Disclaimer is back in Chapter One, but I'll reiterate that I don't own any character from the show "CSI."
Well, this is it. The final chapter. Thank you all so much for caring about this story! Your feedback provided a ton of positive support as I tried to figure out what needed to happen next. No promises about a sequel, but I'm definitely trying! Be patient. I hope you all enjoy this!
The pace of the days picked up as the funeral approached, tumbling and whirling into a blur. Sara and the girls decided to go down to San Francisco for the day on Thursday—eating in Chinatown, visiting the Wharf, and generally being tourists. She remembered how much she loved California, everything about it. She even told the girls some stories about her earliest days in Tomales with her parents. They ate again with Maggie and Nathan that night—the two were almost as Sara remembered them from seven years ago. Maggie was quite small, with Lilly's coloring, hair and beautiful eyes. Grace had her delicate heart-shaped face and features. Nathan was long and lean, and closely resembled Sara's mother. He and Lilly had several features in common. He looked very austere in his old age, something Sara would have never imagined. Both of them wore haunted looks akin to those of Holocaust survivors. Sara could not imagine burying two of your children.
Dan, his wife Katrina, and their children arrived late Thursday night and stayed in the same hotel as Sara, Jules, and Grace. The boys, Paul and Topher, were both in college; their daughter Madeleine was a year younger than the twins. They were all very quiet and unsure of themselves.
Friday morning came too early, bringing a robotic Grace and a despondent Jules. Jules didn't get out of bed until well after noon; Grace stiffly went through the motions of getting ready without speaking to anyone. Doug and his wife Diana, their children Dylan and Delaney, arrived Friday morning.
Nick called Friday morning. "I just—I wanted to see how things were going," he said tentatively, perfectly cognizant of their minor fight at the airport.
"They're going as well as I thought they would." Sara's feelings of exhaustion and sadness mixed into a wonderful cocktail of exasperation and sharpness. She sat down on the bed. "It was never going to be successful."
"Sara, please." Nick's tone was more concerned than reprimanding. "How are you doing—not how it's doing."
"I'm fine." She said, a little too quickly. She reconsidered and relented. "I haven't really thought about it. Please don't make me think about it. It's the last thing on my mind for a reason." She remembered her reservations about him in the first place—Nick cared a lot more than she was used to. "Please. Let's talk about something else, if you want to talk."
"Don't you want to talk?" he probed softly.
"Nick, please." She said, flopping backwards and putting her hand over her
abdomen. "Lab gossip. How's Greg? Who's covering for me?"
"Warrick and I have been on call; Grissom, Greg, and Sofia have been able to handle everything. Grissom said don't come back until you're ready."
"I should talk to the girls about that," Sara murmured, more to herself than to Nick.
"How are they doing?" Nick asked.
All of these questions were making Sara feel like a failure for not having good answers. "Nick, I don't know." She almost whined. "It's so overwhelming. So many things are happening. I don't have time to contemplate our well-being. Or what anyone's feeling. We're all on autopilot. That's just what happens when someone you're very close to dies. They've just shut down emotionally so that they can make it through the funeral. Personally, I think I have too, so excuse me for not knowing this sort of shit." She looked around, suddenly aware that Jules was still lolling in the bed next to her and Grace was doubled over, hair spraying her hair in the bathroom. "I've got to go." She said quietly, and hung up.
"That Nick?" Jules muttered from the bed.
"Yeah. It was." Sara sat up. "Listen, girls, I completely forgot you were in here…"
"It's okay." Grace spoke up. "Really." She flicked the blow dryer on.
The visitation was starting at five; the obituary had run both Thursday and Friday and the funeral director informed the girls that Lilly's former coworkers had already sent gifts. Maggie and Nathan had wanted to meet for lunch, and had even come by the room, but Sara informed them that the girls weren't ready to eat. It was true—at that point, Jules was still in bed, staring at the ceiling. Maggie and Nathan decided to go out with the boys and Sara ordered room service. Jules didn't even touch her Chicken Caesar Wrap and Grace said she might puke if she tried eating.
The visitation started at six; an ashen Maggie and a tight-faced Nathan came to pick them up at four-thirty. Jules had finally gotten out of bed at three and looked very pretty in her tulip skirt, asymmetrical top, and ballet flats.
"Ready?" Maggie said quietly. She looked neat and pat in a dark green pantsuit. "You all look very nice." She ran her eyes over Grace's black layer skirt and gemmed-up slide thongs. "Are you sure flip-flops are appropriate?" The words were almost involuntary.
"They're fine." Sara said quickly as Grace flinched. "Let's get going."
The visitation had quite a lot of people; the twins were the only family members who recognized anyone. One or the other of them kept pulling Sara into conversations—with Lilly's former boss, their old next-door neighbor, a teary friend. Sara found that the connection from her tongue to her brain wasn't functioning most of the time. She nodded, smiled sadly, and found another group of people with more memories of Lilly.
About two-thirds of the way through the visitation, Sara saw her first familiar face of the night: Nick. He was dressed handsomely in a conservative dark suit; his hair was beginning to flop over his forehead again. "Nick," she said, reaching up to embrace him. He hugged her tightly around the waist. "You didn't have to come. I even told you to stay at home." She chided.
"Sar." He searched her face. "I know. I just—I thought it was right. I…It was a hunch. I packed and booked a flight about five minutes after hanging up with you. You aren't mad are you? You don't think I'm being too overprotective or patronizing?"
Sara felt ridiculously pleased and touched. "No. It's wonderful...Thank you."
"Nick!" Jules came up behind them, smiling with relief. "When did you get here?"
"About two minutes ago." He hugged. "God, Jules," he whispered. "You have no idea how strong you are."
The words caught Jules by surprise after an evening of 'You poor thing.' "Thank you," she whispered. "Where are you staying?"
Nick grinned his trademark sheepish grin. "Actually, in your hotel. I knew which one it was—" he shrugged. "So I went there and checked in." He looped an arm around Sara's waist. Sara absentmindedly played with his fingers.
"Nick?" Grace had extracted herself from her high school friends who had shown up at the last minute, nervously fidgeting in their businesslike attire. "You came out? I thought Sara told you to stay at home."
"I did." Sara smiled fondly up at him. "He came out anyways."
"Hey, Grace." He moved to hug her, and she slid into his embrace. "Staying strong?"
She nodded, a bit nervously. "Yeah. I think so. Margaret—back home Margaret—said keeping it together for people during a funeral is easier than you might expect." Nick's arm re-relaxed back around Sara's waist, his hand resting on her hip. She didn't know why, but she just felt so wonderful and strong and unburdened whenever Nick was near her.
"Girls—" Maggie came over, and it was obvious she wanted to know whom Nick was, since she lacked a reason for calling out to them. "Mr. Bartow is leaving. You should say good-bye to him." Mr. Bartow had been Lilly's boss.
"Alright." Jules nodded. "Grandma, this is Nick."
"Nick. Pleased to meet you. Maggie Cohen, Lilly's mother. Are you a friend of…Sara's?" she looked appraisingly at Nick's hand—the one around Sara's waist.
"Yes, Aunt Maggie. I should have made the introductions. This is Nick Stokes, my boyfriend. He flew out a few hours ago…I didn't know about it."
"Nice to meet you, Mrs. Cohen." Nick stuck out his freehand.
"Maggie, please." She said. He seemed to have passed muster. "How did you and Sara meet?"
"We're coworkers in Las Vegas, Aunt Maggie. We've known each other for about five or six years. Lilly met him; she liked him a lot." Sara swiftly brought the conversation back to where it was supposed to be.
The visitation was supposed to end at nine but people lingered until about ten-thirty. The family finally drooped back to the hotel. Nick kissed Sara a bit too long than Sara would have preferred (at least in front of the girls) and hugged both girls tightly before retreating to his room. The girls sat on their bed and quietly rehashed the mourners for almost an hour before falling asleep in their clothing.
The next day dawned with mockingly good weather: a light California breeze, an impossibly blue sky that extended forever, temperatures perfect for the first week in October. The girls awoke and showered, and put on their dresses. Grace's was a beautiful full-skirted sleeveless dress made of floaty chiffon, with a plunging front and back that layered and ruched. It hit her knees, keeping it just casual enough. She completed the outfit with kitten heels. Privately, Sara had wondered if it was appropriate—it was very dressy. Also, it was expensive. Would Lilly have permitted her to buy it? Sara couldn't help but wonder. Jules wore a fitted halter with a corset front that flared outwards to her knees made of raw silk. It was simple and stunning. They looked too pretty to be going to a funeral.
Nathan knocked on the door then, looking thin and like he hadn't gotten much sleep. "Good morning." He said awkwardly. "The car is here. The boys, their families—they're all ready to go."
"Alright." Sara said softly, turning to the girls. "Guys? It's time to go."
The girls looked at each other, then hugged tightly. They gripped each other's hands and walked towards Sara and Nathan, their eyes downcast.
Everyone else, including Nick, was waiting downstairs in the lobby. They milled nervously, unsure of what to say. The other five cousins grouped together and looked at their toes when the twins approached. The funeral parlor had arranged for three large silver sedans to take everybody down to the church. The funeral was to start at ten; there was a lunch being provided by former friends following the service in the fellowship hall.
Sara was shocked to see the parking lot full, cars angled into the streets, and a couple groups of people waiting outside for a few last minutes before the service started. Those people headed in as soon as they saw the cars pull up. There were easily one hundred fifty people there. They nodded deferentially to the family as they passed. One of a group of random girls—Sara remembered being told it was the parlor director's three daughters—handed each of them a program. Sara fingered through it. Nathan walked in first, Maggie holding tightly to his arm and looked around slightly uncomfortably. The girls walked next, still huddled tightly together. Sara was next. She was surprised when Nick slid his fingers into hers. She looked up at him and smiled. Doug and Dan and their families followed. As soon as they were seated, an awkward organ version of "Turn, Turn, Turn" began to blast.
Sara rarely paid attention in church; it was simply easier to zone out and forget your location. She wasn't nearly as religious as the girls; religion was something that you needed to either be born into or be able to suspend your skepticism enough to truly believe. Sara had had a childhood based on survival and stability and concrete realistic things, and thus had little use for things like faith and an omnipresent God. She was a scientist, and her work exposed her to the worst aspects of humanity on any given day. She did not do religions or religious places well.
Startled out of her reverie, Sara scooted her knees sideways to let the girls out of the pew. The minister—preacher? pastor?—had finished the opening blessing or remarks or whatever they were called. The girls were going to speak now—a verse and a few remarks each, nothing like the eulogy that the minister/pastor/preacher was going to deliver in a few minutes.
The girls seemed put-together as they stepped up the microphone. They angled in so that they both had an equal chance of being heard in the microphone. They shared an awkward look. Jules cleared her throat and began to speak first, in a loud, but scared, wavering voice.
"First off, my sister and I would like to thank everyone for coming here today. You didn't have to and we know most of you and you have things—things to do and places to be, and the fact that you came to remember Mom and support us really does mean a lot. Grace and I have a lot of extended family that we know loves us, but we're officially orphans now. It's actually a lot scarier than Annie would have you believe, and the fact that all of you came and the fact that Mom didn't go without a fight is really comforting right now." She looked sadly down at her fingers. "Anyways. We've both scoured the Bible and we have verses to read and things to say and everything, so...here goes." She took a deep breath, then fingered through the Bible. "I've chosen something from Romans. I never really discussed the Bible with Mom, but I know that she liked the New Testament a lot better than the Old. Anyways, this is Romans 5:1-5. Therefore," she intoned, "since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us." Jules looked up. "Mom—suffered a lot through her life. When she was younger, her family life was tough. Her parents—my grandparents—are good, honest people, who, like Job, often were dealt an unfair hand. Mom's only sister, Leslie, died many years ago from a leukodystrophic disorder. Leslie never really got to have a happy life, and this darkened Mom's whole youth. Still, Mom saw blessings in things like this and tried to see the positive side of things. She tried to be good and helpful to her parents, and to enrich Leslie's short life. Mom wasn't perfect—this plan backfired a lot. A lot. Things got a little happier for her when she got older—she married a man that, until the day she died, she maintained that she had loved him a lot. Unfortunately, his love wasn't as strong as hers; he was essentially a weak man who got caught up with bad people. He caused my mother a lot of grief, but she always tried to look on the bright side. 'After all,' she used to tell us, 'after all, he gave me you two. You two are my greatest blessing on earth.' This way of looking at things always made me feel internally guilty, actually, because I thought that love in general was something to be earned, to be worthy of—and I never felt worthy of it. My grades could be higher, I could be prettier, I could be kinder. It wasn't until after she got sick that I realized that love just is, and doesn't have parameters or expectations.
"Still, things were worse after Dad and Mom got a divorce. We never saw him, so it was very confusing for us, but Mom was now a single, working mother in an area that didn't have single, working mothers. She had to be very strong, both for her and for us. But everything was a tradeoff in her life, since she didn't have anyone to split the load. There could be a presentation in Tokyo, where she would be honored as a speaker, or there was Grace's dance recital. Things like that. It would have been very easy for her to get discouraged, and I'm sure she did, but she did it privately. Grace and I weren't the easiest teenagers to raise, but she did it well. Things were always tough, but they had been looking up in the past few years. Grace and I were still sometimes tough, but we had passed our whiney, pseudo-rebellious stage in ninth grade. Mom had gotten several promotions, had more flexibility. Grace and I were going to go away in about a year—then she could have a personal life back. Grace and I dreamed about her meeting someone, sharing the rest of her time with. She wasn't very old; too old to have more children of course, but she could still have fun." Jules looked down sadly to gather her strength for the rest of the speech. "But then the cancer came. This was going to be her toughest fight yet, the one where her faith would be tested the most. It was tested, yes, and she knew that she was going to die. But, instead of killing her faith, it gave her faith a new rebirth. She now had something primal and fierce to fight for, to believe in: she had to make sure that Grace and I were safe. From the moment the diagnosis came back, she mentally flipped from fighting for survival to fighting for Grace and me. She moved us to Las Vegas to make sure someone would look after us. She tried fervently to pass on her remaining wisdom. I think, that by about July or so, right before we moved, she didn't care if she lived or died, so long as she could get everything she needed to across to us. Of course, she didn't. There aren't enough hours in eternity for that to have happened. But she wasn't scared of dying, she tried, she went down fighting. And, I think the only reason she was able to die—because Mom would never die without a clear conscience—was that she had faith in God and faith in us that everything would be okay. If Mom was a lesser person, she might still be hanging by a thread and suffering. But, through it all, Mom's faith was more of a lesson in wisdom than anything else she could have given us. She taught by example. Her amazing strength, grace, and faith are the things that I'm going to remember forever." Jules was openly crying now, and mumbled, "Thank you," as an anticlimactic ending to her speech. She looked awkwardly at her sister. Grace squeezed her hand, took a deep breath, and stepped forward. Jules kept an arm around her sister's waist. Lilly had once told Sara Grace wasn't good at making speeches, didn't like standing in front of everyone. Sara hoped everything would go well.
"Good morning," Grace started off awkwardly. "Like my sister said, thank you for coming. It really means a lot to look out from up here and see you all. Um…" she looked around, looked down, took another breath. "I'm not like Jules. I can't make speeches. I can do other things but I can't make speeches. I also don't think I'll be able to hold it together for very long. So—please—just stay with me. Thank you." She fumbled through the Bible, flicked it forward a little. "I'm—I'm going to read one of my mother's favorite passages. It's from Matthew, chapter six, versus 19 through 21. Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth consume, and where thieves do not break or steal. For where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also." She looked up and closed the Bible. "Mom—was always very busy. She had to be. She had a demanding, productive job and two daughters all on her own. She had commutes and bosses and parent teacher conferences and swimming carpools. She had a lot of responsibility. She wasn't one of those people who stopped, every day, to contemplate her gifts on Earth and be happy with what God gave her. She got stressed a lot. She rarely slowed down to stop and smell the roses—she didn't have time. I think a lot of the time she sort of had a 'what am I doing?' feeling and sort of felt like she was spinning her wheels in place and got really frustrated with everything.
"Though Mom's life was consumed by the small things, the thing that kept her going was her perspective, her attitude, and her values. Mom was great at balancing things and finding the balance. She was able to avoid going completely crazy by maintaining balance and perspective. She knew it could be worse, but she also knew she couldn't change her lot, so she was determined to make the best of it. She had a core set of values and beliefs that couldn't be crossed by anyone, and this gave her structure. This way, she wasn't consumed by the small things and made into less of a person. She was sort of above everything—as mine and Jules' lives swirled and it was easy for us to get caught up in the current, she was always able to see and think clearly, even in her darkest moments.
"Again, Mom wasn't perfect. She got frustrated and angry really easily. But—she didn't let it get to her most days, or at least she didn't show it. She always considered her most important role to be strong for the two of us. And this way, her treasure—those things she loved most dearly—was never pecked away by moths and rust and thieves. She was able to live a fuller life because of this. And, because her life was so full, she died without regrets. And I think that's the best way to go." Grace was crying, but it was silent and slow—just fat tears running down her face as she spoke. Jules still had a tight grip on her sister and a scared, shocked look on her face. "So, anyways. Yeah. Thank you all for honoring Mom. It's nice to know that her hard work didn't go unnoticed." The twins looked at each other, nodded, and walked down quietly. Sara shifted her thighs and they scooted into the pew.
The eulogy was boring; Sara actually tried to concentrate this time through but ended up being filled with an aching pain of loss somewhere around her chest cavity. Nick's face was very tight and white, and his grip on her fingers tightened periodically. It was then time for a hymn, Sara flipped through the book, found the song, but couldn't find her voice. She stood mute as the congregation's off-key voices crescendoed into the refrain. Suddenly, the tears began to drip down, plopping with a satisfied sound onto the paper-thin pages of the hymnal. Nick noticed but didn't look at her; he began to move his thumb in concentric circles around her arm. Sara rested her head against his shoulder. It stayed there for the rest of the service. She felt so numb.
Sara had never been to what Maggie deemed a 'funeral luncheon,' where the family greeted everyone. Sara stood next to Maggie, shaking hands and trying to smile as Maggie explained Sara's relationship to the family. They stood in front of the long buffet table; people shook their hands before grabbing a pulled pork sandwich or fresh fruit. There was even a cake, chocolate with white frosting and no message on it, provided by the women of the church. The girls got most of the attention—everyone was saying things like "You're so brave," and "What a wonderful speech—your mother would have been proud."
Finally, though, the last guest petered through. Maggie took a deep breath—everyone was doing a lot of sighing—and set her shoulder back. Very softly, she said, "This is so much harder than I imagined. With Leslie—we had sixteen years to prepare. We were grateful every day she was alive, every time she did something minute. And, by the end—there was so much pain. It was easy to say she was in a better place and that she was better off there. Now, though—" Maggie looked pained, "it's Lilly. Lilly was always so quick, so smart, so precocious. She was easy to let grow up—it was almost a relief because she was so self-assured and adultlike. She never strayed. She was always going to be okay and work herself out. And she was always going to do good things in the world. She was so amazing. With the boys, there was never such awe. They were so normal, it was so comforting. They were what I had expected out of children. I'm not a remarkable person, Sara, I wanted ordinary children who didn't struggle or succeed too much. I hadn't. But with both Lilly and Leslie—every day, I could look at them in awe. They both were so amazing. They made it harder but they made it more joyful. And then there is you—I just I guess had a knack for raising such strong smart women who survived and beat the odds. I just—I didn't expect Lilly to go, too. Losing you first, especially because of my own doing, was hard. Losing Leslie was even tougher. I never imagined I'd have to lose Lilly too." In the dim, awkward light her face was more lined than Sara remembered—lined with seventy-five years of life and journeys and destinations. Each line had a story, a hardship, a joy, a memory. Sara compulsively hugged her, very tightly.
"You never lost me," Sara said. "You saved me, you know. Everything that I am now—part of it's my parents, of course, but a lot of the good came from you and Uncle Nathan and, lately, Lilly and Grace and Jules."
"Sara—" Maggie looked up at her imploringly, "I don't think I've ever really apologized for the way things ended. It was, truly, my fault. I wasn't strong enough. I couldn't take it anymore. I'm so sorry I wasn't strong enough. But, baby—" she touched Sara's cheek, as if being enthralled for the first time by a new baby, "you were. You really were. You've done your uncle and I so proud—especially now. You didn't have to. We owe you so much." Sara hugged her aunt tightly again, feeling less numb and empty, but still open and hurt.
The lunch wrapped up by two; the family had the inurnment at seven, just as the sun was setting. The church ladies boxed up the food for them, implored them to eat later, but nobody was actually planning on it.
The five hours passed slowly. Most of it was spent in the car—it was just slightly over two hours from Sacramento to the cemetery in Inverness, where Lilly had grown up. The cemetery was gorgeous—near the ocean, in one of the prettiest sections of town. Sara could hear the ocean waves lulling and breaking in the distance, though she could not see them.
One of the boys somehow rigged up a boombox and played Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah," which generally made Sara feel as if she was on a movie set. The haunting melody did nothing to improve the mood or to comfort the remaining souls.
The ceremony was short: a few words from the minister, then they all threw white lily petals onto the grave before each taking a turn with the shovel. They stood the entire time.
After the urn was lowered and covered with the basic dirt (the groundskeeper would finish the job off) they all stood for a while, then the boys began to drift. Then, Nick leaned in close and said he was going to go try and see the ocean. Finally, Nathan took Maggie's arm and led her off, ostensibly to show her the view. Only the girls and Sara were left, staring down into the gaping hole, their final connection to a tangible Lilly covered by dirt. It was over. It was final. It was reality.
Grace finally turned and tilted her face upward, let the ocean breeze swirl around it. "Mom always did love the ocean."
"Yeah." Jules said quietly, turning into the wind. "It's nice that she can hear it from here. It's very peaceful. The wind—the ocean—the sun. Everything simple that Mom loved is here."
"It's comforting." Grace agreed.
"I wish it had an ocean view." Sara finally spoke up. "That would be really nice."
Grace and Jules looked at each other. "I think it's better this way." Jules finally said. "It's more like a promise from God of what's to come."
Sara turned then, to face the girls, to face the wind.
And, inexplicably, she felt comforted.