On the morning of Briar’s twenty-first birthday, she awakes to find a police cruiser parked on her lawn.
Surprised, she cautiously moves forward to inspect the car. It’s brand new, still smelling of fresh paint. The navy-and-gold Sunset Valley Law Enforcement insignia matches the one pinned on her uniform. It looks quite impressive, gleaming under the bright winter sunlight, framed by the pear trees nearby.
There’s a sticky note fluttering on the driver’s mirror, and Briar plucks it off to read. It says Happy Birthday! Love from your work mates xoxo. She snorts and crumples the note up. Typical. There had been a sudden surge of interest in her after the horrible events at the Goth Mansion. Suddenly, Briar was popular and all the co-workers wanted to be her friend. The boss was very impressed and gave her promotions. It was nice not to be shamed and ridiculed anymore, but she knows she does not deserve it. It had been Ash who had been the hero, not her.
Her phone rings then, cutting off the pool of everlasting pain rising up inside her again. Briar answers the call, somewhat gratefully. A burglary. Probably an easy one to tackle, if the robber in question is stupid enough to steal in daylight. Still… it’s a welcome distraction. Because it hurts so much to be always grieving, always missing someone who will never come back.
The distraction is gone before long. The burglar had obviously been a novice, fresh out of his teenage years, and Briar had gotten him in handcuffs easily. After Mr. and Mrs. Goth had died, the criminal gang in Sunset Valley had fallen back into it’s soft and clumsy-fingered ways again. Hardly exciting for a police officer of her calibre. Briar knows that there is a much faster-paced law enforcement career waiting in Bridgeport, a city rife with darkness and smog. Yet she cannot bring herself to leave this place.
As a result, Briar spends most of her free time on the quiet little island of Summerhill Spring. It is very peaceful there so she can use her well-used technique of drowning her problems in water. That way she can quiet her grief until it starts forcing it’s way up again. And by then, Briar is at the busy work place or asleep. Asleep is not much better, though. Half a year later, she is still plagued by nightmares of her brother’s last words.
It must be near five o’ clock when she hears the light crunching of periwinkle, and looks up to find Max walking towards her.
“Happy Birthday.” Max sits down and looks at Briar. She nods but does not say anything. Both of them know that today is not a happy day for Briar. Sure, a police car of her own, a special Eggs Machiavellian breakfast by Christopher, presents from her family. But the car is nothing, the watermelon and bacon and eggs tasting like cardboard, when she isn’t celebrating it with her other half.
“I miss him.” Briar bites her lip. That’s obvious. She knows that her mother and step-father think she is in severe depression, which she is. Max just pats her hand softly. “Don’t we all.” He sighs and stares at a frog piping a croaky song into the dusk.
They sit in silence for maybe an hour, drawing comfort from each other’s presence. After the moon rises over the hills, Briar stands up to head home, and Max hugs her gently. There’s nothing romantic in the gesture. Simply friends expressing their friendship. Briar knows she won’t be able to bear being in a relationship for now.
At home, Christopher is waiting with dinner; ratatouille with crusty, buttered bread fresh out of the oven. She thanks him and sits down by herself to eat, the rest of her family at the dining table. It’s quite cold of her, sure. Whatever. Her presence would just be a heavy weight among the chatter.
Her family members had dealt with the grief in various ways. Fern busied herself with everything, always looking after Anastasia. When all the chores were done, her mother shut herself away in the writing studio to write out her sadness in books. Christopher worked ever harder at the bistro, losing himself in the craziness of the commercial kitchen. That Briar could relate to. Her little sister was always playing the guitar or painting, pouring her emotion into beautiful pieces of art. Now, she can tell they are slowly healing, laughter slowly seeping back into the house. Briar cannot join them.
As she scrapes the last mouthful of stew off her plate, Briar notices Anastasia taking a plate and heading towards the dining table. She ignores her. Anastasia has been living with her family for six months now. It’s not like she’s a nuisance; the opposite, in fact. Despite Fern’s protests, Anastasia spends her time cleaning the house, cooking meals and helping tend the garden- with Fern hovering anxiously nearby. It’s all really helpful (since Briar doesn’t have to do chores now) but the ordered way Anastasia performs the tasks reminds her too strongly of Ash. Anastasia does everything in silence and it reminds Briar of herself as well.
One thing that bothers Briar as well… how the heck does she look so glamorous while pregnant?
Turning away, she slides her dirty plate into the dishwasher and straightens up. Night has crept well over Sunset Valley now and the stars glitter in the cloudless sky. In the corner of the lawn, two lanterns stand guard under an oak tree.
Briar walks outside into the cold night air and shivers a little. This year’s winter is unusually cold, and she can tell there will probably be frost in the morning. Plucking a few winter blooms from Fern’s garden, she carefully refreshes the glass vase by the headstone. “Good night, Ash.” She touches the stone gently. “I wish you were here to celebrate our birthday together.”
“Briar!” Fern’s voice floats over the grass and Briar turns, wiping the last of her silent tears from her face. “Yes?” She calls back. Her mother simply beckons her into the house. As she nears, it’s obvious that Fern is very excited about something. “I heard the baby say something!” “Babies can’t talk, Mom.” Briar sighs, resisting the urge to roll her eyes. Her mother can be SO soppy sometimes. “Okay, okay, but I felt the baby kick. Just listen!” “Fine!”
She puts her ear to Anastasia’s belly grumpily. There’s a little kick to her face. “Your baby just kicked me.” Briar says accusingly. Fern laughs, a big smile on her face. She must be so excited for the baby to arrive. It reminds Briar that even though her twin is gone, he has left a child behind, which means Ash has left behind a piece of himself behind as well. It surprises her, but for the first time since his death… Briar feels a spark of excitement and hope begin to bloom inside her.