Chapter One

Death is a funny thing. You're raised to expect it, but not talk about it. They tell you not to worry about it, since it isn't supposed to find you for a long time. But it's a constant figure. Your cat dies, your grandparents die, a man on the news dies. And eventually the realization of death catches up to you in a way that scares you. The people you love will die. You will die.

I was only sixteen when it happened. Sixteen is always the age of bad things, apparently. I was sixteen and two months old when my parents died. They caught on fire and burnt to a crisp. A fancy dinner party in a mansion on the hill with people they hated. It was all very tragic. There were no survivors, but the fire department couldn't even find a cause. No one could tell me why I was suddenly alone. But I know why.

Because of death.

Aunt Kimberly took me under her wing, which was as good as it was going to get, really. It hurt sometimes because she was my mother's twin. And she had a stream of shithead boyfriends that followed me with their hungry eyes. But I was grateful for the place to stay, and it could have been much worse.

That was two years ago. Graduation is only a few months away, and I'm glad to get out of this hell hole. Soon I'll be in college (if I ever get accepted) and I won't have to put up with any of Kimberly's shit anymore. I'm going to pursue photography. I want to capture moments before they're gone. Ugh. I sound like every other depressing white girl.

I pull on my boots and lace them tight, my coat zipped up to my chin. It's snowing hard outside, just like every other February in Michigan, but I have to get out of the house before I lose my mind. I pull a hat over my short black hair and made sure to cover my ears. My camera was safe in my coat pocket. Kimberly and David will yell at me if they know that I'm going to the cemetery again. They hate it when I go or talk about my parents or anything like that. But I'm going anyway, because it's just one of those days when you need to sit above your dead parents and get frostbite while shooting snowflakes on a grave.

I head out, carefully navigating the roads. I drive my dad's old car, since my mom's was destroyed in the fire and I like to feel close to them sometimes. I have an obsession with their deaths, I guess you can say. But I think it's healthier than pushing the whole ordeal into a closet and trying to forget about it. My parents died mysteriously, and I can't help but feel like I have to figure it out. I know I'm never going to find anything. But it's the thought that's supposed to count. I pull into the dirt road that weaves through the graveyard, slick with sludge the salt makes out of ice. I stop as close as I can get to where they're buried, reluctantly turning off the car. I don't want to give up the heat, but I'm going to be here for awhile so there's no point in wasting the battery.

I trudge down the hill with practiced steps, trying not to slip in the ankle-deep snow. The white sheets covering the ground are undisturbed except for me, which makes me sad. No one ever comes for the rest of the corpses. I clutch the bouquet of flowers against my chest, the plastic crinkling as I move. Pink and cream roses. Roses are always on stock at this time of year, what with Valentine's day in a few weeks. I step carefully over one of the smaller graves and brush off the tombstone I came to see.

Jonathan Felson.

Beloved father, husband, and son.

1971-2011

He always complained about simplistic epitaphs. He wanted something that stood out, but he didn't think to tell me. He didn't expect to die so soon. No one does. Snow fills the engraved letters as I brush the stone off. They got one of those combined stones. My mom is buried on the right, my dad on the left. Her words weren't much different.

Alicia Donalds-Felson

Mother. Sister. Daughter.

1973-2011

Along the top, above the carved letters, is a totally cliché and unpersonalized saying. Forever in our hearts. I wish it wasn't there. I'm the only one that even misses them. Kimberly drank her sorrow away a long time ago, David doesn't give a fuck (it doesn't matter, since he'll be replaced within the next five months), and no other relatives had spoken to me since the funeral. None of them care. I set the roses down in between their bodies, like a baby in its parent's bed. I stay there, crouched down, as the wind bites my face and snowflakes dot my eyelashes.

"Hey guys," I say softly. "It's Dahlia again. Of course. Not much has changed since last Saturday. Kimbery's still with David. I give him until July." Talking to the dead doesn't make the most sense, but it makes the knot in my chest loosen, if only for the moment. "It's almost Valentine's day. I don't have a Valentine. I don't mind. I don't miss Darren at all. He was a douche bag. I prefer to be alone, I think." Even though I'm alone, words burn in the back of my throat. I don't prefer to be alone. I just don't like guys. I know they would love me anyway, but I'm in denial, to be honest. It's just a scary thing to accept in this point in time, with all the messed up stuff going on.

I close my eyes and exhale. My skin stings from the cold and my voice is hoards as I whisper. "I miss you guys. I'm sorry I'm such a shitty daughter. I really do want to make you proud. I'm working on it, I promise. I-I love you." I rub my arms before getting out my camera, turning away. I feel ashamed and I don't know why. Wandering usually helps clear my mind, and there's potential for some good shots. "I'm sorry," I whisper again, quietly starting towards the edge of the cemetery. It's bordered by woods on all sides but the road, and icicles cling from the branches. Snow falls like glitter. The whole place is beautiful. Sometimes I wish I had someone to share it with, but I think I am meant to be sad and alone. I lean down, my knee instantly soaked in the snow, tilting the lens just right. The dull light that came between clouds catches the ice just right as I click the button. I stand up, somewhat satisfied, looking at the picture. It was almost perfect, but my heart stops the closer I look. There in the a trees, eyes the color of flames, was a face with a smile that sang for blood.

A girl.