“No, it’s not,” said James, moving to stand beside me. “It’s the beginning.”
We stayed there until the cold seeped into my clothes and the fog clung to my hair, leaving me chilled and damp. I accepted his hand as he helped me up, and I touched the marker one last time, proof of my humanity and my brief existence in a world where all things died. At last, with a heavy heart, I tore myself away.
“So what are you going to do during the summer?” said James as we walked to the car. Even though it was an obvious attempt to lighten the mood, it took me several moments to reply, my mind too clouded with thoughts of my mother. I felt anchored to her grave, but with each step I took, the weight became a little easier to bear. It would never go away completely, I knew that, but at least I was sure that one day I would be able to accept it.
“I don’t know,” I said, and I stared at the muddy ground as I entertained the possibilities laid out before me. I could go back to New York City, but there was nothing for me there. I could stay in Eden with the trees, but I figured that would get boring after the first month or so. “Maybe try some authentic Greek food. I’ve never been to Greece, y’know.”
“Greece,” said James, and there was emptiness in his voice that ate at me. “It’s nice in the summer.”
Tentatively I reached out to slip my arm into his, and he didn’t move away. “Do you want to come?”
His eyes widened. “Really?”
“Of course.” I grinned with effort, but that didn’t make it any less real. “I don’t want to go to Greece on my own, and I can’t imagine a better tour guide than one of my best friends.”
Slowly a smile spread across his face, but there was a hint of distance in his eyes I couldn’t completely ignore. “I’d really like that.”
The gravel crunched underneath our feet as we reached the car, and he opened the door for me, the silence between us now comfortable instead of tense and ugly. I sat down and relaxed against the seat as he slid behind the wheel. There was a lingering doubt in the back of my mind as I smiled at him and saw that look in his eyes again, but I pushed it away. Things weren’t anywhere near perfect, but no matter what happened, at least I had my friend back.
As we drove away, I twisted around to see my mother’s grave, dark against the remaining piles of white snow. James was right; this wasn’t an ending. It was the beginning my mother had wanted for me and the beginning I’d wanted for myself all along. I may not have planned on living forever, but now that I was, I was going to make the most of every moment.