Chapter Twenty-Five

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Graveyards are strangely peaceful places.

A light wind rustled through the branches of the trees, a background murmur to accompany the sound of birdsong. One grave had small wind-chimes dangling from a wooden post positioned next to the headstone, and the wind teased a jingle from the little metal bars.

Other than that, the place was silent. The only other person here was an old man and his dog, sitting together on a bench that looked out across the graveyard. He nodded to Ethan and me as we passed, but he didn't say a word.

"Hello, Sophie," I whispered, kneeling to place flowers on her grave. Her headstone was plain, a grey square simply stating her name, and small weeds had already begun to sprout at the edges. The grave looked sad, neglected, and I resolved to visit more often and make sure that wherever she was now, she knew she was still loved.

I straightened up and Ethan put his arm around me. I leaned against his chest, gazing at Sophie's name until the inscription seemed to run into a shapeless blur.

"I wish we could have done something nicer for her," I said.

The headstone on her left was shaped like a heart, and the one on her right was an open book, carved from white marble. They made poor Sophie's headstone look like a piece of concrete that someone had scrawled on.

"You really think that's what important?" Ethan asked.

"I suppose not." But if I could have done, I would have arranged a decent headstone and had a message carved under her name. She had been more than just a name, and I wanted the world to know that.

My heart ached. Even this plain headstone was more than Ava would get.

"You know, some of these fancy headstones aren't even that nice," said Ethan, trying to cheer me up. "The book's clichéd and the heart's tacky."

I managed a smile, though there was something thick lodged in my throat. I'd known how hard this would be, which was why I'd put it off for so long. Now I felt ashamed that I'd left Sophie's grave to fall into neglect simply because I couldn't handle seeing it yet.

"And don't get me started on that one," Ethan said, pointing to the far side of the graveyard. The grave in question didn't have a headstone; in its place was a near life-size statue of an angel, arms outspread but wings folded behind its back.

"I think it's beautiful," I said, gazing at the peaceful, serene expression on the stone angel's face.

Ethan nudged me. "But over the top, right?"

"Maybe a little." I could appreciate the angel as a work of art, but it wasn't something I'd ever choose for Sophie's grave. Or Ava's, if there was ever a chance of her having one. "Of course," I added, "it's less over the top than a full-blown mausoleum."

Beyond the angel, tucked into a corner of the graveyard where the graves were too old to still receive visitors, where many of the headstones had fallen back to lie on the grass, or were cracked into pieces, and where tangles of ivy and bindweed were creeping up to smother those stones still standing, was a small building, roughly the size of a garden shed. It was constructed of weathered grey stone, the sharp edges worn down to bluntness by time and decay. There was no inscription and the door crouched behind an iron-barred gate.

Ethan let out a low whistle. "Now that's a serious resting place." He nudged me again. "That's the kind of thing I want when I go."

"Don't joke about that," I said. I'd already lost so much; I couldn't bear the thought of losing Ethan too.

"Hey." He put his arm around me, a one-sided hug. "I'm not going anywhere, Kiara. I'm just saying that, for the future, I want one of those." He gestured to the mausoleum. "Maybe I could get a stone angel too, have it perching on top. What do you think?"

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