“Do you have the cakes ready, Savannah?” Morgan asked. Savannah nodded and brought them out to the dining room, one by one, lighting thirteen candles on top of the first one and one candle on top of the second. Morgan gave a weak smile as William shuffled into the room, looking downcast. It had been exactly one year today since Margaret’s death, but a single year couldn’t heal the pain of losing her. Morgan was starting to smile a little easier, though. Savannah wasn’t sure if it was really because she was healing or if she was just trying to put on a brave face for her family.

“Hey Will, ready for your birthday party?” Savannah asked, trying to keep things upbeat. William shrugged.

“I guess…” he mumbled. “I wish Mom was here.” Savannah bit her lip and gave a sideways glance at Morgan, who looked in danger of dissolving into tears.

“We’ll be right back, Will,” Savannah said quickly, ushering Morgan into the empty kitchen. Morgan’s tears spilled over and Savannah pulled her into a hug.

“I miss her so much…” Morgan whispered. “She was such a good mom. She changed her whole life around to raise Will and I right. She was too young to die. I can’t believe it’s been a year. How could I live without my mom for a year?”

“I know,” Savannah sighed. “But let’s try to make Will and Johnny’s party a good one. Your mom would have wanted that. She wouldn’t have wanted everyone crying over her at her sons’ birthday party,” she pointed out gently. Morgan sniffed and nodded. She knew Savannah was right.

Miraj appeared in the dining room, holding Johnny. He barely looked at him. Miraj had spent very little time with the baby since he was born. The memories of his wife haunted him every time he looked into Johnathon’s eyes. Logically, he knew Johnathon wasn’t responsible for Margaret’s death. He was just a baby, but some guilty part inside him blamed him. A darker part of Miraj told him that Johnathon killed his wife and he hated himself for thinking that. It caused him countless sleepless nights, struggling between blaming himself for choosing the baby over his precious Margaret, blaming Johnathon for causing her death and hating himself for both of those thoughts.

Morgan was angry with her step-father for shirking his duties as a father, but she also understood how hard it must be to look into your child’s eyes and see the ghost of someone you loved and lost. Morgan and Savannah had pretty much stepped in to be Johnathon’s parents, feeding him and playing with him and tucking him in at night. Morgan felt more like Johnathon’s mother than his sister.

She felt a tugging on her shorts and looked down to see William. “Can we blow out our candles now?” he asked. Morgan gave a small smile and ruffled his hair.

“Sure,” she signed. She walked over to Miraj to take the baby out of his hands. He didn’t even seem to register that he wasn’t holding anything anymore. “Why don’t you go, first, Will? I don’t think Johnny will mind. He can’t even talk, yet,” she said with a feeble grin. Savannah smiled. At least she was attempting some humour these days, even if it was half-hearted.

William nodded and stepped up to his cake, took a deep breath and blew out all his candles. Without a word, he dashed upstairs to give himself a change of appearance while everyone waited downstairs. Johnny started getting fussy and Savannah took him for a while, bouncing him gently up and down and murmuring quietly to him. She was a natural with children. Morgan wondered if Savannah was in any hurry to start a family with her. She’d been living with them for a year, but so far hadn’t mentioned anything about marriage or children to Morgan, which worried her. She tried to put the thought out of her mind for the moment.

William came downstairs and Morgan’s jaw gaped. Was that her baby brother? He was hardly recognizable… and not in a good way. She couldn’t even see his warm violet eyes underneath all that thick black eyeliner and spiky hair. He wore skin-tight leggings and a tight black t-shirt with skull print all over it with a spiked collar and Converse sneakers. Morgan inwardly groaned. Great! My brother’s an emo kid, she sighed to herself.

“Uh, Will? Don’t you think you’re a bit… dark?” Savannah asked with a raised eyebrow. William scowled.

“I’m dark because my soul is dark. My torturous past must not be kept hidden in the depths of my wounded heart. It must be expressed outwardly so the world will know of my pain and grief,” he said mournfully.

Morgan opened her mouth to angrily tell him that his little sympathy act was nothing but a bunch of bullshit and that she wasn’t buying any of it, but Savannah put a hand on her forearm and shook her head, giving her a look that clearly said not to explode and ruin the day. Johnathon hadn’t even had his chance to blow out his candles, yet. Morgan gave William a very sour look before carrying the baby over to the cake and forcing a smile for Johnathon on his special day.

“Happy birthday, Johnny,” Morgan whispered, leaning over the cake to blow out his candle for him.

As she set him down on the floor with a quick kiss to his forehead, everyone took in a pained gasp. It was like looking at a reflection of Margaret. Johnathon had pale skin with brilliantly blue eyes and auburn-brunette hair. Every feature of his face was the spitting image of his mother. Morgan’s eyes filled with tears, but she blinked them back quickly, trying to show that she was happy about Johnathon’s birthday.

Miraj gazed down at Johnathon for a moment with empty, haunted eyes before wincing and turning away, unable to look at his own son any longer. He turned his back on the toddler and seemed to float away like a phantom without a single word. Johnathon’s blue eyes narrowed in confusion and his bottom lip started trembling. Why was everyone so sad? It was his birthday! Why wasn’t anyone happy?

“Don’t cry, Johnny,” Savannah murmured, picking him up and snuggling him close. “Shhh… it’s okay. You want to go play with your new toys?” she asked softly. Johnathon sniffled and nodded, burying his face into Savannah’s shoulder. William gave Johnathon a very nasty glare before stomping out of the dining room to look himself up in the dungeon he called his bedroom.

“He looks so much like Mom,” Morgan uttered in a pained whisper, stroking his hair. Savannah nodded and kissed her.

“I know. It’s hard,” she admitted. “I’ll take him upstairs and play with him for a while. Hopefully it’ll tire him out enough tonight to sleep for more than a couple hours and we’ll be able to get a good night’s rest for once,” she chuckled weakly. Morgan nodded numbly, her eyes distant, and Savannah frowned. “Will you be okay?”

“Yeah…” she murmured softly. “I think I’m going to go visit her, actually. It’s the one year anniversary. Someone should go give her some fresh flowers.”

Morgan sat beside her mother’s tombstone, tears coursing down her cheeks. “You should see Johnathon now, Mom,” she whispered. “He looks so much like you. I think it hurts Miraj to be around him, because he reminds him of you,” she admitted. “I know you’re watching over us from somewhere, so please help Miraj, Mom. He hasn’t been much of a father to any of us since you died. It makes me angry, but I know it’s just as hard for him as any of us, so please help him. Savannah’s been an angel through it all. She’s helped everyone through your death so much. I don’t know if I could have been strong enough to carry on without you if she hadn’t been there. I love her, Mom.’

She looked down at the tombstone, expecting a response of some sort, but of course, there was none. She would never hear her mother’s voice again. She would never feel her comforting hug or her motherly kisses again. She would never see her smile or hear her laugh again. “I keep expecting you to come back home,” Morgan choked out, the tears blinding her. “Every day, I have this hope that you’re going to walk through the door in your lab coat like any other normal day and wonder why everyone’s crying, but that’s not going to happen, is it? It’s so unreal to live in a world that doesn’t have you in it…”

A moving figure in the distance caught Morgan’s attention and she looked up. A man stood just outside the gates of the cemetery, his face blank and unreadable. Morgan knew who he was. It was her Uncle VJ, the deadbeat who beat his son and girlfriend and was in and out of jail so often, everyone in the family had lost count. Her step-father’s brother and her cousin’s father. Her eyes narrowed. What was he doing here?

She was about to stand up and tell him he wasn’t welcome here, but VJ made no attempt to approach Morgan or enter the cemetery. He stared at Morgan for a moment with a scrutinizing expression and glanced at Margaret’s grave before giving Morgan a curt nod and continuing on his way.

What the hell was that about? Morgan wondered.