Hi friends! I'm back with a new story, inspired by a Twitter story I've seen a few times. Like all of my stories, the angst will be minimal.
I don't have a plan for updates being timed, but I will post as frequently as I can. Thanks, as always, to my amazing beta Chicsarah.
Disclaimer: The author does not own any publicly recognizable characters herein. No copyright infringement is intended.
Spanish moss swayed in the warm, breezy overcast day as I drove my car slowly down the dirt road of the old cemetery, empty of anyone—living, at least—just as it usually was when I came by.
I turned down one of the small roads between plots and stopped when I got to the same one I visited so often that I could find blindfolded now.
My car needed a good wash, its black exterior covered in dust from my last few trips here. I stepped out, loosening my tie and rolling up my shirt sleeves. I'd just left from work and driven the 30 miles outside of the city to get here.
The small bouquet of flowers in my hand was fresh, picked up on my lunch break earlier at the florist a few blocks from my office. Gianna always offered to get them for me, but it was too personal a task, and my grandad never believed in handing out chores to others that he was perfectly capable of doing himself. I could only imagine the look on his face if he saw me send someone else to pick out flowers for his grave.
"Hey, old man," I said, stepping over the granite edge of the plot box and onto the clean, light grey gravel. The box was square and big enough for two plots, my grandparents. Only my grandad was here now though.
"I know you always liked patriotic shi—stuff, so I got you these this time," I told him, pulling the dead flowers out of the vase attached to his headstone and plopping the small bouquet of red and white carnations tied with a blue ribbon into it. They might be cheesy as hell, but Memorial Day was in a few days, and the old man was a patriot until the day he died. He often shared stories of the men he'd fought alongside, and although I myself was never as inclined toward patriotism, I always admired him for his.
"The humidity is low today; that's a nice change," I said, grateful that I wasn't already sweating in the often oppressive heat of Charleston.
"Anyway, sorry I haven't been by in a few weeks. Things have been chaotic at work," I explained. Not like he wouldn't know that. He worked there all his life.
"Dad says 'hi,' by the way. Emmett and mom, too," I shrugged, standing in front of the headstone that read "Carlisle Cullen, Sr."
He was our family patriarch, my dad's namesake, and the man who built our law firm from the ground up. He was the reason my dad, brother, and I were all successful attorneys today. But neither of them had been ready to come back here, the memories were still too raw.
My grandad lived an incredible life and literally practiced law until the day he passed away six months ago. His health had been declining in the last few years, but it didn't slow him down. He passed away just as he'd hoped, peacefully in bed at the age of 92.
He was my dad's best friend and one of the coolest people I knew, so our family struggled with his passing, even though it shouldn't have been that much of a surprise for his age.
Most of them hadn't been back here since the funeral, but I usually came out here every few weeks to bring new flowers and say hi.
I'd spent 38 years talking to him every day, and some habits were too hard to break. I owed so much of who I was today—a successful attorney with a large, loud, wonderful family, living in my dream home in my favorite city—to him and my grandmother.
"Anyway, I miss you. We all do. They did an article about you this week in the Charleston Sun. You would have hated it," I laughed. Grandpa Cullen wasn't the kind of man who did stuff for the attention. He was a family law attorney because he believed in working for others—helping people out of bad marriages, making dream adoptions happen, getting kids out of nightmare custody battles. He advocated for all people, and the only thing he ever wanted out of it was for his clients and their families to find peace. It's the reason my dad, brother, and I were all practicing family law.
"Grandma cut it out of the paper and put it on the fridge in her apartment. We had a good laugh about that at dinner the other night. She's still so proud of you. Still misses you like crazy, too. But she's doing okay. She joined a book club with her neighbor. And I'm pretty sure she's been going to water aerobics at the rec center," I snorted.
Grandma Cullen was 88 going on 50. She didn't look or act her age. She'd been 18 when she married my granddad, and they'd spent just about every moment with each other since then. Other than my parents, I'd never seen two people more in love. It showed me what I wanted to strive for in a marriage, and probably why I'm pushing 40 and still a bachelor.
"She sends her love. She promised she'd come with me soon to visit. It's just hard for all of them, you know?" I asked, my hands in my pockets as I paced in front of his grave. The other side of tombstone had my grandma's name and birthdate. She'd be buried beside Grandpa Cullen one day, but hopefully not any time soon though.
"How's your neighbor? Still no one coming by, I see," I mumbled, stepping over to look at the plot beside my grandad's. It was a single plot with a very small, very basic headstone. It read only the name, birth, and death date of its inhabitant.
Born: July 12, 1978
Died: December 25, 2018
He'd been buried here for a year and a half, and in the six or so months I'd been coming by, I'd never seen a single sign that anyone had been by to visit. There were no flowers on the grave, and the grounds were not being kept up. Grass was growing through the gravel of the plot.
He'd been only 40 when he died, and I had to wonder why someone so young didn't seem to have anyone close enough to keep up his plot or at least bring the occasional flowers.
I thought about it more and more each time I came by, wondering what kind of life the man must have had. He was buried alone, so I assumed he didn't have a partner who'd one day share his plot. Nothing on the headstone indicated that he'd been a father. And he was so young that there was a good chance his parents were still alive, so that at least might explain why he was buried alone for now.
I said my goodbyes to Grandpa Cullen and walked back to my car, climbing in and closing the sunroof as the sky darkened with incoming rain.
As I drove out of the cemetery, I wondered why James Witherdale's grave bothered me so much.
Maybe it was because I'm not much younger than he was when he died. The thought that no one would come to see me if I died so young was painful. The idea of never finding someone to share my life was painful and scary. I wanted love and children badly, but part of me worried if I'd ever have that.
I'd been in several relationships over the years, but nothing felt lasting. I still hadn't found the one, and most of my relationships ended because I'd let my work take over. I was a passionate lawyer like my grandad, and I spent a lot of long hours at my office.
Things had settled down more, especially since we hired a new associate at our firm.
But the truth was, it had been so long since I'd felt the companionship of another, since I'd held a woman in my arms.
I didn't want to end up in a single grave one day, a short life lived alone, and I guess that made me feel bad for the guy.
As I passed a small grocery story, I turned in before I could even think.
I didn't know the man, but something told me to do it. Something in me wanted to honor his short life in some way. He deserved that much.
I got out, hearing thunder rumble in the distance, and walked inside the grocery store and straight to the small, refrigerated floral section.
I had trouble deciding, because what kind of flowers do you buy for a stranger's grave?
I finally settled on an inexpensive cluster of white daisies. They were cheerful and fitting of springtime, but also generic enough.
Once I paid, I got back in my car and drove back to the cemetery.
The rain was starting, so I made quick work of jumping out of my car, placing the flowers against the headstone, and driving home.
Part of me felt proud of my good deed, while a bigger part of me started to feel foolish about it.
Either way, it was done now, and hopefully James Witherdale was somewhere in an afterlife, knowing that someone cared enough to honor him.
The next morning, I walked into my office to find a cup of coffee waiting on me and my computer turned on.
"Thanks, G," I said, popping my head out of my office to thank my assistant and paralegal, Gianna. She was in her mid-50s and the absolute best paralegal I'd ever had. She took care of me and made my work easier by always being prepared.
"No problem, Edward. You okay? You look tired," she said.
"Wow, thanks," I mumbled, and then chuckled.
I walked down the hall to the bathroom and stepped inside, closing the door behind me.
Gianna was right, I did look tired. My hair, even though it was combed down, was getting long and needed a cut. The grey at my temples seemed more prominent and bold against the bronze color of the rest of my head.
My eyes had heavy bags under them, and the normally white around my pale green irises was red with lack of sleep.
At least I'd managed to dress nicely, but a good tailored suit could only do so much when I looked like an old man.
I'd tossed and turned the night before, my dreams of loneliness and dying young haunting me.
Around four am, when I knew I wasn't going back to sleep, I'd gotten up and gone for a run along the Battery. It was peaceful and quiet, which did absolutely nothing to calm my thoughts.
Back in my office, I sat down to start checking emails and voicemails before my first client meeting at 11.
I was responding to my last email when my brother, Emmett, knocked on my open office door.
"Sup, bro?" He asked, sitting down in one of the chairs in front of my desk. "You look like shit," he laughed.
"Didn't sleep well," I told him.
"You should do what I do," he grinned and winked.
"Annoy Rose so much she slips a Tylenol PM into your dinner?" I asked.
"Funny, but no. Although it does involve Rose and slipping into something," he said, waggling his eyebrows.
"Dude, you're 35. How are you still so immature?" I asked, wondering how his wife put up with it.
"Whatever, man. So how was your visit with Gramps?" He asked, changing the subject.
"Good. I didn't stay long. Just put some red, white, and blue flowers down for him since the holiday weekend is coming up."
"That man loved his country almost as much as he loved Grandma. Maybe more. Think they used to do it to the Star Spangled Banner?" He asked.
I just sighed and continued looking at my computer.
"I did something kind of weird," I confessed, taking my hands off my keyboard and straightening my tie. I wasn't sure why I was telling Emmett; he was probably going to relentlessly make fun of me. He was a good attorney, but he spared little when it came to joking with his family.
"Like what?" He asked, leaning up to listen.
"There's this grave right beside Grandpa Cullen's. It's been there since Grandpa was buried there. The guy that's buried there was only 40 when he died a few years ago, but it doesn't ever look like anyone goes to visit. I've never seen any flowers on it, and it's kind of overgrown," I explained.
"So what did you do?" Emmett asked.
"Well, I started kind of thinking what if that were me? I'm close to 40. I'm not married, I don't have kids, and what if my grave was just empty and unkept after I died young? So, I...put flowers on it," I said, breathing out.
"Like Grandpa's flowers? You put his on some random guy's grave?" He questioned.
"No, like I went to the small supermarket near the cemetery and got a cheap bouquet for the random guy's grave."
"That's...weird as fuck, man. But also kind of nice?" He said, still looking confused.
"I don't know, man. I just feel bad for the guy. Alone in death after likely being alone in life," I shrugged.
"I get it. You've always been really caring like that. It's still weird, but I get it," Emmett shrugged, and I was surprised and grateful that he was reacting this way.
We sat quietly for a few minutes as I looked back at my computer, when Emmett spoke up again.
"Why don't you Google him?" He asked.
"Huh?" I responded, looking up from my screen.
"The dead guy. Google his name and see if you can find out more about him," Emmett said.
"Huh," I said again, this time in thought.
Emmett got up and walked around the desk to stand behind me.
"Do you remember his name? Type it in," he said, reaching around me to pull up Google.
I quickly typed in "James Witherdale Charleston, SC" and took a deep breath as the results quickly loaded.
Emmett and I both remained very still when we saw the first result, a news article dated December 25, 2018.
"Holy shit. Is that...him?" He asked, and I moved the mouse to click on the link.
Murder/Suicide leaves four dead on Christmas Day
Emmett and I both read the article silently, taking in the details.
It turned out there was a very good reason why James Witherdale had no flowers on his grave. On Christmas Day two years ago, he murdered his wife, her parents, and then took his own life.
I spent the rest of the day focused on work but still thinking about the man—the murderer—whose grave I'd put flowers on. I was embarrassed at having done it, but grateful that Emmett was the only one who knew. He'd promised not to say a word as he quietly left my office shortly after we'd read more about James and his wife, Victoria. Her parents, Charles and Francis, had been in their late 60s. Victoria had been 38, the same age as me, when her husband of 14 years took her life.
I'd dived into several articles and then read the obituaries for all for of them. Victoria and her parents were also buried in the same cemetery. Victoria and James has no children.
The entire story was tragic. I remembered vaguely hearing about it, but it wasn't something I'd really known much about, too wrapped up in my own family that Christmas morning, when someone else's family was tragically changed forever.
By four that afternoon, I'd decided that I was going back to the cemetery after work to collect the flowers I'd left. I could think of no reason why James deserved them, and I knew I wouldn't feel comfortable until I remivedthem.
As I was driving towards the cemetery, I passed the same supermarket I'd been in the day before when I decided to make a last minute decision fueled by guilt and embarrassment.
At the floral section, I grabbed three of the nicest bouquets I could find. I had yellow roses, large sunflowers, and pink tulips. For good measure, I grabbed a second bouquet of roses. I had to stop myself from buying more.
I got back into the car with $60 worth of supermarket flowers and drove towards the cemetery.
My first stop was to collect the flowers from James' grave. I wasn't really sure what to do with them.
I got back in the car and drove to the edge of the cemetery where it met the woods, and I rolled down my window to toss the offending daisies into the trees. They were no good now.
I looked down at the pile of flowers that I'd just bought for complete strangers when another thought occurred to me—I had no fucking clue where the other graves were.
This cemetery was huge. The older part had graves dating back to the civil war. The newer part was where I'd assumed they'd be, but lots of people had very old family plots that were big enough for grandparents, parents, and siblings.
I glanced at the clock on my dash and saw that it was nearly 6:30 in the evening. The sun wouldn't be setting until closer to 8, but it was warm outside and I hadn't exactly been planning to spend all evening driving around an old, creepy cemetery.
There was nothing much I could do, though, besides look for the graves.
I remembered the names I was looking for and set about finding them.
I drove up and down the labyrinth of dirt roads between plots, slowly and with the window down. I even turned the sound of my radio down, as if that would somehow help me find what I was looking for easier.
I drove the newer part first, but didn't see any graves with the names I was looking for.
I ventured closer to the middle part, where graves ranged from the 1960s until more recently. Finally, after about an hour of driving, I was on the verge of giving up when the name Victoria Witherdale jumped out at me.
She was buried beside her parents, with space for two more graves beside hers. I wondered if she had siblings, and if this plot was purchased a long time ago by her parents.
I brought my car to a stop and put it in park. I turned the car off but left the keys in, not planning to be here long.
I grabbed the flowers, leaving them in clusters but taking the cellophane wrapping off of them.
I stepped out and walked slowly towards the graves of Victoria, Charles, and Francis.
"Hello," I said, gently setting a bouquet in each of the vases on each of the headstones.
Charles and Francis' were like the one my grandparents had, one big headstone with heart shaped sides for each of them. Victoria's was beside theirs.
The extra flowers I had, I just laid against the headstones.
"I, uh, I'm Edward. Edward Cullen. You don't know me. But I wanted to come by. To, um, say how sorry I am. For the, uh, tragedy that you all endured. But also because I put flowers on James' grave. And I know that was weird, but I thought he had no one. And I thought, well—it doesn't really matter what I thought. The point is, I'm sorry. Really sorry. You guys didn't deserve what happened to you. But I hope you all are together and at peace. And I—"
I stopped short when I heard a voice behind me. I turned around, and about 10 feet away was an absolutely beautiful young woman. She was in blue scrubs, a bunch of flowers in her arms.
Her hair was deep brown and pulled into a long, smooth ponytail. Her face was pale and heart-shaped with a light amount of makeup.
"Can I help you?" I asked, wondering if she needed directions. I hadn't heard her pull up, but I saw a burgundy Honda parked several feet behind my Mercedes.
"I was wondering the same thing," she said, eyeing me warily.
"What can I do for you?" I asked.
I looked at her questioningly, wondering why she looked so confused by my presence. It wasn't until she spoke again that I felt my whole body go cold with dread and embarrassment.
"Mind telling me why you're standing in my family's plot talking to my aunt and grandparents?"
Tell me what you think!