Home > Beautiful Graves

Beautiful Graves
Author: L.J. Shen











































The things that we love tell us what we are.

—Saint Thomas Aquinas

Hope is a waking dream.





Duran Duran—“Save a Prayer”

Oasis—“Don’t Look Back in Anger”

Annie Lennox—“No More ‘I Love You’s’”


The Hollies—“The Air That I Breathe”

Goldfinger—“Put the Knife Away”




This is not how I imagined I’d enter this church.

Wearing a black garment, my eyes sunken, my lips chapped.

The only thing roiling in my stomach right now is a lukewarm cup of coffee I gulped in one go to wash down the Valium.

Despite everyone I know being here, supporting me, I know it doesn’t matter. The thing about tragedies is, you can never outrun the Big Alone. At some point, it catches up with you. In the middle of the night. When you’re taking a hasty shower. When you roll in bed and the linen is pressed and smooth where your lover should be.

The big moments in your life are always experienced in solitude.

But I’m not ready to say goodbye.

“You don’t have to stay for the burial,” Dad, practical and to the point, tells me. We pass by people. I keep my gaze firmly on the church’s doors, refusing eye contact. “They’ll understand. You’re going through hell right now.”

Maybe it’s wrong not to care what people think, but I genuinely don’t. I’m not going to be here when the casket is lowered to the ground. I’ll be long gone before everyone falls apart. Before it becomes real. Maybe it makes me a coward, but I just can’t take it. Another premature goodbye.

“I bet he’ll have a beautiful grave.” I hear my own voice. It rises from the pit of my stomach, like bile. “Everything about him is beautiful.”

“Was,” a voice behind me corrects.

I don’t need to turn around to know who it belongs to.

It’s the man who holds the other piece of my heart.

And that’s it—I can’t take it anymore. Two feet from the church’s doors, I sink to my knees, drop my head, and begin to cry. Mourners around me murmur in hushed voices. Poor child and Not her first tragedy and What is she going to do now?

They’re not wrong. I have no idea what I’ll do. Because even in the best of times, I’ve always been torn.

Between the man I am about to bury.

And the man standing behind my back.








It starts with a dare on La Rambla Street.

With my best friend’s callous attempt to catch some guy’s attention.

“You’re killing yourself, bro.”

Pippa reaches for a cigarette clasped inside his mouth. She withdraws it from his lips and snaps it in two.

It’s our first hour in Barcelona, and already she is looking for creative ways to get us both killed.

“Here. You’re welcome. Just saved you from cancer.” With a toss of her ombré hair, she slips past the sliding doors of a pharmacy, leaving the guy to stand there.

“Sorry. We forgot to pack her manners.” I yank my earphones out of my ears, muttering to the smoker on the curb.

This is what we do, Pippa and I. She starts fires; I put them out. She runs hot and messy; I’m as emotionless as an ice statue at a royal wedding. She could get it on with a lamppost, and I . . . well, I still suspect I might be asexual, despite (or maybe because of?) losing my virginity a couple of months ago.

Pippa and I go way back. We met on the first day of kindergarten and fought over the same sorting cube (which, legend says, she bashed my head with). We’ve been inseparable ever since.

I’m the macabre, army-booted goth girl to her shining, Technicolor Ariana Grande self.

We went to the same elementary school, same middle school, same high school, and same summer camps.

Now, Pippa and I are both enrolled in UC Berkeley.

It was Pippa’s idea to go to Spain for two weeks. A last hurrah before we start school. She is half-Spanish from her mother’s side, and one of her aunts, Alma, lives in Barcelona, which means a free place for us to crash.

“Let’s make a new rule.” I adjust my backpack over one shoulder as we dip below the green, glowing FARMACIA: 24 HORAS sign. “No more aggravating the locals. If your ass gets in a street fight, I’m going to walk past and pretend I don’t know you.”

That’s a lie. I’d take a bullet for her. It’s just that I would strongly prefer not to.

“Please.” Pippa snorts, picking up a green basket on her way to the personal-hygiene section. “We have two weeks to let our crazy hang out before we get back to reality. College is serious business, Lawson. Now’s exactly the time to get in a street fight. Especially with a hottie like that dude.”

She tosses shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, and two toothbrushes into our basket. I add Tylenol, sunscreen, and body lotion. Neither of us wanted to pack anything that could detonate in our suitcases.

Pippa stops in the middle of the aisle with shaving supplies. “Do you think they sell Plan B over the counter here?”

“Why? Are you planning on having unprotected sex with a rando?” I ask.

“Your girl is curious, okay? Nobody said anything about taking it.” She shrugs, then grabs my hand and tugs me to the next aisle. I’m aware we’re about five decibels louder than everyone else in the store. It’s not empty either. There’s an elderly couple talking to the pharmacist, a pregnant lady squinting at a laxative bottle, and a bunch of guys in soccer uniforms checking out jock itch creams.

She stops by what we refer to as the Sexy Time aisle. Pippa runs a flame-tipped stiletto fingernail over different products.

“Don’t forget to buy condoms.” I nibble on my black nail polish, desperate to get out of here. I want to throw myself into her aunt’s shower and wash away the twelve-hour flight, then decompress. “You know, just in case you change your mind about bringing back chlamydia as a souvenir.”

“Chlamydia is a lame souvenir.” Pippa swings her gaze my way, grinning. “We need a real souvenir. We’re getting tatted here.”

“You’re getting tatted here,” I correct. “I’m not.”

“Why? It’s not like you have a fear of needles.” She eyeballs my septum ring, popping an eyebrow.

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