A/N: So this is it, the last chapter! Once again, thanks to anyone and everyone who has read this from beginning to end, and bigger thanks to those who reviewed and kept this story going!
She stood at the front of the church, dressed completely in black. She'd never liked wearing black before, it didn't go very well with her pale skin and blond hair. Today was different though. She wouldn't cry because she had done enough of that at the hospital and besides, Charlie wouldn't want her to. If he were here right now he would be cracking a joke, making a face, doing anything to get her to laugh. For his sake, if he was watching her somewhere, she forced a small, sad smile. The service would be starting soon, and she would have to return to her seat in the front row beside Liam. Claire ran her hand across the closed casket, and his face entered her mind. She wore his ring on a chain around her neck now. She imagined that she would give it to Aaron some day, so he would have something to remember his father. Tomorrow she had to testify at Thomas' trial, but today she wouldn't think about him. He didn't even deserve her thoughts.
She drew in a long, shaky breath and then spoke, softly, so he was the only one who could hear, "Aaron hasn't slept much since you've been gone," She told him. "He cries all the time. I think he knows your gone, I think he misses you. I miss you. I love you, Charlie. I still do, and I always will." One lone tear slid down her cheek, but that's all she would allow.
The April morning was sunny and warm, just as it had been that day when he had been taken from her.
"Good morning Charlie," Claire said, her voice light and happy. She set the bright yellow flowers next to the gray stone to add a splash of color. He had only been with her for seven months, now he was seven years gone. She came faithfully to visit him a few times a year, and usually brought Aaron along as well. Today she was by herself, and she plopped down into the grass next to the gravestone.
"Aaron's with Karen and Liam," Claire pulled her knees up to her chest as she talked. Some people thought it was odd, her speaking to a grave like this, but it was something she needed to do. "I have a date tonight. I hope you don't mind, it's one of Aaron's friends fathers. Don't worry, he won't ever replace you, no one could. It's just time, you know? I'll always love you more though." Claire ran her hand over the letters, 'Charlie Hieronymus Pace'. To be honest, she didn't really want to go out with this guy tonight, but she felt bad saying no and besides, it really was time to move on right? The first year had been the hardest, she didn't sleep much and when she did she had nightmares. All she could see when she closed her eyes was the last time she had seen Charlie alive, his head propped in her lap, blood all over his chest. Now it was easier, but only a little. She still missed him, and there was the occasional nightmare. Every once in a while, Aaron asked Claire to tell him a story about his daddy, and Claire was always happy to oblige. She showed him pictures of Charlie, ones that she'd found online because she'd never had any real ones, and let him take Charlie's guitar out sometimes. Aaron vowed that he would grow up to be a rock star, just like his daddy. As for Thomas, he was in prison now. After the trial, she never thought or spoke about him.
"I let Aaron listen to your records the other day. He loved it, he goes around telling everyone that his daddy was famous." Claire chewed her bottom lip, struggling not to cry, although she already knew she wouldn't. She had almost forgotten how. She imagined what life would be like if they hadn't gone to the park for a picnic so long ago. They would probably be married by now, maybe they would have some more children. Charlie would be a great father, and they would live happily ever after. But that only happened in fairy tales, and since Claire's Prince Charming was now dead, she would never get her fairy tale ending.
The real reason she was able to at least pretend to be happy, even on the loneliest of nights, was because after the funeral she had gone home and started to sort through his things. Mixed in with clothes was a small, balled up piece of paper. She wasn't sure where it came from or how it had gotten there, but when she opened it, it read in Charlie's familiar handwriting, "Just keep smiling." Who knows when or why he had written it, the point was that she found it, and she kept it all this time.
"I have to go now," Claire said, "But I'll come back soon. I miss you, and I love you." She closed her eyes and thought of his note. It was hard, but she would. Just keep smiling.