AN: Wow, I just wanted to say that I am so touched by all of your responses to this story, which is why you're getting this epilogue today instead of tomorrow like it was scheduled to be. I mean really, I've never had someone thank me for writing something, I was moved to tears by all of your guys' love and support. So thanks everyone, and I hope you enjoy this final installment in the Crazy Ass Rollercoaster. And for the last time... Enjoy! ~Artemis
Fun Fact: In the entire length of this story, Dr. Cox uses exactly sixty-four girls' names for JD with no repeats! :)
Epilogue – My One Year Later
Every good story has to have that final conclusion, the one where it zooms into the future and tells you that everything turned out alright. Of course the reality is that things don't always turn out completely right. For me, well, actually yeah, it did turn out fairly well. The greatest thing about wants, is that sometimes you find out the thing you wanted was there all along, just hidden. And me, well now I think I'm finding out I've had everything I wanted from the start, and all it took was one helluva year to get there.
I shivered and wrapped my coat tighter around myself. A mid-November wind had suddenly whipped up and it was really starting to feel like winter. I stuffed my hands deep into my coat pockets and shifted to keep my feet warm. So far I hadn't really felt compelled to say much so I just stood in the grass and looked around in the rapidly declining temperature. It was nearing sunset and with each centimeter the sun sank, the temperature seemed to drop another five degrees. I knew I wasn't going to be able to stay much longer, but I didn't want to leave just yet.
Still not coming up with anything to say, my eyes turned downward once more. There was a rectangular copper plate at my feet, half buried in grass that was in good need of a trim. I could barely make out the embossed words in the fading light.
Lily Catherine Marks
August 19, 1996 - November 11, 2008
Our Blessed Little Angel
The right half of the grave marker was decorated with a carved angel with a sweet face. There were a lot of bouquets of flowers lying all around the marker, including the small collection of brightly colored flowers I had brought with me when I'd arrived a half hour ago. They weren't exactly the prettiest flowers, or the flowers I felt she deserved, but they were the best I could pick up from the gift shop on my way out from a triple shift, since I'd come over here as soon as I'd gotten off. It had been one year ago, exactly one year today, when Dr. Cox had woken me up to tell me that she was gone.
A lot of things had changed in those twelve months. I had gotten out of the hospital about two months after that, finally capable of moving on my own. Of course most of that moving had been in a wheelchair until my ribs had finally healed enough for me to use crutches. Because of that I had spent a lot of time just hanging out in the hospital, usually at the lounge or the nurses' stations, since Carla and C-Bear didn't trust me to be home alone. Neither did Dr. Cox, he was just too stubborn to admit it, but I knew he liked having me around.
I got quite an earful when Dan showed up four days after I'd woken up, telling me that he'd gotten home from his conference and gotten a message informing him I was in a coma. Despite it all, I felt good anyway because he'd hopped the first plane to California and he gave me a huge bear hug, telling me not to scare him like that again or he'd kill me. Which reminded me a lot of what Dr. Cox had said before he'd given me my hug.
Yeah, I finally got that hug from my mentor. Trust me, it surprised me too, and all it took was nearly dying a couple times. Out of the blue he's telling me something about wearing a seatbelt, which I only finally understood several hours later, and then he pulls me into a hug. Granted, it wasn't very long, but it was everything I dreamed it would be. His arms were all warm and strong around me, and he smelled so – paternal. I know, I know, I sound gay, but I swear, that hug was perfection. Not even a Super Chocolate Bear hug ending in an Eeeeagle could top that.
Since then things had gone pretty much back to normal. I did my job and took a private entertainment out of annoying Dr. Cox, he berated me and called me girls' names and basically demeaned me in any way he could think of at the given moment. But for some reason, now I could hear in his voice that there wasn't (usually) a whole lot of conviction behind the insults. It hurt a lot less that way. I don't know whether there was less anger under his words or if I was just more in tune to the real intentions of what he said, but either way I knew that he cared and it made it all a lot easier to handle.
"Hey there, Newbie." Speak of the devil… Dr. Cox stepped up next to me and I could see out of the corner of my eye that he was clutching a bouquet of flowers, dominated by three large sunflowers, loosely in one hand. "Hope I'm not interrupting your girl time."
"Nah, just thinking," I answered, shrugging. He made a small grunting noise and then bent to put the flowers down on the headstone. "Hard to believe it's been a year, huh?"
"Yeah," Dr. Cox answered, stuffing his hands down into his coat pockets as well. "How long you been out here? It's flu season, I can't afford for you to get sick too. Who'd I dump all the patients off on?"
I smiled. "Don't worry, I haven't been here long. Only got off a half hour ago. Just wanted to come by and see her." Dr. Cox nodded, making one of those quiet grunts in the back of his throat. "What about you, I thought you got off two hours ago?"
"Board meeting," Dr. Cox said with a noise of annoyance. "Just got out of two hours of listening to the board members trying to suggest ways to cut costs while I informed them that each of those ways would also cut lives. Not that they cared, of course. Heartless bastards." I smiled. Nobody cared about patients quite as much as Dr. Cox. Except maybe me. "So, uh, how's Sammy liking the new place?"
"He loves it," I said, grinning at the thought. Just two weeks ago I had moved into a small house, midway between the hospital and Kim's place. It meant about a half hour drive to get to either, but it meant that I got to see Sam more often so it was worth it. Not to mention that he now had his own room, which Elliot and I were planning to decorate this weekend. "You were right, he asked me for a puppy the other day."
Dr. Cox laughed. "Told you it would happen soon, 'specially now that you got a bit of a yard. Whatcha gonna get him, a Chihuahua? Maybe one of those hairballs with feet that make high squeaky noises? Hey, maybe that's what language your girlfriend speaks!"
I tried very hard not to laugh at that, but I was pretty certain that my frown did not look all that convincing. "Nah, actually I was thinking about something like Rowdy," I confessed.
"Only, ya know, alive?" Dr. Cox asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Well, yeah," I said and then added in a grumble, "Rowdy is alive." Dr. Cox looked at me skeptically so I cleared my throat and returned to a normal level. "Something like a retriever or a Labrador. Or maybe a labradoodle," I finished with a grin and watched Dr. Cox fight to not look embarrassed. I never did find out what exactly that labradoodle comment had been about, but for some reason he looked really awkward every time I made jokes about it. Maybe he'd called me a labradoodle again and felt guilt for calling a coma guy a dog, or maybe he'd compared me to labradoodles, because they're cute and loyal and man's best friend.
I drifted off for a moment, imagining myself as a labradoodle. Boy was I adorable, and Dr. Cox would play fetch with me and rub my belly and tell me what a good boy I was. "Hmm, I'd make a good puppy," I mused aloud.
"If you say so, Denise," Dr. Cox said, rolling his eyes. I shook my head quickly, bringing myself back to reality. I was having a genuine conversation with Dr. Cox, not a good time to be daydreaming. I could go back to the puppy theory later. "Jacky'll be real jealous if Sam gets a puppy. I'll never hear the end of it."
"You know, Jack and little JD are welcome to come over," I offered yet again. They had been around a couple of times, usually when I was employed to babysit so he and Jordan could have some alone time. It worked out fairly well because Sam and Jennifer were about the same age, so they played well, leaving me to keep Jack from causing too much trouble. Which he was definitely good at. He was most positively a Sullivan-Cox.
"Oh be sure of it, Newbie," Dr. Cox said. "Whenever Jack starts throwing tantrums because he doesn't have a puppy, I will most ce-hertainly be shipping him and Jennifer Dylan over." I grinned a little at the way he emphasized Jennifer's real name. I still loved the fact that we had the same nickname. He always insisted it was Jordan's idea and I knew better than to risk telling him that it had been my suggestion. We'd just barely gotten to the point where he'd be nice to me on occasion, I wasn't gonna rock the boat.
"And you and Jordan are welcome to come over some time for dinner too, if you want," I said as casually as I could. I found out he responded a little less bitingly to my invitations if I didn't act overly happy or hopeful.
Dr. Cox made that noise of disgust where he pulled his upper lip back on one side, the one that was usually followed by him simply turning and walking away from me with his hands behind his head. "Don't count on it, Starshine," he said plainly. I struggled very hard to not look disappointed. There was a moment of awkward silence while I stared at the ground and Dr. Cox stood by me, but what he was doing I didn't know because I was making a point not to look at him. I shifted my weight to the other leg, easing up on my left leg which had started to ache from being on my feet for so long. It had healed, just not to exactly one-hundred-percent. Four breaks in one leg never had much of a chance of perfect repair.
"But speaking of dinner," he said and I looked up so fast I felt my neck seize up. Ouchie! Dr. Cox had rubbed his hands over his face and plunged them back into his pockets again before continuing. "Jordan's insisting that this year for Thanksgiving, instead of her taking the kids up to her mom's, we're doing a big family dinner. And as if that's not torture enough, she also says that if you and Sam and Barbie want to come, ya can. I don't like the idea in the slightest, but if I want to have sex ever again in this lifetime I gotta go with what she says, so…"
Oh my god… I tried very, very hard to not suddenly jump up in the air dancing but it took a lot of effort. Dr. Cox was inviting me over to his place for Thanksgiving, like I was part of the family. "Yeah, sure, that sounds good," I said as coolly as I could, but even I could hear the trembling of unexpressed ecstasy in my voice.
Dr. Cox was watching me thoughtfully and then said, "Alright Newb, you get four seconds to let out that little happy dance you're holding in before you spontaneously combust. Starting – " he looked at his watch, " – now." I let out a loud whoop, jumping into the air and breaking out into an immediate dance. I was just starting in on Dr. Robot when Dr. Cox said, "Okay, time's up. Stop now or I take back the offer."
I instantly stilled myself, but I couldn't help the fact that I was grinning from ear to ear. Dr. Cox rolled his eyes but I could tell he was trying not to smile. "Thanks," I said, unable to help myself.
"I swear it, Roberta, you don't keep cool about it and I'll kick you right back out," he said seriously and I swallowed the smile long enough to nod. "Good. Now whaddya say we go? It's gettin' pretty cold out here." I looked around and saw that the sun had set, and when I exhaled my breath formed little misty puffs in front of my face. I entertained myself with blowing puffy clouds for a second before remembering that Dr. Cox had asked me a question.
"Oh, yeah, probably a good idea," I agreed and pulled my coat tighter around myself.
Dr. Cox nodded. "See ya 'round, Lils," he said to the gravestone and then turned to walk away.
"Thanks for everything," I said, staring down at the embossed angel. "I miss you, Lil, hope you're having fun up there in heaven." I knelt, kissed my palm and placed it against the angel. When I stood up I found Dr. Cox watching me, but surprisingly he said nothing. We fell into step together as we headed for the distant shadows of our cars, parked near each other on the edge of the street.
"Still limping?" Dr. Cox asked, peering sideways at me.
"Only when I've been standing too long," I admitted, trying to disguise the faint loping gait. "I haven't gotten off my feet much since ten o'clock yesterday morning. Besides, I think the limp makes me look tough. Tortured. Complicated."
"Keep dreaming, Lou-Anne. Complicated, you may be," Dr. Cox said, grinning. "But you are definitely not tough. I think it makes you look like a kid with a gimp. And the only one here who's tortured is me, simply because I'm here trying to hold a conversation with you." I pouted but he ignored me until we reached the cars. "You up for a beer, kid?" Dr. Cox asked and then amended before I could answer, "Beers, Noel, not those girly little drinks you do when you're with your friends."
"Yeah, a beer sounds good," I said and we climbed into our cars, me once again trying to quell the rush of excitement. I let it out by singing along loudly to Journey as I followed his car to the nearest bar, and once we were there we sat down and ordered our beers.
"Crazy year, huh?" Dr. Cox said, eyeing the top of his beer bottle before popping the cap off. I followed suit and lifted my bottle thoughtfully.
"To this crazy ass rollercoaster of life," I said, holding the bottle for a toast.
Dr. Cox raised an eyebrow. "Newbie, what did I tell you about talking about life being a rollercoaster?" he said like someone who was on their last thread of patience. Which I knew he wasn't, he was just play-acting. He secretly adored me and my funky fresh personality that was so the yin to his yang. Of course then he brushed his thumb to his nose and glared, and I had to think that maybe he was just the tiniest bit annoyed.
"Not to," I said glumly, biting my lower lip.
Dr. Cox watched me for another long minute and then raised his bottle. "Just this once," he said resignedly. "Because it's Lily's day, and she would've like it." He grimaced and said, "To the crazy ass rollercoaster." I grinned as I tapped my bottle to his, making a satisfying 'chink,' and we both took long swallows.
So life is definitely a crazy ass rollercoaster, full of a whole lot of ups and downs and turns you aren't expecting. But we all get on board for the same reason; we're looking for an exciting ride and it wouldn't be as fun without all the elements. My life has certainly always been full of wild loops, but you know, in the end, I wouldn't change a thing.