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The Sweet Hereafter

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Lukas’s eyes kept skipping all around. From Philip, to the coffin, to the preacher, to Rose and his Dad beside him. He was sitting in a folding chair on the opposite side from Philip, Helen and Gabe.

His eyes kept flitting back to Philip and his heart would ache at the look on his boyfriend’s face. Misery and pain, but no tears. Philip, to Lukas’s knowledge, had not cried over his mother’s death since he had gotten the news. Instead he looked perpetually sad and miserable.

As his gaze shifted to the coffin, Lukas hid a flinch. He still felt incredibly guilty over Anne Shea’s death. He blamed himself, for not having confessed to Helen sooner, to having run off with Philip instead of being there when Ryan went after her. He had sworn to Philip, while in the hospital, that he would spend the rest of his life making things up to him. And every time he looked at either the coffin or Philip himself, he would renew that vow in his heart.

Rose reached out and touched him, whispering, “your shoulder hurt?”

Lukas shook his head. “No,” he lied. It did but he welcomed the pain. Felt it was part of his penance. He hid it from everyone though. The focus should be on Philip, not himself.

On the other side, his father sat, stony faced. His father had barely said two words since Lukas had gotten out of the hospital. Lukas would feel guilty about that too but he was too busy worrying about Philip. His eyes darted to him again. He saw Helen and Gabe on either side of him, Gabe with a hand gently resting on Philip’s arm. Lukas had tried to be over there, when they got to the cemetery, to be there for Philip, but was told that side was family only. He had reluctantly gone to the other side.

At last, the priest finished droning on. Lukas barely heard his closing. People began standing and he looked around, getting up slowly himself. He was about to go to Philip but Helen and Gabe were hugging him and he was saying something to them. Helen nodded and then looked at Lukas. She came around to him.

“Lukas. Philip wants a few minutes alone.”

He swallowed hard, torn between feeling rejected and understanding. He nodded. “Of course.” He cast one more look at Philip, now standing alone and forlorn by the grave. He made himself turn, to talk down the hill, back to the car.

Rose and his dad were both there. Rose came right to him. “Ready to go?”

He took her hands. “You guys go. I’m gonna wait here.”

His dad frowned. “How are you going to get home, Lukas?”

“I’ll manage. I need to be here.” He couldn’t articulate why to his dad, who had become more accepting but was still struggling. He turned to look at Rose instead. She was smiling sympathetically and nodding a bit. He smiled back at her. “I’ll see you later?”

She leaned forward and hugged him, whispering, “go help out your boy,” then letting go. She got into the car with his dad, who waited then finally pulled away.

Lukas stood there, watching cars leave. Eventually, only Helen and Gabe were left. Then Helen left, in the Sheriff’s car, to head home. They were having a small gathering at their house, not really a wake. Just a few people to remember Anne.

Lukas looked back at the grave. Philip was still up there, face still dismal but not crying. He thought about it, then made his way up. He glanced back briefly and thought he saw Gabe flash him a thumbs up.

Soon he arrived at Philip’s side. He wracked his brains as to what to say. Finally, he thought of something. Something he wished someone had said to him when his own mother passed away.

“You’ll remember her. You’ll never lose those memories.”

Philip turned to him, eyes wide, and then suddenly collapsed into Lukas’s arms, sobbing hard. Lukas gathered him up, held him tight. He was silent, knowing words would be meaningless right now. Just holding his Philip as he cried. At last, the tears tapered off, with an occasional hiccup here and there.

Philip pulled back swiping at his face. “Sorry,” he mumbled.

“It’s cool.” In fact, it sort of felt good, to help Philip out like that. He looked down at his boyfriend’s sad face and said, “come with me.”

“Where?” Philip asked, but he followed as Lukas led him further into the cemetery. They went back a bit and stopped at another grave. “Lukas, what--?” He stopped as he read the name on the grave stone.

Lukas looked down and said, very softly, “hi Mom. This is Philip Shea, the guy I’ve been telling you about. The one I’m in love with.” He heard a soft gasp from his side and realized, dimly, that that was the first time he’d admitted the depth of his feelings—to himself or anyone else. “His mom just died so could you keep an eye out for her up there? Thanks.”

Philip’s hand tugged at his. Lacing their fingers together, Philip asked, “you think they’re together?”

“Yeah. I think my mom found yours and they’re looking down on us.”

Philip smiled wanly. “That’s a good thought. I bet my mom would like your mom.”

“I know my mom would like yours.”

“And my mom is probably no longer addicted, if she’s in Heaven. I mean, you can’t be an addict in Heaven, right?”

Heart aching, Lukas agreed. “Right.”

They stood there, in front of the grave, for a bit. Then Philip drew closer to Lukas’s side, leaning in and said, “let’s go.”

“You sure? We can stay a while longer.”

“No,” Philip said, quietly. “I don’t need to be here anymore.” He lifted his free hand and touched his chest. “She’s here now.”

Lukas couldn’t stand it. He wrapped his arms, his whole body, around Philip and hugged the stuffing out of him. When he drew back, he gently kissed the corner of his mouth. Free hand caressing a cheek, he nodded. They turned, still holding hands, and were about to head back down. That was when Lukas noticed it. “Philip,” he said the name in a hushed voice.

“What?” Philip followed Lukas’s line of sight.

There, on the grave, was a single sunflower. It’s head was bobbing, looking for all the world as if it were nodding. Perhaps in agreement or assent?

Philip’s eyes flew to Lukas’s, questioning and full of a strange hope. Lukas, trying not to read too much into it but taking it as a good omen, let go of Philip’s hand and put his arm around his waist instead. As they headed down the hill, Philip’s hand came up and tentatively looped around Lukas too. Lukas felt his heart break a little at the hesitancy, knowing it was his fault that Philip was so reluctant to show affection in public, even though the only one around was Gabe.

They made their way to Philip’s foster father. Gabe was waiting, looking as if he’d been crying as well.

“Philip?” He asked as they drew closer.

Philip squeezed Lukas’s hand tight for a second then made to let go. But Lukas wasn’t having it. He held tight, earning a puzzled but somewhat happy look from Philip. “Let’s go home,” Philip said.

Lukas helped Philip into the car, making sure his seatbelt was all done up, before climbing in the back. He wanted to be up there, to hold Philip or at least hold hands, but there was no room. Instead, he contented himself with putting his hand on Philip’s shoulder, giving a little squeeze, as they pulled away from the cemetery.