A/N- lol, does anyone even remember this was originally a oneshot? This is the last chapter of my little Christmas fairy-tale. I wanna thank you once again, everyone, for your reviews, good words and encouragement. It means the world to me, and I love you for it. Honestly. I can't thank you enough. I hope you enjoyed this story as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Oh yeah, and since today is my birthday, reviews on this chapters are more than welcome, and will be considered as birthday presents… need I say more?…
See you soon you guys! Thanks again!
Thousand sweet kisses,
What the hell?
Slowly, she opened her eyes. She glanced around, a bit disoriented still. For a moment, she forgot where she was. It's been a long time since she had a proper night's sleep like this one. She just had this thing against hotel beds. She looked behind her. Her guess turned out to be correct. It was Libby who jumped onto the bed once she detected Mark sleeping there. He was rubbing his eyes now, sitting against the bed-board, slowly awakening as well, it seemed.
"Munchkin, how did you get here?" she asked, yawning, as she turned to face Libby, who somehow got herself under the covers and was laying between the two of them. She pulled the girl closer and started tickling her.
Libby yelped in surprise. "No, mommy, stop it!" she protested, giggling.
She stopped, and Libby snuggled closer to her. She nuzzled the back of her neck, and just held her close for a moment, breathing the sweet scent of her hair. They used to do this every Sunday morning at home in San Francisco. Libby would climb into her bed and they would just lay there, under the covers, just holding one another for a while before it was time to get up. "Did you sleep okay, baby?"
"Yes, sleep okay," Libby nodded, and looked at Mark, who was watching them with
an amused expression on his face. "Did you sleep okay?" she asked him, imitating her mother's question.
"Yeah, I slept great," he answered, smiling but still a bit tired-looking.
She threw him a playful look and then smiled at Libby. "He still looks kind of sleepy to me, Munchkin," she said thoughtfully. "Maybe we should tickle him a little bit too, huh?"
"No!" Mark nearly launched himself out of bed. He laughed. "I'm awake."
"Mommy, why do we have to leave if we said we stay?"
"Because we need to get all our stuff here, sweetie. It's only for a little while." She knew it would be at least a month before they could go back. She had to inform their landlord they were moving out, and then they'd have some packing to do and she had a lot to do at work before taking her new position. Stan promised to start taking care of that when she was in his office the day before. They'd make it easier on her the best they could, he assured her. "We'll be back here before your birthday." I hope, she added silently.
"Can't you come with us?" Libby looked at Mark, who shook his head sadly.
"I'll be here when you get back," he assured her. Their gazes locked above Libby's head. He refused to tell her how did the conversation with his mother go, but she could guess. He was so upset when he came over the night before, so it was pretty obvious. It wasn't a big surprise, because she remembered too well the way both his parents treated her back then, on their one time visit at Scarsdale. It was kind of predictable. She didn't expect Mark's mother to change her attitude simply because her husband was dead. But she didn't want Mark to move away from his family because of this. Because of her. It wasn't right.
"Mo?" She blinked, and turned to look at him, a little unfocused. He smirked. "Maybe it is you we need to tickle, what do you say, Libby?" he asked, winking at Libby, who responded with a huge grin.
"That's sweet, turning my own child against me," she said with a fake frown. Her heart was breaking. She'd miss him so much. Then she quickly pulled herself together. No time for this right now, she told herself. They still had a lot to do that day. "Libby, I put your clothes on the chair in your room last night. Why don't you go to wash your face and brush your teeth and I'll be there in a second to help you getting dressed?"
"Okay mommy!" said Libby, jumping out of bed.
Once Libby was gone, she looked at Mark. His blonde hair was even more tousled than usual. He looked so adorable. She climbed onto his lap and wrapped both her arms around his neck, smiling.
He returned her smile, wrapping his arms around her waist. "Does that mean you forgive me for turning Libby against you?"
Reminding her that was not a smart move. She looked at him thoughtfully, her expression amused. She wouldn't tell him she already forgot about it. Oh no. The former diva still had some dignity left. "Did you really think I'd let you get away with it so easily?"
He smiled, playing along. "Oh, I see… so what is it that I'll have to do in order to repay for my horrible sin?"
"You'll have to figure that out yourself," she said, looking at him playfully.
"Yeah, I figured as much," he said before pulling her closer for a kiss. She definitely didn't see it coming, but soon she was kissing him back, telling herself he definitely got her forgiveness by now. Mark was always a great kisser, even back then when they were dating and he was completely inexperienced with girls. It never ceased to amaze her. It was like he knew what he was doing by pure instinct, or maybe it was because he was always so attentive to other people's needs. At some point she just stopped rationalizing it. She simply considered herself lucky.
He held her closer as their kiss deepened. For a moment she lost all thought. She didn't even think about what might happen if Libby would choose that exact same moment to barge into the room. He trailed his kisses from her lips to her neck. She buried her head in his shoulder, repressing a moan.
"Don't… even… think about it…" she murmured against his neck as she felt his fingers drifting under her nightshirt, trying to rip it off.
"Why?" he smiled mischievously and kissed her again.
"Mommy, come on!"
She pulled away reluctantly, giving him a look. "That's why." She kissed the tip of his nose. "But in case you were wondering, your apology is accepted."
"Lucky me, I thought I'd have to pay a heavier price," he said, blushing slightly.
"Well, if you really want to-"
"I'll be right there, Munchkin!" She went out of bed, pulling him after her. "Come on, you. We've got a lot of stuff to do before our flight."
"Stuff? What stuff?" he asked, confused, reaching for his clothes on the dresser.
"Something I promised myself to do before I go back," she said seriously, wrapping her arms around his waist. She looked into his eyes. "Do you feel better?"
For a moment she was sure he was about to tell her what exactly happened with his mother. He had that look… but then, in a second, it was gone. "Yeah. I do feel better." They stood there for a moment, just holding each other. She couldn't believe it was about to end in several hours. He slowly let her go. "You should go and help her."
"Yeah. I'll see you in a bit," she said and went over to help Libby.
In spite of Libby's endless protests, they left her at Robin's place after checking out. Since their flight was scheduled to late afternoon, there was still something she wanted to do before they'd go to the airport. Mark said she shouldn't hurry, they'd be back in a while anyway, but she felt like she had to do it today. So they took a cab and went to the cemetery.
Luckily, the weather was bearable. It wasn't snowing or raining. It was just amazingly cold. She snuggled into her coat and she followed Mark silently along a trail he seemed to know so well. She wasn't sure how she felt. It was a strange mixture of expectation, sadness and fear.
She thought it was funny, even a bit ironic. This was the very reason she tried to avoid going back to New York in the first place. Her need to detach herself from the pain of the past. And now, there she was, on her way to see the remainders of that past she tried all her life to keep away. Then she came to realize how useless it was. She could never escape it, no matter how hard she tried. It was always there to haunt her, in one way or another.
"Here we are," Mark's voice invaded her thoughts and she realized they had stopped walking. She raised her head to face them. A silent line for tombstones, that once were her friends, the closest thing to a family she ever had. They were buried side by side. Angel and Collins, Roger and Mimi. She knelt on the grass in front of Collins' tombstone and just looked at it for a while. February 4th, almost five years ago… is exactly the day Collins passed away. She thought how amazing it was, that at the same day Libby came into the world, Collins left it. And she never got a chance to see him leave, because she ran away. He would never know… none of them would ever know…
Her gaze wandered from one tombstone to another, and suddenly she got this terrible feeling, as if she was being watched. As if they were all looking at her, into her, blaming her for not being there when they needed her, for choosing the easy way out and leaving all of them behind.
As if he could tell what was on her mind, Mark gently pulled her into a hug. "Don't think about it," he said quietly. "They would have been so proud of you if they knew her, I know they would."
"But they'll never know that I-"
"They do know," he cut her off, gently yet persistently. "You're here now."
They said nothing for a long time. They just sat there, holding one another, watching the tombstones. The wind was rustling softly through the tree trunks. It was almost inevitable to get carried away by memories. April's funeral, the trauma of losing her the way they did. Angel was next, and while in April's case they were all too numbed by the suddenness of her death to actually feel the pain, when Angel died they got their first taste of real grief. Then Mimi… and nothing seemed fair in the world anymore. Nothing made sense. They were all so young…
Mark gently took her hand and interlaced his fingers with hers. She smiled and looked down, and her forehead cringed with confusion when she detected a spark on one of her fingers, that definitely wasn't there before. But how did that ring got there? She moved her gaze from the ring to Mark, who smiled sheepishly.
"Well, since I can't even propose properly, I'm trying to save my dignity the best I can," he joked, and looked up. "Come on, you can't say you don't feel Roger and Collins right here, laughing their asses over because I'm making a fool out of myself."
She laughed. Weird, but for a slight second she could feel them. She looked at the ring he slid on her finger when she didn't notice. Tiny diamonds surrounding one perfect Aquamarine. It was beautiful. "Where did you get it?"
"It was my grandmother's. Cindy got it when she got married. Yesterday, she gave it to me, for you."
"And what did your mother have to say about your sister giving this piece of family inheritance to your disagreeable fiancé?" she asked only half jokingly. The other half was completely serious. She made sure he could read that in her expression.
He looked at her seriously. "She doesn't know. Even if she does, I don't care."
"You won't be able to keep it a secret forever. You realize that sooner or later you'll have to tell me what happened there yesterday, right?" she said as gently as she could. She didn't want to put pressure on him, but she had to know.
"I know. I'll tell you, I promise. Just… not now," he said, tightening his embrace. "Just don't change your mind or something once you get back to San Francisco."
She smiled. "If you're chickening out let me just tell you, it's too late. I won't change my mind. I'll marry you whether you like it or not, Mark Cohen."
He smiled, then looked up again and back at her with the slightest frown upon his bluish gray eyes. "Yeah. Now I can definitely hear them laughing."
There was a sad yet comfortable silence between them on the way to the airport. None of them spoke, not even Libby, who was sitting between the two of them in the cab, clinging to Mark and hugging her teddy bear close. It broke her heart to see her little girl so down.
He walked them as far as he was allowed to go, carrying the bigger suitcase. She held the other suitcase in one hand, and Libby's hand with the other. The last thing she wanted was to lose her daughter in the crowded airport.
"So this is it," said Mark as they stopped in front of their gate. He let go of the suitcase. She did the same. He took her hand and gently pulled her towards him, holding her close. "Call me when you get home. I don't care when is it. Don't worry about waking me or something. Just let me know you're okay."
She nodded. She was too upset to start arguing about it. "Okay. I will," she promised, slowly pulling away.
"I'll see what I can do. Maybe I'll be able to come over next weekend or something."
"That will be great," she smiled. She wished he could. She just looked at him for a moment. Who would have thought that all this would happen from a simple business trip to New York? She touched his cheek. "I'll miss you so much."
"I know. I'll miss you too." He looked down at Libby. "Both of you," he said, kneeling down beside her. Her eyes glistened with tears, but she didn't cry. "You'll be a good girl, right? And take care of your mommy?"
Libby nodded seriously. "I will."
He smiled. "Good. Now come here, give me a hug," he said, outstretching his arms. Libby stepped into them and wrapped her little arms around his neck as he gave her a big hug. As he slowly pulled away, his eyes were glistening with tears as well.
Libby looked at him thoughtfully for a moment, and then reached for her teddy bear. She held it out for Mark. "Will you keep him until we go back?"
She stared at her daughter in disbelief. Ever since she got it for her birthday, Libby and Roger were inseparable. It went everywhere with her. Once they forgot it on a bench in the park, and she had to go back there in the middle of the most frightening thunder storm to get it back because Libby wouldn't sleep without it. And now she wanted to leave it here with Mark?
"Baby, are you sure? You know, we won't be able to fly back to get it if you'll change your mind."
Libby looked at her teddy bear thoughtfully, and eventually nodded. "Yes, want Mark to keep it."
Mark seemed to understand what that teddy bear meant for Libby, for he gave her a reassuring nod and said seriously, "Sure, Libby. I'll keep it. He'll be safe with me, don't worry. Both of us will be here to welcome you when you go back."
"Promise?" she asked, still a bit uncertain, clutching the teddy bear close to her chest.
Mark smiled. "You bet."
She hesitated, but only for a second. Then she kissed the teddy bear's forehead. "Bye Roger. Mark promised to take care of you. Be good, okay?"
A smile found its way to her lips as she watched Libby, who was passing her favorite bear to Mark. There was no regret in the girl's eyes as Mark stood up, and Roger was out of her reach. No regret at all. Only pure trust.
"You should go," said Mark, glancing at his watch. A stewardess in navy blue uniform smiled at them politely, gesturing a huge clock nearby. They should hurry or they'd miss their flight. Actually, that didn't sound half bad. Mark shook his head as if he guessed what was on her mind. He pulled her to his arms again.
"I love you," she whispered into his ear.
He smiled, placing a small kiss on her lips. "I love you too. Go, you'll miss your plane," he added, handing her one of the suitcase.
She hesitated, but then, knowing she had no choice, she took it from him and picked up the other suitcase as well. They shared one last smile before she gave their tickets to the stewardess. She didn't look back, or she would never have gone on that plane. As they were walking towards their gate, Libby suddenly turned back.
"Bye Mark!" she called, waving at him. He smiled and waved back, holding her teddy bear close to his heart. Their eyes met for the last time, but there were no tears this time. Just silent hope.
"Love you," he mouthed.
She smiled. "Me too," she mouthed back. She looked down at Libby. "Come on, baby. We gotta go."
Once they were seated, she helped Libby to fasten her seat belt. She adjusted her own seat belt next and leaned back, closing her eyes. Soon the engines started roaring as the plane started its slow ascent. The Captain's voice was heard clearly through the speakers as he gave a short weather report and the expected landing time, but she could hardly listen to him. Her thoughts wandered back to that morning, to the cemetery. Would they ever know how much they meant to her? Mark said they did, and she could only hope he was right. She touched her new ring, a slow smile curling on her lips. She missed him already. She thought it was funny, the way life worked. In a matter of a few days her whole life changed, and the past she tried so hard to escape from, suddenly became her future.
She opened her eyes as she felt Libby's soft little hand touching hers. "Don't cry, mommy," she told her seriously. "It's only for a little while."
She touched her cheek, suddenly feeling the dampness of tears. "I know, Munchkin," she said with a small smile. She squeezed Libby's hand. "Will you be okay without Roger?"
"Will be okay, mommy."
Seconds later, the plane was in the air. They were on their way home. She glanced at the window. The city was spread below them, its magnificent lights and billboards slowly fading into darkness as the plane carried them higher, and further away. Soon Libby was asleep, and before she knew it, she was slowly drifting into slumber as well. Libby's words echoed through her mind. It's only for a little while. They'd be back before they'd realize they were gone. And when they would, Mark would be there. Everything would be okay.
In her sleep, she was smiling.