“You know,” it occurred to me belatedly, “I’m an idiot.”

Nen valiantly did not snicker.

“Um?” Janet asked.

“What was the name of your ex?” I asked.

“Basil.  Basil Grey.  He made this awful joke about Earl Grey tea, but that’s lavender based, not basil.  Why?”

“Seriously, Alucard?” I shook my head.  Vasil Greyn.

“I…” that was the verbal equivalent of an, “I don’t know shrug,” which I could hear over the phone.

“I’m just railing at the universe that coincidence isn’t really a thing. Every time I think it might be, the universe comes up and gooses me metaphorically with a little tee-hee.” I gave Nen what I hoped was a meaningful Look.  “Tell me about this guy you saw at the mall.”

“At first I thought, `Okay, this is creepy, but it’s just…’ you know.  Like you said.  Coincidence.  A cloud I hadn’t seen in the sky.  A cat that disturbed the birds. Something.  But he focused on me.  I could feel the, I don’t know, it sounds all literary: the weight of his gaze. But that’s really a thing.”

“Yeah, it is,” I confirmed.

“He kept coming towards me. I had the spooks, so I skedaddled. I kind of half-ran down the block and got on the next bus. Then he did, so I got out just as the doors were closing, but he called my name, like he knew me. I didn’t know him.” She took a breath.

“I don’t doubt you,” I said. I know I could have asked something like, “Are you sure it wasn’t someone from, like, high school who grew up?” but that kind of speculation just said I found her an unreliable narrator. I was first learning her truth.

“Oh, good.” She sounded very relieved. Did women really get doubted that often? I didn’t, um, doubt it.  “So I went straight to Rohana’s as soon as I got my car.”

“Probably a smart idea. And you thought to call me?” I asked. I didn’t want it to sound like, “You’re smart, why get me involved?” and I sort of wanted it to sound like, “I’d love to solve your problems,” but I’m kind of vaguely aware that that whole White Knight thing isn’t a turn-on to modern women.

“You helped me before,” she said, kind of quietly.

“I don’t want you to feel weird about this,” I said, “but did it feel kind of like the sigil you drew?”

“Exactly,” she said, and it sounded like she was relieved, like I had found the correct key for a certain lock. Not to say that I got an achievement pop up on my personal scoreboard or anything, but I found myself on better footing for certain.

I nodded, and remembered she couldn’t see it. “Yes, great, um. Okay.” I took a breath. “But this wasn’t Basil?”

“No, but,” she stopped. “You know how in dreams you recognize someone but they’re not who they are in waking? That’s how it felt.”

I hmmm’d quietly. “Evil,” I said.

“Yeah,” she breathed.  “Evil.”  She laughed sharply. “A little melodramatic? Maybe he was just a stalker-y fan.”

“I don’t think so.  If it’s the person I’m thinking of, yes, he’s stalking. You, from what I understand.” I shook my head. I hadn’t realised I’d started pacing, but I was making a circuit back and forth from the computer chair to the now much more open living room.  Nen was perched on the back of the couch, watching me. Rayya was in the kitchen, making some lunch. I could smell curry and vegetables, so she was cooking, but so quietly I knew she was also listening.

“You sound pretty sure, but he knew my name, so I guess that makes a kind of sense.  I mean, right now I feel really stupid, really, because if I try and look at it objectively, I was chased from the mall by a weird guy who just guessed my name. Heck, any Rocky Horror fan could have been making a joke and guessing it.”

I hadn’t made the connection, but I grinned when I got it. “I suppose, and Basil and Brad both sound like terribly boring people.”

“Whereas I am just terribly mysterious,” she said, and I could hear her smile.

“Terribly mysterious.  Even without guacamole.” I grinned. “Can you cut guns in half with your mind?”

“Never tried,” Janet replied. “Maybe I can!”

“Let’s not experiment under pressure,” I mock-cautioned.  Well, I mean, it was a real caution, but we weren’t talking seriously. “Objectively, you said.  I’m pretty sure we’ve past rationality.  We were supposed to take the left turn at Albuquerque if we wanted to go that way.”

“Straight to the Goblin King’s castle?” she asked. She laughed, and I joined her.

“Well, hopefully not.  He moved the stars for no one, but that sounded like maybe he could.”

“Changing your stars?” She tsked.

“Hey, it’s possible. Maybe we’re just taking the scenic route to rationality. Seeing the sights.”

“The biggest ball of twine in Minnesota?”

“Well, it’s my first demon.”

“Demon?” she yelped.

“Yeah, I don’t actually really believe in them myself, but I am starting to be convinced.”

“Demon?” she repeated, this time in a squeak.

“I’m afraid so. Bouncing baby boy demon.” I sighed, but I was listening carefully.

“You mean, like, fallen angel?” she said, so quietly I had to think a few times if that was actually what she said.

“Well, I don’t know if the mythos is correct. As I understand it, vampires and shapeslippers are types of demons, if you go with the dimensional traveler thing and why are you crying?”

“I just…” she sniffed, “I am just really freaked out.  I think I need to get off the phone.”

“You’re safe at Rohana’s?”

“Rivendell, remember?”  Smiling through the tears.

“Okay.  My phone’s on me, so if you need anything, or if you hear anything, or you see him, let me know.”

“Yeah. Uh, thanks.  I mean it.  For just listening to me.”

“It’s not a problem. Well, at least, it’s a problem that I can solve, which means it’s awesome.  Go get some rest. And hydration. And vitamin B complex.”

“Thanks Doc.”  She hung up.