Olivia’s phone rang as she was pulling laundry out of the dryer. She set down the bedsheets in her arms, dodged Mia as the baby wrapped herself in a warm blanket, and headed to where the phone was mounted to the wall.
“Hello?” she said, barely glancing at the caller ID.
“Hi, is this Olivia?”
The voice was familiar, but Olivia was too tired to place it. “Speaking,” she said.
“Hi, it’s Iris Davies.”
How had she not recognized Iris? Clearly Olivia needed to get some more sleep. “Iris, hi! What can I do for you?”
“I hope you don’t mind, but Celine told me about your situation.”
Olivia paused, trying to think of which situation that might be. “The ghost one,” Iris clarified.
“Oh! Right. No, that’s fine.”
“Anyway, she mentioned you were interested in learning more about mediumship?”
“I am, actually,” Olivia said. “But I’m not really in a position to, like, take classes or anything right now.”
“Oh no, that’s not what I meant,” Iris said. “Actually, I was wondering if you’d want to come on a case with me. I’m investigating a haunting over in Petersham on Wednesday night. It’s a pretty open and shut case, so I think it’d be a good kind of sample of what you could expect.”
“So I’d be shadowing you on the job?” Olivia asked.
“Kind of?” Iris said. “Oh, the baby’s by the door. Is it locked?”
Olivia whirled around in time to see Mia reaching for the doorknob to the back door. “Yeah, it is,” she said, walking over to gently redirect her daughter.
“Good. Sorry, I just caught a flash of it and had to tell you.”
Olivia laughed a little nervously. “No, I appreciate it,” she said, twirling the phone cord absently in her hand. “So Wednesday?”
“Yeah, I’m planning to get there for six or so.”
“I’m actually off on Wednesday night, but I’d need to get a babysitter.”
“I’ll do it.”
Andrew’s voice came from the doorway behind her, and she let out a small scream. “Andrew!” she snapped.
He held up his hands. “Sorry, sorry!” he said. “I thought you heard me come in.”
“I swear I didn’t see him,” Iris said on the phone.
“It’s fine,” Olivia said, trying to get her heart rate back under control. “Um, Andrew just said he’d babysit. So yes, I’d love to come with you. Thank you for inviting me.”
“It’s no problem,” Iris said. “I figure it’s a good way to kind of see what the actual field is like. I’ll pick you up around five on Wednesday?”
“That works great,” Olivia said. “Thanks a lot.”
“See you then.”
She hung up a second later. Andrew, who was now holding Mia, looked at her curiously. “So what’s happening Wednesday night?” he asked. “Are you finally going on a date with Big, Handsome, and Just a Coworker?”
“Not unless Iris has changed her appearance significantly since I last saw her,” Olivia said.
Andrew raised his eyebrows. “Oh?” he said. “I didn’t see that one coming, but…”
“No, I’m not going on a date with Iris,” Olivia said, rolling her eyes. “She’s letting me shadow her on a case. In case I want to do anything with this whole…ghost thing.”
She was blushing now, she knew. Trying to hide it, she headed back over to the dryer and continued to unload the laundry.
“Hey,” Andrew said, setting Mia down beside the basket of clean sheets. “That’s great. I know it’s not something you asked for, but maybe this could be a good thing for you.”
She shrugged. “Maybe,” she said. “I mean, maybe it’ll get me out of Keegan’s. That’s all I’m really hoping for at this point.”
She picked up the filled basket and shifted it onto her hip. “I’m going to go fold this,” she said. “Thanks for babysitting tomorrow. I really appreciate it.”
Andrew nodded. She had been waiting for some kind of skepticism from him, that careful consideration he always seemed to have when she talked about seeing spirits.
But instead he smiled. “I’m glad you’re doing this,” he said. “Even if it doesn’t work out, it’s a step, yeah?”
He was right. She smiled back. “Yeah.”
The voice on the other end of the line was cautious, and Roman really couldn’t blame him for that. It had been fifteen years since they’d parted ways with Roman telling him to never contact him again.
“Hi Dr. Jennings, thank you for returning my call.”
“I can’t say I wasn’t a little hesitant, since last time we spoke you told me to ‘get the fuck out of here or you’d toss my corpse over the town line’.”
Roman cringed. “Yeah, that was messed up,” he said. “I’m sorry about that.”
There was a long pause. Then Dr. Jennings sighed. “Are you still there?”
“Still here too. Never cursed, but we have three kids and a business together.”
“Good. She was always one of my best assistants. I’m glad you had a better rapport with her than you did with me.”
Roman cringed again. He knew he deserved this. There was no way Jennings wouldn’t remember how his attempts to get Roman over the town line had ended.
“So what can I do for you, Roman?” Dr. Jennings asked.
“Not for me,” Roman said quickly. “There’s another person here, a woman. Minnie Jensen. She’s been stuck for eighty years and now she’s dying. And I’m trying- no, I’m desperate to get her out.”
“And you thought maybe I would have some insight into that?”
“Maybe?” Roman said, suddenly feeling foolish.
Had he blown his chances fifteen years earlier being a hungover jackass to a slightly overeager PhD student? This had been his fault. If he had cooperated with Jennings more, maybe they would have been able to solve it already.
“Honestly, Roman, I wish I did. My theory about it having something to do with magnetic material in the local geology affecting your physiology didn’t hold water. And nothing else in the area led to any other revelations. After you and I went our separate ways, I continued to research but nothing came of it.”
“I get it,” Roman said.
“I can send you the contact information for some of the others who were researching around that time,” Jennings said. “If you want? I know your interactions with them went about as well as ours did.”
“I’ve emailed everyone I know of except Derringer,” Roman said.
He’d be happy to mend fences with any of them except Derringer. That relationship was beyond broken. But maybe he was being selfish by not going back to Derringer, even after that particular researcher’s attempt had gone so disastrously.
“Derringer has been barred from further human medical research,” Jennings said. “But I’ll send the rest along, just in case there’s any that you don’t have.”
“Thank you,” Roman said. “And listen, I’m sorry. Really. I was angry and mean and drinking too much back then. You didn’t deserve that.”
“As long as you’re good to Celine, all is forgiven.”
They talked for a few more minutes, with Roman giving Dr. Jennings his email so he could send along the list of contacts. Then they hung up and Roman sat on the couch for a moment, looking into the empty living room.
He’d gotten lucky with Jennings. His hypothesis had been firmly proven wrong without Roman’s assistance. But maybe one of the other researchers had been on the brink of a breakthrough and Roman’s attitude back then had ruined it. And now it was too late and Minnie was going to die here.
And then Roman was going to die here too.