I looked around, searching the crowds. My eyes glossed over her at first; I was surprised how long it took me to recognize her, though in my defence, she did have her back to me. She hadn't grown much, but she was wearing heels, making her look taller. She had grown her hair out too; it was now a mass of soft black curls sprouting in every direction. She looked like she was on business, though I knew otherwise. Navy blue skirt and blazer over a plain pale grey blouse, a wheeled tote at her side with her carry-on slung over her shoulder. She moved her head; she was searching too. She was standing, not sitting on one of the multitude of blue plastic chairs, placed there for just such a purpose. She was waiting for someone. Waiting for me.
I approached her slowly, and placed my hand on her shoulder. She turned slowly, as if she knew already who was behind her, unusual since there was almost undoubtedly a single person in the room who wouldn't want to meet her, though admittedly, there were few who would approach her. We stood there for eternity, each of us taking in the person before us.
I was struck again by how much she had changed since the last time I had seen her in person. Curls hung down everywhere, framing her face. Though I had rarely seen her wear makeup, she was wearing it now. Much of it I believed, was to cover up the amount of crying she had done recently. She had done a good job; she looked exactly, I believe, how she wanted to look. She didn't stand out, always a good thing with our status, she looked simply like a businesswoman, efficient, tidy, a good façade that would make most people miss the sorrow she hid in her eyes. I was struck by how much we seemed like two strangers, how much of one she looked like to me, and how much of one I probably looked like to her.
I imagined that we would look quite mismatched, if anyone cared to take notice of us, for I looked nothing like someone who would be meeting a businesswoman at an airport. I was presentable, but not by much. Even with everything I regretted and grieved for on a daily basis, the last few days were the first time I had shed tears in a long while, and I hadn't made any attempt to hide that. I knew I looked haggard, a by-product of getting extremely little sleep of late. I had shaved that morning, but it was a minor improvement, I knew. I was dressed in jeans, wearing a slate grey long sleeved tee under a worn brown corduroy jacket. I too, had a wheeled tote at my side, my carry-on resting on top of it. Finally, I spoke.
I was amazed by how fast I found myself enveloped by her, both of her arms wrapped tightly around my neck, her head resting on my shoulder as if I was the flotsam that was keeping her afloat in a vast ocean. And I clung back. And God help me, I wanted us to stay that way so badly, it felt so good. How was it that with how bad everything was, I could feel so good? It was wrong. I pulled away.
Cassie stared at her feet, I watched her swallow, watched her straighten her blouse, trying to compose herself. I realized she was struggling to hold back tears. Finally, she looked up at me.
"Hello Jake." Eager not to return us to that awkward silence, I felt the need to speak.
"We probably look pretty strange, people don't usually give each other heartfelt greetings in Departures." That earned me the smallest of smiles from her, but I could see that her heart wasn't in it.
"You sound like Marco, joking about things when things are bad." I could see the tears well up in her eyes again, and could feel them start to spring up into mine. We stood in silence for a moment, before I spoke again.
"We should go." Cassie only nodded, still struggling with tears that threatened to spill.
We boarded the plane without problem, except from the sudden stares when people realized who we were, and the sudden aversion of eyes when they realized they were staring. The only small hitch was passing the International lounge. There were TV broadcasts from a multitude of countries, in a multitude of languages, for the multitude of people from foreign countries that passed through every day. On one screen, a face appeared that we both were far too familiar with. We stopped and stared with sad eyes. Cassie spoke first.
"They're talking about … about …" she stopped, unable to finish. I was quiet for a moment, listening to the broadcast.
"Yeah. They're giving the details … and saying … you know, the 'world has lost' type thing. It sounds scripted." Which made me angry. Cassie looked at me, puzzled.
"You speak … what is that, Spanish?"
"Portuguese. I'm part way through an Interpreters degree." She looked surprised. Shocking really, what strangers we had become.
We sat next to each other, during the flight, in silence, both lost in our own thoughts. I was remembering the last time we had spoken before today, over the phone, several days before.
The phone had been ringing on and off all day, but it had been quiet for some time. When it rang again, I was still laying on my bed, with no intention of answering any calls, glaring at the phone from across the room, the single intruder on my solitude, willing it to be quiet. The caller was persistent though, so I got up to disconnect the phone. My eye caught the caller ID display before I was able to. It was an unknown caller, but I recognized the number. I was confused until I realized that she had never called my new home phone before, even though I'd lived in New York a couple years, so little did we speak, I either called her, or she always got my cell. Cassie. I swallowed, trying to clear my throat. I picked up the phone.
Still finding it difficult to speak, she ended up speaking first. "Jake? Are you there?" It took me a minute, but finally I managed to whisper, in a horse voice,
"Yeah." And finally, after holding back since I'd gotten the news, I broke. I cried. I sobbed. And I could hear Cassie sniffling on the other end of the line, and I knew she was crying too, albeit more silently than I was. We stayed that way for a long time, listening to each other's tears. I finally recovered enough for us to be able to speak.
"Did, uh … did someone tell you or did you see the papers?" Or the TV, or radio, did you see it in those papers that scream the news in black and white, those newscasters who state everything, carefully composed, hear it in those anonymous voices with no emotion, did you see it, did you hear it? Did you hear it calm and controlled, like a stock market report? Like the weather report? Like the name of the song of day? Or did someone call you, or come see you, and tell you, in gasping breaths, in hiccupping sobs, with sniffs and pauses, and wild gestures told in emotions and colour, from a familiar voice?
"Yeah, um … Eva called me. I was at work …" work. Were there friends for you, or just colleagues? Was there just a boss who says pull yourself together, when you don't even realize you're crying until someone asks what's wrong? Did you tough it out? Did you leave? Did you tell them why you were leaving, were you vague, were you detailed? Did you lie? Or did you just leave, just get up and walk out, not caring, beyond caring, beyond anything that seems as petty as walking out on your job when the world is coming to an end.
She needed to know what I had been doing "Were … were you out, or home or um …"
"I was, um, just here."
"When are you going … I don't even know where?" The last was a question, not directed at me, just asked in general, how, how could she not know where?
"I think, … I think Eva said back um, back … home." Strange to call a place home when I hadn't been there in … months? A year? Longer? This non-knowledge set off a new wave of tears, though they were silent this time. A thought struck me. Cassie had said work, which was extremely non-specific in her case. "Where, … where are you exactly?"
"In some, um government paid suite in Washington." "D.C", she added as an afterthought. She was on a trip, not at home. This small fact saddened me, that she had no one, that she was just as alone as I was for the moment.
"So, um … you've got no one."
"No. … Do you?"
"No." I'd been in New York for two years. It was my new chance, my new hope, my small effort to start living some semblance of a life again. There were classmates, the odd professor I had fallen on good terms with, I had gone out, and I had lived for a while. But after a time, I had done the same thing I had done in California. Nothing. So I had no one.
"We should see if, um … if we can … fly … together." Yes. Together would be good.
"Yeah. Um … let me see if I can find something …" I looked around for my laptop. Where … Cassie interrupted my vague effort to find my computer.
"I can do it, … hotel suite remember, nothing's more than like, um … twenty feet away." There was silence for a while. She still had the phone in her hand. I listened to her breathe. " Okay, I got it." Silence. "We don't have a date." A date. Right. That was important.
"Um … let's just say … in a few days? The um … the … uh …it should take a while to organize."
"Yeah." There was more silence for a while. "Okay. There's a flight that leaves here to you. I'll get on that … then there's a connecting flight to LA, … we can both take that … if we rent a car…" she trailed off. "If um … if it's later, or … or earlier, we can cancel find something else …"
Cassie had booked the tickets. I had read her my credit card number over the phone so she could book mine. She had told me the date and time. She had organized the car too. I had been amazed at how well she could function, given the … given the circumstance. We had agreed to meet in Departures to catch the flight to California. Together. We had stayed on the phone for a long time. Taking comfort in each other, something we both thought that we had lost.
So, now, here we were. Lost from each other again. Things had been so easy between us, a few days ago. Why were things so awkward in person? I looked at her. She was staring out the window. She turned, and caught my gaze. For once, neither of us looked away. I held my open hand between us, palm up. She took it. And that's how we sat, for quite a while. We stared straight ahead, not looking at anything, just holding each other's hand.
It was late when we landed in LA. Neither of us had slept on the flight, and neither of us was in a condition to drive the distance between here and … home. We picked up the rental and stopped at a motel not far from the airport. We got rooms next to each other. We sat on the bed in my room and ate Chinese takeout. We talked little. We ate mechanically, out of necessity and not want. She went to her room. I slept pitifully, barely asleep at all, for brief periods. We left early in the morning. Cassie drove.
She looked different today, more like I had yesterday. More like herself. It struck me though, that, though her clothes were casual, they were still business-like, and I realized that, having been on a conference trip in D.C., she probably had few clothes that were not at least somewhat business-presentable. I commented on this.
"You don't have many … casual clothes with you."
"Not really. Not many of any clothes actually. When you're at meetings and conferences at least eight hours of the day, and your expenses-paid suite comes with laundry, you don't carry much." She looked at me as we stopped at a light. "This is basically what I've done for years Jake, you learn to pack light. It was the same when my job was mostly hiking. One type of clothes, bare minimum." She turned her eyes back to the road. I could see a look of nostalgia in her eyes.
"You miss it, don't you." She looked at me again; we were stuck in traffic this time, moving slowly. "Hiking. You'd rather be doing that then what you're doing now." She gave me a sad smile, then turned back to the road, as we pulled onto the highway.
We drove in silence for a while, barely speaking as we stopped at a roadside diner and got coffee, when we started driving again, I was behind the wheel. It was Cassie's turn to start the conversation.
"So, a degree in Interpreting? Doesn't exactly seem like your thing." Finally, a question I was happy to answer.
"Yeah, my parents were surprised too, but apparently, I have a slight gift for languages. And I enjoy it." I could see Cassie look surprised out of the corner of my eye. I didn't blame her; it had been a while since I had done anything I openly enjoyed. "We had the whole world offered to us, Cassie, I had to find something I liked sooner or later. That's why I moved to New York actually; it has one of the best schools in the country for Interpreting." Cassie looked pleasantly surprised now.
"You're not really as bad off as everyone thinks you are, are you?" I smiled, my first genuine one in a long time.
"Nope. I'm living in New York, I can speak multiple languages, Galard even, and I still do the odd … class in the summer, and generally take pleasure in the things I do." The smile faded from my face. "I was as bad as you think once though. Worse, maybe. For quite a while actually. You guys were right to nearly drown me during the trial. And I've been better; when I first moved to New York, I was really living again for a while. I went out. I even dated for a while." Almost called you and told you I wanted to start seeing you again. "I let Marco set me up even." Saying his name deflated me further. "But, … uh you know how things go. I withdrew, a little at time. Too much at once maybe. But I'm still better now than I was. It's kind of gone in dips and waves. Things were slowly starting to get better again even, I was even seeing a therapist, irregularly, but it worked for me, but now …" Cassie nodded, she understood. Now everything seemed difficult. Cassie pointed to our exit.
"There." Was all she said. I nodded, and pulled off.
A few miles down the road, and there it was, spread out before us. Our hometown. Most of it was rebuilt of course, but much had been recreated exactly as it had been, for historical value, I believe. This was where we parted.
"So, I'll drop you off at your parents?" She nodded. My parents were living more outside town now, not far from Cassie's really. Cassie had arranged for someone to drop a rental off at her house, so I was keeping this one. We actually passed my parents' house on the way to hers. And there it was. Cassie's farm.
It was strange to think that she didn't actually live there any more, not on a regular basis. She had an apartment in the state capital, and was, I knew, looking at one in D.C. She did visit her childhood home frequently, when she could, more often than I did. But she didn't live here any more. So much had changed.
Even after so long, her farm was familiar to me, like I had seen it every day of my life. I nearly had once, but I hadn't been here in years. Sad, really. Seeing the barn now was almost haunting. It had been our meeting place, for so long. The barn epitomized everything that had happened in the three plus years that had made up the war. I looked away.
Cassie got out and took her bags out of the back. She came around to my side, I rolled down the window.
"Do you want to come in for a minute? I know my parents would love to see you." I could see the light in her eyes, hoping that I'd take up her offer. I swallowed and said:
"I should be getting to my parents'. Maybe later." She nodded, defeated, though she was trying to hide it. She went to turn away, but I spoke again. "Cassie?" She turned back, questioning. "I really will drop by later. I promise." She smiled, thought it didn't quite reach her eyes.
"I'll see you Jake."
"Yeah." I rolled up my window as she walked towards the house, and then headed back down the road, toward my parents' house.
Seeing my parents would be interesting, I knew that. I had been home more often in the last few years than I had before, but still, it was uncommon. Between school in New York and teaching anti-terrorism classes in the summer, I didn't have a lot of extra time on my hands. Strange that I was both a student and a 'professor' at the same time. I was usually home for Christmas, and sometimes Thanksgiving, and the odd bit in the summer, but that was about it. I got out of the car and took my bags from the trunk. I knocked on the door. My mom opened it, a smile spreading on her face. She enveloped me in a hug as I dropped my bags on the floor.
"Welcome home." I nodded into her shoulder.
"It's good to be back." The truth of my words struck me. I was glad to be home again. I hadn't realized quite how much I'd missed it. My dad came in. "Hey Dad." He nodded. To the outsider, it might look like there was a tension between us, but my dad just wasn't the touchy-feely sort. Both my parents had come to terms with the things that had happened a long time ago. Better than I had, even.
My mom was the talkative one, eager to catch up with her son's life. There were fewer questions than normal though, and I thought I knew why. My thoughts were confirmed when she spoke after being quiet for a while.
"I wish it was a happier event that brought you home." I nodded. It was my wish too. I spoke slowly.
"I'm gonna go see Eva and Peter. I'll be back for dinner." My mother nodded, she would let me do whatever I thought I needed to do.
The drive to Eva and Peter's was longer than I'd thought, and I got lost once; I hadn't been to their new house before. I got out and walked up to the door slowly. Would they even answer? I was sure there were numerous people who had come by. I knocked on the door. Eva answered.
She looked worse than I did. It was easy to see that she had been crying, her eyes were red. She was dressed simply, and her hair was neat, but it served as an obvious cover-up of a woman who was trying to be strong in hard times. She looked sad. "Hello, Jake." She opened the door further, to welcome me in. She showed me in to the living room, I sat on the couch. "Is there anything I can get you? Coffee? Tea?" It seemed strange to me that she was asking what she could do for me, when it seemed obvious I she be the one doing something for her. I shook my head. She shifted from foot to foot, unsure of what to do. She sat down across from me. Neither of us knew what to say. Finally, I said:
"Where's Peter?" Eva swallowed, carefully composing herself.
"He's … lying down. He's taking it quite hard. After all, Marco was …" she teared up, unable to finish. I nodded, unsurprised. I had seen Pete when Eva had 'died'. I didn't imagine this was any better for him.
"If there's … if there's anything I can …" I let my words hang. I was tearing up too.
"It's okay. At least we don't have to listen to his bad jokes anymore right?" Eva was openly crying now, and her words made me remember whom Marco had gotten his sense of humour from. To someone else, the comment might have been shocking and crass, but it was just her way of dealing. I knew, I had seen Marco do it for years. It worked for them.
We were interrupted by Peter coming into the room. He was a near photographic image of the times I had seen him after Eva's 'death', greyer and older being the sole difference. He was dressed, but unshaven. Haggard looking. He was nearly a mirror of myself from a couple of days before. He nodded to me, much the same way my father had in greeting earlier. "Hello Jake. Thanks for coming." He sat down beside his wife.
We talked for a while. All of us shed a lot of tears. His father, his mother, and me, his friend. Those closest to him. Those who hurt the most. Don't get me wrong, there were many others who had known him, were close to him, who grieved. But, apart from his parents, I had known him the longest. We had grown up together. Memories of the two of us together were right up there with the first memory of my parent's faces. Buddies, through thick and thin, even before the war. I had known him his whole life. It was strange that I wouldn't know him for all of mine. He was gone.
Dinner at my house was a silent affair. There was sparse conversation about what I had been doing since my last visit, and about what my parents had been doing. My mother gave my father knowing looks when I talked about travelling with Cassie, and again when I mentioned going to see her after dinner. For the most part though, we ate in silence, simply enjoying being together, enjoying our life at that moment, overshadowed both by the circumstance for my being there and the single empty chair at the table.
I did go to see Cassie after dinner, as promised. I knocked on the front door of her house, as I had done many times, years before. Her mother answered, looking pleasantly surprised to see me. She told me that Cassie was in the barn. I nodded, and walked away.
I approached the barn slowly. It stood before me, looming. I hesitated before I went in. Though I had been to the house in the years that had passed, I hadn't been in the barn since, well since. I stepped inside.
What greeted me was an image I hadn't thought I'd see again, and I nearly laughed. There was Cassie, stained overalls and rubber boots, with an old pair of work gloves, cleaning cages.
She looked up when I came in, and burst into a grin, one of the first she had probably had in days. I knew the same grin was mirrored on my own face. She put down the cage she had been cleaning, and pulled off her gloves.
"You know I didn't really think you'd come." I smiled again.
"I promised, didn't I?"
"Yeah." We both sat down on a hay bale. I looked around.
"This place hasn't really changed, has it?" Everything was the same. The hay, the stalls, the cages, the animals. "I'm surprised your dad's still running this place."
"Are you kidding? He's the father of an Animorph. You'd be shocked at the amount of sponsors he's getting. And there's nothing else he'd rather be doing." I nodded. It made sense, if I thought about it. Our words seemed hollow. Conversation for the sake of making conversation.
"I went to see Eva and Peter today." Cassie nodded.
"How are they doing?"
"Eva's taking it bad, Pete's taking it worse. I know you didn't really know Pete after Eva 'drowned', but, well, I'd be hard pressed to say he's taking this any lighter without lying. It's hard. For everyone."
We sat in silence for a while, before I noticed that Cassie was slowly inching closer to me. I looked at her. She looked down, embarrassed. Did I want to do this? Why should I be happy right now? Why should this be any easier for me? This was hard on all of us right now. Did I really deserve to have it any easier? I moved away. Cassie sighed. She looked at me.
"Don't you think we deserve to be happy?" Some things never changed. Cassie could still read me like a book.
"Why should it be any easier for us, when it's so hard for everyone else? Why should we be happy now, when everything's gone wrong?" Cassie looked at me like I was a fool. Maybe I was.
"Why shouldn't we be happy? He wanted us to be together, you know." I nodded, but I wouldn't meet her eyes. "Jake, he openly admitted to me once that sometimes he set you up with bimbos so that you'd appreciate me more, maybe see what you'd lost. He suggested once that he and I dating might just make you jealous enough. He wasn't entirely joking." That I hadn't known, though now that I considered it, I wouldn't put it past him.
"He didn't object when you started seeing someone else." To my surprise, she snorted.
"Ronnie? I think the only reason Marco invited him to anything was so you could meet him. He hoped you'd be jealous. I can't say I didn't hope it sometimes." Now I was surprised. Cassie wasn't usually the conniving type. I tried to ease into a different subject.
"Whatever happened with, what, Ronnie, was it?" She looked away; I realized that she was frustrated with me.
"The age difference was too much." I was puzzled, and expressed it.
"Really? He was only what, four, five years older than you?"
"Six. But not like that. I was the one who was too old." She looked at me again, a sad smile on her face. "We aged, Jake. More than some people do in a lifetime. Yes, physically, he was six years older. But we're special cases, Jake. We hadn't matured the same way, or at the same rate. He did the normal teenage rebellious stuff, went through college, did the whole growing pains thing. We … we grew old overnight. Faced things that would be hard to understand for people three times our age. We both realized after a while that things just weren't going to work out between us. I haven't dated much since then, like I said, there aren't many people who'd understand." But her eyes looked at me, told me 'but you'd understand.'
This was a side of Cassie I hadn't seen before. She was usually quiet; both of us were, awkward and silent about our feelings for each other.
"He wanted us to be happy, Jake. Marco's life was happiness. He was happy, when he died Jake. He would want us to be happy now. Marco was bright, and glad, and joyous, and he was the sunny side of everything. He was the jokester, the jester. That's why losing him is so hard. He lived life, Jake. He was someone who people will miss, because he was such a part of people's lives. It wasn't just that he was a saviour and a star, Jake. This would be just as hard for the people who loved him, who knew him, if he wasn't world-famous. He touched lives Jake. Marco lived, in every possible meaning of the word. He loved life, he took meaning in it. Remember that, Jake. Revel in that. Don't be his polar opposite. He's part of all of us Jake; know that. Live that, Jake. Please."
I stared at her. I had never seen this kind of outburst from Cassie. And I knew something: she was right. She was crying now, tears running down her cheeks. I wiped them away. And I kissed her.
I kissed her with everything I felt, with all the times I had almost called her, almost told her, every time I had wanted to do what I was doing right now. I kissed her with all the time that I had missed her, all the time I had convinced myself that she was better off, that I wanted her to move on, that that was good. I kissed her with passion, and fervour, and zeal, and with feeling. And it was like I was whole again. Not like she was filling some hole in my life, but like she was completing it, making it bigger, giving it structure and meaning. Not like my soul was healed, but like it had never been broken in the first place. It was everything: pain, joy, loss, love, heartache, happiness, comfort, everything.
And when it was over she clung to me and I clung back. Whether we were keeping each other afloat or drowning each other, I don't know. And finally I said the words that were in the back of my throat every time I saw her, every time I looked at her or heard her voice:
"I love you, Cassie."
"I love you too, Jake."
And we were whole.
We talked for a while, really talked. With meaning and purpose, we talked. We talked about the emotional ups and downs of everything that had happened since we were thirteen. We expressed ourselves. I talked about moving to New York, the languages I was learning. I didn't just say I was enjoying it, I expressed that I was enjoying it, excited about talking about something that I loved, wanting Cassie to be excited too. I talked about seeing a therapist, how it was a positive change in my life; Cassie agreed, talked about her own experiences with therapy sessions. I talked about the few times I had dated; told anecdotes of the crazy people Marco had set me up with. We laughed, we cried. We remembered Marco's life, a life that had touched so many people so deeply that it could never truly be lost. Cassie talked about her work, the few people she had seen since Ronnie, the difficulties of not being able to make people understand. She talked about how much she missed the days when her job had been outdoors, had been hiking, exploring new areas, walking where people hadn't walked before. Talked about going back to that, if the chance arose. We talked about things we wanted to do in the future. I found myself laying plans to move back here after I had finished my degree. She told me that her parents were thinking about moving to a smaller, more manageable house. Since the farm had been in her family for generations, as her parents' only child, the house would go to her. She expressed wanting to move back into it, permanently. Finishing the little bit of education left for her to get her vet's degree. Maybe leaving her job to keep the Wildlife Rehab Centre up and running. There were after all, many people capable of taking care of the Hork Bajir. It was time to get back to what she really wanted to be doing in life. And there were the things that we left unsaid, but understood completely. That we both wanted to be living in the same city two years hence. That, even though we would be living on opposite sides of the country for a while, we wanted to continue seeing each other, that we didn't want this to be something that only lasted the next few days that we would be here.
We went to the house somewhere in the midst of all this. I got reacquainted with her parents. I told her she should come see mine, soon. We said goodbye, knowing it was somewhat pointless, as we would see each other again the next day.
The next few days passed both more slowly and faster than any in my life. There were moments of both joy and pain. Cassie and I were reintroducing ourselves to each other's lives, well at the same time preparing to say goodbye to the life of our close friend. It was hard.
Ax arrived from the Andalite home world. We talked too, for the first time in a long time, truly talked. I was surprised to find he was 'seeing' Estrid, if that was the correct term. Cassie wasn't.
Tobias arrived, too, in the midst of all this. I was surprised to see him. I knew that he wasn't totally cut off, that he saw both Toby and his mother on a regular basis. I had had the idea that he was in contact with Cassie, and perhaps Ax, on his infrequent visits to Earth. But I hadn't thought that, if he was coming, he would seek any of us out. It was awkward, seeing him again, at first. But he hadn't really hated me. It had just been his way of dealing. Of grieving for the loss of the one thing that had been truly his. It had worked, for him. I asked for his forgiveness, to my surprise, he asked for mine. We cried, for many reasons.
The four of us hung out. Sometimes we were joyous in being together, like we were teenagers again. Other times we were silent, acknowledging that we were now two less in number than we once were. And through everything that happened in those three days, I was preparing Marco's eulogy.
The memorial service was being held in the same cemetery that Rachel's had been, Marco's memorial being placed next to hers. Rachel would have cringed.
There were huge amounts of people, like Rachel's ceremony. Unlike hers, nearly all of the people attending had actually met Marco. Co-stars, producers, his agent, assorted Hollywood buddies, starlets that were past girlfriends; Marco had never been on bad terms with anyone, not when it counted. There was a military guard too, of course, and both the current president and the former president from when the war had ended were in attendance. There were Andalites. Hork Bajir. And us. Me. Cassie. Tobias. Ax. His family, as much as his parents were, we were his family. My parents came. So did Cassie's, and Tobias' mother, and Rachel's, as little as they had known him. Several people gave speeches. Then I gave mine.
"I'm sure that all of you know who I am. For now, though, my name is not important. All you need to know for the moment is that I was Marco Estevarez's best friend.
"Marco Estevarez died, several days ago. He was shooting the final scene for his first big screen debut as an actor. He was, much to his joy, performing one of his own stunts. The stunt was completed successfully. Unfortunately, the platform he landed on was unable to take the strain of his sudden landing, and gave way. Marco fell several stories, and was killed instantly." I had tears in my eyes now.
"But I'm not here to talk about Marco's death. I'm here to tell you about his life …"
And I told them. I took words from many of the conversations I had had about Marco in the last few days. I told them things from our childhood together. I shared how Marco had touched my life, how my life was changed because of him. I didn't use fancy words, or make great comparisons to famous figures. I broke down several times. I was crying openly before I was half way through. I gave them Marco's life, in all it's colour, and pain, and joy, and beauty.
Because isn't life the thing that matters, above all? Isn't death a terrible tragedy because it's the end of a life? We don't know death. We can't tell what lies beyond what we have right here, right now. Life is all we've got.