Life Minus Me
Sara Codair © 2019
All Rights Reserved
Borders and Bridges
Sun beat down on Mel’s cold, rosy cheeks, and wind whipped her blonde hair into a frenzy of thrashing strands. She sped up on I-95 in a yellow Jeep Wrangler with the top down on a chilly Saturday morning in January. The fact that she even felt cold at all reminded her that she was a little human…25 percent human.
A salty chill grew in the air. A green bridge loomed on the horizon. It crossed the Piscataqua River, the border between Maine and New Hampshire, leading her from the place where she, a seemingly human college senior who lived with her grad-student fiancé, was deciding which medical school to attend, to one where she was an Angel-Elf-Human hybrid who fought Demons and healed minor injuries. Sometimes, Mel felt like she lived in two worlds. In one, science and reason left little room for belief in the supernatural. In the other, her maternal grandmother was an Elf, her father was an Angel, and the rest of her family members were Demon hunters.
They weren’t technically two separate worlds so much as cultures, one hidden from the other. Mel led a double life in this messy multifaceted world where she tried her best to make it a better place. She tried, but she failed more than she succeeded.
She tapped the steering wheel with her fingers, drumming a rhythm to a song someone was listening to in the car in front of her, one she wasn’t hearing through her ears, but through telepathy she’d failed to turn off. She understood even less of the science behind her mind reading than that of her healing abilities.
Speeding up, she passed the pickup truck whose driver was loudly thinking about the music he was listening to and how it reminded him of his ex-boyfriend. Mel imagined the rush of wind, the growl of her engine, and a big brick wall shielding her mind from everything outside her skull until the music ceased. Mostly. She’d inherited her telepathic powers from her father, but she didn’t control the ability nearly as well as he did.
She tightened her grip on the steering wheel. It was going to be at least another hour before she got to Mary’s Eats, a diner where she was meeting her cousin, Erin, for breakfast.
Driving was difficult when her attempts to control her telepathy failed, but crowded restaurants were more of a challenge. When Mel stepped through glass doors into the diner, other people’s thoughts battered the mental walls she’d constructed around her mind. She squeezed by the line of customers waiting for tables, ignoring their glares and reinforcing her shields so the dull, incoherent murmuring of a dozen minds faded away.
The L-shaped room was filled with pink and blue tables that had been there since the 1950s. The faux-wood vinyl floors were less than a year old, installed around the same time the owners had gutted the walls to insulate them, updated the wiring, and added gender-neutral bathrooms. Those bathrooms, along with the large portions of bacon that the restaurant served, were why Erin often insisted on meeting here.
Erin sat in the fifth booth from the line, hood up and headphones on. Rocking back and forth to the beat of music Mel couldn’t hear, Erin shredded a straw wrapper and stared at the silverware. Two menus sat untouched on the edge of the table.
A bony shoulder collided with Mel’s back. Newspapers flew up into the air and floated to the floor like feathers from broken wings as a man with wispy gray hair and pasty skin jumped backward.
“I’m so sorry,” he said, catching his balance on the side of the booth. “I wasn’t watching where I was going.”
“It’s fine. It’s a good thing you didn’t fall.” Mel bent down and started picking up the dropped papers.
“I’ll get them. I’m healthier than I look.” The old man bent down and scooped up more pages.
Mel picked them up quicker and then helped him back to his feet.
“Thank you,” he said, before shuffling off to a table where a younger person with short brown hair and rosy cheeks glared at a computer screen.
“Cooper, these numbers don’t look right,” said the person, picking at chapped lips.
Cooper clutched his disorganized newspaper to his chest as he looked over the person’s shoulder. “That check was only supposed to be for $5,000, not $50,000!”
“Call the bank. They close at noon,” said the younger person.
“Mel? Someone else is going to walk into you if you keep standing in the middle of the aisle,” said Erin, whose hood and headphones were now off.
“Good point.” Mel slid into the seat across from Erin. “It’s been a long week.”
“It must be horrible, going back to school after having a month off.” Erin gathered pieces of their shredded straw wrapper into a pile and slid them under the menu.
“You had a couple weeks off too.” Mel fidgeted with the ring on her left-hand ring finger.
“Over which I had to write a five-page paper. You had no homework and get to start all new classes.” Erin picked up the butter knife and put it down, squeezing their hands together.
“Are you okay?” Mel leaned forward and tilted her head, peering at Erin’s grass-green eyes, barely resisting the temptation to let her shields down so she could read Erin’s mind.
“Not really.” Erin yanked their right hand away from their left, running their fingers through short, red curls. “The meds my new doctor had me on were actually working until I broke out into hives, got really dizzy, and couldn’t keep a single meal down.”
“That sucks.” Mel curled her hands around the edge of the booth’s seat, digging her fingernails into the old vinyl. Erin wasn’t much more human than Mel, which was probably why medications intended for humans didn’t work. But Erin didn’t know that, and Mel couldn’t tell them the truth—she was bound by an oath that was impossible to break. Had she known what the consequences of this secret would be, she never would’ve agreed to keep it.
“Yup. My stupid brain is already foggy again, and I can’t focus on getting anything done.” Erin picked up the fork, spun it around, and ran their fingers over the prongs.
Mel snatched it out of their hand. “Careful.”
Erin rolled their eyes. “I wish the server would hurry up and come back now that you’re here. I’m starving.”
“Me too.” Mel slid Erin’s napkin and butter knife closer, farther away from Erin.
“Really? You think that little of me?” Erin stood up, fists clenched as they stared out the window to the street where their car, a Jeep Cherokee built four years before Erin was even born, was parked outside.
“Erin, I’m sorry. I just…it’s an old habit, maybe. I’m sorry.” Mel’s hands shook as she waited for Erin to either accept the apology or storm away. Her chest got tight and her eyes burned. A year and a half ago, she had sat with Erin in this very diner, thinking Erin was just fidgeting, not realizing until she dropped her shields that Erin had a butter knife under the table and was nervously running their thumb back and forth over the edge until it bled. It was the type of thing that used to happen all the time, and each time Mel intervened, Erin pushed her further and further away, resisting help no matter who it came from.
Erin took a deep breath and sat back down. “I don’t cut anymore, and if me being off medication means you’re going to start meddling with my life again, I’m not talking to you. Either accept that I’m fine without your interference or leave me alone.”
“Okay. I’ll stop. I won’t intrude.” Mel gritted her teeth. Erin would’ve died if she hadn’t meddled. Erin’s bitterness over Mel’s interference in a suicide attempt was a sign Erin was not fine at all, but there was nothing Mel could do about it without crossing boundaries and breaking the fragile trust she’d built with her cousin.
Erin leaned forward. “I have a good therapist now. Mom isn’t ignoring me as much as she used to. Be my cousin and friend. Don’t act like some guardian angel trying to save me.”
Mel squeezed her eyes shut, holding tears in. She’d do what Erin asked, for now, even though it made her feel like a complete failure, like the shittiest Angel ever.
“Hi, you both ready to order?” asked a woman with a bright grin and tired blue eyes.
Erin smiled, letting out a slow breath that took the tension out of their shoulders. “I’ll have the Hungry Person special, eggs over hard, bacon, home fries, and chocolate chip pancakes.”
“I’ll get the same thing,” said Mel. “And hot tea for both of us.”
“You got it.” The server tucked a notepad in her apron and walked toward the counter.
Mel stared at her hands, short fingers, and scarred knuckles. They were hands that healed lacerations and broken ribs, but right now, they felt useless. “I hope the food comes out quick.”
“Me too,” said Erin.
Awkward silence slithered between Mel and Erin. They looked at everything but each other. Eventually, Erin pointed at the table where the man who had bumped into Mel sat arguing with the younger person. “Is it really weird that I dreamed about that person three times this week?”
Weird was not the word Mel used to describe Erin’s dreams. Prophetic, terrifying, and random were far more accurate adjectives for the visions that plagued Erin’s sleep, which became more frequent every time they stopped taking stimulants. Prophecy was something that ran in the family, on the Elf side. Mel suspected it was the reason she’d been tricked into vowing to never tell Erin the truth about their family unless Erin discovered it for themself. It didn’t change how wrong she thought it was.
“The one at the computer. Baily. They work across the street at Barks and Bits. I remember because their name tag had their pronouns on it,” said Erin.
Baily jumped up, spilling a glass of ice and juice all over the table.
“Baily, calm down,” said Cooper.
“Fuck.” They took a deep breath and started clearing up the ice while half the diner stopped talking and stared. “No more business at breakfast. Ever.”
Mel turned away from the argument. Erin’s forehead was crinkled in concentration. “What did you dream about them?”
Erin looked at Mel with their eyebrows arched. “They drove their car off a bridge in a snowstorm.”
The server swooped in and put two cups of steaming tea in front of Mel and Erin.
Mel clutched hers, slowly breathing in the steam. “How’d you know it was them?”
Erin stared into their tea like a mystic looking for signs in the steam. “The first time I just saw the car go off with a flash of the face, but the next two times, I watched them slam on the gas, spin the wheel, and stomp on the break.”
“Was that it?” asked Mel. If they weren’t in a crowded diner, Mel would’ve dropped her walls and watched the memory in Erin’s mind.
Erin shrugged. “Driving off a bridge isn’t an efficient way to kill yourself.”
Mel took a deep breath. “Erin.”
“It was a nightmare. They didn’t die right away. The car filled up with water while they were unconscious. Then they woke up, smiled for a few minutes, shivered, and their face contorted like they realized something. Then they started screaming and trying to get out of the car, but they drowned anyway.”
“You remember all that?”
“Every damned detail. I woke feeling like I was drowning, but Bessie barged in the room and sat on me until I felt better.”
“I’m sorry,” said Mel.
“Two Hungry Person specials?” asked a server carrying two big plates of food.
“That’s us,” said Mel.
Erin snatched a piece of bacon as soon as the plate was on the table and shoved the whole thing in their mouth.
Mel devoured home fries without looking away from Erin.
“I know what you’re thinking,” said Erin through a mouthful of eggs.
I wish you did, thought Mel. She wasn’t allowed to tell Erin about their supernatural nature, but if Erin one day learned how to read minds, well, then Mel couldn’t stop them from learning the truth. If Erin discovered it for themself, then Mel was no longer bound by that stupid oath.
Erin sipped their tea. “I’m not going to kill myself. I don’t want to die anymore. Trust me.”
Then why are you still bitter about me saving your life? Mel stuffed more food in her mouth to stop from saying something she would regret. She wouldn’t meddle in any way Erin would know about, but she could send Pixies to spy on Erin. The little winged creatures had a long-standing alliance with Demon hunters and Elves. They were always looking for work that would allow them to stay in the human world and give them a taste of human foods, like pizza and chocolate. Erin couldn’t see Pixies, most of the time, and when they did, they didn’t really believe what they were seeing. They’d never know Mel was spying on them. She could also assign some to watch Baily. Maybe with enough information, she could make sure Erin’s vision never came to pass.
The ring of shattering glass made both Mel and Erin jump. A mug slid off a table, thudding to the ground next to a broken plate as Cooper tried to get out of the booth, arms and legs not quite working right.
His mouth moved, but no sound came out.
Baily flew out of the booth, slipping on the broken plate.
Mel’s heart and breathing sped up. She dropped the walls around her mind and stood, pushing aside a wave of questions and complaints that did not belong to her, focusing her telepathy on the old man.
His thoughts were jumbled things Mel couldn’t get a handle on. She moved closer. The blood in his brain wasn’t flowing right.
“Call 911. He’s having a stroke.” Mel took another step and froze. If she got close enough, she could use her power, her energy, to reach into his brain and try to fix it, but brains were dangerous and took a lot of energy to heal. If she did one thing wrong, she could kill him. If she used too much energy trying to heal him, she could kill herself.
“Mel, come on, sit back down. A bunch of people are crowding him, and the ambulance is right on the street.” Erin took Mel’s hand and pulled her back to the booth. “Are you okay?”
Mel forced herself to nod as she failed to build walls around her mind, enduring a siege of other people’s thoughts that were too loud to ignore:
Oh my God. This is my fault.
I can see the ambulance.
I hate myself.
I’ve never seen someone have a stroke before.
Is Mel having a panic attack? How is she going to be a doctor if she has panic attacks when people have strokes?
He got scammed. He’s having a stroke. I’m so screwed. Why the fuck am I thinking about myself? My uncle is having a fucking stroke. I hate myself. I’m a horrible person.
I should try to talk to Mel or something. I should at least stop eating. I’m an idiot. I hate myself. I suck. But damn this bacon is so good.
We need to hurry.
That paramedic is cute.
I forgot how mesmerizing her eyes were. She’ll take care of Cooper. It’s going to be okay. Breathe.
Breathe. Mel loves hugs as much as I hate them. Maybe that will ground her. Don’t be an ass, Erin. Be a good cousin. Don’t even think about ignoring this and calling it revenge. Mel saved your life. Don’t hate her for it. You’re okay now. Be nice. Stop talking to yourself in your head.
“Mel, I’m here. Look at me,” said Erin.
Petite, muscular arms wrapped around Mel’s torso, pulling her close. Mel hugged Erin back, listening to their slightly-faster-than-human pulse. Mel breathed when Erin did, and one by one, she piled imaginary bricks around her mind until her thoughts were the only ones in her head.
Mel had the power to heal that man. She didn’t use it because she was afraid it might have killed them both. A stroke that severe was above her abilities to heal. She was a shitty Angel and a smart human. She couldn’t save Cooper, but Baily was a different story. Mel couldn’t cure mental illness, but she could stop a suicide attempt.