His thick hair was peppered with salt, and his face was lined with age. A dark moustache grew below his nose, hiding features that might belong to my brother. When he looked up from the flowers, his eyes meeting mine, I nearly gasped. He had the same green eyes I see every time I look in the mirror.
The emerald of our eyes is something our mother passed down to us – both Joseph and I, and our sister Caroline have that same shade of brilliant green. Only our older brother Daniel had gotten our father’s murky brown eyes, like the color of dull mud.
“Can I help you?” Joseph asked, the baritone of his voice sounding much deeper than I remembered. He narrowed his eyes at me, but I’m not sure if this was because I stared at him so intently or if he recognized me.
“No, I…” I had no idea what to say to him. In all my plans to see him, I hadn’t thought of a single thing I’d say once I found him.
“Are you alright?” Joseph asked, and by the concern in his eyes, I’m certain I had paled.
“Yes, I’m quite fine,” I nodded, and I hurriedly grabbed a bouquet of wild flowers from the stand. “I was getting flowers for my wife.”
“As was I.” Joseph turned back towards the flowers, but he seemed reluctant to look away from me. “Or I was considering it, anyway. We had a bit of a row last night, and a bright bunch of flowers always seems to help.”
“Oh?” I asked. “How long have you been married?”
“Twenty years last September,” Joseph said with a smile, and his eyes twinkled with pride. His eyes had always sparkled like that when he did something well. “They’ve been mostly happy years, but if I’m an honest man, I’d say that has more to do with my choice of bride. Mary is a saint.”
“Most women are,” I said, matching his smile.
“What about you?” Joseph asked, and I didn’t understand his question. “How long have you been married?”
“Only just,” I said, answering the same way I always do when people ask. I look far too young to have been married for almost a decade. But this time, when I said it, I meant it. We’re going to be newlyweds, you and I, as soon as you join me.
“Marriage is a spectacular thing,” Joseph assured me. “A family is about the best thing that can happen to a man.”
“Do you have children?” I asked.
“Four,” he grinned. “Two girls and two boys. Alexandra, Michael, Peter, and Pippa.”
I wanted to congratulate him, to say something to that, but the lump in my throat became too large for me to speak around. He’d named one of his children after me. I could barely even work my mouth into a smile. I had nieces and nephews I would never meet, could never meet. I hadn’t missed my family this much since right after I turned.
“They’re a handful,” Joseph went on, since I said nothing. “Of course, mine are almost grown now, and I was fortunate to have my sister help with their care.”
“Your sister?” I asked, and my heart skipped a beat.
All these years, I’ve never known what became of Caroline. Ezra thought it would be best if I didn’t see them again, so I left without knowing if she’d survived.
“Yes, my younger sister Caroline,” Joseph said. He raised an eyebrow at my reaction, but continued with his explanation. “She was injured as a child and never quite recovered. After our parents passed away, she moved into the city to live with me and my wife.”
“Your parents…” I reached out to steady myself on the cart next to me. The wind had been knocked out from my lungs, and my stomach twisted in knots.
Of course I’d known I would outlive my parents. Even as a mortal, I’d known that. It hit me so much harder than I’d expected it to.
“Are you alright?” Joseph asked and put his hand out, as if to catch me in case I fainted.
“No.” I shook my head. “I mean, yes. I’m fine. I felt… a bit ill for a moment, but it’s passed.”
“Do I know you?” He leaned in closer to me, narrowing his eyes again. “You look so familiar to me.”
“I… no, I don’t believe I know you,” I said.
“Strange.” He looked thoughtful for a moment, then stuck out his hand to me. “Joseph Monroe.”
“Ezra Townsend,” I said, taking Ezra’s name since I couldn’t very will give him my own. I hadn’t gone by the name “Monroe” since I’d been human, and it felt strange hearing him say it aloud. My own name had become the name of a stranger.
I took his hand, shaking it firmly. His skin felt rough and calloused, the hands of a man in midlife who’d worked hard. My skin was soft and smooth as ever, the firm hands of a young man. He was my younger brother, and he was so much older than I will ever be.
I left after that, wandering back to my flat in a daze. The streets felt winding, and I got lost several times. I couldn’t seem focus on anything.
I hadn’t thought to ask of Daniel, and I regretted that. But Caroline and Joseph were fine. They were thriving actually. They’d done well without me, as they should.
But seeing Joseph, knowing he’d grown old, that he would die in time, and I would not. I would not even change or age. These are things I’d known for so many years, but it was almost unfathomable to see.
Time moves so strangely. I think it moves just as quickly for mortals as it does for us, but we have the luxury of being timeless, of being untouched by it. Or at least that’s what I’ve always believed.