One year ago today I posted the first chapter of this story. I really never expected it to take a year to finish, but this story's one year anniversary seems like a fitting time to post the final chapter. I want to thank everyone who has read this story, added it to their favourites or alerts, and taken the time to review. I hope you like the final instalment.
I would also like to dedicate this final chapter to csiangel. I think she knows why ;-)
Chapter Twenty Four
She didn't go straight home; they didn't have to leave for the airport for almost two hours, and there was something she had to do first. Pulling her phone out of her purse, she found the number she wanted and pressed call. He answered on the third ring.
"Hey... it's me."
"Hey. Are you okay?"
She didn't answer. Instead she said, "Meet me at the pier?"
She nodded, although he couldn't see it. "See you then."
She hung up the phone, replacing it in her bag, and headed off in the direction of the pier.
"So I guess this is goodbye," he remarked when he saw her approaching.
She didn't say anything, just wrapped one arm around him, the other still clutching the empty urn, and buried her face in his chest. "I did it, Stephen," she said eventually, her voice muffled. "I did it."
He pushed her away from him lightly, just enough so he could look her in the eye. "I know. Mom called. Plus..." he gestured at the urn. "Kind of a giveaway."
"You don't mind, do you? She said you wouldn't mind, that you'd said you didn't want to do it, but I –"
"It's okay, Gillian," he interrupted gently. "She was right. I didn't want to do it. I would have had nothing to say; I said my piece yesterday. Today's a new day. And it was right that it was you."
She nodded, giving him a sad smile. "Promise it won't be so long until the next time I see you?"
"I promise," he said, pulling her into him for another hug.
"And I'll see the kids soon?"
"Come and visit," he told her. "Just name the date, Gillian. I'll square things with Helen. We can hang out together. A family."
Family. Her heart seemed to beat a little faster at the sound of that word, and she stepped away from her brother's embrace. "I'd like that." She paused. "I hope you understand why I wanted to say goodbye to you here..."
"You love the pier," he said with a casual shrug, but Gillian shook her head.
"No, I mean... why I didn't want to say goodbye to you at the house."
"Yeah, I know what you mean. I understand, Gill."
"When's your flight?"
"Not 'til six. Might hang out with Mom this afternoon, if she's not too busy playing tennis or working out with André..."
"Oh, don't," she said, wrinkling her nose at the look on his face, and he laughed.
They stood for a while, Gillian's arm looped through his, watching the gentle waves. When she turned to him he tore his gaze from the ocean, meeting his sister's eyes.
"You never answered my question, the other night," she said.
He was about to reply what question? but knew she would just tell him he was deflecting, or stalling for time. Instead he nodded, exhaling slowly. "You're right. I didn't. So I will now." He turned so he was facing her more fully, holding onto her shoulders as he spoke. "Mom told me about the divorce about six weeks after it was final, just before Christmas. Right after you told her you weren't coming home for Christmas."
She swallowed. "Is that why she didn't..."
"Mom's reasons are known only to her – god knows, I stopped trying to figure out that woman a long time ago," he said. "She asked me not to say anything to you. Did I think she was doing the right thing, keeping it from you? No. Did I do as she asked, and not tell you? Yes. Do I feel bad about it? Very."
"It's okay, Stephen. I'm not mad at you. It doesn't really matter anymore, anyway. I just needed to know, that's all." She gave him a reassuring smile, and caught the relief on his face.
"I am sorry, Gill..."
"It's okay," she said again, glancing at her watch. "I should probably get back. I need to finish packing and say goodbye to Mom..."
He nodded. "Want me to walk you back?"
She shook her head. "I kind of want to do it alone."
"Okay." He studied her for a minute, then said seriously, "you know, Gill, if you ever want to talk... about any of... you know..."
She nodded. "Yeah. You too."
"Siblings have to stick together, right?"
"Absolutely." She gave him another quick hug. "Bye, Stephen."
"Bye Gill," he said quietly, watching her as she gave a gentle wave, then started to walk away.
Cal didn't ask Gillian about her morning when she returned to the house; his look questioned whether she was alright, and the soft smile she gave him reassured him that she was. They finished packing their bags and ate some lunch that Caroline had prepared for them, after which Cal made his excuses, saying he wanted another few breaths of 'Californian air' before the car arrived to take them to the airport.
Gillian and Caroline shared a look as he left; both knew exactly why he was leaving, of course, and when he'd gone Gillian caught her mother's eye, and they both laughed.
"Californian air," Caroline mused. "Is the air in Washington really that bad?"
Gillian smiled, then felt a flutter of apprehension. "Mom..."
"Gillian," her mother replied, then stood up and walked over to her daughter. "If I make you a promise, will you make me one too?"
"I... I guess," she said, slightly confused. "What is it?"
"I promise to try and be a better mother to you. Now, I'm not a miracle worker. I'm not going to transform into the perfect mother. I'll still annoy you. I'll still infuriate you, sometimes. But... what I won't do is lie to you. And I'll try and behave better in the future. Okay?"
"Okay," Gillian said, her voice breaking a little. "And what...?"
"What I want you to do, Gillian... is live your life." The puzzled expression on her daughter's face told Caroline the matter needed more elaboration, and she sighed gently, smiling as Gillian continued to look at her with raised eyebrows. "What I mean, Gillian... is I want you to not be afraid anymore, of taking chances, taking risks..."
"What kind of..."
"Anything," Caroline said mildly. "Just... the next time something comes along that you're tempted to run away from, because you're too afraid... even if it's something that you really want..." She reached out and tucked a lock of hair behind her daughter's ear. "I want you to remember that you only have one life, and that you made a promise, to me, your mother, that you would live it to the fullest. Okay?"
"Okay," she whispered.
"Now," Caroline said. "I think it's time we retrieved Cal from his refreshing walk and got you two ready for the airport, don't you think?"
Gillian nodded and stood up, and they made their way to the front door.
Five minutes later the car had arrived, and the driver was loading their bags into the car.
"Well, goodbye Caroline," Cal said, kissing her on the cheek. "Thank you for everything."
There was something about the way he uttered the word everything that made Gillian's ears prick up slightly, but both their expressions were too guarded for her to read anything.
"You're welcome, Cal. And you know you're welcome here anytime."
Cal stepped back, wandering down the driveway as Gillian gave her mother a tentative smile. "Thanks, Mom. For... for everything."
"I'm not quite sure you want to thank me for everything, Gillian," her mother said, a trace of amusement in her voice, and Gillian smiled.
"Well... okay. But... you know..." She trailed off helplessly, but Caroline pulled her into a quick hug, sparing her anymore of a conversation that neither knew quite how to finish.
"Goodbye, Gillian," she said. "Have a safe trip."
Gillian nodded as she pulled away, glancing up at the house once more.
"And remember your promise..." Caroline called to her as she climbed in the car. Cal raised his eyebrow at her but didn't verbalise the question, and she chose not to answer it. Instead she stared out the window as the car pulled away, watching the house, and her mother, until they had disappeared completely from view.
The journey back was unproblematic, and both were fairly silent as Cal drove from the airport to Gillian's. It was very different to the silence they'd travelled in a few days ago, however.
When they reached her house Cal helped her inside with her bags, and accepted her offer of tea. He sat at her kitchen table as she filled the kettle, then smiled as she took a seat next to him.
"Cal..." She reached out and rubbed his arm lightly. "I just want to say, one more time... thank you. For everything. I really couldn't have made it through the last few days without you."
He took in what she'd said, and in that one second was hit not only with the full force of her words, but with the stark reality of it all. She'd told him that she couldn't have made it through the last few days without him, and now it was clearer to him than ever – he couldn't have made it through the last few years without her. She smiled at him gently, her eyes full of warmth and gratitude, and he couldn't believe how ridiculous the situation was; she was thanking him for doing so little, and he'd barely began to repay her for everything she'd done for him in his life.
She gave him another smile, then stood up as the kettle began to boil.
She turned when he called her name, lifting the kettle as she poured the water into their cups. "Yes?"
He stood up and walked towards her, pausing for a moment as he looked at her beautiful face, taking in her expressive eyes and gentle smile. He waited until she'd replaced the kettle, then reached forward and took her hands in his.
"You know that conversation that I said we had a lifetime to have?"
She nodded, her eyes searching his. "Yes."
He smiled at her, wondering how he'd ever find the words to express everything he felt for her, but knowing he had to try. "Let's have it now."