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Burning

I fought through the snow, shoving my gloved hands deep into my pocket, biting my lip. The plastic bag crinkled where it brushed against my leg. My footprints were the only depressions in the snow, nearly two feet in the last week. I didn’t want to go back, to come back, but I just couldn’t stay away. I needed to see him again, needed closure after everything that had happened lately. Even the Christmas spirit couldn’t bring lift me from my depression.
My legs felt weak just thinking of it all. I saw the old stone bench under the skeleton of an old oak tree and went over to sit down for awhile. I took my hat off, letting my hair fall freely around my face, then putting my hat back on. I remember a lot. The heat, the was he felt in my arms. He seemed so fragile, he always had. With just that single though the dam broke and the memories came washing over me in a flood.

I pulled him into my arms, hearing his crying, but all I could see was red, red and black. Alarms were going off all around me; I couldn't ignore them, but I couldn't do anything to stop them, the flames that leapt all around us. His cries ceased, I fell to my knees, coughing, gasping for breath.

I shuddered, but it had nothing to do with the subzero temperatures of late December. I felt so alone out here. I couldn't see anyone or any signs of civilization at all, except for the fence off in the distance. I had to press on, to find him, but with the way the wind howled around me, whipping my hair into my face, sometimes I couldn't even see the fence.
I used to jump that fence every single day, spend my afternoons sitting just beyond its borders, it was the only place I could be with him, Mark, my baby. Now I was here to see both of them, my boys. One of them a mirror image of me, the other a fiery haired rebel with a hero's spirit. I missed them so much my chest hurt, telling me I had been away far too long.
"Maggie, what are you doing here?" he asked me softly, putting his hand gently on my shoulder. I jumped a little, he had startled me. I hadn't even heard him approaching.

"Oh, hey. I was just...you know..." I held up the bag I had carried all the way here from the highway. They didn't even plow the driveway anymore, they hadn't in five years, and my family wouldn't put up a fight about it. I wish I could.
"Do you want me to do it, you don't have to put yourself through this again," he offered, I saw the smile leave his face. He sat down beside me, taking my hand.
"No, no, I have to do this, I need to do this," I insisted, he turned to face me.
"You need to stop going back. This is killing you, but you keep going," he told me. I shook my head.

"I know Simon, but every kid deserves a toy on Christmas," I replied softly, "And that's right where I lost him. Right where it all started."
I leaned against his shoulder, finding comfort in the warmth radiating from under his coat. Our breath mingled in the air while the snow continued to fall.

"I tried to stay away," I whispered, "I really did, but he was my brother, my baby. I practically raised him myself. I just need to remember that he's okay."

"Oh, Mags," he sighed. "You have something in there for Matt too, don't you?"

I was standing at the end of the hall, watching him through the flames as he told us to go. Giving me that little head tilted half smirk before turning to him in the fire. Ryan grabbed my arm, pulling me up the stairs, out of the building. I watched in shock as it collapsed, but he hadn't come out yet. I tried to run back, but Simon grabbed me, pinning me to the ground as I screamed.

"Yeah, I owe him. He did what he did for me," I answered, fighting back tears. I shook my head. "Never mind. I just need to keep going."
I stood up and started to walk away. He came after me, grabbing my arm. I tried to pull away. He held my arm tighter, pulling me back to him and turning me to face him.
"Maggie, this is not your fault. It was never your fault," he said urgently, trying to calm me down. He was the only one who could see when I was close to falling apart. "You did everything you could to save your brother-"
"Simon, please, don't..."

I fought my way back to my feet, trying to break through the burning, holding his little body tight to my chest, stumbling toward the stairs, but when I got there, it was too late, the stairs had already collapsed. I couldn’t see the window, and the whole house was groaning above us. I slipped behind the couch, trying to shelter us from falling debris and flames. My skin burned so much.

“No, you need to hear this. Matt choose to do what he did. He would rather have you alive than have to live one day with you dead. Just because he's not alive, they're not alive, doesn't mean that they aren't still watching you. Do you want your brother to see you like this, to know that you still break down every single time you go home because it reminds you of him? That you barely ever talk to your parents anymore except for when you're forced too?"
"Simon, beyond that fence, that was my home. Nothing else has ever felt right since. It doesn't matter that my parents and I lived together for ten years after. Home isn't with them, home is here." I fought to get away from him, feeling tears biting at my eyes. "Please let me go, please."
He released me, following me through the snow as I hopped the fence, navigating my way through the few headstones that had started popping up since this place had been turned into a cemetery. They had changed it only a month after my brother died.
I shook my head, trying to get rid of the memories as I reached the center of the cemetery. The little marble headstone with an angel on the side that was forever frozen in the action of pulling a veil over the headstone. I didn't read the tombstone, I didn't need to. I knew every word on it, it was imprinted in my head from the funeral, when they first unveiled it. They put it right where they found us inside the house.

I was barely conscious, barely even breathing, ashes heavy in my sore and tired lungs, but then a beam of light reached me. They were pulling the beams off the house away. They would be able to save us. I smiled weakly, holding my baby tighter. They were yelling. "She's alive! She's alive!"
Their hands appeared over the back of the couch, pulling it away and exposing us. They tried to lift me out, and I held on to my baby with all the feeble strength I had left. I heard my mother screaming, asking about her son, her only son. She didn't even care that I was slipping...

"Maggie, come back, please," Simon whispered to me. It scared him when I was sucked back into that horrible, dark place. I opened my bag, my hands shaking as I pulled out the teddy bear I had found. It looked just like the one he had loved... before the fire. A pale whitish yellow with dark brown spots. The family had all called it Cookie Dough. He had just learned how to say Cookie. I laughed softly, remembering his three year old smile. Remembering his laugh and the way he loved to be tickled, that little dump truck he threw out the window what seemed like every day.
Simon's phone went off then, causing him to jump. I was to lost to even realize it was his phone. All I heard was the song. Rascal Flatts, "I Won't Let Go."

As the coughing got worse, I curled around him, trying to keep the flames from his fragile body. I whispered softly to him, hoping to keep him here.
"You're safe with me, baby. Nothing can hurt you now, I won't let go, baby, never."



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