Heartweed: Chapter 14

This is the beta version of my novel. If you are a new reader – welcome. You can read from the start here.

New sections are released every Tuesday and Friday. Please let me know your opinion in the comments section. Thank you for reading.

Chapter 14

Artemisia missed the moment when her brother’s coffin slid away behind the sombre brown curtains. Her eyes were achingly dry, she hadn’t shed a tear through the whole service. It had been days since she had spoken. She felt frozen: no tears, no words, no feelings. Or at least none that were small enough to feel.
She stared into the blank air, but in front of her eyes Lord March was looking back at her, his eyes dancing malicious joy. Her brother’s murderer. She had tried to tell them – the police. When they had come to her, collapsed and hysterical, at the side of the road. She had tried to tell the paramedics that the police had passed her over to. Passed her to them because they may as well have something to do. There was no saving Alex. His neck broke when he landed. They had met her ravings with a needle and a trip to the hospital. By the time her parents had been informed and had found her at the hospital, sedated and under observation, she had learned to keep quiet about faeries. Temporary insanity, brought on by witnessing Alex’s death – it was a diagnosis that kept everyone comfortable.
The mourners began to stand and file out. Artie blinked back into the present. She took her mother’s offered hand, and tried and failed to return the attempted smile. Alex’s favourite song scratched through the crematorium speakers.

Here comes the sun,

And I say, it’ alright

It’s alright

But it really wasn’t. Artie didn’t think it would be alright ever again.
Outside the day was overcast, the world flattened and shadowless in the diffused grey light. Her mum squeezed Artie’s unresisting hand and let it drop before moving to Artie’s dad’s side to reinforce him against the tide of condolences.
Artie drifted towards the fringes. The one time being small was good was when she was trying to go unnoticed.
“Artie.” A hesitant hand rested on her arm. Artie looked up into Sam’s red-laced eyes. Sam pulled her into a hug. “You coping?”
Artie nodded.
“I’m just so sorr-”
“I know.” Artie cut through the condolence. Sam looked taken aback, then pressed her lips together and nodded. She stared at Artie as if Artie was a house of cards that would tumble down at a wrong breath. A needle of irritation pierced Artie’s numbness.
“Hey guys.” James walked towards them. Artie stared at him; he was so tall. In his black suit and tie he looked like one of the adults. Artie frowned. They were all too young to get old. They were all too young to die as well, but it hadn’t stopped Alex.
“A bunch of us are going down the pub to drink to Alex’s memory. Do you want to come?”
Artie shook her head. “There’s a wake thing at the house. Sandwiches and stuff. I should be there.” She took a deep breath. “You know. Support my parents.” A weak smile. “Plus, I don’t get served at the pub.”
James nodded. Sam laid a hand on Artie’s arm.
“Do you want me to come with you and help out?”
Artie shook her head. “Have a drink to him.”
“Yeah,” said James. “He’d prefer that.”
“I think he’d prefer not to be dead. Sorry,” Artie said looking into their abruptly frozen faces. “I didn’t mean to be…, I just … I just don’t know how to be.”
Sam swiped an unformed tear from her eye. “Yeah, I think I know what you mean.” She squeezed Artie’s shoulder.
Sam met James’ eye, then wandered away to join the rest of the twins’ friends. Some of them shot glances at Artie. Sam was probably telling them to give her space. What did she care? They were Alex’s friends really. He was the centre; everyone else orbitted him, including his awkward sister.
“Artie?”
She turned to look into James’ expectant eyes. Had he been speaking to her? Had she missed it?
“Sorry, what?”
“It’s OK,” James said. “Just wanted to tell you how much I rated Alex. I loved him like a brother.” His voice caught. “Out of everyone – he was the only person who treated me just the same after I cam out.”
Artie nodded, then frowned. “Even including me?”
James smiled and squeezed her shoulder. “Yeah. You started talking to me again, like you did in the days before we both hit puberty.” His eyes went far off. “But with Alex there was no difference at all. It meant a lot. He helped me through that time no end.”
“I’m glad. I’m sorry that you’ve lost him.” Her voice shattered into pieces. “I’m sorry I couldn’t save him.” Emotion choked her; she couldn’t breathe. Artie was dimly aware of James’ arms holding her up, holding her in.
“Shhh. Shhh.” He stroked her hair. “It isn’t your fault.”
He repeated the words over and over like a soothing mantra. Artie was quieted but not soothed. It was a lie, and each repetition of it heaped on top of her like dry sand, burying her, choking her.
She broke away and swiped at her eyes with the back of her hand.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
She tuned and walked away from James.

Continue reading here.

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