Outside Heaven

Epilogue

Part 2

Not one single drop of guilt ran through Ruthie's veins. For the first time in years, Ruthie felt truly comfortable. She felt loved and protected.

All at once, Cheryl flung her body off Ruthie. "Crap," Ruthie heard Cheryl murmur. Cheryl's distinct blue eyes aimed toward Ruthie. They widened, and Cheryl's face flushed a pink-red color. She whispered, "I'm so sorry."

"Don't be," Ruthie mouthed, in immediate response. Ruthie gently touched Cheryl's shoulder, not thinking twice about what she was doing.

Cheryl jerked away and shook her head. "No, Ruthie. I can't. This isn't acceptable…he was right…damn." She looked away from Ruthie; the moisture in Cheryl's nose rattled as she inhaled.

"Why isn't it acceptable?" Ruthie asked, trying to touch Cheryl's shoulder.

"Because…because of the obvious reasons!" Cheryl cried. "You're my client, I'm your attorney. It's plain and simple, Ruthie. And I should have known better. You shouldn't be here."

"You invited me," Ruthie tritely noted. "I was perfectly fine sleeping on a park bench. If you didn't want me here, you shouldn't have invited me."

Cheryl slowly looked back at Ruthie. "But that's the thing," she whispered. "I do want you here. I knew how I felt when I invited you…God…I wish I hadn't, but you can't control who you're attracted to."

When Cheryl said the words "you can't control who you're attracted to," Ruthie instantly knew what Cheryl was insinuating. Cheryl had felt feelings for Ruthie beforehand. And the he was Robbie.

"Okay," Ruthie murmured. "Now what…?"

"Well," Cheryl began, her voice wispily slow, "Ruthie, you're not sleeping on a park bench, and that's final." Cheryl pushed herself off the bed, and looked down at Ruthie. "I'm sleeping on the couch. You have the bed. You should have it. After all, it's been awhile since you've had a swarm bed to sleep in."

Ruthie stared at Cheryl blankly, deciding that Cheryl really did have feelings for her. To be so kind to her, especially after what Ruthie had done, Cheryl had to have feelings for her. Ruthie didn't know how to feel about it, either. In a way, it felt good to have someone care for her. Though, somehow, she felt like she should feel guilty. But she didn't.

Homosexuality was something that had never been a part of her life. Growing up, she had never known anyone who was homosexual, and her parents never brought it up. It was something she was aware existed, but something she'd never paid specific attention to. Her surroundings told her that she was supposed to date boys, and that was that. She'd never considered what it might be like to be with another woman.

But now, after her skin had touched against Cheryl's, after their lips had pressed together, and after they had shared a bed, somehow, it felt … normal.

What would her parents think? What they thought didn't matter, for they were gone.

As for her siblings, Lucy would condemn the idea of it. Matt and Simon seemed accepting of Cheryl already; Ruthie doubted that her brothers would condemn her. Her brothers always had been accepting of everyone. Of course, the idea would shock them at first; Ruthie had always liked boys. Never the less, boys had always turned on her.

Growing up, Ruthie had never liked to be around girls. She tried to stick with guys. Girls turned on her, too. Girls were drama queens; every female friend she'd had as a child had only brought along drama. She remembered her first friends, Sarah and Rachel. Apart, she'd been best friends with each. But when she'd introduced her two friends, they'd eaten each others' heads off.

From the beginning, girls had only been trouble.

She wasn't ten years old anymore. Her age made a world of difference.

Cheryl left the room, and Ruthie lay alone on top of Cheryl's bed. She crossed her arms, feeling her warm, bare skin. She looked at her sweats and T-shirt lying on the ground. The test, it's in there, she told herself. With her heart racing, she stretched her arms to the ground, grabbing the articles of clothing.

The pregnancy test fell to the ground. Ruthie pulled her legs from under the blanket and pushed herself off the bed, reaching down to grab the test. Positive, she read the word again, swallowing hard.

She pulled the clothing over her body again. Her hand ran over her neck, feeling the small necklace that had been placed on her neck earlier that day. The camera, she remembered, shit. Everything she had done that day had been placed on camera; from her stealing the pregnancy test, to her and Cheryl. Surely, her parole officer was having a hay day.

But he hadn't come and arrested her, yet. Maybe he missed it, Ruthie thought, surely, he can't be watching every moment of my life. He couldn't, could he? After all, who had that much time on his hands?

That didn't mean that her actions weren't on tape somewhere, to be watched later.

Ruthie stared up the ceiling. Her stomach ached and burned; she remembered she hadn't eaten since the oatmeal she'd been fed at the prison cell. Her head spun, the room went along with it. Despite the long hours she'd slept earlier, all she wanted was for sleep to come. She felt her mind slowly drifting off. Slumber filled her body, as she drifted into another sleep.

(~)

A lingering, familiar scent brought Ruthie out of sleep. It was an aroma that had brought her from sleep every Sunday morning when she was growing up.

Wow, what a dream, Ruthie told herself, recalling the horrifying dream. Her father had died, and she had been pregnant with T-Bone's baby! The night before the funeral, her brothers and sisters had all flown in. That same night, she had been informed that T-Bone had died in a horrifying car crash. She'd been so confused, almost happy about T-Bone's death. In the back of her mind, she hadn't been able to stop thinking about Martin. Maybe they were meant to be together, after all; she had thought in the dream.

Afterward, she'd passed out. Lucy had insisted that it was because Ruthie had lost her brother and her boyfriend. Though, Ruthie had known the real reason: the baby.

Robbie and Patty Mary had shown up, married. The idea made her laugh; the idea of Patty Mary and Robbie meeting, marrying, and not telling her or anyone else, baffled Ruthie. Also, Patty Mary was very pregnant.

Ruthie had tried to avoid going to the funeral, but Patty Mary had given her a pep talk, insisting that it was important for Ruthie to go to her father's funeral. Patty Mary blamed the fact that she was "bitter" on not going to her father's funeral.

Coming around, Ruthie had gone to the funeral. There, she had seen Peter and Martin. Martin was there alone; he had said that Sandy was home with a sick Aaron. He had also gone on to tell Ruthie that Sandy was engaged to a doctor named Jonathan; that he and Sandy were history.

In the middle of Matt's heart-wrenching dedication to Eric Camden, Patty Mary had gone into labor. They'd put off the burial, and had returned to gather at the parsonage. Friends and family had come, including Martin.

To reminisce what she had done with Martin was unforgiveable, and unrealistic. She couldn't imagine doing such an ill-tasted act on the day of her father's funeral. It was unbelievable that her mind had fathomed such an act.

In the end, Martin had left, filled with hatred for Ruthie, and Ruthie wouldn't dare blame him.

The next day hadn't been easier, with her father's burial. There, she had imagined that Martin had told Mac everything. She couldn't believe him; though, it wasn't entirely unrealistic. Martin did tell his best friend everything.

Afterward, she'd gone out to eat with her brothers and sisters, which was destined to be a disaster. There, Simon had announced that he and Cecilia were moving to London. He had gotten a job stationed in St. Louis, though he was being sent to England. Although it was a great opportunity for Simon, the timing was terrible. All of them had discussed how their mother wouldn't take it well.

She remembered getting into it with Lucy, though the scene was blurry, like most dreams. There were always the blurry scenes. It was like there was a hole in the memory. Perhaps, it was best Ruthie didn't remember it. Arguing with Lucy was never a pretty picture.

When they had gone back to the house, Ruthie remembered telling Matt and Sarah that she was pregnant. Without too many questions, Matt had offered to help her in any way that he could. But nonetheless, she would have to tell her mother.

What happened next was blurry. Ruthie remembered Matt and Sarah taking her to see a doctor, to get everything checked out, and to confirm the pregnancy. Then, she'd returned home, intending to tell her mother and the rest of the family about the baby. Lucy had gone upstairs, Ruthie couldn't remember why, but she remembered Lucy screaming. They'd gone upstairs, only to realize Lucy was having another miscarriage.

She'd been rushed to the hospital. Ruthie had stayed behind with Cecilia, Sarah, and Mary. Mary and Sarah had been going at it; for some reason, they didn't get along. Then, Mary and Ruthie had decided to go to the hospital to be with Lucy.

Ruthie couldn't remember what happened next. She just remembered waking up in the hospital, learning that she'd lost her child. Not only had she lost her child, but one of Lucy's twins was dead. And to make matters worse, Ruthie had learned that her mother was in a coma. It was all Ruthie's fault; everything had been Ruthie's fault.

Thoughts of Martin had bothered her; he just couldn't leave her thoughts.

Peter and Meredith had been there for her. They had come and given her company, yet she didn't appreciate it. She could only think about Martin, who hadn't bothered to come and see her. While in the hospital, she had been informed that T-Bone was infected with AIDs, which meant she too could be infected.

She'd returned home on her twin nephews' birthday, still not knowing the results of her test. Hours after returning home, she'd received a phone call telling her that she was clean.

The twins' party was ruined when Lucy had gone into premature labor with the remaining twin. That same day, Ruthie had learned that Matt and Sarah were expecting a third child.

Months passed, and they were all blurry and dream-like. Lucy and Kevin's premature daughter, Bekah, returned home, and days later, Simon and Cecilia welcomed their daughter, Madelyn. Sarah had delivered Madi, since Cecilia was too far dilated to go to the hospital, and Matt was on call.

Not long after, Ruthie moved to London with Simon and Cecilia. It had been a fresh start, one that she had blown. Just when she'd made some new friends and a guy she liked, it had been time to return home for Christmas. All hell had broken loose that Christmas, and it vividly strained her brain.

Her life only had spiraled downward. Shortly after learning the consequences of that Christmas, that she was pregnant again, her grandmother had passed away that January. Mary convinced Ruthie to move to New York with her. Ruthie had said goodbye to London, and headed off to New York to live with her oldest sister. She had placed her full trust in her oldest sister.

Mary had taken good care of Ruthie, for the most part. As Ruthie's pregnancy progressed, Mary made sure that Ruthie had the best prenatal care. Ruthie had learned she was having twins, though for some reason, she felt the need to hide it from her sister.

Then, that August—a month before Ruthie was scheduled to give birth—Ruthie learned that her mother's vegetative state was soon to end, as they were going to pull the plug.

The timing would never be good for such a scenario, but an eight-month pregnant Ruthie flew back to Glen Oak with her sister. There, she prepared to say her final goodbyes to her mother. Before she had the chance, Martin showed his face at the parsonage, begging forgiveness.

Minutes later, the bomb really dropped. Matt and Simon showed up unexpectedly; causing a disturbance. Kevin had heard it, causing him to grab his gun. He'd been coming down the stairs, when he'd tripped, and accidentally fired his gun. The bullet lodged in Simon.

In a state of shock, Ruthie had gone into labor. Later that evening, she'd given birth to precious daughters, who she'd named Candice and Carin. Martin was there for her, and she didn't have the nerve to tell them that the twins might not be his. Nonetheless, she had allowed him to sign the birth certificate, proclaiming him their father.

After four years of hardship and struggling, Ruthie and Martin finally seemed to have their lives on the right track. They'd married, and Martin had graduated college. Martin was financially supporting their family well, and they'd opted to have a third child, a son. That Christmas 2012, Ruthie and Martin had been discussing having a fourth child, though Ruthie had known it wasn't the best idea.

Ruthie's mind burned like fire, realizing what had happened next. She blamed Mary. Mary had been out of her life for years, then she'd shown up, with full intentions of causing Ruthie's life to turn into living hell, which it had. Mary had stormed off, and so had Ruthie.

What was the result? Mary and her daughter Crissy had devastatingly died; Jenny had been in critical condition; and Ruthie had spent four years enduring malnutrition, abuse, and rape. And in result, she had become pregnant with one of her rapist's child.

Every nightmare came to a happy ending, though. Ruthie was released on parole, and Cheryl had opened her home and her arms, taking Ruthie in. Her stomach lurched with the vivid images Ruthie still had in her head. It was only a dream, Ruthie told herself, and dreams mean nothing. I'm not a lesbian. She was in her own bed, in her own room, and everything had been a dream.

After all, she liked guys. Ruthie chuckled at the thought. Rolling over, she sat up straight and her eyes circled around the room. Immediately, she realized she wasn't in her teenaged room. The covers of her sheets were pink, and the blanket on the bed she had been lying on was far from pink. They were a musty brown color.

She look across the room, expecting to see the bed that Lucy had once slept in, and Matt sometimes slept in when he came home. There was no other bed in the room. The only other object in the room was a tall, brown dresser.

Ruthie swallowed hard. She ran her hand down her neck, where she felt the necklace which was connected to the camera. No, no, Ruthie told herself. This isn't happening. This isn't a reality.

The bedroom door cracked open, Ruthie spun around, and the reality of it all was confirmed. Cheryl stood before her, holding a coffee mug.

"I see you're awake," Cheryl firmly smiled. "It's almost nine o'clock, and someone should be here to pick you up in an hour or so. I made some breakfast. You must be starving."

The emptiness in Ruthie's stomach had almost gone unnoticed to Ruthie. It had been so long since she'd eaten a decent meal, that she'd almost forgotten what it was like to be full. She'd forgotten about the pleasure in eating.

Cheryl had given her a pair of jeans and a T-shirt to wear. After dressing herself, Ruthie ate her breakfast in silence. She indulged herself with the luxurious taste of pancakes and bacon.

In the meantime, Cheryl disappeared into her bedroom. Ruthie's mind throbbed, trying not to think about the night she and Cheryl had shared. Whenever she did, a strange and unexplainable feeling hit her.

She felt like a rock had formed in her stomach. Her plate was empty, and her stomach was stuffed. It was a feeling she didn't recognize at first; it was one she hadn't felt in many years. She was stuffed full.

A fist pounded on the door, alarming Ruthie. Cheryl's bedroom door swung open, and a flushed Cheryl came out of the room. When Cheryl opened the door, Ruthie jumped out of her chair to see who was at the door.

She wasn't surprised when she saw her oldest brother standing at the door, wearing a cheesy half-grin on his face. "Ruthie," he smiled, his white teeth showed. "Are you ready to go?"

Quickly glancing at Cheryl, who glanced away at Ruthie's look, Ruthie nodded. "As ready as ever," Ruthie said. She released an internal sigh, thinking about all the people she would see. Most of all, she dreaded seeing Lucy. She was sure that Lucy would be as bitter as ever toward her.

Ruthie quickly waved at Cheryl, and left the apartment with Matt. She walked with Matt toward his car, the same car that had taken her to Cheryl's apartment yesterday from the prison.

"So, how was your night?" Matt asked, seeming only to be making conversation.

"It was … fine." Ruthie didn't know how to otherwise describe her night. She couldn't possibly bear to tell Matt about her and Cheryl's relationship. There wasn't any possibility Ruthie could tell anyone in her family.

"That's good. I take it Cheryl took good care of you, then."

Right, Ruthie nodded. "She did. She made me a wonderful breakfast this morning."

"That was nice of her."

Ruthie's eyes were centered on the ground. Slowly, she looked up to see Matt staring in the distance. She knew it. He couldn't bear to look at her, and she couldn't blame him.

He took the driver's seat, and she the passenger's seat. As he started the car, her eyes looked out the window. She didn't meet eyes with her oldest brother throughout the entire car ride.

"You know, Sam and David actually graduated last weekend. We're just celebrating their graduation today," Matt said.

"Oh. Right, of course," Ruthie murmured, not actually expecting to attend the actual ceremony. She'd attended Matt, Mary, and Lucy's graduation ceremonies from Kennedy High School, the same high school Sam and David had likely graduated from. She and Simon had never taken the chance to walk across that stage. Simon hadn't ever walked, even though he'd at least had the opportunity. Instead, he'd been attending his father's funeral.

The car pulled into an all-too familiar setting. Ruthie was dumb-struck, looking at the house that hadn't changed one bit since that distasteful Christmas. The parsonage still stood in its same position, the same position it had been since she was a small child.

Matt guided her through the back gate. Ruthie was reminded of her own child hood, and how she'd passed through those gates many times. After school, she'd walk through the gates to the kitchen, where the smell of home-baked goods would flare against her nostrils. Her mother had always been baking something.

The backyard was set up different now. A play area had been set up; a slide and three swings made up the play area. Also, four long tables had been set up in the backyard. Table cloths covered the tables, which read, "Congratulations!"

Nobody was in the backyard. Ruthie followed her brother toward the kitchen. He pushed the door open, and he and Ruthie stepped in. Once again, the familiar tasteful smell of a home-cooked meal rose up Ruthie's nose. It was an aroma that was almost strange to her, but her long-term memory held its origin.

The kitchen wasn't empty, and Ruthie hadn't expected it to be. With Ruthie and Matt's entrance, the bodies in the kitchen had become dead quiet.

Ruthie's eyes wandered around. The faces were familiar, though they had all aged since she'd seen them five years ago. Ruthie recognized Cecilia and Patty Mary. On the counter stool sat a very blonde girl wearing a red sweater. Her vicious blue eyes reminded Ruthie of Lucy's when she was younger. Though, her thick blonde eyebrows shared a strong resemblance to Simon.

The girl's eyes widened, clearly staring at Ruthie. Cecilia placed her hand on the girl's shoulder, and Ruthie heard her whisper, "Madi, sweetie, go upstairs with your cousins, please."

Madi, now nine, let out a sigh. She threw herself off the chair and ran up the stairs.

An eerie feeling strained Ruthie's muscles as she looked between her sister-in-law and Patty Mary.

"Well. Hello to you, too," Ruthie spoke with hastiness.

"Hi, Ruthie," Cecilia whispered. "I—I should go let Simon know you're here. He's in the living room, I think." She failed to make eye contact with Ruthie, and Ruthie didn't expect her to.

"And I'll go upstairs and check on the kids," Patty Mary insisted, instantly vanishing up the stairs. At the same time, a blonde pre-teen was walking downstairs. Behind her, a golden-blonde haired girl followed.

Ruthie immediately recognized Savannah from the recent pictures Kevin had shown her. Over the last five years, Savannah had shot up in height. Her arms had a muscular tone to them. Kevin had told Ruthie that Savannah was playing volleyball and soccer. He'd insisted it was important to get the kids involved in athletics early in their life, so they didn't end up athletically challenged like Lucy.

"Aunt Ruthie!" Savannah shrieked. Her face formed a wide grin. Ruthie's eyes widened, surprised that Savannah remembered her, or would even consider Ruthie to be her aunt. Savannah had only been seven years old when she'd gone away. "Dad told me you were coming today, though Mom's not very happy. I don't know why, you'd think she'd be happy to see you. We haven't seen you in a long time. Is it true you were in jail?"

Ruthie felt her face blush warm, not knowing how to respond to Savannah. The twelve-year-old was the first person to acknowledge her presence. Ruthie's eyes quickly glanced over to the other girl. The girl's familiar blue eyes twinkled as the light hit them. And it hit Ruthie; the girl was Emma Petrowski, Peter's younger sister. Did that mean Peter would be at the house? Peter had custody of Carin. Ruthie would give anything to see at least one of her children, as she was almost certain that Martin wouldn't come along with Candice and Clayton. No, he's too busy running for governor.

The thought made Ruthie nauseous.

Footsteps pounded down the stairs behind Savannah. A familiar, yet slightly aged, face appeared. Withered wrinkles formed under her now pastel blue eyes; after all, she had borne five children. At the age of thirty-four, Lucy had given birth to as many children as her mother at the same age. Though, her youngest was already two years old. Ruthie was born during her mother's thirty-fourth year.

Despite having given birth five times, Lucy had managed to maintain her petite, slim figure. Her thin arms crossed, and her lips tightly pressed together; at the same time, her eyes glared wearily toward Ruthie. She placed her hand on Savannah's shoulder, "Girls, you should go back upstairs."

Savannah frowned, and her bright blue eyes turned sad. "But—"

Lucy gave her daughter a stern look, and Savannah sulked, flinging herself around and stopping up the stairs. Her friend followed after. Once Savannah was out of sight, Lucy stepped closer toward her brother and sister, not saying a word.

Ruthie could feel a cold drip of sweat roll down her forehead as her sister stared. Awkwardness filled the room, and just as Lucy had begun to open her mouth, the silence was broken with a tall, blond young man behind her.

"You're here, Ruthie!" her younger brother's voice filled the room. Simon stood a few feet behind David. David tossed his arms around Ruthie. "I'm so glad you made. It means a lot to Sam and me."

Simon patted Ruthie's shoulder. "It's great to see you out of that jump suit. Let's hope we never have to see you in that again. Right, Ruthie?"

The muscles in Ruthie's cheeks pained slightly as she forced a small smile. "Let's hope," she whispered. Her eyes wandered around, looking for another face. Noticing he wasn't there, she asked, "Where is Sam?"

David flashed a tense glance at Simon, who shrugged and answered, "He went to pick up … a friend. He should be back shortly."

"I know he's going to be just as excited to see you as I am!" David smiled. "Plus…well, I shouldn't say anymore. It is his news." Ruthie couldn't help to notice David's nervous look toward Lucy, who bitterly turned away from David.

"You and your secrets," Ruthie heard Lucy murmur underneath her breath.

"I see nothing has changed around here," Ruthie quietly said underneath her breath, but she had spoken loud enough for the others in the room to hear her, because Matt, Simon, and David all nodded. Lucy scoffed, and turned around to jet up the stairs.

David grabbed Ruthie's hand. "Come on, Ruthie. You should come in the living room with me. Everyone's really excited to see you. Don't mind Lucy's rudeness. She's Lucy, after all." David grinned; his eyes twinkled, and for the first time, Ruthie noticed a certain charming quality about her eighteen-year-old brother. Clearly, he had developed it from living with Matt since such a young age.

Ruthie allowed David to drag her into the living room. Matt and Simon trailed after. Ruthie's stomach twitched with anxiety. Although the party had not begun yet, bodies filled the living room. Robbie and Chandler were sitting on the couch. Across from them were Cecilia and another face Ruthie had not seen in awhile, her Aunt Julie. Ruthie vaguely remembered Sarah telling her that Hank and Julie had separated. While Hank remained in Glen Oak, still working the practice with Matt and Sarah, Julie had taken Erica and Nolan to Seattle for a "new beginning."

Immediately, Ruthie found her eyes focusing on Chandler, a face she had not seen since that Christmas. He had not changed much since that day, though a faded wispy gray line of hair ran through the side of his hair. He was only in his mid-to-late thirties.

Ruthie had almost missed the small girl sitting on Chandler's lap, leaning against her chest. The little girl's blue eyes and wavy-brown ringlets were notable. Ruthie hadn't been informed that Roxanne had given birth to another child.

She was bombarded with stares, though no one said a word. Ruthie waited.

Then the front door swung open. Sam walked through the door, and at once, the eyes shot away from Ruthie, and were set on Sam.

"Well?" Matt asked, eagerly. "Where is she?"

Sam's face flushed pink, just like Simon's would when he was embarrassed. At the same time, he looked toward David. "You didn't tell him?" David inquired. "I thought Matt, Sarah, and Simon knew as well."

"What's going on?" Simon asked; his face stared blankly toward David. "Yes, Sam told us that he's been dating a person over the internet. I mean, it's not the best way to meet people, but hey, it's his life; as long as he's happy."

"David, until now…it was just you who knew the whole story," Sam whispered. "And now it's time for everyone to know…where is everyone else?"

"Upstairs, likely," David answered his brother. "Do you want me to get everyone? Even…"

"Even Lucy," Sam finished his brother's sentence. "She has to know…even if I have to deal with her wrath for the rest of my life."

David ran upstairs, and while he was upstairs, attention directed back to Ruthie. Sam smiled widely at his sister and came across the room to embrace her in his arms. "I'm glad you are here, Ruthie."

"So am I," Ruthie only half lied. There was nothing more in the world she had wanted than to be released from prison and to see her family again. But she hadn't wanted the awkwardness that came along with her return.

Kevin, Sarah, and Lucy soon came down the stairs, followed by David and two more teenagers. A blonde-hair, blue-eyed girl stood a little shorter than David, and the red-haired boy next to her stood at David's height. Ruthie presumed she was looking at her cousins, Erica and Nolan.

"The older kids are watching the little ones," Kevin announced, then looked toward Chandler. "Would Mollie like to go join her sister and the others?"

Mollie gripped Chandler's shoulders tightly.

Chandler shook his head. "I think she's fine right here."

"So," Lucy turned toward Sam. "What's your news?"

Sam stepped closer to the door. "Some of you know that I've been dating someone," he began.

Lucy's eyes widened. "No, I think someone left me out, but that is nothing new. But that's great, congratulations!" Her face glowed, as she clearly attempted to show excitement for her brother.

Kevin gaped at his wife, "You're not the only one left out, Luce. No one told me either." He turned toward Sam, "But like Lucy said, that's great. I'm happy for you."

"All right, let me finish," Sam slowly continued. "I know that it's not the best way to meet people, but this is a person I met online." As soon as Sam stated those words, Lucy's jaw dropped to the floor. Sam added, "I never knew it was possible to love someone behind a computer screen."

Lucy's jaw still reached the floor, and Kevin only nodded, "Hey, like you said, it's not the best place to meet people. But as long as you're careful, which I'm sure you have been. You're a smart kid, Sam." Lucy elbowed her husband.

Sam nodded. "Thank you, Kevin. I'm glad you trust my judgment." Smiling, Sam looked around the room, "I want you all to meet this person, who has flown four hours to meet me here for my graduation party." He moved toward the front door and placed his hand on the handle, pulling the door open. Sam stuck his hand out the door, motioning for someone to come inside the house.

The room went silent, a silence that was only broken by Simon moving closer toward Sam. "Well, when can we meet this mystery person? Isn't this the person you went to pick up at the airport?"

Sam slowly nodded and stepped back toward the door. He reached his arm out to open the door, and he stuck his head out the door. A whisper came out of his mouth, though Ruthie couldn't make out his words. She thought he'd said, "Danny."

A tall figure entered the room. His jeans were tight, and his hair neatly parted, just a little longer than his ears. There was something mystic about his eyes; they twinkled as the light hit them, and he shyly looked around the room.

"Everyone," Sam began, nervously looking around the quiet room, "this is Dan, my boyfriend."

No one said a word for the moments to follow Sam's words. All of the bodies in the room, minus Matt, Simon, and Sarah, stared at Sam in awe. Lucy appeared the most shocked. And then, she irritably shook her head and pointed her left tall finger at Matt and Simon.

"This is what happens when you let a boy grow up without a female influence!" Lucy cried with accusation.

"Um, not to start anything here, but are you insisting I'm a guy?" Sarah's face showed befuddlement.

"Let's just say, women aren't supposed to be doctors," Lucy sneered.

"And yet they're supposed to be ministers? What are you smoking?" Sarah said with a smirk on her face. "Lucy, listen to the words that are coming out of your mouth. Love is love, and Sam is free to love who he wants."

Matt's face was red. "Lucy, of all people, I would think you would be accepting. You're a minister. And how dare you insist that Sam hasn't had enough 'female influences' in his life."

"Might I add, I like girls," David chuckled lightly, placing his hand on Sam's shoulder. Questionable looks shot toward David. "I mean, I like them a lot. Yeah, I just had to throw that out there. So, it has nothing to do with Matt and Sarah's parenting." David blushed, and Sam's face had already turned punch red.

Sam shook his head and murmured, "I should have known." He was looking directly at Lucy. "I thought, maybe for once, you could accept me for who I am, Lucy. I'm Sam, your brother. That should be enough. It shouldn't matter who I love. Matt and David accept me as their brother. I don't know what Ruthie and Simon are thinking right now, but at least they're not making a fool of my family in front of the one I love." Having run out of breath, Sam took a deep breath and grabbed Dan's hand.

"Sam," Simon began, "you're my brother, and I'll accept you no matter who you love or what you do." Ruthie flinched as Simon grabbed Ruthie's shoulder. "And I'm sure Ruthie is thinking the same thing, right?" His gray eyes melted into Ruthie's cocoa brown eyes.

Ruthie didn't know what to think. After what she'd done the previous night, she couldn't hold anything against Sam. "Simon is right," she said. "Love is love," Ruthie looked directly at Lucy and added, "and you can't control who you're attracted to."

Lucy rolled her deep blue eyes. "I can't take this! This stress isn't good for the baby. That's right! I'm pregnant with baby number six!" She looked at Sam and said, "You'll never get to experience holding your own child, now you will you? The whole purpose of finding love is to procreate! And two people of the same sex can't do that!"

She flung herself around and jolted up the stairs, leaving the remainder of the room in shock. Kevin looked like he had just seen a ghost. He stared among the crowd, wide-eyed. "She was supposed to wait until dinner to tell everyone," he said. He looked at Sam sincerely said, "I'm so sorry."

"Don't be," Sam murmured. "It's Lucy. I should have known." He turned his head and released a loud sigh.

Dan stroked Sam's shoulder. "It's all right, Sammy. Believe me, when I first told my parents and siblings, they were in shock also. My oldest brother still won't speak to me. My other two brothers have come to terms with it, though. You're lucky that you have more support than you have those who are against you."

Sam's frown turned slightly into a weak smile. "I guess you're right." He looked around the room at the remaining bodies. "Thank you all for not going crazy on me like Lucy."

Chandler shook his head. "Truth be told, I've been trying to get a Pride Alliance set up at the church for years now. But every time I bring it up around Lucy, she changes the subject."

"Figures," Sam said. "What should we expect? I would love to help start a Pride group through the church, now that I'm out. Somehow, it feels good to be out to everyone. It's been too long that it's been just between David and me, and then Matt and Sarah found out a couple weeks ago when I told them about Dan. It's like an added burden off my shoulders."

"It was really brave of you, Sam," Simon insisted. "To come out, especially around Lucy, knowing what she's like. And I'm glad you told us. Though, I wish you would have trusted to tell me sooner. You know I would never judge you."

"I know," Sam nodded. "It was hard enough on me when David found out, though. He found out accidentally."

"Hey, I can't help you forgot to log out of your messenger account on the computer before I got on!" David smirked. In reaction, Sam blushed.

"I guess there's something else I should announce, and I think I'd rather do it with Lucy not present," Sam started; all eyes were still on him. "Most of you don't know, but for my entire life I've struggled with my gender identity. I've always felt like I should be a girl, though I've fought it forever. For my entire life, I have forced myself to play with boy toys and buy things that boys would like. Well, I'm done pretending. Once I get a decent job, and save up the money, I want to have the surgery. And beginning tomorrow, I'm going to start dressing like my true identity."

The room was silent once again. Eyes widened, and finally Simon said, "Well, that's good for you, Sam! I'm proud of you." Simon came closer to Sam and wrapped his arms around him. "I could never have so much courage to come out to us all like that. Well, when I was your age, I would have been murdered by Mom and Dad."

"Wait a minute…" Cecilia whispered in the background. "Simon, you're not insinuating…"

Simon's face flushed bright red. "No! Absolutely no! I was just saying that if I were in Sam's situation, I could have never come out while Mom and Dad were alive. If I were, believe me, I would have come out after their deaths."

Cecilia took a deep sigh. "Whoa, well, that's good to know. I was getting worried there for a minute. I mean, not that it's an issue. It's just, we've been married for ten years now, and three kids later…I mean…whoops." She stopped, her own face flushed.

"You have three kids now, Simon?" Ruthie widened her eyes. "Why didn't you tell me?"

Cecilia placed her bony hand on her flat stomach. "Well, you see…"

"…it was supposed to be a surprise, one that we were going to share once everyone began eating. Things just have a way of coming out."

"Well. I guess congratulations are in order," Kevin smiled, looking toward Simon and Cecilia. "It looks like our kids will be about the same age."

Sarah shook her head and grabbed Matt's hand. "While everyone is sharing their news, I think we should tell too."

"I guess we might as well, but Lucy's not here. I don't think she will like—"

"—since when do we care what Lucy likes?" Sarah cut in with a slightly evil grin on her face. Ruthie couldn't believe the words had actually come out Sarah's mouth. It sounded like something she, Ruthie, would say. Ruthie wanted to applaud Sarah, though she bit her tongue.

Matt merely shrugged his shoulders, and mumbled, "True."

"Well, everyone, it has been almost ten years since we've had news of this liking. And now that Sam and David are going off to college, and, well, it looks like we're going to have three babies this winter!" Sarah announced with a big grin.

"Wow!" Simon exclaimed, patting his brother's shoulder. "Out of everyone, I least expected you two to start over. But congratulations! This is exciting."

Matt grinned weakly, wrapping his arm tightly around Sarah. "Well, Sarah and I have been contemplating for awhile, actually. It wasn't an easy decision, but we're not getting any younger, and it's almost now or never. The twins are eleven, and Josh is nine…already there's going to be such a big age difference. And we didn't want to be like Mom and Dad and wait until our boys were old enough to be their brother or sister's father."

David snorted. "I just hope people don't think he's mine when I take him out…yes, Lucy told Sam and me about the time she took us out to the promenade and everyone thought she was our mother."

Sarah convulsed a cough.

"Yes, Sarah. We know you're still hoping for a girl. But after working with babies for so long, I know that doesn't always work that way. And if we have another boy, I'll be happy. All that matters is he or she is healthy."

"I know, I know," Sarah sighed, wearily placing her hand on her stomach. "But a little girl would a nice addition to our house of boys."

Silence beckoned the room, until Kevin posed the question, "Well, does anyone have any more exciting news?"

Chandler's forehead wrinkled. "I think it is best that I wait for Rox—"

The loud sound of a fist banging against the front door interrupted Chandler's sentence. Ruthie looked around the room, first at Matt, then Simon, and her eyes finally set on Sam and David, who stood closest to the front door.

David took a glance at the clock, and shrugged, "It's still a little early for everyone else to be arriving. But…" He slowly turned around and reached for the doorknob, pulling the door open. Two familiar faces appeared, and each wore a uniform a uniform Ruthie was all-too familiar with. The sight of their uniforms brought on a gut-stabbing, uneasy feeling in the center of Ruthie's stomach.

Chandler immediately expressed confusion. "Honey, you're not supposed to be off until three, I thought." His confused eyes moved from his wife to the man who stood next to his wife.

"She's still on duty," Jeff spoke, a slight solemn tone was present in his voice. "We're here on official business." His eyes glowed toward Ruthie, and her heart began to race rapidly.

"What kind of official business, if you don't mind me asking, would that be?" Matt asked; a certain franticness present in his voice. "No crime has been committed here, at least not to my knowledge."

"Oh, right you are. Not to your knowledge," Jeff said. His eyes glared toward Ruthie. "Ruthie, I think you know what this is about." He held a circular disk in his hand. She swallowed, realizing the contents of the CD.

"What is he talking about, Ruthie?" Simon hoarsely demanded. His sweltering gray eyes shot toward his youngest sister.

Ruthie's mouth opened, but it could not form the words to describe what she had done. She couldn't meet eyes with anyone in the room. Her neck throbbed, and her eyes looked down at her feet. Cold sweat dripped down her forehead.

"Unfortunately, this disk has evidence that suggests Ruthie stole from a local convenient store last night," Roxanne proclaimed. "Is this true, Ruthie?"

"What?" every single mouth in the room gasped.

"What the heck did you steal, Ruthie?" Simon demanded. "I can't believe this! I accepted that you made a mistake. We all make mistakes. But stealing…no, my sister doesn't steal. We were brought up better."

Ruthie closed her eyes, and murmured, "We were brought up not to have premarital sex, too. And that didn't stop us."

"You're not denying it," David noted. "So, you did do it. It's true, then. My sister is not only an abusive mother, but she's a thief."

Ruthie's cheeks tingled hotly. She felt the rush of blood flow to her cheeks. Her eyes began to swell with salty liquid, and a tear rolled down her swollen face.

"What did you steal, Ruthie? Tell me." Ruthie could not remember a time she had seen Simon so angry. She could see the anger in his eyes, which also accompanied disappointment. She knew that he would never forgive her.

But she couldn't bring herself to tell him what she had stolen. Then, she knew that no one would ever forgive her. No one would look at her the same, especially once they found out how she had been violated.

"She stole a pregnancy test. That's what she stole." The words that came from Jeff's bitter tone caused her body to jerk. She seized herself, feeling as if she were dying.

The shock on her brothers' faces was ghastly. If she didn't know better, she would have thought there was a ghostly presence in the room.

"Ruthie, you'll have to come with us," Roxanne swallowed, shaking her head. "I hate to be the one to do this, but I'd rather it be me than any random police officer." Roxanne clutched the handcuffs in her hand. "You're under the arrest for burglary. You have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be held against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney, if you cannot afford one, one will be appointed for you. Do you understand these rights?"

"Yes," Ruthie rolled her eyes, and cooperating, Ruthie stuck her hands out. She tightly closed her eyes; she couldn't bear to watch, as Roxanne locked Ruthie's wrists against the cold metal.

Ruthie was guided outside by Roxanne and Jeff. She didn't bother to look back at the house that had built her.

As Roxanne gently pushed her into the car, nowhere near as hostile as the police officer who had arrested her the first time had thrown her, Ruthie saw a car pull to the curve behind the police car. Ruthie looked behind to see a familiar face sitting in the driver's seat. She would recognize his sweat blue eyes anywhere.

A moose-brown haired woman sat next to him. The back door swung open, and a blonde-haired girl who couldn't be more than eight stepped out. Roxanne was walking toward the driver's seat when she turned around, noticing the car. Peter warmly smiled toward Roxanne as he stepped out of the vehicle. His smile quickly diminished as Roxanne spoke to him, though Ruthie couldn't hear what she was saying. Ruthie did not want to imagine.

Ruthie's eyes fixed on the small girl. Her dirty blonde hair resembled Peter's when he was younger. From the minor distance, Ruthie could still make out the girl's cocoa brown eyes. That was when she realized the girl had seen her. With curious eyes, the girl looked toward Ruthie, and Ruthie found herself waving at her daughter. "Hi, Carin," Ruthie wanted nothing more than to say, "I've missed you, and I love you."

THE END


Author's Final Notes: So, I sort of left a story full of cliffhangers on a cliffhanger. In a way, I purposely did that. I left room for a sequel, which I originally did intend. I have a sequel plotted, which you can see by the website I've provided on my profile. Whether a sequel will actually happen, is another story. In my last update, I said that I would update about a month and a half ago, but that didn't happen. My computer had a little fall, and it was in the shop for exactly three weeks. So, that is a major reason why this chapter was delayed. Also, I got my computer back just in time for finals, so I was literally swamped and stressed out of my mind.

Anyway, I would like to thank everyone who stuck with me over the last year. I'd like to thank Promising Love 625 for the endless conversations at night, which lead to countless plot bunnies. Unfortunately, it lead to me spoiling a majority of this story for her, though I don't think she saw this ending coming. ;)

I'd like to thank CNJ for reviewing nearly every chapter, and for the insightful reviews.

Thank you to everyone who's reviewed, favorited, and alerted this story, and thank to everyone who's private messaged me with compliments. I'll admit, there are some things I wish I wouldn't have done in this story. If I could go back, it would have ended around chapter 28. But face it, this story became my baby, and I didn't want it to end. XD I think in the future, I need to learn which details to leave, and which details to leave out. I'm sure if J.K. Rowling put every detail into the Harry Potter novels, each book would be 8000 pages.

Anyway, thank you all once again, and I'm always open to constructive criticism. I do have other stories I need to finish, and ultimately I hope to finish them before ever beginning a sequel. However, awhile back I posted a story called Destiny. It is a preview to the sequel, if you haven't read it yet.

It's been fun, and until next time, farewell!

- Nikki