The rain slipped past the edges of Andrew Sutter's black umbrella, driving cold slivers into his fingers. Frowning, he drew his umbrella lower.
The movement cut his world in half. The Oak Hill Memorial Park graveyard disappeared, taking with it the trembling sequoias, oaks, and rows of gray stones. It was just him, the midnight silver casket before him, and the lower halves of his fellow mourners.
The subtle dismemberment sent a thread of uneasiness through Andrew. It was just a trick of his sight. They were fine.
Flesh is so fragile, Andrew.
Andrew raised the umbrella, giving the people around him life.
The three other mourners stood in an uneven circle around the casket. Their umbrellas were low, doing their best to shield them from the storm. Past them, the gravestones circled out, creating a precision of death.
Thunder rumbled above.
An old childhood game clicked in Andrew's mind. It was something he'd picked up after watching Poltergeist, a film that had made others fear clown puppets and things that might be under the bed. Andrew hadn't. His older brother, Tyler, had shown him that people could be scarier.
Tyler was dead, though, and the lightning, while ephemeral, could be deadly. Andrew focused on the game, the numbers. One one thousand, two one thousand, three--
Light flashed overhead.
The brief brightness cast everything around him into monochrome. As it faded, shades of gray and green returned. There was an open grave to Andrew's left. Before him, Tyler waited beneath the casket's slick surface. Above, the sky mourned his brother.
Its tears were heavy. Cold. When it cried, its voice thundered close. Tyler Sutter was dead.
A sob cut through the rain.
A few feet away, Julia's umbrella shifted. Her son's umbrella followed as he leaned into her. The domino movement made something inside Andrew ache. In spite of how long he'd been on the phone that week, the service was small. Apart from them, there was a caretaker, haunting the edges of Andrew's sight. Across from Andrew were Julia and Sean. Beside Andrew--
The wind yanked his umbrella forward.
Wet shards slipped past the brim, stabbing Andrew. His wireless frames tried to shield his eyes but the rain darted around the glass, attacking them.
Andrew tightened his grip, fighting to bring his umbrella back up.
Something moved at the edge of Andrew's sight. A moment later, Devon was there, grabbing the brim of his umbrella and steadying it.
"Thanks," Andrew said. "For a moment I was afraid I was going to lose it."
The wind jerked Devon's umbrella out of his hand. The black shape tumbled over the casket, past a startled Julia, before disappearing into a cluster of oaks.
"Damn," Devon said. "That worked a lot better in my mind." An English accent haunted his voice, turning the quiet words into a secret.
Andrew braced his umbrella against the wind. When his grip felt more secure, he stepped up behind Devon, shielding him. Sometimes things worked out better in his mind too. Sometimes, things were worse.
Devon glanced at him. In the moment the rain had with him, it had left its mark. His hair was drenched, making the pale blond strands cling to his face and half hide his eyes. The tips of his hair brushed over his shoulders, leaving wet shadows wherever they brushed over cloth.
Andrew suspected that his partner kept his hair that long because he wanted to hide an embarrassing truth: he was beautiful.
It wasn't something most thirty-odd year old men wanted to hear, but it was there, hidden behind the long black coat and the shoulder length hair. Devon had a boyish face, long lashes, and eyes the color of deep woods, a green so sharp, so alive and beautiful, that...
That sometimes Andrew was left without words.
He didn't know if he'd ever find them, just like he didn't know where Tyler had buried the body of Andrew's first love. For now, that was all right. Andrew intended to keep looking.
"How're you doing?" Devon asked.
Andrew shrugged. He'd killed his brother. He suspected he felt better than he probably should.
He could never say that out loud, so he said, "Okay."
The wind tugged at the umbrella, allowing shards of rain to strike him. Andrew lowered the umbrella.
After the summer fires devastated parts of the Santa Cruz Mountains a few months before, Andrew had worried that the first rain in September would weigh on the soil. Trees could break free, pulling down wires, smashing cars, houses. In the more damaged areas, the very earth might slide free and sweep over everything in its path.
His brother had smiled at the thought and reminded him that their closest fire had been far enough away to not be a concern. It'd been difficult to breathe outside for a few days, but then things were fine.
Tyler had been wrong. Those few days had stretched into nearly three weeks, and the danger, while subtle, was as subtle as his brother.
September came and went, dry as the yellow grass along the hills. October came, bringing with it the lightest of rain. It had Tyler's teasing touch, letting Andrew know it was close, and then disappearing when others noticed.
Then November came. Day of the dead. Encroaching clouds. Tyler's accident at Castle Rock Park. The sky trembled.
And broke free.
The wind mourned. The trees shook. The clouds cried.
Wait. That wasn't the clouds.
Andrew looked across the casket.
A tremor shook Julia's thin form, allowing the rain to stab her. Her hair hung limply, with several strands clinging to her pale face. Her dark, almond-shaped eyes stared at the casket. Her husband was dead. Something inside of her probably was too.
Thunder snapped overhead.
One, one thousand. Two--
Fuck. It was getting closer.
Andrew pressed his umbrella into Devon's hand. "I'm going to talk to her."
"Take the umbrella."
"No. I--" Thoughts and emotions jumbled together, destroying Andrew's ability to create a pleasant excuse. The rain was cold. The afternoon dark. Between the two of them, Andrew would rather Devon be safe.
The words were caught inside of him, so Andrew gently squeezed Devon's hand and left.
One step out from beneath the umbrella and the rain attacked him, driving cold into his skin and creating a chaotic smear across his glasses. Andrew walked around the black shape that was the casket and approached Julia and Sean.
She slouched near her son, half hidden beneath the wide brim of her umbrella. When she trembled, Andrew caught flashes of her. She was dressed in a long black dress, and when she shook, the sleeve of the hand holding the umbrella slipped down, exposing the limb to the cold.
Andrew stepped up to Sean. He wanted to ask his nephew something. How he was doing, was he okay? Andrew wanted to know, but he was afraid the questions would sound foolish. How was he doing? Oh, great. Dad just died. And you?
"The lightning's getting close," Andrew said. He didn't feel right asking what he wanted, so he kept his tone gentle. Steady. "Why don't you and Devon head back to the car while I talk to your mom?"
Sean glanced at him for a moment before looking back at the casket. He shook his head. "I'm not ready."
An ache gathered in Andrew's throat. He wanted to tell Sean that a part of him would always be waiting for Tyler to return, for him to walk in the door and tell him there'd been a mistake. God knew Andrew still hoped Garret would one day appear. It was all a misunderstanding. I've been okay all along.
Time would work its erosive magic on the hope, filing it to a sharp edged sliver. It'd be easier to live with then, though it would always have the power to cut him.
"Sean." You won't ever be ready.
Andrew squeezed Sean's shoulder. The words, while true, were cruel and edged. Andrew wanted to keep them inside.
Thunder cracked overhead. The sound was the snapping of bone, the scream of tearing tissue.
One, one thou--
Sean lowered and closed his umbrella.
"It's not safe," Andrew said. "The lightning's getting closer. Your dad wouldn't have wanted it to strike you."
"I know. I--" Sean shrugged. His eyes were shiny. Trembling. "I don't want to leave my mom."
Thunder rumbled above them.
Andrew stepped toward Julia. "I'll talk--"
"--to her." Andrew headed for Julia.
Julia stood close, perhaps two feet away, but the rain turned each step into a wet, muddy mile. Andrew stepped beside her. "Julia--"
Yes. And no. Losing someone hurt, and however Andrew felt about his brother, he knew Tyler had loved her. He'd never put a needle through her finger to see how much she would bleed. The mere insinuation of it had once made her laugh.
"I still can't believe it," Julia said. Her lips twitched. "I know everyone must say that."
But she felt it. In her gut, she expected Tyler to come home.
Andrew understood. He'd once felt the same way about his first love.
"If there's anything I can do," Andrew said.
Julia laughed. The sound was quiet, more like a sob than anything cheerful. "Can you go back in time?"
No. His superpowers were limited to making a great cup of coffee. If he could do more...
Andrew looked away. If he had the power, he wouldn't do it. He'd sell his coffee shop and give her the money, but he didn't want to have Tyler back.
Lightning flashed across the sky. Silence followed, an absolute absence of sound that felt like a weight. Then, thunder cracked. The sound was sharp, like breaking glass. Andrew hoped the shards wouldn't strike anyone.
"We should go," Andrew said. "The lighting's getting closer."
Julia glanced at him. "It would be the perfect end to a perfect day."
Yes. Tyler would have approved.
The caretaker that had thoughtfully kept to the edge of Andrew's sight inched closer. Too polite to hurry them, too wary of the storm to stay back. Andrew understood. Sometimes, one needed to take risks if it meant keeping someone else safe.
Andrew touched Julia's shoulder. "Do you want me to drive you back?"
"No." She slipped her hand over Andrew's, bleeding cold onto him. Then she drew away, slipping her hand over Sean's shoulder. "We'll see you tomorrow."
Julia drew Sean away. They walked, half leading, half led, toward the parking lot.
Andrew watched them until they disappeared behind a copse of trees. He should have wished them something. Drive carefully, take it easy, sleep well. He couldn't. He'd never been very good with goodbyes.
Wet footfalls drew close. Andrew turned.
Devon stepped up before him and moved the umbrella to cover them both.
Light flashed over them. Thunder chased after it. The sound swept over them, shaking the ground.
"Maybe we should drive them home," Devon said.
Andrew shook his head. "Julia doesn't want the company right now."
"They shouldn't be alone tonight. Tyler--"
"Wouldn't have wanted me there." Tyler would have wanted him to remain where he was. In the cold. Surrounded by death.
Devon slid his fingers over Andrew's shoulder. His eyes were thoughtful. Sad.
Andrew drew him close. Devon was warm and soft and alive, so vulnerably alive. Flesh could bruise. Bleed. A childhood with Tyler had shown Andrew so many things. The four pale brown coffee-bean shapes on his left arm? Boiling oil. The scar beneath his left nipple? Fish hook.
"It's going to be all right." Tyler was dead now. Cold, lifeless, and unable to hurt anyone again. "Let's go home."