I missed Shay.
His funeral was horrible. All funerals were, but this one in particular, was quiet and miserable. The pews were mostly empty at the service. Shay’s mother, Fiona, sat with Sean at the front, both of them crying. Fiona had her eyes fixed on the crucifix, face as motionless as the man staring back down at her. Sean kept his head bowed.
Next to them were the rest of his sparse family, one grandfather, one uncle and a cousin. The old man, almost ninety-years-old, always forgot my name. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if he forgot his own. I could smell alcohol on the uncle’s breath from here. And his son, Shay and Sean’s cousin, looked like he was too young to understand what was happening.
I sat in the pew behind, with my parents, and besides that a few of our classmates sat scattered about. I could count on two hands how many people were in attendance. Outside of us, who would miss Shay?
I tried not to think about it, tried to block out the priest’s words, how he spoke about someone he barely even knew, and focussed on the coffin. They had stitched up Shay’s wounds and covered them with foundation. I almost smiled, thinking about the irony. No matter how much I insisted, he’d never let me put make-up on him, but now he was wearing more than anyone I knew.
I’d never seen him wear a suit either. There’s a first for everything, even after death. The left arm of his shirt was pinned up to hide the amputation. His face was shaved and every strand of his hair put in place. It was meticulous. And nothing like the right, scruffy bastard everyone here knew Shay to be. Again, a smile tried to creep onto my lips.
But then it finally struck. All of this was my fault.
When Shay asked to go to Cavern with me, I should have said no. I should have told him to wait until he was eighteen. I had pressured him into it. Ever since I was old enough to go clubbing, I’d hounded him, told him that he had no backbone, that he was a pussy. I told him nothing bad could ever happen. I was supposed to protect him.
No one saw it coming, the drunk driver. And the ambulance, fuck… the ambulance took over half an hour to arrive. I remember kneeling at his side with towels, bawling my eyes out and trying to staunch the blood. He was pronounced dead within minutes of entering E.R.
If I’d said no, he’d still be alive.
“Come on, behti,” said dad. I snapped out of my thoughts. The service had finished. Everyone was making their way to the burial.
I couldn’t remember the walk from the church to the cemetery. I just remember thinking how tired I was. How much I wanted to dig my elbow into Shay’s side and whisper a joke. He’d laugh, call me a twat, then tell me to keep quiet because it’s a funeral. And then he wouldn’t be able to resist making a joke of his own.
Except now that would never happen again.
Sean stood at Fiona’s side but she still looked so alone. My mum noticed it too. We shared a look, then she nodded. I went to stand by Fiona.
Fiona clung to my elbow and sobbed, barely able to hold herself up. I didn’t have the strength to move, to comfort her. There was something… something about watching Shay’s coffin being lowered that sapped all the willpower out of me.
One by one, everyone threw a white rose into the grave. Everyone but Fiona. She clutched her flower in a white-knuckled grip, hunched over the edge of the grave.
I put my hand over hers. “Do it when you’re ready. If anyone gets impatient, they’ll have to answer to me.”
She looked me straight in the eye. It was the first time today that I’d looked at her face, properly looked at it: she seemed to have aged a decade overnight. If it wasn’t for Sean, I don’t know how this woman would cope.
“He was a good boy,” she said. “All he wanted was to write his silly blog and talk about his conspiracies. But he was still mine. And now he’s gone.”
The words were hollow, but I didn’t know what else to say. She must have understood something in them that I didn’t, because she knelt down and dropped her rose over the edge.
Sean wrapped his arms around her shoulders and led her away, but not before meeting my gaze and mouthing ‘text me’. I nodded, then left with my parents.
The drive home was silent. Dad tried to talk about his dad-things but stopped when he realised I wasn’t listening to a word. Mum kept my hand held in hers.
I hadn’t cried today. I wasn’t sure why.
I spent the rest of the day in my room, staring at the wall. My phone pinged. Darren from physics class. Fuck Darren. I flung my phone to the floor and buried my head in my pillows.
I’d sent Sean a text, and he’d replied telling me to meet him at the cemetery at midnight. He hadn’t replied to any of my further texts.
Dinnertime came and went. I wasn’t hungry.
All I could think about was Shay. My entire purpose was to protect him. I trained my whole life for it.
Mum’s head poked through my door.
She stepped in and closed the door behind her. “I heard a bang earlier. Came to check if you’re alright.”
I pointed at my phone as the culprit. Mum sighed and sat down with me.
“Are you going to meet Sean?”
“Yeah,” I said into my pillow, “after dad’s gone to bed.”
“Good. Have you practiced teleporting, like Agnes taught you?”
I thought about lying but shook my head. She wasn’t going to have a go at me now, of all times.
“Alright, come donwstairs later and I’ll do it for you. Send me a text when you want to come back.”
I could feel her staring at the back of my head before I heard the door close as she left.
Not only had I been unable to protect Shay, I was also a shit sorceress. Mum never said anything about it, but I could always hear the disappointment in her voice. As the daughter of a Tuatha Dé sorceress and a man with Dashavatara blood, I was supposed to have some of the most powerful magics in the country. Instead, I was mediocre at best.
Three spells. I knew three spells.
‘Better than your father’, mum would say to try and encourage me. Fat lot of good that did. Dad didn’t even know about his own magical lineage. Most people with magic blood didn’t. And if you didn’t train at a young age, it was impossible to unlock your magic past the age of twenty. Mum hadn’t told me until I was thirteen, and we’d kept it a secret from dad.
But Shay and Sean… they had Dracon blood from their father’s side. Agnes, my mother’s aunt, had taken me and Sean under her wing and tried to teach us everything to help us protect ourselves. Sean was better than me, if only slightly. Dracon blood was powerful, but he only had a little. Shay had much more potential.
We weren’t going to tell Shay until he turned eighteen. Dracon magic was much harder to control, definitely not a child’s plaything, so Agnes made the decision to wait until he was more mature. Thinking about it now, I couldn’t help but wonder if he could have saved himself if he knew about his magic.
But it also made him a target. Everyone knew it. Vampires treated magical blood as a delicacy, and Dracon blood the most delicious. It was mine and Sean’s job to protect him. Heck, it wasn’t even just the two of us. Everywhere Shay went, we made sure there’d be someone to keep an eye on him. Two of our college lecturers were vampire-hunters and one of the receptionists at his gym was a witch. Even the barista at the Starbucks down the road was a werewolf.
We had spent so much time putting precautions in place in the event of a vampire attack, that we didn’t even expect him to die in such a… mundane way.
I shook my head. I was filling it with too many thoughts and if I went any further I knew I’d either scream or cry. I picked my phone up, hoping for some sort of distraction, when I noticed the time. Ten minutes before midnight. Might as well get going early.
I clutched my stomach and held onto Sean’s shoulder for support. Damn, teleporting really fucked with me. I thanked myself for not having dinner, or else it would have spewed all over Sean’s jeans by now.
At least mum’s teleports were precise. I had materialised right next to Sean, just inside the cemetery gates.
“You’re early,” he said.
“And? So are you.”
He raised an eyebrow. I must be doing that ‘confrontational-attitude’ thing he always told me scared away guys I was interested in.
“Sorry. I just had to get out of the house,” I said, as mud squished beneath my boots. The cemetery looked completely different at night. I wasn’t sure if it was better this way. “I just kept thinking around in circles… If I had done something differently, this never would have happened. Shay would—”
“Stop it,” he said, firmly.
I folded my arms and looked away from him. My eyes began to sting.
“Listen to me, Rosheen.”
I shook my head. There was nothing he could say to get rid of this guilt inside me. Because I deserved it.
“We can play the blame-game all night if you want. Sure, you took him clubbing, but I was the one who left my ID in my room. He wouldn’t have gotten into Cavern without it. And what about that bouncer? He was a werewolf, Agnes put him there to keep an eye on both of you. And Agnes too, it was her bloody idea to wait until he was eighteen. If this happened two months from now, he could have healed himself.”
He could have healed himself. Those words struck something inside my head.
“If I knew the healing spell,” I said, “I could have saved him.”
“Fuck’s sake, Rosheen!”
Sean grabbed my shoulders and turned me to face him. By now, the tears had begun to stream down my face. His own eyes were red.
“Stop with the what-ifs! You’re being ridiculous. It isn’t my fault, it isn’t your fault. Or anyone else’s. The only person to blame is the driver who ran him over-” he threw up his arms- “and that’s all there is to it! Shay is gone, and blaming yourself or anyone else isn’t going to change that.”
I wanted to shout back at him, but I didn’t have the strength. Sean was grieving too. I just… I couldn’t deal with it.
“Come on,” Sean whispered, “let’s go and talk to him.”
He held my hand and led me down the path until I spotted Shay’s grave. It was the only one that didn’t have a gravestone. We stood in front of it in silence for a few minutes, until Sean spoke.
“Hey, bro. Bet you’re pissed. A fucking Honda, not the best way to go.”
I was about to comment on his twisted sense of humour when I saw his face. Tears flowed freely, but he still struggled to keep that smile. I bit my lip, looking back down at the freshly-filled grave. I tried to think about what I wanted to say. If Shay were here, I’d tell him that Darren had asked me out four times in the last week. But as I was about to speak, I noticed something.
“Sean, does that look like a shovel mark to you?”
I kneeled down and pointed at the edge of the grave. There were five small gouges in the dirt, as if someone had scratched at it with their fingers.
“Probably an animal or something,” said Sean.
“No. It’s too deep. No one would just stick their fingers in someone’s grave, right?”
“What are you on about?”
I had an idea. But I prayed I was wrong. “Stand back.”
“I said, stand back!”
Sean wiped away his tears, confused, but took a few steps back.
I whispered the spell, “Dyara,” holding my hand in a fist above the grave. The dirt began to rise in one big clump.
“What the hell are you doing?!”
I squeezed my fist tighter until my knuckles ached. The dirt rose up and crept around to form a pile on the side, leaving the grave open.
Without looking back at Sean, I jumped in. Please, god, just tell me I’m wrong. There was a small clip at the coffin’s side. I heard Sean shouting at me from above, but I ignored him, releasing the latch. I gripped the lid. Please…
The coffin opened.
I looked up at Sean. He stared back down, frozen.
It was empty.