The rising sun was blinding, even through her closed eyelids. Somewhere in the park, birds tweeted and children laughed amidst the joyful creaking of swings. The carefree sounds pricked her sorrow like tenacious thorns.
”Are you awake, E?” John’s voice was mellow as warm maple syrup, a far cry from his screams the night before.
“Sort of.” With a Herculean effort, she brought her elbows under her, raising her head to look at him. She squinted one-eyed, her other eye positively refusing to open to the brightness. She pressed her eyes closed and tried again without success. It didn’t matter. Without her glasses, everything was slightly hazy anyway and lately he looked better a little out of focus.
“Did you at least sleep some?” she asked, as he reached for the blue votive candle still stuck to her T-shirt.
“Some. You?” He handed her the waxy nub as she sat upright.
“Enough,” Esme hedged, grateful that he never seemed to remember the night terrors. But she was exhausted and the spells weren’t working.
He waited, watching her closely. She cleared the cobwebs out of her mind with a mental shake and pressed her morning-breath lips to his, feeling the prickly roughness of scruff. “I love you, you know.” It was her personal morning ritual, started when he was diagnosed. She never wanted to face the regret of things left unsaid.
“I love you, too.” He lifted a trembling hand to stroke her cheek, the scent of sandalwood and frankincense still clinging to his crepe-paper skin. “You know, we don’t have to …”
“Yes, we do.” She shoved herself to her feet not letting him finish. She handed him the Thermos of what by now would be lukewarm coffee as she collected the crystals and herbs and candles scattered in the grass. Stuffing them into her military surplus bag with barely concealed violence, she scuffed the baby powder pentagram from the grass. Then, she gripped his thin arm and hauled him to his feet. He was weaker and less heavy every day.
John was winded by the time they reached their flat, a short block from the park. She blamed the chemo, though he had been off it for months. She settled him on the couch, and put myrrh and rosemary oils in the burner for protection. Pulling the blinds wide open, she let sunlight suffuse the room and breathed in its healing glow. He should be safe here while she restocked.
With a quick kiss on his napping forehead, she headed to the new age store around the corner. Grandmother had given her the recipe reluctantly, saying it was his time. Every healer and psychic in the county agreed. But Esme refused to believe it. It couldn’t be his time; mainly because she wasn't ready to let him go, not to the cancer and certainly not to the dark things that now hunted him in the night.