DISCLAIMER: I don't own Law & Order SVU or any of the characters represented in the show. They're owned by someone else who isn't me. I'm doing this for fun - I'm not making a profit, any kind of money or anything else off of this. No copyright infringement is implied/meant/deliberate in any way, shape or form. If I've left anything out, insert the usual disclaimer stuff here.
CHALLENGE: Submitted for the 5th Anniversary Challenge.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
By Del Robertson
The rain is heavier now, laying a slick sheet on the windshield. It's difficult to see, even with the wipers at full speed. I reach over, turn up the defrost. It doesn't help.
Then again, it doesn't really matter. I know where I'm going. I've just passed the wrought-iron front gates; I know the way by heart now. After coming here every Thursday for the past three years, I should be familiar with the route. I could drive it by rote, with my eyes blindfolded and both hands tied behind my back. Killing the defrost, I roll the windows down. It's raining in now, dampening the leather interior, soaking the sleeve of my leather jacket. I don't care.
I let up off the gas, taking the curve slowly. It's not a dangerous curve. But, I still remember that Thursday last December when I'd taken it too fast, almost ended up in the arms of the concrete angel guarding the entrance to Children's Land. I'm sure the drinks I'd had at the office Christmas Party might have contributed to my mishap. My partner came and got me, even had my car towed to his mechanic's garage. He thought the whole thing was funny. Of course, he'd been drinking, too. I'm sure that's the only reason he looked up at the concrete angel, rolled his eyes, and sacrilegiously suggested I get a better guardian angel.
She's the guardian to the lost souls of the children that nobody claimed or wanted or could afford to bury. Sad to say, my partner and I know the story behind almost half those tiny grave markers. Not all the victims have family to claim them, you see.
Those are the souls that concrete angel stands guard over. The tiny, helpless victims that couldn't find their way. She's been here for ages. Ever since I can remember. And, I've been coming here ever since I was five. My best friend drowned. He's three rows back and to the left of her right hand.
She's seen better days. One of her wings had been broken back in eighty-eight, bits of concrete littering the ground near her base for months before it was swept away. They tried gluing the larger pieces back on, but the glue never would quite take. I don't know where those pieces are today. Her other wing, although intact, starting growing a green moss on it about seven years ago. The groundskeeper nearly went insane trying to kill that moss. After years of trying, he's finally given up.
Personally, I like it. I think it adds character. And, even though she's seen better days, she's still a majestic lady. But, she's not who I'm here to see.
I edge the car further back, around several bends, ending up in a secluded grove. I'm grateful that the plot is this far back, well off the beaten paths most visitors take. I like the seclusion. I briefly wonder if I can arrange to have my own plot back here when the time comes. That's something I need to look into. I don't want to be laid to rest on the front row where everyone passes by. I want my privacy.
I tap the brakes, slide to a stop. Reaching over, I grab the bouquet of flowers from the seat beside me. A dozen red roses. From a local florist near the station. It's a small shop and the owner always has the roses ready for me. Twice a year, like clockwork. Birthdays and today.
I hear the pea gravel crunch beneath my boots as I approach. The rain's falling at a steady pace now; thunder rumbles overhead. I stumble off the path, moving past several markers. The one I want looms in the distance, beneath the old oak tree. I stop dead center in front of the cold marble, sink to my knees, feeling the mud soak into my denim jeans.
It's made of black granite, the gothic lettering etched deep. At first, I thought it should have been white; pure like her. Then, I realized, even she had a dark side. It's why she did what she did. Why she pushed too hard, wouldn't back down. It's why she ended up here, with no future.
Trembling fingers reach out, tracing each letter. By the time I trace the 'd' in 'Beloved', the tears are streaming freely down my face. I'd personally had that added at my own expense. If anyone thought it odd that it wasn't there during the services, but was added a little over a week later, no one said. At least not to me. Just like no one ever questioned where I was off to every Thursday afternoon. It was just accepted.
Tenderly, I place the roses at the base of the headstone. Touching my fingertips to my lips, I kiss them, then reach forward, placing them on her name. "Happy Anniversary," I say, pushing off my knees, using the top of the tombstone for support as I rise. I'm not as young as I used to be; and this every Thursday ritual is hard on my body.
They would think me insane if they knew. Maybe I am. How else do you account for someone trekking out to the graveyard once a week, every week to speak to the dead? Then again, I think as I walk back to the car, that in itself isn't so odd. What's insane, is that I trek out here once a week to talk to the dead, knowing that there's no one there. There was a big, elaborate funeral; I wore my uniform. We all did. I received condolences from the mayor, the district attorney, her mother. Watched as an elegant cherry wood casket was lowered into the ground. I threw a rose on top of her casket, stood beside the gravesite in the rain until the last of the mourners were gone. Knowing full well that she wasn't there.
I don't mean 'not there' in a spiritual way, either. I've heard people talk about that. How when you lay someone to rest, they aren't really there. Their spirit, their soul, their essence call it what you will; whatever made them who they are, put that spark in their eyes, that bounce in their step is gone long before they're ever laid to rest. I understand that. That makes sense when you think about it.
What I'm talking about is knowing that she's not there. Because her casket is empty. That rich, cherry wood that her mother so painstakingly picked out the satin pillow resting inside, blanketed by the ivory interior I almost laughed at the funeral. Because of the irony. Empty. She's not there. Her body has never been there. One of the most elaborate funerals ever orchestrated and no body was buried. We lowered an empty casket into the ground.
If that's not insane, I don't know what is.
I frowned, cocked my head to one side as I approached my car. There was another car present. Black, with tinted windows, rolled up. Wipers were going nonstop, the lights turned on bright. Every instinct I had screamed for me to get down, to take cover. But, somehow, I couldn't. Not here. Not in this place.
The rear passenger's door opened. Slowly, at first, just a crack. I held my ground, hands shoved firmly in my pockets as I steeled myself for what was to come. I expected a bullet; prayed it would be quick, wondered if it would hurt much. How badly did it hurt when they shot her?, I wondered.
My own gun was snugly nestled in the glove compartment. I didn't wear it when I came here. Ever. I was reluctant to even bring it, but resigned myself to leaving it in the glove box in case I needed it one day. And, now here I was, standing in the rain, hands in my pocket while my gun was nice and dry in my car, not ten paces away.
I expected the worse, never expecting what happened next. A mass of blonde hair, the same shade as I remember stole my breath away. The black glasses, the same cocky grin as she emerged from the black Ford. She closed the door behind her; the car drove off without a moment's hesitation. And, then, she was in my arms and I was holding her tightly; spinning her around, clutching her to me as tightly as I could, afraid to let her go, fearing she was a figment of my imagination again.
But, she was real. Her tears mingled with the rain as they ran down her cheeks. And, I kissed her firmly, telling her I would always love her. And, she promised to never leave me again.
I stepped away from her, extracting my hand from hers. I jogged back to the gravesite, picking up the dozen roses where they lay at the foot of her tombstone, unprotected from the pouring rain. Clutching them fiercely, I ran back, sliding on the wet grass as I approached her. She reached out, helping to steady me, a firm grip on my arm, about my waist.
And, then, standing there in the pouring rain in the middle of the city cemetery, I gave Alex her roses.
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