Exactly ten years ago, it rained. It rained so violently that everyone in town was ordered to stay inside their homes. I stayed up all night, curled up in a ball on the swing of our screened-in front porch. My eyes traced the raindrops that hit against the skylight above my head, watching as they merged together and raced towards the edges. Where they went after they dropped out of sight, I had no clue. I imagined that they'd form a large puddle on the roof. A puddle that would soon begin leaking through a miniscule crack, and would thus send my parents into a fit of frustration. There were already many leaks around the house. Ever since this storm came along, it was hard to walk around my home without running into a bucket.

And when you run into a bucket and spill the dirty rainwater all over the floor, you'd better be saying your prayers. My mom would cry and yell and throw her hands around in the air until it was clean. And then she'd spend forty minutes telling you to be more careful and to watch where you were going.

One time, when she'd finished her lecture, she'd walked straight back into another bucket and tipped it over. We both laughed until our bellies ached and our faces were wet with tears. And then she helped me mop up the puddle and put the bucket back in its rightful place. She was a good mom. Her emotions got the best of her at times, but she was never cruel.

She was always there for me. Always.

By two in the morning, I had begun to grow worried. My brother had gone out at seven with his girlfriend, before the storm blew in. I had gone through six mugs of hot chocolate, and there wasn't a single peep. He hadn't texted or called, and the yellowed headlights of his ancient truck were nowhere in sight. Even though I was worried, I had myself convinced that he had just decided to stay over at Louisa's house. He probably had gone to drop her off after their date and then realized that he should stay over there until the rain settled down. It wasn't like Jackson to go this long without calling me, so I tried to calm the unsettling feeling rooted in my stomach by imagining that he was safe and sound.

His phone had most likely died. He always forgot to charge the thing, much to my parents' distress. That was surely why he wasn't calling.

He'd be home in the morning. He'd come home.

I was abruptly woken up by a knocking at the front door. At some point in the wee hours of the morning, I had given up and gone upstairs to sleep in my bed. It was a peaceful sleep for the most part, since I sleep best during thunderstorms.

I glanced towards my window to check on the weather. Sure enough, the storm was over and the sun was just beginning to come out from behind the clouds. If I squinted enough, I could manage to see the hint of a rainbow across the sky. It wasn't a very bright one, but it was still pretty to look at. I was staring vacantly at the rainbow when my parents came into my room. I felt their presence, even though they didn't say a word. Hesitantly, I turned around to face them.

I'll never forget the feeling that washed over me at that moment. It was pure fear, stronger than any other I've ever had. It wasn't the kind of fear that you get during a scary movie, or the kind you come across when you miss a step going down the stairs. No, it was the worst fear imaginable. The kind that grabs a hold of your insides and twists them around until you're seasick. The kind that feels like a tornado has ripped through your chest. The kind that makes you feel like you've lost everything and everyone.

And though no one uttered a word in that moment, I knew. I knew that he would never come home.

Present Day

A snowflake landed just beneath my eye. I felt it there, comforted by its presence, until a tear swept it away. The offending tear fell into my lap, and the tiny snowflake had all but disappeared. I placed a finger against the vacant spot on my cheek, brushing at it as if something were still there.

I could hardly feel anything. I didn't know if it was because of the disappearance of my gloves or because of the fact that I had not slept in days. In all honesty, I hadn't really felt anything in a long time. Too long.

They say that time heals all wounds, but in my heart, I knew that was a lie. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, after all. And when someone you love is dead, they are absent for quite some time. It seemed that the pain only grew stronger each year that he didn't come back.

"They think you're crazy, you know."

For a split second, I thought that I had spoken out loud. Then I noticed a figure standing a couple feet away, back on shore. Her hair was white with frost, and the tip of her nose was bright red. Had she walked all the way here?

"Do you?" My voice cracked, as if it had frozen along with everything else around me. "Do you think I'm crazy, Louisa?"

She laughed. My heart dropped a thousand stories, doing a suicide dive from the top of the—

"No, Sydney. I don't think you're crazy. I think you're broken." She gave me a half-smile; the kind of smile that wasn't really happy, but wasn't really trying to look happy either. "We're all broken, some more than others, but that doesn't make us any less valuable. That doesn't make us any crazier."

"But the people back in town don't agree with you," I said. "They don't see me as a fixable kind of broken; they see me as a shattered mess."

Louisa laughed again, but this time, she sounded happier. "Who cares what they think, Syd? We've got our own battles to fight. They have theirs. That's why we have to stay strong. We have to put ourselves back together. That's what life is, y'know. A quest to find your pieces. Some people, like Jackson, just find them a lot quicker than the rest of us."

I nodded in response, but I somehow couldn't bring myself to believe her. Jackson took a piece of me with him when he left, and I would forever be missing that piece. I'd never be whole.

Louisa must've seen the doubt in my eyes, and she gave up on the conversation. I felt a rush of cold wind as she passed me, and it took a minute before the shivers surpassed. As I turned around, I saw her staring vacantly out at the water around us.

I came up next to her, and she reached out for my hand. With a firm grip, the kind that never wants to let go, I held her hand in mine. Together, we watched the horizon in hope.

After a minute, she spoke up again. "Today is the tenth anniversary, huh?"

I couldn't bring myself to speak, so I merely nodded.

"And this is the last time you'll be doing this?"

I nodded again.

"Then I'm in. I need to do this too, for closure. I think one of my pieces is down there."

2 Months Ago

I entered the diner slowly, glancing around at the people that occupied the tables. There was Lucas, the resident golden boy. (He should probably be deemed a 'man' due to the fact that he's nearly 30, but he never quite seemed to grow up.) He had his girl of the week seated across from him, giggling loudly as he cracked another pathetic joke. In a booth nearby, the Nelson family sat prim and proper. Even though they were eating burgers, they still found it important to keep their elbows off the table and their napkins daintily placed in their laps.

Far, far in the back, I saw a man seated by himself. He was handsome in his own way, looking studious as he leaned over his laptop. The glasses that were perched on his nose were frameless, which meant that they didn't block the view of his pretty golden eyes.

As I sat on the chair across from him, he finally noticed my presence. With a flourish, he closed his laptop and whipped out a tape recorder. I smiled up at him nervously.

"I'm Caleb Sommers. You must be Sydney Kade, correct?"

I nodded, making sure to keep the smile plastered on my face as I shook his hand. He grinned widely, which made his dimples pop out (or in…I guess). Swoon.

"Well, Sydney, are you ready to get started?"

As soon as I said yes, he hit the red button on the recorder. It made me nervous.

"So, your brother Jackson passed away nearly ten years ago, right?" He asked.

"You sure cut to the chase, don't you," I mumbled, picking at a piece of lint on my sweater.

"I'm sorry. It's the reporter in me," he responded semi-apologetically. I shot him a glare in response, just so he'd know that I was not pleased. He noticed my look and backtracked. "How about we try a different approach…could you start by walking me through the events of the twenty-ninth of November?"

Taking a deep breath, I began to tell him the story. I started at the point that my parents arrived in my room.

"They never said anything to you? Not a single word?" He asked incredulously.

"Nope," I said, popping the 'p' a bit louder than intended. "Not a peep."

"So how did you know?"

"It was the look in their eyes." I shuddered. "Every last bit of color was gone, and every drop of life had just…disappeared. At that moment, I knew that we'd lost him. It was obvious."

I stopped speaking for a moment, recalling the scene. Even though the sun had been shining clear and bright that day, I could only see the memory in hues of gray and brown. It was as dull and lifeless as the people that stood still in the picture. Everything was so dark.

"So, care to go on?" he asked.

"His funeral was held on a Thursday," I said, once I'd managed to clear the lump in my throat. "I wore a green dress, even though my parents didn't approve of it. They'd told me to wear black, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. Jackson had always told me that wearing green made our hazel eyes look less like crap and more like jade. He'd bought me the dress just a week before he died. When I tried it on, he said that all the boys at the winter dance would fall in love with me. I just felt like he needed to see me in that dress one last time, you know? Just because he wouldn't be with me on the day of the dance. I didn't tell my parents why I wore it, so they didn't understand. They never understand."

"What else don't they understand, Sydney?"

"They…" I trailed off as I began to grow nervous. Talking about my family was hard for me. I felt a bout of nausea set in as I thought about what else we had to cover, and I immediately stood up from my seat. Caleb looked confused, and he caught my arm as I began to walk away.

"I'm sorry, I can't continue with this," I whispered as I made my way towards the door. He wouldn't understand, no one would ever understand.

10 Years Ago

My parents were upstairs, trying to sleep while being constantly interrupted by random fits of tears. They hadn't come out of their room for three days. I was in the kitchen, preparing breakfast, when I heard the knock. I set the cereal box to the side and rushed to the kitchen door.

Louisa, my brother's girlfriend, stood on the step. She wasn't wearing a jacket, and her lips were slightly blue. I rushed her in, offering her a bowl and a steaming mug of hot chocolate.

"No thank you," she said while taking a seat. Then she yanked her fingerless mittens off and daintily set them to the side. Her fingers brushed up against the counter, following the dark patterns in the granite. As I followed the movement of her hand with my eyes, I realized something. Her right hand was clasped around a small object so tightly that her knuckles had begun to turn white.

"What have you got there?" I asked.

She looked down at it, and then promptly burst into tears. I rushed over towards her, frightened by the sound of her crying, and she buried her head into my shoulder. I felt the item that she was holding dig into my back as she wrapped her arms around me, and I instantly knew what it was.

It was the rock. The rock that had taken my brother's life. I felt my chest tighten up and my eyes slip shut. I hadn't cried in days, but for some reason, seeing that rock quickly brought tears to my eyes. I brushed the hair out of my face and tried to brush the tears away without her noticing.

She looked up at me, realizing that I had figured it out, and then opened her hand.

There it was, in all its glory. It was large – a little larger than my fist – and oddly misshapen. I saw no signs of blood on the rock, though it was probably long gone after being tossed around at the bottom of the lake. My hand brushed up against it, involuntarily, and I felt a shiver creep up my spine.

"I d-don't know if thi-is is the one, I j-just grabbed one really quickly be-fore coming here," she said, between hiccups.

I blindly snatched the rock from her hand, setting it down on the counter. Lying beside it was a sharpie, and I immediately yanked the cap off and threw it aside. Though my hand was quivering, I managed to draw a neat 'J' on the face of the rock. Louisa noticed, and she gave me a half-smile before laying her head on my shoulder. Together, we stared at it for hours, just trying to make sense of it.

And that was the start of it all.

Present Day

"I still can't believe you're doing this, Syd." Caleb ran a thumb across my cheek, wiping away the flakes of snow that were melting from my body heat. I closed my eyes, reveling in the feeling for a moment. I never understood how he could stay so warm in a place that was so cold, but I didn't question it. I appreciated it in times like this.

"I have to, Caleb," I said with conviction, even though my lips and hands were quivering.

"I know, but that doesn't mean I want you to." He grabbed my hands, intertwining our fingers. My hands were cold against his, like ice.

"This is the last time," I assured him. "And besides, I promised you that exclusive. What kind of story would you have without this? What kind of hard-hitting front page news doesn't have an ending?"

He sighed, and I could tell that he knew I was right. He was disappointed though, and I could see it in his eyes.

"Just promise me something, Syd."


"Promise me you'll come right back," he said. I gave him a reassuring smile as I nodded.

"I'm going to go now," I told him. He smiled.

As I turned around, he gripped my hand tighter. I tried to pull it away, but had very little success.

"Just one last thing, Sydney."

"Yes?" I looked up at him.

His lips were on mine all of a sudden. It was very brief, but I felt my body warm up from head to toe in the span of two seconds. My cheeks grew red, my heart thumped faster, and my brain came to a screeching halt. All I could feel were my lips and the other pair that were pressed up against them. It was comforting and terrifying all at the same time.

He pulled away, much too soon, and I stood there stunned.

"You can go now."

Nodding quietly, I made my way to the dock. A gaggle of reporters stood in a circle around Louisa, who was currently shivering in her thick coat. She was facing the water, eying it with nothing short of hatred. As I came up next to her, she smiled up at me.

"This is it, isn't it?"

"This is it," I stated calmly. My fingers numbly worked to unbutton my long jacket, and I kicked my boots off behind me.

"Last one in's a rotten egg," she whispered. And then she jumped.

I turned my back towards the water, afraid to face it, and looked up at the sky.

"This one's for you, Jackson."

And that's when I took the plunge for the last time.

1 Month and 25 Days Ago

It had been five days since I'd walked out on the interview. Caleb hadn't stopped calling, and I hadn't stopped ignoring him either. I'd decided that it was in my best interests to let everyone think I was crazy without giving them the proof to back it up. They didn't need the story of my life or of my brother's death; they needed to mind their own business.

This became even more apparent to me as I managed to run into (both literally and figuratively) Ms. Tierney on my way to the grocery store. Her favorite blue scarf was wrapped neatly around her neck, and the ends hung down to her waist. She was bent over a cane, having to crane her neck to look straight ahead, and her glasses were slipping down her nose. So, when I knocked into her, she hardly saw it coming.

"Oh god, I'm so sorry Ms.—" I started, only to be interrupted by her preening and screeching.

"Well, I never thought I'd see you again, dearie," she said, pushing her glasses up on her nose as if that would help her to see my face clearer. I doubted it, since she'd had that same pair of glasses for as long as I could remember. "I figured you'd be dead long ago, you know. What with all that nonsense about jumping into that pond in the middle of winter. It was bad enough when Jackson did it, but you had to go making the same silly mistake…"

My breath caught in my throat as I heard my brother's name, and I began to tune out the rest of her long, rambling monologue. It was surely full of judgment, which was something that I really didn't need to hear at the moment.

"…it's all just a bit too crazy, you know. You and Jackson, meeting the same bitter end. You should really get out while you can, honey. This year doesn't have to be the same. You can start over fresh, maybe meet a nice young lad and move far, far away from here, never to see us all again…"

I smiled politely at her, all the while scanning the area in hopes of a rescue. Nothing was to be seen.

"…didn't know did you? My son is back in town for the holidays, and he's quite the looker. He's a psychiatrist, or soon to be one anyways. He's also single right now, despite my efforts to set him up with a pretty, young lady. He could do you some good, I'm sure. Diagnose you right up, maybe get you the treatment you need. What do you think about that, honey? I know what I'll do, I'll call him up and tell him to…"

All of the sudden, I saw a familiar face amongst the people walking past us on the sidewalk. As much as I didn't want to see him, I knew that I had no other choice if I wanted to escape this woman's clutches. Hesitantly, I gave Ms. Tierney a friendly pat on the shoulder and a quick goodbye. She looked shocked when I interrupted her mid-conversation, but I didn't really care.

"Caleb!" I yelled. Everyone turned, and I felt my cheeks begin to grow red. His face showed signs of confusion as he saw me running towards him.

He was about to say something as I grabbed hold of his arm, but I quickly whispered a message of desperation in his ear. As he saw Ms. Tierney determinedly approaching, he caught the gist and wrapped an arm around my shoulder.

"I've been looking for you everywhere, Syd!" He said loudly, pulling me into his side as we walked.

Ms. Tierney had the decency to look confused for a second, but she continued to walk towards us as if her life depended on it.

"Say, do you like the look of that ring right there, sweetie? I think it's very pretty." He pointed towards a diamond engagement ring on a window display to our right. I stopped to look at it, admiring its beauty.

"It's gorgeous," I gasped, glancing up at him with a smile.

"It's perfect," he agreed.

I looked at our reflection in the window. We didn't fit together, but we still looked like a couple. Maybe we were just good at pretending. Or maybe I was.

There was movement behind us in the reflection, and I could just make out Ms. Tierney's back, which was growing further and further away. As soon as she had turned the corner, I let out a sigh of relief.

"Thank God! That woman has more questions than you, Caleb! She just wouldn't shut up."

He laughed wholeheartedly. "So that's what we were doing? Getting rid of the scary old lady? Geez, Sydney, she's just the town gossip. You could've told her to poke her nose elsewhere or find some new material."

"It doesn't work that way, and you know it," I sighed.

He smiled for a second and then gave me a sideways glance. "So, to what do I owe this pleasure?"

"This pleasure? I don't know if I'd call it that," I joked. "Far from it, actually."

"Are you saying you don't enjoy my company?"

"I said no such thing," I replied. He grinned, tossing an arm around my shoulder in a friendly gesture. I gave him a subtle smirk, before continuing my sentence. "I only implied it."

9 Years Ago

It had been a full year. A year without my brother. He had missed so much, yet so little. And I had missed him a lot. I smiled up at the picture of us on my dresser. I was five years old, clad in a Glenda the Good Witch costume, grinning from ear to ear. I had my wand pointed at the camera, and it nearly touched the lens, creating a blurry blob of silver to my left. I'd been so excited about my new costume that day, and I was about to head out to go trick or treating.

Of course, my brother couldn't let me have the limelight, so he had jumped into my photo. He had been dressed up as a ghost, since he'd refused to go costume shopping with me earlier. He liked to be spontaneous, and as such, he'd been without a costume the morning of Halloween. My mother, bless her soul, had cut two holes in a white bed sheet for him, and he took the idea and ran with it. (Although the running was ill-advised, seeing as he kept tripping on the ends of the sheet.)

In the picture, he had his arms raised up behind me, and you could just barely make out his blue eyes through the dark holes in the sheet. I knew that, even though his face was covered, he was beaming. He was always happy. And that's probably what I had missed the most.

"Sydney! It's half past six, aren't you coming down for dinner?" My mother yelled.

Sighing, I plodded my way downstairs. My parents were seated at the dinner table, stiff-backed and tight-lipped. They hadn't really come back to life after Jackson died.

"I told you, mother," I replied. "I'm going to the lake."

She let out one of those long-suffering sighs…the kind that implies that she was done with the world, the people in it, and me. Pinching the bridge of her nose in frustration, she gave me a tight nod.

In a clipped tone, she said, "I guess I can't stop you from doing something stupid. Go."

I nodded towards her, and then I proceeded to traipse out the front door into the frosty weather. And that was the first time I took the dive. Each year after that, I did it again. And the rest, they say, was history.

Present Day

As I felt the cold water envelop my body, I opened my eyes. It took a moment for them to adjust, and after they did, I still could see very little. The water was murky and hazy, and the fact that it was also ice-cold didn't really help me keep my eyes open.

I reached the bottom quickly, and I fumbled around along the floor of the lake. My hands grazed the rough gravel beneath me, searching for the perfect specimen. Some were too large, others too small. Some were too rough, and others were so smooth that they felt as if they were simply a part of the water itself.

At long last, I felt the one. This one was solid and heavy. It fit perfectly into my fist, and it was nice and smooth. I could feel the coolness of the rock graze against my skin as I grabbed hold of it, and I snatched it up like a champion.

A few seconds later, I hit the surface and took a deep breath. The flashes of multiple cameras went off, and I blinked my eyes in a stunned attempt to get used to the light again.

I felt a hand reach towards me and tug on my arm. Caleb was lying on the deck, leaning out over the side. His hand was wrapped around my wrist, and he was slowly pulling me up towards him. I realized at this point that the water had frozen me, leaving me nearly immobile. By the time I was yanked onto the surface of the deck and covered with a towel, I was shivering and clicking my teeth together like a maniac.

In the midst of the craziness, I saw Louisa lying next to me. With a flourish, she tugged a red marker out of her a pocket in her jacket. As she tossed it towards me, I felt a sense of relief.

My hands were shaking horribly, but I still managed to write legibly. I drew a small 'e' on the surface of the rock, and then set it down on the deck beside me.

Slowly, I raised my right hand towards my mouth and kissed my palm. Then I wrapped my hand around the rock beside me and held on for dear life.

25 Days Ago

One month had passed since I'd befriended Caleb. Since then, we'd been hanging out religiously. We'd debate the validity of aliens over cappuccinos at the local coffee house. We'd watch movies like Romeo & Juliet, Shutter Island, and Inception at the small theater in town (the owner had a slight obsession with Leonardo DiCaprio). And then occasionally, we'd drive a couple of hours away to a small beach and spend hours looking for starfish and sand dollars. It was great to have someone to share all of those moments with.

He'd been great at not asking questions. Even if he'd wanted to.

Caleb looked at me curiously, and I shied away from his gaze. In his palm was a small clam, with its shell shut tight. Bits of wet sand surrounded it, and I watched them slowly ooze down his hand and drip to the ground.

"If I ask you a question, will you clam up like this little guy here?" he inquired. I shook my head half-heartedly, keeping my eyes on the poor clam in his palm. He shouldn't have taken it out of the water.

"Stop it, Caleb; put him back in the water. You're probably killing the poor thing." I cried, snatching it out of his hand. I lovingly laid it down in the surf, and then proceeded to slap Caleb's shoulder lightly.

He only laughed, but I could tell that he knew I was avoiding his question. For some reason, though, he didn't ask it again. He didn't try to get an answer. He just let me talk.

And boy did I talk.

"I'm so tired of questions," I said. "Everyone wants to know about me. Everyone wants to know about Jackson. They want to know why I do what I do, and why I can't let him go. They want to learn everything that makes me tick, and everything that's wrong with me. They sit there, looking to pick me apart and point out my faults, as if it's some sick game. I just can't handle it anymore. Questions are evil. They only make me angry."

Caleb didn't say anything, which I was happy for. He just wrapped me in his arms and held me tight. And that's all I really needed. Someone to hold me together.

8 Years Ago

"Are you really going to put me through this again?!" My mother screamed at me from across the room. "Your father just left, and you're going out there on this suicide mission again! What are you trying to prove, Sydney?"

I stood there, silent, clothed in my swimsuit in the middle of winter. The heater wasn't on in the house, and I was shivering from head to toe. She didn't seem to notice.

"Are you really this selfish?" She cried.

"No," I whispered.

"Then why? Why do you do this?"

I closed my eyes for a moment, trying to catch my bearings.

"Because I have to. I have to finish what I started, mother."

Tears rolled down her face, and for a moment, I was reminded of that horrible day two years ago that I'd seen her cry. My heart shuddered, and I felt my eyes squeeze shut again, this time of their own accord. I was dying. I wanted her to hug me. I wanted her to tell me everything was going to be alright. I wanted her to tell me that he was just out of town and that he'd been caught up with something and was coming back soon. I wanted her to tell me that Jackson was alive.

But she couldn't, and she wouldn't. She didn't want to lie, and she didn't want to get my hopes up. She was helping me in her own way, even if it wasn't the way I wanted or needed.

"Then go," she mumbled. "Go, damnit!"

I stood there, shocked at the fact that my mother had uttered a curse word, until she physically pushed me out of the doorway. I heard the click of the lock behind me, and I knew that I wasn't coming back inside for a while. I knew that I was on my own.

So, I began the one and a quarter mile trek to the lake, dressed in only my swimsuit and a furry jacket. My faith was shaken, and my heart was broken, but I was determined. And when I glanced up towards the window sill of my bedroom to see the two rocks lying side by side, I knew that I had to finish this even if I died trying. He deserved that much.

Present Day

"Are you sure you're okay with this?" Caleb asked, resting a hand across my back. "Because if you're not, then we don't have to do it. I can just put this recorder away and tell them to find a new story."

I sighed, twisting my fingers in my lap. As much as I didn't want to talk about this, I felt like it was time. It had been ten years, and my mission had finally been complete. I needed to let it all out in the open and get the heavy weight off of my chest. So, I told him that it was fine, and I took a deep breath.

He hit the red button.

"So, Sydney. Could you tell me about the events of that night, from your point of view?"

I told him everything. From the waiting on the front porch with my endless hot chocolate mugs, to the falling asleep, to the knock on the door. And finally, I told him about the moment that I knew Jackson was gone. The moment that shattered my world. The terror that silence could bring.

He kept a tight grip on my hand throughout the story, and I gave him a weak smile when I was done.

"Tell me, what happened after that?"

"Well, it all started when Louisa came over with the first rock. I saw it, knowing that it had been the cause of my brother's death, and I knew that I had to make it into something. It had so much meaning, but at that point, it was just a rock. You know? Like, I needed to make it into something beautiful, to cleanse it."

"Cleanse it?" he asked, as his brow wrinkled in confusion. "That's an odd way of putting it. What exactly do you mean by that?"

"Well, it had taken my brother's life. It may not have literally had his blood on it, but it did in a figurative sense. I wanted it to be like new again. I wanted the rock to symbolize something more than his death. The rock, and the ones that came after it, needed to symbolize his life."

"And do you mind telling us what you do with these rocks?"

"I think everyone knows already, Caleb. Everyone in the town has seen it by now."

"But, for the sake of new readers, could you give me an explanation?" he asked.

I agreed.

"Basically, I built a memorial. You see, each year, I'd write a letter on the stone that I grabbed from the lake. The first year it was a 'J', then the second was an 'A', the third a 'C'. It snowballed up until today, the tenth anniversary. Today, the letters are complete. See?"

I pointed towards the ground beside us, where the rocks were neatly pressed into the grass. They surrounded a large round stone, one that I had made for the occasion. The stone in the center was painted with a rainbow, much like the one that had appeared the day after my brother had passed. And around it, the eleven stones gave it a neat frame. If read, they said 'JACKSON KADE'.

"Now, the memorial is complete. And now I can move on. Because with each rock that I collected, a fraction of the weight on my soul was lifted. These rocks were holding me back, and I finally feel free again. I know that, up there in heaven, Jackson is smiling bright as ever. I know that he's proud of me. And that's what made this long journey worth it. That's what drove me to go out at the start of winter each year and dive into a freezing lake. That's what made me stronger. And I can't thank him enough for that."

Caleb smiled down at me, with his hand tightly wound in mine, and kissed the top of my head. I think he finally understood.

"Well, I think that's a wrap," he said.

"I believe you're right."

As we began to walk away from the lake and the memorial, I remembered one last thing. The picture that was in my pocket was practically burning a hole in my side, and I yanked it out clumsily with my cold fingers. It was a picture of my brother and me on the day that I had bought my green prom dress. The very same dress that I later ended up wearing to his funeral. We were both smiling wide, and he was hugging me from behind. My hands were curled around his arms, and I hadn't a care in the world. We were in the middle of a dressing room in some random store, but we were happier than ever. We had no idea of what was to come, and we didn't care.

Letting go of Caleb's hand, I raced back to where the stones were, and I pried the large stone up with my fingers. The dirt underneath it was packed tightly, and it was perfectly level. With a shaking hand, I laid the picture down, and then moved the stone back into its place. At least with that picture, he wouldn't be able to forget me. He wouldn't be able to forget me in that dress.

Caleb came up behind me, wrapping his arms around me much like my brother had in the picture.

"You know, you looked beautiful that prom night," he whispered in my ear, sending a chill down my spine.

"You were there?" I turned around, feeling my jaw fall slack.

"Yes. I didn't ask you to dance, because I saw that you were off in your own world. I could tell that you didn't really feel like talking or being talked to. So, I left you alone. I regretted it later, because I knew that I could have had a chance with the most beautiful girl in the room."

I gave him a shy smile, taking in the warmth that I felt at his compliment. "Well, you've got your chance now, haven't you?"

"I think I just might take it." He said, and we laughed as we looked out at the still water. There were snowflakes falling all around us, landing on every surface and leaving everything a beautiful shade of white. It was the color of innocence, the color of purity and the color of a slate wiped clean.

It felt like a chapter of my life had just been closed, but I knew that my story would continue on. I had a life to live and pieces of myself to find, for myself and for my brother. And I was going to make sure that I did it right.


Author's Note

Thanks for reading! I've been working on this since the day the contest came out, so it's been in the making for what feels like forever. If you want to see the picture that inspired this, go visit ADOR. Also, I edited the story on June 2nd, because I saw some areas that needed a little more fleshing out. Hope you enjoyed the read!

- Jordan

P.S. The title isn't misspelled. It's a play on words. This is Sydney's quest to find her pieces, but it also is helping her find peace. Thus, I used a pun. Because I like puns.