what it was like

I was asleep in the passenger seat when we arrived at Hedgewood Hospital. The only reason I woke up was I felt the car stop moving.

I was dreaming that we were all in the car, the three of us, listening to music. Sunset. Windows down. A normal evening like any evening of a hundred over the last year.

And then I woke up, and it was dark, and we weren’t moving, and Julian was still dead.

“Where are we?” I asked, and Neal said, “Hedgewood.”

Neither of us have really spoken in four days.

I remembered about my whole condition all at once like someone had hit me in the face with a train.

“Wait,” I said. “Wait.”

“I don’t know if there’s anything they can do,” Neal said. “But they brought me back, right?” He was attempting something like humor, but he failed. He wasn’t thinking about me at all (which to be clear was a relief) he was thinking about bringing Julian back.

I stared at him, fighting horror, and I know he felt it because he sort of twitched away from me and got out of the car.

He banged on the door of the main building and waited. When no one came, he banged again, and I got out of the car. My legs felt wobbly.

“Neal,” I began, putting my hand on his shoulder as he banged on the door a third time.

“Hello? I know you’re in there!” he shouted, banging with his fist, and then the flat of his hand. “Come on,” he said and I was trying to figure out how to stop him when the door opened.

“Neal?” It was Sylvia. “This is most unusual. Do you know the time?”

“Are you a hospital or aren’t you?” Neal snapped, which wasn’t the way to convince someone to help you with a common cold much less raise the dead.

“Is someone hurt?” another witch called as she came down the hall towards the main rotunda.

“It’s Neal Hawthorne,” a third witch called back.

“Neal Hawthorne,” a fourth witch repeated. They seemed to be appearing out of the darkness behind Sylvia from every direction. I could hear water running.

“Has something happened?” A fifth witch.

“Is it the girl?” A sixth.

“Is it the girl with one black eye?”

“Did she finally find her —”

“Hush,” Sylvia interrupted. She was looking at me. I saw her glance distinctly down from my eyes, down towards my abdomen and I felt a wave of nausea. She asked, “What’s wrong?”

And then, in the horrible, expanding quiet, one of the witches piped up:

“Where’s the other Hawthorne?”

And I saw Sylvia suddenly understand. Neal stood aside, unable to look at anyone, and Sylvia came outside. She was wearing white, and seemed to glow softly in the moonlight as she crossed the small distance between the door and the car.

She opened the back of the car and paused. I closed my eyes.

“Neal,” she finally said, carefully. She reached a long elegant hand out to touch his arm, but he winced away. “How long has he been gone?”

“Four days,” Neal said stiffly and Sylvia did a double-take.

“Surely not,” she said.

Neal waved her off. “It’s the car,” he said. “Celeste hexed it. Can you save him?”

Sylvia gave him a look of such sympathy and gentleness that I wanted to throat punch her.

“You know we can’t,” she said.

“Can’t or won’t?”

“Can’t,” Sylvia said, firmly. “It’s impossible, Neal. Impossible. The only person to ever come back, ever, was —”

So many eyes flicked onto me. Worst of all Neal’s.

“We’re not here to talk about Shiloh,” he said, tone just a little dangerous.

“We are if you want to talk about resurrection,” Sylvia replied, evenly. And then, gently, “Your brother is gone, Neal.” And when he looked at her, wild-eyed: “he’s gone.”

I thought for a moment he was going to finally unspool. I saw the shimmer on his eyelashes even.

He didn’t. Instead he slammed open the rabbit’s door and got into drivers seat. So I got in beside him. As he was taking the car out of park, he hesitated, and finally spoke to me: “You should stay,” he said.

I wanted to hit him and it must have been on my face because he added, “Look at us.” He gestured at the state of us — unwashed, half delirious, carting around Julian’s literal corpse in the back seat of the car.

I set my jaw and got ready to fight and saw just the flicker of a smile on his face.

“Okay,” he said. He put the car in drive.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“Black lake,” he replied. My heart sank.

That made sense. It actually made so much sense I’m surprised I didn’t think of it sooner — of course that’s the place to bring someone dead who you’d like to stop being dead. But see, the reason I didn’t think of it is this:

“Neal, she’s not there.”

“She could be,” he said.

But she’s not. I know she’s not. She went through that portal, and she brought Madelyn with her, and she hasn’t come back. Don’t ask me to explain how I know that, I just know it.

“Can we at least sleep?” I asked.

“We’ll stop soon,” he said, already backing away from Hedgewood. All those witches watched us go. They didn’t try to stop us, but I could see in their expressions how bad this looks.

It doesn’t just look bad. It is bad. It’s bad. We’re literally driving across the country, again, with a dead man in the back of the car.

We’ve been on the road for a couple more hours now.

Fuck, Beverly is calling. It’s the middle of the night.

I miss Cara. Cara would know what to do, she’d have caught up to us already, would know how to reach Neal. I could tell Cara. How can I call Beverly and tell her that Julian’s dead? I don’t think I can say the words out loud, much less to Bev, who’s like… I mean she’s in love with him, right?

Does she already know? The only people who knew what happened were Cooper and Billy Ace’s people. Have any of them spoken to her? There’s no way to know.

Maybe I should call Jasper? But I barely know Jasper. Maybe Celeste?

I can’t bring myself to call anyone because Neal’s not ready to do that part of the process yet. He still refuses to believe it’s permanent and I get it, because if he weren’t the one dragging us across the country to bring Julian back, I would be. Fuck I don’t know what to do.

I was falling asleep against the window when Neal finally asked, “what was it like?”

“What?” I didn’t get it, not at first.

“You know.”

And then I did know. I should have been waiting for this for days. I felt the panic begin to rise and I told it to shut the fuck up just this once. And then I told him what it was like:

“It hurt,” I said. “But not at first, and then not for very long. Everything happened very quickly for me. Everything was really bright for a second, I heard a buzzing, ringing sound, and felt a really awful sense of disconnectedness and unreality — and then I felt blood running in places it should have been, and I realized what was going to happen. I got scared and then I was okay with it, and then the pain stopped.”

It was weird to explain it because I’ve been reliving it over and over, but I’ve never tried to put words to the event because words can’t really accurately explain all of it, you know?

“And after that?” he asked.

I hesitated because at that point things get a lot less concrete. “I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t know if it’s the same for everyone, and I didn’t get that far.”

“But you saw it, right?” Neal asked.

I chewed my lip. “Not really,” I said. “I was too deep in the cave. All I saw was some light around the corner.”

But then he swiped impatiently at his cheek, and I had to give him more.

“It was warm,” I offered. “Bright. There were birds singing, and it smelled good.”

“Like what?”

“Summer,” I said and he smiled or grimaced and scrubbed at his face again.

“Losing Nolan was bad,” he said. “But I don’t think I can —” He broke off. I noticed that he was easing off the gas, nudging us towards the side of the road. It wasn’t until the car stopped that he finally said, “It’s just me left.”

And we just sat there staring ahead at the dark road and the sparse, looming forest until Neal put his forehead on the steering wheel to cry.

Which was honestly a total relief because once the storm broke he could just storm for a while. And I mean it sucked, right, grief sucks. There’s no reasoning with it. It doesn’t even feel like it belongs to you — it just crashes through you and you’re at it’s mercy for a while and it’s best not to fight it — and then on the other side, things are a little clearer. I could tell by the slope of his shoulders, and his slack grip on the steering wheel.

And after that, I knew it was time to call someone.

I told Neal I had to pee, and got out of the car, stumbled over the guard rail and crashed into the woods. I really thought I was gonna call Celeste, but in the end Beverly was the first missed call, so I just pushed the call back button and waited.

She picked up at once.

“Shiloh?” She was strangled with exhaustion.

“Yeah, it’s me,” I managed.

“Oh thank god,” she gasped. “Where are you?”

I answered her as best I could, and then I just said it: “Bev, Julian’s dead. They killed him, he’s dead.”

I think she put down the phone because I didn’t hear anything for a long time. I just sat there in the woods, waiting until I heard the garbled crunching noise of her picking up the phone again. She sounded muffled, and stuffed up, but okay.

“Can Neal hear me right now?”

I told her no.

“Okay sweetie, listen, I’m sending people for you. You’re gonna be okay.”

She must have thought I was calling because Neal had gone right off the deep end — and I mean, yeah, she’s not wrong. But she must have thought I needed help. And I do, we both do. But she was talking to me like I was afraid, and I’m not afraid. I’m not scared of grief anymore. Not right now, anyway.

When I got back to the car Neal was sitting on the hood, waiting for me. I walked right into his chest, and he put his chin on the top of my head and held on tight.

“You call Bev?” he asked. I nodded. “I’m sorry you had to do it.” I didn’t mind though. I’ve been babied enough this year. I can do it now.

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