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There are five main stages of grief:

1. Denial
2. Anger
3. Bargaining
4. Depression
5. Acceptance

When the police and an ambulance arrived, phase one commenced. I watched the evidence unfold before me. A couple of policemen went out and collected the body, struggling to balance the weight of the passengers as they hauled the deceased onto the boat. It rocked uneasily, threatening to tip, but when they found their centre of gravity, it didn't take long before they arrived back on shore.

Seeing his pale and lifeless exterior should have been enough proof that it was him, but my brain told me otherwise. I came up with every single excuse for what my eyes were seeing. It was just a hallucination, a pure figment of my imagination as a result of pre-graduation excitement. It was someone else and I was mistaken, a stranger who looked similar. It was all a dream and at any point I would wake up and attend my graduation ceremony with my very alive best friend standing beside me.

Even when his pocket watch and identifications were removed from his person to be inspected, I still didn't blink. This was all a huge misunderstanding, a practical joke, an end-of-year showcase of hilarity. It was a stunt, an act, a gag. Colton wasn't dead.

Colton wasn't dead.

Colton wasn't dead.

Colton wasn't dead.

"Elliot?"

I heard my older sister calling my name, but it was faint and distant, almost like an annoying hum in the background. A strange silence engulfed me, deafening my ears and causing me to wrap my arms around my head and hunch in defeat. My surroundings dimmed until I couldn't identify where I was. The scenery had become a blur; a hammering silence drummed in my ears and numbness flooded through my body. I couldn't even taste the sand that had entered my mouth due to my long, desperate and voiceless cries of denial as I kicked the sand in frustration.

"Elliot," Cass repeated when she reached me, pulling me to her. "I'm so sorry..."

"He's not dead!" I insisted, throwing her arms off me and backing away. "He's not. He can't be."

"He has no pulse," she whispered carefully as if her word choice would shatter my sanity. "Elliot, they think he was murdered..."

* * * 

I had only been to two funerals in the eighteen years of my existence. The first one was my grandfather's who had passed from cancer. It wasn't a difficult experience and I mean that in the most sensitive way possible. It was just expected. My family and I had been preparing for months, saying our goodbyes and spending as much time with him as possible. We just knew.

What made Colton's funeral ten times harder was the fact that I didn't know he was going to die. Nobody knew. This made the pain strike harder than the last time I lost someone. The knot in my stomach tightened into a suffocating squeeze, the desperation for closure shredding my insides to ribbons. It kept getting worse, the feeling intensifying, slowly making me self-destructive like I could explode at any sudden movements.

Then a shoulder blade bumped into mine and for a fraction of a second, it gave me a physical sensation, no more pain than a pinch, which allowed me to pull myself from my thoughts and focus on my current surroundings. The guy who had bumped into me smiled sheepishly, apologised and joined a group of people engaging in a deep conversation.

It only occurred to me then: who are these people?

Who were the people that were crying into tissues and exchanging a damp Kleenex or two? Who were the people that visited Colton's family and mumbled generic things like deepest sympathies and sincerest apologies? Who were the people engrossed in deep conversations, mentioning the deceased's name as if he were a brother to them?

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