Name: Jenny Kaczorowski
Genre: Young Adult Urban Fantasy
Dark shadows flickered at the corners of Emma’s vision as she watched mourners gather around the fresh grave below her. They clung to one another, finding comfort in knowing they did not mourn alone. Comfort she couldn’t share. Even from where she stood at the top of the cemetery, their shock and grief and anger pounded against her.
The wind shaped her dark hair into softly waving tendrils and she brushed it away from her face with the back of her hand. She shifted her feet and the frozen dew clinging to the grass crackled under her.
Emma knew she should join the other mourners. She knew they expected her to share in their public display of sorrow.
And she knew she couldn’t.
The slightest touch, the slightest betrayal of emotion and she would lose everything. Even a hug, a simple gesture meant to console, could send her spiraling out of control.
She remained frozen, a silent witness to their grief. She saw every detail in stunning clarity. The lurid green of the carpet covering the hole in the ground and the cold, dead coffin that held her best friend. The sky, the same colorless grey as her eyes, burned in her mind. Overwhelming sorrow surrounded her, but she refused to absorb any of it.
Her parents were worried. Not that she blamed them. She’d never handled loss well. She’d nearly self-destructed when Gabriel left four years earlier. And he’d only moved away.
Lily was dead.
Unbidden, an image rose before her eyes. She squeezed them shut to block out the vision, but the nightmare remained. Lily under the river, a modern Ophelia caught in the current. Her black and empty eyes stared at nothing. The golden strands of her hair spread around her like the rays of a halo in a Renaissance painting.
Emma tried to steady herself, to fight the panic rising in her chest. It was just a dream. It wasn’t real. It couldn’t hurt her. She repeated the words drilled into her brain. It’s not real. It can’t hurt me.
After so long, she’d almost learned to believe them.
But this time it was real. Lily had drowned. And no matter what anyone said, Emma knew it wasn’t an accident.
Gabriel eased his body into the kitchen and closed the door behind him. He held his breath until the deadbolt slid into place. His eyes darted around the darkened room, illuminated only by the pale green of the florescent lights under the cabinets.
An empty wine glass stood in the sink, collecting water dripping from the faucet. A droplet hit the glass with a soft splash. He pivoted, ready to react, but the rest of the house remained still and silent.
He doubted his clumsy attempt to sneak in had gone unnoticed, yet he didn’t hear the telltale creak of his mother’s bedroom door or the soft padding sound of her footsteps along the hallway. He slipped into the bathroom.
Leaning against the sink, he brushed his hair back to check for visible cuts or bruises – anything that would draw his mother’s attention.
It wasn’t a clean fight, but he could cover the marks it left on his body. He could hide the truth from his mother a little longer.
His blood-encrusted shirt pulled against his skin as he peeled it away. Two ragged scars ran along his shoulder blades, bloody and hot to the touch. A bruise spread across his neck, seeping up from his chest and shoulder. He pressed against the dark purple splotch and winced.
His mother’s voice made him cringe. “One minute, Mom. I’m about to take a shower.” Throwing a towel over his bare shoulders, he stuck his head into the darkened hallway.
“Are you alright?” Her dark eyes, so like his own, scrutinized his face. “I thought I just heard you come in.”
“Late night. Studying.”
“Again?” Her voice sounded sharper than usual.
He held her gaze, but remained silent.
“You’re barely seventeen,” she said.
“I can handle it.”
“What are they doing to you?” she said. She looked small and helpless. Gabriel could see fear in her eyes and wished he could erase it.
“Please, Mom.” He was afraid she’d come too close to the truth and force him into an outright lie.
“I’m trying not to ask too many questions, but please don’t keep shutting me out.”
“I need to do this, Mom. You know that. I can’t help who I am.”
She twisted the slim, gold ring on her left hand. “I talked to Grandma today,” she said. “She invited you to spend the summer with her.”
Gabriel startled. The invitation could only mean one thing. Emma.
“I want you to go,” his mother continued. “I want you to leave California.”
“Yeah. Sure. I’ll go,” he said.
“Thank you.” The worried crease in her forehead eased.
“Can I get my shower now?” he asked.
“Are you sure you’re okay? You look pale.” She reached out to touch his face and he instinctively pulled back. She dropped her hand and balled it into a fist. “I forget you’re not my little boy anymore.”
“You look more and more like your father everyday.”
“’Night, Mom.” He closed the door and rested his head against it.
What had happened after so long? What prompted his grandmother to call him back to Ohio? And how long could he hide the truth – about his life, about Emma – from his mother?
Emma sat in a secluded corner of the cheerful, chaotic art room. Rather than face the rush of students and teachers jostling to reach the parking lot, she meticulously cleaned her brushes and arranged her artwork in her portfolio.
Small for sixteen, she was pretty in a haunted kind of way. Her grey eyes had no hint of color, no blue or greenish cast. The soft waves of her hair refused to either fall in neat ringlets or lie smooth and straight, giving her a permanently untamed, spritely look.
She glanced toward her final project – an intricate, Japanese-style brush painting – before heading into the fray again.
Students hurried to escape the high school and revel in the first afternoon of summer vacation. Emma slipped into the deserted hallways, able to breathe easier without the noise of hundreds of emotions buzzing around her.
A wayward freshman darted past and brushed against her. She flinched as their skin touched. His anxiety washed through her, triggering a vision of the boy pressing a razor blade against his wrist. His suffocating melancholy strangled her and she froze, fighting for breath. Part of her wanted to run after him, to hold on to him and let his dark emotions bleed into her.
Emma fought to extinguish empathy coursing through her veins. It wasn’t like she could help everyone. She couldn’t even help Lily. Closing her hands into fists, she dug her nails into the soft flesh of her palms, focusing on the real, tangible pain until his emotions ebbed.
Letting out a shaky breath, she turned to check her empty locker one final time. She avoided looking at the memorial program taped to the inside of the door. She didn’t need another reminder of her loss. She pushed the door closed and it gave a decisive, metallic clang.
Lily’s death shocked the small college town of West River, but soon faded from memory. Once the official investigation ruled the drowning an accident, everyone moved on.