TW: past implied mentalism/mental ableism, paranoia, unreality, CSA reference, racism
I wasn’t upset. Of course. Just—resigned, was the word, I guess. I stuffed the phone back into my pocket, cleared my throat, and gave Nathan the closest thing to a warm smile I had.
Nathan returned it, a lot more genuinely than I’d expected, although I could still see the nervousness flashing around his acne-scarred face. “Uh, so this second part to the roommate interview—”
“Is there actually any chance of you not letting me move in? Cause I kind of already told my parents I wasn’t coming back.”
I flapped my hand at him. “You’re fine.” I shoved most of my resumes at him, plucking one off the top. “Hold these.”
“Uh, sure. Where are we going?”
“Anywhere that looks likely to hire a brown kid with a nice smile and no high school diploma.”
Nathan gave me what he probably thought was an encouraging smile. “You know, I was really hoping ‘private investigator’ meant ‘steady income.’”
“Then you’ve proved decades of dumb blonde jokes correct.” I raised an eyebrow as he looked a little like he was going to faint. “Don’t worry, I have money.”
“D-do I want to ask?”
“I did paperwork for a dying lady for two years.”
“She died, genius.”
He nodded consideringly. “That would explain why your resume says—uh, what is that? Geriatric care?”
“…I’m stretching the truth.”
Nathan sighed, but left it at that. First stop, McDonald’s. He behaved, surprisingly enough, while I started my usual pitch to the bored, greasy-haired cashier—
—and got shut down a minute in with “Apply online.”
“You know most of them are going to tell you that,” Nathan said quietly on the way out.
“Shut up. I already did. You think anybody with the name Jamal is going to get past any of the upper management?”
“I mean, you never know,” he started, then drifted off into awkward silence.
“Yeah. That’s what I thought, Nathan.” I glared at the offending resume, then sighed. What was the point of spending so much energy trying to solve weird twisty paranormal mysteries if freakin’ McDonald’s wouldn’t even look at my resume because I didn’t have a white enough name? Yeah, yeah, I know. Percentages. Just, I’d applied at twenty other places as well.
Well, there were at least another twenty in walking distance.
“Tie up your shoes. We’ve got a while to go.”
By the time I managed to run out of resumes—many of which I pawned off on overtired cashiers who lacked the strength of personality or resistance to charisma to actually say no—we were so far down Wellington that my feet hurt just thinking about the walk back. (In fact, so far down that it had turned into Richmond Road. Who the hell designed this city?) So when Nathan sat down at the Whispers Pub patio with a flop and offered to buy a plate of nachos, I couldn’t quite bring myself to say no.
As it turned out, I didn’t mind him. I mean, socializing was still painful. I’d found myself pretending to reread my resume or my notepad a couple of times on the way down, dreading having to make small talk. But he was happy to fill the gap with looseleaf chatter, not too densely, just a few comments here and there about his first job, friends of friends he’d known and their attempts to get hired or fired at fast food chains and coffeeshops and factories—it had the nice bonus that I knew more about him than he knew about me. I loved Jo, but she was a little too prone to uncomfortable truths about me, and I’d had a couple too many of those lately. Nathan was so comfortably detached from everything paranormal.
“So how do you do private investigation-y stuff anyway?”
I sipped on my iced tea. “Mostly by knowing how to use a computer. You’d be surprised what being a millennial will get you.”
“Are we even millennials anymore?” he mused. “I think we’re technically the next one.”
“Depends. When were you born?”
“Then you’re good. As long as it’s before the new millennium.”
“I thought the cut-off was ninety-four.” Then Nathan paused. “Wait, how old are you?”
I dodged the question. The follow-up question was always ‘why aren’t you in school’ and I hated that question. “I use deep-web stuff sometimes, but a lot of it is just plugins and knowing what I’m doing. And charisma.”
“Huh. Okay.” Beat. “I feel like asking too many questions is a bad idea.”
“Probably. What about you? Dreams, aspirations, nightmares?”
“Being able to eat gluten,” he said morosely, staring at the menu. “Corn chips, cheese and vegetables are usually safe.”
“Okay, so no covering the kitchen in flour.”
He cast me a bitter look, or rather, what was probably intended to be one. On his round-cheeked face it looked a bit more like a pouting chipmunk.
I stirred the ice in my drink around with a straw, smiling a little despite myself. Who was I turning into? A night hanging out with a beautiful, mysterious woman and now, getting drinks with my roommate. It was almost like I could be normal. Almost like I wasn’t some sort of weird bridge between the living and the dead.
That brought me to my next problem. I had to tell Nathan something.
Nathan slurped on his Coke. “Yeah?”
Wording. Wording was important. “About roommate stuff.”
“Do you sleepwalk?”
“What? No.” I paused. “At least, I don’t think so.” Johara would have told me if I did, but after the last few days I liked to leave room for the unexpected.
“Oh, good. My dad sleepwalks. It’s really awkward, especially ‘cause he sleeps naked—”
“I don’t sleepwalk,” I interrupted. “I just, uh. Talk to myself a lot.”
He nodded, mouth still wrapped around his straw. Then he made a considering expression. “…Like, thinking out loud? Or, uh, voices in the walls kind of thing?”
“Thinking out loud.” Not entirely true, but I’d gotten threatened with the mental ward before. Just because he seemed nice so far didn’t mean I was willing to push it.
“Yeah, that’s fine. Just keep it down. As long as you do the dishes, I’m fine.” Nathan finished his drink, then winced. “I’ll be right back. Washroom.”
Once he was away from the table, I pulled out Will’s phone. The text had erased itself, and I made a note to myself to research whatever app they were using, but the contact was still there. I debated texting something back, but without any previous messages, I couldn’t pretend to be Will with any degree of accuracy.
Something else occurred to me, though. I flipped to a new page of my pad and chewed on the tip of my pen. The thing was, I couldn’t remember if it’d been me or Jo, but we’d mentioned Mrs. Chaudhury by name the first time we’d met Will. It had taken seeing his picture for Will to fess up to knowing him. Maybe she’d been lying, and especially after the message from Ophis I had to consider that possibility. But—
But then there was the girl.
I had to go back a few pages to find it. The ghost on LeBreton flats had seen the girl with Gurjas—the girl that nobody else seemed to know about. I didn’t know who I was looking for, or if I was looking for another body, another ghost or a missing kid. I just knew that there’d been another person there when he died, and nobody else seemed to have any idea. Shapeshifters existed. That complicated things. She could be anybody – but if she’d seen Gurjas’s murder, and she was alive and around, why hadn’t she said anything? Had she killed him?
And then there was every possibility that she and Kiera were the same person. But I doubted that, for some reason. ‘Not white’, the ghost had said. That didn’t narrow things down much, and it wasn’t like I knew much about Kiera yet. But the self-assured, preening white woman I’d met on Lebreton Flats didn’t strike me as the type to be a young Black or Asian or Latina kid running scared from the scene of a crime. God, I wished the ghost had been more specific. Dead people didn’t have the greatest memory for details.
Okay, well, I had a possible extra factor in the case, but no information otherwise. I shifted back to what had been bugging me. Gurjas had been hiding something. Will and Avery recognized Gurjas – not the name Chaudhury. He’d been using a fake name, at least for his last name. Whatever else he’d been mixed up in, he’d been keeping his wife and kids out of it.
I groaned and let my head slump down onto the table. I was still missing too many pieces. As much as I was skeptical of any grown man’s intentions, Gurjas didn’t strike me as the abductor creep type.
“Aw, don’t stress yourself out.”
A chill ran down my spine. I lifted my head.
Nathan was sitting in his chair again, leaning on his arms on the table with a casual grin on his face. He was the most relaxed I’d ever seen him—I’d never seen him not picking at his hair or his arm, or nervously scratching at the backs of his hands.
“I figured you’d show up again sooner or later,” I mumbled.
Nathan’s face split into a wide smile, and green eyes sparkled from his broad face, under his rumpled blond hair.