Written for a friend.
"The lights on Rodeo look so fabulous this year," Langston Wilde enthused as she walked into the bedroom Starr had been sequestered in more often than not over the past eight months. She just had a hard time being in Los Angeles and not thinking of what could have been, what should have been. She had briefly tried getting into the music business. Several record companies had been interested but in the end, she turned down every contract that was thrown her way.
"Awesome," Starr said in a decidedly unenthusiastic and quiet voice. She was sitting by the window looking out at the city's bright skyline but not really seeing it. It was Christmas Eve and she could have been excited but she wasn't. It was another Christmas season that she wasn't spending with her daughter and Cole. She had loved Michael too but not in that way, not in that heart aching way. She had thought she was doing okay for awhile but once the lights started popping up all over town and the weather took on a chilly bite, she had started to sink into a deep depression that she didn't think she would ever be free from. Maybe she didn't deserve to be. She had moved on so fast with Michael and then she had dumped him because she realized she could never give him what he needed and deserved.
Langston rested her hands on her slim hips for a moment. "I know that look. You're upset."
Starr shrugged. What was the point of denying it? "Yeah. This is the second Christmas …" Her voice trailed off as a sob she hadn't known she was holding escaped her lips. Langston was immediately joining her on the window seat and hugging Starr tightly to her. Starr's head went to Langston skinny shoulder and her tears dampened the fabric of Langston's snazzy red sweater.
Langston rubbed her back in slow, soft circles. "Let it all out, Starr. It's okay."
Fat teardrops rolled down Starr's cheeks. "I thought I could move on. That I had but … it's still Cole and god my daughter, my sweet Hope. I miss her so much. I need them back. I need them back so much. And they're not coming back and I know that in my head but I can't accept it in my heart. I tried to move on. I tried but it didn't feel right and I feel bad for even trying."
"Don't, Starr. Hope and Cole loved you so much too. Don't ever forget that. They're with the angels now and they don't want you to keep punishing yourself for trying to find happiness."
"There is no happiness without them," Starr sniffed. "It's all just as fake and artificial as the Christmas lights strung everywhere."
Langston rubbed her back some more. "I can only imagine how much you're hurting, Starr, but just don't forget how much they loved you. They're your guardian angels now. I never really believed in that stuff before but I do now. I know they want you to be okay."
Starr bit her trembling bottom lip. "I'm trying. Maybe I will be, someday." Her blurry eyes could just make out the numbers then on the alarm clock next to her. "It's almost seven. Aren't you supposed to be meeting Markko at that industry Christmas party at the Spelling mansion?"
"I don't need to go," Langston said. "I'd rather stay in tonight anyway."
"Lang, no. You have to go. Aaron Sorkin will be there and you can show him that script idea – the one you and Markko want to collaborate on with him so badly. It may be your only chance."
"I'm not leaving you."
"I insist, okay? I don't want to have a pity party all night anyway." Starr wiped her tears determinedly. "Go on. Go. I'll be fine. I will keep moving forward."
"They were my family; they were the two people I loved most in the world. But they're gone and I need to start accepting that. So go. I just want to take a long hot shower anyway and then go to bed a little early."
"You should come to the party with me. Markko is worried about you too."
"I'm going to be fine. Okay. You two can't put your lives on hold forever just to hold my hand."
"We love you. You mean so much to us."
"I know, Lang. I feel exactly the same way. I just don't want to ruin this night for you. This could be your big break and I won't let you miss it." She smiled as best as she could. "Now go, okay?"
"Are you really sure?" Langston asked.
"Yeah. Now go before you're more than just fashionably late." Starr hugged Langston and she returned the embrace.
Langston sighed. "Alright I'll go. But if you need anything I've got my cell phone."
"I know. Thanks for being so good to me."
"You're my bff. Yes, my bff and as silly as that acronym is, it's true. I love you, Starr."
"I love you too, bff." Starr watched Langston offer her a smile and a wave and Starr reciprocated as best as she could.
Then Langston was gone and Starr was alone. Again.
Starr took a long hot shower and cried the whole time. She felt so pathetic but couldn't hide or control her grief, especially when her watchful, wonderful friends weren't looking. She was trying to be strong so that they wouldn't worry about her so much but it was getting harder and harder to keep it together. Time was supposed to heal all wounds but the sores were too deep and raw still. In fact, they seemed to hurt more than ever.
Starr had just slipped into a pair of comfy sweats and a tee-shirt and was about to climb into bed when she heard someone ringing the doorbell. She didn't intend to answer it. It was probably some well-wisher or caroling group and she wasn't in the mood. She would just ignore them until they went away.
But they didn't. Rather they were leaning on the bell now. Starr grimaced and knew this person was persistent and not going away until she opened the door. She gritted her teeth as she padded bare-footed down the hall to the front door. She didn't know if she could endure happy people right now but what could she do? She wasn't going to let herself be a total Grinch and ruin others Christmas season just because she was depressed.
She put her hand on the door knob, trying to gather her strength and wits about her. She took a really deep breath and then opened the door. Any response she'd had was wiped from her lips as she saw who was standing there. She couldn't speak. All she could do was stare.
"No," she finally choked out. "You're … No. This is just my imagination working overtime. This is what I wanted most so…" She shook her head. "No, Cole, no. You're not real. I saw you and Hope go over a cliff! We never found your bodies but …"
"You didn't. Because we weren't gone. We were out there, just fighting to come home to you."
Starr swallowed hard and fresh tears poured down her face. Cole stepped aside and a young girl who she would know anywhere, despite the fact that she had grown at least two inches, was standing there in the middle of the hallway. The girl was the spitting image of Cole with her dark hair and gorgeous green eyes. But she had Starr's smile and it was just as watery as Starr's.
Starr dropped to her knees immediately and held out her arms to the little girl. Even if this was just a really good dream, she wanted to hold her not-so-little-anymore, little girl. She held out her arms and Hope didn't hesitate a second. She was instantly stepping into her mother's open arms.
"You feel so real," Starr murmured. She held Hope tightly as she dared. The little girl buried her equally teary face in the locks of Starr's long blonde hair.
"She's real," Cole said in a hoarse voice. "She's as real as you are, Starr. So am I."
Starr looked up at Cole's still so handsome face. His cheeks were stubbled; he had a five o'clock shadow but it was the face of the one man she had truly loved with all of her heart. She continued to clutch Hope to her, breathing in the scent of her sweet baby shampoo-scented hair. "This is a miracle," Starr said. "But how – how did this happen? How can this be?"
All Starr's fondest dreams and wishes were unfolding before her eyes and she still couldn't believe it even with the warmth of Hope in her arms. She hugged Hope and then stood up and pulled the girl up to her hip. "You're so heavy," Starr said with a happy laugh. "You're so big. I can't believe it."
"Mommy," Hope said.
Starr touched her daughter's cheek. "Yes, I'm your Mommy. And I love you."
"She loves you too, Starr," Cole said and Starr looked at Cole again. "And I love you. I know things change but … that will never change."
"I feel the same," Starr said and she leaned forward and kissed Cole on the lips. She tasted salt and didn't know who was crying harder in that moment - her or Cole. "I love you, Cole. Forever."
Sometime later, Starr and her newly returned love ones were resting on the couch. They had gorged themselves on candy and holiday goodies that had been sitting around the apartment and they were stuffed. Before long Hope's sugar rush had dissipated and she crashed – on Starr's shoulder, just where she had always belonged.
Starr lightly rocked Hope as she had when Hope was just a little one. Tears stained her cheeks but they were happy tears this time. She felt Cole reach out and thread their fingers. She smiled at him. "I am so glad you're back. I can't believe it but I want to."
"Believe it, okay? We're here and we're never leaving you again."
"Where were you? It's been almost two years …"
Cole sighed and his eyes darkened a bit, as if he was in the midst of reliving a dark memory. And he was. "It's a long, sad story. I don't want to talk about it right now, okay? We will, just not tonight. Tonight we celebrate."
Starr nodded. "I can do that." She squeezed Cole's hand and he brought it up to kiss the inside of her wrist. His lips felt so warm, soft and familiar. She was home the moment she felt those lips pressed to her skin. Cole had made her dreams come true. She knew instinctively that he had fought body and soul to get back to her and to bring their daughter home as well. This was the best moment of her life and she was desperately afraid that it couldn't last. But she would hold on as tightly as she could.
"We're not leaving," Cole said, reading her thoughts. He still knew her so well. "We can have the life we wanted before the long drive we took in Port Charles."
Starr kissed Hope's forehead. She looked at Cole with guilty tears in her eyes then. "Cole, there was someone else. A guy named Michael. He one of the guys trying to save us that night before the car went over the cliff…" Her heart beat fast with the memory. "He saved me and he gave me some sanity for awhile. With him I could forget what was hurting so much – or I tried. The point is that I should have waited forever for you and I didn't. I blurred the lines of friendship with Michael. I loved him even but not the way I loved – the way I love you. If you can't forgive me –"
Cole shook his head. "Starr, there is nothing to forgive. You were trying to move on. You called this Michael guy 'sanity'. He helped keep you together and I will always appreciate him for doing that. It's just … Do you still want him? Is there a part of you … Are you still in –"
"No. I'm not in love with him. He wanted 'always' with me and I couldn't give him that. Because I still wanted 'always' with you. You and Hope. And now you're here and I hope what I told you won't change anything."
"Not a thing. I still love you more than I ever loved anyone." Cole leaned over and kissed her again.
She touched his cheek. "I love you too, Cole. There really was and never will be anyone else for me. I always knew that really – since the day we first met."
"Same here," Cole said and he reached out and hugged Starr and a still slumbering Hope to his side. They sat that way for the longest time.
Starr drifted off into a most comfortable sleep in Cole's arms. It was the very best sleep she'd ever had. She was only awakened by the feeling of Hope stirring in her arms and the sounds of voices.
She popped open her eyes to see Langston and Markko standing there staring at Cole in shock. They could see him too. They could see Hope as well. Tears were in their eyes. This was the best moment of Starr's life. She hadn't dreamt it. It was really happening; it wasn't just something wonderful she had built up in her head, in a fantasy. Cole and Hope were home. For real.
"This is a miracle," Markko said and was the first to step forward and hug Cole. "You have to tell me everything. Where have you guys been?"
"I can explain everything. Just not tonight," Cole said. He looked at the clock. "It's five minutes till Christmas Eve. Let's just be glad –"
"You're home," Langston said. She laughed. "I can deal with that. I feel like I'm being Punk'd somehow but it's a wonderful feeling." She hugged Cole too and she and Markko looked at a shy Hope.
"She's beautiful," was all Langston could say. "And this is the best Christmas present ever."
Starr cuddled to Cole's side and kissed his stubbly jaw. "It is," she agreed. She hugged him tightly and they watched the clock as the numbers clicked on to midnight. As soon as midnight hit, she looked at Cole and Hope.
"Merry Christmas," Cole whispered.
Starr nodded. "Merry Christmas, Cole and Hope."