The graveyard was deathly quiet this time of day. The sun just rising over the hills to burn away the lingering mist created an eerie yet comforting feeling. It gave the illusion that you had something to hide behind. Something beautiful to distract the rest of the world from the lingering sadness that surrounds the graveyard, but even the mist in the air couldn’t mask the soft sound of Ashton’s boots crunching the fallen leaves that lay dead on the ground.
She sniffles and pulls her jacket sleeves over her hand while being careful not to drop the white and purple lilies in her left hand. She walks on under the Northern Gwynedd Cemetery sign towards the back corner of the cemetery where Fleur’s grave is located. The sight of the tombstone itself is still enough to make Ashton cry. The wounds on her heart are still recent.
A bouquet of wilted flowers lay in front of the grave and the sight of them makes Ashton frown. Ashton hates dead flowers. She picks up the dead flowers and throws them into a nearby trash bin then she delicately puts the new bouquet in it’s place.
Her eyes brim with tears as she sits before the headstone and reads the inscription. ’Time passes, love remains. Fleur Moreau 1997-2016.’
Ashton feels hot tears rolling down her face leaving behind a stinging feeling as the heat of the tears is attacked by the coolness of the air around them.
“It was too soon, it was too soon,” she whispers over and over again. Ashton isn’t afraid to be crying in public. Besides, at this hour no one is here to notice or so she thinks. She doesn’t hear the crunching of boots behind her until the person is standing right next to her with their hand outstretched and offering a tissue.
“Here,” she hears a quiet voice say. Ashton looks up to see a boy about her age with wild chestnut colored curls. She accepts the tissue gratefully and wipes her tears.
“Thank you,” she says equally as quiet.
“Can I sit?” the boy asks pointing to the spot next to her. Ashton nods and the boy has a seat. They sit in a somehow comfortable silence for a few minutes and they both feel a little comforted just because of the fact that they aren’t completely alone.
“I’m Danny Myers,” the boy says breaking the silence.
“I’m Ashton,” the girl replies not having the courage to look at him.
“Your hair is pretty,” he says referring to her silvery purple hair. She sneaks a glance over at him.
“Thanks,” she says admiring his vibrant blue eyes, a small smiling forming on her face.
“Is she your sister?” he asks referring to Fleur.
“No,” Ashton replies somewhat grateful that he referred to Fleur using present tense words. Usually she wouldn’t talk to people about Fleur, but something about Danny made her want to share everything. “She’s my best friend, I guess,or girlfriend. Well we never really discussed things. We just moved along without much thought about ourselves or the future,” Ashton plays with the sleeves of her sweater. “What about you? Who are you here for?”
Danny points to the grave two spaces over from Fleur’s. “My best friend, Paul. We grew up together.” Ashton makes a humming sound to acknowledge that she heard him.
“Tell me about Fleur,” Danny says hugging his knees to his chest. “I can tell you want to.”
Ashton smiles at him. “Fleur is,” she pauses for a second. “I don’t know how to describe her. She is so vibrant and full of life. She always wants to make everyone happy. She will always put others before herself, even if she needs help,” Ashton sighs. “Fleur is lovely.”
“She sounds like she is,” Danny says with a starry eyed look.
“I met her at a bookstore of all places. She was getting kicked out for being too loud and she didn’t get to buy the book she wanted, so I bought it for her and ran out to give it to her.” A few tears rolls down Ashton’s cheeks. “She had bright orange hair at the time and when I handed her the book she was so surprised. She said that I shouldn’t have and I told her that I had too. Then she said that if I had to buy her the book that she had to buy me coffee.”
Ashton smiles to herself at the thought of the pleasant memory. “We sat in the coffee shop for hours just talking and afterwards she gave me her number and said to call her so we could meetup again. Little did we know that we had the same apartment building. The next time I saw her she had dyed her hair pastel purple, my favorite color.”
“Was her hair like yours?” Danny asks.
Ashton nods. “We were getting along so well. We were exact opposites, but we somehow fit together like a puzzle piece. She would sing me songs as I would braid her hair and I would play her the piano while she studied for her college exams. It was so perfect.” More tears betrayed Ashton and fell down her cheeks. “And then she was gone. Only 11 months after we met. She was just gone. She was taken from me.”
Ashton buries her head in her hands and tries to stop the tears. Instinctively Danny moves to put his arms around the distraught girl next to him. After a few moments he pulls away and Ashton looks up. Her puffy, red eyes contrasting her pale skin. Danny hands her another tissue from a small packet in his coat pocket.
“Thanks,” she whispers.”I’m sorry for crying.”
“No,” Danny says shaking his head. “Get it all out, it’s ok to be sad.” Ashton nods and wipes her eyes again. “You don’t have to finish telling me if you don’t want to.” Danny says.
“No, I need to get this out.” Ashton says trying to put on her best brave face. “It was my 18 birthday and I was finally able to drink legally, so Fleur and I decided to have a wine and movie night, you know just something small, and right when we were gonna start the movie we realize we forgot the wine. Fleur says that she’ll just walk down to the market a little ways away just to get some wine and even though I insist that it’s okay and that we can just do it another night she still decides to go.”
Ashton stops and closes her eyes as if she was trying to erase a memory.
“Twenty minutes pass, then thirty, then forty and after an hour I call her cell phone,but she doesn’t answer. I call again, probably 20 times before I call her mom and her dad and they say they can’t reach her either.”
Ashton struggles to hold back tears and Danny silently passes her another tissue which she accepts gratefully.. “And after two hours I get a call from her parents saying that they were at the hospital, so I immediately get a taxi. I get there and her parents are crying and they can’t even compose themselves to tell me what happened. The nurses couldn’t tell me anything since I wasn’t family. Then a half and hour later they finally tell me. Some drunk idiot had ran a red light and hit her. He didn’t even stop to see if she was ok.” Ashton shakes her head over and over. “She died two hours later. If I had stopped her she would still be here. It’s my fault.”
“No, don’t say that.” Danny interrupts. “You weren’t the one driving the car, you weren’t the one who was drunk.”
“But if I had stopped her…”
“No, no ifs. What happened, happened and it’s not your fault. Life isn’t always kind to everyone and it sometimes takes our most precious soldiers. We just have to keep going and get through it together.” Danny takes Ashton’s hand. “You aren’t forgetting her if you accept the fact that it isn’t your fault. You aren’t weak or a bad person if you admit it. Actually Ashton, you are one of the strongest people I have ever met.” Ashton looks up at Danny through the tears in her eyes and for once she starts to believe it.
“Can I hug you?” Ashton asks quietly.
“You don’t need to ask.” Danny says pulling her in for a hug.
“Thank you,” Ashton says into his shoulder.
“You don’t need to thank me.” Danny says. Ashton pulls away and then looks over at the sunrise. The sun had come up a considerable amount since she first came and it would only be a matter of time before she needed to leave.
“I have to go soon,” she says to Danny.
“I figured. I’d better go too. When the mist is gone, then I’m gone.”
Ashton looks at him confused. “What do you mean?”
“Oh nothing,” Danny says. “I better be heading off.” He stands and helps Ashton to her feet. “If you ever need me I’m here every morning. Don’t forget what I told you ok?” Ashton nods and then hugs Danny one more time.
“I promise,” she whispers.
“Bye Danny,” and with that, Danny walks away into the thick cloud of mist that hasn’t been burned up by the rising sun.
Ashton takes a moment to take in the peaceful scene around her. She sees the hills in the distance still blue from the morning light and the evergreen forest that snakes through the mountains. The cemetery’s once solemn silence has been replaced by songbirds announcing one more page in the book of life. Ashton takes a breath and then remembers Danny’s friend Paul. She looks over to see that his grave doesn’t have any flowers. She reaches down and takes two white lilies and walks to put them on Paul’s grave.
’Paul Tate 1996-2015 Together in life,’
Ashton looked at the grave puzzled. The quote had a comma. Was it incomplete? “It’s just a mistake,” she says to herself and she turns to leave, but something catches her eye. Another grave with a headstone identical to Paul’s lies to the left of it and her eyes widen as she reads it.
‘Danny Myers 1996-2015 and together in death.’