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The cemetery lawn is so green, so perfect. One can’t help but feel peaceful here. These final-resting-place people really understand how to distract us. They keep their groundskeepers working day and night to keep the place as pretty as possible. To present a vision of what paradise might be like, so that visitors don’t think about the bodies under the ground, untold thousands of them lying in rows all over the planet. A marble bench here, a meandering path next to a stream there — anything to calm the rattled nerves of the bereaved. Near Billy’s grave there’s a fountain spilling a stream of clear water, the sound of which lulls my consciousness into nostalgia. I really have no business being here today, on this day in particular, but I won’t have another chance to visit Billy anytime soon.
The day Billy Kingston was killed was my parents’ twentieth wedding anniversary. I remember I was wearing a white sundress with little sunflowers printed all over it. I remember the backyard was transformed into something resembling a five star restaurant. There were round tables covered with white tablecloths under a large tent. There were strings of lights along the wrought-iron fence surrounding the property. A bar, a dance floor. My mother had slaved over the garden for weeks in anticipation of the party so that the lush pink hydrangeas bloomed to perfection, the white impatiens overflowed their rows, gathering into impatiens mounds. Pots with spiky green leaves stuck straight up into the air, as if at attention, every ten feet around the perimeter of the yard.
The sunflower dress had been chosen by my mother, but really I was wearing it to impress Billy. At thirteen I still had, disappointingly, the body of a child, so bare shoulders were the best coquetry I could muster. I turned around repeatedly in front of the mirror in my bedroom, I hoped I looked older than I was. I tried to straighten my posture, considered stuffing my bra, and then abandoned the idea as ridiculous. If Billy actually showed up, it meant that he loved me, and if he loved me, he didn’t care about my chest size. Not that Billy was officially invited to the anniversary bash, my parents were not aware of his existence, let alone our friendship. But I had invited him. The adults would be so inebriated they wouldn’t even notice one more kid in a suit. Everyone would assume he was somebody’s cousin, and I could sneak him inside the house before anyone asked any questions.
I am staring at the fountain, unable to look directly at Billy's tombstone. After some time I realize how foolish I’m being and I force myself to read the inscription. The words etched into the simple headstone spell out his name, his date of birth, his date of death. Beloved son and brother. That’s it. I stand a little to the left of the stone, still leery at age thirty-three of stepping on someone’s grave. The large stick I hold in my hand is a pale grey color and a bit damp. Jesus Christ, I think. Thirteen years old. How can it be possible for a life to be over so soon? If I were to lose my own son, who was already turning eight, how would I continue to live? How would I go on, waking up day after day? This is what Billy’s mother had done, had no choice but to do, because even though her boy was dead, her daughter Kit was very much alive and needed her more than ever.
They were a small family, but fiercely close. Mr. Kingston, a mechanic, had gone out for milk one day and never returned. This happened somewhere around Billy’s fourth birthday. He didn’t like to talk about it, brushed it off like it didn’t matter to him at all. In the small hideout he had cleared in the woods behind the old fire hall, he told me that he didn’t ever want to find his dad, it was his mom and his sister Kit who were important to him. We used to meet there when we could, me sitting on a smooth rock that protruded from a pile of dead leaves, Billy half-perched on the leaning trunk of a tree that looked as though it had been split by lightning. Sometimes he would smoke, and once we shared a bit of vodka. His skateboard would be lying in the bushes, tossed there carelessly before I got there. He always managed to get there before me. We would talk for about an hour, sometimes holding hands, until ten minutes before my curfew. I would leave first, after Billy made sure no one was around to see us. He would follow me at a distance to make sure I got home safely. We didn’t want anyone to find out about our spot, or about us, especially not Kit.