Thom’s arms closed around my waist as I hung back, near the edge of the fire’s glow, listening to the words that flowed like liquid from Neve’s tongue. I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to sound like that—to make the words of the song sound longing and joyful all at once. They were a celebration of life and at the same time a song of mourning, of sadness and saying good-bye.
I leaned into Thom’s arms, my lips moving silent mimicry of Neve’s song. His breath warmed my ear, tickled my neck, and I smiled faintly as he hugged me close.
“She asked you to learn how to sing the dead home, huh?”
I snorted softly. “Here I was thinking you were going to ask me some kind of romantic question. Instead you ask that.”
“Not really that bad, is it?” He pressed a kiss to the spot where my neck met my shoulder, holding me a little tighter. “I figured I’d save more romantic things for later on the longest night of the year.”
I couldn’t help but smile, letting my hands cover his where they were wrapped around me. “I’ll have to look forward to that,” I said softly.
“I’m glad.” He rested his chin on my shoulder, watching the rest of our little community where they sat, clustered by the fire. “We’ve survived,” he said softly. “Would you have believed that was possible a few months ago?”
“A few months ago, I thought you’d never accept your gifts,” I said. I thought that your denial would kill you, that I’d lose you forever.
I’m glad I was wrong.
“Mm. Phelan had a lot to do with that.” One hand wrapped around mine. “Then again, a few months ago, I never dreamed that you’d say yes to marrying me.”
I choked on a laugh and shook my head. “There was never a doubt.”
“Oh no. I was terrified you’d say no.” He smiled at me. “But you said yes, so I guess I didn’t have anything to worry about.”
“Nothing at all,” I murmured. “Nothing except losing me.”
He stiffened slightly, his hand spasming. “Well,” he said quietly, “there was that. Still is.”
“You’re not going to lose me,” I said. “You’re not. Not unless I lose you.” I twisted slightly to meet his gaze and offered him a faint, weak smile. “I jump, you jump.”
Thom made a face, but he smiled. “No one’s jumping, Mar. Not today and not any other day.” He reached up to brush his thumb across my cheek. “Something’s bothering you.”
“Something’s always bothering me,” I said.
“More than usual.” His brows knit. “What did you see?”
I shook my head, turning my attention back to Neve’s song and our friends by the fire. “Nothing that bears repeating.”
J.T. lay stretched out on a mattress, his breathing shallow and his face pale, Jacqueline looking at me bleakly even as Carolyn buried her face against my shoulder.
“I don’t know how much more I can do,” Jacqueline said quietly.
“I can’t lose him, Marin,” Carolyn whispered into my sweatshirt. “I can’t.”
“Mom? Why is Dad so angry all the time lately?”
I sighed quietly, looking up from the holly bushes beneath my hands, toward the dark-haired boy that looked like his father that it was almost painful sometimes. He’d grown taller this summer, already taller than me. He’d have his father’s height for sure.
“That’s a complicated question, Lin,” I said softly. “It’s mostly stress.”
“Stress,” my son echoed. He was nearly thirteen, quiet and thoughtful—and frighteningly talented already. “Must be some crazy high levels of it, then. He even yelled at Angie, and he never yells at her.”
I shook my head, exhaling quietly. I knew why Thom was acting the way he had been. I just didn’t want to think about it, didn’t want to talk about it.
I turned back to the holly bushes even as my vision began to dim around the edges. I must have swayed, or worse, because my son’s hand was suddenly on my arm.
“Mom? Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, sweetheart,” I lied softly. “I’m fine.”
“Are you sure?” Thom asked.
“I’m fine,” I said, stomach twisting at the lie. “Everything’s fine.”
Thom sighed and kissed my neck gently. “You don’t have to lie,” he told me quietly. “If you don’t want to tell me—”
“Thom, I would tell you everything if I could,” I said. “If I understood what it meant, I’d tell you.”
“We promised each other no more secrets.”
I gave him a deadpan look. “We both know that’s virtually impossible.”
He met my gaze with a serious look of his own. His façade cracked before mine did.
“You’re right. It’s impossible. But it’s still worth striving for.”
I sighed softly and closed my eyes, resting my head against his. He kissed my forehead as the last notes of Neve’s song faded into the night. Something in the world felt lighter that moment, on that darkest night of the year. I leaned into Thom’s arms and let him hold me close against his chest.
It was a broken world—I knew that—but somehow, for that brief, shining moment, I let myself believe that everything would turn out for the best in the end.
Only time could tell me if I was right or wrong.
And that brings us to the end of Books 2 and 3. Beginning of Book 4 on Friday (I hope)!