“Iris, I need to apologize to you.”
That was a first from Vivien. Iris stopped as she was about to take off her coat at the front door of The Countess. What was she apologizing for? The army of ghosts Iris had had to cleanse? Her ridiculous plan to scrub the curse out of existence? Or was there something new? Iris was almost afraid to ask. But it didn’t matter because Vivien hurried on without waiting for a response.
“My stay at the Countess is ending today and I need to take a trip out of the country. So I won’t be here to help you with the curse problem.”
Oh, that was all then. Trying hard to keep the relief blooming inside of her tightly shielded, Iris nodded. “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” she said. “It’s alright though, I appreciate the offer.”
“If you need any guidance, you can call me. I’ll be happy to do what I can for you.”
Vivien held out a small white card and Iris took it and slid it into her pocket. There was no way in hell she was going to need guidance from Vivien, but she wasn’t stupid enough to say that out loud. Or think it too loudly, for that matter.
As she pulled her hand out of her pocket, a vision made its way into her brain. It was fuzzy, but there. Vivien on a hot summer day. Her beautiful face was covered by a pair of large sunglasses. And there was fearful confusion, but it wasn’t coming from Vivien. Iris thought maybe she was connected too, but she couldn’t be sure how. And before she could fully process the sight, it faded away.
“I have to go pack and say farewell to our generous hosts,” Vivien said. “But it’s been lovely working with you. I’m sure our paths will cross again.”
Iris waited until Vivien was long out of earshot to think, I hope not.
The bell jingled over the top of the front door at Forest Charms. Iris was sitting on the stool behind the register. She was exhausted. Last night, she’d barely been able to get to sleep. And when she’d finally dozed off, she’d been haunted by so many things. The woman, Rosalind. Her little boy. The other boy, Billy, the one she was so sure was still in The Countess. And of course Roland. His presence loomed over all of it and she just wanted him to go away so that she could focus on this. She was nearly nodding off in her seat, but the bell jerked her awake.
Andrew was standing in the doorway. His gaze was calculating, but she didn’t feel any anger radiating off of him as he started walking toward the counter. At least not anything as hot as had been before when Olivia got possessed.
Another thing that haunted her.
“Hi,” she said, almost cautiously. “What’s up? I wasn’t sure if you’d still want to work here.”
“I need to talk to you.”
Of course he did. She took a deep breath and nodded. “What do you need?”
He stopped in front of her. “I need you to tell me what’s going on, Iris. And I need you to tell me everything. I don’t care if it doesn’t make sense, if it’s not connected yet. You’re keeping me in the dark about all this and it’s my life on the line. And it’s clearly impacting you too. So I need you to tell me everything that is happening over at the Countess. And if you don’t, I’m done.”
His voice hadn’t risen at all during this, but he might as well have screamed, the way his words cut straight into her. Of course she couldn’t keep him safe just by leaving him in the dark. It was taking too long and every moment that Baxter might know about them was another moment that Andrew was at risk.
He was waiting expectantly. “I mean it,” he added. “Roman’s out too. I don’t know about Dr. Degas, but after what happened with Liv, she’s not happy.”
“Fine,” Iris said, her throat dry. “Fine, I’ll tell you everything I have. Is anyone else coming?”
Andrew shook his head. “Just me,” he said. “We can talk and decide how to handle it after.”
Forty minutes later, Iris was done explaining everything. She told him about the Countess’s history, about the doomed Billy and his parents’ sale of the house. She told him about the ghosts in the building, how they were so muddled, but she was certain Billy was still in there. And that it tied into the curse. All of this tied into the curse, but she didn’t know how. And most importantly, Charles Baxter was linked. And she was pretty sure he knew that she was looking into it.
“So that’s why you didn’t tell us anything,” Andrew said when she finally finished talking. “You thought you could protect us.”
Iris nodded. “I figured if he knew about me, I didn’t want him going after anyone else.”
“And you thought he wouldn’t do that, despite the fact we’re all working together and he knows it? That was bloody stupid.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
They were quiet for a moment. Iris’s throat was dry from talking so much. “What do we do now?” she asked.
Andrew laughed. “How the hell should I know?” he said. “I think…I’m not so sure. I suppose we need to find those connections, don’t we? Why are you so sure that these two houses are connected?”
“They were in lots side by side,” Iris said. “And Harbinger said that the sons were friends. She mentions Billy and Samuel’s friendship several times. Billy died before Barlow tried to take the house, but there’s something about it that’s itching at me so I’m going to keep searching through the library over at The Countess. I had someone offer to help me, but I don’t trust her to handle her power correctly, if that makes sense.”
“This woman Vivien. Nice enough, but she’s vying to be a star of some sort and she’s just irresponsible with her powers. She’s powerful. Like, I’m psychic. But she seems closer to Celine, if not even more gifted. And she refuses to get any help with it.”
“Great, just what we need. How can I help?”
“If we’re taking a local history approach, maybe start looking through the town archives? I’m not allowed in anymore and I don’t blame her. But I think once we have the full story laid out, we’ll be alright.”
Andrew nodded. “Yeah, I can do that.”
Then he froze. “What is it?” Iris asked.
“The Alderidge place. You said it was the Alderidge place?”
“Yeah, that’s right.”
“It did burn down.”
Iris couldn’t help the gasp that escaped her. “What? How do you know?”
“You sent me on the same mission back in March or so. There was an advertisement for an auction at the Alderidge place.”
He pinched the bridge of his nose as if that would help him remember what he’d seen more clearly. “I’d have to look at it again, but I recall the fact that the house itself had burned down.”
“Could you find it again?”
“Sure, I suppose.”
He glanced at his watch. “The library closes in a few minutes, but I’ll stop by tomorrow and dig it back up.”
The relief and embarrassment that came over Iris were so strong that it nearly took her breath away. Within five minutes of knowing everything, Andrew had confirmed the thing she hadn’t been able to confirm for herself. What could they have done in the past few months if she hadn’t been so focused on protecting him?
“Andrew, I’m sorry.”
He shrugged and gave her a rueful smile. “I understand why you did it. I don’t appreciate being left out of the loop though. And what happened with Liv is between you two. I’m not happy, but I’m not going to touch it any further per Liv’s request. But I appreciate you being willing to talk to me. And I think we’ll need to figure out what Baxter knows.”
“That’s the part I’m dreading,” Iris said. “I don’t trust him.”
“He’s a wanker.”
“Obviously. But there’s something about this that feels personal with him.”
“It explains why he was asking me and Noah about you.”
Shocked, Iris turned to him. “What?”
“Oh yeah, maybe a month ago? Gave a whole song and dance about his concern for you, how you were acting oddly. Which you were, by the way.”
“That…asshole…” Iris muttered, outraged.
This was a step further. He’d never taken her seriously before, and she never expected him to do so. But for him to actually do this to her, to try and turn people against her. That must mean he knew. He knew that she knew.
“Well, Dr. Degas did warn us that it was going to get worse. And she knows what she’s talking about.”
“I need to talk to her,” Iris said. “And Roman.”
This was going to suck. Andrew had been hard enough. But she was still slightly intimidated by Dr. Degas. And given her and Roman’s history, she was a little afraid that she wouldn’t be able to patch things up this time.
“I’ll leave now, if you’d like to call them,” Andrew said.
“Talk to you soon?” Iris asked.
He smiled as he stood up from his stool. “Yeah,” he said. “Talk to you soon.”
It was maybe fifteen minutes later when the phone rang. “Forest Charms, this is Iris speaking,” Iris greeted as she wiped down the counter.
“Iris, it’s Alicia Perez.”
Oh God, what now? Alicia wouldn’t contact her unless she was in even more trouble. “Alicia, hi,” Iris started cautiously.
“Are you going to be in your shop in twenty minutes?”
“Good. I need to talk to you and can’t do it over the phone.”
Alicia hung up and Iris stayed frozen for a moment. Part of her, the same part that was all too aware of both the fact that there were in fact people in town trying to get her and that Alicia already hated her guts, wanted to lock the door. Or get in her car, drive away, and never come back.
Alicia was a librarian. She wasn’t going to murder Iris, right?
Iris wasn’t so sure of that.
So instead she waited in a ball of nervous energy. Thankfully nobody came into the store while she paced in front of the counter. It was probably nothing. It was probably Alicia coming to yell at her because Judith couldn’t get the Harbinger fixed and was in trouble. Or banning her from the library.
Baxter was asking around about her. What was he doing? Sniffing for information? Trying to discredit her? Both? Iris wasn’t a private person and people already thought she was nuts. So it wasn’t like he didn’t have a head start there.
Finally, the bell rang and Alicia walked in. Her gaze was serious as she made her way over to Iris.
“Do you have any customers?” Alicia asked.
Iris could see the entire store from the counter, so even though she was sure no one had come in, she looked again. “I’m sure.”
“Please lock the door.”
Oh God, she really was going to murder Iris. Iris hesitated for a second, but the look on Alicia’s face gave her pause. The other woman was looking around the room, as though trying to spot anything Iris might have missed.
She wasn’t mad. She was scared.
Iris went past her and slid the deadbolt into place. “Do you want to go upstairs and talk?” she asked.
Alicia was looking at the picture windows at the front of the store. She turned to Iris. “Yeah.”
Iris opened the door marked Do Not Enter and led Alicia up the dimly lit wooden stairs to her apartment. She could hear Alicia’s footfalls slow behind her and knew that she was taking in the number of sigils and protective measures Iris had in the stairwell.
“Wow,” Alicia breathed. “Are these all security?”
“Most of them,” Iris said. “And I have an alarm on the door.”
The way she said that sent a shiver down Iris’s spine. When they got to her front door, she unlocked it and gestured for Alicia to go in. Iris slipped in behind her and locked it behind them.
“What’s going on?” Iris asked, heart hammering in her throat.
Alicia sighed. “Charles Baxter was asking me about you.”
That’s what all this was about? Iris was about to tell Alicia she knew already, but something about the seriousness of Alicia’s expression made her pause.
“What was he asking?” she said instead.
“He wanted your library records.”
Iris felt cold as the implications of that sank in. Her records. Her computer usage. All the research, the ways that she’d connected the dots. The way she’d connected him-
“I obviously told him no,” Alicia said quickly. “I don’t break patron privacy. But he wasn’t happy with me. And I’m not always there, he might find a way in.”
“Can you delete my record?”
“Absolutely. I can do that tonight. But Iris, is this still about the curse?”
How much should she tell Alicia? It was one thing to involve Andrew, who was actively working with her. But all she did was bring frustration into Alicia’s life, should she add danger too?
Not that it mattered, because she could see in Alicia’s eyes that she’d made the connection. “He’s involved.”
It wasn’t a question, and Iris didn’t bother denying it. “Yes.”
With one more glance at the secured deadbolt, Iris began the story for the second time that day.
END OF SEASON FOUR