Author's note: Well, we've done it! We've come to the end of my story. And before season 9 begins, like I promised! Thank you to all who have followed along on this journey with me. I am so glad to have completed at least 1 of my 3 stories! I am immensely grateful to the readers who enjoyed my story and left comments and I hope the angst and pain of the early chapters was worth the payoff of the ending! Thank you all again.

Chapter 38

"What is it, Bill?" Nathan Grant asked as he strode swiftly into Bill Avery's office a few days later, his wife Elizabeth at his side making an effort to keep up with her husband's long strides. They'd been summoned to Bill's office with something of an air of urgency.

"Don't look so alarmed," Bill said, standing up from his desk at the pair's arrival and coming around it to meet them. He reached a hand down to his desk to retrieve a folder. "I just wanted to let you know that Allie's adoption papers came through," he said.

Nathan and Elizabeth glanced at each other and slumped slightly in relief, glad it wasn't some other negative emergency for the summons. "That's great, Bill!" Nathan enthused, turning back to his friend. "But how did you get them so quickly?" he asked. "We've only been married a few days," he observed of the quick bureaucratic turnaround.

"Well, I couriered your marriage license over to Judge Simmons in Union City right after the ceremony. And Judge Simmons likewise couriered the adoption decree back here. You're not the only ones who want to see this adoption finalized," Bill said with a smile tugging at his mouth as he held the folder out to Nathan.

Nathan took the proffered folder. "Bill, I can't thank you enough," Nathan said with gratitude.

"So what do you want to do now? Another adoption ceremony?" Bill asked.

Nathan and Elizabeth exchanged glances, thinking the same thing at the same time. Nathan gave Elizabeth a slight nod, before he turned to Bill with their answer. "I don't think so, Bill. Allie has waited a long time for these papers and I'm not going to make her wait a second longer," he said. Nathan turned to Elizabeth. "Can you hold these? I'm going to go fetch Allie right now," he said.

"Of course!" Elizabeth said, already taking the folder from Nathan's hands.

"Back in a minute," Nathan said, then turned from the room and strode quickly out the doors.

At Nathan's departure, Bill and Elizabeth turned to face each other. "What a happy day for Allie," Bill observed, acknowledging the long road it had taken to see Allie finally adopted by her uncle.

"It's a happy day for all of us," Elizabeth corrected. And it was. It was the day Nathan and she gained a daughter, Allie a set of parents and a brother and Little Jack a sister. Even though it was Allie's adoption, it was a happy day for all of them, and the beginning of more decrees to come. She and Nathan had been talking of his adopting Little Jack one day in the future as well, and Allie's adoption was just another step in cementing the four of them as a family.

While they stood alone together waiting for Nathan, Elizabeth took the opportunity to speak to Bill. There had been something on her mind for a while and maybe now was a good time to say it.

"Bill, I...I wanted to thank you..." Elizabeth began.

"No need, Elizabeth, as I told Nathan I'm just as happy to see this adoption finalized as anyone," Bill replied, thinking Elizabeth was meaning to thank him for his efforts in the speedy delivery of the papers.

"No, that's not what I meant," Elizabeth corrected, swallowing and choosing her words. "I meant, I wanted to thank you for that day when you came to my house and told me what I had done. What I had done to Nathan when I'd rejected him. I wanted to thank you for opening my eyes that day. I truly feel you helped me find my way to Nathan, and for that I am truly grateful," Elizabeth said with humility.

"Elizabeth," Bill said her name, then reached to take one of her hands between two of his. "I've only ever wanted your happiness. And I think you are," he said pointedly.

"I am happy, Bill," Elizabeth answered. "Happier than I ever thought possible," she breathed. Happier than she thought she ever would be again, after...

"And I know he's happy for you too," Bill said softly, both of them thinking of the same man at the same time. That Jack would be happy Elizabeth had found love again, that she and Little Jack would know the love and protection of a good man.

"I know, Bill, I know," Elizabeth said quietly, swallowing hard.

Bill squeezed Elizabeth's hand just as the door opened and Nathan and Allie came in. Nathan brought Allie up to Elizabeth and Bill, while Allie looked from one adult to the other and raised one eyebrow sardonically, wondering what this was all about.

"So, is anybody gonna tell me why I'm here?" Allie asked with a hint of teenage sarcasm. Her uncle had stormed into the mercantile and pulled her off the switchboard in the middle of her shift, insisting that she come with him but not telling her why.

The adults exchanged glances, wondering who would be the one to tell her, but ultimately knowing who it would be.

"Allie," Nathan drew a deep breath. "Your adoption papers came today," he informed her.

"They did!?" Allie's eyes grew round at she stared at her uncle. Her papers? They were here already? She'd thought it would take a few more weeks still.

"Yup," Nathan said. The word was casual, informal almost, but the moment was anything but. Nathan gestured over to Elizabeth, still holding the folder, directing Allie's eyes there.

But instead of handing the folder to Allie, Elizabeth held them out to Nathan, meeting his eyes with her opinion. He should be the one. He should be the one to give them to his daughter.

Nathan took the folder and held it in his hands a moment and then began a small speech. "Allie, these are yours now. It's final. It's permanent. And no one can ever take them away from you. Do you understand what I'm saying?" Nathan asked.

Allie nodded eagerly with a grin. She had waited a long time for this and happiness was bubbling inside her. She reached her hands out in anticipation, wiggling her fingers with invitation.

Nathan smiled at Allie's eagerness and unable to deny her most anything he placed the folder in her outstretched hands. Allie squealed in delight, then, with the folder in one hand, her flew at her uncle and hugged him. Nathan squeezed her back, almost laughing with joy. The pair broke apart and still grinning, Nathan spun Allie around by the shoulders so that she faced Elizabeth. "You forgot someone," he teased.

"Oh, right!" Allie squealed again. Not only had Uncle Nathan adopted her but Mrs. Thornton had too, or Mrs. Grant now, or Elizabeth as she'd told her to call her. Allie flew at Elizabeth and repeated the happy hug she had given Nathan. Elizabeth hugged Allie back and planted a quick kiss on the top of her head, grinning herself all the while.

When Elizabeth and Allie broke apart, Nathan said, his voice taking on a smidgen of solemnity to admonish, "Now, Allie, you take those papers home and you put them in a safe place."

"I will!" Allie agreed and flew to the door, leaving the three adults to turn to each other with looks and smiles, happy with the afternoon's outcome.

As the three adults conversed behind her, Allie stopped at the door, her hand on the door handle. She'd been eager to take the papers home but now something stopped her. She stared thoughtfully down at the folder in her hand and wondered if now was the time. It was official now, she had the papers in her hands. She had waited so long and maybe now was the time. Allie swallowed hard and turned back towards the three adults, the trio engaged in light conversation and not looking in her direction.

"Hey...hey Dad?" Allie called to get his attention, trying out the word, rolling it on her tongue as conversation stilled and three pairs of stunned eyes turned towards her. Allie swallowed again. "Hey Dad, would it be alright if I took this over to show Opal and some of the other girls?" she asked, the question behind the question of much greater importance. Would he mind? They'd never talked about it. If she could call him Dad or not. Would Uncle Nathan mind? Allie stood vulnerable before him and held her breath.

Across the room, a surprised Nathan Grant eyed his former niece and swallowed hard. He hadn't expected this. But how good it sounded to his ears...and his heart. "Yes, Allie, that's alright," he answered solemnly, his eyes penetrating into hers, the answer behind the answer of much greater importance. She would call him Dad from now on. It was alright. It was alright with both of them.

"Okay, good," Allie said, and whirled from the room and out the door, not giving herself or anyone else long to dwell on the moment, the affirmative reply all she needed.

Of the remaining trio, it was Nathan who continued to stare at the door after Allie had already left, blinking and swallowing with some unknown emotion as if staring at the door would help to sort his feelings.

"Nathan?" Elizabeth had moved close to him and touched a hand to his arm, tilting her head to look inquiringly up at him.

"I'm alright, Elizabeth," Nathan replied, his eyes not leaving the door as he swallowed again. "I just...I just didn't know it would feel like this," he said the words softly. He'd always wondered about transforming from being Allie's uncle to truly being her father. And he knew now that it wasn't those legal papers that cemented the moment, but it had been this. Allie calling him Dad, and all the rush of feelings and emotions it stirred inside him. This was the true transformative moment. Nathan finally turned his face to Elizabeth's and placed one his hands over hers on his arm and smiled. "I'm good, Elizabeth," he reassured her. "It's all good," he smiled even more.

Elizabeth nodded and returned his smile. It was a big moment between Nathan and Allie, and she knew there would be many more to come, between and for all of them.

The pair turned and gave their farewells to Bill, and Elizabeth, hooking a hand into the crook of her husband's elbow, walked at his side as they left the room.

Inside the Grant home that night, Allie sat at the table writing, working on a story she had started some weeks prior. Nathan and Little Jack were unpacking boxes in the living room, well maybe a better description would be to say that Little Jack was playing at unpacking boxes and Nathan was overseeing his efforts. They were still in the process of moving Elizabeth's and Little Jack's things into Nathan's rowhouse and a number of boxes still needed to be emptied. In the kitchen, Elizabeth was fixing dinner and mulling about her book. A new smaller publisher had expressed some interest in it and even more exciting, they were willing to work around her schedule as a teacher, so it looked like she would be able to teach and be a writer after all. True, they were not as prestigious a publisher as the first one and her book would have a much smaller print run but Elizabeth was excited nonetheless. It was still a dream realized.

A sound from the living room caught her attention and Elizabeth turned and then smiled. Nathan was wrestling a breakable vase out of her son's hands, before he placed it high on shelf out of reach. Nathan immediately turned back as Little Jack dove excitedly into another box to pull another newspaper-wrapped treasure out. Elizabeth watched with amusement, knowing how hard it was to keep up with her inquisitive, rambunctious son. But so far Nathan seemed up for the task as he oversaw the unpacking operation and safeguarded her belongings from small destructive hands.

As Little Jack unwrapped a new object, an oval shaped frame with a photograph inside, and held it in his hands, staring intently at it, he remarked with childlike simplicity, "That's my Daddy."

Across the room Elizabeth had inhaled at Little Jack's discovery of Jack's photograph, as she watched the scene intently.

Nathan crouched beside the child and looked at the photograph in his hands. "Yes, it is," he acknowledged matter-of-factly. "Where would you like to put your Daddy's picture?" Nathan asked the child.

Immediately Little Jack went to a low bureau and reached way up to place the photograph on top. "Right here," he said, then turned back to Nathan, seeking adult approval.

"I think that's a great spot," Nathan said in agreement and nodded his head to the child. "What else is in the box?" he asked, directing Little Jack to hunt another treasure. As Little Jack went to inspect the box, Nathan rose to his feet, meeting Elizabeth's eyes by accident. He smiled at her, and Elizabeth smiled back, something meaningful passing between them.

He wouldn't mind, Elizabeth realized. Nathan wouldn't mind having reminders of Jack around. He wouldn't mind that Little Jack would know of and about his father, would see his face daily. He wouldn't mind that Jack was essentially a part of their family too. Elizabeth shot Nathan a look, part gratitude, part appreciation for the wonderful man he was and the wonderful qualities about him she was still discovering.

The look between them ended prematurely when Nathan turned at the sound Little Jack, who had found some pots and was banging them together, was making, and he moved to wrestle the pots away and direct the child to seek another quieter object.

Elizabeth smiled to herself and made to go back to the stove but stopped when she spotted Allie chewing on the end of her pencil, deep in thought as she stared off into space.

"What is it, Allie?" she asked the girl.

Allie scrunched her face. "I'm trying to think of a word for my story," she outlined her dilemma.

"Maybe I can help," Elizabeth offered.

"Well, you know the word unrequited? Like in unrequited love?" Allie asked. At Elizabeth's nod, Allie continued. "Well, it happens a lot in stories. When someone loves someone but the other person doesn't love them back," Allie expanded. "Well, what I want to know is what word is the opposite of unrequited. Is there a word for that?" Allie wondered.

Elizabeth pulled out a chair and sat next to Allie. The teacher in her could think of a few words for love that was not unrequited. Reciprocal. Returned. Even just requited. But it wasn't the teacher who answered Allie. It was the mother and wife.

"There doesn't need to be a word for it, Allie. It's love. It's just love," she told her softly, meeting her eyes and reaching out a hand to squeeze Allie's forearm as it rest on the table. Elizabeth looked up to meet Nathan's eyes across the room, exchanging a look of understanding with him. There had been a lot of unrequited love in all of their past. His for her. Hers for him. Even Allie wanting Elizabeth as a mother had been unrequited for a time. But no more. Now all that remained

Elizabeth delivered a final pat to Allie's arm, then got up to return to the stove, letting Allie think on her words.

Allie looked down at the page in front of her. She thought a moment or two, then slowly reached down to cross out one word and replace it with another. Satisfied, she began to nod and smile to herself. It looked right. It was right. The word written on the page and in all of their hearts. Unrequited no more, it was just...


The end