Raindrops for Ryan

"You're quiet today, Kaeli," Sera Wallace said. "I normally don't do that much talking at breakfast. You always have some adventure going on in your life."

Kaeli Hilliard walked quietly beside her friend down the sidewalk. Her straight auburn hair lay limply on either side of her face, her violet-blue eyes dim like the gray fleecy clouds above. Across the street, a small dingy cross tilted under the weight of a wreath of faded purple chrysanthemums. Someone had stenciled "Ryan" on its arms. Kaeli stopped.

Sera followed her friend's gaze to Ryan's cross. "I'm sorry, Kaeli. We shouldn't have taken this way. I just discovered this short cut to my apartment last week. I didn't even think—"

"He would have been eighteen tomorrow."

Light rain pattered against the sidewalk, sprinkling the women's hair and shoulders on the way down.

"Come on. We should get out of the rain."

Kaeli did not remove her eyes from the cross. "I hated him."

Sera stared at her friend's expressionless face, hoping she had not heard correctly. "Kaeli?"

"I hated him because of how he acted, how much of a jerk he was, you know?"

Sera nodded, relaxing a little. "He would have grown up...eventually."

"But he didn't have eventually! He got to high school jock, and that's how he'll stay because that drunk..." Kaeli lowered her eyes to the ground then up to Sera. "He didn't even get to go to his senior prom."

"He would have been Prom King," Sera said. "That's how he was, loved by everyone."

"Not by me." Her eyes returned to the ground.

"You loved him, Kaeli. You just didn't like him. I mean, he's your little brother. You're not supposed to like him."

"You go on. I'll be okay."

"But it's raining!" Sera protested, throwing out her arms for the rain to splatter against.

"I don't mind."

Sera shook her head, shrugging the corners of her mouth. "I'll call you later," she said and hurried down the sidewalk.

Kaeli sat down on the curb, her eyes fixed on Ryan's cross. She fiddled absentmindedly with the factory-made hole in her jeans. Footsteps clopped behind her, ushering their owners to shelter. Raindrops mingled with the tears dripping down her cheeks.

"I haven't cried for you," she whispered. "Until now. These are for you, Ryan."