A/N: Just a quick little epilogue that's probably not even worth reading, but I decided to write it anyway. This story's been such fun to write, and thank you all so much for reading your lovely reviews!! I haven't got any stories in mind at the moment, and am planning on taking a break- but if you want something good to read, check out the links on my profile!
It is only just 7:00 a.m. in the Cleverly household, yet already everything is abuzz with activity. The matriarch, famed attorney Zelda Cleverly, has only just managed to squeeze me in as she tries busily to reschedule an appointment on the phone while putting together some sort of lunch for her daughter, Megan, aged six. Suddenly from outside appears her husband, Link Vaughn, looking as though he has just come from a jog. After giving your reporter (and his co-worker!) a cheery wave, Vaughn gives Zelda's shoulder a squeeze and offers to take over the task of making lunch. Her response to this was a kiss so intensely passionate that it made me actually squirm with discomfort at being in the same room.
But then Zelda pulled away and collapsed into the wicker chair across from me. She is smiling in a tired way, a few strands of her enviously pretty, blonde hair falling into her angel-kissed face. Still, it is a smile, and one not many of us have seen her wear before (though she tells me I will probably being a lot more of it from now on). In fact the last time I interviewed Ms. Cleverly, her overall disposition could not have been more different than it is today.
Those of us who keep up on the stories of this curiously beautiful lawyer are accustomed to seeing her brow furrowed in deep concentration, a steely look in her eye, and overall a sense of impatience to be getting back to work. There was once a distance there that is no longer present. Finally sitting down in her own kitchen, Zelda Cleverly looks at once so relaxed and so—dare I say it—happy, that one is almost thrown off guard. When I attempted tactfully to bring this up, she cut me off:
"Yes, I do look much happier now, don't I?" She laughs as I fluster awkwardly, trying to think of a quick reply. I realized that her laughter was a sound I had never heard (or perhaps, deep down, thought she was incapable of producing). It is a pleasant, soft, noise, almost like she can't believe it herself, that this is coming from within her. Instantly, this warms the atmosphere, and you see: she is not a hardened, cynical lawyer, but someone with true feelings and—as I am about to exclusively reveal—true horrors in her past.
"It's no secret that Clarissa Cleverly, uh, got around," Zelda says, though she clearly struggled to find the right way to phrase that. "Not the best way to put it, is it? I mean that my mother's habit of constantly remarrying enough to put her in the league of Liz Taylor and Zsa Zsa Gabor—it just had a profoundly negative impact on me, on all of us kids." She smirks at me and adds, "As I'm sure the press pointed out at the time."
Link, whom some of you may recognize as the sports columnist for this very paper, now joins us at the kitchen table. "You were one tough cookie, though, weren't you?" he asks, clapping Zelda on the back.
She is working hard to keep the sadness out of her smile. "He's being kind," she explains to me. "For reasons I cannot begin to fathom, my mother singled me out from all her children and decided I would be the one to follow in her footsteps, whether I wanted to or not. Thanks to her guiding hand and her influence, I got the best education available and the best training to enter her noble profession."
Her sarcastic tone is impossible to miss. "Given the opportunity, would you switch careers?" I ask her.
"No," she says without a second though, looking at me as if I must be crazy to ask such a question. She repeats herself, "No… I am too comfortable in it, too close to my work. I enjoy it, some of the time." Link is looking at her with concern, and she speaks again only when he places his hand on her back. "The joy my mother took from being a lawyer was the power it gave her. She could ruin people's lives, she could raise her voice, she could tell lies …and for the longest time, I thought that was the only way I could win, as well. But I want to help people, now. If I could just make one difference in one person's life for the better through my work, that will make it worth it." She shrugs. "And besides, if I were to quit, all of that education and all of that money spent on it would have been for naught."
Link rolled his eyes at this one. I'm sure he highly doubts that anything his wife has ever done has been for naught. His wife! How funny that sounds. I had to ask the pair of them what it was like to be married—and unexpectedly, this question led into another disturbing facet of Zelda Cleverly's past.
"I was married once before," she tells me. "To a very …bad man." What did he do, I wanted to know. Zelda could not answer me right away. Eventually she tells me that he was abusive, both to her and her daughter Megan (now nearly seven years of age). She would not, however, go into further detail of the matter, only saying that the man had left her permanently scarred, both physically and emotionally. "I have to say that he turned me off of men for quite some time. Love in general. I just thought it was all a sham, all just fairy tale stuff."
"And then you met me," Link teases her.
The dazzling smile returns; Zelda leans over and leaves a long kiss on Link's cheek. "Very true. It's funny," she says after a while, returning her gaze to me. She then revealed that she met Link when his mother, her neighbor, recommended him to fill the position of nanny for Zelda's daughter ("and yes," Link says dryly, though Zelda is laughing. "I've been quite a hard time for it already!"). Things progressed normally for them at first, with Zelda not looking his way twice, but she says that over time, she began to realize what a special person was. He had bonded with her daughter in a way no one else, not even Zelda, ever had before, and she says that is what drew him to her.
Link began to hint that he and Zelda had met once before, but she cut him off, turning to me and explaining that she didn't want to talk about the past anymore. "That's a chapter of my life that I'm trying to get over," she says in a quiet voice. "I'm starting anew, and I'd just like to take this time to apologize to my daughter that it's taken me such an inexcusably long time."
Almost as if on cue, Zelda's daughter comes bounding down the stairs. She seems unsurprised to see me there, and indeed only acknowledges me with a small wave as she trounces over to her mother. Megan Cleverly is an astonishingly pretty child, with the same sunlit, golden hair as her mother, an impish grin, and bright blue eyes. When she speaks, it is with a voice brimming with happiness and excitement, as if she is one of those people who inherently grasps the truth that each new day is a gift.
"Are you still interviewing?" she asks in a loud whisper.
"Yes, dear," Zelda says, giving me an apologetic smile. "Don't worry, you'll get to school on time. Malon's going to drop by on her way to work to pick you up."
Seeing how thrilled Megan looked at this prospect, I had to ask who Malon was, and the child seemed only too happy to explain. Zelda filled in here and there to make the story more clear to a near stranger: growing up, Zelda's best friend was a girl named Malon, who she hadn't seen since her sophomore year of college. Then suddenly, in the last year, Malon showed up again in California and Zelda put her up. Though initially she planned only to stay for a couple of weeks, Malon found herself being drawn into the Cleverly's lives, and Zelda says it was she who helped persuade her to stay with Link. Now employed as a baker for the town's popular "Regular Joe" ("a shameless plug!" Zelda laughs), Malon shares an apartment with Megan's piano teacher and frequently visits the Cleverly household.
"Actually, we'll be going on a family trip to New York soon, and we've asked Malon to come along with us," Zelda says. "That's where Link is from, and we wanted to show Megan around the place where he grew up."
It's obvious that Megan is beyond excited to visit the place. Link explained that he was actually from upstate New York, "a vastly different place from Manhattan, which is where everyone assumes I mean when I talk about New York. It's more like a Midwestern state, actually, where I'm from. Very charming, and very rural." At first he was afraid to break this news to Megan, thinking she would be sad that they wouldn't have time to go to the City and see the famous landmarks. "But I should've known not to worry," he laughs. "She's just excited to see the lightning bugs."
Their trip is for this weekend, and Zelda admits that packing and getting ready to go has been a bit more of a hassle than she had anticipated. "I'm not used to going on vacations of any kind," she explains. "I would go on business trips, but that was all very different. Someone else was planning the itinerary, telling me where I would stay, and I had a very clear understanding of what I was to do while I was away. Now, it's like we have this whole trip to plan, and it's so… exhilarating, and wonderful. When I went to my sister's house for Thanksgiving this year… that was the first time in years that I've left California for something other than work."
The look Link was giving her is what made me ask her if something important had happened during that trip.
"Oh, I'd say so," she says with a smile, looking at me but taking Link's hand. "If I hadn't gone, I very highly doubt we'd be talking to you right now. I don't think I would have ever fully realized the person Link was, and I am pretty confident in saying that were it not for that trip, we would not be married. Now if something this wonderful and life-changing happened when I finally decided to take a vacation—that's something I'm going to start doing a lot more often!"