Being a cop for as long as I was, I learned how to distance myself from the victims that I encountered. It probably wasn’t a healthy way to deal with seeing dead bodies all the time, but it was the only way I kept my sanity. It was like every time I saw a body, my mind detached itself from reality. My emotions were gone, replaced only by logic and calculation. I treated it as if it were a math problem to be solved as quickly as possible.
I didn’t see Sarah’s body, but knowing how she died, and knowing that we could have stopped it, but didn’t is just as bad. The atmosphere in the van is like that of a crime scene. Everyone is quiet, going about their business like nothing happened, but you can feel the tension in the air.
We pick up Haylee, who pulls out a bag of food and passes it around to everyone. I think we all forgot that none of us had eaten today. It’s the middle of the day, and seeing the food makes my stomach growl.
“If you don’t want to make the drive back home after taking me back, you’re all welcome to stay another night,” Haylee says cheerily. The cheer in her voice is fake. Even for someone who is good at pretending to be happy all the time, she sounds sad. Or is she faking that, too?
My imagination takes over, a welcome distraction from reality right now. Judas and I just found out that someone close to us has passed away. Taking advantage of his grief, Helga pretends to be helpful and empathetic, but really, she is just trying to get on Judas’s good side, so that she can push me out of the picture! As soon as I am gone, she will throw herself into his arms, and…
Okay, I better stop before I let my imagination get too wild. I look casually around the car to make sure no one was spying on me. Hazel is in her own little world, not paying any attention, Haylee doesn’t have psychic powers, so I don’t have to worry about her. My eyes land on Toby, who is looking at me curiously.
“What?” I snap.
He holds up his hands, as if he’s innocent. “Nothing, I was just looking at you! Jeez! Sorry!” He looks away and instead stares at Hazel. Good. He better be sorry.
The rest of the drive is long and quiet. I swear no one says a single word. When we finally get to Haylee’s, she offers again to let us stay, but Hazel declines.
“I think we all just want to go home and sleep in our own beds tonight,” she says. I agree. I never minded traveling, but it’s been a really crappy week. I just want to go home and lay in my own bed and read romance novels.
“Yeah, I get it. I totally understand that,” Haylee replies. She shrugs, like she doesn’t know what else to say. “Well, drive safe then.”
It’s dark by the time we pull into our driveway, exhausted both mentally and physically. We don’t even bother unpacking, instead leaving our stuff in the unlocked, bashed up van. I don’t even care if someone decides to steal it. I’m so done with this job. I never thought that I would miss being a cop, but it was a million times better than this. At least I never knew the victims before they were murdered. It’s strange to think that one minute someone can be alive, full of life and laughter, and then the next, they are dead. A little girl, dead before she could ever fall in love, get married, have kids, get a job… She had her livelihood robbed of her.
When we get inside, Toby plops down on the couch with a loud sigh. Jude grabs the nearest bottle of alcohol and disappears into his room. I raise an eyebrow at Hazel who just shakes her head and goes into her room, slamming the door behind her. Toby runs a hand over his face and curses quietly.
“Hell of a day, huh?” Toby says so quietly that I barely hear him.
I forget sometimes that we’re the oldest ones here. Toby certainly doesn’t act like it most of the time. We also have the most normal family backgrounds and are more well-equipped to deal with traumatic events.
Toby knows that I’m going to cry before even I do and is up off the couch and coming over to hug me just as the tears start falling. Damn him. I’m supposed to be the strong one, not him. Yet here I am. Sobbing into his arms while he comforts me. I hate myself.
When I finally contain myself, he lets me go and hands me a box of tissues and a romance book off the coffee table. I choke out a laugh, and he grins. “You know me too well,” I say.
“That tends to happen when you can see everyone’s emotions,” he laughs. As I head to my room to take a much needed, hot bath, he plops back down on the couch and turns on the tv.
It almost seems like a normal night. But it isn’t. It’s a weird feeling. Someone just died, but the world just keeps going, indifferent, like it doesn’t even care that a member of its family was brutally murdered.
Shaking the thoughts away, I open my romance novel, hoping that it can pull me away from reality. When that doesn’t work, I think about my parents. I wonder what they are up to. I haven’t talked to them in a few weeks. I need to keep in touch with them more often. You never know when something might happen. I’m lucky that I still talk to my parents on a fairly regular basis.
I jump out of the bathtub and grab my phone, struggling to wrap my towel around me and dial my mom’s phone number at the same time. I know it’s late, but sometimes you just need to hear your mom’s voice. It rings a few times before she answers.
“Maria?” she says groggily in her thick Spanish accent. “Mija, what is it? It’s late.”
Hearing her voice makes me tear up again, and my words come out as a sob. “Mamá…”
“Maria? ¿Estás bien?” She sounds more awake now.
“Sí, mamá. I just… I just needed to hear your voice,” I say, sniffling.
She’s silent for a moment, and I think I hear her sniff. “If you want me to come over there, I will. Is it a boy? I will kick his culo for you!”
I laugh through my tears and I hear her chuckle quietly. “No, it’s not a boy. Just a tough day at work.” She thinks that I work as a private detective, which isn’t far from the truth. What she doesn’t know is that its related to ghosts.
“Ah… was it a child?” She asks it so knowingly that I wonder if I got my psychic abilities from her.
“Yeah,” I whisper. “A teenaged girl. I met her just a few days ago, and now… I could have saved her, but I wasn’t fast enough.”
“Maria, you can’t blame yourself for every death. If you were meant to save her, it would have happened. You did not choose for her to die.” I know this, but it still hurts knowing that I wasn’t able to save her. “Let’s have lunch tomorrow. I’ll pay. Wherever you want to go. Sound good?”
It sounds amazing. I want to spend as much time with her as I can. “Sounds great, mamá. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Te quiero, mija. Que tengas dulces sueños.”
“I love you, too. Sweet dreams.” I hang up, feeling a million times better. I still feel crappy, but it’s better than before.
I read until I can’t keep my eyes open anymore, barely even paying attention to the words, then turn off my bedside lamp. I’m nearly asleep when I hear my doorknob turn slowly. I freeze, holding my breath, terrified. The door squeaks open, then shuts gently. Soft footsteps walk toward my bed, and I prepare to attack whoever it is, but whoever it is harmlessly lays next to me on top of the covers.
I sit up halfway and look over. Jude is laying in my bed. I feel like I should be celebrating. There’s a hot guy in my bed. But seeing the state that he’s in, I feel more of a motherly affection for him. His eyes are red and puffy. He’s obviously been crying. I’ve never seen him cry before. I’ve seen him angry, even depressed, but he’s never cried. Not in front of me.
“Jude…” I run my hand through his hair and wipe away a tear from his cheek.
“It’s my fault,” he whispers.
“No. It’s not your fault. You tried, we all tried, to stop it,” I say, angry and sad that he’s beating himself up over it.
“I should have realized it sooner. I was too scared to look around. I could have seen everything the first time.” He’s slurring his words and crying, so I barely understand him, but I get what he’s trying to say. He could have seen everything in his first vision but all he wanted was to get out of the vision, so he ignored all the warning signs. That doesn’t make it his fault.
“No one would want to see that. No one else would be strong enough to walk away from seeing something like that, but you did, and you tried your best to save her.”
He shakes his head and breaks down in tears again, so I just hold him and try to comfort him until his breathing slows and his body relaxes. I pry my arm out from under his side and scoot back. I watch him sleep, amazed at how peaceful he looks. He always has this intense look on his face, like he’s about to be attacked at any moment, but right now he looks so relaxed. And young. He looks too young for me. What was I ever thinking? He’s still just a kid inside, who thinks he’s strong enough to hold the world on his shoulders. All the fighting, drinking, acting tough, the women… it’s all just an act. He’s fooling himself into thinking he’s stronger than he really is.
This is the real Jude. A kid who grew up too fast, and never had loving parents. Never had affection, or anyone to comfort him when he was sad and hurting. He’s broken inside.
Maybe too broken to ever be fixed.