Word Count: 528
Story: Flowers For Your Grave
"...happy birthday to me," The last notes of the tune floated out from his throat hoarsely, fluttering through the air and disappearing with a bitter aftertaste. A single cupcake with an unlit candle sat in front of him on the counter, clutter-less for once.
Today was his day off from the office. Dressed in ratty kahkis and an old band tee shirt, one would never guess that the man sitting at the counter was a certified veterinarian. Dr. Leonard Stephens apathetically fumbled with the matchbook, too small in his meaty hands. Finally, he managed to get the candle lit.
"Happy birthday to you too, Connor," Leo's voice was barely audible over the roar of the air conditioning unit in his apartment building.
It was June 5th, and Leo's thirty seventh birthday. But that didn't matter. Not anymore. Today was the third anniversary of Connor's passing. Besides their parents, Connor's death had weighed most heavily upon his twin. While Leo had been pursuing the veterinary field, Connor had been one of the thousands of troops overseas. And when the news that he had died while fulfilling a lifelong dream and snorkeling in the Mediterranean where he had been posted had reached home, the family was beyond devastated. Even though the official cause of death remained unknown, the doctors suspected jellyfish or stingray venom.
Even though they were fraternal twins, the Stephens boys had loved the fact that they each had a birthmark, a tight cluster of freckles. Connor's had been on the outer side of his left calf, and Leo's on the back of his left elbow. Hardly identical, but it was still one more thing that they shared.
And now, as Leo snuffed the candle and got up, his newer, commemorative 'birthmark' came out from hiding under the counter ledge. It was in the exact same place Connor's real birthmark had been, but instead of a cluster of freckles, it was Connor's name.
Except, it wasn't exactly. There was a neat story behind Leo's tattoo, and if anyone ever asked, he was glad to tell them. When their parents had found out that they were expecting twins, they were ecstatic. And so the twin boys were named accordingly. 'Connor' was a name that meant 'dog lover', or 'wolf lover'. 'Leonard', of course, was a name for a lion. And their surname, Stephens, meant 'crown'. And so, Connor Stephens was inked into Leo's calf in the form of a crowned wolf.
Leo made his way towards the door in his apartment, snatching his long coat from the peg on the wall. Fishing the keys out of his pocket, he spared a look out the window. In the light of the setting sun, obese, rolling thunderheads moved in across the sky. He quickly made his way to the two open windows, slamming them shut and locking them, lest it rain while he was away. He grabbed his favorite hat, one of Connor's old ones, actually, off another peg in hallway corridor.
Placing the hat on his head, he stepped out of his apartment, pausing only to snatch a cluster of flowers for the grave on his way out the door.