Reaper Page 12

I didn’t recognize the house. I only knew the town because we’d lived there as kids, before my dad died. But this time, my mom had settled into the older section of a large development. She’d found a corner lot, but the house was too smal to have three bedrooms.

There was no room for me.

And though I knew I wouldn’t be moving back in, even if I took the job, that fact stil stung much more than I’d expected. Mom and Nash were trying to move on from my death, and my presence would only disrupt their adjustment. The last thing I wanted was to make it harder for them.

So why had Levi brought me?

“What is this, a bribe? I thought potential reapers were supposed to be above bribes.”

He shrugged. “If you’re going to take the job, there’s something you need to understand first.”

“Something beyond the fact that I’m dead and invisible, and I was evidently dressed by Edward Scissorhands?”

Levi ignored my sarcasm. “Yes. Official y, I’m supposed to explain to you that no matter how alive you might look, and feel, and even function, you’re not alive. Not like your friends and family are. You died, and your soul was removed from your body, and even though you’ve been reanimated, you don’t truly belong here. And you never will. I’m supposed to tell you that the sooner you come to terms with that fact, the sooner you can start to accept your new state of being and your job. And the sooner your family and friends can start to accept your death.”

I frowned, arms crossed over my chest. “That sounds like advice from the Grim Reaper website.”

“The recruiting handbook, actually, but you obviously get the idea.”

“Yeah. So if I’m supposed to be letting everyone move on, why did you bring me here?”

“Because I think that steering you away from your family is just going to make you more determined to see them. You need to understand that stepping back into their lives would only be making things worse. They’ll think they have you back, but when you start becoming more reaper, and less son and brother, they’l just have to let you go all over again. A clean break is easiest for all involved.”

Maybe. But anyone who’s ever broken a bone knows that even a clean break hurts like hell.

“Are you going in?” he asked at last, squinting up at me in the light from the street lamp. “You can walk through doors and climb through windows, but walls and floors will be barriers. And, of course, no one can see or hear you.” I frowned. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

Levi shrugged. “Even visitors bow to physics, in one form or another.” Is that what I am? A visitor in my own family’s home? I couldn’t take my eyes off the house, a physical reminder that I didn’t belong here. Not in their home, and not in their lives—which was just what he wanted me to see.

“When you’re a reaper, there will be fewer physical rules to follow. But that’s a perk of the job. No benefits until you sign on the dotted line.”

“In blood?” I asked, only half kidding.

“Don’t even joke about that,” Levi said, and a chill raced the length of my spine. “Meet me at the hospital when you’re done.” Then he disappeared before I could ask him how I was supposed to get there, or why he’d be at the hospital.

As I walked toward the front porch, that feeling of displacement swelled within me. My shoes made no impression on the grass. I couldn’t feel the breeze rustling tree leaves over my head. I was caught somewhere between dead and living, and even my mother had moved on without me.

As evidenced by the house I’d never seen.

I reached for the doorknob, and my hand went right through it. I should have seen that coming. Yet each new demonstration of my physical absence was more unsettling than the last.

I closed my eyes and stepped through the door, and when I looked again, I found myself in an unfamiliar room, surrounded by familiar furniture.

And stacks of boxes. The worn couch against one wall still sported the stain where I’d spilled a can of Big Red on the center cushion. The end table was still cracked from where I’d fallen on it, goofing around with Nash.

The sound of running water drew my focus to a swinging door on the right hand wall. The kitchen. I crossed the room and stepped through the door, which refused to even swing in acknowledgement of my passing.

My mother stood at the sink, drying her hands on a faded dish towel over and over, staring out the window at an unlit backyard I’d never played in.

Then she dropped the towel on the counter and leaned forward, gripping the edges of the sink, staring down at the drain. Her knuckles were white with tension, her back curved, half-hidden by a mass of long blond curls.


But she couldn’t hear me, and that reminder made my throat tight. Her shoulders shook, and suddenly she grabbed a glass from the counter, a quarter inch of milk still standing in the bottom. She hurled the glass at a fridge I’d never seen, spraying shards and white droplets all over the kitchen.

“Mom?” Nash cal ed from somewhere else in the house, and my breath caught in my throat. Levi was right; he was okay. Or, at the very least, he was home. In this new house, which couldn’t possibly feel like home yet.

“I’m fine!” my mother lied, sliding down the cabinet to sit on the floor, just outside the shrapnel zone. Her face was pale and streaked with silent tears, and I hated knowing I was the cause.

I sank to my knees in front of her, inches away, but worlds apart. I watched her private pain, aching to heal the wound I’d caused, but there was nothing I could do. I’d never felt so worthless in my life.

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