Disclaimer: I own nothing!
Authors note: Final chapter! Sorry it's twelve hours late I did a day trip to a horse show 3 hours away from home so I've been up since 3am and its now 9pm and I normally update my chapters between 7-11 am. Thanks to everyone that has read and reviewed! Sorry I didn't do a Dimitri point of view because I didn't really plan on it however if some-one wants to be my guest. Also if someone wanted to do a sequel you are most welcome I can send you these chapters if you wish. I cannot do it myself as I need to focus on my 9 horses more at this time of year and my parents are going away for 6 weeks so I'll be busy busy. I hope you enjoy the ending.
There's no explaining fate or serendipity. It happens, most or the time unrecognised, but when Rose ran into Joshua again at the same old coffee shop where she'd stopped after work to pick up a box of chocolate glazed doughnuts, all she could think was how often and how hard the universe had tried to push them together.
She asked him to dinner. "Not a date." She told him. "But I'd like us to talk."
"I'd like that." Joshua said.
She took him to a nice little place with dim lighting and soft music and an electric menu. Not a date, though it could've been, she thought as they both ordered glasses of wine and their knees bumped under the table. If she'd reached for his hand, he might've taken it. She didn't reach.
"Why do you think we didn't work?" she said bluntly. "Was it as simple as me being married? If we'd had a chance, if we'd met each other when I was alone… would it have been different?"
Joshua sipped from his glass and studied her. "Yes. Maybe."
"I don't believe in soul mates or anything like that. I don't believe in true love. I'm not sure, to be honest, that I even believe in monogamy." Rose broke a bread stick into small pieces she arranged on her plate without wanting to eat them.
"Yeah." Joshua laughed. "Well, it's easier, though."
She smiled at him, and that was when she reached for his hand. A quick squeeze, no linking of fingers, nothing to indicate romance. He looked surprised and squeezed back.
"I do still miss you sometimes," She told him. "We always had fun together. I always felt like you'd listen to me, no matter what I ever had to say."
Rose smile tightened. "I should've told you lots of things, Josh. I was so dishonest with you. Not a liar. Just never fully truthful about me, my life, my feelings. I wonder if it would've made a difference."
"You can't ever know what might've been, Rose. Do I wonder? Yeah. Would I have liked something different? Yes." Joshua shrugged. "But you can't spend your time second-guessing."
Rose took a deep breath. "I lost my oldest son in a car accident. He was almost nine. My younger son and ex-husband were fine, but I had a lot of injuries. My son Mason never regained full consciousness. He was on a respirator and feeding tube in hospital. We decided to take him off both a month after the accident. He kept breathing on his own, so we took him home. He lived another five months."
Joshua reached for her hand and, this time, held it tight. "That must have been really hard for you."
"It was hard for everyone. Not just me. I blamed my husband for the accident. I blamed myself for not being the one who'd been driving, thinking maybe if I had been, I'd have been able to stop it somehow." Rose drew in a cleansing breath and found a shaky but sincere smile for him.
"I'm sorry you didn't feel you could tell me back then."
"I didn't want you to feel sorry for me. You were one of the few people in my life who didn't know. To you, I was not 'that woman who lost her son.' I liked that feeling, that anonymity. But, Joshua," She said, "I am that woman who lost her son. I always will be that woman."
"You'll be a lot of things." He told her.
The call from Adrian surprised Rose, but warily, she accepted his invitation to breakfast. Just the two of them. He took her to their favourite place, the diner where they'd gone while they were dating, when they'd often stayed up so late, night became morning.
It had been a long, long time since she and Adrian had spent any time alone together without Eddie between them. Rose watched him salt and pepper his eggs the way he always had done. She passed him the ketchup before he asked for it. You couldn't live with someone for fifteen years without memorizing at least a few of his habits.
"You should eat something more than that," Adrian said brusquely, pointing with his fork toward her pair of eggs-over-medium and toast. "You're getting too thin again." He paused to look closely at her before she could even take a bite. "What's he done to you?"
At first, she thought he meant Eddie, but then she understood. "We broke things off. That's all."
"Does he need a kick in the balls?"
Rose burst into laughter. "You're going to kick my ex-lover in the balls for me?"
"If he needs it." Adrian laughed too.
They hadn't laughed together in far longer than they'd eaten breakfast together, and though the humour was bittersweet, it was better than being solely bitter. To appease him about her breakfast, Rose ordered French toast in addition to the eggs. Adrian passed her the syrup before she asked for it. It was nice.
"I have something to tell you," He said when they'd finished eating and were sitting, sipping coffee.
"I figured you did."
Adrian looked embarrassed but proud. And something else. True to form, he didn't try to soften his words. "Sydney's pregnant."
In the space of one heartbeat to the next, Rose waited for pain or grief, but all she found was… well, not joy. Not exactly. But happiness, for sure. And it was also bittersweet. "Congratulations." She said.
Adrian started to cry. His shoulders hunched, his eyes grew red. He covered his face with a hand, turning toward the window, while Rose sat, uncertain of what to do. She couldn't reach for him and wasn't sure she would have, even if she were sitting closer.
He got himself under control in under a minute, typically Adrian. He swiped angrily at his eyes and then blew his nose with a napkin. He cleared his throat. "Sorry."
"Don't be sorry," She told him. "A baby is always good news, Adrian. Was it a surprise, or…?"
"No. she wanted a kid. I just… it feels… shit, Rose. Shit."
Then she did reach across the table to take his hand. Once they'd stood in front of a priest and made their vows with their fingers linked. She didn't have to love him anymore to want to offer him compassion.
Adrian squeezed her hand as if she'd offered him a lifeline. "It feels wrong. What if I can't love it? What if it's a boy?"
In all the darkness, Rose had never allowed Adrian to be her light. Now all she could do was try to make up for it. "Then you'll have another son. And you'll love him. You won't be able to stop yourself, Adrian. And it will be alright."
"There are days I can't remember his face," Adrian said. "There are days I don't think about him at all."
Rose fought her own tears. "It's okay."
"Is it?" he gave her a stare so naked in its grief that Rose had no reply.
In the parking lot, she thought about hugging him, but instead they stood at an awkward distance. The sun had burned through early spring clouds that had hinted at snow. The light caught the threads of silver in Adrian's hair and showed the lines around his eyes. It probably did the same for her. "I wanted to tell you first. I though you should hear it from me. We'll tell Eddie later this afternoon. I think he's going to want to move back in with you, If that's alright?"
"Of course it is. And, Adrian… really sincerely, you and Sydney have my congratulation." This time, she forced herself to move and hug him.
He hugged her back. For half a minute too long, his arms went around her. His face buried in her neck. If she closed her eyes, she could imagine they were young again, and in love, and their life together was just beginning instead of long over.
He let her go, his eyes suspiciously red again. "That guy? The one Eddie told me about? He's an asshole."
"Well. Yeah." Rose laughed. Shrugged. "But maybe so am i."
"So we all are." Adrian said.
To: Dimitri Belikov
From: Rosemarie Hathaway
What: It's Rose's Birthday
When: Saturday, August 11
Where: Rose's house, 609 Aspen Drive
Your presence is your gift.
Please RSVP by July 24
Fifty people at a birthday party, all there to support and celebrate with her, and Rose was about to do a Leslie Gore and 'it's my party' all over them. She didn't want to.
She didn't want to let Dimitri make her cry any more than he already had, but there was this pesky thing eating away at her insides that wouldn't let her stop thinking about him. Rose locked herself in her bathroom and force- breathed until she felt dizzy, but at least she'd chased away the tears. She stared herself down in the mirror, looking fierce but, thank God, not too haggard though last night she'd been unable to sleep more than a couple hours at a time. She turned her face from side to side- misery had been good to her cheek bones, even if it had royally fucked up everything else.
Smoothing her dress over her hips and belly, Rose straightened her shoulders. "It's over." She told her reflection. "He doesn't love you. He doesn't want you. Not enough."
It was the shittiest of pep talks, as far as they went. But it worked, because it was the truth, and the sooner she got used to facing it, the sooner it would stop hurting. Or some such bullshit, anyway. She didn't actually believe that part about the pain fading faster, but the truth was better than trying to tell herself lies that would never come true. He didn't love her. Not enough.
Raking her fingers through her hair, she fluffed it over her shoulders. She swiped her face with powder and refreshed her lipstick. She looked a little less like death, even if she still felt like it. She needed to get out to the party, to mingle and smile and greet her guests and be gracious to all of those who'd come to see her. She had to oversee the food, though she was sure Sydney with her bulging belly was bustling about Rose's kitchen in a tizzy, trying to be helpful while all the time silently clucking her tongue at the disorganisation of someone who couldn't be bothered to separate her baking utensils from the serving spoons.
Slipping into a pair of sandals, Rose let herself out of the bedroom, closing the door behind her. From downstairs came the hum and buzz of conversation, the throb of music. Through the high windows in the family room she could see into the yard, where people were mingling and standing around the grill, where Adrian had taken up the apron and tongs. Oh, God, Rose thought with a shake of her head. Worlds colliding.
Still, it was nice of Adrian and Sydney to have helped her with this party, no matter what their reasons. It was good for Eddie to have three parents who could work together to do something important for him. Something beyond the selfishness of themselves. Lifting her chin, taking a long, deep breath, Rose went downstairs.
Eddie and his friends had already set up the volleyball net, spending more time trying to spike the ball into each other's heads than any real scorekeeping. The girls clustered around the edges, watching, shaking their heads at the boys' antics, not even the sporty girls stupid enough to try to join what was becoming more of a war than a game. Rose set up the mental countdown to the first bloody nose at thirty minutes or so, and that was being generous. She watched them for a few minutes from the sliding glass doors to the deck, then turned to the kitchen.
Sydney had indeed been bustling, as evidenced by the artfully arranged platters of veggies and dip, cut fruit, also with dip, cheese and crackers. With more dip. Sydney loved dips. But Rose forced away the snarky thoughts about her ex-husband's current wife.
"This looks great," Rose said sincerely. "Thanks so much for this, Sydney."
Sydney, her face gone round and pink-cheeked from the heat and her pregnancy, looked uncertain. "I just set out the things I found in the fridge and whipped up a few dips."
Rose held back her snort of laughter.
"You didn't have any special platters or anything, did you? I didn't want to do digging around."
"No, no. it's fine." Rose pulled open one of the drawers to find a set of dip spreaders topped with old-fashioned shoes. They'd been a wedding gift from one of Adrian's relatives. She'd never even taken them out of the clear plastic box, but they'd be perfect now. She watched Sydney's eyes light up at the sight. "You know… you should take these with you."
Sydney looked confused. "Where?"
"When you go home. They came from one of Adrian's aunts and uncles. Really, I never use them, and you… you would."
"I would." Sydney said with a wide, incredulous smile. "Look how perfect they are for the dips!"
Rose pressed the entire box into Sydney's hand. "Take them."
Sydney smiled hesitantly. "You sure you don't mind?"
"I have never in my life used a special utensil for a dip," Rose said, "But I'm sure you will use them all the time."
Both women started laughing at the same time, softly at first, then a little louder. Sydney took the box of dip knives and tucked it into her oversized designer purse taking up a lot of room on Rose's counter. Her smile softened.
"Thank you. For everything." For a moment, Rose was convinced she might burst into tears again, but she forced them back by biting hard on the raw spot on the inside of her cheek. It hurt like hell, which was the point.
Sydney moved a little closer. "It's been a tough few months, huh?"
"Yeah." Rose turned to the food laid out on the centre island, pretending to rearrange some of it, though Sydney had done such a wonderful job there was really nothing to change.
"Hey." Sydney put a hand on her shoulder, gentle fingers squeezing for a second or two before letting go. "I just want you to know that I'm sorry about your… friend. Adrian told me you broke up."
Rose stiffened, not turning. "He said that?"
"Yes. Adrian is too nosey. He should mind his own business." Sydney sounded annoyed. Rose turned, completely understanding how it felt to be annoyed by an ex's too-close interest in a former spouse, but Sydney went on. "Whatever goes on in your life isn't a reflection on him, and I keep telling him that you're a grown woman and you should be able to do whatever you like in your private life, that he needs to just accept that he's no rose garden and not everything was your fault."
Rose didn't know what to say. Sydney smiled a little, both hands resting on the swell of her belly, but didn't say anything more than that. The women shared a look, bonding over the ass-hattery of the same man. It wasn't quite friendship, but it was the closest it had ever come to being something like that.
"I need to pee." Sydney said abruptly, and waddled off toward the powder room.
The moment of camaraderie had occurred in a rare few minutes of quiet with no witnesses, but as was common with all kinds of parties, people tended to congregate in the kitchen. Rose was bombarded in the next few minutes with friends and relatives, some bearing gifts of food, some with more traditional birthday presents, which she directed them to put on the dining room table. Once the party was in full swing, there was no time for Rose to lose herself in her misery. It hadn't disappeared. But it was not the worst grief she'd ever suffered, and eventually it would go away.
Her parties had always been open-door- expansive guest lists nothing formal. So when the doorbell rang while she was in the living room collecting empty solo cups and discarded napkins, Rose at first didn't do more than look up. The party had spilled over to both the front and back lawns, so even if there was an oddball guest who felt shy about walking right in, he or she could surely walk around to the back. She dumped the trash into the pail she'd set up in the corner of the room for just that purpose, not that anyone seemed to have noticed it… and the bell rang again. Dusting off her hands, Rose went to answer it.
On the step stood Dimitri, in all his glory. "Hi." He said.
Rose closed the door in his face.
She opened it again a moment later, finding him still standing there, this time with his mouth open and brow furrowed. She'd imagined this moment in so many different ways. Playing it cool. Jumping into his arms. Telling him to get lost. But when it was real and true, when he was right in front of her, all Rose could do was stare.
Gently, Dimitri reached for her wrist and pulled her forward a few steps onto the front porch. The door closed behind her. Rose stared. Dimitri smiled hesitantly.
"It took me twelve hours to get here. Aren't you going to say anything?"
He'd driven here. Not flown, then. But still, he was here. Baby steps.
"I just thought… I thought I would never…" the tears came then. Fat, burning, sliding down her cheeks and wetting her lips with the taste of salt. Rose drew in a sobbing breath, embarrassed but incapable of holding any of it back. "I thought I'd never see you again."
"Aww, now, now." Dimitri said as if this were all some kind of joke. A fucking joke. "How could you think that?"
Rose drew herself up. "Because you made me think so!"
They stared at each other in silence pierced by the sounds of the party and Rose's hitching breaths. Then by Dimitri's small, sad sigh. He reached for her but didn't grab. Didn't pull or force. He reached and waited for Rose to let him take her.
Had there really been a question of her refusing him?
They clung to each other on her front porch, neither of them speaking, her face pressed into the hollow of his shoulder. She breathed in the scent of him. Fabric softener, soap, that distinctive smell of his aftershave, and just him that she'd been so sure she'd never breathe again. She shook a little, and his hands smoothed down her back, until at last she looked up at him.
"Shhh," Rose rasped, her own swollen eyes and streaked cheeks making this ironic, "Don't cry."
Dimitri held her close. "Roza," He whispered in her ear. "I just drove twelve hours on gas station coffee and determination. I need to use your bathroom and get something to eat, or I'm going to pass out on your front porch."
Rose laughed and wiped at her eyes. "Come inside. There's plenty of food."
"In a minute," Dimitri said. "I can wait another minute."
Then he kissed her. And again. He kissed and kissed and kissed her, and suddenly everything felt as though it was all going to be all right.