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Author's note: Companion piece to "The Poem."

Not So Alone
by Ashley

I like playing football, I always have, but somewhere along the way, it became tainted with popularity. Well at least the prospect of popularity. Even when I was young I wanted to be that guy, the guy I am now, the guy that is just the mask of a me. I like the game, the rush, and the sheer strength I need, at least thatís what use to keep me playing. Now I just keep doing it because its what is expected for that guy to do. Usually my mask is more than just a cover it's my shield, a suit armor built to withstand the blows of the "jealous", but yesterday my armor failed me, death with it sharp tapered edge, sliced through my protection and I was left with a wound that may never heal.

Just the thought of my father leaves me aching and breathless. He was a man and I his son, that to some seems like a shallow explanation of what we had, yet its the simplest and most profound of what we shared. He taught me the truth of love, life and work. That love doesn't deplete the man in you but makes the man. I remember that during these lessons I thought that he was just to old, now I look and analyze his words, like an astronomer to the stars.

Lana quietly sits down my brewing cup of coffee, she looks at me amount with mixed emotions, before offering a smile and going back to her job. I love her, I know I do, maybe only as much as a boy can love but its still true. I love her because she is my beacon, my light, she reminds me of the good in the world. I know something else hides inside her, something darker, something not so nice and I love her for that to, because I can see the mask she wears and I don't feel like I'm hiding on my own. I know she misses her parents but I wonder if it hurts like mine, she misses what she never knew, I miss the things I can no longer have. As selfish as these thoughts are they still bounce inside me. She doesn't remember their stories, their kisses, their love. I remember, the slap of his ha d on my shoulder as his silent way of being their. I remember his cheers at every football game, I have every played. This is what causes the aching and sorrow inside me, the memories of what I have lost, I want I can never have again. I sip my coffee, I like the warmth it brings, its cold outside and even colder inside. Its still raining, it never stopped. I hope the rain can wash away the stagnant smell of death that is still haunting the town but right now death is still hanging in the air. I suppose it won't fade away any time soon, to many have died for the air of sorrow to be lifted.

Chloe just came in, looking wet and maybe just a little afraid. A bitter laugh want to make its way out at the thought of the proud Chloe Sullivan afraid. I was going to allow the laughter to flow but she stopped my table. I hate this part of living after someone has died, the "I'm sorrys" from everyone and the way you always have to acknowledge that it wasn't their fault but when our eyes meet, she nod her head and says nothing. She hands me a piece of paper and touches my shoulder and smiles before turning and walking away. I don't open the paper right away, I am to busy staring at the spot I have last seen her. Chloe doesn't seem like a sentimental person, she seems tough and rough around the edges, bitter and cynical with just a touch of bounce and perk. I wonder what this could mean, we are by no means friends and yet she came to the funeral and sought me out today. I slowly open the paper,

I measure every grief I meet With analytic eyes; I wonder if it weighs like mine, Or has an easier size.

I feel tears burning their way down my face, my heart feels as though it has stop, all I can think is how did she know I can not finish reading, it causes to much pain in my heart but something keeps me holding on to the paper, the paper that is damp from the rain and soaked with my tears.

I don't remember much of the funeral, only who came. I didn't hear the words that day. I was to busy looking at this place my father was going to be. I don't remember the sobs of my mother or even the presence of Lana beside me. I only remember the sound of the dirt hitting the coffin. How each piece of dirt became the memories we had yet share. My graduation, the day of my wedding, the birth of my first child and so many more that somehow he would never be there for. I could not grasp this fact, this truth that was staring at me with its dark hole that was being filled even now with my metaphoric memories. I could only remember what they say, that they never leave, that the dead remain in spirit. I hate this saying, I hate it because I don't need a spirit, I need my father. I need to hear the pride he feels the day I graduate. The love he has for me. Knowing is nothing, being shown is what I need, its what I crave from him. I know that I am crying now, here in The Talon, in front of the few patrons that have decide to defy the cold rainy weather and for once I don't care if they steal a glimpse of the man behind the jock mask.

I unfold the paper again and read, this time I read it all, I read through the aching of my heart. When I am done I fold it back up. The pain is still their but something has shifted, I don't know what but the pressure is gone. I look around and spot Lana who is looking at me and heading over, I think of Kwan's son and last of Chloe, a friend I didn't know I had and think that maybe I'm not so alone after all.