Graves had always freaked Scarlett out. Dead bodies trapped in boxes for all eternity and buried six feet under the ground. No. Thank. You. If Scarlett had any choice, she would be far away from the garden of the dead. But her mom now rested there in a cherry wood casket. It was mostly her sister Ashleigh's decision, but when Ashleigh asked Scarlett if she liked it, Scarlett nodded. How could she possibly like something that would hold her mother's dead body for the rest of eternity? But the red hue of the wood reminded Scarlett of her mother's hair, so as far as caskets went, it worked.
The sun hid behind the gray clouds as Scarlett neared the edge of the hill overlooking the cemetery below. Everything was still. Not even a bird chirped. Aside from Scarlett and her sister, the cemetery was void of people, at least anyone living. Many of the headstones scattered about had bouquets on them—some new, some withered. Others were bare.
Scarlett should keep walking. One foot in front of the other. Simple, usually. But her legs felt like cement blocks as she peered down at the sea of graves. Ashleigh was already halfway down the slope without even a look back. She walked straight to their mom.
Scarlett plopped crisscross on the ground as she watched Ashleigh like some stalker too afraid to get near. The ground chilled Scarlett's bare legs, but she didn't mind. She doubted a creeper would be bothered either.
So much for acting like an adult. Scarlett turned eighteen one month before her mom’s death. They’d celebrated together by buying a hundred bucks worth of scratch tickets—only fifteen dollars of which they recouped—while filling their stomachs on pizza and candy. Her mom seemed normal that day. Scarlett had made it through childhood seemingly unscathed. Sure, her life was complicated at times, but that moment, as she morphed from kid to adult with the one person she loved most, was perfect. Optimism swam through Scarlett, but her high didn’t last long. And the fall crushed her from the inside out.
She rolled the flower stem in her hand. A petal fell to the ground between her legs. Great. She ruined it. Now if she found the courage to keep going, she'd have nothing to leave. Then again, it had been six months since they buried her mom and she still hadn't found the strength to visit. She doubted today would be any different.
Scarlett had always wished for more from life. More excitement. More surprises. More something. She craved new adventure. So much so, she never appreciated what she had. Now her mom was gone, and, despite her mom’s fits and outbursts, all Scarlett wanted was to have her back.
The cool breeze from the storm rolling into town caused goosebumps to rise on Scarlett's skin. She inhaled the spicy smell of the Evergreen trees around her. So much death in one place was depressing. A sadness lingered in the air where loved ones grieved the ones they’d lost.
Scarlett had spent so much of her life embarrassed by her mother, which, to some, was just a normal part of life. But unlike her friends who wished their mothers wore different clothes or drove different cars, Scarlett’s mother spoke to people who weren’t there. Hallucinations plagued her. And, though Scarlett seemed normal to everyone else, she sometimes wondered if she, too, was different somehow.
An insecure teenage girl, shocker. It wasn’t her hair or her clothes that made her feel out of place, though. Something else sent an off feeling through Scarlett. Something she couldn’t quite put a finger on.
She fit in well enough with her classmates. She was liked by most, guys especially. The attention from them made her buzz inside. Sometimes too much. The more they wanted her, the more energized she felt, as if she could absorb the lust radiating from them. A shrink would probably say she had daddy issues or something. Well, lack-of-daddy issues, since she’d never met her father and knew absolutely nothing about him.
Now she didn’t even have a mother.
With only silence to listen to, she lost herself in memories: her mother's body sprawled on the ground with limbs in unnatural positions, blood pooled at her sides. Nausea hit Scarlett. She tried to think of anything else, but the memory consumed her.
Her mother's upturned wrists revealed a vertical slit on each arm.
An aura of sorrow, anger, and guilt always surrounded graveyards: an emotional feast for Cade. He had spent the weekend practicing his battle skills and now his magic ran low. His mother discouraged him leaving Faerie, the fae realm, so often—he wasn't as protected outside the Summer Court—but Cade found human emotion the most fulfilling. Most humans in his realm were servants who had exchanged their freedom for the kind of release only the fae could offer, their emotions already numbed by someone else. So, from time to time, Cade came to the mortal world.
A young woman sat along one of the newer graves, her strawberry blonde curls swaying in the breeze. The wind carried the warm scent of her freshly shampooed hair. He'd seen her before, always placing a single rose onto the earth. He'd fed from her emotion, but it didn't satisfy him. She had sadness, sure, but nothing more than a small first course. Likely one of those optimistic types who saw the good in everything, even death. What good there was in dying, Cade didn't know. The fae could die, but they didn't suffer from disease or old age as often or as soon as humans did.
Usually there were others visiting the buried bodies, but today there was no one else. Perhaps the dark gray clouds rolling into town scared the humans away. Cade didn't understand why humans spent so much of their time and their feelings on the dead. But grief was a strong emotion and an easy source of replenishment.
The girl gently set a yellow rose down on the ground in front of the headstone. Cade was about to give up and try a bar instead. Alcohol stimulated emotion and people could be found there even in the middle of the day, drinking away their problems, as if puking somehow purged their sorrows. As he scanned the graveyard one last time, he noticed movement on top of the hill above. Another young woman sat there. She peered down the hill, still. Within a blink of the eye, Cade evanesced himself to the girl. Even though he wore his invisible glamour, he kept his distance and hid behind a tree, its branches grazing his skin.
This girl shared a resemblance to the other. Both had light blue eyes and freckles sprinkled across their noses, but this girl's hair was a dark brown, the opposite of the light tone of the other. And unlike the other girl, a surge of emotion surrounded her. Cade inhaled slowly, allowing his aura to absorb her feelings. Sadness, fear, and guilt mixed. This girl was avoiding something.
Cade had never tasted such intense turmoil.
It hit her quickly— the hole in her soul. Like a chipped windshield, once cracked, the pain spread and flooded Scarlett. She looked down and, in the distance, saw Ashleigh lay down today's rose. She should be there, too, but she was weak. How was she supposed to move on if she couldn't even visit her mom's grave? The pain swelled inside her until she was ready to burst.
Something else hit her. A presence of some sort, as if she were being watched. The emptiness inside her felt almost plugged. Suddenly, she didn't feel so sad. So broken. Scarlett glanced around. She saw no one else in the opening of trees where she waited. If she believed in ghosts, she might have thought her mother had visited her. But she didn't. She didn't know what to believe anymore.
Ashleigh thought their mother had escaped her worldly pain and now spent her days on streets of gold. Scarlett wanted to believe her mother had finally found her paradise. No matter where her mother resided now, Scarlett had to believe she wasn't in pain. Wherever where she was, she was gone. Scarlett couldn't ask her for advice, couldn't laugh with her until they cried. Her mom wouldn't be there to watch her walk down the aisle. She couldn't hold Scarlett's future children. It was unfair and stupid, and, most of all, it just plain sucked.
As the pain crept back in, the pressure in her chest flared. Before she burst into tears as she had every day since her mother died, a calmness rushed through her. Nothingness replaced the knife that pierced her heart.
Something was wrong. The grief Scarlett should feel had vanished.
She was numb.