Black Heart Page 41

He rose into the air, beckoning me. I looked back one last time at Gabriel, and saw one tear on his cheek, glistening in the yellow sunlight. Gabriel never cried. That almost broke me, almost made me turn back, almost made me beg Daharan to leave me there.

Almost.

I knew that I didn’t belong in the land of the dead. I knew there was no one else to save my city except me. But as we flew away, it seemed that my body was rending in two, my heartbreak manifesting as physical pain. My breath was short; my chest hurt.

“Why did you take me there?” I asked Daharan. I think we were both surprised by the anger in my voice.

“I know Gabriel’s death was sudden, that you were unable to bid him good-bye. I believed it would give you peace if you were to do so.”

“All you did was rip the scab off a healing wound,” I said. Yes, I’d had time with Gabriel that I had not expected to ever have again. But it was almost worse now, knowing he was there and I was not, knowing that I had to leave him behind.

I was also more than a little conflicted by the discovery that he was watching over me like a guardian. I’d always thought his voice in my head was some figurative manifestation of my unconscious, not Gabriel actually talking to me from beyond the veil.

Part of me felt warm and comforted by the knowledge that he was making sure I was all right. But the other part of me felt like my privacy had been violated. How could I move on with my life, have a relationship with anyone else, knowing that Gabriel was watching me?

Of course, my illusions of privacy were probably just that. Daharan, Puck and Lucifer all seemed to have much more information about my daily doings than they ought to. Every second of my life was likely observed in somebody’s crystal ball.

It is very disheartening to think that your life is not your own. And my life had not been my own for a very long time now, no matter what notions I might have had otherwise.

Daharan and I did not speak again until we reached the portal. It was cut into the side of a tree, like a passage to another world in a fairy tale.

I turned to Daharan, trying to ignore the part of me that wanted to pick a fight with him. Daharan wasn’t really the type to rise to the bait.

“Will this bring me back to Chicago?” I asked.

Daharan nodded. “Not only to Chicago, but to your home, as long as you fix the place clearly in your mind before you go through.”

I took a deep breath, stepped forward. “See you on the other side, then.”

I disappeared into the tree before Daharan had a chance to say or do anything. This portal experience was more like the usual for me. My head felt like it was being smashed between two cast-iron pans.

I burst out of the portal and immediately fell onto the sidewalk, rolling to a stop on my side. I breathed in the smell of the city, that indefinable mixture of cooking food, car exhaust and . . . smoke?

Daharan came through the portal, materializing like a shimmering ghost, already on his feet. I sat up slowly, looking around. At first I didn’t realize where I was. Then I became aware of three things.

The first was that it was much, much warmer than it had been when I left Nathaniel. The trees on the street had leaves, and flowers had blossomed in front yards. The air had the scent of spring.

Second, my belly seemed to have grown exponentially while I passed through the portal. The minuscule bulge below my belly button had become a legitimate roundness. I could feel the heft and weight of my child in there, no longer just a tiny flutter. He was pushing and rolling inside me.

Third, I was standing on my street, in front of my house. Except that my house was no longer there.

10

THERE WAS A CHARRED RUIN WHERE MY HOUSE USED to be. I walked forward slowly, as if in a dream, my hand on my belly. Under my fingers my child wiggled and stretched.

The two-flat that I had lived in since I was a child was nothing but a few blackened bits of rubble. The house had been so thoroughly destroyed that not even the foundation remained. There was a pit where my home used to be. The grass in the front and back was completely burned away, exposing the dirt beneath. Even the shed was gone. Every last shred, every physical remnant of my life, had been destroyed.

I had a moment where I was grateful that Beezle was no longer living in the house. He would have been inside when this . . . this . . . whatever it was had happened. But Nathaniel could have been inside, and my heart clenched in fear. Nathaniel. Where was he?

“What happened here?” I asked, and my voice sounded lonely in the night. “And how long were we gone?”

Daharan and I were the only two souls out on the street. The lamplights burned, and so did the lights inside other houses. Everything seemed like it had gone back to normal in Chicago. I could hear the sound of a sitcom on television drifting from the open window of my neighbor’s house. Farther down the block I could see traffic on Addison zipping back and forth. Somebody’s dog barked. It was like the vampires had never come, like everyone had returned to their normal lives and forgotten.

But my house was gone. It was gone. It was stupid, really, to cry over it. I was still alive, right? My baby was safe. And almost everyone I cared about had left the building long before this had happened. Samiel, Beezle, J.B., Chloe—none of them would have been here. I wasn’t certain about Nathaniel. I didn’t want to think about it. I didn’t want to think about losing someone else to death unless I was sure.

But my pictures of my mother, the blanket that Beezle slept in, my favorite sweaters and the brush that Gabriel had used on my hair on our wedding night . . . All those things were gone. The books I’d read as a child, Gabriel’s clothes hanging in the closet, any tangible proof that I had lived, that I had memories. It was all gone.

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