Old Wounds

by TeeJay

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Summary:
Tragedy strikes the Girardi family, bringing old friends back together. Very dark future fic, set nine years after season two. Mostly about Adam, and some Grace and eventually Joan. Did you expect anything else from me?

Author's Note:
There was something about Tote's latest stories (The Fix and Fix You) that struck a chord with me, making me want to write a future fic. And not one of those virtual season three ones (no offense!), no, a real future fic. I felt the strong urge to write all these wonderful characters in their mid-twenties, something a little closer to my own age. So this story is set eight years after High School graduation for Grace, Joan and Adam, so to say nine years after season two ended.

Originally, this was going to go with one of my WIP stories, but I then decided I wanted it written in the first person, and that would just not go with any of them. Well, then I guess this is going to be its own little baby. And don't worry, I haven't forgotten about those WIPs. They're just put on hold for a (hopefully short) while.

And... Ha! What did you expect, of course this is focused on Joan and Adam (okay, a lot of Grace, too). It's all I seem to want to write about these days. Sue me, it's what I do. It's also pretty darn dark, so please don't expect fluff. This time I made Adam this despicable guy—please don't hate me! But I needed that in order for this to work the way I wanted it to. Deep down inside, I really like the bloke, so there might be some redeeming along the way.

And don't expect the happily-ever-after thing with the all the couples still together. I hate that. Nice as it may be, it's not terribly realistic, is it? Not that this whole story is very realistic in itself, but, hey... Everyone's entitled to inventing their own little universe, right?

Thank you again, GermanJoan, for your wonderful comments, support and letting me borrow some of your beautifully angsty Adam/Joan moments for this story. And for completely agreeing on Alpha Dog hair-cutting issues. :o)

'Nuff said. Reviews more than welcome, as always. No puppy dog eyes this time because I hope the loyal ones will do it anyway and the not-so-loyal ones will want to surprise me.

Disclaimer:
These characters and settings are not mine. Nor am I claiming they are. They are property of CBS, Barbara Hall Productions, Sony or whoever else they might belong to. I'm not making any money out of this, although I wish I was.

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"Dude. There's something you should know."

Grace's voice sounds somehow subdued and sad—not like Grace at all. I picture her in front of my mind's eye, with her blond hair and her defiant blue eyes, and I find myself wondering why she still says phrases like 'dude', when it's been almost eight years since we've finished High School.

"Rove, you still there?"

I press the ear piece of my cell phone closer to my ear. "Yeah, what is it?"

"It's about Helen Girardi," she says. I wait for an elaboration, but none is forthcoming. Is she going to have me force it out of her?

"Joan's mother? What about her?"

"She died." Her statement is bold and direct, just like Grace, and it takes a second for me to register its meaning.

I swallow and sink down on the couch because suddenly my legs can't seem to carry my weight any longer. I don't know why I feel my eyes filling with tears, since I haven't even fully grasped what Grace just told me.

"Rove?" I hear Grace's voice calling for my attention again.

"Yeah," I whisper, swallowing again at the lump rising up my throat. "How?" I ask her after another few second's silence.

"Car accident. Some freak drove his SUV right into hers. Apparently, she died at the scene."

"When?" I almost sob and it's all I can do to ask in monosyllables.

"Two days ago. Luke just called me."

'Naturally,' I think. Luke and Grace still keep in touch, even though their relationship didn't last beyond their first three years together. Everyone had been putting their hopes in them when Jane and I couldn't make it past our two-year anniversary. High School flings aren't made to last, isn't that what they say? I briefly wonder why that is.

"How is Joan doing?" I ask very quietly. It's the question I've been dreading, because shouldn't she be the one calling me, telling me her mother died? But I know all too well why I have to hear this from Grace and not from her.

"How do you think?" Grace asks, her voice becoming bitter, more sarcastic. In a softer tone, she adds. "Everyone's pretty much still in shock. Hell, I can hardly believe it myself."

"When's the funeral?" I enquire, suddenly overcome by the urge to fly out there to Arcadia and say goodbye to the one woman who, after I had lost my own mom, made me feel that love that only a mother can give you.

"On Thursday," Grace states.

That'll give me two days to get from Chicago to Maryland. I already mentally see me buying a plane ticket and packing my bags. "I'm coming over, maybe I can catch a flight tomorrow."

There is silence on the other end that, despite its wordlessness, speaks volumes. "What, you think I shouldn't be coming?" I ask, sounding upset suddenly.

"Dude, I think you're the last person Girardi would want to see." We both know she is not talking about Luke.

"Grace, Mrs. Girardi was..." I stumble on the words because they sound so corny when I say them. "... she was like a mother to me. I would like to think that I at least deserve to pay her my last respects. Don't you?"

"Look, I—" Grace starts, then pauses for a second, sounding unsure at how to put what she wants to say. "It's your call. Just don't expect the family to welcome you with open arms, especially her."

I sigh and use my free hand to rub it over my face. "Yeah, I know," I reply wearily. "I'll see you when I get there, all right?"

"Okay," Grace replies. "Let me know if we should get you from the airport." With 'we' she means herself and Tom, her boyfriend and, if rumors are to be believed, soon-to-be husband. Who'd think Grace would ever submit to anything so obviously conservative? But I don't have time to mull over possible marriage plans of old friends now.

"No, I'll be fine," I tell her, not wanting to impose. "Bye."

I hit the red 'disconnect' button with my thumb, holding the cell phone limply in my hand, staring at it absently. How did this happen? Life was going so well there for a while, and then it hits you square in the face once again. I look up at the ceiling, silently asking whoever might be up there, "What did I do to deserve this? And what did Mrs. Girardi do? You are one twisted son of a bitch, you hear me?"

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Getting the plane ticket was easy enough. Not many people are commuting from Illinois to Maryland in January. I retrieve the black nylon bag from the closet and start packing a few clothes for the short trip. I don't have to mull over which suit to pick: Black with a dark gray shirt and a matching gray satiny tie will do.

A quick trip into the cellar makes old memories resurface. I walk over the corner where I keep all my art and my sculptures. Most of the big ones I have either sold or stored in the old shed in Arcadia, but a few of the small ones are laid to rest here with me. I carefully lift the once white, now slightly yellowed sheet off the table and take a minute to reminisce about High School and times when ideals seemed still to be within reach and finishing school seemed like the ultimate goal.

My gaze wanders along the dozen or so remaining small sculptures arranged on the tabletop and I squint my eyes, trying to decide which one would be worthy of Helen Girardi's memory. The one with the long, curled wires and golden finish to my right speaks to me, and I pick it up and turn it in my hands. My mind flashes back to High School and I see Mrs. Girardi standing in front of me in arts class after all the students have already left, saying only a few encouraging words to me, but completely making my day.

Ironically, I suddenly remember something she said to me after that Pop Art assignment that I first hated so much. So very clearly, I see the colorful picture of that cat painting in front of me as if I just painted it yesterday. She had liked it so much and told me then I could have a real future in commercial design. I snort through my nose. How prophetic.

My glance quickly moves over the sculptures again, but the one I'm still holding is the one, so I drape the sheet back over the others. As I lock the cellar door behind me and walk up the stairs, my eyes take in the sculpture in my hands. Back in my apartment, I put it on the kitchen table and study it in more detail from a few steps away. There's a strange longing growing in me to just pick up a welder and some metal scraps and start putting something tangible together, something in 3-D. Nowadays art is made with the computer, and I am no exception.

I carefully wrap the sculpture in a tea towel and place it in the bag, only barely fitting next to the pair of black leather shoes that I only just gave a shine. I close the zipper of the bag and make myself one last coffee before I have to leave for the airport.

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The flight was uneventful, except for the unscheduled half hour wait on the runway and the odd turbulence as we left Chicago. Arriving in Arcadia, things felt familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. The city's skyline still looked the same, but I felt like I didn't belong anymore.

Dad came to pick me up and we rode the 40 minutes from the airport to our old house mostly in silence. We talk on the phone at least every two weeks, so Dad knows pretty much what is going on in my life. Or at least the part that I am willing to share. A few quick enquiries about how the flight went, and then we both left each other to our thoughts.

Walking up the stairs to my old room introduces another level of strangeness. I have stayed here a couple of times after having first moved to the college dorm and then to my own apartment in Chicago, but tonight, surroundings feel uncannily surreal and my life out of kilter. Dutifully, I unpack the suit, shirt and tie from the bag, so they won't crease any more than they already have. I will take care of that tomorrow morning before the funeral, aided by the electric iron.

Dinner with Dad is awkward, if anything. He knows as well as I that recent events bring our own painful memories too close to the surface—memories we share but don't want to talk about. Attempts at small talk are made, but fail usually after a few exchanged sentences. We both breathe a silent sigh of relief as the potato stew is finished and dishes put into the sink for future cleaning.

Lying in my bed, staring at the somehow familiar patterns the streetlamps paint on the ceiling, I dread tomorrow. Everyone will be there: Grace and Tom, Kevin and Lily, an odd pair that has made it through the years despite challenges and hurdles, Luke, Mr. Girardi—and Joan. I haven't seen her in—how long? Close to four years now, it must be. Grace keeps me in the loop about milestone events, but that's all I get when it comes to sharing Joan's life nowadays.

Grace once told me that Joan still asked about me every now and then, which I took with a bittersweet smile. I was surprised she still showed any interest in me, after all I had put her through.

And they will all be staring at me, the unwelcome intruder, the unworthy trespasser. Back when I had been on the phone with Grace in Chicago, I hadn't cared about that, but now I am questioning my decision. Is it wise to turn up there tomorrow? Won't that only add to the Girardi's pain and sorrow? I take a deep breath and release it through my nose, my chest heaving heavily. I turn to lie on my side and try to find a comfortable position to sleep in. Closing my eyes, I hope that sleep will claim me rather sooner than later.

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