I felt him staring as I stood over the dying man, waiting for me to do something. Well, not something. What we came here to do. At least he didn’t prod me immediately, standing with his dark hair hanging over his blue eyes. A frown made him look older than his early twenties, lips in a tight line I caught clearly out of the corner of my eye. Trying not to notice his judgment, he who judged me the least of my brothers.
My hand tried to move, to rise and touch the cheek of the old, withered body decaying slowly in the bed before me. The soft, steady beep of the monitor he’d been hooked to, a literal lifeline, pulsed in time with his slowing heart. The sound of anticipation, of impending oblivion. A gift, or so I was told. The gift of passing from this realm to the next with the help of an angel of Death.
“Eve.” I heard the huff of impatience in Nero’s voice, knew I hesitated too long, even for him. My brother, despite the rest of my family’s opinion of me, still held onto his kindness toward me, even if it was only a thread. “We need to move on.”
Right. That meant I had to take this old mortal’s soul exactly as a child of Death should. Take it and let it travel onward to the next realm and allow the physical body of the man to return to dust and earth. The circle of Creation complete and tidy, wrapped up in the way things were meant to be.
All I had to do was lift my hand and… and. Sweat broke out on my upper lip. This was the part I dreaded the most. Not the release of the soul. That I would welcome with a smile of relief and a hurried thanks to whatever power in the Pantheons might allow me to succeed for once. That ending, his ending, would be a blessing for sure. Except I had a terrible feeling this wasn’t going to be one of those neatly boxed and bowed moments.
Precedent had been set in my case, after all. Far too many times.
Nero shifted beside me, his anxiety layering over mine. My brother was well aware of my history, of my previous failures and, I was certain, understood my lack of enthusiasm. But even he was at the end of his patience, irritation wavering like a heated mirage between us, burning me with its growing intensity. I hated how empathy seemed to haunt me, that whatever power I possessed drew on the stress and worry of others. I had my own cares, didn’t I? My own needs and fears. Despite my brother’s attempt to be even remotely supportive, he wasn’t helping.
I caught a shaking breath and squared my shoulders while my brother whispered something at the doorway. The power of Death stilled the air, quieted the world, slowed things down. Nero’s influence kept out the nurses, the family. Normally, this task I dragged out into infinity took a heartbeat, less than that. Loved ones lifted and freed in an instant of time split in two by the power of Death. But more and more often I found myself frozen, unable to act, emotions getting the better of me while I struggled to fulfill my task.
“Eve.” The stress in Nero’s voice hurt like a blade across my skin tied to the whip crack of frustration he released. I winced from him, shrank not out of fear but out of pain. “Now. Or step aside.” We both knew I couldn’t let him take my task. My name stood next to that of this old man in the Book of the Dead, inscribed there by Death himself. I had to do this no matter my fears. Our father asked and I agreed. I had to make this work.
The instant I decided my hand lifted as if on its own, the thin, trembling fingers ending in sparkling nail polish chipped at the edges feeling foreign, detached from my body. What had I been thinking to wear bright pink paint like that? No, not my choice, but my best friend Tulip’s. I’d have to make her change it. I liked my natural nails better anyway.
My mind sank deeper into minutia, anticipating her unhappiness with my request to remove the polish, hiding from my rapidly expanding stress. Stress that only increased as my hand descended, fingertips feeling the heat from the man’s wrinkled skin, tiny hairs rising to greet my flesh. Overwhelming fear flared in my chest and the knowledge I was about to fail again hit me and hit me hard. From within and from the pulsing, worried aura of my brother.
Mist wavered at the edges of my vision, half blinding me, even as I made physical contact with the old man and gasped, a spark jumping between us.
His body arched, his eyes flying open, a moan escaping his lips while the heart rate monitor speeded before settling into a strong, healthy rhythm. I jerked my hand back, weight in my chest as the mist dissipated and left me to stare at the man in the bed.
His skin had filled out somewhat, still old but no longer carrying the pallor of Death. Pink now, warmed and puffed slightly from the shriveled wasteland he’d been only an instant before. And, even as Nero’s hand grasped my arm and pulled me forcefully away, I knew the truth. The old man’s eyes fluttered, opened. And he smiled at me.
Alive. Healthy. Full of Life when his fate was Death.
No. Not again.
I stumbled into the corridor, the dim light from the room behind me disorienting as the nighttime activity in the hospital ward finally reached us. Good thing Nero was paying attention, because I certainly wasn’t. My brother’s power encouraged the nurse and two family members hovering outside the door to ignore us, preventing them from noticing when we hurried past them and left them to discover their dying loved one, once poised on the brink of Death, had now fully recovered.
Nero’s hand didn’t loosen on my elbow as he guided me with firm agitation past the nurse’s desk and out the large, swinging doors at the entry to the ward, stopping only when we reached the quiet common room on the other side. I inhaled the scent of industrial cleaner and I tried to hold back tears burning my throat and eyes, closing my chest in a tight fist of disgust at my own failure.
“I’m going home,” Nero said, quiet and intense, his head low over mine, tall, slim body shaking with anger. It washed over me, though I wasn’t sure he was aware of the impact of his emotions as it did. I liked to think he had no real clue what the power of his feelings did to beat me down while his fists sat tight at his thighs. No hitting required.
My eyes glazed over, unwilling to focus while I locked my gaze on the artful hole in the knee of his jeans. “I’m going to tell Dad what happened.” He grumbled something unintelligible, stilled. “Just what we knew would happen, what always happens.” An inhale as he pulled in his emotions at last, offering me some relief. “I don’t know why we keep doing this, Eve.” I shrugged when he fell silent, knowing he waited for a response, an answer I didn’t have to give. How did I know? Because I’d been here before, so many times. This reaction, my reluctant acquiescence, all part of a sick, familiar dance I’d twirled to since I was eight years old. Half my life spent shaking with my head bowed under the anger or irritation or frustration of one brother or sister or another.
Nero didn’t leave yet, though. He stayed long enough to reach out one hand, unclenching his fist, an offer of kindness more than I could bear. My eyes lifted, locked onto that gesture of remorse and compassion. I didn’t deserve his pity, the waves of it lapping at the edges of my hurt. When I flinched from him Nero sighed and shrugged, the motion showing in the shifting of his feet when my gaze dropped again. That outstretched hand settled instead on my shoulder and squeezed ever so slightly, caring pouring out of him and into me through that contact for the briefest of instants. I choked on his warmth and the gentleness he shared, though likely without knowing he did it, pushing back as he did the darkness trying to eat me alive.
My brother and his huge heart, so much like Dad’s I could barely stand it.
He turned and left me then though I longed to call him back, to wallow in his understanding, just one more moment of such generous support. I could face anything knowing Nero cared about me. But I let him go, my brother disappearing through a doorway on the other side of the room. I knew he was no longer in the hospital. That exit had taken him home, likely to Dad and a conversation he’d had with our father so often. Why then didn’t those talks seem to matter to either of my parents, knowing as they did what a screw up I was?
It was just as well Nero was gone. His attempt at comfort would likely turn to disgust and he’d be unable to hide it. Disgust at my glazed over gaze, fluttering the distance to the blue carpet. Relief came with his departure, at least, no more heavy pressure from Nero’s feelings—kind or judging—though I missed his presence all the same. Because sometimes it was easier to deal with the emotions of others than my own. Most times. Abandoned to the ache of yet another disaster I caused, I had no place to hide.
My feet carried me forward, arms circling myself in a protective hug. I’d have to go home soon, to see Dad and tell him personally I failed again rather than letting Nero’s report stand. Not that my father would be angry or anything. I often wished he would get mad, lose it and tell me I was never again to return here to the mortal realm, that I was a failure as an angel of Death. But that never happened. Instead he kept trying, just like Mom kept trying, the two of them winding me up and sending me out in some futile attempt to make me like them.
It was Dad’s disappointment that troubled me so much. He had to know how hard I was trying. But it wasn’t enough. It hadn’t been since the first time I joined my big brother Nero, my idol angel of Death then, on my very first task and, to the delight of the child I was, failed. Only to discover what I’d done—saving that girl’s life in the instant of the car crash that was supposed to kill her—meant I wasn’t like my brothers.
No surprise there, I suppose. I ran my hands brusquely over my upper arms as I strolled the corridors of the hospital and settled myself. There was something soothing about places like this, on the cusp of Life and Death. Which made sense, considering my parents and their particular jobs.
Just my luck, wasn’t it? That Death fell in love with Life and I was the result?
I don’t know how old I was when I realized I didn’t fit in anywhere. I scooted sideways to avoid a crash cart and three scrub clad people who rushed by, feeling their fear, their adrenaline soaked passions passing over me on their way. How the man on the far side with the silver hair was tired and worn and the woman behind him excited for another challenge. No one else could feel what others felt, at least that I knew of. My childish inquiries ended when my sisters and brothers first grew angry then mocked me for my questions, calling me either weak or a freak.
Maybe I was both. I paused on a glass bridge suspended over the grounds of the facility, looking out into the night, the moon reflecting from the snow covered ground. Lights flashed in the distance, headlamps of cars moving in and out of the parking lot, lives ebbing and flowing, not knowing in their mortal realm just how much existed outside their little world.
I could have blamed Mom and Dad for having me, for choosing, for the first time in history, to have a kid together. But I knew my freakishness wasn’t their fault. My nose was cold where I pressed it to the glass and exhaled mist onto the polished surface. A frown pulled at my forehead, the memory of that mist making me angry then sad. This was on me, this endless failure to do what I was born to do.
Which always led me to the same question. If I was an angel of Death like my brothers, I should have been able to send that man to his peace. So, I wasn’t, right? On the other hand, when I was sent on task by Mom, as an angel of Life, I invariably killed those I was meant to grant first breath to. It made no sense to me, nor to my furious sisters who learned to hate being assigned to hold my hand.
So, not an angel of Life nor of Death, daughter to that last where he only had sons. As always in the last eight years, as time went on and my hurt grew, I found myself asking the quiet night outside the obvious question.
What was my purpose?
I’d asked this question so many times the words themselves blurred together into nonsense. Except tonight felt different to me, charged with more need than I’d ever felt. Standing there that night, on the cusp of my sixteenth birthday, I knew it was time I did. I couldn’t go on like this anymore.
That reminder made me sigh and sag. My birthday was tomorrow, the turning of my year in a few hours. Which meant it was also a day I dreaded more than any other. Moving day. The day I left my father’s realm and joined my mother in hers.
Typically I would have let that realization—one I carefully and conveniently forgot for as long as possible—bum me out sufficiently it would ruin the rest of my last night free of my mother’s influence. But, now that my decision to do something about this mess had been made, I leaned away from the window and felt a smile lift my lips, my heart’s ache easing, tension released. Wallowing wasn’t really my thing, though I suppose most people wouldn’t blame me. That is, most people who weren’t my brothers, my sisters or my parents. So, reasonable people with hearts and souls and things.
Two more years of this. Until I was eighteen and able to decide which realm I wanted to live in forever. That was the promise they made me. Four more cycles back and forth, passed between them.
No. No more. Sixteen years had to be enough. Surely they would see that. I would talk to Dad. He would listen this time because I would refuse to act unless he did. And then, I would have that same conversation with Mom. This had to stop. I was done.
Well, we’d see about that.
Steps brisk and ready to go home, I spun to find the nearest door and go talk to Death. And almost ran into a familiar figure who hurried past me. How Daphne missed me standing there I don’t know, but when she turned, two of our sisters hurrying past her, the look of utter fury that crossed her face made me step back.
She spun and jabbed a finger in my direction, her blonde hair spilling in ringlets over one narrow shoulder, perfect face pinched with rage. “Don’t you dare,” she snarled, pointing then at the sign over the door at the end of the hall behind us. “You come near my nursery tonight and I’ll make sure you never, ever set foot in the Garden again.”
Her two companions observed with mixed emotions. Brunette Cadence watched, wide-eyed, young enough at thirteen not to have become as harsh and jaded as my older sisters. But icy blonde Ophelia smirked, green eyes narrowing while her disgust hit me solidly in my empathy. Likely on purpose.
“Go back to Undertown where you belong, loser.” She turned her slim, pale body, draped elegantly in a stunning pink sundress, until she’d cut me out of her view. “It’s time, Daph.” Reverence there, and respect for our oldest sister.
Daphne didn’t comment to Ophelia, her determined fury still focused on me. While Ophelia’s emotions did some damage, it was nothing compared to the full out attack on my psyche Life’s successor-in-waiting slammed me with.
I shrank back from her, shook my head. Opened my mouth to tell her I had no intention when she crossed her arms over her chest, foot tapping in her expensive shoe on the carpet. “If you think what you did tonight went unnoticed, Eve,” she made my name sound like it tasted awful in her mouth, “you can forget it. Everyone knows. Everyone.” That meant Dad and Mom. And all my siblings. Well, not like there was far for me to fall, after all. No one would be shocked, would they? Small comfort, that. “There is something fundamentally wrong with you.” Her words emerged in a hiss of fury, hateful and full of venom. I shriveled within despite my need to fight back, her powerful emotions sucking all the will out of me and crushing me under the weight of her rage. “I’ve told Mother you’re trouble, that she should have put you down like the monster you are a long time ago.” My cheeks heated, whole body shaking, my ears pounding and the mist moving in around the edges of my vision. Ophelia added her agreement in layers of pressure. Oddly, the young apprentice, Cadence, didn’t join in the fun. She’d better hope Daphne didn’t notice.
I wanted to run away from them, from my perfect, model sister who always got it right and was Mom’s favorite, but I couldn’t make my body move. This empathy of mine was a curse that held me in place, forcing me to take in all the vitriol and make it mine while the core of my soul screamed to fight back.
“Stay away from me, Eve.” Daphne spun and stomped off at last, Ophelia waving at me with delighted spite.
Cadence followed after them, her eyes on me while the doors of the nursery swung shut behind the trio with a whoosh of air.
Finally able to move, I stumbled backward into the glass, tears burning tracks down my flaming cheeks, choking on more while I forced myself to turn slowly and walk away.
I didn’t make it far. I chose the nearest ward and slipped inside. I needed to hide, to escape and probably should have done so in a realm where I couldn’t hurt anyone. But the comforting peace of the hospital enveloped me, the soft emotions of the night mixing with the lingering limbo of health and illness drawing me deeper.
I sank at last onto a narrow, uncomfortable sofa under a big window at the end of a ward corridor and hugged my knees to my chest. I had just enough control left to hide myself from the mortals who patrolled the halls before sinking my forehead against the worn denim of my jeans and weeping as softly as I could, expelling the violent, poisoned emotions I’d gathered from Daphne and Ophelia into the fabric of my pants.
When I was finally done I sniffed a few times, wiped my nose on the cuff of my dark plaid shirt and collapsed back on the worn cushions. I always felt better when I let out the emotions I gathered, stronger somehow, more myself. I had to do it privately, though, or risk gathering even more feelings from others who either wanted to make me feel better or, more often, chose to tease me for my weakness. But I’d come to realize crying wasn’t weak. If anything, it helped me. And while I didn’t like having to go through five minutes of sobbing my heart out, the alternative was unimaginable.
My eight year old self learned early I either let the emotions out as fast as possible or I couldn’t function. And while I struggled with offering myself compliments, my own resilience shocked me sometimes.
Weary and weak from the experience I examined my own aura, the empathetic layer surrounding it that seemed unable to do anything but absorb the feelings that battered me on a constant basis. I’d often wondered where it came from and why it troubled me so. It had grown denser over the years, taking on more than I’d ever thought anyone could handle. It was able to smother my aura so completely at times I could almost feel myself slipping away. And in those moments when I hovered on the edge of no longer being Eve, of falling into darkness and the stillness of release, there was the mist.
I dreamed about it my whole life. Felt it hiding within me like a wavering second soul. I was certain it was because of that odd presence I was able to bounce back over and over, find myself again, even dig up a bit of optimism when I needed it most. But neither my father nor my mother could tell me what it was for or about.
Dad would just look at me strangely and hug me. Mom, on the other hand, with her arrogant overbearingness that burned with the forward momentum of Life unyielding, wouldn’t even listen.
I teased the edges of the mist, letting myself sink into it only to feel it retreat with what seemed to me like sadness. Some kind of hesitation, of waiting even. I sighed and shook off the questions this kind of exploration always raised. I was getting nowhere, as usual. Except to the place where I believed utterly I was just a freak.
“Eve.” How had she snuck up on me like that? I jerked slightly in surprise to find Cadence standing a few feet away, hands clasped before her. She seemed nervous, glancing back over her shoulder, brown curls bouncing, before taking a hesitant step forward. “Are you okay?”
Why should she care? That bitter and instant reaction made me inhale and instantly reject such a response. “I’m fine.” I wasn’t, that much had to be obvious, but I would make a good show of things in front of my younger sister.
Cadence joined me, to my utter shock, sinking to the sofa next to me, hands still folded, now settled in her lap over the pattern of flowers printed on her full skirt. She cleared her throat, a small and delicate sound, dark hair scented with Mom’s favorite roses. “I’m sorry.” The words blurted from her, lower lip trembling slightly. “For not speaking up.”
I gaped in shock, not sure what to make of this encounter, or of the sorrow in her aura now tinting my inner world with the need to hug her. “Against Daphne?”
Cadence nodded, swiped at one round cheek as a tear fell. She glanced at me quickly, large, brown eyes blinking, glistening with more moisture. She was crying? For me? “I wanted you to know,” she said, “I hate how she treats you.”
Despite the weight of her sorrow, I almost laughed. It was a gut reaction to such kindness, unfamiliar from one of my sisters. “That makes two of us.” No, I wouldn’t take this girl into my confidence. This had to be some kind of trick, a ploy of Daphne’s to give me solace then use it against me. But Cadence’s emotions were so raw, felt so real, I found myself softening toward her when she spoke again.
“I’m not strong enough to stand against her,” Cadence said, the wisdom of Life in her young voice. “And I won’t always be able to take your side. But I’m here for you, Eve.” She smiled then, offering one hand which I took slowly, limply, feeling the gentle offer of friendship and sisterly love in her touch through our auras. “You might not know it, but you’re the strongest of all of us. What you go through, how mean Daphne is to you.” She sniffed subtly, stood after squeezing my hand, still clinging to my fingers. “You never say anything to hurt anyone.” The wonder in her tone made me flinch from the truth of living in Life’s realm. “You’re my favorite sister. I just thought you should know.”
Cadence hurried off, her skirt whispering in the quiet, feet carrying her away from me too quickly for me to react in my stunned silence.
The moment she was gone distrust woke, thoughts of Daphne again invading. Cadence was my sister’s apprentice, shadowed her. She had to be behind this attempt to get into my heart. None of my sisters had ever tried such a thing before. Unlike Death’s sons, it hadn’t taken Life’s daughters long to start their lifetime dance of one upping and spite against me. At least my brothers waited until I was eight and proved to be a disaster before shunning my presence.
But as I sat there and thought it through, the more I considered my younger sister’s actions, the better I saw the truth.
Never once had Cadence treated me with disdain or spoken an unkind word. In fact, the opposite. She had always gone out of her way to avoid being mean or cruel. Still, it was hard to accept maybe, just maybe, I had a friend in Life after all. And, possibly more than one. What if there were those of my sisters without the courage to speak up as Cadence had? Surely all of Mom’s daughters weren’t like her. I was proof of that and, honestly, aside from Daphne and Ophelia, most of my sisters simply ignored me as unimportant and unable to assist them in their climb to favor with Life.
How many of them despised Mom’s encouragement to competition as I did?
Regardless of the truth, Cadence’s visit succeeded in releasing the last of my hurt. That and the time to myself granted me ease and relief. Enough so I finally felt up to facing my dad. I rose from the couch and stretched, vertebrae popping and muscles pulling. My black hair had escaped the messy bun I preferred, so I made busy with still shaky hands. The stretched out elastic barely contained the massive curly mess that fell to the small of my back when I let it. As I stepped past a partially open door, fumbling with the static laden stuff, I glanced inside, gaze caught by a flicker of light and my own reflection in the window.
I’d had better hair days, that much was obvious. Didn’t help my looks my plaid button up sat askew, my messy bun more of a monstrosity of knots and twists sticking out behind my head than a hairdo. My already pale skin looked ghostly in the glass, eyes two sunken, black holes instead of the dark blue I knew they were. I jerked to a stop, fingers finding my sharp cheekbones, wondering if this was how mortals saw me when I was playing at being an angel of Death or if I just looked like crap in general.
The flickering light steadied to constant illumination, drawing my gaze down from my own appalling appearance and to a face turned up toward me. I froze in his doorway, realizing only then I’d drifted close enough I caught his attention. I had to have been in pediatrics I realized as I flushed at the sight of the handsome teenager in the bed. His dark hair, sheered short, showed a long, narrow scar at the base of his skull. But his high cheekbones and wide jaw made him classically good looking, as did the pale, gray eyes that caught the light from the screen of his laptop. Eerie, though, his face in that glow, his cheeks slightly sunken, teeth seeming transparent when he smiled and beckoned.
I’d let my glamour fail me, the masking of my presence clearly gone or he never would have seen me. How could I be so careless?
I glanced behind me, one hand going to my throat in surprise and embarrassment. Partially out of concern I’d let myself slip and partially because I’d never had a cute guy pay me the least attention. Never mind I rarely had the chance to encounter anything resembling a handsome boy my age outside my brothers. Which made me shudder slightly and ew in my head before I squeaked out a question.
He laughed, a nice sound, full of life even if maybe he wasn’t. And he wasn’t, not really. I could feel Death in him as I crossed the threshold of his room and paused there, hesitant and nervous. Consorting with mortals was against the rules, every angel of Life and Death knew that. We didn’t visit this realm to make friends. We were here to do a job and that was it. I could get into some serious trouble just talking with him. Somehow, that made this brief moment of interaction all the more appealing. I blushed at my own tiny flare of rebellion as the young man pulled himself up higher, three pillows behind him, laptop sliding sideways from his long, lean fingers. Again he gestured.
“You,” he said. “Unless you’re a hallucination, then you can come in anyway.”
I laughed, a half snort, half donkey braying kind of sound and fell silent, cheeks hot yet again. This was a disaster and I really had to go. Instead, I found myself shuffling my feet, hands diving into my back pockets while I struggled to not feel like an awkward loser. But holding my ground nonetheless. Where had this brave Eve come from?
“Hallucinations are allowed to sit down,” he said with an air of authority. “But only for a minute.”
I giggled that time and, despite knowing if Daphne or Ophelia saw me I’d be in for a huge dressing down, I slipped closer, sinking into the rigid armchair beside his bed. He grinned back at me, white teeth shining.
“I’m Adam Worth,” he said.
“Eve,” I whispered. Cleared my throat and tried again. “I’m Eve.”
He waited but I didn’t have a last name to give him and he was so cute and his smile was so sweet and friendly I couldn’t make my brain function well enough to fake one without choosing something totally stupid. So I held still and quiet and smiled back weakly until he shrugged. He had no idea I just enjoyed this moment of being with someone who had no idea what a crash and burn I really was.
“Nice to meet you, Eve,” he said. Then frowned, looking at me a little closer. “You okay?”
I nodded, fast and too eager. “Yeah,” I said, both hands on my face, wiping away imaginary moisture as I realized I must have looked even worse than I thought from all the crying I’d done. “Just… rough night.”
Adam set aside his computer, hands settling in his lap over the bleached white sheets. “Hear you,” he said, only the faintest trace of hurt in his voice and his aura. Funny, his emotions touched my empathy but didn’t assault it, just skimmed past as if unable to sink in. Either that or he had no desire to share, not really. He looked away, chin falling, lips tight before he exhaled and smiled at me again. “Need to talk about it?”
His offer caught my breath. I’d never had this much interaction with a mortal before, for obvious taboo reasons. Usually, my time with them consisted of either killing the ones who were meant to have life or saving those bound for death. Not exactly conversation evoking times. Let alone had a handsome guy my age ask me to tell him my troubles.
And his question was genuine. It came through clearly, his aura vibrating with his offer. He truly wanted to help.
In a rush of guilty need, I gulped and spoke. “Things just don’t seem to go the way they’re supposed to when I’m around.” Vague enough for him?
Adam’s lips were lovely, really, made the most delightful bow shape when he smiled. And those white teeth, utterly perfect. “At the risk of sounding cliché,” he said, gray eyes smiling, too, “which is, in itself, a cliché,” he winked, “that’s life, chiquita.”
“I suppose.” I sighed, sagged in the chair, the plastic squirting air from small holes, making embarrassing noises. Adam smirked, but out of real amusement and not a trace of teasing so I smiled back despite my conscience whispering to me I really, really had to go. Just get up. Get out of there before someone caught me. So why then did my body remain where it was, heart sighing softly in response to his kindness? “I just wish for once I could have been able to do something right.”
Adam’s smile faded. “It’s not your fault,” he said. It could have sounded like a rote response, something lacking authenticity or truth. But, from him, it came out with so much insistence my empathy latched on with purpose and absorbed it of its own accord. First time for everything. I gasped softly at the change and almost missed his question when he spoke again. “Who’s dying?”
I tensed when understanding woke, but his emotional support lingered, strengthened and I let it. Like I had a choice, or so I told myself, enjoying the moment immensely as it stretched out in delightful softness I’d never experienced before. “He’s not,” I said. “Not anymore.” That came out as a whisper despite Adam’s emotional contact.
“And you’re upset about that?” Adam shook his head, but didn’t judge, his aura warm and kind. “Grandfather?”
I didn’t respond, let him assume. Because I couldn’t tell him the truth.
“Is your family upset he’s going to be okay?” Adam sounded totally confused now, though his faith in me didn’t waver. Was this what it was like to be mortal? To believe utterly and wholly in things and never doubt? But no, my sisters and brothers had beliefs this strong.
So doubt was just me.
“In a way,” I said, struggling to answer him. “It’s been expected, you see.” That sounded terrible, had to, to a mortal. Especially one who was sick. “It’s complicated.”
Adam chewed his lower lip a second, the warmth of his aura fading, leaving me, replaced by his own worries. I wished then the empathetic layer I carried was reversible, that I could comfort him with what had, until now, felt like a lifelong curse. “I guess so,” he said. Then sighed, sorrow in his energy. “People are weird about dying.”
“Tell me about it,” I said. His aura shifted into pain, physical and emotional and I almost reached out with my hand to grasp his but held back, knowing better. I didn’t dare touch him. For all I knew, doing so would trigger an ending I’d regret.