Genre: Young Adult Urban Fantasy
Emma watched a cluster of mourners gather around the fresh grave at the foot of the hilly cemetery, curling and uncurling her fingers into her palms. The black-clad figures clung to one another, finding comfort in knowing they didn’t mourn alone. Comfort Emma couldn’t share. Their shock and grief and anger pounded against her, even across the distance.
The wind shaped Emma’s dark hair into softly waving tendrils and she brushed it away 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.
But she couldn’t.
The slightest touch, the slightest betrayal of emotion and she would lose everything. Even a hug, 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, 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.
Gabriel 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. Straightening, 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 a little longer.
The blood-encrusted fabric of his shirt pulled against his skin as he peeled it away. Two thick, twisted lines of red disfigured his back, fresh scabs healing over aging scars. They felt hot against his fingertips. 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. 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,” he said. “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 relaxed.
“Can I get my shower now?” he asked.
“Are you sure you’re okay? You look pale.” She touched 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.”
“I’m fine ,” he said.
“You look more and more like your father every day.”
“’Night, Mom.” He closed the door and let his head fall against it.
Emma picked at the paint stains on the worn cuff of her oversized hoodie, waiting for the final bell to ring. Huddled in a corner of the cheerful, chaotic art room, she made no effort to join the other kids celebrating the last day of school.
The bell rang and the school erupted with students and teachers jostling to reach the parking lot. Rather than face the crowd, she meticulously cleaned her brushes. She finished her task and glanced toward her final project – an intricate, Japanese-style brush painting. - before heading into the fray. She could breath easier after the halls cleared and the noise of so many emptions buzzing around her quieted.
She neared her locker and a freshman darted past, brushing against her hand. She flinched as their bare 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 and let his dark emotions bleed into her.
Emma pulled her hands deeper into her cuffs and fought against the empathy coursing through her. 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 locker one last time. She avoided looking at the memorial program taped to the inside of the door. She didn’t need to hold on to another reminder. She pushed the door closed and it gave a decisive, metallic clang.
Lily’s death had shocked the close knit community of West River, but soon faded from memory. After all, in a place defined by the college dominating the north side of the city, people were used to stupid kids doing stupid thing. Once the official investigation ruled the drowning an accident, everyone moved on.
Everyone but Emma.
She felt cursed to carry the burden of memory alone. More than her best friend, Lily had been her kindred spirit, her Blood Sister.