When you die, the life you lost becomes a drug. You think if you can only have a taste – a brief glance – you’ll be satisfied, you’ll stop craving it. Maybe you’ll even be able to let them go. It’s a lie. It’s all a lie.
Dying was nothing. Losing them was everything.
I’d been keeping tabs. Asher warned me four, maybe five times, to step away, to leave it alone. But I was a Watcher. I’d given up my life to protect the town of Arden. Surely this was part of my duty, to watch over my family. That’s what I told my self that night, when the city man followed my sister into the dark.
I sat on a rooftop, invisible against the moonless sky. A small shadow against a much larger one. Church bells started ringing, and the wind caught them up in this way that made me feel like I was still alive, still there inside the small stone building, kneeling between my little sister and my father. The doors groaned open and the townsmen poured out, and I strained forward on my ledge.
I’d been good.
I hadn’t gone home – couldn’t have handled going home, so I stole my glances on church nights, when my family bled in with the masses. That’s how I justified it. I wasn’t just watching my father, or Emma. I was watching all of Arden. I was doing my job.
What’s funny now, in a sick way, is that I’d seen the city man before mass. I’d smelled him, all strong liquor and smoke.
And I’d resisted.
Now the crowds petered out, and my father broke away for a moment to speak to a friend, leaving Emma to go ahead home.
I wouldn’t have followed her, but I saw the city man and I swear that even from the roof I could smell the bad on him now, and took the same path as Emma even though that road led out of town and toward our home. I slipped across the rooftops, watching as he made two long steps to each of her one. Silly Emma always staring at stars instead of watching the ground, instead of listening for the sounds of extra feet. I pulled my hood down lower and sped up.
Never let the living see the lost.
A rule drilled in again and again by the Watchers but when the city man reached her, when he found the clasp of my sister’s dress, I forgot. I forgot everything. I dropped from the roof to the alley, ripping the city man away from Emma like a rag doll from a child.
The wind was up and swallowing the sounds. The sound of her surprise, the sound of his stumbling backward, of his cursing, of my teeth sinking into his throat. The only sound I heard was the pulse. Not mine, but his. Slowing. Slowing. And I pretended, for just a moment, that it was my heartbeat. Calming, falling, stopping. The city man fell to path but I didn’t hear the sound of that either.
Until I heard my name. “Connor?”
I turned, and found her eyes -- so blue I used to tease her that it came from always looking up -- and for one moment, I was home.
And then I smiled, and Emma screamed.