2021 Adventure Bound Writing Contest

Winning Entries

* Entries/winning stories shared herein are done so with the written consent of the author. * 

Writers competed in two rounds of writing with word limits in each round and a visual prompt to incorporate into their stories.  Writers selected the genre of their submission and winners were chosen by a panel of judges based on how well the writer incorporated the prompt; the strength of the writing - grammar, flow, organization; overall writing style; and story impressions left on the judge.  Rubrics were used to make the judging consistent across entries.

2021 Winners are:
Elizabeth DeVido, 1st Place
Kristen Lopez, 2nd Place
Elizabeth Fisher, 3rd Place
T. E. Westergaard & Justin Browning, Bookseller's Choice Awards
Click the author's name above to navigate directly to their winning story.

1st Place - Elizabeth DeVido, NC

Henry Sees A Ghost

Synopsis: A teenage boy and his best friend go grave-robbing and make a horrifying discovery.

My best friend Henry lived next to a cemetery. From the time we were little kids,

growing up on different sides of town, it became our go-to place for whatever nonsense we could

come up with. Every day after school, the two of us would bike down to his house to play

amongst the tombstones.

The cemetery became a place that was just for us. Neither Henry nor I had a lot of

friends. He was the class clown who took delight in pissing people off with his pranks. I was the

quiet kid who stuttered whenever he was asked to speak. At school, we were ignored, but at the

cemetery, we could be ghosts, zombies, vampires, anything other than two weirdos at the back of

the class.

Henry was always the one suggesting we do crazy stuff. I was never much of a risk-

taking person, so I relied on Henry to get me out of my shell. If it wasn’t for him, I’d probably

stay at home all the time. A week before graduation, he dragged me out to the creek at three am

to swim near a crocodile nest. Got my hair caught in some branches just over the water, and had

to pull a chunk of hair out to escape before the gators smelled us. That’s not the kind of thing I’d

have done if Henry hadn’t pushed me.

But the craziest thing Henry ever did was tell me he could see ghosts. He told me he’d

look out his window and see specters wandering the cemetery. A civil war soldier who got his

head blown off by a cannon. A teenage girl who died by suicide, her mouth still foaming from all

the pills she took. A man in a jumpsuit who was sentenced to death for a crime he didn’t commit.

Sometimes when we hung out around the tombs, he would get real quiet all of sudden and look

around like someone else had spoken to him.

I always figured Henry was just exaggerating. Putting on a show just to scare me. I

wasn’t a brave kid, but I didn’t believe in ghosts.

I didn’t realize he was dead serious until the night we went grave-robbing.

We were seventeen. Our senior year was over, and Henry wanted us to end high school

with something wild before college sent us to opposite sides of the country. His plan was stupid-

crazy in the way only an idea conjured by Henry could be: Dig up some graves in the cemetery,

and steal whatever we could find that the local pawn shop would take. One of our favorite games

to play as kids was to play pretend graverobbers, and taking out the pretend part would bring it

full circle. The conversation that followed went how most conversations did between me and

Henry: I called him an idiot, told him it was a bad idea, then ultimately gave in when he called

me a coward.

After our final day of classes, Henry and I drove down to the cemetery. Henry parked his

truck by his house, and after grabbing a shovel from his back shed, we slumped down the hill

into the cluster of tombstones. It was already getting dark out, and Henry had to use the

flashlight on his phone to make sure we didn’t trip on anything.

As we walked, Henry’s usual chattiness started to wane. You’d think considering this

was his idea that he wouldn’t shut up. But as soon as we began navigating the stones and bushes,

he stopped talking.

“You seeing a ghost?” I chuckled.

He didn’t respond. He kept his eyes ahead until we were near the other end of the

cemetery. The sun had set enough that the sky was dark blue and I could barely read any of the

headstones anymore.

“This one,” Henry said. He stopped at one just below a bush. He tossed the shovel to me.

“I’ll hold the light, you dig.”

I was about to remind him this was his idea and so he should be the one digging, but I

saw the light from the phone reflect on Henry’s eyes. The eagerness he had before was drained

out, and I couldn’t tell what had replaced it in his eyes.

Whatever. I wanted us to get out of here before the groundskeeper found us. I pressed the

shovel into the earth where Henry aimed the light and started digging.

By the time we were six feet in, it was nearly pitch black out and my shirt was sticking to

my back. The tip of the shovel hit something hard, and a sleek white coffin appeared under the


“Jackpot,” I said.

I looked back at Henry. I expected him to be excited. But he was quiet, and looking at me

with an expression I couldn’t read.

“You open it,” he said.

He said it coldly, like it wasn’t a suggestion. I turned to the coffin and cracked it open.

For a body that was supposedly buried with valuable objects, the family did a crappy job keeping

it locked up tight.

I opened the lid.

Inside there were no heirloom jewels, no precious items, no expensive clothes. Henry’s

light traced over a familiar suit and head of red hair. A pale face too fresh to be long dead.

I turned to look at Henry again. I waited for the punchline. I waited for him to fall into

hysterics. I waited for him to tell me I should see the look on my face. But his face was stone-

still without a trace of his usual humor.

“Henry,” I said.

“You really don’t remember at all, do you?”

“Remember what, exactly?”

“Our swim down at the gator creek last week. You got stuck underwater...your hair...I

couldn’t...didn’t get unstuck in time.”

“The hell are you going on about?”

“I lied, Carter. I didn’t bring you here to steal anything. I...I wanted to show you. Because

you won’t go away.”

I looked back down at the body. In the skull I could see a bald spot, a place where a tuft

of hair had been ripped out. I felt cold all of sudden, like the creek water had found its way back

around me. I couldn’t remember going home that night. I couldn’t remember pulling myself onto

the shore. One minute I was underwater, and everything after...just murky.

“I never said anything because I didn’t want you to go,” Henry said. “But it was my idea

to take you to the creek...so I thought I would be the one to see you out of this earth.”

I expected to shake, but for the first time, I was aware that my body couldn’t seem to

shiver. Because it was looking at me from the hole below. Up above I could hear Henry sniffle.

My best friend never cried. In the face of everything, he always made jokes. But I could feel the

tears trickling down my best friend’s cheeks.

When I brought my eyes back up, he wasn’t there anymore. All that looked back at me

was a sky full of stars, getting brighter and brighter.

2nd Place - Kristen Lopez, NC

Ready to Go Home

“Jonathan”, the monotone nurse shouted into the waiting room. Jonathan did not hear her. He

was not sure if he wanted to. It had been three months since he started chemo, and since the tumors

did not appear to be shrinking, Jonathan knew what the doctor was about to tell him. “Jonathan

Burghes”, the woman shouted louder. This jolted him out of his trance, causing him to rise and approach

the entryway to the back, where the doctor would inevitably tell him that at the age of forty-eight, his

life was ending.

Only eight months ago, Jonathan had been at this same doctor’s office, leading his elderly father

to his examination. It was the very last outing Jonathan had shared with his father. He remembered his

brown loafers and his replica watch that he had purchased from a man on the side of the road in New

York. “Johnny, can you believe this bargain? It was only fifty bucks!” Jonathan smiled at remembering

this. His father’s dementia was swallowing him whole at that time, and he briefly remembered the guilty

feeling of wondering what it would be like to not need to hold his father’s hand through life while

struggling with two jobs and his own personal life. What he would not give to be holding his father’s

hand right now.

When the doctor explained to Jonathan that he had a month at most, that the cancer was

progressing so quickly that there was not much to be done, Jonathan suddenly did not register

information. He had already experienced his rage and denial in the months leading up to this point, and

now he was just tired. He drove home making a mental checklist of what he wanted to do in his short

time, but the truth was he was entirely too tired and nauseous to do any of those things. There was only

one thing that felt right to him at this particular moment, and that was to stop off at the small cemetery

behind the church to have a conversation with his father. That is, to have a conversation with the

tombstone that was now the only physical manifestation of what his father was.

Jonathan parked, and approached the clump of tombstones surrounding the space that housed

his father’s remains. Staring at the stone, he remembered the last conversation he had with him.

“Johnny,” his voice very calm and resolute. “I am ready to go home, I miss your mother.” Even

remembering it broke Jonathan’s heart, the same as it had when he heard it from him directly. It was

the clearest that his father had spoken in years, and the fact that he said it so matter of fact made

Jonathan know that the end was near. It was the next day when Jonathan’s father had passed on, two

days after than when he was placed here in this space in the cemetery, and about two months after that

the tombstone had been erected in his memory. Jonathan wondered solemnly who would erect his

tombstone since he had no one left. Jonathan had been so busy with work and taking care of his father

after his mother’s passing, he had not had time to create his own family. He was all alone now and was

waiting for the hour to come that he too would cross into the unknown.

Now Jonathan stood alone in this very morbid yet peaceful place. Jonathan was tired and weak.

Looking down at the tombstone in front of him, he noticed the soft space of moss calling to him. He

slowly and carefully kneeled to sit in the space in front of the tombstone, his knees creaking like an old

boat all the way down. He leaned his back on the cold tombstone and closed his eyes for a moment.

“Dad?” he spoke out into the abyss, looking for any sort of answer to provide comfort at this stage. No

one replied.

Jonathan started to look around him. The wind blew a soft caress across his cheek and shuffled

some of the fallen leaves into the spaces around his sneakers. The branches from a close by willow tree

swept through the air like a ballerina’s arms. He noticed all of the colors of the trees, the sky, the

buildings. He was going to miss all of these things. Leading up to this time, Jonathan was certain he

would miss different things, more material type things. He thought he would miss his office; he had

finally gotten it the way he liked it. He thought he was going to miss his house and his comfortable

couch. Right now, in this moment, Jonathan did not miss any of that. He was going to miss colors and

smells, the small things that he had taken for granted up until this very moment. He wondered what he

would remember after this life. Would he remember who he was? Would he remember his parents? His

first kiss? His childhood dog? He turned around a bit, just enough to twist and make out the letters on

the tombstone. “Michael Burghes”, it read. He traced the letters that he could reach with his right index

finger. Not having had been a religious man, he held no particular assumptions about what was facing

him. To be honest, Jonathan was far too exhausted now to even imagine what might be coming. He

laughed a little, remembering all of the people who had come into his life, and how important things

had seemed to him up until this moment when these same things did not seem important at all. He

suddenly somehow felt both grateful and remorseful that he had no one to grieve for him when this was

all over. He did not want to cause anyone pain, but he was also not happy to be here in this space alone.

He found peace thinking of his father. He just kept remembering his last conversation. “I am ready to go

home,” he remembered him saying. Once again, it brought him a heavy feeling in his heart.

Jonathan could feel his eyes closing, he was so tired. He had no energy to even rise up from the

moss. He could almost feel himself sinking into the spongy ground below. “Dad?” he asked one more

time in a final attempt to find comfort in the moment. He closed his eyes. He could hear the wind brush

by, and the sound of leaves twirling around. He could hear the traffic on the road outside of the

cemetery. And then suddenly he could not hear anything.

A moment later, Jonathan was jolted out of his sleep, having felt something tap his foot. He

opened his eyes, now feeling much more optimistic and awake. The cold air had subsided, and Jonathan

suddenly felt the sun on his face. In front of him he could see a brown loafer tapping his tennis shoe. He

followed the loafer up to an outstretched hand dawning a knock-off gold watch, and soon he heard the

voice he was looking for. “Johnny?” He asked. “Are you ready to go home?”

Jonathan looked up at his father and smiled. Jonathan was ready.

3rd Place - Elizabeth Fisher, NC


A woman finds herself repeatedly returning to the same place, waiting to be reunited with a lost

part of her soul.

There are a fresh bunch of red roses the first day I visit.

They are beautiful, and they could have only come from Jin; I know this instinctively.

He is not the type to leave proper mourning flowers.

He has left a note with his offering.

I want to read it, but I’m not sure I can.

It’s too much.

The gravesite is still fresh.

Red-brown dirt.

No marker yet.

If I stare long enough, I can see through it all to the simple pine box six feet down.

I close my eyes.

There are no more flowers when I open them.

There is a headstone at the top of the mound and a small bench at the foot.

Young grass has overlaid the grave.

It is jarring to see this plot so seamlessly blend with the others around it.

I rest on the bench and wish I had the energy to cry; I close my eyes.

The return becomes a little smoother every time.

My presence seems less random - a purposeful excursion for reflection.

Memory begins to rush me.

It starts small.

I remember the overwhelming sensation of pressure.

The moment I remember her is the first time I arrive at night.

The moon is brilliant - full; I am the diamond-blue of the moon.

She was mine - ours - a small flutter of my soul at the center of my being.

I remember Jin’s hands on my stomach.

I know he tried to feel her, but I cannot remember if he did.

The seasons move so fast, and I begin to notice.

With each one something new becomes me.

A little something brings me closer to a lost part.

I close my eyes.

My wedding day - kicking off my heels seconds before I walked down the aisle

and laughing with Jin as he watched me do it from the alter - I couldn’t get to him

fast enough.

I open my eyes.

My mother holding me close - her calloused hands brushing tears from my small

cheeks - I was only seven when I fell off a bike and broke my arm for the first


I close my eyes.

My baby sister graduating from nursing school - she’d called me every week

crying for the last month because of the stress - I cried when I watched her take

that diploma.

I open my eyes.

My first time meeting Jin - I sat next to him in some unremarkable lecture at

University - he asked me to study with him for the final, and we neither one did

much studying.

I close my eyes.

My hands shaking after I read that first positive pregnancy test - we tried for three

years to have a baby, and the third time I got pregnant was the only time that

stuck - I didn’t tell anyone but Jin for the first five months to make sure that it

would last.

I open my eyes.

My first time decorating my own home - the mismatched furniture and threadbare

rugs lovingly surrounded by our own art - I never got a chance to finish her


I close my eyes.

The early morning that I woke in a pool of blood - twisted sheets - Jin’s panicked

face - a 911 call - a rush of lights - a hospital room - voices - beeping - voices -

beeping - crying - making a decision - gambling my life for the sake of her’s -

losing that bet. . .

When I open my eyes she is there.

Right there.

I know it is her because she has a part of me.

The half-glow I have become rounds out to fullness in her presence.

She was so little when I saw her last.

Her too-small hands were wrinkled and purple-blue, yet even as a newborn she had a grip that

made it clear she would cling to life.

Now she carries that strength in the set of her jaw, in the high curve of her brows, in the steel of

her long spine.

She wears her resiliency like a battle crown - she has from the start.

Her nearness gives me strength I have not felt since the day she was lost to me.

I made it long enough to give her one of my shaking fingers to cling to - to feel her skin against

my own one first and final time before we were separated.

They took her from me to save her, but it broke me.

“I wish you could have known her, Baby.”

Jin is with her.

He has aged as gracefully as I always knew he would.

He puts an arm around her shoulders.

I’m here. I’m right here.

My lost voice brushes her hair.

I want her to hear me. If I had anything to give, I would willingly hand it over to whatever power

that holds what is left of me in exchange for one tangible second with her.

She shivers and leans in to her father’s embrace.

She has his thick black hair and dark, graceful eyes.

She has my complexion and my sharp-angled face.

“I feel like I do know her,” she says, and everything I am buzzes with love at the sound of her


In her words I see the life she has carried a part of me through.

I see her first steps - her first words - first falls - proud moments - first loves - first heartbreaks -

great sadnesses - moments of doubt - fights - long farewells - each milestone in becoming

exactly who she is in front of me.

I gave her all I could in the brief moment I held her, and she has done so very much with my all.

Jin kisses our daughter’s temple and sighs.

His eyes are welling.

I reach for him, and imagine I can touch him.

I watch them hold each other for what could be my forever.

We are united in a strange kind of sorrow.

Each of us are longing for a semblance of something that we can never have again, but budding

against the pain is the joy that it was ever had at all.

They have brought a bouquet of roses.

It is nearing sundown before they finally lay them at my memory and start to leave.

I follow them as closely as I can.

As she nears the exit, my baby turns back and looks towards the cemetery path.

She sees me.

She feels me.

I know.

Her eyes meet my moon-blue form, and I feel a pleasant pulsing.

She puts a hand to her heart and smiles, “Thank you, Mom.”

As the sun begins to set, I feel myself expand.

My energy will buzz in bees, sway in trees, swim the seas.

She knows that she is loved.

I am free.

Bookseller's Choice: T. E. Westergaard, Washington

The First Trophy

Synopsis: On his first mission, Ben just wants to prove himself to Clara, his best friend, and Zach, the slayer he idolizes and can't stop staring at.

“A cemetery,” Zach growled. “Such a cliché.”

“We didn’t choose it,” Ben pointed out. “The barrier is lower near gravestones. Much

clearer portal connection.”

Zach threw him a patient look. “Yeah, yeah.  I studied at

monster school, too.”

Ben shifted uneasily, biting his tongue. Zach was the slayer. He was just the apprentice.

Zach rolled his eyes. “Back up, would you? I don’t want you under foot when all hell breaks loose.”

All hell. Ben shivered.

Taking a deep breath, he turned in a slow circle. His gaze traveled the rounded edges of gravestones, worn thin and crooked with time. He peered through the lengthening shadows for unnatural darkness, strange patterns, ripples of displaced air.

He and Zach stood at the heart of the wooded cemetery. The perimeter deterrents they’d placed earlier that day should clear the five-acre park of people for tonight. A half-hour after twilight, the windows of the surrounding apartment buildings glowed yellow in the gloom.

“Omega say anything about who they might send us for backup?”

Ben finished his sweep. He thought about starting a second; decided that answering Zach now would cause less irritation

later . “Not to me.”

“But ...” Zach prompted. He was the best for several reasons – good ears, excellent reflexes, strong instincts.

Ben sighed. “I got the impression,” he said cautiously, “they might send Clara.”

Zach swore. “Seriously?”

Ben nodded, keeping his thoughts to himself. Zach’s swearing continued. Ben began another sweep. He was halfway around when curses turned to mutters. Ben caught, “...always her...” and “...fine on my own...”and “...probably checking up on the apprentice...”

“Doesn’t hurt to have another pair of eyes,” Ben suggested at last, finishing his second sweep.  Still clear.  No humans, no monsters. No portal.

Zach glared. “You know she won’t just sit back and watch.”

True. Clara was the only slayer with more trophies than Zach. Standing beside an opening portal would be too tempting

. She wouldn’t fall back as Zach’s second, whatever protocol dictated.

“In the briefing, Rho said he thinks this portal will be the biggest to open in the city since the Isolation,” Ben offered, gaze still moving. Smaller portals didn’t usually open alongside larger ones, but best to keep an eye out. “I’m sure there will be plenty of trophies to go around.”

Zach stopped scowling and quirked an amused eyebrow at Ben. “Apprentice, are you going to try to take a trophy tonight?”

“No!” Ben went red, hoping the gathering darkness would hide the blush. Zach had  a griffin trophy, which meant he had the

eyesight of an eagle, so probably not. “I’m planning to watch you and Cl – whoever they send. Isn’t that why I’m here?”

Zach nodded slowly, still smirking. “Truth.” As he turned away, Ben noticed the jagged scar behind his left ear, glowing faintly in the fading light. Zach’s files listed ten trophie between his jaw and shoulders. None on his face. These days, slayers only took concealable trophies. Before the Elimination Division brought the slayers to order, slayers took trophies everywhere.

“All right,” Zach said, rubbing absently at the jagged scar. Goblin, Ben thought, from the inverted curves at the edges and its small size. Maybe faun, although their teeth weren’t as sharp.

“Go find a place to set up. Use that fancy academy training to find the edge of the engagement field and stage the equipment

there. We don’t want anything getting past us.”

Ben swallowed. The small cemetery had visual cover: leafy trees, low bushes, and dilapidated gravestones. Good news for Ben, but bad news if anything got past Zach. The same cover hiding Ben would also hide a monster, which might escape the cemetery in the dark. Ben used Zach’s position to estimate a likely portal epicenter and backed up twenty feet.

He began unpacking his equipment behind a crooked headstone that read, “Here lies the body of.” The rest of the inscription had been rubbed out by the elements.  The breezes rolling through the cemetery blew downwind and kept the tree branches moving over Ben. Scent and visual cover both. Theta, his old training master, would approve.


Ben fell backward onto the grass. “¡Dios!” he gasped, rolling into a crouch.

Clara peered around the headstone, grinning. She put a finger to her lips, nodding toward Zach.  Ben could see the slayer twenty feet away, marking dance steps and singing Korean lyrics off key. BTS, no doubt. Zach hadn’t stopped listening to them since Ben played “Intro: Persona” for him two weeks ago.  His bias was RM.

Ben tried not to stare at him. Since becoming Zach’s apprentice, Ben spent a lot of time not staring, with varying degrees of success.

Clara disappeared from Ben’s side, sliding ghost-like between the headstones. Nobody could hear her move since she’d taken a manticore trophy two years ago. Ben had helped her prepare.

He bit his lip. Zach would kill him for not sounding a warning. Or maybe he’d be furious if Ben warned him. Since apprentice orientation, Zach’s mantra to Ben was, “Slayers take care of themselves.”

Ben finished setting up and checking his equipment. Nothing electrical, only mechanical.  The Elimination Division classed this mission an X-3: includes suspected storm-caster (typhos or siren).  No active electronics in engagement range.

Ben glanced up in time to see Clara launched herself at Zach. He couldn’t hear swearing.  Zach probably hadn’t been caught off-guard.

Ben considered moving closer to watch, brushing absently at his neck as he felt the sting of a late-June mosquito. His knuckles bumped against something hard and ice-cold, just as his knees
buckled. Too late, he realized his neck stung with a jab like a needle. Two needles. He
tried to call out but couldn’t draw breath.  Vampire?  Marsh faery?

His body twisted as he fell away from the anticipated epicenter of the portal. Directly behind him, a smaller portal rippled in front of a towering headstone.

My first mission, he thought as his head hit the grass.  I’m letting Clara down. She always believed in me. I never told Zach ... should have told him…

Shapes materialized out of the portal: minotaur, werewolf, kelpie, others he didn’t recognize. As Ben’s vision blurred, two shadows launched themselves over him, straight into the mass of monsters converging in front of the portal.


Ben blinked his eyes to clear them. He couldn’t see the portal.  Two shapes crouched over him, hazy outlines. A warm hand pressed his arm. A rough hand caressed his cheek.  

“Benji,” a voice said softly.  Clara.

“Holy hell, apprentice!” another voice growled above Ben. “Your first time out and you set up directly in front of a damned portal.”  Zach.

“What can I say?” Ben sighed. “I’m a wild and crazy dude.”

“We’re a terrible influence on you.” Clara’s face swam into view above him as his vision cleared. Smiling, calm.


“That must be it.”

Zach’s scowling face replaced Clara’s.  Irritated. Maybe anxious?  Ben felt something
sting his neck. One needle this time.  Antivenom. “I’m going to have my hands full, aren’t I?”

Ben smiled up at him, tubbing his trophy.  The first. “I sure hope so.”

Bookseller's Choice: Justin Browning, D. C.


“Why is Hamlet the only thing on my mind right now?”

As Sara made her way through the patchwork graveyard that seemed to have materialized
behind her family’s old church, she seemed to notice everything. Some tombstones were larger
than others, or darker, or more polished. Some were obviously falling into disrepair – even
though each one she passed was dated from the last three years. Some had bouquets of lilies or
daffodils from Easter, and Sara wondered if anyone had thought to bring flowers for her dad.
Since her family still wasn’t speaking to her – it was only through a friend of a friend that she
even found out where the gravesite was –being here just felt wrong. Every gentle breeze
carried a haunting chill and every oriole was glaring at her from the treetops.

“I don’t know, babe – but if he decides to make an appearance, I’m here with you. And I’ve
always wanted to fight a ghost.” Thank God that Lauren was here, because Sara wasn’t sure
that she could have gotten out of the car today without a support system. “But hey, I think it’s
this way.”

Sara knew they walking in the wrong direction already, but Lauren wasn’t one to take the
scenic route in navigating trauma – so she intertwined her fingers in her girlfriend’s and they
made their way towards her father-who-was-no-longer-her-father. Approaching the plot, the
same coolness from before resurfaced on Sara’s skin, but it didn’t seem to come from a breeze
as much as from within herself. There were a few scattered flowers wilting – probably from
Sara’s brother for the holiday – but with the heat in Florida they could have wilted in the past
day or so, especially if Jake forgot to add water to them (which is...likely).

Not one to seek attention, even in death, the stone was pretty standard – polished granite
and “Zachary Samuel Allen; 1974-2021” engraved dead center. There was no “loving husband
and father,” so he at least chose to be honest with the world. That’s a positive.

Looking at the ground where her father laid, holding the hand of someone who he very
much would not have wanted her to hold hands with (well, at least not after the news broke of
their relationship), she felt her chest tighten as her hand squeezed Lauren’s harder. The two
stood in silence – Lauren not wanting to commandeer the moment, and Sara not wanting to be
present in the moment at all. But as Sara’s grip loosened, Lauren gently let their hands fall

“I think that you need a minute alone – but I’ll be waiting over by the tree line whenever
you’re ready.” With that, Sara was alone with her ghosts.

For a minute, she stood in silence – unsure of what she wanted to say or if her mouth could
even form words from thoughts. When she felt resigned that the chill was here to stay, they
tried to come out – “Hey dad -”

Before she knew what was happening, the dam inside her broke. Every emotion that she’d
felt over the past two years swelled up at once, competing for which would hold precedence;
the grief for her dad combined with the longing her for family, both of which pressed against
the feeling of guilt that she should have reached out sooner, and all of those were mixing with
the relief of not walking on eggshells anymore – and then that was shortly replaced by more
guilt about feeling any positive emotion in the moment. Before that flood of feelings turned
into waterfalls, she just started speaking – hoping the words would bring more closure than any
tears could.

Taking a deep breath, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I wasn’t the son you had expected. And I’m
sorry that I couldn’t be. And I’m sorry that you couldn’t accept me after I learned to accept
myself. But I am so happy, dad. I have a life – one that I really enjoy. I have a partner who loves
and supports and encourages me. I have a family of friends who I would die for. And, for the
first time in my life, I feel like I am who I am supposed to be. Or at least I’m becoming that
person; and that person is me – not someone trying to fit in the mold that you and mom put me
in when I was born. I’m sorry that you never met the real me, and I’m sorry that you won’t get
to meet Lauren. Because I think you would like her. I hope that mom and Jake will want to meet
her, because I want my families to meet each other – before I miss my chance with them like I
did with you. But no matter what, I want you to know that I’m happy. And I’m so sorry that you
never had the chance to see me like this. I love you so much, dad. And I forgive you. I forgive
you for the shit you put me through, because it made me the woman I am today. I forgive you
for kicking me out, because otherwise I wouldn’t have met the family I have now. And I forgive
you for not understanding the parts of me that I always knew were the best parts. I love you,
dad. And I hope that you found peace eventually.”

Unsure when in her monologue she decided to sit, Sara ran her fingers through the grass
around her and just breathed in the humidity. The dampness of the morning dew on the ground
was seeping in through her shorts, but she didn’t care. Because for the first time in years, it felt
like the atmosphere around her was lighter, and she could breathe in the warmth of the sun
soaked air. She felt a gentle hand on her back between her shoulder blades and heard Lauren
sit down next to her. “How are you doing?”

Without looking up, Sara answered, tears still in her eyes, “Thank you for bringing me here
– I was so scared to see him again, even like this, but I feel better now than I ever have.” As she
looked over on the last words, she noticed that Lauren had a handful of yellow and purple
flowers – “I didn’t know what he would have liked, but I found some of these around the trees
over there. And I know they’re not traditional, but nothing feels more ‘Sara’ than a bunch of
wildflowers. Knocked out of someone’s garden and setting up roots wherever you land. Making
everything more beautiful than it was when you arrived.”

Speechless, Sara took them from Lauren’s hands and gently spread them out in front of the
stone. The two stood up together silently and started walking back towards the car before Sara
pulled Lauren in for a hug. “Thank you. For everything. For being you. For letting me be me. For
treating me with more kindness than I knew existed in the world. I love you so much, Lauren,
and I am so grateful for you. Every day.”

Lauren responded, firmly and warmly, “You deserve nothing but kindness, Sara.”