Disclaimer: Same old, same old. I own Jess, Allen, Steve, and now Julia. Dick owns everyone else. I'm still sad about it, too.
Okay everyone, here it is. It's the final chapter in the story. I have terrible guilt. I'm so, so, so sorry it's taken me this long to get it out. I lost Word, then I lost my Internet connection for two weeks, then my computer died. I got a new one, and it took forever to get it to connect. Then classes started and I've just been going insane. I lost my muse for a while and just could not for the life of me write this final chapter. I promise I didn't forget about the story. I just got way too caught up in everything that was going on in my life and could not for the life of me find the time to sit down and write the final chapter.
So, I apologize for the delay. Here it is. It's over after this. I'm kind of sad about it...
Julia woke up with a start. Light was shining into her room and she was sure everyone had overslept. They had all missed their flight and they weren't going to make it to Disney world. She was about to start crying when she looked over at her alarm clock. It wasn't even six-thirty yet. She breathed a huge sigh of relief. They weren't leaving until nine, so everything was okay. You're an idiot sometimes, Jules, she said to herself with a smile. Kristen was still sleeping on the floor, so she stepped over her and made her way downstairs and into the kitchen.
"Well you're up early," Casey said as a very groggy Julia stumbled into the kitchen and leaned against the counter. "It's still pretty early to be awake. Did you sleep okay?"
Julia shrugged. "Not really," she answered honestly. She grabbed a bowl from the cabinet and poured some cereal and milk into it. "I'm just too excited to sleep. I can't wait to get on that plane."
Casey smiled softly and sipped her coffee. She was pretty sure she'd added more than enough sugar, but it still tasted bitter. She rolled her eyes when she saw Julia laugh. As she put a little more sugar in, she nodded understandingly. She couldn't sleep either. "I'm excited, too. We don't have to leave for another two hours, but I'm really anxious to get going."
"Kristen still sleeping?"
"Good. It's way too early for any sane person to be up."
Julia laughed. "You calling me insane?"
Casey thought for a moment. She knew Julia hadn't taken that the wrong way, so she was trying to come up with a clever remark. She couldn't do it. "Well we're up now," she said, knowing there was no response she could make to Julia's remark. "What do you say we pack up as much as we can into the car? We're up anyway, so let's let everyone else sleep in a little bit."
"Sounds good to me."
They managed to get Casey and Steve's suitcases out first. They struggled a little to get both suitcases in, but after a few minutes, they got it. They stood back and surveyed the available space in the car. Luckily, everyone was meeting at the airport. It would be a little more expensive, since they had to pay to park, but it eliminated the stress of trying to shove all the bags into one car.
"I think everything's going to fit," Julia said. "We've only got mine and Kristen's suitcases and the bag of beach stuff. Our suitcases are pretty heavy though, plus their upstairs."
"Think we can do it?"
Julia nodded. "I know we can."
Everyone was at the airport early. They weren't about to risk the long lines getting through security. As Jess carried both twins, who were now walking steadily, Allen carried their suitcaes. Everyone else managed to grab their things and carry them over to the airport shuttle.
"I can't believe this is really happening!" Julia exclaimed as the shuttle drove off. She looked over and noticed that Kristen was sitting in her seat, her hands folded into her lap and her eyes looking downard. She nudged her gently. "Kris, we're on our way to Disney World. You're allowed to be excited."
Kristen smiled weakly and nodded. She felt awkward being surrounded by all of these people that she didn't know. She'd met all of them before, but she wasn't comfortable expressing just how excited she really was just yet. "I am excited."
Julia pulled her closer and whispered into her ear. "Then show it," she said. "You're allowed to scream and smile and act all excited." She turned around and looked around the shuttle. Her family took up the entire car. "We're going to friggen Disney World!" she screamed, laughing when everyone else screamed along with her. "See? Go ahead and be excited."
"What do you want me to do?" Kristen asked.
Jess leaned over to her and smiled. "I'd be nervous as hell if I were you right now. Surrounded by people I don't know, and about to go on vacation with them." She shook her head and shrugged. "Be yourself. Be excited. Just...don't be scared. We're all family here and if Julia loves you, we love you."
"I guess I am pretty excited," Kristen said, her confidence slowly growing. Julia always spoke so highly about everyone in her family, so she knew these people had to be prety awesome. "I'm actually really excited."
"Good. I'm glad."
"I'm terrified of flying," Casey told her. She shrugged as Kristen looked questioningly at her. "No particular reason why. I've never had a bad flight or anything like that. I'm just...terrified."
Kristen was starting to feel a little better. These people really were turning out to be just as kind and welcoming as Julia had always described. "I guess I should be a little more appreciative of all of you doing this. I really am excited. I just don't do the whole screaming and jumping for joy kind of thing."
"Not everybody does. It's okay."
Julia laughed and leaned her head on Kristen's shoulder. "I'm just glad you're coming with me. We're going to have such a good time."
Once everyone found their suitcases, they met over by one window and tried to decide how best to get to the hotel. On the plane, they had thought about all finding cabs, but three or four cabs were going to get extremely expensive. They finally decided on one of the shuttle services the airport ran that went to various hotels throughout the Orlando area. It wasn't going to be the most luxurious ride, but it would be the cheapest.
"Alex and I have a bit of a surprise for everyone once we arrive," Olivia said mischeviously as everyone climbed into the van. She bit her lower lip and shook her head when everyone looked at her. "It's a surprise and I'm not saying another world."
The attention immediately turned to Alex, who just shrugged her shoulders. "I'm not saying anything either. You're all going to just have to wait and see when we get there."
The ride to the hotel was painfully long for everyone. They had no idea what to expect when the car finally pulled up in front of their hotel. "Come on out everyone," Alex said happily. "Meet me in the lobby. I have to go talk to the front desk for a minute."
They all made their way over to the couches in the lobby, tugging their suitcases behind them, as Alex and Olivia went up to the desk. "What do you think she's going to do?" Julia asked.
"No idea," Casey told her, looking over her shoulder at Alex and Olivia at the desk. "We just need our keys, right? We have everything else."
"That's what I thought, too," Allen said. He looked up and smiled. "Hey, look. Here they come."
Alex and Olivia walked over, trying their best to keep the smiles off their faces until they got to the group. Once they got over to everyone else, their smiles finally crept onto their faces. "Okay, here are your keys everyone," Olivia said. "Let's get going."
Casey took her key and turned over, then furrowed her eyebrows. "Fifteen twelve? I thought we were all on the eighth floor."
Steve nodded. "Yeah, isn't fifteen the top floor?"
"Yep," Alex said mater of factly. "It's also where all of our rooms are."
"We're on the top floor?" Julia asked excitedly.
Alex walked over and hugged her. "Aunt Jess paid for the airfare and tickets for the parks. Your mom paid for you and Kristen. Just think of this as mine and Liv's happy birthday slash congratulations for putting those assholes in jail present."
"Kristen, look at our view!" Juila screamed as she ran from their room out to the balcony connected to it. She smiled when she looked at the baclony next to her and saw her parents walking out. They were in a two-bedroom suite, and each bedroom had their own balcony and bathroom. Between the bedrooms was a huge kitchen and dining room, plus a living room. "We have our own balcony!"
"I see that," Casey said, laughing and gently squeezing Steve's hand. She had let out a huge sigh of relief as soon as the plane had landed in Orlando. She was pretty sure she would have broken Steve's hand if the descent had lasted any longer. She smiled in embarassment as Steve flexed his hand shook it a few times. "Sorry."
"Your hand okay?"
"We have our own balcony."
He smiled. "I know."
"Kristen and Julia have their own balcony."
He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and looked out at the crashing waves. Here they were, on the top floor in a luxurious two-bedroom suite, looking at the ocean. "We have to be the luckiest people in the world."
"I think we are."
Kristen walked out onto the balcony and leaned against the railing. "This is gorgeous, Jules."
She smiled and clapped her hands. "It really is. I can't wait to get changed and just run into those waves."
Casey tapped the other balcony and shook her head. "We'll get out there, don't worry. I think everyone else is probably going to want to eat dinner first. We're all pretty hungry after that flight. What do you say we eat and just kind of rest tonight? It's already after five. We'll get up early and spend the day at Disney tomorrow. We've got week-long passes to there as well as to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. We'll go to all the parks at least once, maybe twice, and we'll spend some time at the beach."
Julia admitted that she was both hungry and tired. "I guess going to the beach today isn't such a good idea. It just looks so beautiful."
"We'll get out there," Kristen said happily as she sat down in the chair. "Don't worry."
"I think everyone really enjoyed our little surprise," Alex said as she and Olivia walked out onto their balcony that evening. Everyone else had gone out for dinner, but they had declined to join them. They wanted to spend their first night in Florida together - just the two of them. "I just hope Julia isn't too upset that we're not having dinner with them."
Olivia shook her head and smiled. Alex's arms were wrapped around her and she was looking out at the ocean. Nothing could be better than this. No feeling in the world could match it. "I'm sure she's fine. She knows that this vacation is for all of us. Yeah, it's pretty focused on her and everything, but we all deserved a break after all of that."
"That we did."
"You know, your idea to spring for these suites was one hell of a good one."
Alex nodded and pulled Olivia closer. She was growing to love holding the detective in her arms more and more these days. It felt so good to have someone so close. "That was the one thing I remember liking as a kid. Whenever we went anywhere, our hotel rooms were always ridiculously huge and elaborate. It's stupid, I know, but I enjoyed it. They gave me something to look forward to every now and then."
"Well I can tell you one thing."
Alex laughed. "Yeah? What's that?"
"Julia is loving it...and so is everyone else."
Alex stared out into the darkness of the ocean and sighed. She was so happy now. It almost didn't make sense, but she had long since stopped questioning her life's current path.She brushed the hair off of Olivia's neck and kissed it gently. "I love you so much."
Olivia turned slowly and wrapped her arms around Alex's waist. "I love you, too. I think all this stress and everything is finally over." She looked up and smiled. Alex always looked even more beautiful under the moonlight. "Julia's trial's over. You've got a great job with Casey. I'm going to start working at the advocacy center. Jess' twins are walking." She sighed as she and Alex held each other as close as physically possible. "Everything really is working out isn't it?"
"So much better than I could have ever hoped for."
Everyone, including the twins, was playing in the water. Allen was standing on the shore, laughing with Alexa and Christopher while everyone else was busy in the deeper area. They were all so busy splashing and dunking each other that nobody realized when Julia quietly swam to shore and sat down on her beach towel. It was only when Kristen came up from under the water, ready to splash her, that she realized she was missing.
"Hey guys, where's Jules?"
Casey panicked for a minute. Julia was a good swimmer, she knew that. But she had been there a second ago. Where was she now? She dove under the water and opened her eyes, ignoring the stinging from the salt. "I don't know!"
Alex spun around several times, trying to find here. "There she is!" she said. "She's up there sitting on her towel."
Casey looked up and frowned. They'd all been having such a great time. What happened? "Why's she sitting up there all by herself? I thought she was having fun out here."
"I'm sure she was," Alex said quickly. "I'll go talk to her...make sure she's okay." She swam back to shore, stopped and played with the twins for a minute, and then walked up and sat on the towel next to Julia."You all right?"
Julia nodded but didn't say anything. She just stared straight ahead, watching everyone else playing. It seemed too good to be true - everything that had been happening lately. It almost didn't seem real, not after the way her life had started out. Things were finally getting better. She still had moments, like this one, when she needed to just step back and reassure herself that it wasn't all a dream, but it was getting better.
"I remember the first time Olivia told me she loved me," Alex said after a few minutes. She knew Julia's eyes were still fixed on everyone else, so she didn't bother to try to make eye contact or smile. "I was terrified she was lying, but I was also terrified that she was actually telling the truth. I was afraid to believe her, because I was afraid that if I let myself feel that happiness, I'd lose it."
That was exactly how she sometimes felt. How the hell was Alex so good at relating to her? You've both been through a lot of the same shit, she reminded herself. Alex knows better than anyone else how you're feeling right now. She still couldn't bring herself to meet Alex's eyes, but she forced herself to keep the conversation going. "I sometimes just need to sit back and watch everyone. I feel like I just need reassurance sometimes. Does that make sense?"
"Complete sense. I know when Liv and I were first starting out, I sometimes had to take a step back and look at everything. I still do that occasionally, but not as much."
Julia hesitated. She licked her lips and took a deep breath. "I had a nightmare last night...in front of Kristen."
Alex held her breath and closed her eyes. She remembered those nightmares in the beginning. She still had nightmares, but they were becoming few and far between. In the beginning though, they were pretty bad. She had always hated waking up from them, embarrassed and ashamed to know that Olivia had seen that part of her. "How'd she react?"
"She was a little freaked out," Julia said uneasily. "I would have been too. She got me a glass of water and sat with me until I fell asleep. Then she went to sleep. She didn't really bring it up this morning. It was a little awkward this morning, but she's actually been pretty cool about it." Julia hesitated for a minute. "I think I'm just starting to get scared...I mean, what if I end up alone? What if nobody wants me? My scars, my nightmares, everything..."
"Okay, I'm going to tell you something because you need to hear it," Alex said firmly as she leaned closer to Julia and met her eyes. She waited until she was sure Julia was paying attention before she continued. "I had those nightmares, too. I have the same scars. I had the same fears. I agreed to marry a guy I didn't even love because I was sure that nobody would ever truly love me. I was terrified at the beginning of mine and Olivia's relationship because the only people who had ever told me they loved me had ended up hurting me. I had promised myself that I would never let that happen again. When Olivia came back and was so kind and patient, I continued to push her away for months and months. It took me forever for her to get me to open up to her, but little by little, I did. It was hard, and it hurt, but I let her love me."
Alex chuckled lightly. "It's terrifying. But it does get easier."
Julia turned her gaze back out at the ocean and watched her family playing happily. "I don't even know what to say," she said, more to the ocean than to Alex. "Where I came from...where I am now. What did I do to deserve parents like the ones I've got now?" She turned to face Alex, a few tears sliding down her cheeks. "Why did I get the help love so quickly and you had to wait so long?"
"I don't know," Alex answered, shaking her head. "But I don't think it's really our place to question it. I think we just have to keep living and do our best to deal with the things from our past and know in our hearts that we can and will be loved." She watched Julia for several moments and smiled. "I think I'm going to get back out there and have some fun. Care to join me?"
"I think I'm going to sit here for a minute. I'll come out when I'm done."
Alex smiled. "Okay. Just remember to come back out there with us. Have fun, Jules. Live. Remember that, okay? Live."
"Ever been on a roller coaster before?" Julia asked excitedly. It was the next day, and hey were at the Islands of Adventure theme park, staring up at the biggest roller coaster the park had. She had once ridden a roller coaster when she was eight, and had loved it. That had been the last time she'd been to an amusement park. Now that she was at one, she was determined to ride every coaster in the park at least once.
Kristen looked up nervously and shook her head. "No," she said. The truth was, she'd never even seen one up close before. She'd never been to an amusement park before. She'd never even been to a local carnival. Her mother just never had the money. She didn't say that though. Other people's sympathy was never something she wanted, and she definitely didn't want it from her best friend.
"Wanna ride it?"
"More than anything," Kristen said dreamily.
Jess laughed as she watched the two take off running towards the coaster. She was the only one brave enough to join them. Everyone else decided to sit this one out and just watch. "You two are lucky I'm a fan of these things," she joked once they were in line. "I haven't ridden one in a long time though. I'll probably scream through the whole thing."
"Hey," Kristen said happily. "I've never even been on one. I'm definitely going to be screaming the whole time."
"This is your first coaster?"
"Damn girl, you've got guts."
Kristen shrugged. "I figured I should just do it. Now's as good a time as any."
Jess smiled and they moved a few feet closer. "Truer words were never spoken, my dear."
Kristen squeezed Julia's arm excitedly and pulled her close. "Did I happen to tell you today that you have got the coolest family - besides my mother - in the entire world?"
Julia smiled and nodded happily. "I do now. I absolutely do now."
Alex and Olivia laid down in bed and curled close together. It had been yet another perfect day on their vacation. This was their last night in Florida, and they hated to see it end. Over the last few months, Olivia had really been noticing a change in Alex. She was more confident and sure of herself. It was beautiful to see, and she prayed that it lasted forever. "I noticed you and Julia talking for quite a bit the other day at the beach." She smiled and combed her fingers through Alex's hair. "You're incredible, do you know that? You're so far beyond words that it's insane."
"And you do very well."
had a nightmare the night before," Alex said suddenly. "She
was feeling...I don't really know how to describe it. All I know is
that she was feeling everything I felt in the beginning. The things
she said, the descriptions she gave, I remember feeling all those
things. She's so scared of being loved because she's afraid she's
going to lose it. She's afraid she's going to wake up tomorrow and
this'll all be gone."
Olivia wrapped her arms around Alex's waist and pulled her close. "I remember you feeling them, too."
"I think you felt a lot of them when you got sick."
"I did. It's a scary place to be in, too."
Alex nodded. "It's terrifying. That's what I told her."
"You told her it was terrifying?"
"Yeah. I'm not going to lie to her, Liv. She's too smart for me to get away with it anyway." She rolled over and rested her head on Olivia's chest. "Besides, I told her it would get better."
"You did, did you?"
"I did. I told her to let herself be loved. That was the hardest thing I've ever done - allow myself to accept your love. But in the end, no matter how hard it is, no matter how much it hurts, it's worth it." She smiled as she traced the ring on her finger. "It's so worth it."
Olivia looked down and traced Alex's ring with her. Several months ago, Alex had bought her a ring, and she hadn't taken it off since. "It definitely is, Alex. It definitely is."
Alex turned over and leaned on her elbows so she could look into Olivia's eyes. "You're the reason I'm here today. I can honestly say that if it weren't for you, I don't think I'd still be alive right now. I don't think I'd be happy at all. You're my rock, Liv. You're my everything."
Olivia brushed the hair out of Alex's face and pushed it behind her ears. She smiled as Alex crawled closer so their foreheads were touching. "I don't think I would have beat the breast cancer without you. I actually know I wouldn't have. You're the reason I kept going to the chemo treatments. You gave me the strength to get the surgery. I'm alive today because of you."
"So we're both alive today because of each other, huh?" Alex said playfully.
"Seems that way."
"I wouldn't have it any other way." She leaned over and gently kissed Olivia's lips. "I love you, Liv."
"I love you, too."
"Always and forever?"
Olivia smiled and gently bit Alex's lip. "Forever and always."
Holy $!# it's done! I can't believe it's over. Wow...