Reaper Page 15

However, when the moment came, my lack of a plan ceased to matter.

Fools may rush in, but only cowards run away.

So I knocked. Then I waited, the nervous pounding in my chest a steady reassurance that I’d actually achieved corporeality. That she’d be able to see me. If she ever answered the door.

And finally, the doorknob turned. I swallowed as the door creaked open, and there stood my mother, a sweating glass of soda in one hand. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail and a smear of dirt streaked her forehead. Behind her, I saw dozens of moving boxes, most open and half-unpacked.

She blinked up at me, looking just like she had the day I’d died, except for the dark circles under her eyes.

Then she blinked again, and her mouth opened for an unspoken, probably unformed question. The glass slipped from her hand and shattered on the metal threshold, splattering us both with cold soda and ice cubes I was relieved to be able to feel.

I grinned, trying to hide my nerves. “At this rate, you’re not going to have any good glasses left.”

Her mouth closed, then opened again. “Tod?” she whispered, her voice unsteady. She thought she was seeing things.

“Yeah, Mom, it’s me,” I said, ready to catch her if she col apsed. “Please don’t freak out.” But I should have known better—my mom wasn’t the freaking out type.

She reached for me with one trembling hand and cupped my jaw. Her eyes filled with tears. “You’re really here.”

“As of about five minutes ago, yeah.” I shrugged and couldn’t resist a real smile.

Heedless of the broken glass, she threw her arms around me and squeezed me so tight that I’d have been in trouble, if I’d actually needed to breathe. I hugged her back, reassuring her with my hard-won physicality until she final y let go and pulled me over the collateral damage and into the living room.

“I can’t believe this,” she said, the blues in her eyes swirling with a dizzying combination of confusion and wonder. “Is this real? Tell me this is real. Tell me you’re back, somehow, and I haven’t lost what’s left of my mind.”

“It’s real, Mom.” I wanted to stop there, without saying the part that would kill the new light in her eyes. “But I’m not back.” She frowned, and that light dimmed, but wasn’t truly extinguished. “I don’t understand. You’re alive.”

“Not in the traditional sense of the word.” I sat on the arm of the couch, pleased when the cushion sank beneath my weight. “But I think I’m pulling off a reasonable imitation. Check it out.” I spread my arms, inviting her to test my corporeality. “Pretty solid, right?”

She reached out hesitantly and laid one hand on the center of my chest.

“But…your heart’sbeating.”

“Nice trick, huh? I’m proud of that one.”

She pushed the front door closed with one hand, unwilling to break eye contact, and I could see her warring with denial and confusion. If she were a human mother, clueless about the non-human and post-death elements of the world until her dead son showed up on her doorstep, she’d probably already be in a straitjacket. “What’s going on, Tod? How are you here? I know of a few possibilities, but none of them are…” She dropped her gaze, and when she met mine again, the blues in her eyes had darkened with fear, or something close to that. “What happened?”

“You might want to sit down.”

“No, I think I’ll stand.”

I almost laughed. She always was stubborn. That’s where Nash got it.

“Fine.” I sighed and scrubbed my hands over my face, my initial excitement wilting along with hers. “This would be so much easier if they actually issued black hoods,” I mumbled, still struggling for an opening line.

My mother froze, her eyes narrowing. “Reaper. You’re a reaper?” I glanced at her in surprise. “Wow, first try. Remind me never to play twenty questions with you.”

“This is serious, Tod,” she insisted, her voice hushed even beyond the original whisper. She glanced toward the hallway, where music—something heavily melodic and moody—blared from Nash’s room, then tugged me past the swinging door into the kitchen. “You have no idea what you’re getting into.”

“Uh, yeah, I do. The scythe was a little tricky at first, but—much like golf—turns out it’s all in the swing.” I mimed swinging a golf club, but she didn’t even crack a smile.

“I’m not kidding.” My mother pulled a chair away from the table and sank into it, her frown deepening by the second. “If you’ve signed on with the reapers, then you’re not real y here. You’re not alive. I’m not even supposed to see you. They have rules against this kind of thing.” I shrugged. “Yeah, but as you might recall, I’ve never been much for rules.…”

“This isn’t funny! Reapers don’t really die, but they don’t truly live either. You can’t possibly understand what that will do to you.” I sighed and sank into the chair next to her, folding her hand in both of mine. “Mom.” I leaned forward, peering straight into her eyes. “I’m dead, not stupid. I know what I signed on for. Eternity in solitude. Gradual loss of humanity. General indifference toward the living, and a skewed perspective on both life and death.”

“Yes, and—”

“And…there’s the daily extermination of life. Which sucks. It all sucks.

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