A/N: This is it, my faithful readers, the very final chapter. No encores, no repeat performances. If I forgot to thank anybody, know that I appreciate every single one of you and this has been a wonderful experience for me.
Maggsie, I love you. This one is for you more than the others. We're gonna grow old together baby, you and me. Just wait and see.
Barking and the squeals of children could be heard throughout the house as the front door slammed for the umpteenth time that day. I didn't need to look up from my place peeling potatoes at the sink to know who it was- everyone else was already here. And the world wouldn't be turning if Lizzie couldn't make a dramatic entrance.
"Everybody?" I heard my youngest- not so young anymore, shout down the hall. "I'm here!"
I didn't need to wait long for the eruption and then the stampede of feet I knew would come. "Auntie Liz! Auntie Liz!" To the world, she was Liz now, but to Sara and I, she would always be our Lizzie.
Potato salad for tomorrow could wait. I dried my tired hands on a handy dish towel, and moved into the living room in time to see my daughter waddle through the doorway, a child suction-cupped to each leg, and one on each hip as the older children followed behind. Only one year-old Ben was sitting on the floor not paying attention, too young to understand that everyone's favorite aunt had finally arrived- two and a half hours late.
"Alright, alright," Lizzie laughed. "Everybody off! Auntie Liz needs to breathe!" The kids scattered and my baby- my twenty-eight year old baby crossed the room to jump into the arms of my other twenty-eight year old baby. "Hey, big bro!" She reached up on her tip toes to ruffle his hair and then rubbed at his scruff. "A beard. I like it. Gives you a dangerous mystique."
"Oh, good." Mattie rolled his eyes, "That's just what I was going for." He bent down to ruffle her hair and she scrunched her nose at him, brushing it back into place. They smiled as they ran through the motions of the long established tradition.
"And here I thought you could talk him into shaving it off." My daughter-in-law stood up from the couch and smiled. "Hey, Liz."
"Maya," Lizzie opened her arms, "my favorite sister-in-law! Oh, I guess I won't be able say that after tomorrow." She looked over her shoulder and winked at the two women squeezed into the arm chair.
I looked at my family- my very large family, now, spread and sprawled all over the biggest room in the house. It had seemed full when there were five children playing in it. But now those five children were very much grown and it was my ten grandchildren that were making a mess of things. Yep; ten.
Lindsay had been a woman for a long time now; a wife and a mother at forty-one. She and Ethan had been married for fifteen years and had four children. Our oldest grandchild, Madison was thirteen- completely obsessed with computers. Her brother Cameron was next at eleven- he loved race cars and dirt bikes, a typical boy. After him came curly-haired eight year-old Jake who dreamed of being a professional basketball player. And last but not least was the little blonde spitfire, Lily, who reminded me the most of Lindsay and who would proudly announce to anyone who would listen that she was six and a half and would be seven on October 16th.
Lindsey had worked from their home in Washington D.C. until all of the kids were in school, writing grant proposals and consulting for museums. Now she was doing what she had trained to do, traveling the world one week out of every month to identify remains on archaeological expeditions all over the world and letting Ethan and his mother take care of the children for a change. We could not have been more proud of her.
Ayla was thirty-seven now. No longer the little gap-toothed girl I remembered falling in love with so many years ago. She'd seen her share of hardship. After college, she took an internship with NASA, but after a year decided that she was no longer interested in the space aspect and was much more passionate about biology. So she went to graduate school where she met and fell in love with Dr. Hugo Barron, a professor, and a genius in his own right. He was nearly twenty years older than she, but they cared for each other a great deal and when Ayla was twenty six they were married.
They got pregnant right away, and the following year our grandson Isaac was born. When he was just three months old, his father had a heart attack that put him in the hospital, severely weakened. He never left. After two months he suffered another attack, slipped into a coma and a week later, died. My poor Ayla was heart broken, and if it wasn't bad enough, when Isaac was a year old the doctor informed us that he was deaf. Thankfully, it could be corrected with implants, and someday, surgery, but at the time it had been a devastating blow to Ayla- she completely blamed herself.
Ayla was always the serious one, the literal and realistic one, and when her husband died, she seemed to lose all of the energy and drive she had had when she was younger. For a long time, she immersed herself in Isaac's upbringing and made no effort to reach out. She started home schooling him when he was very young. When he was five, she realized that just like she had been, Isaac would be out of place in a class of his peers and that's how she got the idea for the school. Using the money her fathers left her she began a school for gifted children. It began with four students in a small house with she as the only teacher. Five years later she was the principal of a private school with over one hundred students, twelve teachers and newly finished, state of the art facilities. And Isaac had never felt left out or different from any other child. He had those big brown eyes I have a certain weakness for, and he was quick to laugh and smile, making him easy to love.
Maggie. Always the actress. Maggie had dropped out of college when she was nineteen after landing a big part in an off Broadway play. That part led to a bigger part which led to a bigger part which led to Broadway and the supporting role in a very successful musical. And she did that for six years until she was sacked because she was no longer young enough for the part. Deciding she had had enough of city life, Maggie returned to college to get a degree in education. Five years ago she took a job as a drama teacher at a high school in Vermont. And that is where she met Stacy.
Stacy was an art teacher and a freelance painter and photographer. She was a pixie of a woman with a dazzling smile and a sense of humor as dry as Sara's- and she fit into our family effortlessly as did her two children, Ruby and Max. She and Maggie became immediate friends when they met and when Stacy's husband beat her into a hospital bed, Maggie was there to pick up the pieces. Four years and a very final divorce later, Stacy bought Maggie a diamond ring.
It only took thirty years and four different presidents- including our first African-American president and our first woman president, but gay marriage was finally legal in all fifty states, effective on April 22nd, 2032- which was the following day. So we were having a wedding- the fourth in our family. Eight year-old Ruby was quick to point out that now she and five year-old Max would be our real grandchildren, but we had considered them our family from the moment we met them. Ruby was smart as a whip and never missed a chance to prove it, and Max was a sweetheart, always trying to make people smile.
Jamie, Max's cousin, was also five years old. She loved horses, and had just started riding lessons. Her younger brothers were Ty who was four and our youngest grandchild, baby Ben. Mattie and Maya had started having children young, but then again, they had started everything young.
A few weeks after my surprise fifty-fifth birthday party, Warrick was hired to take over my old job as administrative supervisor- the sneaky guy hadn't even told us he had applied for the position. But he had, and he and his family moved out to San Francisco that summer. Maya went to the same school as Mattie and Lizzie, so most days she came home on the bus with them and did her homework with the twins until one of her parents could come to get her. It became very clear right away that she and Mattie had unmistakable chemistry- but it still took Mattie a year to work up the courage to ask her out. And except for one dramatic month in high school, they had been together ever since.
They were married the summer after Maya's college graduation- a degree in architecture, Mattie's was in civil engineering, and while they had intended to wait a few years to have children, it seemed that fate had other plans.
Warrick had been so proud. Of his daughter. Of his grandchildren. He would pull out his wallet and show pictures to anyone and everyone. He was there, in a wheel chair, the day his third grandchild was born. Maya and Mattie were going to name him Christopher. But when Warrick held him in his arms he disagreed, "No," he said, "This little man is a Benjamin. Like his great-grandfather. Mark my words. This boy is a Ben."
They had been doing chemotherapy for months, but it didn't matter- the cancer had been too advanced by the time they finally got the diagnosis right. When he died, two days later, with all of us in his room, he died a happy man, and despite all the pain he must have felt, he had a smile on his face. "I always did have all the good luck," he told us, before his body relaxed and he was gone. He was only sixty-five.
Nick was at the funeral. It was the first time I had seen him in ten years- since he moved back to Texas to take over his father's business. Greg was there too, now a criminology professor with one kid in high school and one in college; too old to be wearing his rock and roll t-shirts and old enough that he didn't give a damn. Gil did not come. He wasn't traveling much anymore, he was spending most of his days in a retirement community in Florida where he was considered a very handsome catch by all the old widows and continued to write. We exchanged Christmas cards- Sara gave him a phone call now and then, but that was the extent of our contact, the old days of deep friendship nothing but a faded memory now.
Lizzie was our only child who had yet to find her way. She dropped out of college her senior year to follow a boyfriend across the country, only to break up with him months later. She had worked in countless jobs; medical secretary, commercial fisherwoman, cocktail waitress, and club DJ to name a few. Now she was a bartender in a bar downtown. I'd lost count of the tattoos and different hair colors, although she was now back to her natural red. But she had always been a free spirit, a wild child. So as much as I, we, worried about her, I knew that she would be fine. It had always taken her a bit longer than the others to get her footing, but when she did, she dazzled the world.
My thoughts were interrupted by the long familiar feeling of a hand in mine. I looked down. Our hands had changed over the years, the creases had deepened and our skin was mottled with age spots. I looked up. Liquid brown eyes met mine. The eyes of my daughter and my grandson, the eyes of my wife; the eyes I fell in love with all those years ago. They would never change. She smiled at me and lead me to the dinner table. Chairs were crowded around, and there was a separate table for the younger children. I watched as the food warming in the oven was brought to the table and everyone took their seats. Mattie came out of the kitchen with two bottles of champagne. He handed one to Sara and opened the other himself. We all cheered and applauded as they erupted. Sara poured hers and then mine before passing it along. She stood, raising her glass.
"A toast!" She grinned, "First to Maggie and Tracy and Ruby and Max!" She nodded in their direction. "You are a beautiful family already, and tomorrow is just a day to celebrate that. Maggie, your mother and I are so happy that you have found someone to love and spend the rest of your life with- and even happier that she's someone we can honestly love too. Tracy, Ruby, and Max, I want to officially welcome you to the Sidle-Willows, Barron, Brown, Holzman-Winger, Williams clan! We are completely chaotic and crazy and we like it that way!" There came another round of cheers. "And we can only hope that you learn to love us as mush as we already love you. Cheers!"
"Cheers!" We all drank.
"And now a toast to Catherine, Mom, Gigi, whatever you call her, a toast to my amazing lover of thirty years."
I raised an eyebrow in confusion. She just smiled and winked, then reached into her pocket and pulled out a small blue velvet box. She held it out to me. Inside was a ring. A diamond ring. I looked up at her. "Sar?"
"I don't want to steel the thunder of the brides to be, but I know we never had a proper engagement, and as of tomorrow we can finally get that tax deduction." She beamed. "So what do you say, Gigi? Think you can find it in your heart to marry this old Nana? Again?"
I stared at the ring and then back at Sara. I smirked, "Thirty years and you really have to ask? Maybe you're not as sharp as I thought you were, Sidle." I pulled on her wrist and she slid into her seat. I pressed my forehead against hers. "Thirty years and you're still full of surprises." I kissed her sweetly.
She looked into my eyes and in a hushed voice she sang, "So I would choose to be with you, that's if the choice were mine to make. But you can make decisions too…and you can have this heart to break."
"Hey, Mom!" Maggie hollered across the table. "Will you just say yes already?"
"Yeah, not to interrupt your ten millionth embarrassing make out session, but the food is getting cold!"
"I like it when Nana and Gigi kiss! It's romantic!"
"Trust me, once they've kissed each other in front of all your friends, your friends' parents, your teachers, not to mention probably thousands of complete strangers, it loses its charm."
"I'd rather they kiss too much than not at all."
"I think it's sweet to still be so in love after so long."
"I'm never going to fall in love."
"Every ten year-old boy says that."
"Yeah well, I mean it."
"Maddie, throw me a roll would you?"
"Okay, which one of these lasagnas is vegetarian?"
"The one with spinach, stupid! You know, all that green stuff."
"Don't call your cousin stupid!"
"But he is stupid compared to me. I bet he doesn't even know geometry."
"Who has the yams? I specifically asked for yams."
"So, Liz, you seeing anybody?"
"Why do we always talk about my love life?"
"We're boring and married. We live vicariously through you."
"You guys have been boring and married since we were fourteen."
"Mom, can I spend the summer with Nana and Gigi? Nana is going to teach me how to surf!"
Sara's eyes locked onto mine and we both grinned. This was our life. And it was pretty darn great. She kissed me again before refilling my glass of champagne. "To our children." She whispered, her voice somehow drowning out the commotion.
I nodded, "And their children."
"And wedded bliss."
"To the next thirty years."
"May they be as beautiful and incredible as the last."
And they were.
That's it, everybody. Thank you all so much- and if you liked this, then turn on my author alert, because there's a lot more to come. I'm just full of ideas- nothing quite this long, but hopefully just as good.
Final thanks goes to: Forget Me Not Blue, bene, Empress'd, Tiger87, Kaede Shinomori, Missy Holland, fadedexistence, SaraLou, quirkykirky, ThreeDollarBill and last but certainly not least wee idgie and her enormous review.
And I can never say it enough; I love you my sweetling, thoughts of you get me through each and every day until I can wrap my arms around you and never let you go. XO