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There is nothing as sad as a new headstone. Perfectly cut, etched in granite, cold as the truth – a loved one is dead.

Harley Robb fingered the words “loving sister” scribed under the name Jessica. The sharp edges cut into his skin, their meaning crippled his soul. Nearly three years of desperate search, thirty-three months of hope slowly fading, a tortured yearning, a family’s determination defeated by time and circumstance. There was no way she could be alive and he knew it.

The headstone was only a symbol. It marked a life not a body. Harley, his two older sisters and parents, would never get that kind of closure. It was a stake in the ground –a stand - a farewell – a white flag.

Harley laid a small pendant on the top of the stone. On its face a gold relief of St Francis, the patron saint of animals. Jessica had loved animals. “Merry Christmas, Jess,” Harley said quietly. He looked around the old cemetery. It was filled with crypts and mausoleums – all above ground, typical of New Orleans. Only Jessica’s plot was without a structure. There was no need.

She had walked out of their Kenner Louisiana home for spring break and that was the last they saw of her.

Harley came to the cemetery often since his father finally allowed the headstone to be placed. There was something about being amongst the dead that fascinated him. It was oddly comforting.

“How can the dead make you feel alive?” he wondered. At fourteen years of age he blamed his inability to answer the question on his lack of spiritual depth – something he recently began to explore. This wasn’t the daredevil, running-through-the-cemetery-at-night feeling his friends had… there was a connection to the dead, it was like a knocking on the door and he didn’t know how to answer it – or if he even wanted to.

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