Getting out of the car, I looked around, the beautiful green lawns were perfectly manicured around a winding, gravel path, sitting underneath huge trees that danced in the afternoon breeze, a stone’s throw from the small church. Different shaped headstones stretched as far as I could see, all in various stages of wear.
Lacey’s door swung shut with a thud, and she walked to the front of the car. I closed mine and joined her, both of us walking along the path, the soft crunch of our footsteps was the only sound, aside from the peaceful chirp of the birds, in the tranquil cemetery. Her hand hung at her side, swinging slightly with each step, and I wasted no time in seizing it, wrapping it within my own and giving a light squeeze, attempting to pass on some sense of support for whatever emotions lurked beneath the surface.
We continued to walk along the path, heading past the church and over a slight hill, sloping down into a stretch of land that sat beside a large pond, until she took a step to the right and we strayed from the path, walking among the headstones, and finally stopping in front of a white marble one that read:
Roger Terrence Dwight & Celine Lillian Dwight, soulmates until the end. Mother and father. Taken too soon, gone but never forgotten.
Their dates of birth and death were carved beneath a short but heartfelt poem, and I knew instantly who they were.
“Your adoptive parents.” I whispered.
She nodded, crouching down before the headstone and wiping some stray leaves from the top.
“I come here every year on my birthday, they’re my family.” She shrugged.
I crouched next to her, and wrapped an arm around her back. I understood the reasoning. They were all she had. It was natural to seek them out on these days.
“Thank you, for inviting me to come with you.”
She laughed and tucked a lock of her hair behind her ear as she faced me.
“I’m sorry, I’m sure you weren’t expecting to spend today in a graveyard.”
“You have a point there, I can’t deny it.” I laughed, “But as long as you’re here, then there’s nowhere else that I’d rather be.”
It had been seventeen years since their death, and yet, here she was, still attending the graves of people that she’d only known for two years. It showed just how much of an impact they’d made on her, how strongly she felt for them.
“What were they like?” I asked.
“They were great. You know those parents that would always seem so together, so perfect. They were like that, but more genuine.”
“Less robotic?” I joked.
She laughed and nodded.
“They loved me from day one, even though I wasn’t theirs, and even though I was a teenager, not a newborn baby that they could take in and mold into their own perfect child. I came with trauma, with angst and with issues, and yet they never tried to push me to be someone else. They loved me for all of that. And it’s because of them, that I am who I am.”
She chewed her lip and picked absentmindedly at her thumbnail.
“I remember the first full day that I spent at their house. I wanted to just stay in my room all day, keep to myself and refuse to associate with anyone. I didn’t want to get attached when I knew that it wasn’t going to last. And do you know what they did?”
I shook my head, and she beamed.
“They forced me to be with them. They gathered almost everything that they had in the cupboards, and came into my new room, arms overflowing with food, drinks and movies, they just put on a DVD, and sat with me. They didn’t say anything, just stayed there, all day, and all night.”
“To keep you company.” I smiled, happy that they’d made such an effort with her from the very start.
“To let me know that I wasn’t alone anymore.” She said simply. “From then on, I was never made to feel alone. I had a family, I was part of a family.”
As we sat on the grass, she told me stories of her foster parents, and the time that she’d been there. I could hear the mix of sadness and fondness in her voice as she relayed very sweet and simple stories of their time together. There was nothing extravagant or extraordinary about what she relayed to me, and yet, she clearly cherished them as though they were completely priceless, and precious.
“...It was the first bike that I’d ever had. Roger took me out onto the street and watched me ride up and down the pavement.” She laughed fondly, rolling her eyes. “I told him that I was too old to be watched whilst I rode a bike, but he wasn’t having any of it. It was as though he was terrified I might disappear into thin air if he didn’t watch me.”
“He clearly cared very much about you.” I said, brushing my hand soothingly up and down her arm.
She cleared her throat and began to move, jostling my arm and sniffling from her waves of emotion.
“C’mon, let’s go.” She announced. “I believe you have plans for us.”
I chuckled, getting to my feet and nodding as I took hold of her hand and we turned away from the grave, following the path back towards the car, Lacey glancing back over her shoulder as we walked.
The rest of the afternoon was spent with a much happier and brighter vibe than the start of the day. First, we headed into town and wandered through the market, sampling tasty dishes and snacks from various stalls. The strong aroma of chocolate drew our attention, and we dodged through the busy afternoon crowd, coming to a stop in front of a large stall that was completely overloaded with all kinds of chocolate treats. Truffles, blocks of chocolate in various sizes and thickness, toffees and countless other cocoa concoctions. The intoxicating, dreamy chocolate scent had the crowd under a spell, handing over money left, right and centre as they crammed chocolate into their arms and paid for all that they could carry. One of the women behind the counter was holding a large silver platter laden with perfectly created truffles of various flavours.
“Care for a sample?” She asked with a warm grin.
“I’d love one, please.” Lacey nodded, reaching over and plucking a dusted chocolate truffle from the tray and lifting it to her lips.
As soon as she bit into it, she let out a satisfied moan of enjoyment.
“Wow! That is delicious.” She said, lifting a hand to cover her mouth as she swallowed it down.
I took one myself and nodded in agreement as the luxurious chocolate melted instantly on my tongue, it’s strong cocoa taste was matched with a subtle creaminess.
“These are our luxury truffles from our new deluxe range.” The lady explained with a satisfied smile. “We have limited stock available, would you like a box?”
Lacey gently sucked the remaining chocolate from her index finger, clearly enjoying every bit of the expertly created chocolate goodness.
“Yes please, I think she rather enjoyed that sample.”
The lady laughed and placed the tray down on the surface beside us, busying herself with prepping our box.
“You don’t have to buy me chocolates too.”
“I know I don’t have to. I want to.” I said happily. “Besides, it’s your birthday, you deserve a treat.” I added in a quiet whisper, planting a kiss on her cheek, and gently wiping a trace of chocolate from her lip, earning a giggle.
The lady from the stall returned, holding a dark brown and cream patterned bag, and handed it over to me. She lowered her voice as she took my money that I passed over.
“And as it’s the young lady’s birthday, I’ve added a sample box of our range of flavours in there too. Happy birthday.”
“Thank you, that’s very sweet.” Lacey replied, as she handed me my change.
“You’re welcome. I hope you have a lovely day.”
We continued to drift through the market, indulging on various other dishes and offerings, before stopping at a nearby pub for a late lunch. All earlier tears and feelings of sadness and sorrow were lost among the happy laughs we had together in the pub, and then at the ice cream bar that we ventured to afterwards. It was only when the sky had darkened and the streetlights began to glow, that we finally got back into the car, and set off for the last leg of our evening. The pub party with the rest of the Watch.
It was rowdy when we got there, the music pounding and the guys all a fair few drinks in. Just like at the barbecue, there were other family members there too. Cassie was wrapped around her boyfriend and putting on a spectacular display of PDA, whilst Will and Jax were accompanied by new girlfriends, and Hope, Eva and Emilia had joined their men for the celebrations. A stack of presents sat on the top of the pool table, and the drinks were already set up on a couple of trays on surrounding tables.
“To Rosie!” We all chanted together, raising our glasses.
I held her close to my side, seeing the happiness in her eyes and her smile as she looked around at us all feeling the love that we had for her as we all shouted: