Reaper Page 17

At first, she could only stare at me, trying to process everything. “So you…?”

“So when the reaper spelled it out for me, I had to do it. I couldn’t let me yel ing at him be the last thing he ever heard.”

“I can’t believe you did that.…” She scrubbed her face with both hands, and stray curls tumbled over them, effectively blocking me out. I had no idea what she was thinking or feeling.

My heart dropped into my stomach, and the tone of my entire afterlife suddenly seemed to depend on what she said next. On the judgment I would surely see in her eyes. Her hands fell from her face slowly and my mother stared at me through layers of pain and regret I couldn’t imagine. “I don’t think you even understand what you gave up for him. I don’t think you will, until we’re both long gone.”

“I don’t think you understand.” My own guilt was a strong, steady pressure on my chest, slowly compressing my lungs, sending an ache through my heart. “This wasn’t some noble gesture, Mom. I wouldn’t have had to save him if I hadn’t put him in the path of that car in the first place. I just needed you both to know that it wasn’t his fault. I made the call.” Finally she nodded, though she looked like she wanted to argue. “Thank you. For al of it.”

I stood to go—I’d had all the post-death reunion I could stand for one day—and she stood with me.

“Are you going to get in trouble for this?” she asked. Translation: Am I going to lose you again?

“I don’t think so. My supervisor’s pretty cool, for a dead kid. He brought me here the other night, and I’m pretty sure he knows where I am now. If I get caught by someone else, he’l deny knowledge, but he’s not gonna bust me himself.”

In retrospect, I’d realized what Levi obviously understood from the start.

Watching my family mourn wouldn’t make me want to let them go. It would make me want to keep them close—and that was the only benefit worth accepting the job for.

“In that case, don’t be a stranger.” Her eyes teared up again and she sniffled, pulling me close for a hug. “It can’t be like it was before, but you’re welcome here any time.”

Relief eased some of the sting from our bittersweet reunion. That was exactly what I’d needed to hear.

“Do you want to talk to Nash?”

I shook my head firmly. “Not now. I’ll show myself eventually, but I’m not ready yet.” This soon after the accident, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to keep the truth from him. He’d know something was weird— something beyond his brother’s less-than-triumphant return from the grave—and I wouldn’t be able to lie convincingly enough to cover it up.

“Okay.” Mom squeezed me one more time, then let me go.“But don’t drag it out too long. The longer you wait, the more jarring it’ll be for him.” But what she didn’t say—what we both knew—was that no matter how jarring my return was for my little brother, it couldn’t be more jarring than waking up ten days postmortem in the clothes he was buried in. Nash would never know what that felt like.

Nor would he ever know that what was supposed to be the end of his life became the beginning of my afterlife instead.

Eleven months and ten days after my first nursing home rotation, I blinked into the hospital’s ER to find Levi waiting for me, slouched in one of the lobby chairs. The sense of déjà vu was so strong I was actually disoriented for a moment, as I flashed back to my earliest days as a reaper—a rookie so green I couldn’t even pul off the disembodied voice trick without my entire body flashing in and out of sight like a not-so-special effect.

“Glad you could make it,” Levi said, sliding out of the chair to stand less than shoulder high on me.

“Yeah, it was tough to make time between the compulsive thumb twiddling and the lure of bingo night at Colonial Manor, but I managed to fit you in.”

His forehead furrowed. “Glad I rank as a priority.”

“You rank as accessory to the crime that is my eternal hereafter. So, why am I here? This isn’t my beat.”

“It is now.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a folded sheet of paper, and that sense of déjà vu became a startling certainty. “We inherited a rookie from another district, and he’ll be taking over the nursing home circuit.

Which means you’re getting a promotion.”

I huffed in amusement. “From adult diapers to bedpans? Move over, Elvis, I’m the afterlife of the party!”

“If you don’t think you can handle it, you can go back to rotating between rest homes…” Levi threatened, copper brows raised in challenge.

“Gimme that.” I snatched the paper and unfolded it to find a list of four names, times, and room numbers. Roughly the same workload I’d had on my old circuit, but these reapings would all take place in the same building.

Obviously consistency was a privilege of rank.

“Don’t make me regret this,” Levi warned, frowning up at me through a dead child’s eyes. “Most reapers spend nearly a decade in the rest home circuit before moving up.”

“If I weren’t already dead, I’d be alive with joy,” I said, and dimly I realized that Levi was responding. But I couldn’t concentrate on what he was saying because my ears were suddenly full of something else. Music. A beautiful, eerie singing faintly echoing from beyond a closed set of doors. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear…

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies