Note: Final chapters take awhile, don't they? This one had about five possible options for me to choose from…some darker than others, and some sweeter. What I ended up with was kind of unexpected, I'll admit—the scenes attacked me out of nowhere, gave my new character some more substance. I like it, though, and I hope you do, too. Because I have no clue what you'll think of it. XD

Epilogue:

Cassie

If you want something in life—really, really want it—it's up to you to go for it. At least, that's what my mom always says whenever I start to ramble on about the future. "If you want to become an artist," she tells me, "then don't you think you ought to work at it, instead of repeatedly saying you can't make it?" My mom isn't exactly the most knowledgeable woman in the realm of job opportunities for starving artists. Still, she means well, and I suppose she's got a point. Sort of.

"Sketching again?" a voice calls, and I turn my head to see a familiar man approach, his head of gray hair the first thing to register in my mind. His startling blue eyes are what I see next, and I smile as I adjust the book in my lap.

"Just doodling some sheep," I tell him as I hold the picture high. "They're fluffy."

Marlin's mouth quirks into a smile as he shakes his head and continues to work the field. "You still haven't found a job then, I see. Your mom will love that."

"She should be used to it by now," I remark while I stand up and stretch. The wind plays lightly with my wispy brown curls, and it's days like this that I half-expect Marlin to tell me I look like my mother. Coming from him, that's probably the same thing as being called "beautiful." The way he looks at my mom, you'd think she was God's gift to earth.

See, that's the thing about Marlin: he's not my dad. Not even my step-dad. But he might as well be, the way things stand. The first time I called him "dada" at a year-and-a-half years old, my mom had the good grace to just smile and bear it. Soon enough, though, I got scolded by the people around me with gentle laughter. "No, baby, that's not your dada. He's your Uncle Marlin. Can you say Uncle?"

Even then, I didn't like the sound of the word. And to my satisfaction, neither did Marlin.

"I remember when you used to draw on walls," Marlin continues with a laugh. "Finger-paint was probably the worst birthday present Vesta ever gave you."

I stuck my tongue out at him in answer. "Speak for yourself. I happen to appreciate a good round of wall-ruining."

"What's this about wall-ruining?"

If I were to describe my mother, physically, I'd probably call her delicate. Not delicate as in sickly, but as in fragile: she's tiny boned, and her hair—which used to be the warm shade of russet that I possess—is now dusted with silver flecks that catch the sunlight. She hikes up her apron as she comes towards us, her eyes soft and kind as they eye the two people she loves most in the world.

"Your daughter is planning to open up finger-paint and explore the canvas of the wall again," Marlin quips, and I stick my tongue at him again. "But the bigger problem here is that we're out of strawberry seeds."

"Eh? Well, I'm sure we could buy a few from Vesta—she's coming here later for dinner anyway, isn't she?"

"As always."

I look at my sketch book once again and slink off to the side as the two of them talk, seating myself on the fence. Skipping the chubby sheep doodle I've drawn, I come to a new sheet of paper and begin to quickly outline the scene before me: the angular shape of Marlin's jaw, my mother's curve of a cheek, the glow in their eyes as they exchange words. It's rough at best, but I'll do all the refining later—which is the tough part, I assure you.

I think I have one of the weirdest families in the world. It's weird because of a lot of reasons: my mom, Marlin, Vesta, and Takakura make up what I consider to be a close-knit family, as families go, but I'm only related to one of them. And while I could label Vesta and Takakura helpers and friends, I have trouble doing that with Marlin.

From drawing, I've observed a lot. My favorite subjects tend to be unaware of my presence, and since I see Marlin with my mom so often, it's only natural I sneak up on them and draw what I see. Half of my book is full of pictures of them. And if you look, it's not a friendly interaction that they share—it's something closer, something rare even between married men and women.

Takakura tells me my mom looked at my father like that once. I wish she'd kept a picture of him, but she insists I look just like him anyway. Which is confusing, since Marlin says I look like my mom. I guess they must have been pretty alike, then. All I've seen is his grave, and I drew it once for the anniversary of his death: a stone tablet with a lily gracing its presence. The picture's buried in the topsoil there, in an envelope, right in front of the grave. Maybe he can see it wherever he is. Maybe he wishes I'd get a paying job, too, like my mom does. Maybe he sees how my mom looks at Marlin, as well.

Because I can't be the only one, honestly.


"Marriage is the surest way to become unhappy that there is," Kate announces, and Hugh rolls his eyes at her as I laugh. "I'm serious, guys! Name a single happy couple you know."

The three of us are seated at the Inn, three jugs of milk spread on a table between us as we talk, as usual, about anything and everything. "C'mon, Kate. Hugh's parents seem legitimately happy, don't they?" I insist.

"Well, by the time they both come from work, they're too tired to argue about anything," Hugh admits with a guffaw. "So yeah, I guess they're happy, sort of."

"But not happy happy," Kate points out, an I-told-you-so smile tugging at her lips. "Look at my parents, seriously. Dad can't handle reality, and my mom can't handle anything that's out of whack with what she wants. And she wants Dad to be something he's not. But all the single people here—they are pretty happy, aren't they?"

"Hm…maybe," I say idly. I catch Hugh's eye and we silently exchange our discomfort at being caught in the crossfire of another of Kate's little tirades. If Kate didn't have her writing, I don't think we'd ever escape from her little thoughts on life; we've had enough serious discussions to bog us down for a good hundred seasons. Whenever they start, Hugh and I figure we should just nod them out and wait for the eventual milk-drinking-contest that'll ensue. Hugh usually wins, but he's let me catch up to him before. Sometimes.

"Just look at your mom, Cassie; she's one of the most cheerful and bubbly people in this whole town," Kate continues. "And she's single! Coincidence? I think not."

"Oh, that's a load of crap." Hugh grins. "She's got a boyfriend; you can't count that as single."

"Guys! Stop gossiping about my mom! I'm kind of getting weirded out here," I groan. I take a tentative sip of milk before speaking again, the two grinning impishly at my outburst. "But yeah, they're not even dating. Marlin and my mom. They're just…close."

Hugh raises an eyebrow. "Close?"

"Get your mind out of the gutter, Hugh."

Close, to me, means coming to someone's house and staying by their side as they lay sick in bed—even when they don't need you to. Close means cooking meals side-by-side, swapping stories, and walking together late at night to see the stars and talk. Close means smiling for no reason at all, even after years and years of seeing that same face and knowing it in perfect memory.

"…It is true, though," Kate sighs. "She looks at him all different, so maybe I shouldn't have used her as an example. But then again, it's easier to stay in love if you're not committed. Marriage messes with that."

"I dunno," I reply. "I mean, my mom apparently loved my dad a lot. So I'm not sure if I agree with that. Besides, being that happy with someone just sort of screams, 'Get Married!' Why dance around it, if you love someone?"

"Lots of reasons," Hugh counters. "Jobs can get in the way. I mean, I know whoever I marry is going to have to deal with me training every morning, noon, and night. And some people travel, so they'd have to take that into account. Then some of us," he adds with a laugh, "don't have jobs to live off of."

I kick him for that, and Kate giggles. "You deserved it, Cassie. I mean, how long does it take to get some kind of pay?"

"We can't all write children's books and memoirs in our spare time, okay? And we're not all buff athletes, either," I retort. "Some of us are going to sit in our parents' house, helping shovel horse poo, until someone notices our art millions of years after we're dead."

"Glad I'm the buff athlete, then," Hugh laughs.

"And hey, you're not completely right," Kate corrects me as she clucks her tongue. "I don't do kids' stuff anymore. Not since I lost my illustrator; with the crappy one I've got as a replacement, I think all my creative juices have just died. I can't write a cute kids' series with ugly abstract…stuff. It works for Cody, but not me."

Immediately I jump on her words, and Kate pales. "Illustrator?"

"Oh, no, Cassie—no, I see what you're thinking. No."

"C'mon. I need a job!"

"No."

"You need an illustrator."

"No."

"And you still owe me money from that book tour of yours."

Well, it's true, and she sighs deeply and rubs her temples in thought. "Fine, fine. But I'm going to need to see your work, to get an idea of what I'm working with. You got it handy?" I hand her the wine-red notebook, and Kate furrows her brow, flipping through. "Dang, you draw your mom a lot."

"She's usually nearby." I shrug. To my annoyance, Hugh is now craning his head to see my work as well, and it feels strangely intrusive. It's bad enough that half of these pictures are unfinished; worse, most of them are of my mom talking with what my friends have just deemed her unofficial boyfriend, and…well, it's odd.

"Is she always like this with Marlin, then?" Hugh asks aloud, and I glower at him.

"Like I said. They're close."

"Makes me wonder why they didn't get married, then," Hugh remarks. "I mean, they're obviously at that point, aren't they? Where they 'dance around' the idea or whatever."

"They're not getting married," I answer him, and I turn to Kate instead. "So do I pass the test?"

"Why not get married?" Kate answers instead. "Why haven't they? Really, I'm curious."

Two other kids in this entire village, and they have to be nosy little gossipers. "How should I know?" I exasperate. "I mean, they're happy, but—"

"But what?" Hugh interrupts. "Didn't you say that yourself? They just scream 'Get Married!' So, basically, why is Kate suddenly right, and why are you wrong?"

My mouth is dry; my brain is drawing a blank. "I don't need to answer this." So I snatch back my book and stalk off, pretending that I'm not as clueless about my mom and Marlin as I really, truly, am.


"Mom…do you love Marlin?"

The plate slips from her hands into the sink, where it hits the water with a surprised little plip plop of sound. "Marlin?" she repeats, and I shrug, leaning against the kitchen counter. "You want to know if I love him?"

"Well, do you?" I insist. "Because some days, I don't know, it seems like…like you should be married or something. I mean, you're almost forty. Most people your age are, well, married." Excluding Muffy, Nami, and Flora. Not that I'm about to give my mom ammo here.

"Hm, well, marriage doesn't necessarily make you happy," my mother disagrees, concentrating on the grime of the lunch plates. "I'm perfectly content as things stand, Cassandra. I could go through life never marrying again, and I think I'd be just fine."

"But you were happy when you married Dad, then?" I press.

She pauses, and I wait as my mom purses her lips and nods. "Well, of course I was. Why else would I have married him? I loved Jack very much, and he was a perfect husband to me. Marlin…Marlin is a lovely man, but he's a friend, that's all."

"You make goo-goo eyes at him, Mom."

"And before I forget, Cassie, how is that job hunt of yours going?" my mother hedges easily. "If you want to become a farmer, that's fine, but I feel strange about you giving up on something so important to you as art—"

"First of all, I'm not giving up on anything. Second of all, do you or do you not make goo-goo eyes at Marlin? Don't deny it. You do."

"Women my age don't make goo-goo eyes," my mother laughs. "And…well…I like being with Marlin. I do. There, are you satisfied now? I enjoy his company very much. But as for loving him…" She closes her eyes and smiles. "Well. I don't have a right to love someone who doesn't love me back, now do I?"

And simple as that, she changes the subject back to my lack-of-a-job, as I sit and wonder how the heck she could go through life without seeing how Marlin gazes at her each and every day.


"Honey, I'm going to have to tell you something you don't want to hear." Muffy blows a strand of her recently-dyed hair back and sighs. "Your mom and Marlin are two very stubborn idiots. The sooner you understand that, the sooner you'll see why they're still not married after all this time."

I like Muffy. I do. When I was a kid, she'd sneak me into the bar before opening because I'd always whine about not knowing what I was missing out on. "Smell this," Muffy instructed me, and I took a whiff of strong alcohol and wrinkled my nose in disgust. "See? Baby, you aren't missing a thing."

So coming to her about my mom is probably the most natural thing in the world. Heck, I could come to her and tell her I was pregnant, or that I was doing drugs, and I know she'd do whatever it took to help me get through it. Asking her about my mom is a cakewalk.

"Mom is stubborn, but not totally and completely stubborn," I argue. "And Marlin is kinda blunt about these sorts of things, so why he hasn't made the first move is beyond me."

"Ah, but that's because you weren't here to see the first move," Muffy tells me. "If you were there for their first year together, girl, you'd see a lot that you can't quite glean now. Maybe not so much from your mom, but from Marlin—ah, Marlin. He was about as subtle as a brick." We pause in our walk to see Hugh racing his dad up and down the hill, and my friend waves at me emphatically. I giggle and wave back. "Sort of like Hugh," Muffy tacks on with a grin.

"What?"

"You and Hugh."

"…Me and Hugh?"

"Cassie, baby, I know what I said."

I blush—Muffy's always trying to pair up anyone and everyone, I swear—and reply, "You're not finished with your explanation."

"Fine. But I expect one from you once I'm done." The beach comes into view and we watch as the sunshine shimmers on the water's surface: a dome of blue glass. "So, Marlin pursued your mom for a few years, but being her sweet oblivious self, she never caught on. So when Jack swept her off her feet like some fairy tale prince, she had no reason to stay around for Marlin, not really. It wasn't until your daddy died that I think Celia realized exactly what went on those few years prior."

Somehow, I can believe that; Mom can be dense sometimes. If Marlin didn't check behind her work, I think we'd have been cheated out of a lot of money…Mom always gets the shipping rates wrong, for some reason.

"So what happened?" I ask, crossing my arms.

"Jack was gone, and she was pregnant. So your mom got scared, Cassie. And scared people do stupid things."

I listen quietly as she continues, hearing about a young girl I had never met shouldering burdens I've never had to carry. I study the patterns of seagulls as I contemplate hasty decisions, and the fear that propels them. I try to understand. That much, I think, I can do.

"And what did she do once she brought me home?" I insist. "How did you…and Marlin…start talking to her again?"

At this, Muffy shrugs. "Honey, all I know is Marlin came back agreeing to work by your mother's side, and Celia immediately apologized to me after. That's how they've been, ever since. Two peas in a pod. So whatever happened that day, I think they found some kind of understanding. And I think if either of them admitted that maybe they still saw the other in a romantic light…I guess they're afraid they'd jeopardize that balance."

"But that's stupid," I retort. "Anyone can see how they feel about each other."

"Cassie, baby, in life you sometimes see things sometimes that other people are blind to." Muffy smiles at me and gives me a reassuring hug. "Especially when it's them you're looking at."

Left alone on the beach, and mercifully freed from explanations about Hugh and I (if only Kate hadn't started dating that co-worker of hers, I swear…), I sit myself down on the sand and pull off my shoes to let the surf soak my feet. Wriggling my toes, I can feel each and every grain of the rough beach against my skin, and my eyes drink in the sight of the dazzling blue sea before me. It's breathtaking, each and every time. And no matter how many times you see the ocean, it's never the same shade of blue—sometimes greener, sometimes darker. I squint and look closer, and suddenly I'm on my feet, wading into the water.

It can't be that on the waves…can it?

Knee-deep in the water, I reach out into the watery depths and enclose my fingers about a smooth, but slippery, object. "What do you know?" I chuckle to myself, and I hold the feather high, its color an unmistakable blue.

It hits me like a thunderbolt, and immediately I know what I have to do.


Dear Mom. The way things are going, I'm not going to get a good job for awhile. So I'm taking the next best option. Hugh's a good guy, and I love being with him, so…okay, I know you think we're too young and all. But Mom, I'm an adult. A jobless adult, but an adult. And if you want to come to my marriage, it'll be at Romana's mansion, six o'clock sharp. Don't try to stop me. There's nothing you or Marlin could do to make me change my mind. Love you, Cassie.


It's not a fancy wedding, and that's fine with me. I've only had a day, and with the day I've had, I think I've done a lot. Hugh smiles at me from across the room, and I wink back, Vesta and Takakura exchanging knowing smiles. Lumina is fussing on about the flowers she's strung up while Kate is pretending to listen to her complaints and shooting me death glares when the heiress isn't looking. Romana keeps grinning at me, patting me on the head and saying, "Isn't this exciting? I always hoped this day would come. Always, always."

Muffy looks equally pleased, if not more so. But there's a fidgety edge to her content, as if she's scared of what just might come through those doors. "Are you sure you want to do this?" she whispers urgently, and I nod. Nothing could shake my decision. Nothing at all.

When they come, it's explosive, dynamic, thunderous. The doors of the mansion slam against the wall, and I can hear Marlin's snarling voice scream out, "Cassie, what the hell do you think you're doing?"

I smile to myself. No surprises there.

Behind him comes a shorter figure, hands clutching her abdomen as she gasps for air, exhausted from what looks like running. "Cassandra…" she moans, and I force myself to stare into her eyes: wide, startled, and afraid. "Cassandra, please, stop!"

"Stop what?" I ask simply, and immediately I know I've answered incorrectly.

"You know damn well what!" Marlin snaps as he approaches me. "How can you run off here to get married and leave your mother nothing but a frickin' note? Did you give this any thought at all? When did you plan this wedding?"

"Yesterday," I admit. I can hear my mother whimper in the background.

Anger contorts Marlin's features, but it's his eyes I'm centering in on. They reflect an emotion similar to that in my mother's own two orbs…something resembling concern mixed with fear. Whirling about, he faces Hugh instead of me, and Marlin accuses, "And you. You. I don't even know what to say to you, you know that? I don't get how anyone could force someone they love to go behind their family's back like this. You're both stupid—damn, damn stupid, and I hope you know it!"

"What Marlin's trying to say here," my mother interrupts in her soft voice, "is that this…this is unexpected. Everyone here, I think they didn't expect to see you two married so soon." She looks about imploringly. "…Am I right?"

Hugh looks at Lumina, who looks at Kate, who looks at Vesta, who looks at Takakura, who looks at Muffy, and in turn looks to Romana to reply. "Oh, Celia," the old woman says in surprise, "I thought this was to be your wedding, was it not?"

From white, to pink, to scarlet, my mother's cheeks blossom into a deep rose red, and her body remains frozen to the ground, eyes glued upon Romana in shock. "I…no, I…Cassie…?"

Marlin wraps his arm around her and stares at the sea of faces around him, scowling. "We have a note. Okay? A note that says Hugh and Cassie were going to elope here tonight. Celia isn't…she's not…"

Silence sets in, and I take the necessary steps forward towards these two. From this angle, they look like one silhouette against the candlelight, and when I approach them I can see how all three of us merge into one complete shadow. I wonder if it's all three of our hearts beating like drums, as well, or if I'm just not as certain about this as I had been mere moments before.

"Mommy," I start, a name that I hadn't used in ages leaving my lips, "you're always telling me if I want something in life…I need to go for it, right?" I swallow a lump in my throat and meet her stare straight-on. "Well, that's what I want to tell you now—you and Marlin. Because it's been so many years, hasn't it? Great years. Good years. And even if you're happy now…why not take that just a step further?"

The feather in my hands is beaten, wrecked by nature and the elements. But as I hand it to the two of them, I could swear it was the single most beautiful thing in the world, locking them together as nothing else could. Marlin opens his mouth to speak, but closes it tight, glancing at my mother instead. Neither have any more words to speak.

"I—I'm sorry I tricked you," I continue, unable to interpret their silence. "I'm sorry I lied, really. But what's between you two—that's not a lie, is it?" My thoughts dart back and forth from pictures I've drawn and memories I've recalled: my mother blushing, Marlin grinning, the beautiful duet of their laughter. "No, I've known you both too long to be blind to this. I…I mean, you don't have to accept this. You don't have to get married. But you two love each other, don't you? If you don't, just say so. Now."

No one dares to speak, to breathe, as Marlin and my mother meet each other's gaze. There's almost a kind of friction between them—but no, anger does not flare up in their eyes, nor contempt, nor pity. On the outside, they are adults, but inside I feel as if I can see two frightened schoolchildren, unable to confess to that which they hide inside. It's only a matter of time before their emotions rise to the surface, and I wait, a strange sort of anxiety chaining me down as I study their faces in wonder.

"I've…I've never changed my answer to that question," Marlin answers first, averting my mother's gaze as he sighs in defeat. "Let Celia speak. Please."

"Me? Oh, Marlin, must I?" she laughs hollowly. I know this laugh. My mother doesn't shout when she wants to be left alone—she puts on this fakey kind of optimism, and somehow I've always preferred Marlin's tumultuous rages to her empty smiles. She twists her hands in her lap, and something wrestles within her, pulling her deep within herself to find the words to say. "I…I've been married before, long ago. But I'm happy now. These years with you, Cassie, and you too, Marlin, have easily been the best of my life. Who am I, to ask for anything more?"

And oh my Goddess, my mother is crying. She wipes large, wet tears from her eyes and tries valiantly to laugh instead of choking on her emotion. Everyone is staring, and I briefly decide I must be the stupidest girl in the world, to embarrass my poor mother like this. This isn't what I intended. Nowhere near.

"Celia…" Her name is whispered softly, reverently, almost like a lullaby. Marlin cups her chin in his hand and holds her gaze, wiping a tear from her cheek with a gentleness I have never seen him possess. "Please, don't cry. Please."

In a single fluid motion, his hand falls from her cheek, and Marlin takes the feather into his hands, eyeing it for a moment before bending one knee. Mom's face is puffy and red, but Marlin's expression is so much brighter, so much bolder than before. "Oh, Marlin, what are you doing?" my mother laughs, wiping her eyes.

"What I should have done long ago. Somewhere more private than here, but here will have to do." His hand extends the feather forward, while the other squeezes her wrist almost forgivingly. "Celia, if I'd told you I loved you the day we met, I'd hope to God that you would have turned me down immediately. I can't imagine…can't dream…of seeing you married to the man that I once was." He stops for a single, pregnant pause, soaking in the moment to choose his words carefully. Marlin glances my way and catches my eyes long enough to give me a fleeting smile. "And now, after all these years, maybe your daughter has seen something we've both been too afraid to admit. Maybe now…I can ask you this question, and truly accept your answer, whichever reply it may be. But I love you, Celia. And I guess I always will. So, I'll ask you now: will you marry me?"

Was there any doubt, I think to myself as she flings himself into his arms, that she wouldn't say yes?


Muffy always claims that this whole wedding thing was her idea, or at least she brought it about somehow. "I always knew you would be a Cassandra," she'd nodded. "I knew it from the moment I saw you."

It'd always been a joke, that my mom was The Blind One, and I was supposed to be the one who saw what others couldn't. But as much as I'd love to attribute setting up their marriage to some prophetic sight I possess, that'd be a lie. The thing is, we never know what's ahead of us; we're having enough trouble trying to see what's right in front of our faces as is. So maybe the future isn't all it's cracked up to be. Maybe it's just today that matters, and the past is just a library we can glance at from time to time.

I guess today's the day I close my final page.

"So you're rooming with Kate in the city?"

"Mhm. Splitting the rent," I reply, shouldering my bag of belongings. Hugh raises an eyebrow and makes a motion to help me, but I shoot him a glare and he backs off. "It's about time I left, you know? And what with their honeymoon going on, now's the perfect time."

Hugh nods at that. "Yeah, I wouldn't want to hang around that, either. So I guess you'll be drawing for that publisher, right?"

"Fluffy sheep and chubby cows," I announce with a grin. "Kate's got a farming bug in her writing system, and together we'll make the cutest children's concoction ever."

"And maybe make some money, if you're lucky."

"Which is where the term part-time-job comes in handy."

Hugh can't help but laugh at that, and I giggle as well. "Just not fast food restaurants, okay? I couldn't visit you in a place like that. It could totally screw up my season's training."

"Ah, but if you win at the Olympics, you could endorse our products!" I suggest.

"Sure, I bet the sporting world would just love that," he chuckles. "Ah, it's going to be weird with you gone, you know?"

And I do know. For some reason, as I view Hugh's beaming face and the ginger locks of his hair, I can't help but feel the need to photograph him, to sketch his expression down and remember it always. But I couldn't bring out my sketchbook, not now. It's way down at the bottom of my bag, and you couldn't pay me to go through that anytime soon.

"Cassie, get your butt in gear and let's go!" my future roommate shouts as she runs over, her suitcase already packed on the ferry. I roll my eyes and give Hugh an apologetic glance.

"I, uh, have to go."

"No kidding," he grins, and before I know it, I'm being crushed in a near-fatal bear hug. His body is warm against my own: strong, reassuring. "Write to me, alright?"

"C'mon, Cassie, we've got to leave," Kate insists, but I could swear her tone has calmed somewhat and that she sounds almost…pleased. "You ready now?"

We pull ourselves away ever so slowly, and I bite my lip, not daring to find out if my cheeks are as hot as I think they are. "Yeah. Let's go."

You know, I have no idea what the heck I'm going to do once I leave this place. I've lived here for Goddess knows how long, and the very word "city" is practically the same thing as "UFO" or "alien" to me. Still, a shudder of thrill shoots through me, and I think my heartbeat is singing as it beats erratically in my chest.

Glancing behind me once more, I see two figures standing in a field, arms wrapped about each other so that they are not two souls, but one, sealed together by their lips. Something in my expression relaxes, and I know that I'm not leaving anyone behind, but starting something beautiful…something that maybe I, too, can find down this road.

"Cassie! Come on!"

I close my eyes, and I turn away, knowing already that this perfect sketch will be forever fresh in my mind: two lovers embraced, with nothing but the newly budding flowers of Spring the background to their own simple and long-awaited reward.

The End


End Note: Um, wow. It's over. This ended much sooner than I expected; I really believed this story would break twenty chapters. Still, I'm happy with how it ended up. I knew I wanted Cassie to narrate this passage, but I wasn't sure if I wanted her to be a child or adult, and whether or not I actually wanted Marlin and Celia to get married. That, in particular, was a hard choice for me to make. But I think this completed the theme well--that just because things don't work out a first time, doesn't mean they can't a second. And I'm sorry if the ending was too Cassie-centric...I got into her voice, and she had a mind of her own, that girl...(shakes head) Well, at least I can finalize the "No sequel!" comment this way.

Thank you to all my readers, whether you reviewed or remained silent: I owe you so much for sticking with this story, and encouraging me to write better each and every chapter. (I'll have you know, I actually replied to every review last chapter--something I've been unable to do for a while, and hope to do more often.) I hope the ending was to your liking, and that you don't feel cheated by the conclusion I've chosen...I thought long and hard about it, though, and jumped through ideas as opposite as marriages, funerals, and moving out on one's own. Two out of three isn't bad, eh? ;)

Thanks, once again. I mean it. Thank you all so much.

--Scarlet