~ 2 January 2016 - Cedar Creek Fairgrounds, Giuliana Forest neighborhood ~
The fairgrounds were empty since it was just after midnight on the second day of the new year. They were also cold since the field was open and flat with nothing to break the frigid winds that blew through Pennsylvania in the winter months. The freezing cold did nothing to stop the slight figure that trudged across the field in a pair of ripped jeans, sneakers, and a black hoodie that was only halfway zipped over a black t-shirt. Her hands were uncovered and one was clutching a paper bag while the other was up to try keeping her long white blonde locks from getting in her eyes. Her quest ended when she reached the far treeline and found a small white cross nailed to one of the trees just deep enough in to not be seen.
"Hey Max," she said quietly, her hands busily pulling a cupcake from the bag.
"You're probably pretty surprised to see me here since I've never come to see you. Not since the day I put the cross here anyway." She gently settled a candle in the cupcake and shifted to sit in the dirt at the base of the tree.
"Thing is... I don't hate you anymore. Angie says it's closure, but I just don't know. I know I don't hate you anymore, but I still can't forgive you. I... I understand that you weren't yourself now. You weren't really Max anymore... But you still had my brother's face that night and it hurts..." Her voice choked off for a moment and she took a few breaths to try and stem the burning behind her eyelids.
"I couldn't save you. You were still in there somewhere; you had to be in there somewhere. I just... I didn't know how to save you. Even though I hated you then, I just wanted to fix the corruption. I just wanted you to come home with me and Angie. I wanted to have my big brother back...
"You'd be twenty today, ya know. No idea what you'd be doing with your life though. Probably trying to be a pro skateboarder knowing you." A bitter chuckle escaped her. "I miss you, Max. I failed you and now I'll never get you back. You were the last one left and now I'm alone." She sighed.
"You know what? You were actually a pretty good brother before the drugs." She smiled, ignoring the tear that snuck down her cheek. "I remember when I wouldn't be able to sleep and would try to sneak out and watch movies. Your nebby ass would follow me and drag me into your room to read comics and books until I passed out. I still don't know if Mom ever found out that was why the flashlights were always dead.
"The thing I miss the most about you was how you'd always try to teach me things." A sob escaped. "You were the one that started my interest in parkour. You tried to teach me how to skateboard; not that it went really well..." She gave a teary laugh. "Mom was so mad about my broken arm..."
She wiped away her tears and flicked her finger, lighting the candle on the cupcake. "Happy Birthday, big brother. I miss you so much..." she sniffled before gently blowing out the candle.
~ 10 June 2016 - St. Michael the Archangel Cemetary, Cedar Creek ~
The slight blonde wove her way through the gravestones quietly, her pace a brisk walk despite the heat of the day. She wore short denim cutoffs with sneakers and a black tank top, her blonde hair in a messy bun and a metal water bottle clipped to a belt loop. She carried a white paper bag in one hand and a small bouquet of flowers in the other. It didn't take long to reach a neat row of three matching stones. Her trip was to the far end, a stone labeled 'Nicholas David MacKay' with his birth and death dates below it. She plopped down and leaned on the stone.
"Hey Nicky," she sighed, setting the bag beside her and taking a quick drink of her water. "I'm sure you remember all the updates up to November last year, so I won't bore you too much." She retrieved a cupcake from the bag and set up the candle, settling it on the stone by her head.
"We're going to try and get through this year without crying, ok? It'll be rough, but I think we can do it." She gave a smile before biting her bottom lip.
"Let's see... You'd be twenty-four this year. Knowing you, probably already out of college and begging for work at any animation company that would hire you. You'd probably be way out of state, like California or Florida or something. You were kind of pathetic with girls, so I don't think you'd have a girlfriend..." She paused to chuckle, resting her head back against the stone and taking another sip of water.
"Who am I kidding? You'd have had someone. Probably a girl from college that I wouldn't like on principle. Nobody would've been good enough for my big brother..." She swallowed hard as the burning started. "Nope. No tears... Not happening..."
She sat quietly for a few minutes to finish willing the tears back since the next part was so much harder.
"This year... The thing I've missed most about you is how you would just hang out with me and Max. You never thought you were too cool for us and never let out that we drove you nuts; you seemed to really love spending time with us. That's what I miss. The three of us curled up on the couch watching anime until Mom yelled for us to go outside. Us playing in the yard. Even when you and Max would turn a game of 'Catch' into 'Keep Away', I still miss it. ...Damn it." She wiped at her tears. "Another year of sobbing my brains out it is..."
She curled up and just let the tears come for a few minutes before getting control again and scrubbing her face with the heels of her palms. "More water..." she muttered as she got the bottle and drained it.
"Ok, time to finish this visit before I dehydrate myself," she sniffed with a dry smile, lighting the candle.
"I miss you, Nicky. Happy Birthday, wherever you are."
~ 31 August 2016 - St. Michael the Archangel Cemetary, Cedar Creek ~
This time the blonde was in a school uniform with a red plaid skirt and openly running through the cemetary, dodging around stones before she skidded to a stop on her knees. The white paper bag was present again and this time she was in front of the stone that read 'Samuel Donald MacKay'.
"Hey Dad, sorry I'm late," she panted. "Huge fight last night and I just couldn't make it before school this year. Then I had to bolt afterward to make sure Damian, Carrie, and Michael didn't snag me for Titan duty." She snorted. "They'll probably bug me about being late for whatever Cy has planned today, but I think they'll live."
She pulled out a cupcake and set it up on top of the stone, still kneeling as she took a deep breath. "This year is going to be hard and I'm probably going to cry a lot, but I'm ok, really." Another deep breath.
"...It still hurts that you're gone. I think it hurts more that you're gone than it does for Nick or Max. I can think of them without crying, but you..." She paused and sniffed, the tears already rolling.
"You're going to miss so much of my life and it hurts... This is my junior year. If I decide to do the prom thing, you'll miss that. You'll miss my graduation. Meeting all of my friends. My first boyfriend. Eventually my wedding and your grandkids. ...I mean... I knew all of that. It's just... I guess it's finally sinking in because of how fast graduation's coming. I'm already looking into taking classes to be an EMT, but I have to wait until I'm eighteen...
"And I know now that I'd have taken Angie's approach; I'd tell you and Mom about me being Immolation. I'd tell you guys everything. You missing out on that hurts too because I know you'd love hearing the stories, even the scary ones, the ones that would make you never want to let me leave the house again...
"...This year I miss watching you play guitar and sing. I miss the fact that we could've done that together. And, as always, I miss your hugs..." She sobbed, covering her mouth at the sudden sound.
"I know I say that every year, but it's true. I'm scared all the time that I'll forget what your hugs felt like and how safe I felt... I'm scared I'll forget your smile too."
She seemed to run out of things to say then, sniffling and wiping her face. After several minutes she lit the candle and stared at it, a few fresh tears falling.
"I love you, Daddy. Happy Birthday," she said quietly, her voice cracking before she blew out the candle.
~ 18 November 2016 - St. Michael the Archangel Cemetary, Cedar Creek ~
The blonde's pace was far more relaxed today and she was carrying a brown paper bag instead of the usual white one. She was wearing ripped jeans with sneakers and a thin grey sweater, her hair bound back in a braid against the wind in the cemetary. She went to the middle stone this time; it read 'Allison Ritter MacKay' along with her birth date and very false death date. She settled down with the bag and just sat there quietly, seeming to think of what to say. It was a few minutes before footsteps sounded on the frozen ground behind her.
"You know, this is a really morbid tradition. And why do you even do it for me? I'm still alive..."
"Hi Mom," she replied, looking over her shoulder at the tall woman.
"Answer the question, Ellie." The blonde sighed.
"Because you're not you, Mom, not really."
"Eh, infernal corruption will do that," the woman replied as she waved dismissively and sauntered over to her daughter's side. "I'm still your mother and I still love you. That's the important thing."
"Fair enough I guess. So why are you here this year?" Ellie looked up at the being her mother had become.
She was just as tall as she had been in life at six feet and just as curvaceous, her face practically a mirror of her daughter's. But her skin was white with red tribal designs all over. Her hair was no longer white blonde, but pure white and straight down to her knees rather than wavy and just conventionally long. Her eyes had once been the same as her daughter's, except that her left eye was pale green instead of blue; now her right eye was completely red and the left was pale green with red sclera. That was just the basics, because she also had the infernal features of pointed ears, fangs, claws, and a tail. Thankfully no horns, but her previously conservative nature had given way to being so scantily clad that she was barely clad at all. Allison MacKay had been gone for almost five years and had been replaced with Dido, the devil princess of Melothm.
"This is the first year I wasn't busy," the devil replied with a little shrug before smiling teasingly. "Did you bring me a cupcake?"
"No. You hate cupcakes." Ellie really tried to keep the offended look off of her face, but it had to be showing.
"Still do, but it's the principle of the thing. Don't give me that look, Elissa." The older woman shook her head. "So I get nothing because I'm still alive?"
"Oh, quit pouting." Ellie rolled her eyes at the teasing and playfulness the other was displaying, retrieving the bag and extracting a muffin from it to hold up for inspection.
"Is that--" Dido retrieved the muffin and inhaled deeply, her eyes drifting shut. "You made me banana nut muffins!" she cooed happily, looking like she was about to hug that muffin. She looked up then and Ellie was a little surprised to see that her mismatched eyes looked wet.
"Huh, devils can cry..."
"Shut up, brat," Dido snorted, sticking her tongue out before sitting beside Ellie and taking a bite of the muffin. "...And thank you."
"You're welcome, Mom," Ellie replied with a little smile, shifting to sit back against the stone with the other. "Happy Birthday."
"Thanks. This is the best I've had in years."