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“A little bit to the left,” Marcus says as I balance on the stool, adjusting the frame.
I shift it to the left and Marcus nods, giving me a thumbs up.
Three prints of Lucas’ photos are hanging in a straight line above my bed, along with a certificate from the photography competition.
I get off the stool and reach under the bed, retrieving the box again.
“I still don’t know what to do with these,” I admit. “I will never throw them away, but I just can’t…put them up anywhere.”
“I know,” Marcus nods understandingly. “That’s why I brought this.”
He turns and reaches into his bag, pulling out an empty photo album.
“I’ve always had this lying around but never did anything with it.”
I smile up at him and take it in my hands. “It’ll be perfect.” I glance up at the clock. “I don’t have time now, though.”
I get to my feet and throw on my jeans and a jacket, grabbing my wallet and water bottle.
“Therapy?” Marcus asks, and I nod affirmingly, looking everywhere for my phone then pulling it from under a textbook.
He gets to his feet and kisses me once.
“I’ll be at my place when you’re done,” he says. “We can finish that English homework.”
The two of us leave my place and I walk out into the sunshine, glancing up at the sky.
I take a deep breath. My life is complicated, far from simple. In this brief snapshot of a Saturday morning, in this brief moment, I am not okay, but I know I will be.
“Are you ready?” Marcus asks, as I straighten my jacket by the door.
I inhale and exhale, and rub my thumb against the smooth fabric of the clothing, a familiar action now, a grounding one.
“As ready as I’ll ever be.”
We head down the street together as the sun is high behind us, casting our shadows far, far down the pavement.
The bus terminal is quiet when we get there and Marcus gets tickets for both of us. We climb onto the bus and I take the window seat, leaning on Marcus’ shoulder as he gets out his earphones and shares them with me.
Gentle piano music begins playing as the bus doors close and it begins to turn out of the station onto the highway.
The town rolls past away from us and we’re in the mountains, in the fields, heading backwards. But in a much more substantial way, moving forward.
We reach my hometown just as the sun is beginning to set. The entire place is cast in orange contrasted brilliantly with shadows. I take Marcus’ hand and we walk hand in hand down the street, earphone cord between us.
It’s at the edge of town and not too far from the bus terminal. We reach the gates five minutes later and I stop for a moment.
“Are you sure?” Marcus asks quietly. “We can go back, if you want to. That’s totally okay.”
I walk forward and he comes with me as I travel down the cobbled path, past many others, and to the edge of the field. A light wind blows past me as I take off the earphones and Marcus pockets his phone.
I remove one of the photos that won the competition, and a bundle of flowers I picked, and place them on the grass.
Lucas Campbell. Son, friend, much loved.
Rest in peace.
I kneel before the tombstone and slowly brush some of the loose grass aside, laying the flowers down and the photo leaning against the stone.
“It’s been a while,” I begin quietly. My voice breaks a little bit and Marcus sits down, squeezing my shoulder reassuringly.
“I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to come back,” I say. “It’s just been hard. You should be here, with us. But I hope you’re proud of me.”
I nudge the photograph gently, straightening it so it perches perfectly before the flowers.
“And yeah, that’s for you. I hope you have endless beaches to walk on, wherever you are now. Infinite beautiful places to photograph.”
The tears roll down my cheeks but I’m calm, calmer than I have been for months. I brush the tombstone with my hand, then take a deep breath.
“Rest in peace, Lucas. We love you and we miss you.”
The ocean waves push and pull me back to the present, salty tang on lips, a cold breeze brushing through messy tangled hair, numb fingers gripping the camera hanging from my neck.
Marcus moves to stand next to me, glancing out over the water. He leans his head on my shoulder and rubs my arm gently.
I raise my camera and I take a shot of the pink and purple sky.
You think this has to be a tragedy.
But it doesn’t.