Fifteen years.

Fifteen years, and this is what we've come to. Funny, I used to think things would get better.

I used to think a lot of things, and most of them were wrong. Maybe not wrong, just young. There were a dozen of us once, that first time, and I thought we were friends for life, I thought we were bonded. I thought Quin was the catalyst, not the glue; maybe I even thought we'd be stronger without him, once we'd found our own reasons to be together.

What I didn't know: you could make a book, out of that. I didn't know that everything abrades with time, I didn't know how the world gets in the way. Distance is damage by stealth, you don't notice how far you've ripped apart. New partners, new jobs, new lives. New deaths. It all mounts up, it all grinds you down. Time as glacier and we're the rubble, the moraine, all churned around. There were a dozen of us once, and now we're down to three, and none of us is comfy. I don't think I'll be doing this again.

What they never realised, any of them, they could all move on and I wasn't allowed to. I had been what Quin came home to; that gave me a rank, a standing different from theirs, and the whole point about standing is that it's a fixed point in a turning world. I was the axis, their touchstone, where they tested their new choices against what and where they were before. They went away and came back and went again but I had to stay, just here, just so. I was a walking monument to Quin and they had to keep checking, to be sure I didn't walk too far.

It's not what a life is for, but I was stuck with it. Still am. No one really cares any more, only that it's far too late to change. So I still live here, sacred spot, the earth dimpled where Quin trod; I wear my bright plumage - for his sake, they think, not seeing it's for theirs; how should they see, when they really don't care? - and screech like a screechy thing, act up like I'm acting up, and even I can't tell what's for real any more.

I need to get out of here, I need to stop doing this. I'm just not sure that I need it enough. Maybe I simply won't ask them, next year. Leave it, and see if they turn up anyway. Next year it's a Monday, week's worst day for a party; that'll help.

For now - well, they're here. Stephen, Didge. Mustn't call him Didge, he's a big boy now. Just the two of them, and me, and missing Micky. The singletons, and me who's married to a ghost, and the ghost I'm not married to. The one we killed. Well, maybe.

Everyone else? Well out of it.

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