Rain on my family, on hats and veils. Rain on suits too dark to show. Rain on high heels, staining dark hose.
Rain on my grave.
I’m not in it. Some guy is—a man too poor to buy his own, who chose to trade red plasma for a real burial, and happened to look enough like me that he could take my place.
But that’s my grave. I bought the plot. I picked the casket. I’d planned it, see? I was not going to be a burden to anyone when I died, whether by accident or old age.
Well, I won’t be a burden now. Notte tells me that when Night-Children die, we turn to ash, to dust, and the wind takes us away. There will be no burial for me.
My mom’s legs give out partway through the eulogy. She sobs my baby, my baby over and over again, and my older brother holds her up and glares at my grave because by dying, I did this to her.
My gram doesn’t seem aware of mom, the preacher, or anything. She hums Steal Away under her breath, and just stares down at the hole, swaying.
I can hear her humming from this far away. That’s gonna take time to get used to.
I know they’ll be okay. Notte had his people make sure my life insurance paid out the full settlement, and somehow the IRS won’t touch it. Before, I would have fussed about this, insisted they pay tax, been the letter of the law. Now, all that matters is my family.
I thought I’d prepared for everything, but how could anyone prepare for this?
“The grief of those we love is a bitter brew,” says Notte beside me. He’s holding a huge black umbrella over us; we’re just an indistinct shape, too far away to bother anyone.
“My life wasn’t supposed to end this way,” I manage.
He says nothing.
“Their grief isn’t necessary,” I say, gesturing at my family, and it’s a lie he lets me keep until I’m ready to throw it away. “They’d understand, if I told them. We don’t have to do this.”
“The grief shouldn’t be necessary,” I snap, too wound up to stop. “We shouldn’t have to hide. The Fey are out now. The dragons are. The Kin. People know there’s magic. Why are we still hiding?”
His patience is terrible. It’s the same reason why cool prosecutors are dangerous. I’m wrecked, but I can’t wreck him, and it’s driving me crazy.
“Kin are viewed as human, and neither the Fey nor dragons are predators of the human race,” he says, so gentle. “Additionally, all three are numerous enough to preclude violence. We, the Night-Children, are not so numerous, and we cannot risk the safety of our family or the safety of human-kind. Should we be forced to defend ourselves, there would be much death.”
“Our family.” We don’t look like family.
“Yes.” He means it.
I blurt it out. “I wish you didn’t seem like you cared so much.”
“Would you prefer I be cruel when our relationship is still so newly minted?”
Our relationship. That’s one way to put it.
He rescued me.
I owe him, I know I do. I’m not under any delusions. But the creature he rescued me from is just like him, and I can’t just forgive that.
Another “Night-Child” made me and set me loose like a bomb.
So I don’t answer. I can’t yet.
He lets the silence lie. Patience again.
The preacher finishes the eulogy. People wander away—I bet to Aunt Linda’s. She’s got the space, and after funerals come loads of food. That’s just the way it is.
My brother carries my mom.
Gram goes nowhere. She’s five foot nothing, drove herself here, and nobody’s making her go until she’s ready.
She keeps singing over my grave.
The trumpet sounds within my soul
I ain’t got long to stay here
Standing in the rain, we wait—her, me, and him, and I’m trying to be ready, trying to take the final step, but my gram moves first. She turns to leave and slips in the wet grass.
If she saw how fast Notte moves—but she doesn’t. He’s just there all a-sudden, offering his arm, and she takes it with a nod like a queen. She lets him offer escort her to the gravel path, then—still singing—makes her way down to the parking lot.
My Lord, my Lord, He calls
He calls me by the thunder
I stare at them both, holding the umbrella, all alone.
I know I can’t go back to my old life. When I was made, turned into a vampire, I killed people. It doesn’t matter that I wasn’t in my right mind. It doesn’t matter that the one who made me planned the violence. If the police traced those murders to me, my family will go through a whole other hell.
Notte’s protecting me in more ways than one.
Being dead is better. I get that. No police. No shame.
I still envy that dead dude down there, thinking maybe I should be put down like a rabid dog. Maybe I should ask to die, to make it real instead of the worst play-pretend ever.
Instead, I drink this bitter brew.
Notte waits in the rain, letting me grieve myself. The old Joshua is dead. I don’t know who the new Joshua is, and I’m in no shape to unearth that guy just yet.
He’s just standing there. I think he’d wait for days if I chose. Damn, I wish he were easier to hate.
Yeah, it’s time. “I’m ready,” I say, and my voice is so thick I don’t recognize it.
I walk to my grave, steadier on my feet than I ever was when human, more graceful than I could’ve ever hoped to be. I walk to the plot I purchased, to the casket I will never use, and throw a handful of soil. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. Grief of those we love may be a bitter brew, but I’m not sure my own grief tastes any sweeter.
And still, Notte waits for me. In spite of what I’ve been through and in spite of what I’ve lost, I believe his compassion, I see his empathy, and it’s twenty-four karat gold.
This would be so much easier if I could hate him.
I turn away from my grave for the last time. “Please take me home.”
At least I ain’t got long to stay here.