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The Haunting of Jessica Moore

Chapter Text

The white-painted house seemed to huddle among the trees, the storm-filled clouds beyond giving it a forbidding look. Shadows fell oddly across the front of the building. Jessica gazed through the wrought iron gate to the house beyond. Her artist’s eye could almost make out a scarred face in the shuttered windows and darkly recessed doors at the end of the long driveway. It wasn’t the house she’d expected from Claire’s photographs. But, of course, all of Claire’s photos were taken in sunlight. Jessica had never seen the house in this kind of weather.

She shook her head, inwardly mocking her own feeling of foreboding and watched Sam and Brady struggle with the heavy padlock and chain holding the gate closed. The wind caught at her hair and she felt an unseasonable chill. It wasn’t raining yet, but the angry clouds promised a deluge very soon.

It was an inauspicious start to their vacation. The house belonged to Claire’s uncle. An accident two years earlier left him wheelchair-bound, which forced him to move out of the house into a home better suited to his needs. The house, an eight-bedroomed manor set in extensive grounds, had been on the market ever since but so far had not been sold. Claire had been thrilled when she was offered the use of the house for the summer, and she lost no time inviting all of her friends. The four of them: Jessica, her new boyfriend Sam, Claire and her definitely-not-my-boyfriend Brady had loaded up Brady’s SUV – a silver Subaru Forester – and driven out here from Palo Alto as soon as the semester was over.

The vacation had been planned before Jessica and Sam started dating and Sam had initially turned down Claire’s invitation, saying he needed to find a job for the summer. Jessica and Sam had a lot of friends in common and knew each other by sight, but somehow they’d never really met. It was Brady who eventually introduced them and they liked each other at once. For their first date they went to see Shaun of the Dead, and while munching the after-movie burgers they bonded over a shared love of cheesy horror movies and cheesier 80’s cop shows. On their third date, Jessica mentioned Claire’s vacation plans and told him she was planning to spend six weeks of the summer at the house with Claire. Sam immediately asked Claire if her invitation to him was still open. Jessica was a little worried about that – they hadn’t really been a couple long enough to be planning a long vacation together – but she’d pushed her worries aside. She really, really liked Sam and it wasn’t like they’d be alone out here.

The wind whipped her hair across her face and Jessica ran a hand through her blonde curls. She looked back at the house as she felt the first spots of rain on her bare arms. It really did look like a face, the deep shadows over the recessed front doors giving it the appearance of a gaping maw.

Claire gave an odd chuckle and intoned dramatically, “Hill House, not sane, stood against the hills holding silence within, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”

Jessica shivered; Claire’s misquote echoed her own thoughts too closely.

“Darkness,” Sam called back over his shoulder. He stepped back as the chain came loose and Brady gathered it up, looped it around the gate and slid the padlock into place, leaving the gate unlocked.

“Huh?”

Sam grinned and returned the padlock key to Claire. “You misquoted. It’s darkness, not silence.”

“No, I’m sure…” she began to object.

Jessica smiled, knowing it was best not to argue with Sam about these things. He didn’t butt in unless he knew he was right.

Sam quoted, “‘Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.’ It’s from a novel by Shirley Jackson: The Haunting of Hill House. I wrote it up for a book report in tenth grade.”

Claire stuck her tongue out at him. “Smarty-pants,” she pouted.

“That’s creepy,” Jessica remarked. She shivered again.

“It’s only a story, Jess.” Sam took his place at Jessica’s side, wrapping his warm arm around her shoulders. “Are you through scaring my girl?” he asked Claire.

She laughed. “It’s just the storm. The shadows make the house look like there’s something watching us. I don’t mean anything by it.”

Brady had the gate open and was smiling himself as he headed back to the SUV. “Well, I think it’s neat. We get to live in a haunted house for six weeks. D’you think we’ll see a ghost?”

“Quit it,” Sam told him, hugging Jessica close protectively. He added, so quietly Jessica thought only she could hear, “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.”

She snuggled closer to him, oddly reassured by knowing he was creeped out, too.

“Come on,” Brady urged, opening the driver’s door. “Let’s get inside before the storm hits. Unless you’re scared…”

Jessica reached for the rear door of the SUV and began to sing the theme from Ghostbusters. With a grin, Brady joined in. They kept singing as they all climbed back into Brady’s SUV. By the time they reached the second “who you gonna call?”, Sam chimed in with the “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts” line and they went on from there, the four of them singing while Brady guided the SUV up the long driveway.

Jessica smiled at Sam as they sang. She knew Sam was a guy she wanted to hang on to. He was everything she hoped for in a man: smart, fun to be around, drop-dead-gorgeous…and he loved her. She knew he did, even if he hadn’t said it yet.

The four of them had the house to themselves for six weeks. Other friends would be joining them later, some just for a few days, some for longer. Becky and Zach were going home to St Louis for two weeks, and then spending the rest of the summer with them. Matt and Travis both had summer jobs but intended to drive out to the house most weekends. Adrianne was coming next weekend and would stay for at least a week. Others had promised to come but not named firm dates. So Jessica was anticipating a summer of fun, games and parties. The house was isolated enough that they could party all night if they wanted to and not bother the neighbours. There was even a beach at the bottom of the cliffs, accessible via a private path from the house.

This was going to be a great summer.

***

Jessica and Claire did their share of the heavy lifting, but the four of them had crammed a lot into Brady’s SUV and the storm broke before they were halfway through unpacking the trunk.

Sam told Jessica to stay undercover. “No need for both of us to get soaked,” he insisted gallantly as he ran back out into the rain. Jessica, watching him, wondered how long the chivalrous phase would last. In her experience, most guys quit being gentlemen around the time she first slept with them, but she’d already had sex with Sam. Maybe he really was one of the good ones.

Sam slammed the trunk closed and ran back to the house with the last two bags in his hands and his precious laptop under his arm. They all cheered him on and applauded as he crossed the threshold. Jessica laughed exuberantly as she closed the front door behind him.

He set the bags down. Sam had been out in the rain for no more than thirty seconds, but he looked like a drowned rat already. The storm had been building for a while but the rain had come down as a sudden downpour.

Jessica was grateful he’d braved the downpour for her sake. “Oh, honey. Do you want a towel?”

Sam slicked his wet hair back with both hands. “I’m fine. It’s only rain.”

“I guess we can forget about having barbeque on the terrace tonight,” Claire grumbled, but she didn’t seem unhappy. She made an expansive gesture. “Welcome to my mansion. D’you guys want a tour?”

“Only if the first exhibit is a bathroom,” Brady answered. “I had way too much coffee at that last rest stop.”

Claire giggled. “Oh, sorry. This way.”

While Claire led Brady to the nearest convenience, Jessica had time to look around. Calling it a mansion was an exaggeration, but the entrance hall was like one of the grand plantation mansions in Gone With The Wind, though on a smaller scale. The walls were white plaster with elaborate carving a little below where the walls met the ceiling. The ceiling itself was white, crossed with thick dark oak beams. Opposite the front doors a grand staircase led up to a mezzanine, where it split into two staircases leading up to the next level. There were six doors leading from the hallway that Jessica could see, all of them closed. It was very impressive.

“All it needs is a portrait,” Jessica remarked, remembering their earlier joking about the house.

“Why a portrait?” Sam asked.

“In the movies, there’s always a portrait of a woman who mysteriously resembles the heroine,” Jessica explained. “Which I guess would have to be me, since there’d be nothing mysterious about Claire’s ancestor resembling her.”

“That’s only in vampire movies,” Sam objected. “I thought we decided this was a haunted house.”

“Can’t it be both?” Jessica asked with a grin, getting into the spirit of it.

“Absolutely not. Vampires are scared of ghosts,” Sam deadpanned.

Jessica giggled, getting a sudden mental image of Count Dracula fleeing in terror from Caspar the Friendly Ghost.

Right on cue, the first rumble of thunder grew overhead. The sound seemed to fill the room where they stood, as if the acoustics in the hall were designed to magnify it.

Jessica laughed. “Sounds like the storm will be a good one. I want to watch!” She felt excited, like a little girl anticipating a great treat. It would be better if the storm started after dark, but she’d always loved to watch a lightning storm.

“Claire!” Jessica called as their friends re-appeared. “Is there a room with an ocean view? I want to watch the lightning.”

“Uh…sure. The day room.”

Claire led them past the staircase to a door not visible from where they’d been standing. The room beyond the door was very dark. Claire snapped on the light to reveal a large room. All of the furniture was covered by huge white sheets. One wall was covered by floor-to-ceiling drapes. Claire walked across to draw the drapes back and Jessica joined her, pulling them open to reveal a huge window, but it was covered by a screen outside.

Claire disappeared underneath the drapes, then with an unmistakable hum of machinery the screen slowly rolled upwards to reveal the view.

There was a stone terrace outside the window and beyond that, some shrubbery. Beyond that was the view Jessica wanted: the angry sky and the ocean below. She smiled to herself, gazing out there. The screen had protected the window from the rain but it quickly became wet, so she saw the landscape through the droplets and rivulets on the glass.

Behind her, Jessica heard the others pulling the sheets off the furniture. She knew she should help, but she kept her eyes on the ocean, waiting. She was rewarded with a crescendo of thunder accompanied by a burst of lightning that crackled across the clouds and bolted down to the ocean. Over land, lightning would strike a high point like a tree or a tower and if you were watching you might see an explosion of sparks, or even a fire. That could be exciting to watch, but the ocean had no high points except the constantly moving waves, and water conducted electricity more efficiently than the land. When lightning struck it sheeted across the surface of the waves, and watching was beyond exciting. It was exhilarating.

Jessica squealed with delight as a blue-white flash turned into a ripple of pink and violet across the ocean. Her voice was drowned out by the thunder. She turned to Sam, her eyes bright with excitement, to find him smiling at her almost indulgently. But when he met her eyes and caught the excitement in her face, his look changed, becoming an expression she had come to love: desire. Drawn to her, Sam slid his arms around her from behind, holding her close as he turned her back toward the window.

“Have you ever seen a storm over the Pacific?” Jessica asked him, leaning back against his chest. His clothing was still wet from the rain, but she didn’t care.

“Uh…no.”

“Then you’ve got to watch! It’s amazing!”

Sam kissed her hair. “Okay, okay. I’m watching.”

Brady moved toward the window. “Shouldn’t we lower the screen, guys? It’s looking wild out there.”

“Oh, for Heaven’s sake!” Jessica took her eyes off the storm long enough to roll them at him. “It’s a lightning storm, not a tornado.”

A new clap of thunder drew her attention and she looked back just in time to see the lightning strike with its spectacular colours across the waves. It was like an inverted mushroom cloud. Jessica let out a whoop. “Isn’t it gorgeous?”

Sam’s arms tightened around her waist. “You’re gorgeous,” he murmured with his lips against her cheek.

Jessica caught her breath, a different kind of excitement fluttering through her. She turned her face into his kiss. Sam’s lips met hers and she opened her mouth to him. He kept his arms tight around her as they kissed, which made the angle too awkward for her to get carried away, but it was enough.

Brady cleared his throat loudly. “Do you two want to get a room?” he suggested pointedly.

Sam released Jessica, but she could feel his reluctance.

“Maybe we should,” she answered, then looked for Claire. “I mean, we should unpack, get settled in.”

“Sure,” Claire agreed.

They carried their bags upstairs together.

“You can pick any bedroom you like,” Claire offered, “but I guess you’d like an ocean view, right, Jess?”

“I’d love it!” Jessica agreed.

“Then you want this one.” Claire set her suitcase down and opened a door to reveal a room beyond. Like the room downstairs, it was darkened by the screens across the windows. It didn’t take long for them to open the curtains, which revealed a large window and glass-panelled door. Claire opened it and showed Jessica how to unhook the screen from inside, letting the rain in all the while. There was no electric control for this one – it was an old-fashioned shutter which folded back against the wall outside and locked in place. The door opened onto a small balcony which overlooked the cliffs and ocean below.

Claire closed the balcony door quickly. “I’ll let you guys settle in,” she said with a smile that suggested she, like Brady, thought settling in was going to involve sex. “I guess I’ll give you a proper tour later.” She smiled at them both.

“Where’s your room?” Jessica asked.

“I’ll be in the attic. I’ve always slept there when I stayed with Uncle Rick.”

“Do you need help with your trunks, Claire?” Sam offered.

“No, I can manage. Feel free to explore if you like. I’ll meet you downstairs when you’re ready.”

The room was decorated in green: pale green walls, dark green brocade curtains and a thick pile carpet. The bed was an actual four-poster bed, complete with brocade canopy and curtains. Sam pulled the dust cover off the bed to reveal it was already made up, ready to be slept in.

Screens still covered half of the windows, darkening the room. “Do you want that ocean view?” Sam asked. “The storm’s still going on.”

“You’ll get wet.”

“I’m already wet,” Sam shrugged. He headed to the balcony door. Jessica didn’t argue because she really did want to keep watching the storm. It would be over soon. The rain was still heavy but the wind wasn’t too strong, so Sam was safe out there. He opened the screens: each one folded back against the wall and could be fastened in place. When they were all opened, Sam went to the edge of the balcony and leaned on the rail for a moment.

Jessica went to the window. “What are you doing?” she called. He was soaking wet already and the rain was showing no sign of letting up.

Sam gave her a grin and came back into the room. “I just wanted to check out the fence around the balcony. I think it’s wrought iron.” He closed the balcony door and latched it firmly.

“Why does that matter?” Jessica asked.

He shrugged. “Actual solid wrought iron: you don’t see that much in newer houses. It runs the full length of the balcony. No gaps. I like it. It’s…safe.”

With the screens out of the way, Jessica had an even better view of the storm than she did downstairs. She stayed at the window while Sam went down for the rest of their luggage. Guiltily, she promised herself she would do her fair share of the work from now on.

As the storm died away, Sam towelled his wet hair and came up to her side. “Do you know how hot you are? That look in your eyes…”

Jessica turned to him with a smile. “You want to do something about it?” She licked her lips suggestively.

Sam leaned in and kissed her, but just a quick kiss on her lips. “You are so tempting. But – ”

“But?” she repeated, disappointed.

“If we go to bed now, we’ll have to hurry, and I don’t want a quickie, babe. I want to take my time.” He smiled, then the smile became a grimace. “And Brady will never let it go. Unless you want to spend the next six weeks listening to his dirty hints, let’s wait until later.”

She moved close to him and laid her hand on his chest, over his heart. “Promise it’ll be worth the wait?”

Sam smiled. “Oh, I promise.” He lifted her chin with his fingertips and leaned in, slowly. He pressed his lips to hers, probed gently with his tongue. The restraint of it made Jessica’s body react all the way down to her groin and she moaned softly. Sam drew back then, the promise in his eyes.

***

Jessica loved the house.

They didn’t tour so much as go from room to room making sure the house was fully habitable. They packed away the dust covers, unscreened the windows, made sure the power was working in every room and so on. There was a huge kitchen with a serving hatch through to a formal dining room that Jessica didn’t think they were likely to use: none of them was the formal dining type. There was a study with well-stocked bookshelves. There was a music room with a baby grand piano and shelves full of sheet music. The day room where she first watched the storm was the most comfortable with its battered leather couches and thick sheepskin rugs on the floor. It had its own little bar (complete with a refrigerator which the boys immediately stocked with beer) and the French doors opened onto the terrace and could be pinned open so the room would be cool on the hot summer nights to come. The house had no pool or jacuzzi, but the beach was within walking distance. There was only one important thing missing: all the electronic entertainment systems had been removed from the house, so there was no television, no internet and no stereo. Well, the stereo wasn’t a problem because Brady, forewarned, had brought his own, which he installed in the day room.

Outside, the wide stone terrace covered the full width of the house at the rear. Below it the flowerbeds held climbing rose, honeysuckle and magnolia trees, each contributing to the gorgeous scent out there on the terrace. Steps ran down from the terrace to a lawn which must have been perfect once but was now somewhat shaggy and overgrown. Claire pointed out a gap in the distant hedgerow which she said would take them to the path which led down the cliff to the beach, and Jessica couldn’t wait to check it out. The beach wouldn’t be private, but there wouldn’t be many people using it because it was so hard to access. Jessica couldn’t think of a better place to spend the summer.

They had agreed to rotate the various household chores between them and since the planned barbeque on the terrace was a bust, Jessica volunteered to be the first to cook. Between the food they brought with them and dry goods already in the kitchen, she managed to throw together a reasonably decent chicken pasta and salad. They ate around the pine table in the kitchen then moved into the day room for cold beer and music.

“Tell us about the house, Claire,” Brady suggested much later that night. “Is it really haunted? Any dark history to tell?”

“Brady,” Sam chided, stroking Jessica’s hair.

Jessica was curled up on the couch with her head in Sam’s lap. “Don’t you like ghost stories?” She shifted a little to look at Claire expectantly. “Come on. Tell us.”

Claire shook her head. “There’s not much to tell. I used to pretend the place was haunted when I was little. There was a headless horseman who galloped up the driveway, and the ghost of a woman who died tragically along the cliff…but it was all make believe. I’ve never seen a ghost here for real.”

“That’s boring!” Brady declared. He was a little drunk. “Guys, we’re all alone in a spooky-looking house. Someone’s got to tell a ghost story.” He swigged his beer. “Sam. You had Claire’s haunted house quote memorised. You tell us one.”

Jessica turned her head to look up at Sam. “Yes, Sam. Please?”

He met her eyes and he seemed worried. Jessica knew Sam wasn't fond of being the centre of attention. It was one of the things she loved about him – he didn't show off like so many guys. But in a group of friends he was usually fine. She'd thought he'd enjoy the chance to tell a story.

After a moment, though, Sam sighed. “Okay. I know a story or two. Let’s get the atmosphere right. Someone get the lights.”

Claire sprang up and turned off the overhead lights. plunging the room into near-darkness. There was a little light coming from the mini-bar and moonlight streaming in from outside.

Jessica sat up and crossed her legs on the couch. “It was a dark and stormy night…” she intoned in her best overly-dramatic voice.

“Hey, who’s telling this story?” Brady objected.

“Oh, Sam is,” Jessica agreed lightly. “I just thought I’d set the mood.”

She heard Sam take a deep breath. “This is a true story,” he announced, “and it’s a famous one if you’re into this kind of thing, so you may have heard some of it before. It happened a long time ago, up in Nova Scotia. Eighteen seventy something, I think, when a young girl – about our age – was tormented by malicious spirits.”

“Woo-ooh!” Claire interjected, trying to sound spooky. Jessica threw a cushion at her, laughing.

“The story begins,” Sam went on, “when this girl, Esther, was attacked by a local man…” Sam went on to tell the story of the Amherst poltergeist. He spoke without trying to add extra drama, letting the events speak for themselves. He told the story as if he believed every word: that poor girl subjected to mysterious attacks in her bed every night, the strange pounding within the walls, the flying silverware. It all culminated one terrifying night when, as several witnesses testified, an invisible hand scratched a horrifying message into the wall: YOU ARE MINE TO KILL.

Jessica shuddered. “Please tell me this has a happy ending,” she begged.

Sam took her hand. “The poltergeist did try to carry out the threat. It started a fire. Esther escaped, but the local lawman didn’t believe in the supernatural. He charged her with arson and she was sentenced to prison. I guess the spirit was satisfied by that. After she was released it never happened again.”

Jessica frowned. “You’ve got a funny idea of a happy ending, Sam. No she found true love? No they all lived happily ever after?”

Sam squeezed her hand. “Jess, Esther spent years unable to sleep for fear of what could happen to her or to the people she loved. She lived with that fear every second, even when the spirit wasn’t torturing her. Having it stop is a happy ending.”

He sounded so sincere Jessica squeezed his hand back. “Of course it is. You’re right, Sam.”

***

After Claire offered her own ghost story, which Jessica was fairly sure she poached from one of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, they all headed for their respective bedrooms. Brady had chosen a room on the opposite side of the house from Sam and Jessica’s and Claire was in the attic, so Jessica was fairly sure neither of them was likely to be able to overhear anything she and Sam might get up to.

Sam pointedly locked the door. “Don’t say you’re too tired,” he pleaded.

Jessica smiled at him. “I won’t be too tired as long as you’re not too drunk,” she promised. She began to unbutton her blouse.

Sam turned off the light.

They stood together at the window, both of them nude. The storm was long past and the waxing moon shone down on the surface of the ocean. It was beautiful and peaceful.

Jessica turned in Sam’s arms and reached up to kiss him. Sam responded eagerly, raising his hands to her hair as they kissed, long and passionate. It wasn’t the first time for them, but in a way, it felt like it. This vacation was something they were doing together, as a couple. It changed their relationship. It was a commitment. Being with Sam like this, now…to Jessica it felt almost like their wedding night, though she was pretty sure that was the furthest thing from Sam’s mind.

His hand slid warmly down her spine, rested briefly in the hollow of her back, then continued down to her buttocks. Jessica worked her hand between their bodies to stroke his erection – he definitely wasn’t too drunk. Sam swayed into her touch and whispered her name.

Then he bent down, his hands sliding to her thighs and he lifted her off the ground. Jessica let out a squeal of surprise and hooked her arms around his neck for balance. Sam’s body swayed a little but he didn’t seem in danger of falling. Jessica felt herself lifted until her face was level with his and she could wrap her legs around his waist. God, he was strong!

They kissed. Jessica held him tightly though she had no fear he would let her fall. She just loved the feel of their bodies pressed together. His hands slid to her buttocks and pulled her even tighter against him. Sam kissed her neck, nuzzling into the curve where her neck met her shoulder. Jessica let her head fall back, surrendering herself to pleasure.

Sam slowly lowered her onto the bed. He nibbled her ear and whispered, “Relax.”

If she were any more relaxed, Jessica thought, she’d be liquid. She would have said it, but could barely form the words. She ran her hands down his arms, over his chest. When she tried to touch him lower he stopped her, shook his head and smiled.

“Slow down, baby. I’ve been looking forward to this for too long.”

“To what?” She whispered the words as he kissed the hollow of her throat, one of his hands cupping her breast.

His only reply was a smile, but she got the message as Sam’s mouth moved lower. He wanted to do it all tonight and Jessica was very ready to let him.

It was almost dawn when they finally drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Text

Jessica woke up feeling more than a little sore, but wonderfully happy. Sleepily, she reached across to Sam’s side of the bed but found it empty. She groped for her watch. It was almost ten-thirty. No wonder Sam was gone.

Jessica climbed out of the bed and tied on her robe. She wandered over to the window. It looked like a beautiful day: bright sunshine and a gentle breeze stirring the leaves on the trees outside the window.

Someone tapped lightly on the door and opened it without waiting for an answer. It was Claire, and she was carrying a mug of coffee.

She held out the mug. “Hey, lazy. I brought you some go-go juice.”

“Gimme!” Jessica said eagerly. She accepted the mug with a grin.

“The boys went on a beer run.”

“Oh.” Jessica couldn’t hide her disappointment, but she recovered quickly. Sam had probably been awake for ages and must think he was doing her a favour by letting her sleep so late. They had six weeks to be together; a few hours were not important. Jessica sipped her coffee. It was strong and very sweet – just perfect.

“Did you have a good time last night?” Claire asked slyly.

Jessica’s disappointment lifted. She leaned back against the window and smiled widely. “Oh. My. God!” she exclaimed.

Claire closed the bedroom door. “I knew it! Spill, girlfriend.”

“We didn’t, uh, disturb you, did we?”

Claire giggled. “No thin walls here, Jess. This house is solid. I didn’t hear a thing.”

“Oh, good. Because I think I might have screamed the place down.” Jessica settled herself on the bed. “Oh, god, Claire, I can’t tell you. Sam is amazing.”

“Marry him,” Claire instructed. “No matter what crappy habits he’s got. A guy who’s that good in bed is a keeper.”

Jessica giggled. She was thinking along the same lines herself.

“Sam seems really…deep,” Claire added, getting into it. “That story he told last night – ”

“It’s just a story, Claire. He doesn’t really believe that stuff.”

“Well, of course. It’s just…well, what do you know about his background? His family?”

“Not much,” Jessica admitted. Sam didn’t talk about his family much. “We’ve only been together a month,” she added defensively. “Sam’s mom is dead, his dad travels a lot and he has a brother. Why?”

Claire looked very serious now. “It’s nothing, maybe. But do you remember what he said at the end? About living with fear?”

“Sure. When it stops that’s a happy ending.”

“I don’t think he was talking about the girl in the story. It sounded like he was talking about himself.”

Jessica frowned. Claire was a psych major but she wasn’t as good at reading people as she thought she was. She’d told Jessica she thought Brady was a closet sadist and that was why she wouldn’t date him. But Jessica knew Brady pretty well and Claire was full of it. He was no more a sadist than she was. Still, she remembered how seriously Sam told that story, and the look in his eyes when she criticised his happy ending. Maybe this time Claire had a point. It wasn’t something Jessica could ask Sam about until they knew each other a bit better, but she would remember…later.

She finished her coffee and forced a smile onto her face. “How long will the boys be gone?”

Claire shrugged. “I don’t know. The nearest town is an hour away if you drive fast.”

At least two hours, then. “I’m going to take a shower. Then, let’s head down to the beach.”

***

They left a note on the mini-bar to let Sam and Brady know where they were going. They packed a bag with drinks, snacks, sunscreen and towels and then headed out.

The route down to the beach was a steep path that zig-zagged down the cliff. There were iron rods in the rock holding a very old, weathered rope which was the only safety rail the path had. It would be dangerous in wet or windy weather, but today the weather was fine and clear. Jessica found it easy enough to climb down, though she had to be careful in places. She could tell it would be a tough climb back up to the top and made a mental note not to wait until she was too tired to make the climb.

Claire scampered down the path as if she’d done it a hundred times, and she probably had. They had a wonderful morning on the beach: sunbathing and swimming and talking about everything they could think of. Claire had packed the latest issue of Cosmo and insisted on reading aloud an article about how to get the most pleasure out of sex. Jessica, too happy to take it seriously, burst into giggles every time something in the article reminded her of something she and Sam did. She did make a mental note to try out one thing with him, though.

Jessica sat up and brushed away the grains of sand clinging to her legs. She tilted her head back, her eyes closed. The sun was warm on her face and there was a faint breeze stirring her hair. “Do you think…?” she began, but broke off as her phone rang. She picked up the phone: the display read SAM <3.

“Hi, Sam!”

The phone crackled a little but Sam’s voice came through clearly. “Hi, Jess. How’s the beach?”

“It’s lovely. The sand is beautiful, it’s warm and sheltered. You’ll love it.”

“Want me to come and join you?”

Jessica looked up at the sun and then down at the lengthening shadows. “No. I guess we’ll head back now.” She glanced at Claire, who was stretched out in the sun. Claire nodded a silent agreement with Jessica’s words. “We’ll meet you back at the house,” Jessica added to Sam.

“Okay. See you soon, then.”

Sam didn’t end the call, though. Jessica hesitated. They hadn’t been together long enough for her to feel right saying I love you, but the words seemed to be on the tip of her tongue. She bit back the impulse and answered, “Yeah, see you soon.” Then she ended the call herself.

From her position on the beach, the cliff looked terribly high. It might take longer than she thought to climb back up the cliff path. She sighed and began to gather up their things.

Jessica was fit and knew she needed to pace herself on the climb. Claire, as she had done on the walk down, scampered ahead and then waited at each turn for Jessica to catch up. Jessica was wearing sturdy sneakers, low-rise shorts and her bikini top with the bag slung over her shoulder. Even with such scanty clothing, she was covered with a sheen of perspiration before long and the loose hair around her face was clinging to her skin. But in spite of that, she was enjoying the exertion.

Until she heard Claire scream.

Jessica stopped dead when the scream pierced the air. Then, realising it was her friend, she hurried ahead. “Claire!” she called frantically. “Are you okay? Claire!”

There was no response.

“Claire!” Jessica screamed.

“Jess! Down here!”

Jessica followed the sound, her heart pounding. “Claire, keep calling!”

“Jess, I’m here! I fell!”

Then Jessica saw her. Part of the pathway had crumbled and somehow Claire had fallen over the edge. The cliff wasn’t completely vertical, which had saved her life. She hadn’t fallen very far. Claire’s belly was pressed to the cliff, her feet on a grassy ledge, her hands clinging to something Jessica couldn’t see clearly. She seemed temporarily safe where she was. Below her, though, the beach seemed terribly far. If Claire fell, she would die.

Jessica dropped the bag she was carrying and knelt down to approach the edge. The iron rods that held the safety rope were missing from this part of the path, but the rope itself was still there, on the ground. She gripped it with one hand and leaned over the dizzying edge. “Are you okay?” she asked. “I mean, are you injured?”

Claire didn’t tell her it was a stupid question. “I…I think I’m okay. I’m just bruised.” She sounded very shaky, but Jessica believed her.

“Can you climb up? Do you have a handhold down there?” Jessica wasn’t sure climbing was a good idea at all, but she couldn’t bear the thought of leaving Claire to get help. Claire was only just out of reach: if she could only climb a little way Jessica would be able to take her hand.

“I don’t know!” Claire called back, panic in her voice now. Jessica heard her muttering to herself, “This isn’t happening, it can’t be happening, oh, god…”

Panic was the last thing Jessica needed. “Claire! Relax. I’ve got my phone – ” she realised it only as she spoke the words “ – I’m going to call the boys.”

Jessica pulled her cell from the bag and speed-dialled Sam’s number. Nothing happened. She looked at the display. There were no signal bars and the display read SERVICE UNAVAILABLE. Damn it! Damn it! Not really expecting anything new, Jessica tried again, punching the numbers herself instead of calling up Sam’s number from the phone’s memory. Once again, nothing happened. She couldn’t get through. How could she call for help if she couldn’t freaking call anyone? She tried again. This time, when the call refused to connect, frustration filled her. Jessica raised her arm and threw the phone as hard as she could. It was completely irrational, and she regretted it as soon as the phone left her hand.

She took a deep breath. She was not allowed to panic. Claire needed help. No one was coming. It was up to her.

She lay down flat on the ground. Rough stone scratched her bare skin, but she ignored the discomfort. She ignored everything but Claire. Carefully, she wriggled toward the edge and, when she’d gone as far as she dared, she stretched out one hand toward her friend.

“Reach up toward me,” Jessica instructed. “But careful. Keep a tight grip with your other hand.”

Claire reached up. Jessica stretched down. As she’d suspected, Claire was just out of reach. Their fingertips actually touched for a moment, but that was the best they could manage.

“I can’t reach you!” Claire cried. “Oh, god, Jess, what are we gonna do?”

Jessica considered using the bag to extend her reach, but discarded that option straightaway. It was only a cheap beach-bag and if the strap broke, Claire would fall. She inched forward and examined Claire’s position again. It wasn’t quite as precarious as it seemed at first. There seemed to be good hand and foot holds in the cliff; Claire should be able to climb up. Jessica wished she had some rope. If wishes were horses…

She tugged on the guide rope, pulling it taut, then wrapped it around her wrist. The rope was thick and awkward; Jessica was sure her hand would slip through all too easily, but it was the best she could manage. She reached down with her free hand. “Can you reach me now?” she called encouragingly.

Claire tried, and Jessica almost cried with relief when Claire’s fingers clasped her hand. Claire gripped her tightly, so much so that Jessica felt the edge of Claire’s ring digging into her skin.

“Don’t let go!” Claire begged. “Oh, god, Jess, don’t let go. Please don’t let go.”

“I’ve got you,” Jessica promised. “I won’t let go.”

“Don’t let go,” Claire babbled.

“Claire!” Jessica said sharply. “I’ve got you. Now, I need you to try to climb up. Just hold me tight and find a foothold, okay. I’ve got you. You won’t fall.”

“I can’t!”

“You don’t have a choice! Claire, please. You can do it. I won’t let you fall.” Jessica squeezed Claire’s hand tightly. She held her breath.

Claire moved. She felt around for a secure handhold and gripped the cliff face hard. Then, her face dead white as she gazed up at Jessica, she felt blindly with her foot for a hole or a jutting rock. It seemed to take forever. Eventually, Claire moaned, tightened her deathgrip on Jessica’s hand, and pushed herself upward.

It was enough. Jessica freed her hand from the rope, praying her weight would be enough to hold her there, and offered her hand to Claire. Each girl grasped the other’s wrist. Then Jessica carefully loosened her hold on Claire’s other hand to adjust her grip there, too. She wriggled back onto the path, tearing her skin on sharp stones as she moved.

“Okay. Now climb again. You’re doing great, Claire. I won’t let go. I swear I won’t let go.”

That was how they did it. One precarious foothold at a time. One tiny climb after another until finally Claire could drag herself onto the pathway. She lay there, panting, shaking with reaction.

Jessica rolled onto her back, unable to comfort her friend because she was so fucking scared herself. Now the crisis was over she felt her body react, all her strength draining away and she couldn’t have moved from that spot if her life depended on it. She kept herself from having hysterics but that was the best she could do. Claire almost died!

She turned her head to the side to look at Claire. “Are you…okay?”

Claire pulled herself together, but Jessica could see what an effort it was. “Yeah. I think so. You?”

“I need to get off this path. Can we please go?”

They managed to get up and, staying really close to the cliff wall this time, they began their slow progress up the zig-zag path.

***

“Jess!”

Sam’s shout sounded very far away but Jessica still felt tears of relief sting her eyes. She tried to blink them back but felt a single tear escape, leaving a wet path on her dusty cheek. She didn’t want to cry. If she let herself cry she was going to fall to pieces.

“It’s Sam!” she told Claire, but her voice came out tight and hoarse. She quickened her pace as much as she dared on the now-frightening path. Her arms ached where she had overstrained the muscles helping Claire to climb, and pain stabbed through her abdomen with each step she took. Jessica did her best to ignore it all and pushed onward, wanting only to reach Sam and get off this damned path.

“Jess! Jessica!”

Jessica longed to call out to him, to guide him to her, but she was just too tired. She just kept climbing, hand-in-hand with Claire, trusting that Sam would find them. After all, he knew they’d been on the beach.

Sam appeared above them. “Jess!” he sounded horrified.

Jessica stopped climbing, raising her hand to wave.

Then Sam was there, hugging her close. Jessica held him tightly for a moment, but his belt buckle dug into her skin and she gasped in pain.

Sam he stood back, holding her at arm’s length while he took in her appearance. “My god, Jess, what happened? Are you alright?”

Did she look alright? “I’m fine,” Jessica answered automatically. “So’s Claire.”

“But you’re hurt!” Sam protested. He was looking down at her stomach. “Jess, you’re bleeding. What happened?”

“Claire fell,” she explained shortly. She glanced in Claire’s direction and saw Brady already at her side. It seemed to Jessica he’d appeared from nowhere, though he must have been with Sam. She just hadn’t seen him. Brady had his arm around Claire’s shoulders and was carrying her bag. Claire was safe with Brady.

Finally free to be selfish, Jessica clung to her boyfriend. “Please, Sam. Let’s go back.”

***

“It’s just a few scratches!” Jessica protested. She was sitting on the big table in the kitchen, where Sam had put her so he could examine her injuries. She felt very self-conscious, sitting there in her shorts and bikini top.

“Scratches from the stones on the cliff,” Sam told her seriously, “which could have traces of bird shit, rotten plants and god knows what else on them. A scratch today could be septicaemia tomorrow.”

“Ew, Sam!” Claire protested. She pulled a face.

Jessica didn’t really want to hear about all the icky things that might be on the cliff path, but she understood Sam’s point. Sam was laying out the things he thought he’d need on the table beside her: a large bowl of water, towels, a saucer, other things. He even had the tweezers she used to pluck her eyebrows: he’d scrubbed them thoroughly with soap before adding them to his carefully arranged tools.

Sam gave Claire an angry look. “You’re next,” he snapped. He added soap to the warm water in the bowl and pulled the shrink-wrap off a household sponge. Without looking up from the task, he said, “Brady, there was some liquor in the bar. Bring me the strongest you can find. 151 Bacardi if you can find some.”

“I thought you were a whiskey man,” Brady answered with a grin.

“I’m not going to drink it,” Sam snapped impatiently.

Brady fled.

Jessica had never seen Sam like this, so focussed, snapping orders like they were a military unit instead of a group of college students. She tried to smile and said lightly, “You must have been a boy scout.”

Sam shook his head. “We were never in one town long enough, and my brother always said scouts were losers.” He wet the sponge in the soapy water. “Hold still, Jess. I need to clean away the blood and make sure there’s no cr- foreign matter still in the wounds. So this is going to hurt.”

Nervous now, Jessica tensed up. “Sam, if it’s that bad, maybe…”

“You’ll be fine,” he promised with a smile. “If I thought I couldn’t handle this, we’d be at a hospital by now.”

“Where did you learn to do this, if you weren’t a scout?”

Sam’s reassuring smile vanished. “My Dad’s a marine. Uh…ex marine.”

He began to wash her stomach with gentle strokes of the sponge. He stopped work occasionally and laid the sponge down to probe with the tweezers. That hurt, and Jessica had to bite her lips and grip the table really hard to keep from crying out. Each time Sam found something – a splinter, a thorn, a piece of stone – he placed it in the saucer beside her.

While he worked, Sam asked Claire, “What happened out there? How did you fall?”

Jessica saw Claire frown as if she couldn’t remember. “Well…” she began hesitantly, “part of the path had crumbled and it was quite narrow there. But there was enough of the path left to walk on and I could see it. I was walking ahead of Jess and…I don’t know.”

“What, Claire?” Jessica prompted.

“I thought there was someone there,” Claire confessed. He voice had fallen to barely above a whisper.

Jessica wouldn’t have noticed Sam’s reaction if he hadn’t been touching her. He didn’t look at Claire and his expression never changed. But Jessica felt him freeze for an instant, his whole body going tense. The next instant he went on cleaning her scratches as if nothing had happened.

“What was it?” Sam asked casually. “A shadow or something?”

“No idea,” Claire answered. She bit her lip nervously, scratching at her leg. Then her frown smoothed out and Jessica saw her mind click into academic mode, giving her the detachment she needed to explain herself. “Human memory is slippery,” Claire said, almost lecturing. “We think we record our experiences like a video camera with all senses on, but that’s not what happens. The brain only records pieces of our experiences. When we try to recall a memory it’s like a computer reconstruction: bits of it are accurate but mostly it’s the brain filling in the parts it doesn’t have recorded with whatever seems to fit.”

“In other words,” Sam summarised, moving on to Jessica’s thigh, “you’re saying you didn’t really see what you think you think you saw. Right?”

“Uh…right.”

“So what does your unreliable memory think you saw?”

Claire sighed. “I saw…there was a person, someone bigger than I am, a man I think. He just appeared right next to me. It startled me, hell, it made me leap out of my skin. That’s why I fell.”

Sam frowned, still concentrating on his work. “You’re sure it wasn’t Jess?”

“No!” Jessica protested. “I was further down the path when she screamed. Not even close.”

Brady returned with several bottles in his arms. “No 151,” he reported.

Sam took the bottles from him and examined each one. He finally selected a vodka and opened the bottle. “Jess, this will work as a disinfectant but it’ll hurt like hell. Are you okay with me doing this?”

She knew it would hurt. But Sam seemed to know what he was doing. She looked down at the collection of things Sam had pulled from her flesh: little chips of stone and plant-matter. It scared her.

She nodded. “I trust you.”

Sam offered her his left hand, while holding the bottle in his right. “Squeeze my hand,” he instructed.

Jessica slid her hand into his. She gritted her teeth and somehow managed not to scream when Sam poured alcohol on her open wounds.

***

Sam and Jessica went to bed early that night.

Jessica’s usual sleepwear was a cropped top and pyjama pants, unless she fell asleep after sex in which case she was more than likely naked. She wasn’t a big fan of lingerie – the lace irritated her skin – but she had bought some for the vacation, just in case she wanted a special night with Sam. While preparing for bed that night she picked up her usual cropped top and couldn’t stand the thought of wearing something that would expose the ugly wounds on her midriff. She thought over the clothing she’d packed, but nothing seemed right until she remembered the red, lace-edged camisole with its matching panties. It would cover the scratches on her stomach. She ran her hand lightly over the scabs as she dressed and hoped it wouldn’t scar.

Sam must have guessed why she wore the camisole, because he didn’t try to make love to her. He did let her know how sexy he thought it was, with a smouldering look and a kiss that made her tingle all over. But then he climbed into the bed with her and simply held her close, letting her rest against the warmth of his body.

Sam stroked her bare arm with light fingers. “You were amazing today, you know. You saved Claire’s life.”

Jessica knew he meant it as a compliment, but it made her uncomfortable. “I don’t think so. I mean, she could have climbed back to the path without me.”

“That’s not the way she tells it.” Sam was silent for a time, then he said, “Jess, were there a lot of people on the beach?”

“No, it’s lovely and private.” She thought about it. “We weren’t alone, there was a couple with children and a dog, and someone who came up to the beach in a dingy. But it’s a small beach and the cliffs curve around. When the tide is high, the cliff path is the only way to get in or out.”

“I don’t want you going down there again,” Sam said firmly. “Not unless we’re all together.”

Jessica bristled, and Sam must have known she would. “Don’t you dare go all alpha male on me!”

“I’m not!” he protested. “Listen, Jess. What if Claire really did see someone on the path?”

“Claire told us – ”

“She’s rationalising it. That’s what Claire does. If she saw pink elephants and flying pigs out there she’d come up with some kind of psychobabble to explain it. But think for a moment. Claire knows better than to jump at shadows, especially when she’s on the edge of a cliff. Something made her fall. If there was a person there, even if he didn’t intend to scare her, that person didn’t try to help her. Didn’t even call for help.”

“Because there was no one there,” Jessica explained patiently.

“I hope so. But there’s a lot of ugly in this world, Jess. Maybe it’s all that kidding about this house being haunted but…” Sam hesitated, then went on. “Jess, we can joke all we like about hauntings – ghosts don’t scare me. But if this is more Camp Crystal Lake than Hill House…that’s more than we can joke away.”

Jessica sat up, turning so she could see his face. He was deadly serious. “Sam…whatever Claire saw today, I’m one hundred percent certain it wasn’t a supernatural serial killer in a hockey mask.”

He nodded, but he didn’t smile. “I know that. But we’re so isolated here, Jess. I just want you to be safe.”

She kissed him. “I don’t plan to go down to the beach alone. And I do plan to stay safe, in every sense. But you can’t lay down rules for me, Sam.” She lay down, half on top of him. It stretched her injured stomach and hurt a little, but she wanted to make her point. Sam was being needlessly paranoid. They’d all been scared today, but this was just silly. “Think about it, Sam. Let’s say Freddy or Jason really is out there sharpening his axe. There’d be nothing you can do about it. The last one standing in those movies is always a girl.”

He did smile then, and drew her in for another kiss.

***

They talked for hours, just lying together in bed. Occasionally they kissed, touched, but no more than that. Eventually, conversation ebbed into a comfortable silence, occasionally broken by a new thought. Jessica shifted slightly, cuddling into the hollow of Sam’s arm, her eyes closed and her contented mind already nearly asleep.

The sound of running feet and muffled laughter in the corridor outside the room brought her back to wakefulness, but failed to clear the sleepy fog from her mind. She raised her head a little, glancing toward the sound.

Sam stroked her hair. “Just Claire, I think,” he murmured. “Go back to sleep.”

Jessica snuggled back into his embrace and, moments later, she was back to that very-nearly-asleep state. She felt Sam slide his arm from beneath her head, careful to keep from disturbing her, and then the mattress shifted as Sam quietly slipped out of the bed. It was a bit late for a bathroom break, but Jessica thought little more of it as she drifted into a dreamless sleep.

Chapter Text

She woke when Sam kissed her. What a lovely way to begin the day!

Sam was already dressed in jeans and a white t-shirt, and his long hair was wet from the shower. Jessica realised she’d slept late again and vowed to set an alarm for the next morning. She enjoyed the luxury of being able to sleep in, but she didn’t want to miss any part of this holiday.

Still, waking up to a kiss was nice and she smiled up at Sam.

“Hi, sleepyhead.”

“Hi,” she answered, reaching up to claim another kiss. “What time is it?”

“A bit after nine. Claire’s up, but I think Brady’s still in bed. Coming down for breakfast?”

She agreed she would love breakfast and asked Sam to go ahead, since it was his turn to cook.

In the bathroom, Jessica’s optimistic mood fell away as she stood in front of the mirror and examined her stomach. The scabbed-over scratches looked horrible. She knew they would heal, but for this summer at least the scars would be visible enough that she couldn’t bear it. She would have to beg Brady for a loan of his SUV so she could drive into town and buy a swimsuit to replace the bikini: one that would hide the worst marks. The scratches on her thighs…well, she’d just have to live with those.

After her shower, she selected her clothing with the same thing in mind. Knee-length cargo pants were an easy enough choice but all of her t-shirts were designed to expose her midriff. She had a curvy figure with a flat stomach she liked to show off. Maybe she should shop for more than just a swimsuit…but what could she wear today? A t-shirt was out of the question. In the end she selected a longline blouse with a gypsy neckline. It made her look fat and she scowled at herself in the mirror. She put on just a little makeup to compensate and pulled her hair back into a loose ponytail. She smiled at her reflection, satisfied. She was ready to face the day.

Breakfast was scrambled eggs, bacon and toast, courtesy of Sam who claimed this was the only thing he could cook. Jessica had no idea of the true extent of his culinary skills, but he had evidently practiced this particular menu: the eggs were light and fluffy and the bacon perfectly crisp. He burned the toast…but she liked it that way.

Claire seemed a little out of sorts, but she didn’t say anything about what was troubling her until Brady appeared, mid-way through the meal.

“What on earth were you doing last night?” she demanded of him, without so much as a good morning. “I hardly got any sleep thanks to the noise!”

Brady stopped in the act of reaching for a slice of toast. He looked baffled. “What noise? I was reading until about midnight, then I went to sleep.”

Claire snorted. “Someone was banging on the walls under my room.” She turned to Jessica, seeking support. “Didn’t it wake you, too?”

“No. I slept like a log.” Jessica frowned. She did remember something, though… “What time was this?”

“I don’t know,” she answered grumpily. “After midnight.”

Sam came up to the table with a fresh pan of egg. “Who’s next?” he asked and when Brady claimed the serving Sam spooned scrambled egg onto his plate. “I thought I heard something myself,” he told Claire. “Not pounding though. It sounded like someone running past our room.”

Jessica remembered that. Footsteps and laughter, but she couldn’t remember if it had been a male or female voice. Nor did she know what time it had been.

Brady shrugged. “Wasn’t me.” He went on eating.

Jessica frowned at him. “Doesn’t anyone else think this is weird? There’s only the four of us here, right?”

Sam nodded. “If it’s someone’s idea of a joke, it’s not funny.”

“Yeah,” Claire agreed. “Fess up.”

No one at the table admitted to being the joker. Jessica looked around at each of them. Whoever had been outside their room last night, it had to be either Brady or Claire. Whoever kept Claire awake…she remembered Sam leaving their bed and realised she had to consider him a suspect in that part. But Brady was the only one who could possibly be responsible for both. But why would he do something like that? If it was meant as a practical joke, Brady would admit to it. He was the kind of guy who liked to take credit. Unless Claire was lying…? But that made no sense, either. She knew Claire. Claire’s idea of a practical joke was an upturned glass or an apple-pie bed.

Jessica kept her thoughts to herself. After waiting a reasonable time in case someone wanted to continue the conversation, she changed the subject. “Brady, do you mind if Sam and I borrow the car this morning?”

Sam looked surprised and she realised she hadn’t mentioned her plans to him.

Brady dug into his pocket and slid his keys across the table. “No problem, as long as you buy gas.” He glanced across to Claire. “I thought we could rig a volleyball court on the lawn for when the others arrive. If there’s a lawnmower I can use, I’ll cut the grass out there.”

Jessica smiled. “That sounds like fun.” They were expecting several friends to join them for the weekend. If the weather was good they’d planned a bonfire on the beach…though that seemed less likely now. But volleyball would be fun.

Claire agreed. “I haven’t checked the shed but Uncle Rick should have one of those grass cutters you drive around the lawn.”

Brady grinned. “Fantastic. We can race!”

Sam slid across and hugged Jessica around her waist. “Where are we going?”

She didn’t want to admit she needed a swimsuit to hide her scars. “I ruined my favourite shorts yesterday. I want to get some new ones. We should probably buy some first aid supplies, too. I didn’t think about how difficult it could be if one of us gets hurt out here and now we know you’re as good as a paramedic…” she left it hanging with a fond smile.

Sam nodded. “Sounds like a plan.”

***

The nearest neighbour to the house where they were staying was a riding school about six miles down the road: a short drive, and an easy distance to walk in an emergency. That made Jessica feel a bit better about their isolation. But the nearest town, and thus the nearest official anything, was much further. Jessica didn’t argue when Sam headed for an outdoor sports store and bought a bunch of cliff-climbing gear “just in case”.

Clothes shopping didn’t take Jessica very long since she had specific purchases in mind. She bought several cheap tops in bright colours and a plain blue swimsuit. When she tried to buy the promised first aid box, though, Sam stopped her and instead of a pre-packed kit he chose the items he wanted separately.

“Did you learn this from your dad, too?” Jessica asked him, looking at the assortment of things in her basket.

Sam, carefully comparing two different brands of antiseptic wash, didn’t look at her as he answered, “Mostly. Dad…got hurt a lot. Hunting accidents. Or fights. We never had any insurance, so I learned how to patch up most things.”

Jessica didn’t know what to say. Those few sentences said so much about the life Sam had lived before college. She was aware of her own privilege: her parents were not wealthy by Palo Alto’s standards, but they could afford to send her to Stanford and she had a college fund which, on top of her student loans, let her live quite comfortably. She couldn’t imagine how poor Sam’s father must have been if teaching a kid to set bones and stitch up wounds was preferable to having basic health insurance.

She swallowed, hard. “Well…I’m glad to have someone around who knows what to do.”

Sam hugged her briefly. “I’m not the only one. Brady’s pre-med, remember?”

Jessica frowned. She had forgotten that. But Brady hadn’t offered his help yesterday; in fact he seemed glad to let Sam take over. Maybe pre-med didn’t include first aid, but now that Sam had brought it up, it seemed weird as hell.

“He’s pre-med,” she agreed lightly, “but he came this close to flunking out this year. I’d rather trust you.”

“Brady’s had problems,” Sam answered, a little defensively, “but he’ll catch up next year.” Then he smiled. “Still, I hope he’s not planning to specialise in trauma. He totally froze yesterday.” He turned toward the checkout. “Come on. We’ve got everything we need here.”

***

Sam suggested they re-stock some of the perishables while they were in town. They didn’t really need to, but Jessica was happy to head back via the store. They bought milk, eggs and fruit. Instead of buying bread, which they did need, Jessica decided to buy flour and yeast so she could make the bread fresh. The house had a gorgeous kitchen and she was enjoying taking advantage of it.

While Jessica was waiting at the checkout, Sam said he’d forgotten something and headed back into the store. Jessica expected him to rejoin her so she could pay for everything together, but he went to a different checkout. Curious, she tried to see what he was buying. More beer – that was predictable – but there was something else, too: something that came in white plastic tubs.

As they loaded up the SUV, Sam offered Jessica something wrapped in wax paper. She saw he was struggling to contain a smile, so it had to be something good. Jessica unwrapped it carefully. It was a piece of crystallised honeycomb.

“Sam!” she squealed in delight. It was her favourite.

“I saw it on our way in and I remembered you liked it,” he grinned.

“I do! Here, have some.” She broke off a piece of the sticky, sugary bar and held it up to his mouth. Sam took it from her fingers, drawing her fingertips into his mouth and sucking the honey off them before he released her.

“Mm, sweet.” His grin – almost a leer – suggested he didn’t mean the honey.

Jessica faked a Marilyn Monroe pout, then took a bite for herself. It exploded with sweetness on her tongue. Perfection. “Thank you, Sam,” she smiled, her curiosity about his mysterious purchase forgotten.

While Sam drove the SUV, they shared the honeycomb; Jessica fed Sam one small piece at a time. They had one more stop to make: a gas station to keep their promise to Brady. It was a small gas station – just two pumps, side by side. Jessica waited in the SUV  while Sam filled the tank.

She licked honey off her fingers, idly watching the cars passing on the road. A blue van with a religious bumper sticker. A white truck. A green car with two children in the back. A black car with Kansas plates pulling in to fill at the other pump. A red car with a dog hanging its head out of the window. The driver of the black car glanced at her as he walked around to the pump, then looked again, giving her an appreciative smile. Jessica smiled back; he was a handsome man and a little harmless flirting cost her nothing.

She saw Sam appear in the gas station’s doorway. He stopped dead, staring…staring past her, not at her. Jessica turned, but all she could see behind her was the driver of the black car, now waiting while gasoline flowed into his tank.

Jessica rolled down her window quickly. “Sam, what’s wrong?”

He didn’t seem to hear her. Sam strode around the front of the SUV. For a confused moment, Jessica thought he’d seen her moment of flirtation with the driver and was pissed, though that would be out of character for Sam. Then she heard his voice, challenging.

“What the hell are you doing here?”

The driver grinned at him. “Hey, Sammy. How’s it hanging?”

So they knew each other? Jessica watched the exchange, not exactly reassured.

Sam did not look happy to see him. “What are you doing here?” he repeated.

“Looking for my little brother.”

“Why?” The word was flat, hostile.

Brother? This was Sam’s brother?

The man shrugged. “Dad’s on a job and he didn’t want me along. I remembered school’s out now, so I thought I’d swing by Palo Alto for a beer. Wasn’t hard to find out where you’d gone.”

Sam frowned. “Bullshit.” He added something Jessica didn’t quite catch. It sounded like, “Am I supposed to believe this is just a coincidence?”

Whatever Sam had said, it made his brother look at him sharply. “Something you want to tell me, Sammy?”

Jessica slid across the seat to the driver’s side and leaned out of the window. “Hey! Going to introduce me?”

Sam started, as if he’d forgotten she was there. “Uh…sorry. Jessica, this is my brother, Dean Winchester.”

She gave her best welcoming smile. “Hi, it’s good to meet you.”

Dean’s look in return was frankly appraising. His eyes met hers for the briefest possible moment, then dropped to her chest. “Hey. Any friend of Sammy’s…”

“Dude, quit hitting on my girl.”

Dean turned to Sam, then back to Jessica, then to Sam again. “She’s your girlfriend? Man, she’s way out of your league.”

Jessica figured he intended that as a compliment, but she wasn’t flattered by a man talking about her as if she wasn’t there. Two could play at that game. “I’m out of your league,” she corrected, “not Sam’s.” She smiled sweetly and beckoned to Sam.

Sam came to her with a grin, glanced at Dean and kissed Jessica, maybe a little more thoroughly than the exercise required. “We should go,” he said when he drew away from her.

She agreed. “Sam, if you want to spend time with your brother, it’s okay. Invite him. Claire won’t mind.” Jessica hesitated, reconsidering. “In fact, she’ll kick your ass if you don’t invite him.”

“I don’t know, Jess. My family isn’t…”

Dean interrupted. “I haven’t seen you for two years, Sam. I ain’t gonna crash your party, but can we at least have a beer?”

Sam looked uncomfortable, but he gave in. “Okay. Dean, why don’t you follow us back to the house? I’m sure you’ll love hanging out with a bunch of college kids.” His voice dripped sarcasm.

Dean either didn’t notice or chose to ignore the subtext to Sam’s words. “If they all look like Jessica here, I will! Thanks, Sammy.” He winked at Jessica. “Good to meet you, sweetheart.” Then, to Sam, “Go ahead. If you drive slow, I can catch up after I pay the man.”

***

Sam was quiet for the rest of the drive.

Jessica was afraid she’d done the wrong thing. She knew Sam hadn’t been happy to see his brother at first, but surely he would want to spend a little time with him. It was family, after all. Jessica came from a close family; if her parents or one of her brothers showed up unexpectedly she couldn’t imagine blowing them off after just a few words exchanged in a gas station.

Then she remembered Sam talking about living with fear. She remembered the odd scars on his body and realised there might be a good reason he so rarely talked about his past. If the fear he’d lived with was fear of his family… Jessica swallowed hard, not wanting that to be true.

But…no. Sam was a strong-willed man. He didn’t let anyone push him around. If he wanted to refuse her suggestion, he would have.

She had to ask. “Sam, don’t you want…?” she began.

“It’s okay, Jess,” Sam interrupted before she could finish. “Dean’s a good person. I just don’t think he’ll fit in with…us.”

“Is he dangerous?” she asked bluntly.

Sam turned to stare at her, for so long Jessica was afraid he’d forgotten he was driving. “Dangerous?” he repeated.

“Do I need to warn Claire?” Jessica said. “And please watch the road. You’re scaring me.”

Sam faced front again. “No,” he said after a long silence. “Dean’s rough around the edges but he’d never hurt an innocent.” He smiled suddenly. “He could be good for her. Is she still having trouble with Brady?”

“It was never really trouble, Sam.” Jessica sprang to their friend’s defence without thinking. “Brady just…”

“Had trouble taking no for an answer.”

“You make him sound like a stalker!” Jessica protested. Claire and Brady had been close friends since they first met. One day Brady decided – or perhaps admitted – that he wanted them to be more than friends. Claire wasn’t interested in him that way. For a little while it had been unpleasant, but that was before Christmas. They had rebuilt their friendship and things were okay between them now.

“No, he wasn’t that bad,” Sam admitted. “I was just going to say that if she wanted to make sure Brady got the hint, she could do worse than Dean. As long as it’s only casual.”

Jessica chuckled. “You’re suggesting I pimp your brother to my best friend?” she asked, just to be sure.

Sam laughed. “Hell no. If I know Dean, he won’t need that kind of help.” He turned the SUV into the open gateway.

Jessica glanced back as they turned off the road. Dean in his long, black car, was right behind them.

***

“Go ahead of us and find Claire,” Sam suggested.

“Good idea. I’ll just grab my new clothes.” Jessica opened the rear door of the SUV and found the bag containing Sam’s beer right on top of her newly purchased clothing. She sighed in exasperation. Boys.

She lifted the heavy bag and turned, intending to place it on the tarmac but Dean was there. With a gesture, he offered to take the bag from her so she gave it to him before retrieving the one she wanted.

Dean peered into the bag he held as Sam joined them. “Oh, no. Nothing’s going on here. Right, Sammy?”

Sam answered with an uncharacteristically curt, “Later,” and reached into the SUV for the rest of their purchases.

Jessica left them to it and hurried into the house. “Claire! Brady!” she called, but no one answered her. She hadn’t really expected it: they were probably outside enjoying the sun. She scampered up the stairs to put her new clothes away and changed into one of her new tops – a bright, sunny yellow. Vibrant colours brightened her mood and she picked up her sketch pad. Some drawing would be a good way to relax in the sun. She pulled out her art supplies and pondered the collection for a while. The setting suited watercolours or pastels but she decided to begin with charcoal. Charcoal was her comfort-zone and a few simple sketches would help her work up to a bigger challenge.

Sketch pad and charcoal in hand, Jessica ran down the stairs and through the house – pausing to let Sam know where she would be – and out onto the terrace. The wide stone terrace ran the full width of the house and had a brick barbeque built in at one end. Claire was there, an open sack of charcoal beside her.

“You’re back!” Claire smiled.

“And I brought a surprise,” Jessica grinned back. “We ran into Sam’s brother.” Without waiting to be asked, she set her sketch pad down and picked up the sack, upending it to pour chunks of charcoal into the barbeque.

Claire reached in, using her hands to spread it evenly. “Really? What’s he like?”

“My first impression: nothing like Sam. He hit on me within about ten seconds of seeing me.” She considered, then amended, “More like five. And, don’t tell Sam, but if I were single…” she grinned and fanned herself with one hand. “Come to momma!”

“So he’s hot,” Claire translated. “Is he staying?”

“Your house, your call. I came to ask you if it’s okay. We invited him for the day, but he came a long way to find Sam. If you’re okay with him staying…?”

“There’s loads of space, Jess. He’s welcome. But I guess I should meet him first, just to make sure he’s housetrained.” She gave her best fake-innocent look.

“Oh, of course.” Jessica laid the metal grille over the charcoal. “Is Brady around?”

Claire’s smile vanished. “We had a bit of a fight. He’s reading.” She said reading as if she strongly disapproved of the activity.

“Oh. Well, I wanted to give Sam some space. Would you sit for me?” Jessica reached for the sketch pad. She knew Claire wouldn’t mind. She’d posed for Jessica before.

“Sure. But first you’ve got to introduce me to Sam’s hot brother.”

It was unusual for Claire and Brady to fight, and Jessica wondered about that, but she thought Claire would tell her while she sketched. It did not take long to get the formalities out of the way. Claire met Dean and invited him to stay as long as he liked – just pick any bedroom not already occupied. He thanked her and said he’d love to stay, but only for a few days as he had to “get back”. They discussed plans for the evening barbeque and Sam asked Claire’s permission to explore the house. He added that Dean was really interested in old houses like this and would enjoy hearing some of its history. Jessica told him her plans to spend the afternoon sketching before Sam could try to apologise for wanting to spend time with Dean. Then they parted ways.

***

It felt good to have a sketch book in her hands again. If Jessica was feeling any residual tension after the scares of the previous day, they melted away as she blocked out her composition. Claire posed on the steps leading down from the terrace, beneath a magnolia tree. The shadows from the tree made interesting shapes across her face and the white Indian-cotton dress she wore. The cotton was so light the skirt billowed in the slightest breeze. Her dyed-auburn hair was cropped short and spiky and the bright sun caught the highlights dramatically. Jessica outlined Claire’s pose with a few quick strokes, then the steps. Next, she added just a suggestion of the house beyond as background before she selected a fresh piece of charcoal and started to add details.

“You play piano, don’t you?” Claire asked. She held her pose, but raised her face a little to catch the sun.

Jessica watched her for a moment, studying the way the light fell on her glossy hair. “Not very well,” she answered, hoping Claire wasn’t going to ask her to play. Jessica’s parents made her take music lessons as a child, but they had always been a chore. She appreciated music, she just didn’t much enjoy making it. There were a few pieces she could play from memory and she could make an adequate attempt at playing from sheet music, but she had no real talent for it.

“You know there’s a piano here?” Claire asked.

Jessica’s heart sank. “I saw it when we opened the house,” she agreed. It was a baby grand piano in one of the front-facing rooms.

“Have you used it at all since we’ve been here?” Claire asked.

Jessica laid down her charcoal to smudge in some shadows with her thumb. “No, I don’t really like to play. Why?”

“It was open,” Claire answered. Her voice sounded very odd.

Jessica waited, but Claire didn’t volunteer anything more. After a moment, Jessica went back to work on her portrait. She worked in silence for a while and slowly the image took shape on her page. She paused to study Claire’s expression and set the sketchbook down.

“Claire, what’s bothering you? Is it Brady?”

“No. Well…yes. In a way. Can I see?”

“I’m not finished.” Jessica picked up her sketch again, but didn’t resume drawing. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“You’re my best friend, Jess. Can I trust you to keep this to yourself?”

Jessica didn’t hesitate. “Of course.”

“I’m scared.”

“Of whom?” Jessica asked.

Claire laughed, but there was no humour in the sound. “Of me, I guess. Keep drawing, Jessica. It’ll be easier for me to tell you.”

Jessica picked up her charcoal. “Okay, sure.”

“I keep replaying what happened on the cliff. I saw someone there, Jess, I know I did. Except I couldn’t possibly have seen someone. And last night all that pounding on the walls kept me awake, but none of you even heard it. Jess, it was so loud!”

“It was a stressful day,” Jessica said carefully, though it hadn’t been until the accident on the cliff. She kept her eyes on the sketch because she could see where Claire was going with this.

“And today…” Claire hesitated, then plunged ahead, “I tried to get Brady to admit he heard something last night, but he wouldn’t. We had a real argument and I accused him of doing it to make me crazy. Oh, god, I didn’t really mean it. Anyway, he said he’d prove it wasn’t him and he made me go upstairs with him and we tried to recreate what I’d heard. And we couldn’t.”

That sounded like a sensible approach. Jessica nodded. “What did you do to recreate it?”

“You know, banged on the walls, on the ceiling. Tried different rooms to see what it sounded like from the attic. I don’t see how anyone could have made the noise I heard. Not without leaving dents all over the paintwork.”

“Well, there is one way,” Jessica pointed out. Maybe it was Claire’s lack of sleep, but she was missing something obvious.

Claire’s head jerked up. She’d been sitting still all the time Jessica was drawing, but now she broke her pose for the first time and scrambled closer. “What way?”

“A recording. It wouldn’t explain why no one else heard it, but if you recorded some loud pounding you could amplify the playback as much as you wanted.” As Jessica spoke, she realised she was effectively accusing Brady, which she hadn’t intended to do. She thought it more likely that Claire had a nightmare. And what she’d seen on the cliff path could have been a seagull or a shadow, as Claire had said herself, combined with her memory playing tricks. The incident had been very frightening for both of them.

Claire frowned. “Yes, that would explain it. But not the other thing.”

“You mean the cliff? But you said – ”

“Not the cliff. While Brady and I were up in the attic I kept hearing the piano. Just little snatches of music, but always the same tune.”

So this was why Claire asked about the piano. Jessica nodded, but made no comment.

“It wasn’t just me!” Claire went on, her speech becoming more rapid. “Brady heard it too, this time. We both knew we were alone in the house, so there was no one who could be playing. And when we went to investigate, we could tell from outside the door that it had to be the piano playing. But when we opened the door, there was no one there.”

“No one there, but the piano was open,” Jessica concluded. She shivered, despite the heat of the day. Could there be someone else in the house with them, unknown to them? It was a big house; an intruder would not find it difficult to hide. She remembered Sam saying if this is more Camp Crystal Lake than Hill House… But of course that was silly. No one was in danger…were they?

Jessica looked down at her finished portrait. While drawing, she concentrated on the light and shadow. Today, the sun was bright so the shadows were sharply delineated – hard lines and strong shadows. Her charcoal had captured a worried smile on Claire’s face. The girl’s pose looked slightly hunched; that was bad. Jessica smudged a few lines with her fingertip, trying to correct it.

“Jess,” Claire said in a small voice, “do you think I’m crazy?”

Usually, Jessica would have responded flippantly to that. She would have said, you’re the psych major, you tell me. But she’d been on that cliff path. She understood Claire’s fear. She had to say the right thing here, but she didn’t know what that was. Claire was usually so sensible. She analysed everything until she understood…

“No, you’re not crazy,” Jessica answered seriously. “Come on, Claire. You know this. What happened on the cliff, you explained it yourself. Memory and the brain filling in the gaps. You told us.”

“Maybe, but – ”

“The noise last night. Tell me what could explain that, psychologically speaking. It was the middle of the night, you were tired…” Jessica left it hanging, hoping like hell there was some psych thing that would fit.

“Hypnagogic hallucinations,” Claire said thoughtfully.

Thank god. “Hypno…what’s that?”

“Hypnagogic means sleep related. That state you’re in when you’re not asleep, but you’re not really awake, either. Sometimes people in that state experience vivid hallucinations. A little like a waking dream, but it can feel very real.”

“How rare is that?”

“It’s quite common.”

“So, could that be what happened to you? Why you heard those noises?”

“It’s never happened to me before,” Claire answered.

“But is it possible?”

“Oh, Jess, I don’t know. I’d have to look it up.” Claire looked happier, though, now she had a potentially logical explanation. “But what about the piano?”

Jessica was ready for the question. “Well, when we went through the house and packed up all the dust covers, we explored a lot of things. We opened cupboards and moved things around. Any of us might have opened the piano and forgotten about it. We haven’t used the room since, so we wouldn’t notice. I can’t explain why you heard piano music, but if Brady heard it too then it wasn’t an hallucination.” That was, in a way, more worrying, but Jessica didn’t pursue the issue.

Jessica turned the sketchbook around to show Claire. “Here. What do you think?”

Claire took the book. “Not bad,” she said slowly and then grinned. “But I thought you were drawing me.” It was an old joke. She looked closely at the picture. “May I keep it, or do you need it for your portfolio?”

“It’s not good enough for the portfolio.” Jessica took the sketchbook back and signed the picture before carefully extracting the page. “There. You can sell it on E-bay when I’m famous.”

***

Sam was right when he said Dean wouldn’t exactly fit in with the group. The biggest problem was the music. The only stereo was Brady’s and they had a fairly limited collection of CDs. Dean limited himself to making it clear he disliked the music at first, but after Brady put Brittney on repeat, Dean begged them to pick a radio station. But the radio wasn’t working. Claire insisted there had never been a problem at the house before, but there seemed to be interference on every station. Sam tried to hammer out a compromise on the music but it seemed impossible.

Jessica wanted to tell them both to quit. She didn’t really understand why music was so important to them. Was it a guy thing?

She left them arguing in the day room and went to get the barbeque food ready. It didn’t really take much preparation: slicing cheese, frying onions and opening jars mostly.

By the time they gathered for the barbeque, all the arguments were forgotten. There was something about cooking your own food over hot coals that made it impossible to stay pissed off. There was a lot of alcohol, too: Claire made margaritas, Dean drank whiskey straight and they all drank cold beer when the tequila ran low. They danced on the terrace, they joked and laughed and ate until they were stuffed.

“Last piece of chicken!” Jessica called. “Any takers?” She waited. “Going once!”

Brady waved his beer bottle. “Mine!”

Dean looked up. “Any steak left?” he asked.

Jessica checked. There was one piece left; it had been set aside because it was overdone. “It’s a bit burnt.”

Dean grinned. “Just how I like it.”

She thought he was a little crazy, but she dutifully carried the burned steak over to his plate. Dean grabbed the mustard, drowned the steak in it, took a large bite and thanked her with his mouth full. Jessica rejoined Sam on the bench and curled up against his side contentedly.

Claire reclined in a wooden chair with her head tilted back, staring at the full moon overhead. There was a half-finished bottle of beer dangling from her fingers. “Who’s telling the bedtime story tonight?” she asked.

Dean paused with his mouth full of steak. “Bedtime story?” he repeated. “Seriously?”

“It’s full moon,” Jessica observed. “I have a story, if you like.” She had been thinking about it, ever since they began the ghost story tradition. Jessica wasn’t good at scary stories, but there was one werewolf movie she really loved. She could tell part of that one, and the full moon night was the perfect night for it. Hers wasn’t scary. She thought they’d all had enough scary stories for one day.

“Go for it,” Sam encouraged her.

Jessica waited until the others agreed, then reached for her margarita glass. There was a little liquid left, which she swallowed before she licked the salt from the rim with a smile.

“There are wolves in the world,” she began, “that roam in packs, hunt in the forests and howl at the moon. Those wolves are hairy on the outside. But there are others, my grandma told me. The worst kind of wolves are hairy on the inside, and when they bite you they drag you with them to Hell.”

Jessica felt Sam shift position behind her; she had his attention. Dean sat up, too, leaning forward a little to listen to her. She was delighted to have their attention so completely. “Once upon a time,” she began, letting her voice fall into a storyteller’s cadence, slow and measured, “when the village was asleep, a she-wolf came from the world below to the world above. It was winter, and snow lay thick upon the ground. Candlelight and flame lit windows, but the she-wolf had the frosty street to herself as she roamed, from house to house.”

Jessica closed her eyes, picturing the scene from the movie. She couldn’t remember exactly how the story went, but that was okay. She could make up the parts she couldn’t recall. Her story was Rosaleen’s tale of the wounded wolf from Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves. The wolf was shot by one of the village men, though she threatened no one and meant no harm. She was wounded, but not killed, and fled in agony across the bridge toward the churchyard. She sought only sanctuary, but the moment her paws touched holy ground, she transformed into a woman.

“She was naked and wounded in the snow,” Jessica continued, “but in her human form she could reach the door. She could knock. And that is what she did, waking the old priest who lived in the rectory. You can imagine his shock to find a nude woman bleeding on his doorstep.”

“Bet he loved it,” Dean drawled and Claire laughed.

“He was a good man,” Jessica protested, smiling too.

“Then he definitely loved it,” Dean said promptly. Everyone broke up at that.

Jessica waited for the laughter to subside and then continued. “The priest didn’t know whether she was a creature of God or of the Devil. He suspected she had come from the World Below, but he took pity on her and bandaged her wound. He took her in and cared for her. Perhaps he loved her. Being a wolf inside, she could not speak, but he knew she was grateful for his care. And her wound did heal.”

She took a breath, letting her words hang in the moonlit night. “One night, she stumbled from the rectory into the winter night and found her way back to the World Below. She was just a girl after all, who had strayed from the path in the forest, and become what she found there.”

The story didn’t feel finished, but Jessica couldn’t remember any more of it. She added only the nursery rhyme that ended the story which she had memorised, speaking in a high, sweet voice:

Little girls, this seems to say
Never stop upon your way
Never trust a stranger friend
No one knows how it will end.
As you’re pretty, so be wise
Wolves may lurk in every guise
Now, as then, it’s simple truth:
Sweetest tongue hides sharpest tooth.

There was silence for a moment after Jessica finished. No one had interrupted her after Dean’s salacious comments. They always interrupted – with comments, encouragements, prompts. Jessica didn’t know if it was good or bad that they all just listened to her. Of course, her story was quite short.

Claire was the first to speak. “That was beautiful,” she said quietly.

“Pretty,” Dean agreed, “but real werewolves ain’t cute and cuddly.”

“Dean,” Sam said, and it sounded like a warning.

“It’s okay, Sam,” Jessica said quietly. She didn’t need him to defend her. Not about this, at least. It was only a story, after all, and Jessica knew how to deal with men like Dean.

She smiled at Dean, her best come-fuck-me smile because she knew him well enough by then to suspect that a girl he couldn’t have flirting with him would drive him crazy. “Dean, I’m pretty sure my story was fictional. Why don’t you tell us what werewolves are really like?”

“I don’t wanna give you nightmares, sweetheart,” he answered, meeting her eyes. His smile was slow and knowing, as if he’d already seen her naked.

Jessica caught her breath. Her body responded to that look with an involuntary tingle low and deep inside her.

“Dude!” Sam snapped. “Stop it.”

“She started it.” Dean leaned back in his chair and Jessica felt as if an invisible string between them had snapped.

“Alright,” Dean grinned. “You want to know about real werewolves?”

“Yeah,” Jessica agreed. She looked at Sam, expecting him to encourage Dean, but Sam looked troubled. He didn’t answer.

But Claire did. “Hell, yeah!”

Brady chimed in, too. “Can’t wait.”

Sam still offered no encouragement but it didn’t seem to matter to Dean. He reached for the whiskey bottle, poured himself a glass and knocked it back.

“Hairy on the inside,” he began, looking at Jessica. “I like that. Real werewolves change at the full moon, but not the way you think. Not like you see it in movies. It’s more a change right here.” He tapped his temple. “I guess everyone has,” he leered at Claire, then at Jess, “a bit of animal instinct. Werewolves at the full moon, that’s all they’ve got.”

“You’ve met a few of them, then?” Brady asked, getting into the spirit of it.

Dean shrugged. “Only three. The first was when I was sixteen and it’s not much of a story. Woods, fire, silver bullet. You know the drill. But the second one…that was much more fun.”

Jessica felt Sam tense and turned to look at him. He seemed almost scared. She wondered what on earth he thought his brother was going to say. She laid her hand on his thigh, leaning into his body. Sam hugged her close against him while they listened to Dean’s story.

The tale Dean spun was preposterous, but it was fun. Dean described himself and Sam – he called him Sammy – living in New Mexico with their father, where some mysterious murders terrified the local populace. Dean painted himself a teenage super-sleuth, who tracked down the werewolf all by himself and melted a silver dollar to tip his arrows. On the next full moon night, their father was away at work so Dean was obliged to let Sam accompany him into the wilderness in search of the monster. According to Dean, they found the beast, but Sam tripped over something in the darkness, warning it before Dean could kill it.

Everyone but Jessica laughed, turning to Sam. Sam couldn’t have looked more embarrassed if the story had been true. He glared at Dean, realised he was being watched and forced a smile, trying to look as if he were enjoying the joke. This part of the story was true, Jessica realised. Even if nothing else was, Dean was drawing on something that really happened.

“The damn thing was on Sammy faster than lightning,” Dean picked up his tale. “Last thing I needed was a werewolf for a brother. I mean, think of the housetraining.” He chuckled. “But I couldn’t get a decent aim while it was on top of him. And Sammy here was screamin’ like a girl, trying to get it off him…”

“I did not scream!” Sam interrupted hotly.

Dean simply grinned. “My story, my rules, Sammy.” He went on, ignoring Sam’s dark scowl. “Sammy was screaming, so I knew he was hurt. And I just got mad. Nobody hurts my little brother, you know? I quit looking for the perfect shot. I put an arrow in the bastard.” Dean gave a self-deprecating grin. “I was aiming for its ass, but I guess I was an inch or two low.” He demonstrated with a gesture.

Brady winced. “Ouch!”

“I got its attention, I can tell ya. The thing gave the loudest roar you’ve ever heard and leapt at me. And I got it with my second arrow. Right in its heart.”

Claire clapped her hands. “Oh, well done!”

Sam joined in her applause. “You’ve got a great imagination, Dean. You should write a book.” The words were right, but Sam’s tone was just a little sarcastic.

Jessica saw Dean acknowledge his words with a wink, and interrupted before either brother could speak again. “It was a great story, Dean, but I’m wiped out. I’m going to clear things up then go to bed.” She stood and began to collect their used plates.

Brady stood up to help her and between the two of them they carried the dirty plates and glasses into the kitchen. The empty bottles would wait. Jessica loaded the dishwasher while Brady handed her the crockery, one piece at a time.

“Did Claire tell you about the piano?” Brady asked her quietly.

“She told me you both heard it.”

“We did. I swear to god, Jess, it was real. But there was no one there. There couldn’t have been – it was at least an hour before you and Sam came back.”

Jessica closed the dishwasher and straightened up. A wave of dizziness came over her: she had been drinking a little too freely that night. She grabbed the edge of the dishwasher until it passed. Then she drew a deep breath and glared at Brady.

“Brady,” she said bluntly, “do you think this house is haunted?”

“Of course not! But something weird is – ”

“Then shut the hell up about this!” Jessica interrupted him. “It’s strange and I can’t explain all of it, but Claire’s freaked out enough. She nearly died on that cliff. Let it be. A few weird noises aren’t hurting anyone.”

Brady nodded, chastened. “Okay. I’m sorry, Jess.”

“It’s alright. Just think up some plausible explanation and tell Claire. Please?”

“I’ll try,” he promised.

***

“Come on, Sammy. Just a few hands of poker.” Through the window of the day room, Jessica saw Dean shuffling a pack of cards restlessly.

“I don’t play poker any more,” Sam insisted. He placed an odd stress on the word poker.

“Sam – ” Dean started to argue.

“No,” Sam answered firmly. “Dean, I’m on vacation. With my girlfriend. I’m going to bed. I’m sure you can figure out why.”

Jessica was gratified he was so determined, but Sam was being strangely intense about it. She walked through the French door, revealing her presence to both brothers.

“Ready, Sam?” she asked brightly.

Sam offered her his hand and, when she took it, drew her in against his side possessively. “I’m ready.”

She smiled at Dean. “Well, goodnight, Dean. Do you need anything else?”

Dean laid his deck of cards on top of his whiskey glass. “I’m good, sweetheart,” he said. “You kids have fun, now.”

Jessica happily allowed Sam to lead her away.

As they climbed the stairs, Jessica said casually, “Dean tells a good story.”

Sam snorted. “He always was a good liar. Dean didn’t do half of what he claims.”

Jessica laughed. “Well, I didn’t think he really shot a werewolf with a silver arrow. Was some of that story true?”

“Parts of it,” Sam admitted. “There were some strange murders while we were living in New Mexico. The victims were Mexicans, illegals, I guess, so no one really cared. I don’t think it was ever solved.” He sighed. “And the last part was sort of true,” he admitted reluctantly. “It wasn’t a werewolf, it was a dog. Attack trained…one of those half-wolf breeds, I think. And Dean did save my life. With Dad’s shotgun, not a silver arrow.” He rubbed his back. “I still have the scar.”

“Oh.” Jessica remembered when he mentioned it: Sam had a ragged, curved scar just above his right hip. That was from a dog attack? “Then he’s very brave,” she said quietly.

“He is,” Sam agreed simply. He opened the bedroom door for her.

Inside their room, Sam grabbed her and kissed her thoroughly. Jessica wrapped her arms around his neck and returned his kiss, her tongue sliding over his. When they finally broke apart she was breathless and Sam was smiling a little smugly. He knew what his kiss could do to her.

“What do you make of Dean?” Sam asked, still holding her.

That seemed like a loaded question. “He seems…nice,” she answered carefully.

“Jess.”

Jessica moved toward the bed, taking Sam’s hands in hers and pulling him with her. She sat down on the bed and looked up at him. “You’re jealous,” she said, making it a statement, not a question, “because I was flirting with him.”

Sam nodded. “My whole life, Jess, if we wanted the same girl, he always won. And not just because he’s older.”

That simple statement revealed a lot about their relationship, Jessica realised. She answered seriously, looking into his eyes. “Sam, I’m a one man woman. I promise you that. Dean is attractive, sure, but I’m with you. I flirted with him because he knows I’m taken. It was harmless fun. Nothing else.”

Sam bent down and kissed her. “You’re beautiful,” he whispered against her lips.

Then he began to back away, slowly, toward the big four-poster bed. He slid his hands under her shirt and pulled it off over her head as they moved, slowly, toward the bed. Jessica undid Sam’s belt, but her fingers struggled a little with the button of his jeans. Sam opened it for her and kissed her shoulder before he slid the strap of her bra down. By the time they reached the bed, there was a trail of discarded clothing on the floor. Jessica rested her hands on Sam’s broad shoulders and climbed onto the bed, straddling his thighs. She felt the head of his penis press against her as she leaned in to kiss him again. Sam groaned into her kiss and she drew back to let him speak.

“I thought we were gonna take it slow,” he said with a grin.

“We’ve got all night,” she pointed out, and went back to kissing him. Sam was a good kisser. She liked that about him. A lot of good looking guys were lousy at kissing, as if they thought their looks were enough, they didn’t need to show a girl a good time, too. But Sam kissed like he meant it. He kissed like he couldn’t bear to stop, like she was oxygen. He made her feel special.

Sam mumbled something against her mouth and fell backward onto the bed, pulling her with him. Jessica laughed as they fell together. The mattress springs bounced with the impact of their bodies. Jessica rolled to the side and went for the bedside drawer, where the condoms were stashed.

When Sam realised what she was doing, he moved with her, cuddling up to her back. “Are you sure you’re ready?”

“I’ve been ready,” she answered, pausing to tear a condom packet with her teeth, “all damn day.” She extracted the condom and pushed Sam onto his back. She leaned over him, curling her fingers around the base of his penis. Sam drew in his breath sharply when she touched him there. His reaction made her want to do more. She wanted him inside her. She was itching for it, knowing how amazing he could make her feel. But she shoved her own desire down for a few moments. She smiled at Sam, who was lying back, waiting patiently for her to do as she pleased with him. She shifted down the bed to get a more comfortable position and then bent over to take him into her mouth.

“Jess,” Sam groaned, “god, Jess…”

She felt his hand on her hair, gently guiding her, showing her what would feel good to him. She drew her lips up his shaft, slowly, creating suction. Sam’s hand flexed in her hair; his hips jerked and he cried out. It made Jessica hesitate, but his hand in her curls relaxed, stroked her gently so she went on, drawing him as deeply into her throat as she could without gagging. She loved the feel of him in her mouth, warm and firm. She loved the taste and smell of him. Most of all, she loved how obviously he was enjoying it. But it didn’t take long for her jaw to start aching. She raised her head reluctantly. She would get better with practice, maybe. She looked up at Sam.

He gazed back at her, a look of fierce desire and unspoken love. He began to sit up, but Jessica pushed him back down. No more distractions, she promised herself. The condom was still in her hand. She smiled, licked her lips, and began to roll it onto him.

Chapter Text

Jessica woke in darkness with adrenaline flooding her brain. She sat up in the bed, shoving the sheet aside and getting her legs tangled in it before she truly knew she was awake. She fought the sheet as if it intended to harm her, crying out in panic. She had no idea what had woken her, but the adrenaline rush left her terrified.

Sam was already out of bed. He came to her, seeing her struggle, and grasped her shoulders firmly. “Jess! Calm down.”

Somehow, the sound of her name brought Jessica back to awareness of herself. She stopped fighting and looked into Sam’s worried eyes. The room was dark but moonlight streamed through the window and his eyes glittered in its silver light.

“What’s happening?” she asked.

“I don’t know yet.” Sam offered Jessica her satin robe. “Put this on, Jess. Just in case.”

In case of what? she wondered, but she took the robe from him. Sam was already wearing sweat pants. When did he have time to dress? They had both been nude in bed.

Sam headed toward the door, pulling a t-shirt on over his head as he crossed the room. Jessica had an irrational impulse to beg him not to leave her alone, but Sam stopped at the door. He laid one hand flat on the door and leaned close, as if listening.

The sound, when it came, was deafening. A huge BOOM echoed through the house. It seemed to shake the very walls.

Jessica stifled a scream. Was that gunfire? Surely not.

Sam raised his hand, signalling her to stay where she was.

BOOM!

It wasn’t gunfire. It was too resonant for that, but Jessica had no idea what she was hearing. She was still sitting on the bed, tangled in the sheet with her robe across her lap. She pulled the robe on quickly and tied the sash around her waist.

BOOM!

The sound was closer. Jessica was sure it was closer.

“Sam, what is that?” she asked. Her voice came out high and scared. She hated that.

“I don’t know.” Sam still had his ear pressed to the door. His fingers strayed to the handle but he didn’t open it.

She needed light. Jessica leaned across the bed, groped for the bedside lamp and clicked it on. She saw Sam jump as light filled the room. He was as edgy as she felt.

“Jess, my phone. Toss it to me!” Sam ordered.

Jessica obeyed him automatically. She rolled over to his side of the bed, grabbed his Blackberry and threw it. Sam caught the phone one-handed, hit two keys and held it to his ear.

BOOM! BOOM!

It sounded right above them now. Jessica looked up but she was still on the bed so all she could see was the brocade canopy. She scrambled up, finally getting free of the tangled sheet, and ran toward Sam.

He gestured sharply. "No! Stay there. Dean? Where are you?" Sam nodded, evidently in response to his brother on the phone. "Okay." He paused again, listening. "So far, no." Then he ended the call and shoved the Blackberry into the pocket of his sweats. He began to walk to Jessica.

BOOM!

Jessica jumped and stared at the ceiling. She expected to see chunks of plaster falling. The ceiling was white, smooth and unmarked.

“Sam, what is it?” she asked again, panic lacing her voice.

Sam took her into his arms. He held her close for a moment and Jessica felt comforted. He drew back, kissed her forehead and looked into her face. “Jess, you look scared to death. What do you think it is?” He sounded faintly amused.

Jessica drew a breath to answer defensively but then closed her mouth firmly. What could she say? What was she thinking?

Sam glanced over his shoulder as another BOOM! shook the room. “I think you’re letting the ghost stories get to you. I don’t know what this is, but I know there’s a logical explanation.”

“Like what?” she demanded, disbelieving.

“I don’t know, but I’ll take a guess. This is an old house. It’s been renovated and modernised, but I’ll bet the old systems are still in place. Old pipes with rotten joints…”

“Pipes? You’re nuts.”

“Have you ever lived in a house this old?”

He had a point. “Well, no, but – ”

“Then trust me, Jess.” Sam turned to the door as someone knocked loudly. “It’s okay. Just wait.” Sam released her and went to the door. “Dean?” he called, his hand on the lock.

Dean’s voice came clearly through the door. “Zeppelin Rules!”

Sam unlocked the door with a grin. It opened and Dean walked in with Claire at his side. Dean was fully dressed as if he’d never gone to bed. Claire had come from her bed: she wore a cropped pink nightshirt and panties, nothing else. Her hair was mussed from sleep. Her face was white: she looked very scared.

Jessica held out her arms to her friend and Claire ran to her. They held each other tightly.

BOOM!

Claire squealed.

“It’s okay,” Jessica lied automatically.

“You stayin’?” Dean demanded curtly, looking at Sam.

Jessica looked up in time to see Sam turn to her, his expression torn. She could see he wanted to go with Dean, so she nodded. “It’s okay,” she lied again.

“Stay in this room,” he instructed.

Jessica nodded without really paying attention. She had no plans to leave. Sam met her eyes once more before he left, closing the door behind him. Jessica didn’t lock the door; she saw no reason to.

“Is this what you heard last night?” she asked Claire.

“Yes! God, you can hear it?”

“This time we can,” Jessica confirmed. “Let’s sit down.” She looked up at the ceiling, but it remained smooth and blank. No noise came.

They sat down on the bed together. Jessica couldn’t think of anything comforting to say. She wished she could believe Sam’s explanation of the sound, but she didn’t. Something rattling around in the disused pipes couldn’t be this loud. Sam said, Trust me, Jess and she wanted to. She did trust him…but her heart told her he was wrong about this.

If Sam’s theory was wrong, though, what better explanation was there?

You’re taking the ghost stories too seriously.

Except Sam had told them about this on their first night here: his story of a girl tormented by…by a spirit that kept everyone awake at nights by pounding on the walls. A poltergeist. Jessica caught her breath. No. That was ridiculous. It was impossible.

Someone knocked on the door. “It’s Brady!” he called.

Jessica ran to the door, checked that her robe was properly closed, and opened the door. She forced a cheerful smile onto her face. “Hey. Having trouble sleeping?”

“Oh, ha-ha.” he said sarcastically. He slouched against the door frame and his black robe fell open, revealing nothing but boxer shorts beneath. Well…not nothing. Brady himself was plenty. Another night, Jessica might have commented on it.

“Are you girls okay?” Brady asked.

“It takes more than a bit of noise to scare us!” Jessica declared bravely. She stood back from the door, inviting him in.

“Is Claire…?” Brady began.

Claire came to the door. “I’m okay,” she assured him.

Brady looked at her, his eyes taking in her nightshirt and what was beneath it. Jessica saw his eyes gleam appreciatively and she wanted to punch him. There was a time and a place for that and this wasn’t it.

“You girls want to have a pillow fight?” he suggested with an exaggerated leer.

“Screw you, Brady,” Jessica responded pleasantly. Then it dawned on her that the noise seemed to have stopped. “Wait,” she instructed, listening.

“It’s over,” Claire whispered hopefully.

“Maybe,” Jessica agreed warily. How long had it been since the last…?

It interrupted her thought: not that deep BOOM! this time, but a rapid series of raps like metal on wood. It seemed to begin some distance away, but came closer. It was coming for them!

More than anything in that moment, Jessica wanted to slam the bedroom door closed, lock it and maybe hide under the bed. Her fear was instinctive and irrational but very real. Her heart pounded. Her mouth went dry. Her breathing became irregular. Her hand tensed on the door…but Brady remained on the wrong side of the door. How could she slam the door in his face?

Jessica backed away from the door. Claire gripped her hand, breathing rapidly as if she’d been running. Brady looked around, seeking the source of the sound.

It stopped once more, just before the invisible…thing…reached the place where they stood.

“Oh,” Claire moaned, “please stop. Please let’s go!”

“Go? Go where?” Jessica asked.

“Downstairs,” Brady answered decisively. “All the noise is coming from above us. Let’s go down to the kitchen. It’ll be quieter there and we can make coffee or hot chocolate.”

Jessica hesitated. Sam told them to wait in the room. But Brady was right, wasn’t he? Downstairs would be better.

While Jessica vacillated, Claire decided for her. “I’ve got to get out of here. Let’s go, Jess.” Claire moved toward Brady, still clutching Jessica’s hand. Jessica had little choice but to follow her.

They were almost at the bottom of the stairs when it happened.

Jessica and Claire were walking hand-in-hand, going quickly down the wide staircase. The light was on in the hall below them, so Jessica could see clearly where they were going. Brady followed several steps behind them. Jessica didn’t know what happened. Brady was not close enough to have pushed Claire, yet Claire didn’t seem to trip. She was just suddenly moving forward, screaming, her fingers wrenched from Jessica’s hold. Claire flew toward the front door, airborne for what seemed like an unnaturally long time. She crashed into the floor, the impact cut off her scream but her momentum kept her moving. She slid across the floorboards until her body hit the wall beside the front door and lay still.

In the silence that followed, Jessica stood petrified. She literally could not move.

“Claire!” Brady shouted. He bounded down the stairs, shoving Jessica out of his way. Jessica didn’t think he even realised he’d done it. She lost her balance when he shoved her and grabbed the banister for support. It broke her paralysis and she stumbled down the last few steps to see what had become of her friend.

***

“Can you tell me what happened, Miss…?”

“Moore,” Jessica supplied. She met the doctor’s eyes unhappily. “The short version is she fell down the stairs.”

The doctor was a plump woman with kind eyes, the kind of eyes that must make her some kid’s favourite aunt. But those eyes held steel as she heard Jessica’s words. “And the long version?” 

“We had been drinking,” Jessica admitted. “We all went to bed, but something woke us up. Some noise…air in the pipes, I guess.” Without thinking about it, she’d latched onto Sam’s explanation even though she didn’t truly believe it. At least it sounded logical. “Since we couldn’t sleep, we decided to make coffee. Claire was holding my hand as we went down the stairs. I don’t know how, but she just went flying.”

“Did anyone push her, Miss Moore?”

“No! The only one close enough was me and I wouldn’t do that! Claire’s my best friend!”

In her mind, Jessica saw the scene again. Claire lay crumpled on the polished wood floor, Brady kneeling beside her, repeating her name over and over. He was trying to roll her onto her back when Sam and Dean appeared. Brady called for a light; Jessica hadn’t understood, since the lights were on already, but Dean gave him a flashlight. He’d shone the light into Claire’s eyes and announced they needed to call 911.

Dean objected instantly. “That’ll take too long. I can drive faster than an ambulance can get here. Sam?”

The discussion was brief, and it ended with Sam and Dean taking Claire to the ER in Dean’s car. Jessica and Brady followed once they were both dressed. Jessica was sure the doctors must have questioned Sam and Dean before she and Brady arrived, but they hadn’t seen the accident. She had, so she was the one facing the doctor’s interrogation.

“I’m sorry, Miss Moore, but I have to ask. Claire’s injuries suggest some impact on her back. As if she were pushed or hit with something heavy and solid. She’s badly bruised.”

Jessica shook her head firmly. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I was there. I’ve told you what happened. No one hit her or pushed her. She didn’t jump. It was an accident.”

“There are bruises on her arms, too. They look older.”

Jessica knew what the doctor was thinking: it was there in her voice. She thought Claire was an abuse victim. “She had an accident on the cliffs two days ago. The bruises are from that.”

“Does she have these accidents a lot?”

Jessica frowned. “Not usually. I guess…in the past few days it seems that way.”

“I’ll order a CT and echo, make sure there’s nothing more serious going on.”

“Can we see her, Doctor?”

The doctor nodded, apparently accepting her story at last. “You can see her,” she conceded, “but one at a time. Claire needs to rest.”

Jessica went in first. Claire lay in the hospital bed, weak and pale. Her left arm was in a sling – the shoulder had been dislocated in the fall – and there was dried blood matted in her hair from where she had hit her head. But she was awake. She was alive. It could have been much worse. Claire tried to smile for Jessica, tried to speak, but Jessica quickly realised it was too much effort for her. She kissed Claire on her cheek, told her to get better soon, and left the room.

Jessica leaned back against the wall outside Claire’s room, and felt her tears begin to flow. Now she no longer had that horrible pounding haunting her, now Claire was safe and no longer needed Jessica to be strong, something inside Jessica broke. She couldn’t breathe. Her eyes felt hot. Her knees buckled.

Sam’s strong arms caught her as she fell. His arms enfolded her. Everything Jessica had been holding inside swelled up in her chest and spilled out, but her cry was muffled against Sam’s broad chest. Jessica felt his hand stroking her back as he held her close. Sam was a rock. She felt his strength as she never had before. Not just physical. He was the support she needed in that moment and she knew, somehow, that he could stand against this storm. Whatever she threw at him, he could take it. She could let go.

Jessica had no idea how long Sam held her while she cried. She never knew who else was there, if Dean or Brady witnessed her breakdown. She didn’t know, or care who saw them. She needed that time so badly nothing else mattered.

Minutes or hours later Sam moved. He kissed her hair. He whispered something she didn’t hear. Gently, he led her down the corridor to a waiting area where they could sit. Sam sat beside her, but instead of putting an arm around her shoulders he drew her down into his lap. Jessica lifted her legs up onto the seat, curling up with Sam’s solid thighs as a pillow. She felt drained. Exhausted.

Sam stroked her hair gently. “It’s alright, my love. Claire’s going to be fine and I won’t let anything hurt you. Sleep now, baby.”

Jessica warmed to his words. Too tired to reply, she closed her eyes.

***

Jessica knew she must have slept, because Dean’s voice woke her.

“Hell if I know,” he said, and Jessica could hear the irritation in his tone. She felt Sam’s fingers combing through her hair. She kept her eyes closed, hoping to fall asleep again.

“So, what now?” Sam asked, keeping his voice low.

“We need to get everyone out of that house,” Dean asserted. “Make something up if we have to.”

“We don’t know for sure that this is…” Sam began.

“I know for sure that girl didn’t fall,” Dean insisted. “Why’d they leave the room anyway? The one place they were safe!”

In the silence that followed, Jessica processed Dean’s words enough to grasp his meaning, but she didn’t understand. What made the bedroom any different from the rest of the house?

“I don’t know,” Sam answered eventually. “I’ll have to ask Jess…if I can figure out how.”

Dean gave a derisive snort. “She’s a sweet girl, Sammy, but you know that ain’t gonna last, don’t you? She’s got no idea who you really are.”

Jessica could feel the sudden tension in Sam’s body. She was wide awake now, but kept her eyes closed, avidly listening to the confusing conversation. She felt guilty for eavesdropping, but she couldn’t bring herself to let them know she was awake. She sensed this was something Sam would never tell her about himself.

“You leave her out of this!” Sam hissed angrily. “This is not some nowhere town. Jess is not some chick I’ll ditch the second Dad’s ready to move on. This is my life now. If you do something to fuck it up for me, Dean, I swear to god, we are done.”

“Whoa, Sammy. What the hell?”

“What you and Dad do,” Sam went on, biting off each word, “is nothing to do with me any more. I’m done with it. I’m done with being afraid all the time. I’m done with watching Dad leave and never knowing if this is the night he won’t come back. That’s not who I am.”

There was a tense silence. “When you left,” Dean said eventually, “you told me you were just going to college. You said you’d be back.”

“That was my plan. Before Dad told me never to come back.”

“He was angry, Sam. You know he didn’t mean it.”

“Maybe he did, Dean. Most fathers, their son gets accepted to Stanford, they’d be proud. They don’t beat on you and kick you out with nothing but the clothes on your back. I thought about that after I left and…I miss you, Dean. But I don’t miss that life.”

“We used to be a team,” Dean objected. “You abandoned us – ”

“For a chance to get out for good.” Sam’s voice changed. “You should too, Dean. Get out before – ”

“I’m not gonna leave Dad when he needs me,” Dean said with finality.

What was their father? Jessica wondered. The way Sam was talking…was he some kind of criminal?

“I’m gonna call him,” Dean announced.

“God, Dean, no! We don’t even know for sure – ”

“I’m damn sure,” Dean growled, “and if you weren’t so out of shape you would be, too.”

Sam shifted a little. Jessica, still trying to pretend she was sleeping, sighed and moved with him.

“Say you’re right, Dean. Getting out of the house isn’t going to help.”

“Of course it’ll – ”

“Who’s out of shape? Think about it Dean. Claire fell the other day on the cliff. She fell – supposedly fell – tonight. Last night she was the only one who heard the noise we all heard tonight. If this something, it’s about her.”

“What do you know about her?” Dean asked thoughtfully.

“Nothing that would explain this.”

“Then I guess I’ll talk to her. She likes me.” Dean stood; Jessica heard the chair scrape on the tiled floor. “I need more caffeine. You want anything?”

“No. You don’t have to wait with us, Dean.”

“Yeah. I do.”

Silence fell and Jessica assumed Dean was gone, though she hadn’t heard him walk away. She heard Sam sigh heavily. His fingers stroked her cheek. “Jess,” he said, quietly urging. “Jess, wake up.”

Jessica turned her face into his touch and opened her eyes with relief. She truly was tired. Sam helped her to sit up and she yawned. Her body felt stiff and bruised.

“Hey, sleepyhead.”

“Hi,” she answered.

“The doc just went into Claire’s room on rounds. If she’s okay, we can take her home.”

Jessica came awake more quickly. “Rounds? How long was I asleep?”

“It’s nearly eleven.”

She was shocked. She’d slept far longer than she thought. “Where is everyone?”

“Brady’s in Claire’s room. He’s been with her ever since you left. Dean’s getting coffee.”

Jessica arched her back, feeling her bones pop. She groaned. “You make a nice pillow, Sam, but don’t let me sleep like that again. I feel awful.” She reached out to him, touching his unshaven cheek. “Did you get any sleep?”

Sam smiled. “No, but I’m used to it. All those nights in the library. As long as I sleep tonight I’m good.”

Jessica nodded, taking him at his word. “I’d better go and see Claire.”

***

The doctor agreed to discharge Claire as long as she promised not to dive off any more staircases. Claire promised. It took hours to get all the insurance sorted out and paperwork signed, and of course Claire had to call her father and assure him she was okay and that her friends would take care of her. Jessica wondered if Claire would want to go back to the house, but Claire wouldn’t hear of going anywhere else. She had her arm in a sling and was ever so slightly high on the pain meds, but she put on a brave face, insisted that it was a silly accident and they were all idiots if they let a few weird noises spook them.

It was a long drive back to the house and by the time they got there everyone was hungry. Jessica and Sam pulled together a meal by throwing whatever they could find in with pasta and a hastily-made tomato sauce. Jessica enjoyed cooking and she was pretty good at throwing together an “emergency” menu, so the meal wasn’t a disaster.

They ate around the kitchen table as usual, and talked about what they were going to do the next day. Travis, Adrianne, Matt and maybe some others were arriving the next day for the weekend, so there would be some preparation to do. Brady had already set up his improvised volleyball court on the lawn. Sam announced he wanted to try to get online with his laptop to check the weather forecast: there was no broadband or wi-fi but he thought he could use his Blackberry as a modem to do some research.

Jessica left the clearing up to the others and followed Sam to their room. She was still debating whether she should ask him about his conversation with Dean at the hospital, but she wanted a private moment with him regardless because she’d already decided she needed to spend the rest of the evening with Claire.

Sam reached for the bedroom door, but something on the carpet caught Jessica’s attention and she stopped him.

“Sam, what on earth is that?” She knelt down without waiting for an answer and touched the white stuff with her fingertips.

“Salt,” Sam said flatly.

Jessica brought a little of the stuff to her mouth and tasted it cautiously. “You’re right. But why is it here?” She stood up, meeting Sam’s eyes. Since he’d identified it so quickly…did Sam do this?

Sam didn’t quite meet her eyes. “Uh…it’s white. Easy to see in the dark.”

Jessica frowned. “You’re not making sense, Sam.”

“Last night, when I left with Dean, he did that so he’d know which room you were in. You know, just in case.”

In case of what? she should have asked, but what she blurted out was, “When you said Dean wouldn’t fit in I didn’t think you meant he’s crazy.”

“He’s not crazy! Just a bit…different. Look, it made sense last night, Jess. Things were a bit tense so I didn’t argue with him.” He turned the handle and pushed the door open. “Shall we go inside?”

“Sure.” She stepped over the salt line and Sam followed her into the room. “But do me a favour and clean it up before Claire sees it. There’s a vacuum cleaner in the closet at the end of the hall. Okay?”

“No problem,” Sam answered with his back to her. He was pulling his laptop case out of the closet. He unzipped it, checked the contents quickly, then straightened, lifting the strap to his shoulder.

“Sam…whatever you want to do with the computer will take a while, won’t it?”

“I guess an hour or two. Depends how much trouble I have getting a signal. Why?”

“Because I think Claire and I need some girl time tonight. Can you, Brady and Dean find, I don’t know, guy-stuff to do for a while?”

“All night?”

“Maybe. At least until about ten.”

Sam smiled. “I’m sure we’ll think of something.”

They headed back downstairs and Jessica told the boys they were on their own for the evening. When she used the same phrase she had with Sam – do “guy-stuff” for a few hours – Dean looked at her, a predictable gleam in his eye.

“Guy stuff ought to involve a girl-sized cake. I’ll bet you – ”

Jessica interrupted before he could take that thought to its obvious conclusion. “Dean, if you want to bake a cake, go right ahead. Kitchen’s got everything you need. But we don’t have a tin that big. Claire, are you ready?”

They escaped and headed up to Claire’s attic bedroom together. Calling it the attic made it sound like a dusty room full of cobwebs, but the attic wasn’t like that at all. A narrow staircase led to three rooms. The ceilings were lower than rooms in the main house and the oddly sloping walls made it evident that this was the roof of the house. It was also considerably colder up here than on the main floor, but other than that they were normal rooms. The first was a bathroom with an old-fashioned claw-footed bathtub but no shower. The second was a children’s playroom with all kinds of toys and shelves full of children’s books. The third room was Claire’s bedroom.

Jessica could tell that this was a much-loved room. The rest of the house felt a little like a hotel: the rooms were well-cared-for, clean, tidy and luxurious. This room was someone’s home: Claire’s home. The walls were painted pink and there were bright panels where posters had kept the paint from fading. Along one wall were built-in closets with an alcove for the window; the queen-sized bed was tucked into the alcove. There were still signs of the child who once lived there: stickers on the closet doors, a few stuffed toys. But mostly it was an adult’s room now: Claire’s clothing was folded on a chair, her hair products and makeup were on the vanity. And, of course, Claire’s ever-present magazines – Cosmo and Psychologies.

“I like it,” Jessica smiled.

“I spent more time here than at home when I was little,” Claire said. “Mom was sick so often…”

Jessica nodded. She picked up a teddy bear and sat down with the bear in her lap. “Are you sure you want to sleep in here tonight?”

Claire sat down on the bed. “What am I going to do? Just pick a different room?”

“Why not?”

“It wouldn’t feel right. I mean, this is my place.”

“I’m not sure you should be up here alone,” Jessica began uncertainly.

Claire smiled. “Dean already made that offer. But I don’t think I’m in much shape for it.” She indicated the sling on her arm.

Jessica wondered when Dean had time to invite himself into Claire’s bed. It was a good idea, though. Claire shouldn’t sleep alone, and Dean knew she was injured, so he would be careful with her.

“Do you want him?” she asked with a suggestive smile.

“You said it, Jess. Come to Momma. But…wouldn’t it be weird?”

“Weird how?”

“I mean, you’re with Sam and Dean’s his brother…”

Jessica laughed. “That’s no weirder than me dating Zack last year. Claire, Dean’s only here for a few days. If you want to have a good time with him, you should go for it.” She gave her friend a knowing look. “If he’s half as good as Sam, you really should.”

“Well…maybe.”

Jessica set the teddy bear down. “Well, come on. Let’s make you irresistible.”

It took a little more persuasion, but Claire agreed to Jessica’s plan. While Claire took a bath, Jessica ran down to her room for her hairdryer and cosmetics. She settled Claire in front of the vanity mirror in her robe and styled her hair for her. Claire’s short, spiky hair didn’t need much work, just blow-drying to give it volume and wax for texture. She painted Claire’s toenails first, then her fingernails with a pretty peach shade.

While the nail polish was drying, Jessica went through Claire’s makeup.

“I don’t need makeup,” Claire protested.

“No,” Jessica agreed, selecting eyeshadow colours, “you don’t. But I promised you’d be irresistible.” She picked up a brush. “You don’t need any base, and we’ll leave your lashes alone because that’ll look terrible in the morning. But just a little.”

Jessica gave Claire a hint of blush and enough eyeshadow to give her eyes a subtle depth. Then she searched through her own case for a lip gloss.

“This one,” she decided, giving it to Claire. It was cherry-flavoured, perfect for kissing, with just a little sparkle.

Jessica selected Claire’s clothing as well: a tight, dark green wrap-around top with no bra because Claire didn’t really need one and it would hurt her less to dress and undress. A short skirt, bare legs and flat gladiator sandals.

She stood back, assessing her work. “There. You’re beautiful.”

Claire examined herself in the mirror. “Except for this sling,” she agreed mournfully.

“He won’t even notice,” Jessica promised. “Come on. Let’s go and join the boys.”

Chapter Text

“That’s…unbelievable,” Adrianne said. She reached up and caught the football, tossed it back to Travis and yelled, “Cut that out! Jess is working here!” She settled back into her pose as if nothing had happened.

“Unbelievable is the right word,” Jessica agreed, smudging the pastel colours with her fingertips. The sketch started as an excuse to talk to Adrianne privately while the others played, but it was shaping up well. She’d never drawn Adrianne before. Adrianne was African-American and she’d put her hair into cornrows since the semester ended. Red and silver beads sparkled on the ends of each braid. It was a challenge to capture in pastels.

“Well, don’t stop there!” Adrianne urged. “What else has happened?”

“Nothing weird since we got back from the hospital, thank God.” Jessica set down the red ochre and selected a blue pastel to sketch in the sky. “It sounds crazy, I know – ”

“No, it doesn’t,” Adrianne interrupted. “It sounds like the house is haunted.” She said the words calmly, as if it was perfectly normal.

Jessica stared. “Addie, you don’t really believe…”

“In ghosts? Sure I do. Why not?”

Baffled, Jessica couldn’t think of a thing to say. She considered herself a practical person. Oh, she wasn’t above crossing her fingers for luck or reading her horoscope in a magazine, but she wasn’t superstitious. She attended church because her parents did but it didn’t bother her to miss a week and she didn’t think much about God the other six days of the week. And she didn’t believe in ghosts or ghouls or anything else like that.

Adrianne laughed. “Honestly, Jess, I never knew you were such a sceptic. How else do you explain the story you just told me?”

“I don’t know, Addie. There’s not one thing that doesn’t have a logical explanation. It’s just when you put it all together it seems a bit weird.”

“Exactly. Open your mind a little, Jess.” She shook her head, making the braids swing. “Maybe we could do a séance! We can contact the spirit, find out what’s causing this.”

“Are you crazy?” Jessica demanded. “After everything Claire has been through I don’t want to encourage…”

“I said open your mind. You’re talking like you think Claire is sick. Delusional. But you told the story like you believe it, too. So which is it, Jess?”

Jessica picked up her sketch book again and concentrated on the drawing while she considered the question. Adrianne’s dark skin was lovely to sketch. She would enjoy painting Adrianne in oil, a romantic image, maybe: Addie in a long dress sitting on a farm gate. That would be way off Adrianne’s personality, but it would make a lovely painting.

Jessica bit her lip and looked up. “I don’t think Claire imagined it because we all heard the noise. And I do think there’s something strange here. But I don’t believe in ghosts, Addie. I just don’t.”

“You’re afraid that if we try a séance, that belief will be challenged.” It wasn’t Adrianne who spoke.

Jessica whirled around to see Claire watching them from a short distance away. She had stopped wearing the sling, but her arm wasn’t healed enough for her to play ball with the others. How much had she heard?

“I’m right, aren’t I?” Claire pressed.

Claire’s accusation was logical, and that was good. Claire’s analytical side could be annoying but it was also her greatest strength.

Jessica nodded slowly. “Come and sit down, Claire.” She set her sketch pad down, the drawing only half-finished. Adrianne moved a little closer and Claire sat between them, so they could talk quietly.

“Ghosts and poltergeists are fun in movies,” Jessica began, “but in real life? Not so much.” She looked at her friends, hoping they could understand how serious she was. “So, yes, I’m afraid of that. But I’m more afraid of someone manipulating the situation.”

Adrianne frowned. “What do you mean?”

“You haven’t been here, Addie.” Jessica flipped her sketch pad closed and hesitated, not sure how to articulate what she was thinking. “Okay. Here’s what I know. There are three possible explanations for this. One: it’s something paranormal. You both know I don’t believe that, but for the sake of argument let’s assume it could be a ghost and it would respond to a séance. That’s option one.” She realised she was babbling and shut up.

“Okay…?” Claire agreed as Adrianne nodded.

“Option two: all that noise was caused by something…normal. Like air in the pipes, and the rest is just our imagination. Claire is just super-clumsy this week. The piano music was the radio. We’re just seeing a pattern where there’s only coincidence. That could be it, right?” She looked at Claire for confirmation.

Claire nodded slowly. “People have a natural tendency to assign purpose to random events. Some psychologists think that’s the origin of religion, like people thinking God sent an earthquake to punish a city. And the brain is programmed to find patterns in what we see and feel; otherwise we wouldn’t have language or maths or music. So we hear a strange sound and the brain decodes it as a voice, and the rational mind then imbues that voice with intelligence.” Claire shrugged. “I think. It’s not really my area.”

Jessica wasn’t sure she understood everything Claire said, but she was relieved Claire seemed to be agreeing with her. “Okay. So if we were to hold a séance, and nothing happened, that would prove option two. Do you agree?”

“So far, yes,” Adrianne answered.

Claire agreed.

“The one that really scares me is option three. And please, I’m not accusing anyone, okay? I know how this will sound, but I’m not.”

“We believe you, Jess,” Adrianne said.

“Option three: someone is responsible for all or part of this. Because there’s just too much going on here and there’s one coincidence too many I can’t get out of my head.”

“What?”

“Sam’s ghost story the first night we spent here. Addie, when we first arrived here, there was a big thunderstorm and we were kidding around, saying the house looked haunted. That night, we were in the day room and someone said we needed a ghost story.”

“It was Brady,” Claire volunteered.

“And Sam told us one. It was a true story, he said, about a girl haunted by a poltergeist.”

“Can you remember the story?” Adrianne asked.

Jessica tried. “Um…it was in Nova Scotia…this girl, Esther…”

“Oh, that one,” Adrianne interrupted. “The Great Amherst Mystery. It’s a famous story.” She grinned. “I had no idea Sam was into parapsychology.”

“But the story came first, Addie. And then it started happening here.”

Comprehension dawned on her face. “Oh. I see where you’re going. But that’s a hell of a practical joke, Jess.”

“I know. I don’t believe any of us would do that and I can’t for the life of me figure out how any of us could have. But I feel like there’s some…intelligence behind this.”

“So you’re afraid that, if one of the five of you is somehow behind it, they could manipulate a séance, too,” Adrianne concluded.

“Exactly.”

“Then we won’t tell anyone what we’re going to do,” Adrianne decided. “Just the three of us…you trust us, don’t you?”

Jessica was about to say yes – it was true – when Claire spoke first.

“Addie,” Claire asked, “do you really think it’s a good idea? I mean, if this is a ghost, I don’t want to, you know, piss it off.”

“I think we’ll be okay. Do you want to?”

Jessica looked at Claire, hoping she would say no. But Claire nodded. “Okay. Jess?”

Jessica sighed. “Alright. Just us three.”

***

There were nine of them at the house for the weekend. Adrianne, Kathy, Travis and Matt had joined Jessica, Claire, Sam, Brady and Dean. With so many people around, it was both easier to talk privately and paradoxically harder to sneak away for a clandestine meeting.

After Jessica put her sketchbook and pastels away she, Adrianne and Claire joined the others in the garden and put Brady’s volleyball court to good use. It was a hot day but the breeze from the ocean helped and they all enjoyed the game. Even Dean joined in, to even up the numbers since Claire couldn’t play, and he turned out to be damn good.

When she got tired of refereeing the game, Claire disappeared into the house and returned with a tray of iced lemonade for everyone. It was very welcome, and broke up the game. While Brady and Travis continued to throw a football to each other, apparently incapable of sitting still even in the heat, Jessica took her lemonade and flopped down on the grass beside Sam. She was worn out, panting and sweaty, her t-shirt clinging to her skin. She sipped her cold lemonade, waiting for her breathing to steady a little.

All of the crazy stuff seemed very far away. Jessica felt relaxed and happy. Sam leaned close, kissed her bare shoulder and asked if she needed help with her sunscreen.

Jessica smiled back and turned her head to kiss his lips. She felt Sam’s fingers brush back a stray lock of her hair. Her body warmed in a new way and she leaned closer to him as they kissed, the sunscreen forgotten.

A loud trill interrupted them. Jessica drew back, looking for the source of the sound: it was a cell phone, but whose? Sam glanced over at the shirt Dean had discarded during the volleyball game. His phone sat on top of the rumpled shirt. Sam called Dean’s name as he reached for the phone.

Dean ran toward them and Sam threw the still-ringing phone to him. Dean caught the phone and answered it without looking at the display.

“Hello? … Hey, Dad. How’s it going?”

Sam was beside her again and because they were touching Jessica felt him tense up at Dean’s words. She reached for his hand and squeezed it gently. She didn’t need to know the details to understand that Sam didn’t want to hear from his father.

“Yes, sir,” Dean said in a voice that didn’t sound like him at all. He looked at Sam, his expression clearly asking a question.

“No,” Sam answered firmly.

Dean shrugged and began to walk away from them toward the house. Jessica heard his side of the conversation: “I’m working a job … California … No, I was on my way … ” Then he was out of hearing range.

Sam was still squeezing Jessica’s hand.

“Is everything okay, Sam?” she asked, concerned by his reaction.

Sam looked unhappy. “As long as he doesn’t say anything that’ll bring Dad here,” he answered grimly.

“You really hate your Dad, huh?”

Sam looked surprised. “He’s my Dad. I don’t hate him. But he’s a control freak and I do hate the life he lives. When I left for college he told me, ‘If you walk out that door, don’t come back.’ So I walked out the door and hell if I’m ever goin’ back.”

He spoke so bluntly Jessica felt as if he’d punched her in the gut. She stared at him, speechless. Finally, words came, but meaningless words, useless words. “Oh, god. Sam, I didn’t know…”

He laid one finger gently on her lips. “I don’t talk about my family, Jess. It’s better that way.”

She understood that this was all he would share today. One day, perhaps, he would explain further, but not today. Jessica didn’t push. She simply kissed him again. “In that case, we won’t have to argue about you spending Thanksgiving with my folks this year.”

***

Jessica folded back the bed covers, careful not to disturb Sam. Like most men, he tended to sleep deeply after sex, but he stirred as she climbed out of the bed.

“Jess?” Sam mumbled.

“I just need to pee,” she whispered. “Go back to sleep.” She waited for a reply, groping in the darkness for her robe, but Sam didn’t speak again. She wondered if he’d even really woken up. Jessica belted her robe and padded barefoot across to the door. She opened it as quietly as she could and closed the door behind her.

As she crossed the entrance hall, she saw there was a light on in the day room. She thought about going to turn it off – surely no one could still be up – but she was already late so she ignored it. She found Claire and Adrianne already waiting in the music room. They had decided to hold their séance here because one of the supernatural incidents happened here: the piano music. The overhead light was on so the room didn’t look remotely spooky.

“So, what do we do?” Jessica asked uncertainly. “You didn’t pack a Ouija board, did you?”

Adrianne went over to a round table near the window and began to drag it into the middle of the room. “We can use this,” she said. “I don’t have one of those boards, but I know how to improvise something similar. We’ll need a glass. A wine glass or something with a stem. And some candles.”

Claire said, “I’ll get them.” She hurried out of the room.

“Are candles really necessary?” Jessica objected. “I don’t really want to add to the spooky atmosphere.”

“It’s not for atmosphere, Jess. If this works…sometimes the electric lights go out.”

This was sounding better and better. “What do you mean, sometimes? Do you do this a lot?”

Adrianne smiled as she slid the protective glass off the table. “I don’t. My aunt is a medium. I’ve sat in on her sessions since I was little, but I don’t have the gift.”

The first reply that came into Jessica’s mind would have lost her a friend, so she bit her tongue. She had agreed to do this; she would behave herself.

The table was polished mahogany, a circular table topped with a sheet of glass to protect the wood. Adrianne produced slips of paper she had cut up and printed with letters and numbers. She arranged these around the edge of the table: the letters A to Z and numbers 1 through 9. There was also a YES and a NO which she placed near the centre. Then they replaced the glass cover. They placed three chairs around the table. They lit the candles and placed them on the piano, though with the overhead light on they did seem redundant.

When they were all seated, Adrianne placed the wine glass upside-down in the centre of the table.

“Here’s what we do,” Adrianne said quietly. “First, I think we should hold hands and sit quietly for a moment. I am going to pray, but you don’t have to. Just do as feels right to you. Then we each place one finger on the wine glass.” She demonstrated, touching the edge of the glass base with her right index finger. “Just rest lightly on the edge, no pressure. I will begin, and if the spirit wants to communicate the glass will move. At that point, we can all ask questions, but keep it simple and focus on one thing at a time. Are you ready?”

“Ready,” Jessica answered.

“Yes,” Claire agreed.

They joined hands. Adrianne closed her eyes and bowed her head. The beads in her hair clicked together as the braids swung forward. After a moment, Claire copied her.

The house was very quiet and as Jessica felt her friends’ warm hands in hers the atmosphere in the room seemed to change. Although the overhead light was strong, the shadows in the room seemed to deepen, the silence became somehow even more silent. Adrianne’s hand was steady, but Claire seemed nervous, her palm damp. There was a feeling of expectation…and of fear. In spite of her scepticism, Jessica felt that fear, too. Claire was right: she wasn’t afraid of ghosts; she was afraid because if this worked it would force her to rethink everything she believed.

Adrianne had said she would pray. Jessica bowed her head and closed her eyes. She didn’t really know how to pray, except the ritual words she knew from church services. She said the words of the Lord’s Prayer, silently, not sure if it was the right thing to do. She was pretty sure her pastor would tell her a séance counted as witchcraft or something.

“Let’s begin,” Adrianne said softly. She let go of Jessica’s hand and reached out with her right hand to touch the upturned wine glass.

Jessica took a deep breath and followed her lead. Her stomach fluttered with anticipation. She met Claire’s eyes across the table as she released her hand and Claire gave her a shaky smile.

“I am speaking to the spirit that dwells within this house,” Adrianne announced. Her tone was soft, cautious but persuasive, the kind of voice cops use to talk a jumper off a ledge. “We want to communicate with you. Are you there?”

Jessica found she was holding her breath. The silence felt thick and heavy. If the glass moved then, Jessica thought she might scream. But nothing happened.

“Are you there?” Adrianne asked again.

Jessica looked from Claire to Adrianne, seeing the same mixture of fear and expectation in their faces she was sure they could see in hers. She shivered, suddenly cold. The overhead light flickered.

Adrianne gasped, but she recovered quickly. “We are here to listen,” she said, still in that careful, soft voice. “Please, are you there?”

At first, Jessica thought it was her own hand shaking, but she heard the rattle of the glass on the table top. Claire drew in a sharp breath. Her fingers jerked, as if she was about to pull her hand back, but she didn’t let go of the wine glass. The next movement was unmistakeable. The glass slid slowly across the table top.

Jessica looked at her friends to see which of them was doing it. They were both doing the same thing – staring at each other questioningly. She could see the fright in their faces. None of them was moving the glass.

“Addie?” Claire squeaked.

The wine glass stopped moving directly over the word YES.

“It’s okay, Claire,” Adrianne said softly. “Thank you for speaking to us. We want to know who you are. Can you tell us your name?”

This time, when the glass began to move Jessica pressed down with her finger, trying to stop it. She couldn’t. The glass moved, slowly but inexorably toward the edge of the table. Toward Claire. Jessica watched, dry-mouthed, as it came to a stop over a letter.

“X,” Claire said.

They waited, but the glass stayed where it was.

X. Cute. A ghost with a sense of humour.

“Are you the spirit that played the piano here three days ago?” Adrianne asked.

The glass moved again. It was faster this time, gliding back to rest upon YES.

“Did you wake us all two nights ago?” Claire asked. “Was it you banging on the walls?”

“One question at a time, Claire,” Adrianne reminded her.

The glass slid off YES and then returned to the same spot.

“Do you…do you need something from us?” Claire tried.

The glass moved to NO.

“Then why?”

F – U – N

Fun. Jessica felt the first spark of anger. “Fun?” she repeated. “Putting Claire in the hospital was fun for you?”

YES

“Oh, my god…” Claire moaned.

The overhead light flickered off. A second later it came back on, but not as bright.

“Can you tell – ” Adrianne began.

“Wait, Addie,” Jessica interrupted her. “I’ve got a question.”

Adrianne nodded, watching Jessica warily.

Jessica took a deep breath, willing Claire to stay calm. “Are you the reason Claire fell on the cliff path, too?”

YES

“Why?” Claire gasped.

Jessica reached across with her free hand to touch Claire’s shoulder, trying to reassure her.

The glass moved again.

M – I – N

It gained speed with each letter.

E – T – O

Jessica was about to put an end to the séance when the door burst open and all three of them instinctively jumped back from the table.

“What are you doing?” Sam demanded. He strode into the room, his face like thunder. He stared at the improvised Ouija board, his eyes suddenly wide.

No one was touching it now, but the glass still moved, jerking rapidly from one letter to the next.

L – M – I – N – E – T – O – K – I – L – L – M – I – N – E – T – O – K – I – L – L

The glass exploded.

Sam grabbed Jessica, pulling her against his body and turning them both as a hundred fragments of glass flew outward in a circle. Probably Sam meant to shield her, but he didn’t move fast enough and flying glass ripped into her robe and cut her skin. She heard Claire and Adrianne scream and knew they were hurt, too. She clung to Sam, trying to hold her own scream inside. He held her tight against him.

“Quiet!” Sam snapped.

Everyone tried to obey. Jessica was sure everyone could hear her own heart pounding. She could tell herself someone had been pushing that glass around, but there was no way anyone in the room made it explode like that. Claire’s breathing was very loud, rapid pants that sounded very close to panic. Adrianne seemed okay, but her eyes were very wide.

Sam studied the table. “Who’s idea was this?” he demanded. “Addie?”

Adrianne nodded.

“Did you use protection? Salt? Caraway? Something?”

Adrianne reached up to her neck and drew a pendant on a black cord from beneath her t-shirt.

Sam shook his head. “That’s only good against witchcraft,” he said with real contempt in his voice. “But if you know enough to wear that you should know better than to open yourself to evil like this!”

“Now wait a minute – ” Adrianne began indignantly.

“Please tell me you didn’t just join hands in the dark and say Is anybody there?

“Sam?” Jessica began, not knowing what she wanted to ask him. This wasn’t the Sam she knew.

He looked down at her and some of the anger left his face. “Alright. I’m sorry. It’s just this is so dangerous…you don’t understand what might have happened here.” He touched her arm. “You’re bleeding.”

She looked. “The glass,” she said.

“I’ll get the first aid supplies. I want you to go up to our room. All of you.”

“But – ” Adrianne began.

“Please, Addie. Jess. Just this once don’t argue with me. Wait for me in the bedroom.”

Jessica remembered Dean had said their room was the only safe place. She still didn’t understand that, but she could go along with it for now. She looked at her friends. “Let’s go,” she suggested.

Chapter Text

Jessica started to hurt when they reached the bedroom. She didn’t know why she hadn’t felt it before (adrenaline, maybe?) but suddenly the small cuts on her arms and shoulders hurt like hell. She pulled off the robe to get a better look at the damage.

“Are you both okay?” she asked unsuccessfully craning to look at her back.

Claire was staring out of the window into the darkness beyond, hugging herself tightly. “It said mine to kill. Didn’t it?”

Jessica knew it did, but she wouldn’t frighten Claire any further. “It was going too fast,” she lied. “I couldn’t tell.” She turned to Adrianne, silently begging her to say the same thing.

Adrianne nodded. “I’m not sure what it said at the end,” she said.

“You’re both lying,” Claire asserted.

Sam knocked on the door, called, “It’s Sam,” and opened it without waiting for a response. He walked in carrying the box of first aid supplies, followed by Dean who was fully dressed and apparently in the middle of an argument with Sam.

“…EMF in that room was off the scale. At least off my scale.” He waved something that looked like an old Walkman. “You know we – ”

“Sam, what’s going on?” Jessica demanded, interrupting.

Sam set down the first aid box and then took Jessica’s hands in his. “I’ll tell you everything I can, Jess, but you need to let me look at those cuts. Okay?”

Jessica nodded and allowed Sam to lead her across to the bed.

“Dean, check out Claire and Adrianne,” Sam instructed.

It didn’t take long. Sam found seven cuts on Jessica’s back and arms. None of the were deep enough to require stitches. He pulled glass fragments from two of the cuts, cleaned all of them with antiseptic then covered them with band-aids, while Dean did the same for Claire.

“What’s EMF?” Jessica asked as Sam finished.

“Electro-motive force,” Dean answered, taping down a band-aid on Claire’s shoulder. “You find it near generators or transformers. Power lines sometimes. But it also shows up when some kinds of supernatural activity happen.” He nodded to the Walkman on the floor. “That’s a home-made EMF meter.”

“And you used that downstairs?” Jessica guessed.

“Yep. I got a high reading.”

“What does that mean? And why do you even have that thing? What the hell is happening here?” She took a deep breath, and then remembered something else. “And why did Sam insist we all come to this room? What’s wrong with the kitchen or day room?”

Dean patted Claire’s shoulder. “All done.” He turned to Adrianne, ignoring Jessica’s barrage of questions. “Your turn.”

Claire moved to sit on the floor near the window while Adrianne took her place kneeling in front of Dean. Jessica saw Dean glance at Sam, silently asking a question.

Sam nodded. “Let’s all sit down,” he suggested, and sat on the carpet next to Claire. Jessica joined him but did not sit close enough to cuddle as she usually did. She wanted to be able to concentrate.

“Before I answer Jess’ questions – and I will, Jess, I promise – I need to know exactly what happened downstairs. Adrianne, you were leading the séance, weren’t you?”

She nodded. “I addressed the spirit dwelling within this house. I know better than to open myself up to everything.”

“Okay, good. Can you tell me what happened? I’m guessing a spirit made contact.”

Adrianne explained what happened and the questions they’d been able to ask before Sam interrupted and the glass went wild. Her voice shook as she talked about the last words the glass spelled out for them: Mine To Kill.

The brothers exchanged a long look when she was done. “Your call, Sammy,” Dean said.

“Okay.” Sam took a deep breath. “What I’m about to tell you, I hope I can trust you to keep to yourselves. This is very private and I don’t want everyone at Stanford to know.” He didn’t wait for them to agree, but went on talking. “Jess, the reason I know about these things is because I’ve always known about them. My family…Dean and my Dad are specialists in the supernatural.”

Adrianne looked at Dean with new interest. “You’re a psychic?”

Dean made a disgusted face. “God, no! I’m a hunter.”

“What’s a hunter?”

“What it sounds like. We hunt and kill supernatural creatures. Evil. Like the poltergeist you’ve got here.”

Adrianne glanced at Claire before returning her gaze to Dean. “You’re sure this is a poltergeist? Like the movie?”

He scowled. “That movie’s a pile of horseshit.”

“But, if we can just find out what it wants…”

Dean made an impatient gesture. “It wants to scare the shit out of you. It wants to hurt you. You ever seen a cat playing with a mouse before it kills it? In this picture, you ain’t the cat.”

Jessica fought an urge to move away. Dean’s growing anger was scary.

“You could have gotten seriously hurt tonight. You’re playin’ with something you can’t possibly – ”

“Dean,” Sam said sharply.

Dean subsided.

Sam turned to Adrianne. “Addie, it’s not a ghost. A ghost used to be a person. Sometimes ghosts can be reached and reasoned with. But a poltergeist is different. They’re dangerous and Dean’s right: you can’t appease it or talk to it. We need to get rid of it.”

“You know how to do that?” Claire asked eagerly.

Dean nodded. “I’ve done it before.”

Jessica listened to the exchange, but she barely heard the words. She was remembering all the things Sam had said to her over the past few days.

“It’s only a story, Jess.”

“If this is more Camp Crystal Lake than Hill House…”

“If it’s someone’s idea of a joke, it’s not funny.”

“He always was a good liar. Dean didn’t do half of what he claims.”

“Jess, I think you’re letting the ghost stories get to you. I don’t know what this is, but I know there’s a logical explanation.”

Sam, who are you?

She had been so scared over the past few days, and Sam had known all along what was happening. She remembered his claim that Dean put salt in front of their door “because it’s white.” Liar.

Jessica got to her feet and walked away from the group. Behind her, she heard Claire ask, “So how do we kill this poltergeist?”

Jessica headed for the bureau and opened drawers, selecting clean clothing: plain white panties, a bra, a blue t-shirt with a floral print.

Sam came up behind her. “Jess,” he began.

She rounded on him before he could come any closer. “Don’t touch me!” she snapped, surprising herself with the venom in her voice.

He took a step back. Jessica could see the shock and hurt on his face, but she was too angry to care.

“Jess, what…?”

“You lied to me, you son of a bitch! All the time we’ve been here, you lied to me.” She stalked past him, picked up her jeans and sandals and with the clothing bunched in her arms she headed for the door.

Sam hurried after her. “Jess, wait. Don’t go out there!” He raised a hand to stop her.

Jessica simply looked at him. Don’t you dare try to stop me! If he touched her now, she was going to knee him in the balls. Hard.

Sam let his hand drop.

Jessica opened the door and slammed it behind her.

She dressed in the bathroom and left her bloody robe and nightshirt there, rolled up into a ball on the floor. She stared at herself in the mirror and noticed her eyes were red from tears. She hadn’t been aware of crying. Jessica wiped her eyes and splashed cold water on her face. Finally she squared her shoulders and headed downstairs to the kitchen.

It was too early to think of making breakfast, but Jessica needed to work. She needed a task to occupy her, something that would take concentration so she wouldn’t think about Sam, or exploding wine glasses or betrayal. Drawing would be good, in fact that was exactly what she needed, but her art supplies were back in the bedroom. So she decided she needed to cook.

First, Jessica made a pot of coffee. While that was percolating, she turned the oven on and went through the cupboards to figure out what she could bake.

This was good. Pulling recipes out of her memory, weighing ingredients, laying out everything she would need in neat rows on the table…all of it kept her thoughts on the task and nothing else. She would bake muffins. Lots and lots of muffins. With everything she’d found, she could make six different kinds from the same base mixture.

“Isn’t it a bit early for baking?”

Jessica jumped and the mixing bowl slipped from her arms. She dropped the balloon whisk just as the falling bowl hit the edge of the table and managed to catch it before it fell to the floor. She retrieved her whisk from the floor and looked up at the man who had startled her.

“Jesus, Brady!”

He held up two hands in surrender. Brady was wearing the same clothing he had been when they went to bed and his blonde hair looked very rumpled. “Sorry, Jess. I thought you heard me come in.” He walked toward her as he spoke. “Hey, what’s wrong?”

Fresh tears stung her eyes at his concerned tone. “Nothing,” she lied. “It doesn’t matter.” She turned around to wash the whisk under the tap.

“Of course it matters!” Brady protested. “Did you and Sam have a fight?”

Still with her back to him, Jessica wiped her eyes. She nodded miserably.

More seriously, Brady asked, “Did he hurt you, Jess?”

He broke my heart. Jessica nodded again, turned to face Brady, saw his expression and realised what his question had meant. She hurriedly corrected herself. “Oh, no! Not like that. We just…I think we’re broken up.”

Brady’s expression changed to sympathy. “Aw, Jessie, don’t say that. I never saw a couple more perfect for each other.”

A perfect lie, she thought, but allowed Brady to hug her comfortingly.

“You’ll work it out, whatever it is,” Brady assured her, patting her back.

When he released her, Jessica looked up into his face. “Brady, what are you doing here?”

He tilted his head to one side and rubbed his neck. “I fell asleep,” he said, a little sheepishly. “I was reading in the day room after everyone went to bed. Guess it was a boring book. I woke up with a hell of a crick in my neck and I heard…well, you I suppose.” He saw the steaming coffee pot and went to pour himself a mugful. “Do you want to talk about it?” he offered with a smile.

What could she say? That her boyfriend knew everything about ghosts and poltergeists but pretended to be a sceptic like her? How would that sound?

“Not really.” Jessica picked up her mixing bowl again and began to whisk.

“Want me to kick his ass for you?”

She managed a laugh. “No, that’s okay. But thanks for offering.”

Brady grinned crookedly. “That’s a relief. Sam’s bigger than me and I think he boxes. Can I help you here, then?”

She raised her eyebrows and gave him a sidelong look. “You cook?”

“I don’t have your culinary talent,” he shrugged. “But my BLT is to die for.”

Jessica considered. “Finish your coffee first. I’ll think of something you can’t screw up too badly.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Brady drank his coffee.

***

By 6am Jessica had enough muffins to start her own bakesale cooling on wire racks, freshly made bread rolls in the bread maker and a bowl of pancake batter ready to go at the first sign of a hoard of hungry students.

In spite of the two pots of coffee she and Brady had shared while baking, Jessica felt exhausted. Brady had been good company; Jessica was no longer crying and no longer wanted to brain Sam with a mixing bowl. But she wasn’t going to forgive him easily.

Brady persuaded her she needed rest, but Jessica wasn’t going back to the bedroom until she knew for sure Sam wasn’t there. She wasn’t ready to face him yet. She didn’t know which of the other bedrooms was empty. So she went into the day room and curled up on the couch. Brady offered to stay with her but Jessica, pointedly wrinkling her nose, told him to go and take a shower. He wisely left her alone.

Jessica closed her eyes while she lay there but if she slept at all it was fitfully, and not for long. The sun was already up when she lay down but she watched through the French doors as the light changed from the deep blue of early morning to a hazy yellow as the sun rose higher in the sky.

She didn’t move until she heard someone crossing the hall and entering the day room. She sat up, looking toward the door. It was Dean.

“Are you alright?” he asked gently.

For some reason, his kindness pissed her off. “Go away,” she said childishly.

Dean ignored her words. He crossed the room to the easy chair beside the couch and sat down. “I’ll go. I’m on my way out. But I want to talk to you first.”

“Did Sam send you to talk to me?”

“Not since eighth grade. Why are you so pissed at him? He was trying to protect you.”

Jessica drew up her feet onto the couch, hugging her knees against her chest. “I don’t need that kind of protection. I’m not a child.”

Dean shook his head. “You don’t know what you’re dealin’ with…”

“That’s the point!” Jessica interrupted him. “Damn it, Sam didn’t just lie. He deliberately misled me, made me think everything was fine when he knew we were in danger. Every time we talked about what was going on here, every time he could have told me the truth he lied or distracted me or deflected my questions. And I’m the one dealing with it!” She should have been saying these things to Sam, but he wasn’t here and now she couldn’t stop. “So don’t you dare defend him, Dean. I don’t know what I’m dealing with? Even if that’s true, either one of you could have fixed that by telling me the truth. But you didn’t. Is it because I’m a girl, or just because I’m not in your fucking club?”

Dean was silent for a moment, taking in her words. “Jess, do you know anyone who’s in the military? Maybe someone in your family who’s seen action?”

She frowned; the question seemed so out of left field. “Um…my great grandfather was at Pearl Harbour.”

“Nothing more recent than that?”

“I don’t think so. Why?”

“No wonder you’re Sammy’s perfect woman,” Dean muttered, then he met her eyes. “Our Dad was a marine in ’Nam. He came home in one piece. He met our mom and got married a few years after the war. He started his own business. Had kids – me and Sammy. Then something killed our Mom.” Dean’s face twisted with pain.

Jessica’s stomach flipped over slowly. She’d known some of this, but it was like hearing it for the first time. Hearing the story instead of the facts.

“Dad was like you: he didn’t know about any of the scary stuff out there until it was too late. When our Mom died, he started seeing danger everywhere, and he wasn’t wrong. Paranoid, yes, but the kind that’s justified. He fell back on his marine training to keep us – his kids – safe. Most military people would – you’d understand if you knew any vets, but I guess you don’t. Dad went into the fight and me and Sammy, we were trained for the same war. Right or wrong, that’s the life we had. Sammy hated it. He wanted out more’n anything.”

“He told me,” Jessica said quietly.

“For two years, I’ve barely heard from him. Sammy wanted a normal life. And I wanted that for him, so I’ve left him alone. But when this poltergeist showed up, Sammy did what any good soldier does. He fell back on his training. That’s why he didn’t tell you the truth, because rule number one in our family is don’t tell.”

“You don’t think people have a right to know when they’re in danger?” Jessica flared.

“You don’t have to agree with it, Jess. I only want you to understand it.” Dean leaned forward, looking into her eyes.

This was important to him. Jessica wondered why, but it didn’t matter. It didn’t change what Sam did. She shook her head. “He let me think I was imagining…”

“Because if he’d been able to take care of it quietly,” Dean interrupted impatiently, “you would have been much happier if you never knew the truth.”

Was he right? Jessica tried to imagine how she would feel about this if Claire had never fallen on the stairs. If there had been no séance and no exploding glass. But she couldn’t imagine it. It happened, and her whole perception of the world had changed.

“Do you love him, Jess?”

Tears filled her eyes again, betraying her. Damn it! “Yes,” she whispered.

Dean nodded. “Good. ‘Cause I’ve got a job for you.”

Screw you. And your lying brother! “Me?”

“I need to leave. I’ll be back,” he added quickly, “but I need to pick some things up.”

“What can I do? I’m no ghost hunter.”

Dean reached for her hand. “My Dad gave me a job to do when I was four. Watch out for Sammy.” He smiled. “I tried. All my life, I’ve looked out for him. But I’ll be gone for a while. So, watch out for Sammy. Please?”

It sounded like a joke, but Dean’s eyes were so sincere Jessica couldn’t laugh. She nodded seriously. “Okay.”

“Thank you,” Dean said, just as seriously. He squeezed her hand and left her alone. She heard the front door open and close and a few moments later, the rumble of his car engine and the heavy bass beat of his music as he drove away.

***

Jessica returned to the kitchen, selected two of the muffins and hid them away in the cupboard so there would be some left for Dean when he returned.

Then she made more coffee.

***

She was on her second cup and beginning to feel a little too caffeinated when the others began appearing for breakfast. Travis and Matt were first, which was good for Jessica. She got to make pancakes and talk about baseball and their plans for a day of fun.

Though the combination of fatigue and the false-energy of too much coffee felt weird as hell, by the time Sam appeared with Claire and Adrianne, Jessica felt calm. She was ready.

She had promised Dean she would look out for Sam. He must have some reason for asking. He’d made it sound very significant. If this poltergeist was somehow a greater danger to Sam than the rest of them, Jessica had to do as Dean asked. But that didn’t make sense! If it was that important, if there was some danger Sam couldn’t handle, Dean would never have left.

Jessica couldn’t make herself smile, but she kept her voice friendly. “Pancakes, Sam?”

He smiled at her, the smile she loved, and there was relief in that smile as if he thought her offer meant all the lies were forgiven. “Pancakes would be incredible,” he said.

Jessica swallowed back a bitter reply only because she didn’t want to fight with him in front of all their friends. She served him pancakes and went on with her conversation with Travis.

The others weren’t finished with breakfast when Claire and Adrianne dragged Jessica away for “a talk”. The three girls headed out to the terrace where they could sit and talk in privacy. Jessica knew they wouldn’t be alone for long, and she was bursting with questions, so as soon as they were outside, she began.

“Claire, what happened last night? Where did you and Addie sleep?”

Claire seemed surprised. “We slept in my room. Dean made it safe.”

Jessica had a vision of Dean sitting on the attic stairs all night with a shotgun across his lap, watching for ghosts all night while the girls slept. She thought that unlikely, though. “Safe, how?” she asked.

“He put salt on my windows and across the doorway. He said that would keep the spirit out.” Claire gave a shrug. “It’s really peculiar but Dean seems to know what he’s talking about.”

“He’s convincing, true enough,” Jessica said resentfully.

Claire slid across the bench to wrap her arm around Jessica’s shoulders. “What’s wrong, Jess? Why did you walk out last night?”

She pulled away from Claire’s attempt to comfort her. “Why didn’t you?” she demanded. “My god, Claire, you were sleeping with Dean. He lied to you, too.”

“No, he didn’t!” she protested with a little laugh. “I mean, he didn’t tell me everything, but he never lied. And even if he did, Dean and me, it was just sex. We had a great time, but we’re not a couple. We’re not even friends, really.”

Claire’s words didn’t blunt Jessica’s anger. “Well, Sam lied to me. If it was little things I wouldn’t care, but this isn’t little, Claire.”

“Um…Jess?” Adrianne said hesitantly.

“Yeah?”

“I called my aunt this morning.”

“Your aunt who’s a medium?”

Adrianne nodded. “Most of what Aunt Lilly does is the kind of thing you see on TV – just sittings for people who want to talk to dead relatives. But occasionally people come to her for help with things like, well, like what’s been happening here.”

“Okay…” Jessica nodded.

“Aunt Lilly won’t deal with the dangerous stuff, but she knows a few people who do. People like Dean.”

“And Sam,” Jessica added.

“Maybe. I don’t know. But the point is, I called her to make sure Dean wasn’t just talking bullshit. And when I said the name Winchester, she freaked out.”

Jessica felt cold suddenly. “Why?” she asked, then realised she knew. “Wait. His dad, right?”

Adrianne’s eyes went wide. “How did you know?”

“Sam talks like he’s scared of him. What did Aunt Lilly say?”

“She said John Winchester’s good at what he does but if she finds out I’ve been within ten miles of him she’ll beat me with a peach switch. She meant it, too.”

“Wow.” Jessica took a deep breath, mentally sliding that piece of the puzzle into place. She wondered if Dean left to contact their father. From what Sam, and now Adrianne had said, it sounded as if they’d be better off with the poltergeist. She would have explained what she was thinking to her friends, but she was conscious they wouldn’t be left alone for long. She should have insisted on answers from Dean, but she hadn’t exactly been awake when they spoke.

“Do you know what they’re planning?” she asked.

Claire nodded. “Dean said he can banish the poltergeist from the house. It sounded like some kind of spell. There are ingredients he needed to get.”

A spell? Just peachy. But at least he wasn’t involving their father. Jessica quoted: “Eye of newt and toe of frog; wool of bat and tongue of dog; adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting; lizard’s leg and owlet’s wing. For a charm of powerful trouble, Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

Adrianne laughed. “I don’t think so. He said something about angelica and crossroad dirt. Something else. I don’t know.”

“Okay, then,” Jessica sighed. “I guess I’d better go and pack up my things.”

“Are you leaving?” Claire blurted.

“Only the room.” Jessica stood up, intending to head back into the house, but she saw Kathy and Brady coming toward them.

Brady slid the French window open. “We thought we’d all go down to the beach,” he announced. “Picnic lunch. Swimming.” He glanced at Claire, then at Jessica. “Are you up for it?”

Jessica would enjoy a day at the beach but she never wanted to see that cliff path again. She turned to Claire and saw her own uncertainty mirrored in Claire’s eyes.

Claire swallowed. “I’m okay if you are.”

That left Jessica little choice. “Is everyone coming?” she asked Brady, meaning Is Sam coming?

“Of course!” Kathy said with a big smile.

Of course. “I’ll pack a lunch,” Jessica decided. “Claire, could you grab my bathing suit for me? The blue one, not my bikini. And remind Sam to pack a rope.”

“Jess, are you two still fighting?” Brady asked, concerned.

“Haven’t spoken yet,” she snapped. “Stay out of it, Brady!” She pushed past him into the house.

“Well, sor-ee!” Brady called after her.

***

Sam was alone in the kitchen, stacking bottles of water into a cool box. He looked up as Jessica walked in and stopped, surprised to see him there. She considered bolting, but that would be cowardly and her promise to Dean was bugging her. So she walked forward.

Someone had cleared the breakfast things away, she saw with relief. All she needed to do was make lunch, which would be easy because she had already baked enough bread for everyone. There was cheese and cold meat and she could throw in some chips…as long as they had drinks that would be plenty.

“Hey, Sam.” She walked past him to the refrigerator.

“Jess,” Sam pleaded.

She had no choice but to face him. Jessica pasted a bright smile onto her face and turned around. “Are you coming to the beach?”

“I’m sorry,” Sam said. He sounded sincere.

Jessica moved a little closer: not close enough to touch, but enough that she had to look up at him. “Okay,” she agreed. “What for?”

Sam opened his mouth. Closed it again. “Whatever I’ve done to hurt you. Jess, please, just…I’m sorry.”

He looked like a giant puppy, his eyes begging for a kind word, a smile. It was so hard to stay mad at him! “Sam, I…I can’t do this. I can’t patiently explain why I’m angry. If I have to do that, well, it means you don’t know me at all. It would mean I can’t trust you ever again. We’ll be over. And, damn it, Sam, I love you!” Her voice cracked and she realised she was crying again.

Sam reached toward her awkwardly. “Jess…”

She brushed her wet cheek, angry with herself. “Just help me make lunch, Sam. We can talk later.”

His adams-apple bobbed as he swallowed. “Okay.”

So they made lunch. They sliced ham, chicken and cheese, buttered bread, prepared salad and assembled sandwiches, which they slipped into bags. Everything went into a chilled container in the picnic box, with a huge bag of corn chips on top.

“Sam?” Jessica broke the tense silence as she closed the lid on the large cool box.

“Uh-huh?”

“What else is real?” When Sam didn’t answer at once, she added, “Ghosts and poltergeists I know. What else?”

“Are you sure you want to know?” he asked seriously. It was clear he wanted her to drop the subject, but Jessica was sure if she pushed, he would answer. Dean said she’d be happier if she didn’t know the truth and maybe he was right. But she wanted to know it all.

“I’m sure. Vampires?”

He was silent for a moment, then took a breath. “They exist in Europe. Dad says they’ve been wiped out on this continent.”

Holy shit… Jessica absorbed that for a moment. “Zombies?”

“Yeah. They don’t eat brains, though. Well, not exclusively.”

“Ick. Aliens?”

“The Sigourney Weaver kind? Not as far as I know.”

She narrowed her eyes at the evasion. “What about the X-Files kind? Or the Mars Attacks kind?”

He smiled. “As far as I know, all those stories about UFOs and alien abductions are either hoaxes or caused by things not from other planets. But I don’t know everything.”

“Wow. Okay, so maybe aliens. Witches?”

He nodded. “Several kinds.”

“Santa Claus?” she asked hopefully.

Sam laughed. “What would you do if I said yes to that one?”

Jessica grinned. “I’d be pissed. And I’d want his address. When I was eight we had a deal involving a pony and the son of a bitch welched on me.”

He looked at her critically. “I see you more with an Easy-Bake oven than mucking out stables.”

“It was my princess phase. Didn’t last.” They shared a smile and Jessica almost felt as if things were alright between them again.

That was when they heard the scream.

Sam was running, knocking over one of the kitchen chairs in his haste, before Jessica realised what she’d heard. She dropped the picnic box and took off after him, leaping over the fallen chair.

A man’s voice – not Sam – shouted, “Claire! No!”

The scream echoed again.

Jessica reached the hall in time to see the end of Claire’s fall. The awful thud as she hit the ground would stay with Jessica forever. She heard the sickening crack of breaking bones, but Claire didn’t cry out in pain. She lay still, her body twisted into an unnatural position, blood spreading across her pale green skirt.

“Claire!” Brady shouted again.

“Call 911!” Sam yelled to Jessica.

Both men reached Claire’s side in the same moment.

Jessica didn’t have her phone and the house didn’t have a working line. “Sam, I don’t – ” she began helplessly.

He threw his Blackberry at her, barely even glancing her way.

Jessica caught it and dialled 911. Sam’s body blocked her view of Claire’s face, but she could see her lower body. One of her legs was visibly broken, the muscle and skin of her thigh ripped open by the sharp bone.

A voice answered her; Jessica asked for an ambulance and gave the address.

“What’s the nature of the emergency?” the operator asked.

“She fell. She’s badly hurt.”

“An ambulance is on the way to you. Is she conscious?”

Jessica thought it unlikely, but she relayed the question to be sure.

“No,” Brady answered. He sounded a breath away from panic. “She’s not breathing.”

Jessica answered the operator. “She’s unconscious and not breathing. They’re trying CPR but, oh, god, please hurry!”

“An ambulance is on the way,” the operator repeated like some dammed robot. There was a lot of blood spreading across the floor.

The two men managed to turn Claire over and Jessica heard Sam giving orders, but it was as if he were speaking a foreign language; she simply didn’t comprehend the words.  Jessica stayed back, the phone in her hand. She felt so useless, just watching, but Sam and Brady seemed so confident. She would only be in the way.

Brady said something about broken ribs as Sam positioned his hands to perform chest compressions.

“I know!” Sam barked back. “She’s dead if we don’t, Brady!”

Brady leaned over Claire’s face, giving her mouth-to-mouth. Between breaths, he said, “It was freaky, man, I swear – ”

“Not now!” Sam snapped.

Kathy came out of the day room and Jessica ran to intercept her.

“Oh, my god! What…?”

“Ssh!” Jessica hissed, terrified she would disturb Sam and Brady’s desperate attempts to keep Claire’s heart beating. “Claire fell down the stairs,” she explained quickly, not at all certain that was true. “It’s bad. I’ve called 911.”

Kathy was craning her neck, trying to see past Jessica. “What can I do?” she offered.

“Tell the others,” Jessica instructed. “But keep them outside. Claire doesn’t need an audience.”

Kathy nodded. “Right.” She left them alone.

***

They didn’t stop until the paramedics arrived. Jessica had no idea how long she watched the men working to keep Claire alive until she finally heard the approaching siren.

The paramedics did all the things they were supposed to, but Jessica knew before the paramedic said the words that their efforts were in vain. She could see it in the blood smeared across Brady’s mouth. She could see it in Sam’s despairing, angry eyes. She could see it in Claire’s white skin and her still, broken body.

None of it made sense.

How could Claire have fallen like this? Her position, the layout of the hall…where could she have fallen from?

***

Although no one believed it would make a difference, the paramedics had to transport Claire to the hospital. Brady wanted to accompany her; Sam agreed to follow in Brady’s SUV once he’d taken care of things at the house.

Sam told the others what was happening.

It was Jessica who called Claire’s parents.

***

They found Brady at the hospital, leaning against the wall outside the ER. As soon as Jessica saw him she knew that Claire was dead.

“Let me,” Sam said quietly, nodding toward a nearby bench seat. Jessica nodded and went to sit down while Sam approached Brady.

“Tell me what happened.” Sam spoke gently, but the words were an order.

Jessica drew her feet up onto the bench seat and hugged her legs up against her chest. She laid her head on her knees, looking away from the two men to give them at least the illusion of privacy. Brady slumped against the wall. Claire’s blood was still smeared across his face.

“You wouldn’t believe me,” Brady answered. His voice slurred a little as if he’d been drinking, though Jessica was sure that wasn’t it.

“Tell me!” Sam insisted.

“She was…” Brady began, then let his voice trail off. When he spoke again, the words came rapidly. “She was on the ceiling, Sam! I swear to god, she wa – ” He cut off mid-word.

Jessica turned her head to see what was wrong.

Sam, white-faced, had shoved Brady up against the wall, his fists balled in Brady’s t-shirt. “Don’t you lie to me! Not about that!”

“It’s true, I swear!” Brady protested, not attempting to fight free of Sam. “I was coming down the stairs when I heard her scream. I looked up and…Sam, I know it’s impossible. But she was there. On the fucking ceiling, like a freaking sci-fi movie when the gravity goes all wrong. Then she fell, right past me.”

Jessica felt sick. Brady’s story was impossible, but it explained everything that had confused her in the house. The ceilings in the house were quite high, but only in that one place, under the stairwell, was there no ceiling at all. There was just a two-metre-square gap that the staircase spiralled around all the way up to the attic. If Claire fell from the ceiling of the attic, all the way down to the ground floor, it made sense of her horrific injuries.

Sam let go of Brady’s shirt and took half a step back. “Okay. I believe you. But no one else will. You’ll have to tell the police that she jumped. Me and Jess will back you up.”

“No!” Brady objected before Jessica could get her own objection in. She wasn’t going to lie to the police! No way!

Sam moved back into Brady’s space. “Listen to me, Brady. I believe you. But if you tell the cops what you saw they’ll think you’re lying. They’ll start to look for reasons you’d be lying and in the end they’ll decide that you killed Claire and this story is a crazy attempt to cover it up. Trust me on this, Brady. Either tell them you don’t know what happened or tell them you saw her jump.”

Sam turned to look at Jessica, holding out his hand. “I need my phone.”

Taken aback, she handed him the Blackberry and Sam walked away from them as he dialled.

Jessica got up and started to follow him, but stopped. She reached out to touch Brady’s arm gently. “I think he’s right, Brady,” she said softly.

Brady didn’t answer, but she saw understanding in his eyes. She hurried after Sam.

“Dean, it’s me,” he was saying into the phone. “No, we’re at the hospital. That’s why I’m calling. Claire’s dead, Dean.”

Jessica reached Sam’s side. He met her eyes briefly; the gesture was enough to let her know he didn’t mind her listening in.

“You need to stay away. We’re waiting for the police.”

There followed a longer silence, during which Jessica assumed Dean was speaking.

“Dean, just listen.” Sam lowered his voice as he reached the door to the outside. “I don’t know if this means anything, but according to Brady Claire was on the ceiling before she fell. I think you should call Dad.”

Silence.

“I’m not sure. We’re stuck here until the police are satisfied but I doubt we’ll stay more than a few days. If you can just wait – ”

Silence.

“I know.”

A long silence.

Finally Sam nodded. “I can deal. Just don’t… Yeah. See you.” He pocketed the Blackberry and turned to Jessica, his expression very serious. “Jess, I need to ask you to do something you won’t want to do, but I believe it’s the only way to protect everyone.”

He was going to ask her to lie to the police. “I’m listening,” Jessica said, careful not to promise anything.

“When you talk to the police, you need to make it sound as if Claire was…unstable. She imagined – ”

“She’s dead, Sam! I won’t tell everyone she was crazy! I won’t!”

Sam flinched, but he didn’t give an inch. “Would you rather see Brady or me on trial for her murder?”

“No, but – ”

“Jess, if the cops catch a hint of ghosts in all this, they will start looking for a killer. It’s how cops think. And the prime suspect will be Brady because he’s the only eyewitness or me if they check out my background and find out who my father is.”

“Even if that’s true…” she started to protest, intending to point out that they were both innocent.

“It is true. Jess, we can’t hide what’s happened and her death is suspicious because it’s inexplicable. So the only choice I can see is to put it on Claire. Make it seem as if the whole haunted house thing was in her mind.” Sam gripped her shoulders firmly. “Jess, I am begging you. I know you hate it. So do I. But it’s the best way.”

“You mean the most convenient way,” she answered bitterly.

Jessica thought about trying to explain to the police about the strange noises in the night, about the séance and the exploding glass. It would make her seem insane. They would never be able to conceal it entirely: too many people already knew. It would be easier to present it all as Claire’s delusion. Only Adrianne had witnessed the glass and the rest, if the three of them kept the truth to themselves, was only hearsay.

But how could she do that to Claire?

“Please, Jess,” Sam said again.

She took a deep breath. “If Brady agrees, I’ll do it.”

He looked incredibly relieved. “Thank you.”

***

It wasn’t really that bad.

The police spoke with them briefly at the hospital, but decided to interview everyone at the house.

Jessica did as she’d agreed and presented the poltergeist activity as a fiction invented by Claire. She told the same story to Claire’s father when he arrived. She never asked what Brady or Sam told them. It didn’t matter one bit: she knew neither man would have told the truth.

The following day the police told them all they could leave, perhaps because the three main witnesses – Jessica, Brady and Sam – were returning to Palo Alto rather than leaving the state.

The three of them were the last to leave the house. They had replaced the dust covers on all the furniture, turned off all the electrical equipment and shuttered all the windows. Their things were packed into Brady’s SUV. Brady locked the front door behind them and slipped the key into an envelope; they had agreed to mail it back to Claire’s uncle.

Jessica stared up at the house they were leaving. It seemed impossible that only a week before they had arrived here happy, joking and optimistic.

Whatever walked there, walked alone, Jessica remembered and immediately wished she hadn’t.

She felt Sam’s arm across her shoulders. “Is it over?” she asked quietly.

“Poltergeist activity is usually centred on a person, so it should be,” Sam answered, keeping his voice low. “Dean will make sure of it when we’re gone.”

Jessica thought that should make her feel better, but it didn’t. All she could do was nod. But then she thought of something she’d meant to ask sooner. “There’s something that still doesn’t make sense to me,” she admitted, wondering if Sam would tell her.

“Only one thing?” Sam asked with a hint of humour.

Jessica managed a weak smile. “Well, one specific thing.” Sam didn’t answer, so she pressed on. “Why did Dean think you were in danger, if it was after Claire?”

Sam seemed surprised. “Dean told you that?”

“Not in those words. It was right before he left. Dean implied that – ”

“Hold it, Jess. Dean doesn’t imply. He tells it like it is. So what exactly did he say to you?”

Jessica wasn’t sure she could remember Dean’s precise words, but she tried. “He asked me if I love you,” she answered. “I told him I do.” Before she’d told Sam, she realised, but didn’t mention that. “Then he said that was good because there was something he wanted me to do. I thought…I’m not sure what I thought he had in mind, but I was worried. But all he said was to keep an eye on you.”

Sam shook his head. “No, Jess. His exact words,” Sam insisted.

She strained to remember. “‘Watch out for Sammy.’ That’s it.” She felt Sam’s body tense where they were touching. “Sam?” She couldn’t read his expression. “Sam? What is it?”

Sam’s frown broke into an unexpected smile. “When we get back to Palo Alto, remind me to teach you how to speak Winchester.”

Jessica raised her eyebrows. “Y’all can’t speak American like the rest of us?”

I can.” Sam reached out to brush her hair back. “Dean wasn’t warning you I was in danger and he wasn’t saying I need looking after.”

Jessica frowned. Maybe she really couldn’t speak Winchester. “What else could he mean?”

“I think he was saying, Welcome to the family,” Sam answered.

Before Jessica could question that, Brady called, “Hey, guys! Let’s hit the road.”

“We’re coming!” Sam called back. Then, to Jessica, more gently, “Come on. Let’s get out of here.”

The drive back to Palo Alto was very long and very, very quiet.

Chapter Text

The demon slashed the boy’s throat with a practised gesture and held the ornate cup to the wound, gathering fresh, warm blood as the boy bled to death. When he had enough blood, he dipped one finger into the cup and stirred the warm liquid. He murmured the Latin words that would create a safe conduit between his mind and Hell itself.

Immediately, he felt his father’s response.

“Everything went as planned,” he reported. “Sam Winchester protected the girl. The tragedy of losing the slut has bound them closer than ever.”

He waited and was pleased to receive his father’s approval. A question followed.

“There were no difficulties,” he confirmed. “When the time comes, the Winchester boy will be exactly where we want him.”

***

John Winchester looked down at the polished floorboards. Though the floor had been cleaned, he could still see clearly where the girl’s blood had spilled. He stood in that spot, his feet straddling the place where the girl breathed her last. He looked up.

“Sammy said she was on the ceiling when she fell?”

Dean looked up from his examination of the stairs. “That’s what Brady claimed. Sam didn’t see it,” he reported.

From this spot, John could see all the way up the narrow stairwell to the attic. If the girl did fall from the ceiling directly above him, she fell the equivalent of between three and four storeys. She’d probably been dead the moment she hit the floor.

“I need to take a look up there,” John decided. “Dean, check out the EMF readings.”

“Yes, sir.” Dean produced his EMF meter and began to sweep the room.

John climbed the stairs quickly. He was a little winded by the time he reached the attic: those stairs were steep. He looked up at the ceiling first.

He understood why Sam and Dean had both connected this death to what happened to their mother. He’d thought the same thing when Dean first mentioned it. But though finding Mary’s killer was always his first priority, John knew that not everything was about that. There was no sign of a fire here and poltergeists did sometimes…

John stopped, running his fingers along the rail. He looked at the streaks his fingers had left in the dust, then rubbed his fingertips together, feeling the fine powder clinging to his skin. He brought his fingers closer to his nose and sniffed.

That wasn’t dust.

“Dean!” John called urgently.

Dean ran up the stairs with a youthful energy John envied. “What is it, Dad?” he asked as he reached the top. He was breathing hard, but hadn’t broken a sweat.

“Check here for EMF,” John instructed.

Dean held the EMF meter where John indicated, but there was no reading.

“It’s been too long,” Dean suggested.

“It hasn’t been that long,” John disagreed, “and that proves it wasn’t a poltergeist. There should still be a residual reading. Look here.”

He watched Dean gather dust onto his fingers. “What is it?” he asked.

“Sulphur.”

Dean’s eyes went wide. “Demon? A demon killed Claire?”

John hadn’t talked about demons much; he was pleased Dean remembered. “It looks that way,” he agreed.

“But…that means someone in the house was possessed. Who?”

That Dean didn’t know was a really bad sign. It was hard to spot a demon; but hindsight usually helped. Knowing that one of the people he’d spent time with was possessed, Dean should have been able to at least guess which of them it was. Most demons were not, in John’s experience, particularly subtle.

“Most likely it was Claire herself,” John suggested. “If you didn’t test anyone we might never know.” And why would Dean have tested anyone for possession if he thought he was hunting a poltergeist?

But Dean surprised him again. “It couldn’t have been Jessica. She crossed a salt line. But so did Claire…I think. And Brady. They were all in the protected room the night Claire was hurt.”

“Or it could have been Sammy.” A cold hand squeezed John’s heart as he spoke the words. He didn’t want that to be possible.

Dean stared at him. “No fucking way!”

“Why not?” John pressed. “Did you test him? Did he cross a salt line?” Damn it, John didn’t want to think of these things. He had no choice. Considering the worst-case scenario was his job. It was Dean’s job, too.

Dean made an impatient gesture. “Do you think I wouldn’t have known if Sam wasn’t himself?” he demanded.

John badly wanted to reach for his son, to reassure and comfort him, to chase that defensiveness from his eyes…but he clamped down on the gesture: his hand merely twitched. He met Dean’s angry eyes and wondered – worried – whether Dean would ever lose this dangerous blind spot.

“Dean. Think. You weren’t here when the girl died. A demon was. It may have been here all along, but maybe it wasn’t. So think hard. Did Sammy do anything or say anything that would prove he wasn’t possessed?”

Dean frowned in concentration. “He was very protective of Jess. Not that I blame him: she’s smokin’.”

Focus, Dean. “Proves nothin’,” John grunted.

“Alright, I’m thinking. When we came back from the hospital after Claire fell down the stairs, Sam said Jess told him to clean up the salt. So we put the salt line under the carpet instead. Sam was in and out of the room after that. So if the line’s still intact, that would be proof. Right?”

John let out a long breath of relief. “Right. Go and check. Then we’re leaving. There’s nothing more to find here.”

"Yes, sir," Dean agreed and walked away. The set of his shoulders and the slight stiffness of his walk said louder than words that John had pissed him off. Perhaps it was his questions about Sammy…or perhaps the dead girl mattered to Dean more than he’d admitted.

It was good that Dean defended Sammy, even to their father. That’s what John trained him to do: to be his brother’s protector, no matter what. But if Dean was this pissed just because John considered the possibility that Sam was possessed, that was not good. Dean needed to realise that if something evil got into Sam, refusing to see it was not helping him, but harming him.

John had to be sure of Sammy. And his new girlfriend. There was nothing else for it: he would have to go to Palo Alto.

Without Dean.

***

Sam walked around the car to open the door for Jessica. The gallant gesture wasn’t his usual behaviour but he had noticed at the cemetery that the long, black skirt Jessica wore was making it difficult to get out of the car. He offered her his hand to help her up.

Jessica hesitated for a moment before accepting his help. She locked the car, pocketed her keys and gazed up at the apartment building.

“If you want to be alone…” Sam began.

“No,” she answered, “I don’t. It’s just…hard.”

“I know.” He hugged her briefly. It was nearly sunset and she’d had a very long day. They both had. “Come on. Let’s get inside.”

The little apartment Jess had, until now, shared with Claire was on the top floor of a building with an ancient elevator that rarely worked. They didn’t risk it, just headed up the stairs. While Jessica fumbled in her purse, looking for the key, Sam glanced around. He knew they were alone but this had become automatic; since Claire’s death he was seeing threats in every shadow.

But sometimes they weren’t his imagination.

Sam stopped Jess just as she reached toward the lock. “Jess, wait.”

She dropped her hand, scared by the urgency in his voice.

He didn’t want her to be scared. Sam pointed to the ground in front of the door. It was linoleum tile, dark with the ingrained dirt of decades, which made the light sprinkling of white grains clearly visible. It wasn’t a salt line, but it was salt, and it hadn’t been there when they left for Claire’s funeral.

Dean? No, Dean would have called, surely.

Sam decided there was only one way to find out. “Give me your key. Wait at least three minutes before you follow me in.”

“What are you going to do?” she whispered back.

“I’m going to make sure it’s safe.” Sam unlocked the door as quietly as he could and slipped inside, leaving the door ajar behind him.

The salt line was inside the door: a clean, straight line precisely two inches from the threshold. Dean hadn’t done that: he was never so precise. Dad had been here…he might still be here. Sam’s tension went up several notches. He checked each room in turn: living room, Claire’s bedroom (where her belongings were packed into neatly stacked boxes awaiting her father), bathroom, Jess’s room, kitchen. Sam had to move fast because Jess was outside and the last thing he wanted was for her to meet his father. But he needn’t have worried: the apartment was empty.

But that didn’t make sense. Sam knew his father too well, and Dad wouldn’t have come all the way to Palo Alto just to break into Jessica’s apartment and lay down some salt. If he’d been here, he had some other purpose, so Sam began a closer examination of the apartment. He began with the kitchen because, if Dean had been there with Dad, the kitchen would provide the evidence.

The four beers Sam had left in the refrigerator were still there. The open bag of corn chips in the cupboard appeared to be untouched. So was the small plate of cookies beside the coffee press.

“Sam?” Jessica called.

“It’s okay, Jess. Come on in.”

Sam closed the refrigerator door. It was covered with magnets: colourful letters and numbers which Jessica and Claire had used to leave messages for each other. That was where Sam found it: a folded piece of paper pinned to the refrigerator door using the magnetic numbers 9 – 1 – 1.

Sam pocketed the note without looking at it and shifted the magnets around to hide the code even Jess would understand. He turned around just as she appeared in the kitchen doorway.

Sam smiled to let her know everything was okay. “I think Dean dropped by. I’ll call him later. How about a nice mug of hot chocolate?”

Jessica returned his smile. “Oh, that sounds heavenly.”

“Whipped cream or marshmallows?”

“Marshmallows. They’re on the top shelf next to the candy. Do you mind if I take a shower while you make it?”

“No, go ahead.” Sam didn’t suggest joining her. She wouldn’t be in the mood so soon after the funeral and truthfully neither was he. They needed a relaxing evening, a movie on TV perhaps, and sleep.

While Jess showered and milk heated in a pan, Sam changed out of his cheap suit. He transferred the still-unread note into the pocket of his sweats. He made hot chocolate for both of them, generously topped with marshmallows, and carried both mugs into the living room. He heard Jessica’s hairdryer start up and turned on the TV.

Sam was still flipping through the channels, looking for something undemanding they could watch when Jessica joined him on the couch.

They ended up watching Titanic on DVD. Jessica cried at the end. Sam held her and didn’t complain she was getting his t-shirt wet.

Finally, Sam switched the DVD for re-runs of Miami Vice with the sound turned down low and they cuddled together on the couch.

“Sam, I was thinking…”

He stroked her hair, enjoying the strawberry scent of her shampoo. “Mm-hm?”

“Would you like to move in with me?”

Surprised, Sam sat up. “Really?”

Jessica turned to look at him. “Well, the rent is paid until school starts again, because we – Claire and I – always paid quarterly. It’s cheaper. But I’ll need a new room-mate when the next rent cheque is due and hardly anyone stays in dorms after the first year. You could have Claire’s room if you want. Or we could turn Claire’s room into a study and both sleep in mine. What do you think?”

Sam smiled at her warmly. Jessica wasn’t even considering how awkward that arrangement would be if they broke up…which was very good, because Sam had no intention of ever breaking up with her. Their friends would tell them they were rushing things, moving in together, but Sam would not pass up this chance.

So he nodded. “A study sounds good,” he agreed, and kissed her as she began to smile.

A moment later he excused himself, telling Jess he needed to use the bathroom. He locked the bathroom door and opened the note Dad left for him. It was very short: just five words on a sheet of paper torn from his journal.

We found sulphur. Call me.

There was nothing else. Not even a signature.

Sulphur. Sam knew what that meant. There was a demon at the house. A demon killed Claire. The possibilities rushed through his mind one after another. Demon. Someone was possessed. One of his friends? Not Jess, unless everything he knew about salt as a protective barrier was wrong. Claire. Brady. Or even both of them…demons could jump bodies. Both of them at different times. But how to find out? He should call Dad and ...

Sam caught himself. What was he thinking? Dad had been here, and he left. Suddenly the salt at the apartment door made perfect sense. It was a test. A test for both of them. If either Jessica or Sam himself had been unable to cross that line, Sam would never have found Dad’s note. The double-think was typical of his father and suddenly Sam was utterly sick of it.

Call me, the note said, but typically John had left no number. It wasn’t likely he was still using the same phone he had two years before. Sam could call Dean, though…

But if he did, what of Jess? Sam looked over his shoulder as if Jessica would be visible through the locked door. She had already seen too much of his old life, and her best friend was dead because of it. The note presented Sam with a choice that was clear to him for the first time. He could make the call and track down the demon that killed Claire - he could be a Winchester again - or he could be the man Jessica loved. The man he longed to become.

Sam did hesitate for a moment but he had made his decision when he first came to Stanford. Now the choice was even easier.

Sam tore the note into pieces, dropped the scraps into the toilet bowl and flushed it away.

~ End ~