A hush swept over the already quiet crowd when the Switch family slipped into the pew at the front of the church that had been seemingly reserved for them. Breaths were held and sniffles were swallowed, hands stopped as they reached for the insides of purses and pockets, and mouths closed as they leaned over to whisper into a neighbor’s ear. The air tightened and did not release until John Hunter strode over to Fa and embraced her. Fa was stiff, having held out her hand for the mayor to shake, but still the townspeople gathered let out a collective sigh of relief. The tension broke, if only slightly, and the light rustle of people trying to be quiet once again filled the sanctuary.
The memorial service did not mention Mara Switch. Neither was any mention made of the wedding, the Switch family, or any of the circumstances surrounding Graham’s death. Rather, it focused on the accomplishments of his short life, the joy of raising him through childhood to a brilliant law student, the regret of not being able to see him blossom in his new field.
The Switch sisters sat in a line, Marie next to Fa, then Morgan, then Mina. A small space had been unintentionally left next to Mina, where perhaps Mara should be sitting. But just as Mara was absent from the contents of the service, so too was her presence missed in the church. For the sisters, and perhaps for much of the town too, her absence was the white elephant that sat silently in their thoughts.
In the Switch pew, the row of the sisters’ bright eyes–blue, brown, and grey–sparkled in the light. All three sisters held wells of tears in their eyes, with Mina occasionally reaching up to wipe her grey ones on the back of her hand. Whatever ambivalence they had felt for John Hunter and his wife, they had come to know Graham Hunter during the engagement, and had started to love him as a brother. They loved him for the same reasons that had Mara made fall in love with him: he was kind, he was fun, and unlike everybody else they knew, he had treated them just like he would treat anybody.
Mara would be so devastated knowing that she couldn’t come to this, Morgan thought to Marie.
Do you think she knows?
She can probably feel it. At the very least she would feel that we’re all together, here, mourning.
Though only Morgan and Marie had the special connection of being able to communicate directly through thoughts, all of the sisters were empathetically linked. Even if they were miles apart–though they had never been until now–they could feel if another sister was ecstatic, depressed, angry, scared, or in grave danger. It was the only reason why the sisters could feel relatively secure that Mara was still okay in her cell–if something had happened to her, they would have felt it.
Morgan reached for Marie’s hand, and as she did, the ground trembled lightly beneath their feet.
That must be Mara, Marie thought. She knows we’re here.
Just as Morgan’s power was over fire and Marie’s was over water, Mara’s power was over earth. For many years, however, she had suppressed it, wanting desperately just to be normal. Like Marie, she was overly cautious about revealing her true identity to the people outside their family, but unlike Marie she had never practiced methodically at home behind closed doors. As a result, her powers were erratic and would sometimes flare outside of her control. Whenever she experienced strong emotions, they would come out uncontrollably, causing the ground to shake. The sisters had felt occasional tremors since the night of Graham’s death–even the newspapers had noted it, though of course the article was buried deep in the middle pages, outshone by the gory, glamorous coverage of the murder.
The memorial service ended and guests were invited to the reception in the garden. Following the stream of people outside, the sisters once again traced their steps from a week before. The shadow of the wedding and what had gone awry hung over the procession.
In the garden, instead of a wedding cake and a tent for dancing, a memorial for Graham had exploded with bouquets of flowers and handwritten notes. It was a simple presentation: Graham’s portrait, the same one that had appeared in the newspaper obituary, had been set up on a small table. Underneath it, a big book lay open with a fountain pen sitting next to it: a place where friends and family could write their condolences and send-offs. Hundreds of flowers were piled around it, turning the already brilliantly colored garden into an overwhelming sight for the eyes.
The attenders lined up to sign the book, if they had not already, some with still more flowers in hand. The Hunter family positioned themselves next to the table, taking hugs, handshakes, and firm pats on the shoulder as they came down the line. Fa gathered her daughters, sweeping them into the line.
When they reached the front, each sister wrote a message to Graham in the book. Then, they faced Ms. Hunter, whose perfectly eyelinered eyes were unsmeared despite her continual sobbing. Marie tried to smile, Morgan did not, and Mina just looked up, doe-eyed and scared.
“Our deepest condolences,” Fa said, and she moved to step out of the line, when Ms. Hunter brought out an arm to stop her.
“I’m so sorry,” Ms. Hunter said, and even Fa was taken aback this time. The tears in her eyes, which had simmered to a pool hanging dangerously over the corners, overflowed again as she wiped them from her face. She brought her arms around Fa and hugged her tightly. Fa stepped back.
“You must understand,” she said, “A mother’s grief…I…I have been so unfair to you, and your family…” She trailed off, looking at Mina. “I’ve always wanted daughters…but I’m so sorry. For all the unnecessary pain I caused you. It’s just…the shock! My only son…”
Fa squeezed her hand and nodded. “Your loss is also ours,” she said. She stepped away, and the crowd that had been watching from the corners of her eyes darted back to their original conversations.