One Year Later

Aunt Ella, seeming to temporarily forget that she usually went out of her way to not make eye contact with me, had her arms around my neck, and her chin resting on top of my head so that tears fell onto the black bandana I was wearing. Uncle Iggy had a hand on her shoulder, and Dad was a few feet off, sitting on the seat of the old picnic table with Aunt Nudge, Uncle Gazzy, and Laura.

Despite that Laura killed my mom and I killed the girl she had raised for five years, we got along fairly well. We were both incredibly sorry about what we had done.

Because Ella and Fang hated her she rarely came to visit the twin's graves. That didn't stop her from coming though. It surprised me that she and Ella hadn't had their ritual shouting match yet.

Dad got up from the bench, and I took advantage of the opportunity to detach myself from Aunt Ella and follow him inside. We sat down on the top step of the stairs and through the window watched the attendants of the death-a- versary crowded around the graves.

I know Dad wasn't going to be the first to talk, so I felt the great need to say something. I brushed my pigtails over my shoulders and cleared my throat, sitting up taller, prepared to say something important, or regretful, or thoughtful about Olli and Occi.

But Dad looked up at me and I stopped in my tracks. He was 41 now, decrepit by my standards. His hair had more lines of gray than it should, and the look he gave me was the epitome bleak and sad. Taken by surprise, I gasped for air and did my best to refrain from crying. Of course it wasn't Olli or Occi—or even Angel that he was mourning.

"Dad." I said softly, causing him to actually make eye contact. "Dad, I miss mom too."

He looked away. Was he crying? No way, dad never cries. Musta been a trick of the light.

"It wasn't just her." Dad said, his voice rough, "Both of you left, and for five years I didn't know what happened to either of you. Maybe Max had taken you away from us. Maybe she wanted to raise you differently. You both may have been dead, in jail, or taken by the school. Then five years later, you were really alive, and she was really gone.

His voice shook like a goat standing on top on an active volcano, but he kept his cool. I knew exactly what he was going to say next, since he had told me a googolplex times.

"You know what the last thing she said to me was?"

"What?" I asked, playing along.

"She didn't say anything. She held out her fist, I stacked mine on top of it, and you stacked yours on top of mine. Max tapped the backs of our hands, and then she walked with you out the door."

Usually I would make some smart aleck comment about that not actually being the last thing she said, but I decided to change up the program.

"She did love you," I said softly. "I am Nina now, but I can still remember Max. She loved you a lot. She trusted you with her life." I bit my lip, weighing out whether or not I should tell him that the last thing his wife ever did was to reassure me that he would save us. I decided to rephrase it a little.

"The last thing she ever said was that you would save me. And you did."

Dad smiled a little and stood up, helping me up with him. Slowly we worked our way back to the little group of people clustered around the trees.

Two small, identical, curved gravestones sat next to each other. The first one read:

Olli Griffiths

Born: May 13th 2022

Died: November 6th 2035

There only difference between his grave and his twin's were two letters. Olli and Occi. Same birth date, same death date.

But readers, this story isn't about death. It's about the life before it. My mom, cousins, Grandpa, and aunt all died, but they were lucky ones. Their lives had adventure and excitement, people loved them, and what they didn't have they worked hard to earn. All of them, even Occi, died honorably, and no one could ask for more.

There were two other new stones at base of the oak tree. One simply had Maximum Ride written on it. The other was roughly in the shape of a crane, and had the last letter Olli wrote engraved on it.

I wish I had more time to live life before I solved the mystery of death. It doesn't matter where I am, but I miss you, I love you. There is nothing more pure I can say than that.

Except goodbye.