Move on to where?”
It was Ron’s turn to shrug. “Whatever’s next.”
“That’s comforting,” he said. “So why are you still here?”
“Long story. But it’s not Chris’s fault.”
“Chris is your sister?” he asked, and she nodded. “How was Derek a jerk to her?”
“He went on the news last night and made her look like a fraud.”
Jimmy winced. “Sorry. Yeah, Derek’s not a big believer in the supernatural.”
“Well,” said Ron, reaching over to pluck the coffee cup off of the counter. “It’s now your job to change that.”
Ron tossed the cup to him. He caught it deftly, and stared at it in his hands a moment before setting it back on the counter.
“Keep practicing what I showed you,” she said. “Meanwhile, I’ll talk to Chris, and we’ll come up with a plan.” She glanced at the clock and realized it was already after five-thirty. The house would be waking up soon. “I need to get home.”
“Will you be back?” His voice was eager, and he seemed to realize it. “I mean, it’s just that I haven’t had an actual conversation with someone in . . . I guess since before I died.”
“I’ll be back. Don’t worry. Until then, just remember what I told you. It’s all about channeling strong emotions.”
He nodded. “It’s hard to stay focused and make things move.”
“I know. It gets easier with practice. So practice. And keep working on getting his attention.”
Ron smiled. “See you later, Jimmy.” With that, she faded out . . .
. . . and materialized in the attic, where Joe sat, wide awake. Waiting for her.
And clearly not happy about it.
“You’re awake!” she said, forcing cheer into her voice.
“You went there, didn’t you?”
“Yes, and it’s a good thing, too. Guess what I found out?”
“I don’t want to know,” he said, getting to his feet. “Not unless it involves the words, ‘I’m sorry, Joe,’ and ‘I shouldn’t’ve snuck out on you.’ ”
She sighed. “I am sorry, and I shouldn’t have—”
“Then why did you?”
“You were asleep!”
“You could’ve woken me up!”
“Not the way you were sleeping.”
“Then you could’ve waited. Or left a note. Or, here’s an idea: how about respecting your sister’s wishes for once and doing what she asks?”
Ron folded her arms. “Derek Brandt had to be taught a lesson, and you know Chris doesn’t have it in her to do it. You should have seen her, Joe. I found her passed out on the couch next to a half-empty bottle of whiskey.”
“She’s well over drinkin’ age. She ought to be able to have a drink once in a while without you reading into it.”
“Except it clearly wasn’t just ‘a’ drink. I know my sister. Better than you do, thank you very much. And why are you so mad about this?”
“Because you don’t listen! You always think you know what’s best for everyone, and you go off and do it without any thought to those of us left behind in your wake.”
“Whoa.” Ron held up her hands as if to ward him off. “Where is this coming from?”
“From you goin’ off half-cocked on your own. You don’t know how this is gonna come back on your sister. Or on us.”
She dropped her arms in defeat. “All right, I’m sorry. No, actually, I’m not sorry.” She balled her fists and planted them stubbornly on her hips. “Because it’s a good thing I went over there, as I was trying to tell you.”
“And why is that?”
“It turns out that Brandt’s already haunted. By his brother, Jimmy. The kid’s been stuck there for Lord knows how long with no way to make contact. He needs our help.”
“And I suppose you went and promised him that your sister would take care of it.”
“Well, yeah. That’s what she does. I know she’d want to.”
“You do, do you? Did it occur to you that maybe she won’t want to get involved in helping the man who humiliated her on TV?”
“No. Of course she’ll want to help him.” That didn’t come out sounding as sure as she’d meant it to.
“Well, then. I guess we’ll see. You want me to go with you when you tell her what you did?”
“I don’t think so. I don’t want you there to gloat when she gets mad.”
“That’s not what I—”
“And I know she’ll be mad, okay? I know what I did was impulsive, and maybe I should’ve listened to her. I don’t need you to lecture me on that. And since when do I have to report all of my comings and goings to you, anyway?”
Joe sighed. “You don’t. But it’s common courtesy. When I wake up and you’re not here, nowhere in the house, how do I know you haven’t—” He bit off his words and shook his head.
“Nothing. Never mind. I just want you to slow down and think, Veronica. You’re a force of nature. You just plow ahead on the course you think is right, and that’s one of the things I love about you. But sometimes, you’re more destructive than you know.”
Ron stared at him a moment, not knowing what to say. She seized on the only positive thing she could think of. “I helped that kid tonight. I gave him the tools he needs to communicate with his brother, and I gave him hope.”
“I don’t doubt any of that. The question is, did you help Chris?”
Ron looked down at the floor. She hated this. She felt defensive, and angry, and hurt, and helpless to fix it. Maybe she hadn’t done Chris any favors. Her whole motivation for going over there was to vindicate Chris, but did that really undo any of the damage or improve Chris’s life in any way?
Joe was right about one thing: what she’d done would only make Chris’s life more complicated. There was no doubt that Chris would step up and help Jimmy, but was it really fair of Ron to dump that on her?
Not that there was a choice about that. She couldn’t just turn her back on the kid. Chris wouldn’t want her to.
A heavy sigh came from Joe. “Come here,” he said.
“No.” She hated how petulant she sounded, but at the same time, she didn’t care. Instead, Joe came over to her. He took hold of her shoulders and pulled her close. She leaned into him in spite of herself, and as he held her, a little of the hurt faded away.
“I’m sorry I got angry,” he said, nuzzling her hair.
“I’m sorry, too,” she said, not specifying what for. Let him read into it what he wanted. She put her head on his chest and closed her eyes. “I hate fighting,” she said. “I just want to go to sleep and forget this happened.”
“Chris’ll be up soon,” he reminded her. “Might as well pay the piper and get it over with.”
“I don’t know. I think there’s an argument to be made for not ruining her morning with it. At least let her have her coffee f—” She was interrupted by a pounding so loud it shook the house. “Is that the front door?”
“Sounds like it. Somehow, I don’t think a good morning is in the cards for any of us.”