Chapter One

I really loved this cemetery. There was a calm in this place, an all-embracing peace that existed singular to anywhere else. A sense of solemnity embedded itself in my mind when I stood here, presupposing an idea that this was a revered site. Even nature demonstrated fervent consideration for its sanctity; and each season showed its respect for the human significance of ritual burial. Leaves fell softly to the earth, and trees shrouded the graves with their delicate shadow. Rains cleansed grime from the epitaphs, and snow blanketed the ground in unobstructed purity.

The cemetery gave me a strange sort of thrill. Not a demented sick thrill, but a curious one in which I could imagine the lives that were lived before me. These monuments were dedicated to those who existed fifty, a hundred - even beyond two hundred years ago. Ever shifting societies, continuously changing technologies, and an inumerable diversity of lives all carried out in this one small corner of the world.

Most lives were probably not very dramatic, but every single body had a heart and mind of it's own. Everyone had himself to look after, and to care for. They had loves, they had hobbies and careers, they influenced others and were effected by them in turn. Some died young and others died old. Parents were laid to rest beside the children who went before them; and all too many had the standard issue markers of those who had lingered and outlived anyone who could mourn their passing. The styles and varying conditions of the tombstones, some massive and gothic-like while others non-descript and unadorned, denoted the long-standing generations of the town.

The vessels that contained their spirits in life were laid to rest and honored here, and that concept of eternal silence could almost be understood by those of us still living. This landscape was the embodiment of melancholy, but it was also a conviction of hope for the ethereal. It's as if the Earth kept quiet watch, guarding her sleeping children.

That's why, when I heard the crush of leaves underfoot, the break in solitude startled me to such an obvious degree. Someone was approaching from behind me. That, together with the fact that I felt awkward about the reason I was here in the first place, frightened the wits out of me and knocked me out of my reverie.

Years ago, an old therapist of mine had recommended that I come to this grave for closure; but, since a troubled past kept me from coming back to my hometown, it had taken nearly seven years to make this attempt for self-resolution . . . and it wasn't working. It just brought back memories and renewed old feelings of guilt. So, instead, I turned my observations to my surroundings. Thinking of life and mortality as a whole was simpler than focusing on a death that I felt responsible for.

But at the noise I turned, a startled breath streaming into my lungs. I dreaded to imagine the shaken look my face probably took on at my alarm. I couldn't believe that I could let myself be caught off guard like that; and after I'd spent so long telling myself that I would never let such a thing happen to me again.

The approaching figure was a man, young but not younger than I, and, somehow, vaguely familiar. He noticed my fright, because his expression – at first inquisitive – became apologetic.

"Excuse me," he said, "I wasn't trying to scare you. I was just coming to the same spot. I've hardly ever seen anyone in this cemetery, at all, let alone at the same grave." His curiosity returned. "A-Are we visiting the same grave?"

I couldn't believe this. I felt like a child who got caught with my hand in my mother's purse. My reasons for being here were personal. No one but my old therapist even knew about them. It took me by surprise, and required nearly a minute for me to realize that my motives were still my own.

"Just paying my respects." That's all I needed to say.

"Then, you knew Corry?" The man looked pleased at the possibility.

"We were classmates." Just say as little as possible, I thought.

"Well," the man smiled, "it's great to know that there are people who still remember him."

I smiled back, a little disconcerted. If he only knew how well I still remembered.

We stood in silence, side by side, with a yard of green earth between us, staring at the gravestone. The name Corry Murphy began to burn into my eyes until they stung. How could I bow out of this awkward moment?

I guess the man felt as uncomfortable as I did, because he broke the silence first. "I'm Kain Murphy," he said, and stuck out his hand to offer a greeting. "What's yours?"

Kain Murphy. Murphy. Oh, God. He was related to the young man that lay beneath my feet. "Murphy." I said it out loud before I realized. How clumsy of me.

"Yeah. I came here to visit my little brother. I'm back in town for Thanksgiving, and just thought I'd stop by and say hello."

Brother – he was Corry's brother. I looked at him. That's why he looked slightly familiar. The man resembled Corry.

He appeared as though he expected me to speak next. "Ah, I'm Claire. I stopped by to say hello, too." Saying those words felt odd. I wasn't here to say hello. I was here to say goodbye, to find closure.

More awkward silence prevailed, before Kain decided to breach it yet again. "I don't remember seeing you at the funeral."

Was that his idea of small talk? "I sat in the back."

"Well," Kain responded, "there were hundreds of people there. And it was twelve years ago. Doubt I'd really remember anyway." He laughed uneasily.

Twelve years. That's a long time to feel guilty. Not that I thought about it every day. Weeks have gone by in which my mind never turned towards Corry. But he was always there, in the back of my head, like he haunted my subconscious.

The therapist said it wasn't my fault. He tried to convince me, persuade me that Corry's death must have related to so much more than just me. The man even told me that I was selfish and egotistical to think that I could have brought about Corry's demise. I told myself the same thing long before he ever did. It didn't change anything. I knew that I still helped Corry towards his end.

"So, you and Corry were friends?" More questions. Was this the Spanish Inquisition?

"Yeah, you could say that." I replied. "We had art class together."

The man looked interested. "Oh, yeah? He was quite the artist, wasn't he? Showed some real talent - and promise. Mom always declared he'd be an artist, although my dad was bound and determined that he would get a degree in agricultural studies."

Good grief. If he was trying to wield my guilt like a knife and use it to cut at my heart, it was working – even if he did do it unknowingly. I wanted to get away, to crawl back to my car, drive to my parent's and get this stupid holiday over with. I hadn't even made it to my family's home yet. The cemetery was my first stop. I thought I'd get it out of the way, and then maybe I could enjoy my holiday. Nope.

Time to get out of the situation, "Well, it's really getting nippy out here." To emphasize my chill, I induced some warming friction by rubbing my icy hands up and down my arms. "I live on the west coast, so I'm not used to the cold any more. Better get going."

"Oh, yeah? West coast." he persisted. "So, you are one of the lucky ones that got away. I moved south a little bit myself, but not far enough to get out of the cold."

"I couldn't get far enough away from this place, myself." I think I blushed. "Well, it was nice meeting you, Kain. I hope you and your family have a very Happy Thanksgiving." Did I just say that? His brother lay dead in his grave, because of me, and I wished him and his family happy? What a sardonic ass I was.

I turned to leave, my face red from more than just the cold, and Kain took up right beside me. Did he not understand the meaning of 'it was nice meeting you'? I didn't ask him to walk me out of the cemetery. I didn't invite him to continue getting acquainted. What I said was meant to be a signal that the conversation was over.

Three minutes would get me back to my car at the edge of the cemetery. Then he'd find out the meaning of the words 'gotta go', 'sayonara', 'see you later' – no, not see you later.

"So, you're in town for the holiday, as well?" He continued the conversation. "And you thought to stop by Corry's grave? That was nice of you."

Jeez, how did I find myself in this completely uncomfortable situation? It had taken me twelve years to visit Corry's grave, and the moment I had finally made it here, his brother showed up? Was this some kind of twisted karma? Maybe it was my turn to suffer for my offence.

Then, I realized: I was being insolent and self-pitying, again. Here I was wallowing in my dramatic 'why me', poor little victim, spoilt brat of a temper, and not even thinking about this man's feelings. He seemed happy, almost excited, that someone remembered his long dead brother, and I was being rude in response.

The least I could do for this guy would be to show some respect, some sympathy. And maybe – though this was me thinking about myself again – it could actually help me find the closure that I was searching for.

So, we filled the walk to the car by talking about Corry. I acknowledged that we had been friends, that he really had shown a special talent for art, and that I had really missed him when he was gone. Kain in turn admitted that his little brother had been his best friend and that not a day went by in which he didn't think about him. He even started a charity in Corry's name, which provided art supplies to underprivileged schools.

We stood at my car for several minutes discussing innocent little things about Corry, neither of us acknowledging the proverbial 'elephant' in the graveyard. The cold, at last, did start to bite at my thin skin, and my teeth started to chatter.

"Oh, God," Kain exclaimed, "I'm so sorry. Here you are trying to get out of the cold, and I'm keeping you standing right in the wind."

"Yeah, well, like I said, I'm a little sensitive of the cold." I fumbled my car key into the door lock with frozen fingers, and Kain took the liberty of opening the door to allow me inside.

I smiled my gratitude, and sat down on the driver's seat; but, before I could swing my legs into the car and reach for the ignition, Kain asked, "You want to go get a cup of coffee? The little diner on Main Street is still there. We could talk about Corry a little more."

Damn. Just when the situation looked as though it was coming to an end, he had to go and ruin my get-a-way. How could I say no at this point. This was Corry's brother. It would be rude to shrug off his offer of friendship. And there was that big important thing that I still needed and that he may be able to provide: closure.

"Okay. Sure." I smiled, but was sure that the expression didn't reach my eyes.

"Great." He smiled back. "I'll go get my car and meet you there in a few minutes."

I shut the car door and turned on the engine, blasting the heat to stop my shivers. How on Earth did this happen? This was so not what I had intended.

Dear reader, this story will touch on some dark themes: murder, rape, suicide. I don't intend to delve into the acts themselves in great detail, but they are important to the plot. The discussion of them may be sensitive to some people, those being mostly young and impressionable minds. Please, feel warned.

Thank you for reading. Now, I wouldn't mind a review . . . in fact, I'd love one.