"I'm learning to walk again
I believe I've waited long enough.
Where do I begin?"
Foo Fighters: "Walk"
PRESENT TIME – 4 MONTHS LATER
My hands were full. I placed the first bouquet down on the grass, transferring a kiss to my fingers and placing them on the name.
Henrietta's headstone looked fresh; one of the newer plaques in the area. I was filled with sadness, and yet I knew she was at peace. I laid a bouquet next to a few others that had succumbed to the elements. One of the bouquets, which had once been a bunch of white roses, was now shrivelled and held together by a knotted ribbon.
I spent a little time at Henrietta's headstone, feeling the wind wrap around me. I wondered where she was now. Could she still see me? Something told me I wouldn't find out until it was my turn.
After some time had passed, I travelled down the cobblestoned path towards the other side of the cemetery. There were only a few others in the cemetery that I could see; a couple, off in the distance, and what looked to be an extended family with grandparents and small children in the next row over from where I was walking. I tried not to visit cemeteries much; a headstone made things so much more permanent. When you have the ability to connect with spirits after death, nothing really feels final.
It may have been years, but seeing Vicki's name filled me with a different kind of sorrow; a guilt that would never leave me for as long as I lived. I placed flowers down next to her, wishing I could tell her how sorry I was. How thankful I was for her friendship and her loyalty. How she had wilfully thrown herself into danger because she believed it was the right thing to do.
The guilt I felt for Vicki was nothing compared to what I felt when I approached my mother's headstone. I sank to my knees and let the tears fall freely. My fingers were shaky as I rearranged the roses I had bought her. I placed them carefully next to a grand arrangement that didn't even look a day old.
It had been nearly four years, but not a day had passed when I didn't wish that I could have changed things. I would have gone through it all over again, I would have freely suffered worse, if it had of spared my mother. One thing four years had taught me was that you can never change what was, only what was going to be. I would mourn my mother for the rest of my life, but I also knew that I had to make my life worthwhile. My mother would have expected it. She would have encouraged it. I could imagine her, sitting across from me on the couch, drinking her third coffee for the day and telling me all her plans. It had always amazed me how she found the time to accomplish so much every day, but I suppose I always knew. She had a plan, and she always had a plan, and she never hesitated.
Don't look back.
I didn't pay any mind to the crunch of gravel until it was right behind me, but even then I didn't look up straight away. It might have been instinct, or intuition, but I knew who it was, and I knew why he was here.
"I heard the news," he said, his voice soft.
I shut my eyes for a moment and slowly rose to face him. Paul was standing in a shirt and jeans, hands in his pockets, watching me the way he always had. His hair was shorter and his trademark smirk was sitting on his face.
"I thought I'd find you here."
I nodded, looking over my shoulder at my mother's grave. "I needed to say goodbye."
"My mother has come here every week, you know. Since the funeral."
That explained the flowers, big and bold and obnoxiously beautiful. They were so obviously from Nancy I wondered why I didn't think of her the moment I saw them.
"How is Nancy?"
Paul shrugged. "She's wonder woman inside a liquor bottle, as always." He looked at me steadily. "Why?"
I sighed, pushing away the hair the wind had blown into my face. "Why not? I don't really have any reason to stay here, Paul."
He frowned, and walked a few steps towards me. I hadn't seen this man in four months, and yet he was still so familiar to me. He probably always would be. He had always been such a large stakeholder in my life; no amount of time would erase that. I had missed him so much…but I also knew that the space had been good for the both of us.
Paul looked content. Not happy, but content.
I'd never seen him look content before.
"There is," he answered. "You can stay. You don't need to run away."
"I'm not running away," I said. For the first time in my life, I was totally and completely telling the truth. "I'm just ready for a change. I need a change."
I took his hand and kissed his palm, squeezing it reassuringly. Paul moved closer, holding out his arms, and pulled me into a hug. In that one movement, I knew we were okay. I sighed and relaxed, putting my arms around him. He still smelled the way he always had, and it was warm inside his embrace.
"Will I ever see you again?" he murmured against my ear.
"Of course you will," I murmured. I inhaled deeply. "Just…not for a while." I hugged him tighter. It was like I was saying goodbye to a part of myself, in a way. "I'm going to miss you."
"You better," he replied. He sighed heavily. "Let me know if you need anything."
I nodded. Paul held me tighter for a moment and then released me, turning swiftly and heading towards his car, his strides long and fast.
I felt a few tears of my own run down my cheeks as I watched him leave, but they weren't tears of sorrow. There was a smile on my face, too.
Airports are always confusing places to me. There are so many people with different destinations darting around each other, each display board contains a dizzying array of flights and times, and the loudspeaker blares at frequent intervals a monotone buzz I can barely decipher. I was staring at a display board now, watching my flight slowly move upwards and attempting to ignore the buzz of nervousness and anticipation that was settled firmly in my stomach.
A cup was pushed into my hands, and I instantly smelt the aroma of strong caffeine. I smiled, my fingers lacing through those of the person standing next to me. My nervousness settled, but the anticipation stayed prominent.
"Brunei?" My expression was puzzled as I glanced over at Jesse. "Who goes to Brunei? I've never heard of that place."
Right on time, we heard the final call for Brunei over the loud speaker. In the distance, we saw the commotion of two very late backpackers running towards their terminal.
"They do?" Jesse replied innocently. A little too innocently for my state of mind.
Which reminded me: "There is civilisation where we are going, right? It's not going to be the middle of…what did you call it again?"
"It's called 'woop woop', and no, it's not. I promise there is plumbing too. Hot water…" he leant down and placed a kiss on my cheek, right next to my ear, and grinned. I shivered, squeezing his hand tighter.
"Ice cream?" I asked. "And they have ice cream?"
I laid my head on his shoulder as we continued to watch the board. I was aware I was grinning rather stupidly, but I couldn't bring myself to care. It had been a long six months, but it had brought me to where I was standing now, in the middle of the international airport, holding hands with Jesse.
It had been slow going, building our relationship again, and considering our relationship had never been what you consider normal, everything—even something as basic as dinner and a movie—was a new development. But I had quickly realised that I had made the right decision letting Jesse back in.
He was so assured of himself, so secure in his abilities, and his presence—the very thing that initially drew me to him in the mental institution—was even stronger when he was in his element. He knew me too, on a level I didn't realise you could know a person. You read in novels about finding a person that is your equal, not just your partner. I had no idea such a thing was true until now.
Realising this had taken time, but Jesse had waited patiently for me to figure it out on my own. I think he knew that was the only way I'd accept it all. He was right.
Jesse was everything I could want. Beginning, middle and end. I didn't want anybody else.
And I trusted him. Oh boy, I trusted him, more than I had trusted anybody else before. When he had first suggested the plan to me a few weeks before, I'd accepted it without much thought. He'd known I'd wanted change. This…this was change.
"You promise you won't sell me into slavery once we get there?" I joked, taking a sip of coffee. I was momentarily put into a caffeine coma, and almost missed his reply.
"Unfortunately for me, slavery has been long over. You will have to meet my parents though. And my sisters."
I swallowed a little too much coffee, and I choked. "Right. Of course."
He squeezed my hand. "If I know them at all, they'll love you."
"They've never met me."
"They've heard enough about you."
"That's not helping."
"You like beer, don't you?"
"Yes?" I wondered what that had to do with anything.
"Then you'll get along perfectly."
"If you say so."
He ran a hand down my hair, which was slightly longer. I'd missed my hair; I was glad it was growing out again. Jesse seemed to like it too, not that he'd said anything when I'd cut it. His fingers found my jaw and turned my face up towards him, looking at me with humour in his eyes, and something else that had taken some getting used to, but I didn't mind in the slightest. It made me feel warm; happiness rose in my chest, thick and consuming.
"Love you." My words were barely audible, but I know he heard them. Jesse's grin was bright and his lips met mine, soft at first, then demanding.
The loudspeaker broke us apart, informing us we could begin to board our flight. It was probably a good thing too; I wondered if you could get busted by security for making out too much in an airport.
I shivered. We were really going.
"You ready?" Jesse asked, holding me close.
I nodded and turned, taking one last look around me, and then settled my eyes back on the man standing in front of me.
The beach was beautiful, so different to what I was used to, but all that Jesse had promised it would be. The water was a deep blue in the distance, changing to a murky green closer to shore. The sound of the waves crashing loudly filled my ears as we travelled down the sandbank together.
Jesse was running enthusiastically, pulling me towards the water. The sand was soft and we kept tripping, laughing hysterically. It was late in the afternoon, but the sun was still bright, burning into my skin in a pleasant way.
I breathed the warm, briny air in deeply, letting it fill my soul, spinning and laughing, feeling my skirt wrap around my legs.
"Is that…?" I heard Jesse ask. I stopped and looked in the direction he was gazing.
A man and a woman were walking down the sandbank in the distance, chasing after what looked to be a toddler. The little boy was tripping more than it was running, but it didn't seem to mind. The woman leant down to pick him up and he squealed gleefully. The sun reflected off her platinum blonde hair, giving her away.
Then I was running, running. I couldn't stop running. I heard Jesse laugh behind me, but I knew he would catch up. He always would.
I ran, not just towards Cee Cee and Adam, but towards something I thought I'd lost forever. It had a sensation incomparable to anything that existed, because its existence was only a matter of perception…but it was a perception that was so beautiful to experience that I could almost cry.
A/N: Again, thank you to every one who has ever read this or is reading this right now. I'm sorry it took so long. Life happens, sometimes in such fast and powerful bursts that time just passes without even so much as a wave. I'm glad I can finally show the ending the way it was always intended, and I hope it hasn't disappointed anybody. As always, your comments are greatly appreciated. I'm no longer writing fanfiction, so any help you can give that I can apply to my own novels would be amazing. Thanks again!