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Her mother nodded. “Thanks, honey.”

River stood up and moved to the bedside cabinet. She pulled out a tall, glass bottle filled with a murky brown liquid, and a spoon. Holding out the spoon level in front of her, she filled it to the brim with the potion before guiding it into her mother’s mouth. Nadia swallowed, a grimace settling on her face as she downed it.

“Augh. I need water.” Nadia reached for a glass half filled with water next to her bed and chugged it down in a few gulps. She took a deep breath. “I’m definitely feeling better than yesterday anyway,” she muttered. “Whatever Corrine put in this disgusting medicine, it’s certainly working.”

There was a pause as River resumed her seat next to her mother. She drew aside her bathrobe to reveal a slip she wore underneath and began drying her hair with the robe.

“So, Mom,” she said as she rubbed her scalp, “do you still not believe in mermaids?”

Nadia coughed out a dry laugh.

River bundled the robe over her head in a turban and stood up. She leaned over the bed and kissed her mother’s cheek. “I’m going to get dressed.”

River crossed the room and left through the door. I followed after her as she headed down the corridor. She took a left and entered a room next door to her mother’s. I waited outside. It was bad enough being a ghost, I didn’t need to turn into a creepy stalker as well and watch her undress.

I waited a few minutes, until I guessed that she would have had time to change out of her slip and put on some clothes. By the time I entered, she was wearing a light gray t-shirt that hugged her curves and a pair of sweatpants. She pulled out a hairdryer and sat in front of her dressing table. She paused and gazed at herself in the mirror. The dryer fell loose in her hands.

I moved closer to her from behind, staring at her reflection and wishing that mirrors could reflect my form. She breathed out a heavy sigh, her beautiful turquoise eyes traced with sadness. Instead of turning on the dryer, she planted it back in the drawer. Sliding her elbows over the dressing table, she leaned her head against her palms, her fingers reaching into her hair and gripping it, her hands curling into fists. I bent down lower, trying to take in her expression. Her eyes were scrunched up tight, her lips pressed together and trembling slightly, as if she was trying to hold back a sob.

“River,” I breathed. I laid my wispy hand on her shoulder, wishing more than ever that my fingers could close around her in even the gentlest touch.

She drew in a deep, harried breath and raised her head, once again facing the mirror. Her eyes had become full with tears, and one spilled slowly down her cheek.

She brushed it away with the back of her hand and stood up, moving to the window. Resting her palms on the windowsill, she stared through the glass over the surrounding rooftops of the Vale and toward the towering wall of treetops beyond.

I stood behind her, my chest grazing her back. I ran my hands down along her arms and lowered my mouth against the back of her neck. She shivered suddenly and took a step back—passing right through my body. She moved to the single bed in the corner of the room and pulled off a blanket, which she draped around her shoulders.

Did she feel my presence just now? Does my form emit a kind of coldness? Or was it mere coincidence? Being a half-blood, she was almost always cold, after all.

When she moved away from the bed, she didn’t return to the window. She stood in the center of the bedroom and gazed around, as though she didn’t know what to do with herself.

I remained by the window, just gazing at her. After I had made River leave The Oasis with Corrine and I’d taken off on my crazy journey into the supernatural dimension, I’d honestly believed that I would never see this girl again. And while I couldn’t have imagined in my wildest dreams reuniting with her in these circumstances, I felt grateful to be standing in front of her. Even if I couldn’t reach out and touch her, kiss her, hold her in my arms and tell her how much I ached for and loved her, just being able to lay eyes on her again and see that she was safe was more than I’d hoped for.

She slumped to her knees on the floor, staring blankly at the opposite wall. As another tear escaped down her pale cheek, her lips parted slightly and I could have sworn that she breathed my name. I could only assume that her tears were for me.

Chapter 13: Ben

I stayed with River in her bedroom until she finally picked herself up off the floor and walked back to her mother’s room. As much as I ached to stay with her, now that I had seen that those I loved most on this island were safe, I had to start figuring out some answers. What is really going on here?

It seemed that the funeral had been very last-minute, and many of the humans were going about their day as though nothing had happened. Perhaps word of Kailyn’s death hadn’t yet spread past the supernatural community. Or perhaps my parents were deliberately holding back the news until after the investigation my father had spoken of with Ibrahim, so as to not plant unnecessary worry or fear in the minds of our human population.

I hurried back through the forest and arrived in the courtyard outside Corrine and Ibrahim’s home where the funeral ceremony was in full flow. Kailyn’s coffin had been placed in the center. I caught sight of Aiden at the front of the crowd. His eyes were red, but the rest of his face was quite expressionless. Stony, cold.

A few feet away stood Kira, who was still sobbing into Micah’s arms. He stroked the back of her head as he held her tight.

My parents also stood in the front row, along with a teary-eyed Rose and a grim-looking Caleb—whom I was seeing for the first time since arriving back.

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