A/N: I hope none of you almost suffered a heart attack when you saw this chapter posted. It's been quite some time I realize, and I (really) appreciate the patience. Thank you too to those of you (you know who you are) who kept asking about the story and encouraged me to keep writing and not to give up. I've rewritten, rephrased, and reorganized this chapter dozens of times… so here's to hoping that it finally sounds halfway decent.
Disclaimer: See any of the other 32 chapters.
She came to consciousness slowly and smiled, feeling the warm body pressed against her side.
It was a nightmare, just a terrible terrible nightmare, she thought as the smile on her face grew.
Stretching, she rolled over, blinking away the sleep from her eyes, only to realize that the 'warm body' was just a pillow she had grabbed and held next to her during the night.
Sunlight streamed in through the slants of her blinds, and she turned again and moved to sit upright, surprised she had slept until morning without waking once. Then she looked at her alarm clock, the bright red light displaying a time of one-oh-one p.m., and was taken aback completely because she had slept almost thirteen hours straight.
She really had been exhausted, in every single way possible.
Her legs dangled off the side of her bed and she scooted forward until her feet touched soft carpet. She sat in silence and stared at her surroundings.
This was her life now. Or was again more appropriate? After all, the few weeks with Grissom had just been an aberration from everything—this room, her apartment, being unmarried—that normally constituted her life.
From now on, again, these four walls were all she had to go to bed to and to wake up to each and every day.
The room felt empty, lonely. Wrong.
She missed him. She missed his bright blue eyes staring at her when she woke up, his boyish smile, his laugh, his…—she groaned aloud, she needed to put a firm stop to her train of thought; now.
She needed to stop thinking about him because if not the tears would soon come, and at this very moment, she didn't think she had the wherewithal to go through another roller coaster ride of emotions.
Wanting to distract herself, she let her eyes wander around her bedroom a few moments longer before shifting attention to herself.
She was still wearing just a towel—she would need to get dressed… her hair was probably a mess… her hands, one rested on her knee, the other was making indiscernible circular patterns on the bedspread—the ring, she was still wearing it…
Slowly she brought up her hand, tilting her wrist slightly left then right, the light catching the gold band and making it gleam. A smile played at the corners of her mouth as she studied the ring and how it looked on her.
It looked as if it belonged there.
It was beautiful, lovely, and absolutely perfect.
Everything a wedding ring should be. Everything she would have wanted in hers.
Her smile died the instant the thought but it's not yours crept unbidden into her mind.
The ring belonged to her grandmother. It represented her grandmother's happiness and the promise her grandfather made to her grandmother many years ago. It symbolized her grandparents' marriage and their commitment to each other.
Now the ring was hers, but it didn't belong to her in the way she wanted it to. Still it had managed to represent her happiness, for a time, except hers never had a chance of lasting because it never had a solid foundation to build upon. Lies of a pretend marriage made for shaky ground.
Grissom hadn't given her the ring as his undying promise to her; no, this wedding ring was just a convenient prop in his cleverly played charade.
A charade she was going to end now. Looking at the ring on her hand again, she knew she couldn't wear it anymore. She just couldn't. It wasn't actually her wedding ring; it didn't belong to her in that way.
She spent the next few minutes trying to remove it, twisting and then pulling at the ring, which refused to come loose. Almost wanting to laugh because this was so just her luck, she also felt a faint sense of déjà vu that she had tried once before. It was just a quick flash of a moment though, and she couldn't be sure.
Blowing out a frustrated breath, she made her way into the bathroom, and with the help of soap and hot water, she finally scored success. She held the tiny circular piece of jewelry up and stared at it and then her left hand where her ring finger was now bare.
She couldn't explain it, not really, not in words at least, but she already felt different, strange even, without the ring on her finger.
How incredibly odd was it that by simply taking off a piece of metal barely weighing anything at all she could feel such a profound sense of… loss?
Maybe it was because by removing the ring it made things official.
It was like the final piece to the puzzle, the last straw that broke the camel's back, the end of the line…
It was her acknowledging to herself—and in a way, to the outside world as well—that it really was over.
She couldn't keep wishing that she and Grissom were still married, because they never had been married. She couldn't keep hoping that things were different, because things were not different, and things were never going to be different.
Something magical and worthy of a fairytale story was not going to happen suddenly, changing things, and making everything all right again. She had to accept reality, not hope for something that wasn't to be.
And this ring she was holding, what was she supposed to do with it?
She should walk back into her bedroom, open her jewelry box, and place the ring in there. Close the lid, walk away, and forget. Forget the ring, forget the marriage, forget Grissom; forget everything.
Except she couldn't help but think forgetting Grissom, being married to him—even if it was just pretend, would be easier said than done. And did she even want that?
Even though the memories of the past month hurt now, maybe later, maybe when time worked its magic cure and made the pain in her heart hurt less, she would be able to look back and hold onto the memories with a bittersweet smile because at least she had the chance to know what it felt like to be in his arms.
And yes she realized that probably made her sound pathetic or lovesick… or delusional. Take your pick, she muttered aloud to herself.
Looking at the ring again, she didn't think she could part with it, at least not yet. It wasn't even about—or at least not fully related to—Grissom. It was more about her grandmother, and how the ring was her only connection to her. And for reasons she couldn't quite put into words, she really desperately wanted—no, she needed—to not sever that tie, no matter how thin, or imagined, it was.
With ring in hand, she crossed over to the jewelry box in her bedroom, and instead of placing it in there, she searched until she found a thin gold chain. She then slid her grandmother's wedding band on the chain before securing it around her neck.
The chain was long enough that she could easily hide it from view by wearing it underneath her clothing, which is what she planned to do. She just needed to keep the connection.
And she also really needed to read the letter her grandmother had written her, it was time.
She would admit though she was afraid. Worried about what the letter would say, worried about what she would learn, worried about what ghosts of the past the letter would bring to light again.
Ghosts of the past and memories she had tried her best to block out, to forget, to ignore, to move on from; and now she was going to dredge up who knows what with this letter.
But she had to, her grandmother's words to her needed to be read. She just wished she had someone here for her to catch her if she fell to pieces.
She didn't have anyone though, not anymore, and she would manage to survive just fine. She always did, didn't she?
Still that didn't mean she was unwilling to do whatever else she could think of to put off reading that letter, even if it just amounted to a few more minutes of reprieve from her past.
After taking her time with her usual waking up routine of brushing her teeth and washing her face, she walked over to her closet—without thinking—and found it almost completely empty. The same could be said about her dresser drawers.
It was a good thing she still had the state of mind yesterday to toss most of her clothing into a suitcase before… well, just before. Finding clothes in the borrowed suitcase where she left it last night, she grabbed the first pair of jeans and shirt she found and changed into them in the guest bathroom.
And because she still dreaded the letter, she moved into the kitchen next. She wasn't hungry, but even if she had been, it wasn't as if there would be much edible enough to eat anyway. Nonetheless, she scrounged around in her pantry until she found a small package of tea.
She would make a cup of hot chamomile tea. It was a small delay, she knew, to put off reading her grandmother's letter, but she didn't care. Besides chamomile was known for its calming, comforting effect, which considering the circumstances of her life right now it was both appropriate and very very needed.
Several minutes later she carried the mug of steaming hot tea to the living room, placing it on her coffee table, before she retrieved the letter from where she had placed it—between the pages of the entomology textbook.
Sitting down on the couch with the letter, she unfolded the two handwritten pages with great care and apprehension.
My Dearest Sara,
I want you to have this ring. It was my wedding ring. I don't even know if you'll remember me at all, but I'm your grandmother—your mother's mother.
Last time, she hadn't read past these few lines before she tossed the letter aside, placing it on her nightstand to read later when she came back home from shift. Except she hadn't come home from shift, she had begun living another life.
She shook her head as if to say no to those thoughts and refocused her attention to the pages she held, words and phrases jumping out as she read along.
--such a sweet child, so inquisitive and bright… always determined to see the best in people.
Your mother was so full of life… friendly and outgoing… everyone wanted to be her friend… the most optimistic outlook…
--excited because the co-captain of the high school football team had asked her out… he was your father… your parents won Homecoming King and Queen.
After prom, the two were inseparable... "JoeandLaura" quickly became a single word… it was young love.
At any moment, she half expected to hear one of those voiceovers like the ones from a television game show, saying in an enthusiastic, booming voice:
SARA SIDLE, You've Just Won a FREE One Way Ticket to Your Past!
(Sorry no refunds allowed.)
This friendly, optimistic young woman her grandmother talked of… who was that exactly? Was it really her mother? Could it have been? It was hard to reconcile the woman she remembered as her mother with this happier young woman and to believe that they use to be one and the same.
And reading about her parents, it was just as hard to believe that these two young people her grandmother wrote about and who sounded so very much in love had actually been her parents at one point.
--with all the light and excitement shining through her brown eyes… she and Joe were getting married after graduation.
--eloping… your mother called me three months later to tell me that she was pregnant… your parents bought a little one-story house a few streets away, I could not have been more thrilled.
When your brother was born, it was a happy day… things were good.
--pregnant again… found out she was going to have a little girl… every little girl needs a pink room, your mother said… she was so ecstatic to be getting her little girl finally.
You were the most beautiful baby in the world, and you came into this world laughing… you were my sweet little angel… oh, how I loved you.
I can't pinpoint exactly when it happened, but things slowly began to change… you might have been about two years old when your mother began to lose some of her sparkle on life… it started with small things…
Small things… oh, God, oh, God; ohGodohGodoh—
She couldn't do this. This 'trip' down memory lane was dangerous and treacherous, littered with hidden holes and steep cliffs, and it…
It hurt, she realized with some astonishment. Reading that there had been happiness in her parents' lives and marriage—if only for a short while—hurt. What happened? Why had it gone so terribly wrong?
She didn't want to read any further. She knew it might be cowardly, but she didn't care either. She wished she could just walk away from the letter. Why did it even matter? What good would it do her to open up old wounds again, wounds that hadn't ever really healed to begin with? Would it change anything?
No, it wouldn't; nothing you did now could change the past. She already knew that lesson a little too well.
Laying the pages on the coffee table, she stood and walked a few steps away, hands clutched tightly in front of her. She really wanted to hop off the train to her past, but… maybe this was something she needed to read. Turning around, she walked back to the coffee table, looking down at the pages staring up at her, mocking her, taunting her almost.
She could do this, she could. Sitting back down on the sofa, she picked up the letter and began to read once more.
Her unanswered what happened moments earlier was now being answered through her grandmother's words. She sat and read how her happy childhood that she couldn't remember slowly dissolved and became the nightmare that she did remember.
--Joe drinking more… that once a month beer though became a once a week beer and finally a beer every day until he moved onto harder liquor.
It was that year that I first saw a bruise on Laura's arm… she was startled that I had seen it… then she laughed and said something like: "You know me, I'm clumsy these days. I must have run into the door."
--the bruises became more frequent… Laura took to wearing long sleeve shirts, even in the summer months… couldn't always hide the bruises… the injuries piled up: a dislocated shoulder, a sprained wrist, a broken arm.
I tried to talk to Laura… first, to get marriage counseling—hoping that would help—and then finally, to leave him.
She refused… she loved him… it wasn't that bad… he really didn't mean to hurt her… besides, it was her fault most of the time.
Our relationship became strained… we would get into arguments about her continuing to stay… one of our last conversations was full of anger… I told her to think of you and Jack… she wouldn't listen… told me to go to hell because she didn't need me anymore.
--didn't recognize this woman she had become… her father and I hadn't raised her to be someone's punching bag.
--your parents moved… I tried to talk to Laura once more… begged her to leave… even started crying… her eyes, they were weary and defeated… she told me that she was staying with him… after all, the vows had said 'in good times and bad times'.
She wasn't sure when she started shaking or biting down on her lip so hard she drew blood; she didn't realize either action until she started to cry and the tears began falling—large wet blobs onto the pages she held, mixing with the ink and blurring the words.
Her heart squeezed painfully in her chest, and a feeling of nausea settled deep within her stomach. She wiped her eyes with the back of her shirtsleeve and did her best to undo the damage her tears had already done to her grandmother's letter.
With an unsteady breath, she resumed reading, as her heart continued its fast beat.
It wasn't until six years later that I heard anything else… your grandfather was not doing well… had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's.
She felt a quick wave of sympathy for her grandmother and how hard it must have been for her to cope with and to take care of her husband, while as each day passed it brought her closer and closer to losing him to the unforgiving disease.
I turned on the news and heard the headline, "Woman kills abusive husband. They had two children."
I went to visit her at the jail once while she was standing trial… went to ask if she needed anything… she said no… I asked about you and your brother… she said that you didn't need me… you didn't even remember me… she told me that she had told you I was dead.
--I kept up a steady stream of birthday and Christmas cards for you and your brother.
--you were placed in foster care… I thought about seeing if I could take you home… wished for it… but I also thought she doesn't know me… maybe it would be better if I didn't make her life any more difficult.
I don't know if I made the right choice or not… I want to hope that I did.
As she read and now I'm dying, it came crashing back to her. Her grandmother was no longer alive. That was why she had been sent the package. She remembered now—the envelope that held this letter and the ring she now wore around her neck also contained a brief letter from her grandmother's attorney explaining that her grandmother had passed away.
She didn't even remember this woman, who apparently cared a lot about her. It wasn't fair after all this time—and frankly, it sucked—to learn she could have had this person in her life who loved her very much and she hadn't been allowed to see her. Her emotions wavered between anger and sadness at the thought that she was never going to have the chance to get to know her grandmother; it was too late.
And there was something wonderful yet heartbreaking in learning that her grandmother had sent her birthday and Christmas cards every year and that she had—if circumstances had been better—wanted to come and take her away from the foster care system.
All these years she believed she had no one that really cared for her and now she was finding out that hadn't been the case. It was a lot for her to take in, and she knew it would take a while for her to come to terms with what she was learning; and she still had more to read.
--I desperately wanted to find out how you were doing…
It was a huge shock to read that her grandmother had hired a private detective and learned about her life she had been living here in Vegas. And then her grandmother saying she was proud of her… it brought a watery smile to her face.
Reading the next few lines about marriage—you deserve all the happiness that life can offer you… the man you marry will be the luckiest man on earth… I just hope he is worthy of you—brought more tears to her eyes but she quickly wiped them away.
I want you know that I'm so sorry for not trying harder and for not being able to get your mother to leave your father. I'm sorry that I wasn't able to take you out of foster care. I hope you can forgive me one day.
I love you, my sweet angel. And my biggest regret in life is that I am never going to get the chance to tell you that again to your face.
Mary Elizabeth Thompson
She carefully placed the letter down and finally allowed herself to give in to the tears already beginning to spill.
She cried for the little girl who had missed out on having a grandmother around to do the grandmotherly things she had always heard about—like teaching her how to bake cookies and spoiling her too much. She cried for the adult she was now who missed out on getting to know her grandmother because the cancer had taken her away too soon. She cried because life was unfair, and she hated that she couldn't tell her grandmother she hadn't needed to ask for forgiveness from her because there was nothing to be forgiven.
Finally she cried because she was never going to have the chance to tell her grandmother that she loved her too.
And much later after crying all she could, she picked herself up from the couch and walked into the bathroom to clean up her face. Her eyes were puffy and her nose was red. She looked as if she had gone through an emotional wringer, which is exactly the way she felt.
Returning to the living room after cleaning herself up, she saw the mug of tea she had made and that had remained untouched but for a few small sips. Sighing she picked it up and carried the mug to the sink, dumping its contents and washing it quickly.
As she stood in her kitchen and looked around her apartment, she thought about her grandmother's letter and what it had said and about the last few days and how so much had happened and changed.
Maybe some people would think she wasn't exactly in the right frame of mind to make a big decision, but once she had made it, she almost felt lighter. She knew what she wanted to do.
Grabbing the phone book and her cell phone, she located the number she was looking for and dialed it quickly without giving herself a chance to change her mind. "Hi, I would like to book the next available flight to San Francisco please…"
A/N2: Saying I struggled with this chapter would be an understatement, so constructive feedback would be much appreciated. Also, show of hands – the ending, how many saw that coming?