Casey laid down a blanket. Ash's favorite blanket. It still smelled a little like her. As she sat down, she shrugged off Ash's old combat jacket and set the six-pack of beers she was carrying next to her. She put a hand on Ash's gravestone.
"Hey, Ash. How's it goin'?"
"You still like beer? Are you even allowed to get drunk in Heaven? I sure as fuck hope so. And even if you're not, let's break the rules."
Casey popped the top of one of the bottles next to her and poured it at the base of the headstone. Then she popped open another one for herself. She talked about the past year, and how her family was doing, and about her husband's new pickup truck, because she knew Ash loved talking about cars. She told Ash about how her daughter had recently begun an emo phase, and how her son had accidentally dyed his hair neon red with Kool-Aid. She showed off the new grey-blue streak in her hair that hadn't been there last time. It was the exact same color as Ash's hair had been. Then she replaced the small, ragged, faded American flag in the ground above Ash's heart with a brand new one.
Tears began to roll down Casey's cheeks as she took a deep breath and started to sing softly.
"It's been a long day
Without you my friend,
And I'll tell you all about it
When I see you again.
We've come a long way
From where we began,
Oh, I'll tell you all about it
When I see you again."
She was full-on crying now as she kissed her fingertips and put them to the engraved letters in front of her.
HERE LIES ASHLYNN COLBY MORELL
FRIEND, FIGHTER, MOTHER, LOVER
MAY SHE NEVER BE FORGOTTEN.
JULY 15, 1982 – OCTOBER 27, 2002
Casey picked up her jacket and blanket and beer, and left hurriedly, knowing that Ash's husband would be visiting at sunset. It was getting late, and Colin would want time alone with his wife. She got in her husband's pickup and composed herself. She wiped her eyes and running nose on her sleeve and drove home.
Later that night, after her kids were asleep, Casey took a shower. She put her face in the water so that it didn't look like she was crying and stayed like that until she stopped. She got into her oldest, softest pair of pajamas and climbed into bed next to her husband. He wrapped his arms around her and she breathed him in. Then she broke down again. He held her close, whispering to her.
"Shhhhhh. It's okay, Case. It's okay, baby. Shhhh."
"I know, baby. She's happy now. And we're visiting the Morells tomorrow. You'll get to see Colin and Abby."
"Sweetie, I need you to promise me something."
Casey looked up at her husband, all sharp angles and shadows in the moonlight streaming through the window. Her eyes glittered and the tears tracks on her face shined.
"I need to know you're okay to be on your own tomorrow. I don't want you to have another episode like two years ago."
Casey had tried to kill herself because Memorial Day had come in the middle of one of her depressive episodes. She had taken twenty Advil and downed half a bottle of vodka. That was the "episode" her husband was worried about.
"I think—you just need to stay with me."
"Sweetheart, that's a given."
Casey laughed a little through her tears.
"I love you."
Her husband smiled. "I love you too, Casey. Go to sleep, baby."