It’s coming up on three years, and this time around she wants to be alone. She watched Jimmy on the news—not Jimmy, the thing inside Jimmy—and a few days later she drives Claire up to Lansing to spend a few days with her grandparents. Her father touches her shoulder and her mother looks at her pityingly and she knows they saw the news too.
On the way home she stops for coffee, holds her oversized mug in the crowded café with too few tables and looks for a place to sit. All the tables are full, but there’s a woman sitting alone by the window at a table with an extra chair, so Amelia walks over. The woman is staring out the window, twisting her long black hair between her fingers. Amelia coughs, and the woman looks up.
“Do you mind if I sit here?” Amelia asks. The woman nods at the other chair, and Amelia sits. “Thank you,” she says. “I’m Amelia.”
“Lisa,” the other woman says, and it’s when she holds out her hand to shake that Amelia notices the tattoo on her arm. It hits her like a shock, because she recognizes it—the anti-possession symbol she researched and had put on herself and Claire after—after. Lisa’s is much smaller than hers or Claire’s, and in a more visible location rather than low on a shoulder blade.
“That’s an interesting tattoo,” Amelia tells her. Lisa looks surprised, looks down at it like she hadn’t even realized it was there.
“Thank you,” she says, and then laughs. “You know, I don’t even remember having it done. Probably got drunk sometime in college and made a bad decision. Story of my life,” she says, but her tone is joking. Amelia thinks that the tattoo looks much newer than one Lisa could’ve had done years ago in college, but she doesn’t say anything. She sips her coffee and watches as Lisa tugs down on her sleeve, trying to pull the fabric to cover the tattoo. Amelia wonders if the motion is purposeful or unconscious.
“Do you live in Battle Creek?” Lisa asks. “I mostly only see regulars in here.”
“Oh,” Amelia says. “No. I’m on the way back from my parents’. My daughter is staying with them for a few days.”
“That’s nice,” Lisa says. She smiles gently, and Amelia finds herself smiling back. “How old is she?”
“Fifteen,” Amelia tells her. Lisa replies that she has a thirteen-year-old son.
“Tough age, teenagers. Especially for single moms, I hear,” Lisa says. Amelia’s surprise must register on her face because Lisa’s eyes widen in alarm. “Oh, I didn’t mean—you’re not wearing a wedding ring, I just assumed—“
“No, no,” Amelia says. She still remembers the exact day she decided not to wear the ring anymore, remembers looking at it on her dresser and leaving it there when she left her bedroom. “I… my husband has been gone for several years,” she says.
“Sorry,” Lisa says. “Ben’s father and I were never together. It doesn’t bother me at all, but that’s not the same as losing someone.”
It’s on the tip of Amelia’s tongue to tell her that Jimmy isn’t lost; he’s just too busy mass-murdering politicians with an angel that apparently went psycho inside of him to come home. Instead she takes another long gulp of coffee, draining the cup.
“I ought to get going,” she says. “Thank you for sharing your table with me.” She offers Lisa a small smile, and the other woman gives her a wide grin in return.
On the way back to pick up Claire, Amelia subconsciously, impulsively, goes back to that coffeeshop. She remembers Lisa saying the shop mostly catered to Battle Creek regulars and thinks, hopes, that the woman is right. There’s no reason in particular she has for wanting to see Lisa again, but something tugs at her, some invisible pull that tells her this is a woman who understands what she’s been through, even if she seems not to remember it.
This time it’s a bit later, and there are more empty tables, but when she sees the woman with dark brown hair flowing over her shoulders, looking down at her coffee mug, Amelia makes her way over without glancing at the available chairs.
“Hello again,” she says quietly, and Lisa looks up, startled. It takes her a moment and then she recognizes Amelia, her lips curving into a smile.
“Couldn’t stay away?” Lisa asks, a hint of laughter in her voice. Amelia takes the other chair at the table, coffee mug clinking against the wooden tabletop. “You’re coming to pick up your daughter, is that right?” Amelia nods. “Don’t want my parents to get sick of her,” she says, and Lisa laughs. “I don’t think a grandparent could ever get sick of their grandchild,” she says. She takes a sip of coffee, and her anti-possession tattoo peeks out from beneath the sleeve of her shirt as she sets the cup down.
“Do you believe in ghosts?” Amelia asks suddenly. She doesn’t know why she does it, it’s clear that whatever Lisa believes, she doesn’t remember. But there’s a moment, an instant where Amelia catches a flicker of recognition in her eyes. And with that recognition, fear. Sadness. Amelia feels a surge of kinship with this woman, who she barely knows but whom she suddenly feels like she has known all her life.
Then Lisa is shaking her head, dark curls covering her face for a moment as she ducks her head. When she comes up, she’s smiling, a little nervously. “I don’t think so,” she says. “We used to do all those dumb college things, my friends and I. Ouija boards and séances, you know? But nothing ever happened. Why do you ask?”
“No reason,” Amelia tells her. “It’s just interesting. I believe in them,” she says rashly. “All of them. Ghosts and witches and angels and demons.”
“Angels?” Lisa says. “Those don’t seem to belong with the others, the monsters.”
“Yes,” Amelia says fiercely. “They do.”
It’s several months before Amelia ends up in Battle Creek again. She’s with Claire, on their way up to her parents’ house for her mother’s birthday, when they stop at a diner for some lunch. Amelia drives past the coffeeshop and slows, but doesn’t stop. They find the diner, a cosy hole in the wall place with a short-order cook and a smiling, friendly waitress named Sue who takes their sandwich orders.
Claire’s swirling ketchup around her plate with her French fries when the bell on the door jingles as the door swings open. There’s a tapping of two pairs of feet walking on the linoleum floors, and then Amelia hears a voice say her name. She stands up and turns around to see Lisa a few feet away from her, accompanied by a pre-teen boy who is clearly her son.
“Amelia,” Lisa says again. “Hi! It’s nice to see you.” “Yes, you too,” Amelia agrees. Claire gets out of her side of the booth and comes to stand half next to, half behind her. “How are you?”
“Good,” Lisa says, “I’m good. This is my son, Ben,” she says, gesturing at the boy. He steps forward, arm extended for a handshake, with a bright smile. Amelia shakes his hand, and there’s a moment, something about his smile reminds Amelia of someone else, of the man who took her husband away when he became an angel. She wonders if there’s a connection.
She realizes she’s staring, and hurriedly lets go of Ben’s hand.. “Oh,” she says, “This is Claire, my daughter.” Now Claire steps forward, offers her hand to Ben and then to Lisa. When she touches Lisa’s hand, her eyes widen and she drops her hand quickly and steps back.
“What did they do to you?” Claire asks. Her voice is breathy, almost a whisper, and her blue eyes bore into Lisa’s with an intensity Amelia has rarely seen before.
“Claire,” Amelia says sharply, “Don’t be rude.” Claire blinks, and looks up at her, the intense stare gone, but doesn’t say anything, doesn’t look apologetic. She has nothing to apologize for; Amelia doesn’t miss the way Lisa’s eyes widen, startled, understanding for just a moment. What did they do to you? Amelia thinks, but all she says is, “I’m sorry, Lisa. Claire needs to think before she speaks sometimes.” She punctuates it with a smile, a quiet, light-hearted laugh, and Lisa smiles gently back.
“It’s alright,” Lisa tells her, “Ben has quite an active imagination as well. Or maybe they know something we don’t.” She laughs again, but Amelia can’t bring herself to join in.
Maybe everybody’s in on the joke but you, she thinks sadly. She doesn’t know what happened to Lisa, to Ben, but she becomes more and more certain that it was the angels. If they could take her husband, maybe they could take something from the Braedens too. Thoughts, memories; Amelia shivers, although the diner is almost too warm on the sunny October afternoon.
“Would you like to eat with us?” Claire asks, suddenly all smiles. Ben nods immediately, but Lisa hesitates before she nods and they follow Amelia back to the booth and sit down.
Smiling friendly waitress Sue comes back so Ben and Lisa can order food, and Claire goes back to swirling ketchup around her plate. This time, before Amelia ushers Claire back to the car to drive the rest of the way to the grandparents’ house, she asks Lisa if she’d like to exchange phone numbers. One meeting is meaningless, or perhaps coincidence considering the strangeness of their circumstances, but two, three—Amelia wants to stay in touch.
Amelia’s phone rarely rings anymore. After Jimmy disappeared, she got tired of making up stories about where he had gone, when he would be coming back, what had happened to him, and eventually began to avoid most of her friends and neighbours to keep them from asking questions. Then, after her neighbours Roger and Lisa had been found dead in her house, she became even more isolated. The police had quickly cleared her of all suspicion—although they would’ve suspected her husband if he had been anywhere to be found, and she wouldn’t be surprised if they reopened the case after seeing him on television in that politician’s office—most of the people she knew didn’t need a trial or an arrest to believe she had something to do it.
Lately, her phone only rings with the unrelenting computerized political calls that always start showing up around Election Day. But of course, they’re always around dinnertime, times when people are awake and about. Computerized political calls don’t come at 1:30 in the morning. When the phone rings, shattering the silence in her bedroom, Amelia awakens with a start. She gropes blindly for the phone on the side-table, everything a blur in the dark without her contacts in. She picks up the phone and says hello, and is greeted by a voice it takes her a minute to recognize.
“Amelia? Amelia Novak?” The voice says. The woman on the other end of the line sounds worried, but her voice is calm, not shaky. “This is Lisa Braeden. I don’t know if you—“
“I remember you,” Amelia cuts in. “Are you alright?”
“I’m sorry to be calling you so late,” Lisa says. “Look, this is going to sound so ridiculous. You once asked me if I believed in ghosts.” “I remember,” Amelia says again. She turns on a light, fumbles for her glasses and slides them on.
“I just… I’ve been having these dreams. Vampires and demons and… they seem so real. I don’t know who to ask and maybe you’re going to think I’m crazy but—“
She pauses, long enough that Amelia says, “Lisa?” not sure if they got disconnected.
“Are they?” Lisa asks.
“What?” “Are they real? Vampires and—and angels and—“
“Yes,” Amelia tells her.
Another long pause, and then Lisa makes a small sound. For a moment Amelia thinks she might be crying, but when she speaks again, her voice is strong. “I think I knew that,” she says. “I don’t know how. I don’t know why I don’t remember. But tell me everything.”
“I don’t actually know much,” Amelia admits.
“I just woke up from a dream where my son was possessed by a demon,” Lisa tells her. “I’ll take what I can get.”
“Hang on,” Amelia tells her. She rests the phone against her shoulder and reaches into the side table drawer. She pulls out the journal, the packet of research and news clippings and notes she began to gather the second time Jimmy disappeared. “Ready?” she asks, opening the book.
“Think I might need a drink, first,” Lisa tells her, but then, “Yeah, ready.”
Amelia begins reading, speaking. With Claire sleeping—peacefully, her mother hopes—in the next room, she starts explaining everything she learned from the past few years, from the research into strange news and stranger legends to the feeling of having her family ripped apart by an angel called Castiel.
Lisa listens without comment. She makes a noise when Amelia first mentions the Winchesters, but when Amelia asks her about them, she says she can’t remember why the name sounds so familiar.
When Amelia is finished, nearly an hour later, she waits to see what Lisa has to say. She’s not sure what she’s expecting; how do you react to someone telling you that all your worst nightmares are real?
“What are we going to do about this?” Lisa says.
“Do?” Amelia asks.
“That stuff is killing people,” Lisa tells her, her voice rising in volume. “That’s what you said, right? Haven’t you ever wanted to do something about it? There’re people out there who hunt these things, you said—“
“The Winchesters,” Amelia agrees. “But Lis—“ the nickname comes out easily, “How? Where would we even begin?” “I don’t know,” Lisa admits after a moment’s pause. “But haven’t you ever thought about it?”
Amelia has, and she spends a moment thinking about it again. It’s dangerous, and irresponsible, and scary, and she has Claire to think about, and her parents, and her job, and the fact that she has no idea to go about hunting ghosts no matter how much research she’s done. But that’s not to say she hasn’t considered it.
“Claire and I are going to my parents’ for Thanksgiving next month,” she says slowly. “We’ll probably have to stop on the way up. For lunch. Or coffee. If we should go to that coffee shop, and if you should happen to be there, we’ll talk.”
“Deal,” Lisa says. “Goodnight, Amelia.”
Amelia hangs up the phone. When she sleeps, she dreams of angels, demons, of dark shadows in the corners of rooms and lights that don’t look quite right. It’s not the first time, but for the first time, she has a plan.