One More Look
sequel to "Bed of Roses"
disclaimer: M7 characters belong to MGM, Trilogy and Mirisch, the song and lyrics belong to Paul Williams and were taken from the Gary Morris CD Lone Star Knight.(yes, I do know that it's also a Barbra Streisand song-but I chose the Gary Morris version as a follow up to his "bed of Roses" from the first story I wrote) No copyright infringement is intended with use of either.
I turn, barely aware that it is Chris talking to me…or trying to anyway. I stare at him a moment before looking down that long tree lined path again and I'm not sure I can go. I feel his hand on my elbow, steering me toward the car. A rental, sleek black and shined so that I can see my own reflection in the sides, but that's not what I want to see, not at all. Part of me wants to pull away, to push Larabee and run—back the way we've come. Maybe if I'm fast enough I can get one more look, one more glimpse of her before…
My throat tightens and for a moment I can't breathe. I must have made a sound 'cause Chris ' hand moves from my elbow to the back of my neck, squeezing just enough to show me he's there. The others are there, too; all dressed in black, somber and supportive. My strength is gone and my knees hit the dirt drive before I even realize I'm going down. I hear Chris' quiet curse and Nathan's low murmur as someone grasps my wrist to check my vitals, but I'm not there any more. I've left the canopy of trees and gone back, back three days.
It was a usual day at the office. That sounds like a cliché, but sometimes that's how life works, I guess. We'd just wrapped up a major case the day before and all of us looked like we'd celebrated a bit too hard, but we were plugging away at our paperwork anyway.
When the phone rang just after lunch, I was thankful for the interruption. I felt like I was starting to go cross-eyed trying to get my data typed up.
"Tanner," I answered with my usual flare and popped an M&M into my mouth.
"Vin Tanner?" I didn't recognize the voice at all.
"Yes, how can I help you?" I switched to a more professional tone-just in case.
"My name is Edward Palmer." He rattled off a bunch of terms I didn't quite understand, but knew meant he was a lawyer. "I represent Mr. William Richmond."
I recognized that name immediately. "Yeah?" I questioned cautiously. It'd been over three months since I'd sent Charlotte away for good. Was this some kind of petty revenge on her part, I wondered? Turns out it was worse than I could have imagined.
"I'm sorry to inform you, Mr. Tanner, but there's been an accident. Mr. Richmond has requested you meet him at Denver Memorial as soon as possible."
"Charlotte?" I could feel my throat go dry; her name came out in a hoarse whisper.
"Can you meet Mr. Richmond, Sir?" The attorney pressed, unwilling to give me any further information.
I nodded and then remembered I was on the phone. "Yes, I can be there in fifteen."
"Wait," I tried to stop him but he'd already hung up. Dread swept through me and I knew… Charlotte was gone.
A wave of loss hit next, keeping me in my seat when I should have been moving. I needed a minute though. I'd said goodbye without regret the last time I'd seen her, but it didn't change the fact that I'd loved her. I didn't understand though why it was Richmond who wanted me. Then I realized—I didn't care.
"Is everything all right?" Ezra questioned me with concern in his eyes. He'd heard my end of the phone conversation.
"I think Charlotte's gone," I managed to get it out, the truth of it hitting again with my words. "I need to get to the hospital."
I didn't have the energy to argue.
Ezra must have told Chris what was happening because in the end it was Larabee who drove the three of us to meet Will Richmond in the lobby of Denver Memorial. One look at the man and I knew Charlotte was really dead.
"Tanner." His voice was tight but civil as he nodded a greeting. He ignored both Chris and Ezra.
"What's going on?" I asked straight out. "Your lawyer said there was an accident."
Richmond nodded, his dark hair falling into his eyes. He pushed it back and sighed heavily. "Charlotte's gone." He admitted it, and there was real sorrow in his voice. Somewhere inside his coldness, I think he really loved her.
I closed my eyes. I could feel Chris step closer to me. When I opened them again, Richmond was staring at the floor.
"How?" I asked.
"Car accident," was his only explanation.
"Why?" I couldn't quite get the whole question out. Why call me?
"Follow me." He turned abruptly and left no real choice in the matter. I had no idea what was going on, but I followed anyway. Maybe he was taking me to see her one last time? Did I want that? I mean I had a good picture of her in my head even if it wasn't the happiest of moments- our last encounter. Plus, I had a lifetime of memories; did I want to see her now? It wouldn't be her…not really.
Distracted by my own thoughts I paid little attention to where Richmond was leading until I realized that we were standing outside the pediatrics critical care unit. I looked at him with wide eyes. Charlotte had never told me they'd had a child.
"Your friends will have to wait out here, " he informed me stoically.
I nodded, still confused. "I don't understand," I finally voiced as we entered the unit and made our way to the small cubicle closest to the nurses' station. Richmond stopped beside a tiny bed that looked a lot like a crib. He stared down at the child with genuine care before meeting my questioning gaze.
"I can't have children," he revealed. "I'm sterile, a result of complications from a medical treatment when I was young." He sighed, looking down at the tiled floor and then back to me. "Charlotte never knew that fact, but I know she knew Tanner was yours. She never went to anyone but you."
I felt my world quit spinning then. Richmond kept talking as I looked at the broken child before me.
Connected to tubes and monitors I could barely make out her true features, but I could tell she looked a lot like Charlotte. Her dark hair hung in matted ringlets and I wondered what color her eyes were. "How old?" My voice was gone again.
"She'd have been four in two months," Richmond answered, struggling to maintain his own control.
It was the past tense that finally registered and drew my gaze to him.
"The doctor says her brain activity is steadily decreasing." Richmond shifted on his feet. "They don't expect her to make it through the night." He gestured hopelessly. "I just thought…you had a right to know about her, to meet her once before…" His voice trailed off and the next thing I knew I was standing there alone looking at my daughter for the first and probably last time.
It hurt. It hurt to see the shape of my nose and my chin in that tiny face. It hurt to know that I'd never see her smile or open her eyes.
There was an instant when I wanted to hope that it wasn't true, that she wasn't dying, but the look on the doctor's face when he came in to check on her revealed the stark truth.
I held her hand and examined each finger and dainty fingernail. I sat there for hours simply staring at her, trying to memorize all I could before she went away. I fell in love with her as I blessed and cursed her mother for having her and keeping her from me, and somewhere in between the love and hate…I said goodbye forever.
I don't actually remember a whole lot between the hospital and the cemetery. The guys were there every step. I know that and Chris stepped in with as much understanding as anyone could have. Life was a blur and all I knew was that my world was complete…and shattered in the span of hours.
Now, I'm aware again that I'm sitting in the dirt on the road that leads into the cemetery. Tanner Richmond was buried with her mother in the family plot. Richmond made sure I was here at least, but now…I'm not sure I can leave. In one direction is a cold granite stone memorializing my child, and in the other…a future without her. There was so much possibility in a life with her and yet it will never be. No one will even know she was really mine.
Someone moves nearby and I realize that I'm not the only one sitting in the dirt. Chris is on one side of me, Nathan on the other. Ezra, Buck, JD and Josiah stand around us like sentries discouraging those still exiting the cemetery from slowing down to stare.
"Ready now?" Chris asks softly.
I nod. "I think so."
"Did you see the program?" he questions as Buck steps closer extending a hand to each of us. Ezra helps Nathan.
Chris hands the service's program to me, flipping it so I can see the back. I look at it with surprise. "One more look at you" by Vin Tanner. It's a poem I wrote at the hospital that night. Sometime after the doctor had come and turned off the machines, whisking Tanner away to prepare for surgery. Richmond had given permission for her to be a donor.
I'd sat there and scrawled the words as I thought of what could have been, imagining what it would have been like to see her grow and have her reach for my hand--to have her know me. I don't know how Richmond had gotten a hold of it, but I could guess it was one of my teammates. Regardless of how-- he'd actually used it and I realized that I was grateful to him. For as many years as I've hated him for being the one Charlotte chose and always went back to…he was the one who gave me a last chance to see my daughter and to know she even existed.
Turning, I look back at the cemetery one last time and then dusting off my suit, allow Nathan to help me into the car. I'm ready to leave now and the road doesn't look quite so long anymore. I know I'm not alone and that helps, but it doesn't take away the pain of it…I want one more look at her.
One More Look At You
With one more look at you
I could learn to tame the clouds and let the sun shine through
Leave the troubled past that I might start anew
I'll solve the mysteries if you're the prize
Refresh these tired eyes
With one more look at you
I might overcome the anger that I've learned to know
Find a peace of mind I lost so long ago
Your gentle touch has made me strong again
And I belong again
For when you look at me
I'm everything and more that I have dreamed I'd be
My spirit feels a promise I won't be alone
Will love and live more
Love and live forever
With one more look at you
I'd learn to change the stars and change our fortunes too
I'd have the constellations paint you portrait too
So all the world might share this wondrous sight
The world could end each night
With one more look at you
With one more look at you
I want one more look at you