A/N: well, it took me longer than I expected due to some crazy couple of days, but here it is, the very last part of one hell-of-a-writing experience. Once again, I wanna thank all of you, especially to those who follow this ever since Only Us. Thanks for not losing interest, for all your reviews and feedback and never-ending support. Love you guys. I'll be back soon, hopefully, with some new stuff, so stay tuned. Have a wonderful summer everyone.
Halloween, a year and a half later.
"Alright! Here we come! Close your eyes!" called Mark from somewhere down the hall. She looked up from the computer screen and stretched her arms over her head. She was working for several hours now, but it felt like so much more. She put the laptop on the coffee table and did as she was told. "Are they close?" he asked. His voice sounded closer now.
"Yep," she laughed.
There was a rustling sound, then a pause, and then Mark said, "Open your eyes."
She did. She looked up. Libby was standing in the middle of the living-room, smiling proudly. She stared at her daughter, speechless for a moment. She couldn't believe Mark managed to pull it off eventually. Since she first watched The Wizard of Oz several weeks earlier, Libby insisted to dress like Dorothy for Halloween. It was already her favorite book, so it surprised neither her or Mark. After she tried to find a dress for her in several costume shops and came out with nothing, she tried to convince Libby to find a different costume, but to no avail. Then Mark volunteered to take it over himself and help her out, and she was so grateful for him because she had enough on her mind as it was. Whenever she asked him about Libby's costume he would always find a way of avoiding giving her an answer, so eventually she decided to let him do things his way. And now her daughter was standing in front of her, wearing a beautiful checkered blue and white dress that Mark found God-knew-where. She even had on red shoes. She looked so adorable.
"Well, what do you think?" asked Mark, looking as proud as Libby.
"Where on earth you did you find red shoes?" she asked, looking down at Libby's feet again. The lacquered shoes caught the light from the side lamp in a way that made them almost sparkle, nearly like the real thing.
"They were yours, actually. Your mom found them in a box at their attic so she sent them over along with the dress."
"Grandma made the dress," informed Libby.
"Yeah, I thought you might call her for it." She turned to look at Mark. He and Libby were about to go trick-and-treating with Benny and his boys, but he was dressed as usual, with black corduroy pants and a dark green turtleneck. She smiled. "Where's your costume?"
"Here," he said, putting on a cowboy's hat. It looked funny on him, kind of a weird combination with his glasses.
"Thanks," he said, going over to the couch. He placed a small kiss on the top of her head. "We're off, don't work too hard."
"Don't stay out too late."
"And save me some candies, don't let Daddy eat all of them," she told Libby, shooting Mark a warning glare. He rolled his eyes in response, and flashed her a cute grin.
Libby giggled at that. "Okay, mommy," she said, and gave her a kiss as well. Then she walked over to the side of the couch, where a small crib stood, and leaned down to look into it. "Bye Annabeth, take care of Mommy," she said softly.
Annabeth looked up at her older sister, her blue eyes extremely alert for a one-month-old baby. Her tiny fingers wrapped around Libby's finger and she let out a sound that was definitely a giggle.
Mark came over to the side of the crib as well, and took off his hat before he leaned to kiss the baby's head. "Bye baby. See you soon."
"Say bye to Daddy," she said softly, looking at her tiny daughter, who was watching them curiously, as if wondering who they were and why they were so much bigger than her. She moved her hands in a way that looked as if she was trying to wave goodbye, making the three of them laugh.
The silence was back in the apartment once Mark and Libby left, and she retrieved her laptop from the coffee table. She had a lot of work to do. In her crib, Annabeth fussed but didn't cry, as if she knew her mother was busy. The heat was on, and the living-room was quiet and cozy. The door to the porch was closed, blocking any possible noise from down the street. But in spite of all that, she couldn't concentrate. She typed a few words, but then quickly deleted them. She laid the laptop on the coffee table again and leaned back on the couch with a sigh, suddenly restless.
It's right, that today's Halloween. It was Angel's favorite holiday.
She opened her eyes, looking around her. Mimi's voice sounded so clear in her head, as if she was standing right there. The words echoed in the room, sad and haunting, bringing her years back, making her eyes tear. She could almost look back at the scene, that day when their family started to fall apart as they said their final goodbye to Angel. She remembered it all as if it happened only yesterday. It was the first of many days, just as painful, of losing all of them, one by one. The wounds never healed, no matter how far she attempted to go. At some point she came to realize that geographic distance meant nothing when you carried the wounds deep in your heart.
She wasn't even sure what made her think of the day Angel died all of a sudden. Probably because today was Halloween. She smiled. It was her favorite holiday, too. She was a bit sorry that she couldn't go out trick-and-treating with Libby. They've never skipped the tradition while living on the West Coast, and Mark went with them the previous year, but this time she couldn't join them. She had to stay behind with Annabeth, as she was still nursing her, not to mention how much work she still had to complete.
She'd go and light a candle for Angel in church tomorrow, she decided, even if she wasn't a great believer. Maybe she'd pay the guys a visit at the cemetery as well. She and Mark visited there whenever they could, together or alone, but lately their visits became less frequent, once Annabeth was born. She smiled, leaning towards the crib, to check on her baby girl. Annabeth Tamara Cohen. The baby looked straight at her, tiny and perfect, waving her small fists this way and that. It never ceased to amaze her, how such a small, hopeless person could bring so much joy into people's lives. She remembered feeling that way when she first held Libby that night, several hours after she was born.
Forcing herself to go back to work, she typed a few more lines on her laptop, but quickly stopped, staring at the screen absent-mindedly. She forgot what she wanted to write once Mimi's words entered her mind, their presence bewitching. Her gaze shifted to her hands, frozen on the keyboard, and she smiled as she caught sight of her wedding ring. They were married for 18 months. God, she couldn't believe how far away that day seemed.
Things calmed down slightly since last April. Or actually they became crazier, but it was a different kind of crazy. It was new and wonderful. In spite of her showing up in their wedding, Mark's mother never tried to contact them afterwards. Mark refused to contact her himself, saying that it was up to her to make the next step. They met Cindy and the rest of the family quite a lot, and were in constant contact with her parents as well. Soon Libby started school, and she was making both her and Mark very proud, for she was doing really well there. Then after a while she became pregnant, and both she and Mark thought it was time to make some changes in their lives. He was already working fewer hours at the gallery, the time divided between Tammy and himself, and she decided to take some time off from work. They took it pretty well at the office, better than she expected. They were really sweet and understanding about the whole thing, and tried to make things easier for her the best they could. She left when she was 8 months pregnant, but continued working from home. Her contract said she'd have to go back once the baby was three months old, but they gave her an option to extend it if necessary. She was grateful for them for adding this to her contract. She didn't want to get a nanny for Annabeth so soon. And she liked being there for Libby when she got back home from school. The past several months were an incredible time for all of them.
A sudden outcry shook her from her silent reverie as Annabeth's quiet fuss was quickly turning into actual crying. She quickly reached for the crib, looking down at the red-faced baby. "Hey… what's wrong, sweetie?" she cooed softly, picking her up. She stood up and walked around the room for a while, rocking the baby in her arms as she did. That was an old trick her mother taught her, and it always worked on Libby before. It seemed to have worked on Annabeth as well, for her weeping gradually stopped, until it became that soft fuss again.
"That's better," she smiled at the baby, slowly sitting down. She didn't put her back in the crib. She loved holding her, for it gave her a chance to watch her more closely. She seemed to have gotten Mark's coloring. Her eyes were bluish-gray but she knew it might still change, and her hair wasn't as blonde as Mark's, but it was definitely not the dark brown of her and Libby's hair. She ran a finger along her tiny cheek, still a bit rosy as a result of her crying. Then she looked up, and her eyes caught a glimpse of the photo above the TV, the one Mark took on the day April committed suicide. It had the same affect as Mimi's words had. Everything was rushing back, small scenes of their past that swam in front of her eyes, moments of love and loss and pain and happiness and death all mixed into one hell of a lifetime experience.
She looked at Annabeth, whose eyes were wide-open. A few tears were still visible at the corners of her eyes. She was wearing a tiny pajama that Benny bought her; cows and moons printed on soft pink flannel. To carry on with the family tradition, he said, laughing. She knew that having Benny and Tammy as the baby's godparents was a wise choice. They'd be there for her whenever she and Mark, or even Libby, wouldn't, no matter from which reason. Annabeth was at the very beginning of her life, only one month and a week old, but she swore to do whatever it took to protect her. Like she said about Libby before, she didn't want her to get hurt, ever. She would do anything to protect both her daughters. Yet at the same time she knew that she couldn't always be there to look after them; she'd have to give them some space or she'd turn out to be like Mark's mother. Ugh. She shook that unwelcoming comparison away.
"You'll be whatever, whoever you'll want to be," she whispered. "As long as you're healthy and happy, I'll be happy too."
And although the baby couldn't talk yet, she got a feeling as if she understood each and every word. She smiled and held her closer, her head resting against the crook of her neck. She looked as if she was ready to take a nap. Her breath was slowing down, her eyes fluttering shot. "Want me to tell you a story, baby?" she whispered, rubbing the baby's back. She wasn't much into lullabies, as she once told Mark. She left him the lullabies, and Annabeth actually seemed to like it when he sang for her, although he was awfully off-tune whenever he did. She smiled, thinking about the way that cowboy hat hung on his head. He was an amazing dad. And she knew he would be, too. She finally got what she wanted, she realized. She finally got the change she wanted. There was nothing else she could possibly want.
Well, except for having her friends still there with them, she thought sadly.
A slow smile crawled on her lips, sending the sadness away. She knew just the story she wanted to tell her baby girl.
"Last night, I had a dream…"