Note: The ending of this installment will make more sense if I mention that after a big argument, Henry stayed behind in NYC when Lizzie left for Thanksgiving. If and when this goes through an edit, that scene will be added.
I came back in through the kitchen door. I could hear a low murmur of conversation, muted enough to suggest everyone had moved into the living room.
Well, not everyone. My mother was in the kitchen, arranging the pumpkin pie on its stand. The apple and pecan and mincemeat – Devon had come back from a semester abroad in England with a taste for the stuff, which I couldn’t stand – waited patiently for their turns. I stuck my finger in the bowl of whipped cream and my mother rapped me across the back of my hand with a spoon for my trouble. It was worth it; she made the whipped cream from scratch and it tasted like heaven.
“I’m shorry I didn’t tell you,” I lisped around the finger in my mouth.
Mom regarded me for a moment, then swiped her own finger through the bowl and left a dollop of cream on the end of my nose. I tried to get it with my tongue, screwing up my face in concentration, and we both laughed.
“Forgiven. But Lizzie, I don’t want you to ever feel like there are things you can’t tell me.”
“It’s not…” I grabbed the tea towel off the oven handlebar to clean off my face. “I wanted to handle it on my own. That’s why I moved to the city.” Where both Corinna and Devon live. Real independent there, LIzzie.
Mom’s smile softened, smoothing the wrinkles by her eyes. “I know, sweetie. But there’s no shame in asking for help when you need it.”
I opened my mouth to tell her that wasn’t it – and shut it again. Let her believe this was about taking my first steps without Mommy and Daddy to hold my hands. It was more about being Lizzie without being Lizzie Bell, with all that entailed… but the last time I’d brought that up we’d fought about it, and I was tired of arguing.
“I’ll help you carry the pies,” I said instead.
Later, when the kids had gone to bed and Aunt Eliza and Uncle Daniel retired to the guest room to watch TV, I finally told my parents the whole story. And I mentioned, too, Adelaide’s bizarre reaction to the name “Malphas.”
“In demonology, Malphas supposedly commands forty legions of hell and appears in the shape of a crow.”
Dad made a noncommittal noise. “There’s no such thing as demons, though, whatever this entity might claim. We’re dealing with a powerful spirit, certainly, but only that.”
“Still,” I broke in. “He chose that name for a reason.” I remembered the way the ghost had seemed to want to taunt me. You want to play games with me? “There’s probably a clue in there somewhere.”
Devon nodded. “At the very least, taking the name of a demon says something about his sense of humor.”
“Nothing good,” said Mom drily.
“Do you think we could be –” I paused to yawn widely — “be dealing with a Greater Spirit?” There were a few ghosts who, for reasons we couldn’t quite determine, didn’t follow all the “normal” rules and restrictions of ghosthood. We called them Greater Spirits, and hoped they’d stay far away. Even for hex-eyes, encounters with Greater Spirits usually ended badly.
Dad blanched. “I sincerely hope not.” Mom just looked resigned.
“But if we –” I yawned again.
“Let’s table it for now,” Mom said. “You’re exhausted — we’re all tired — and we don’t have a lot of information to go on. Let’s all go to bed, and we’ll start fresh tomorrow.”
“A sensible suggestion,” said my father, sneaking a kiss. “This is why I married you.”
“Oh? Not for the glamorous ghost-hunting life?” She arched her brows. “Or my skill with pies?”
“Definitely your skill with pies,” I said. “Goodnight, all.”
I went up the stairs to a chorus of “Goodnight, Lizzie”s, and got ready for bed in the same small room that had been mine since childhood. Before I slipped under the covers, I called home — Henry was strong enough to hit the speaker button on the base unit of the cordless phone if he wanted to talk to me.
“Hi, this is Lizzie Bell. I can’t get to the phone right now, but –“
He didn’t want to talk to me.