My back aches, and I need toothpicks to keep my eyes open. Three days of sitting huddled over the desk in my bedroom is enough to break me, but I need to make sure these orders go perfectly. Mom comes in and out several times, bringing me meals and trying to encourage me to take a break. I mostly ignore her, but after three days straight, I need sleep to function.
The bedroom door creaks open, and my bright-eyed sister, Audrey, pops her head in. I give her a wan smile, reaching my hands above my head to try to stretch out some of the kinks in my spine. Shutting the door, Audrey comes in, flopping onto the bed and staring up at the ceiling.
“How are your orders going?”
“I’m working on background still.”
Audrey shifts to stare at me. “Still?”
I shrug. “I want to get this right.”
“All right, Ms. Perfection. Are you trying to be the new Madeline?”
I balk, my chest constricting. Never in my wildest dreams would I think I could be compared to her. I don’t have that kind of confidence. Ignoring Audrey’s snarky remark, I leave my desk chair, rolling over her and lying on my back to stare up at the ceiling alongside her.
“That was mean. Sorry,” Audrey mutters.
“You know how much this means to them,” I whisper.
“Yup, I do.” Audrey’s tone rises and falls. Finally, I turn on my side and eye her. “What’s going on?”
Tears well in Audrey’s eyes, and she tries her best to hide them. “I didn’t pass training.”
“What?” I sit straight up, my heart thundering. “What do you mean you didn’t pass?”
“I didn’t pass. Madeline brought me in yesterday and fired me. I will never work for The Order.”
“Oh, Audrey.” My heart is heavy just thinking about it. Reaching out, I brush my fingers against her arm. “I’m so sorry. Did she say why?”
“Not really, and I don’t quite understand what happened. It was all going good, you know? I passed the tests, and I was making progress. I’d even gotten to the field training, but before I could finish the module, she brought me into her office and told me I was done.”
“Want me to ask her about it?”
“No.” A tear slips down Audrey’s cheek. “No, I just want to be done with it. I spent years studying for this, you know? I need to find something else to do.”
“What will you do?”
“Not a fucking clue.” Audrey throws a hand over her eyes so I can’t see her vulnerability anymore.
Resting onto the pillow on my small bed, I stay as close to her as I can. I want her to know that I’m here for her, but I know that my presence and my job with The Order will hurt her, so I don’t want to bring it up if I don’t have to. Audrey breaks that silence for me.
“Do you have a plan yet? I can’t believe she didn’t give you a detailed plan of action. It’s so unlike her.”
“I think I can understand it,” I reply.
Audrey looks at me with a suspicious glance. “Why?”
“Because there are four individuals I’m haunting for one order. Two of them live together, one I swear lives at work and the last one…? Well, I think he’s where I need to start.”
“Why would you start with him instead of the others?”
“I think his situation is more dire. Remember when Nick got all depressed a few years ago?”
“Think like that, only without the support system in place. I’ve watched him on and off for the last few days. He has zero routine and he’s drowning in bills with no job prospects.”
“I get that,” Audrey interjects.
“No, you don’t. You can always come home, to us, live here still. Tyler doesn’t have anyone to fall back on.”
“Well, he might.” At Audrey’s confused glance, I continue, “The other day, out of the blue, he got in his car and drove downtown to one of the other subjects’ places of work. He stood outside the front door for at least five minutes before turning around and getting back in his car and going home. They went to college together, and I think he might have thought about it.”
“Asking for help, you mean?”
“Asking for a job.” I press my lips together. “It’s likely a good solution to the problem, if I can only get him to take that final step and walk inside.”
“How do you know this other guy will even see him?”
I sigh. “Wyatt…I think he’s going to be my problem child.”
Audrey chuckles. “Why do you say that?”
“The others are so easy to read, but he’s so closed off. He doesn’t have a personal relationship with anyone, it seems.”
“But he knows Tyler?”
“Yeah, like I said, they went to college together. I think…maybe…Wyatt has a soft spot for Tyler.”
“What would make you say that?”
I sigh, rolling onto my back again, images and information flashing through my mind, everything I’ve learned in the last few days flooding into my brain just waiting for me to dissect it. I’m not sure I can answer Audrey. It’s a gut feeling more than anything, but they had been friends at some point. When that was, I still don’t know, but surely if they were friends at some point, then Wyatt would still have a soft spot for Tyler, wouldn’t he?
“Yeah, um…They were friends years ago. I can’t fathom him ignoring Tyler if Tyler were to say he needed help.”
“Unless he’s a total asshole.”
“Well, he is that.” I put a hand on my forehead, my eyelids drooping heavily. “I don’t know. I’ve never seen someone not have a weak spot.”
“You just want to get them talking.”
I snort lightly, my eyes closed. “Maybe.”
Audrey pokes me hard in the ribs. “Are you falling asleep on me?”
“Should we tell Mom we want to share a room again?”
“No.” I yawn. I have worked so hard the last few days, and I feel as though I haven’t made nearly as much progress as I thought I should. I’ll need to start my haunting proper soon, take it to the next step.
“What about the other two?”
“What other two?”
Audrey turns on her side, facing me and poking me in the ribs again.
“The other two people you need to haunt?”
“Oh.” I yawn again. “They’re best friends. They live together, actually, and…well…I ghosted in on them the other day to do some observation, and let’s just say they need to come with warning bells.”
“What do you mean?” Audrey props her head up on her elbow.
“Are you sure you want to talk about this? I mean…doesn’t it sting a little?”
Audrey’s eyes well up again, but she rolls them. “Let me do this for you.”
“We should talk about you, not my orders.”
“Well, I don’t have much to talk about. You’ve got something going for you right now. Me? I’m just a bum still living at her parents’.”
I chuckle. “Hardly a bum. Maybe a bit lost right now, but I have a feeling you’ll find your way again.”
“Yeah. I can always go back to waitressing.”
I snort. “Your dream job.”
“Exactly.” Audrey falls backward, landing next to me. She may be playing it off as lighthearted, but I can see the pain in every word she says. She’d wanted this almost as much as I did, and when she’d been accepted into training shortly after me, she’d been just as giddy as I was.
“You tell Mom and Dad yet?”
“No.” Her tone turns somber. “I’m not sure what to say.”
“They’ll want to go down there themselves.”
“I won’t let them.”
“You can’t hide it from them.”
Audrey shrugs. “I can try for now.”
I frown, knowing that won’t last very long. Audrey, while I love her dearly, has never been someone who can hide her feelings well. “What exactly did Madeline say to you?”
“It doesn’t matter. I’m not part of The Order anymore, and I guess the entire weight of carrying on tradition is on your shoulders. You always were better with people than I am.”
I snort. “Only because I’ve had you to teach me.”
Audrey’s lips do quirk up at that, and it’s nice to see. “Tell me about these other two. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of orders with four.”
“Actually, you’ll find this amusing. When I went to do my observations the other day, I ghosted into the house—well, the bedroom—because that’s where Colin was.”
“Holy fuck, I think I know where this is going.”
“Right!” My eyes widen. “Hand wrapped around his dick, hips pumping, the whole nine yards. I must have got there right toward the end.”
“What did you do?”
I whimper, embarrassment heating my cheeks. “I went through the wall, which was straight into the bathroom, where I ran right into the other one.”
I shake my head. “No, not jerking off, thankfully, but he was completely naked after just showering.”
“All that water dripping down his hot skin.”
I send Audrey a sharp look. “Do you need to get laid or something?”
Audrey shrugs. “It’s been a while. Leave me alone. I think it’s hilarious.”
“You would. You’d probably jump him.”
Audrey’s wicked grin is answer enough.
I roll my eyes. “You’re insane.”
“Nah, I’m just not as tightly wound as you.”
“I do not need to know this.”
Audrey hits me lightly on the arm. “It’s nothing you don’t already know.”
Chuckling, I fight off another yawn. “Audrey, I need to sleep.”
“So go to sleep.”
I snort. “You’re in my bed.”
“Can I just crash here? I’m tired of crying alone.”
“Fine. But I swear if you hog the covers, I’m kicking you out.” We shift around the bed, pulling the blanket up and over our shoulders. “And you have to turn the light off.”
Audrey groans, but she does it without any further complaint. As soon as she’s back in bed with me, I grab her hand and give her a gentle squeeze.
“I’m sorry about what happened with Madeline.”
Audrey sniffles, and I can tell she’s nearly started crying again, but she doesn’t say anything as she burrows under the blankets. I let silence fall over us and let her sit with the moment. I love my sister, but I also know how good she is at avoiding her own emotions when she wants to. Maybe Tyler is a bit like her in that regard. Wyatt definitely is, which brings in a point I hadn’t thought about.
I need to find a way to get Wyatt to open up, and it may not be me. It may be the others who can get him to talk faster than I can. However, given how distanced he is from them, it’s going to take a feat just to get them into the same room, except perhaps Tyler. Maybe he is the key to all of this.
“What?” I focus on my baby sister.
“Next time I see Madeline, I’m going to yell at her.”
Laughing lightly, I pat Audrey’s hand. “You do that. I’m sure she’ll take it like a champ.”
“She deserves it.”
“She does. How anyone could sack my baby sis I don’t know, but she deserves it.” It doesn’t matter if I agree with what happened or not. I will support Audrey in everything.
We fall into silence, and, before I know it, I’m struggling to keep my eyes open again. Settling into the pillow, I allow them to close with a decision clicking into place. I’ll start with Tyler, help him rebuild the relationship he had with Wyatt and go from there. Everything needs to be centered on getting Wyatt to open up.