A/N: Hi everyone! I know I said this would be the last chapter, but I ended up splitting it into two parts to keep the chapters at about the same word count as the previous chapters and also so the story would flow better, so yay, bonus chapter coming after this!
I also have another surprise for you. My bestie, Stellina2a, requested a drawing of a scene from this story from the extremely talented artist, Regina (user name RGBCN). Stellina was one of the lucky winners of Regina's monthly contest. Regina plans to post it on her Instagram account a little later today. If you aren't already following her, I suggest you check out her artwork.
Thank you all so much again for your continued support!
April 2, 2028
A lot can happen in three months, so much that I've barely had time to write more than a couple of lines in here each week. Today will be another busy day. I probably shouldn't even be writing now, but my thoughts need an outlet. If these ramblings are incohesive, at least they're for my personal memoirs only and not on display for prying eyes.
Raj and Ms. Jackson, or I should say Amber Jackson, now that we are better acquainted, are still going strong. Last month he finally admitted to all of us that they've been seeing each other since the night of the pageant. She is a lovely woman who appreciates his sensitive side and takes a genuine interest in his work as an astrophysicist, and he's content to help her with his more artistic side. I'm so happy for him, for both of them.
Dylan is going to be a cub scout this fall. He begged Leonard to be a scout master until Leonard pointed out Penny would do a better job than he could. Luckily Dylan's friend's dad is already involved with the troop since his older son is a scout. Leonard is relieved to be off the hook.
Cadence wants to enroll in dance classes, and Penny is thrilled. Classes are Tuesdays and Thursdays at 4 p.m., so we may have to change our school pickup schedule in the fall, as Leah isn't too keen to join. I'm so used to our girls doing everything together, but they're growing up and were bound to start spending a little more time apart. It's both exciting to know they are branching out yet terrifying because before we know it, they'll be young adults.
Howard and Bernadette are so proud of Nathaniel. His robot won first place in the science fair. Now he's working on building a second one. He and Howard have been shopping for parts online, with Nat making most of the decisions. I think we will have another engineer in our group before long.
As for us, my mom and I are slowly patching our relationship again. It's like starting over from the progress we made after Sheldon and I got engaged. Slowly but surely we'll get there again. Leah is bonding with her more too. She spent a weekend there baking cookies and playing board games and wants to know when they can do it again.
Annette surprised us with a gorgeous picture book from our time in Boston over Christmas. There are a lot of candid shots, most of which were taken when I didn't even know she was looking. There are some of us all playing out in the snow, pictures of Sheldon as Santa, of the kids playing games, and of me and my siblings just chatting on the couch by the fire. I think it's her way of making up for the awkwardness of that fateful Christmas Eve lunch.
I'm also happy to report the school has reconsidered our idea for a gifted program starting with the 2028-2029 school year. To finish out the current year, Leah's teachers have agreed to allow her to help out with various projects rather than participating in the classes she excels in, though she is still required to take the tests. Unlike me and Sheldon, she enjoys participating in gym class, and of course she is still happy to work on art projects in Raj's girlfriend's class. I'm relieved she can still enjoy time with her classmates without staying bored.
The school district also informed us they would like to include Fun with Flags in their fall curriculum. We haven't worked out the details (how many weeks it would run and payment, among other things), but Sheldon's already started planning our lessons. I love how excited he gets when he's about to impart his wisdom on a new audience.
Best of all, Leah has returned to her usual bubbly self, thanks to Sigrid. Their twice-weekly Skype sessions are filled with laughter and intelligent chitchat. If I believed in luck and faith, I would think some higher power was watching over my diary that night. Out of all the people who possibly could have sat in that seat, for it to be this sweet, kind, genuine, trustworthy woman is, as Sheldon's mom would say, a blessing.
We sat down with Leah and told her all about my parents' one-night stand on their flight to Boston in March 1982, and my resulting conception. She admitted she was still curious but was reluctant to know the details because it was her curiosity that almost cost me my diary. I urged her not to squelch her curious feelings. She just needs to be more mindful of how she finds the information. I hugged her and reiterated that she can always come to us with questions. Then the inquiries came flying. We told her how I found out 30-plus years later and about the details leading up to finding my dad. It was so strange to relive those months again, and Leah took the news surprisingly well.
We also came clean with her with the whole truth about the dirty sock, and she admitted it was one of the things she was most interested in and had searched for more information on it in my diaries. More of the truth unraveled as she told us everything she had learned from them and how she managed to look at so many without getting caught. Though I'm disappointed in her for sneaking around, a small part of me is impressed that she would go to such great lengths to find answers. It's a great skill if she wishes to have a private investigation career some day.
Now today we'll be making new memories. Sigrid's flight arrives midmorning, and we're picking her up, as her sister got called in for a last-minute audition. The plan is to take her to lunch, where she will give me my diary, and we will present her with a surprise reward before taking her to her sister's apartment in Studio City. I'm excited and nervous to meet her in the flesh and relieved I'll soon have my diary in my hands.
Amy set her diary in her nightstand drawer then looked herself over in the full-length mirror. She twisted from side to side, critiquing herself from all angles. Other than an errant lock of hair, everything was in place. Still she couldn't help but feel inadequate. She pursed her lips and stared at her reflection.
Sheldon poked his head in the bedroom door. "Amy, are you almost ready? What are you doing?"
She turned toward him and sighed. "I want this meeting to go perfectly."
"Are you nervous?"
She sat on the edge of the bed and slid her double helix charm. "A little."
He took a seat next to her so their knees were touching. "Why? We've spoken with Sigrid many times. She's not a complete stranger anymore."
"The logical part of my brain knows that, but my limbic system doesn't agree."
"How about if your limbic system focuses on something else?" He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively.
"Sheldon!" She giggled. "As tempting as that sounds, we don't have time."
"Not even for a kiss?"
Before she could object, his head swooped down, and he captured her lips with his. She surrendered to the feelings, both emotional and physical. Without breaking contact, she crawled into his lap and straddled him. Her fingers threaded through his hair, as he ran his hands up and down her back.
"Mommy?" Leah called from the hallway.
Amy slid off her husband's lap and straightened her skirt. "Is everything okay, Monkey?"
"I was just wondering when we're leaving."
"I also need your opinion on something."
Amy pressed her lips quickly to her husband's and gave him an apologetic look before catching up to her daughter. "What's all this?" She asked as she surveyed a pile of beads on the kitchen table.
"Ms. Jackson taught us to make peyote bracelets. Sigrid seems to like purple, but I wasn't sure if this piece is too immature. It's not like a diamond necklace or silver chain. Maybe I should have added some silver-colored beads to it."
"Oh, Monkey, that's so sweet. I think it's perfect just the way it is, and I know she will love it."
Leah grinned. "Good because I don't have time to make another one."
Amy picked up the jewelry and inspected it closer. The deep violet background was a great choice to offset the intricate pastel purple design. "It's very pretty. You did all this today?"
"I started it in art class yesterday but wanted it to be a surprise, so I hid it in my backpack. We were supposed to work on them again after spring break, but I asked Ms. Jackson if I could take the rest of my beads home so I could finish. I promised I'd use the next class time to start another one."
"That was nice of her."
Leah nodded in agreement. "I like her a lot; she's perfect for Uncle Raj."
"She sure is."
Sheldon entered the kitchen with a barely-contained look of horror on his face as he took in the organized mess on the table. "What's all this?"
"I made a gift for Sigrid. I promise I'll clean up the extra pieces." To prove herself, she scooped up a handful of beads and dumped them ceremoniously into a mini Ziploc bag.
"That's my girl!"
Leah beamed. "Daddy, I think you'll appreciate the precision of my perpendicular lines."
Amy handed the bracelet to her husband, and he examined it carefully. "I don't see a single flaw. You have a real talent, just promise you'll use it for the greater good of science not as some hippie selling jewelry at a craft market."
"Sheldon!" Amy admonished. "Leah, no matter what you decide as a career, we will support you."
"Maybe I'll be like Uncle Raj. He's creative and has a career in the sciences."
"I suppose that would be acceptable," Sheldon agreed.
Leah looked up at the Batman clock. "Do I have enough time to change?"
Sheldon frowned. "What's wrong with what you have on?"
Leah's gaze traveled down her smiley face shirt. "It's too childish and has a stain where I spilled a bit of grape juice."
Sheldon squinted at a tiny purple speck near the hem. "I don't think that design is childish for an eight year old, but I do agree about the stain. Change quick so I can spray it before it sets in.
Leah raced to her room and returned in record time. She followed her dad to the laundry room, watching his process carefully.
"We need to go now," Amy informed them through the open doorway.
All the way to the airport, Leah picked at imaginary lint on her shirt, Amy slid her charm at each red light, and Sheldon unsuccessfully tried to calm their nerves with scientific humor. Forty-nine minutes later, they pulled into the short-term parking garage. Amy checked her phone for a text from the young woman alerting them of her arrival but didn't panic when one didn't display, as they were a few minutes early.
"I want to watch the plane come in," Leah informed her parents.
"It's hard to say for sure which one it is. I have the carrier and flight number, but the number isn't written on the plane."
"I know that, Mommy, but if we know what gate Sigrid's scheduled to arrive at, we might see it."
A quick search on her phone told her the plane was on time and set to arrive at Gate 63 in 11 minutes. "The way security is set up, we can't go to the gate to watch. I'm sorry, Monkey."
"I understand," she mumbled.
"But we can do the next best thing, which is heading inside to meet her at the baggage claim when she arrives."
All holding hands with Leah in the middle, the trio made their way through the hordes of people arriving, departing, and meeting loved ones. They passed a line of limo drivers and cruise ship employees holding signs with passenger names, and Sheldon led the way to a slightly less crowded area near one of the unmoving baggage drops.
Leah slipped her hands free and tugged on her dad's shirt. "We should have made a sign for Sigrid."
"Why? She knows what we look like."
"But it would be easier for her to find us in the crowd."
He touseled her hair. "She'll find us if we don't see her first."
Amy's phone chimed, and she viewed the display. "Her plane just landed. It will be a few minutes before they deplane and walk over here."
"Tell her Daddy's wearing his Green Lantern shirt. He's the tallest and easiest to spot."
"Okay." Amy tapped a few keys and moments later received a thumbs up emoji.
While they waited, Leah made up a game about the passengers coming and going. Anyone wearing a red shirt was worth five points, yellow shirt ten points, cowboy hats 20 points. Whoever of the three of them called it first received the points.
"Another red shirt for me! I have 25 points," she gloated.
"I still think that faded red one should have counted," Sheldon huffed. "We'd have been tied."
"I just need to find a cowboy hat so I can really get ahead."
"Good luck with that. Unless we see some die-hard Texans, I don't think we'll find any. We could do baseball caps instead."
"No, Daddy. That's too easy; they're too common." Leah turned her attention to Amy. "Mommy, it's like you're not even trying. You only got five points."
Amy dropped the charm she had subconsciously been sliding. "Sorry, Monkey. I'll try to be more focused."
"Red shirt!" Leah squealed.
Sheldon pointed excitedly at another person headed in their direction. "Red for me too."
Father and daughter continued the competition with vigor, but Amy's mind had wandered again. She should be happy she would have her diary back soon. She should be excited. Instead she was a ball of nerves. She was so lost in her thoughts that she almost missed the action out of the corner of her eye. As a throng of weary travellers rushed toward the baggage drops, Leah took off into the middle of it.
"Leah, get back here!" Amy screamed. "Leah!"
Amy pushed her way through the crowd, her eyes wildly scanning the area for her only child, while her heart beat arrhythmically in her chest. A woman yelled at her, punctuating her point with a rude hand gesture, but Amy barely noticed. Her gaze had focused on the sight behind the woman's hand, and she felt her blood pressure return to normal. A familar-looking blonde crouched before her little girl, their arms wrapped around each other. Sigrid was here.