The ceremony with the luminaries is very similar to last year’s, except that I am feeling the pain of loss a lot more acutely. My face is somber as my eyes scan the table filled with drawings, letters, and memories of those we’ve lost.
As we gather around the bonfire, Francis begins to sing: “We rise again from ashes, from the good we’ve failed to do…” His voice is sweet and pure. One by one, people step forward and toss their luminaries into the flames. “We rise again from ashes, to create ourselves anew…”
I decide not to read my letter to Kimberly aloud; it’s too private. In it, I admit that right after she died, I was really angry with her for not being safer. I tell her how much I miss her salacious grin and goofy jokes. And I promise her that that I am going to make the world a better place, in her honor.
In the surrounding silence, Francis’ voice sounds louder than it actually is. “If all the world is ashes, then must our lives be true…”
When it’s my turn, I step forward, clutching my luminary tightly. I pause and take a deep breath, my heart aching, before throwing it into the flames. I watch them envelop the paper bag, my words scorching and turning into ash and smoke.
“An offering of ashes, an offering to you.”
After the drag show, I am sitting at one of the tables outside when Artie appears next to me, beaming, and trailed by Francis.
“What’s up?” I ask. “You look happy.”
“Well,” he says, “umm… “ He blushes slightly and glances at Francis, who is smiling shyly.
I look from Artie to Francis and back to Artie again, a smile spreading across my face. “You know… it’s about time! I always knew you two were meant to be together. I’m just glad you finally figured it out.” I laugh at the stunned look on his face. I hug him and kiss his cheek, then turn to Francis. “You’re good for him,” I say, sticking out my hand to shake. “Besides… it’s good to have someone to distract him and keep him out of my hair!”
“Hey!” Artie protests, laughing.
Francis accepts my handshake. “Thank you.”
I narrow my eyes slightly. “You’d better be good for him,” I warn, but my eyes twinkle when I say it, and he laughs.
“You’re a star,” I tell Joani, putting a sticker on her collar.
“You’re a star!” I tell Steven, putting one on his leather vest.
Artie watches, bemused, as I tell Francis, “You’re a star!” and press a sticker to the front of each his shirt. I turn to Artie and and smile back at him. “And you,” I say, putting a sticker on his shirt, “are my world.” I kiss his cheek.
“Awww, Katherine,” he says, hugging me.
“Oh! By the way… I wanted to show you this.” I look around to make sure no one else is watching, and pull a jewelry box from my pocket. “What do you think?”
He peers inside to see a gold band and a large “M” glittering with diamonds. “Oh, Katherine! It’s beautiful!”
Francis’ eyes widen. He comes closer and whispers, “Is that what I think it is?” I nod. “Wow! Congratulations!” He shakes my hand.
“Thanks,” I say, smiling from ear to ear. “I haven’t asked her yet, but… tonight. At dinner.”