Author's Note: Surprise! I didn't forget about it! School slammed me for MONTHS, but I'm officially one year away from graduating now! Wheee! Doesn't really seem possible, and I'm fairly confident that I need at least an additional year just to fill out all the applications and stuff. BUT, things are good, and here's the last chapter! I hope you are all well. Thanks for reading (if you're still here).
Marshall groaned against the bright light and scrubbed his eyes with his right hand. Still bright outside, so probably not time for dinner yet, he glanced down and couldn't help the smile that urged the corners of his mouth up towards the ceiling. He could get up and make dinner, or do a little work. He had laundry that needed washing, dishes that needed loading into the dishwasher. His truck could use a good scrub, but then again his bathroom needed mopping. The list of things he needed to do was longer than one of his arms, but he was content to stay right where he was, stretched out comfortably on the sofa with one leg dangling off, sock-covered foot firmly planted on the floor. He could, he realized, cross one thing off his list if he called his mother. He has been a few days since he'd been free enough to do so since he'd been out of town for the better part of a week. First a trial in Columbia, and then a security breech for one of his witnesses had him driving across the country to relocate a family to Connecticut. He still had some salt water taffy and pralines from South Carolina he'd picked up for Mary in his bag. She'd been stuck in Albuquerque checking on his witnesses and filling out his paperwork.
He slipped his cell phone out of his pocket and dialed the number from memory, long fingers dexterously pressing the buttons almost without thinking.
His mother picked up on the fourth ring. "Hello?"
"Hey, Mom." Marshall smiled involuntarily. "It's me."
She was thrilled to hear from him, and regaled her youngest son with exciting news from the family. The latest goings-on with his brothers. The newest achievements of her grandchildren. Gossip from the ladies in town. Marshall loved it all, not that he cared that Janet Leggett's youngest girl was caught in the local flea bag motel with a high-ranking city official, but his mother had a way of telling a story that he had loved since he was a small child. She loved to read, and had her imagination could think up a story that rivaled Albert Camus or John Banville.
"How are things with you?" It was their custom. His mom talked first. Told him about her day, the news. Updated him on life in small-town Texas. Then it was Marshall's turn.
"Things are good." He spoke softly and nodded gently as he pondered how to best answer her question.
"How's Mary?" Grace Mann never failed to ask about her son's partner.
"Mary's find, Ma." He fibbed a little.
"Marshall." It was a warning. She could always tell when her sons were lying to her.
A wry smile crossed Marshall's face as he let out a deep sigh.
"How is Mary?" Grace repeated. She knew all about how Marshall felt about his pretty partner, and her husband had tersely informed her that the woman was a fair Marshal. From Seth that was tantamount to affection. She had sensed before Marshall ever told her that her son's relationship with his partner had changed. He was more relaxed on the phone, but more careful about his choice of words. All she had been able to drag out of her son thus far was that he had taken her to dinner a few times. Not an uncommon occurrence altogether, but the way her said it, the care with which he'd taken in picking a restaurant, finding activities that she would enjoy. She as a smart woman, and her son couldn't hide much from her even when he tried.
"Mary's…well, she's been better." He admitted. It was true, in a variety of ways. Mary had been better. Brandi was engaged. Katie was engaged. Brandi's blowout wedding was bound to be an elaborate affair filled with snooty people and snootier waiters carrying trays of tiny food. Katie's wedding would be smaller. More intimate. Marshall volunteered his own backyard, and was in the process of building a gazebo for the bride and groom to stand under during the ceremonies. Mary was dealing with being maid-of-honor for both women, but she'd been sad lately. Marshall wondered if part of her was jealous and a little hurt that the younger ladies were getting married first. She wanted them to be happy, that was no secret, but perhaps she was ill-prepared for the way it made her feel. That wasn't quite what his mother was asking, though, and Marshall knew it.
"Well, I'm not entirely certain." He admitted, thinking back to the night before.
It was late when Marshall finally got in from the airport. He'd left his truck at the car park in case no one was available to pick him up, and now, at just past midnight he was grateful for the foresight. True, it would have been nice to be greeted with a coffee and a hug from Mary, but she didn't know when his plane was landing, so that wasn't exactly likely to happen.
He hadn't expected to see Mary's car in his driveway when he rounded the corner, however, and couldn't help the smile that crossed his features. Her piece of crap replacement of a replacement car had seen better days, and she was oddly attached to it. Marshall was willing to indulge her attachment since there was so little in her life that she allowed herself to have any sort of emotion for. Still, he had visions of disappearing the clunker and replacing it with something dependable. He was mulling through ways to replace the car, and the kind of vehicle with which he'd like to replace it as he let himself into the house. It was cluttered, evidence that she'd been staying there for at least a few days. The dishwasher was open, and he peered inside as he dropped his keys on the counter. Three mugs, five plates. At least two days worth of dishes. She'd missed him. It was nice. He rather liked having someone that missed him.
The door to the bedroom was slightly open, so he carefully pushed it open wider and stepped inside, gently setting his bags on the floor by the dresser. Mary was curled up in his bed, asleep on her side. Marshall leaned his hip against the edge of the dresser and watched, but wasn't sure he liked what he saw. She looked uncomfortable; face pinched and she tossed and turned agitatedly. He noticed she was favoring her left wrist, resting it on his pillow and thrashing around. Injured. She'd been injured while he was away. Being Mary, she'd no doubt refused to go to the hospital to have things checked out. She'd probably refused to take Tylenol even. He could see into the bathroom from where he was standing, and his first aid kit was open, contents spilled over the counter. She'd probably tried to wrap her wrist with an ACE bandage, but had removed it for some reason.
A yawn escaped him, and he glanced wistfully towards the clock. One thirty four. God, he was tired. Some things were more important, though, and if he needed to take her to the doctor then that's what he was going to do. Heaven knows she'd had her share of mishaps as a child and had been denied medical attention. Marshall's jaw tightened as he thought of the stories she'd told him recently. Sprained ankles. Concussions. Illnesses that should have been treated. Jinx rarely took the girls to a doctor, and he wondered if her mother's aversion to healthcare hadn't rubbed off on her.
Mary's clothes were dumped in a heap on the floor, so it wasn't hard to find clothes for her to slip on. She'd want to be completely dressed for the trip to the ER. If he could convince her to may take a bit of creative wrangling, depending on how much her arm hurt.
"Mare." He sat on the edge of the bed and brushed her hair out of her face before leaning down to press a gentle kiss to her forehead. He frowned as he noticed that her face was sweaty. What had happened?
"Mare?" He smiled as her eyes fluttered open. "Hey."
"You're back." Her voice was hoarse and thick with sleep.
"You're hurt." He squeezed her left shoulder and caressed her cheek. "What happened?" She'd been in good shape when he'd talked to her last.
"Nothing." She tried to sit up, but couldn't use her left arm.
"Here." He wrapped an arm around her back and helped her sit up, then tossed her clothes on the foot of the bed. "Get dressed."
"So we can go." He stood and grabbed a clean shirt from his dresser for himself, changing quickly while Mary watched him warily, but did enjoy the view.
"Go where?" Stalled, torn between stubbornness and real, physical pain.
"ER." He handed her the clothes. "Come on. Get changed."
"Are you sick?" Mary queried, half bluffing. He could have contracted something on the road. He looked tired, but that was understandable at this hour. The ticking of the clock was the only sound in the darkness for a moment while Marshall pondered his response.
He had to sigh then stifled the yawn that threatened to escape. He knew she'd put up a good fight, but he really was tired. Did she have to be difficult this late? True, it was one of the things he loved about her, but still. The quicker they got to the hospital, the quicker she could get seen, patched up, and then they could both could go to sleep.
"No, Mary." He held her shirt up for her to take. "I'm not sick. But you're clearly injured. Want to tell me what happened?"
She mumbled something he couldn't make out. "What was that?"
"I said it was stupid." She looked genuinely embarrassed.
"What was stupid?" He urged her out of bed and helped her get out of his tee shirt that she'd stolen for her own. "Put this on."
"I was in your kitchen." She admitted sheepishly as she told him the story. "And I was trying to clean up before you got here." She was having trouble pulling her hair back into a ponytail, and finally gave up, rolling the elastic band onto her right wrist. "But you wax your floor like freaking Donna Reed, and I slipped."
"And fell on your wrist." He finished for her, and helped her button up her jeans. He knew from experience how difficult some tasks were with only one working arm. It still amazed him, even five months later that she let him get this close to her. Touch her. Hold her. Mary surprised him. He'd figured her for the "don't touch me" type, given her well-voiced aversion to physical contact. However, she'd quickly warmed to him, allowing him to hold her, hug her. She even started initiating such contact herself after a few months. It seemed as though she craved his touch, physical affection deprived from her for so long that now she was trying to make up for it. Marshall wasn't one to complain, and willingly obliged her needs. To him, spending a lazy afternoon on the sofa with Mary in his arms was his version of heaven, even if he did still have to pinch himself to make sure he wasn't dreaming. The reality of being with Mary was so much better than all of his fantasies.
"Yeah."He finally responded, hoping she didn't notice the lapse.
"Do you think it's broken?" He asked as he knelt and helped her tie her sneakers.
"Um." Mary hesitated and looked at her swollen wrist a bit forlornly and huffed, "Yeah, probably."
"Were you planning on getting that looked at?" She was agreeing to this trip to the hospital too easily. It had to be broken, and she must be in incredible pain.
"Come on." He draped an arm around her shoulders and ushered her out the door to the truck. Egging her on wasn't going to garner a response. This was time to take charge.
"So we spent six hours in the emergency room, and it turns out she has a fracture of the distal radius. It's all reduced and casted now, but it'll be eight weeks before it heals."
"How's she handling that?" Grace's voice was full of concern for her son's friend.
"Well, they gave her some good drugs at the ER for the pain, so right now she's taking it pretty well." At the moment, she was passed out cold half on top of him, with her head pillowed on his chest tucked up under his chin.
"Well, maybe that'll soften the blow." His mother joked. "Is she okay?" More serious now.
"She'll be fine." He ran his fingers through her long hair; a little tangled since she hadn't brushed it before the trip to the ER. "She's scrappy." He wondered about the trials that had taught her to so independent, though. She accepted his help today, though, and that's all that mattered. He had her now, and he could take care of her. She was even letting him take care of her, so things were looking up.
"How are you?" His mother always knew what he was thinking.
"I'm not the one with a broken arm." He deflected, pressing his lips to his partner's hair, not the slightest bit aware that he was absently stroking up and down her casted arm in an unconscious attempt to soothe the pain.
"Marshall!" His mother demanded.
"Fine, Mom." He blew out an irritated breath. "I'm aggravated that I wasn't here to take her to the ER to start with. I'm frustrated that she wouldn't take herself. I'm annoyed that it took four hours sitting in the waiting room to get into see a doctor. I'm worried that she won't take care of herself and she'll reinjure it, and I'm exhausted because I haven't really slept in two days."
"Have you told her yet?"
Marshall's sleep-deprived brain spun at the rapid change of subjects. A wave of dizziness washed over him as he realized what she was asking. "Have I told her?" He stalled, hoping for a reprieve.
"It's been eight years, my dear boy." Grace had seen enough of her youngest son pining away for this woman. It was time to make a move. "Tell the woman you love her. It's time."
"Mom, she's not…it's not…it's not the right time." If he told her, she'd run. Then he would lose her, and all this careful work be be for naught. It wasn't time to drop that bomb. He needed more time.
"Why?" She'd had enough. "Because she's not ready? Because her father left her and she has abandonment issues? Because you're worried you'll lose her forever if you tell her the truth?" She paused and let her words sink in before continuing. "Have you considered that if you don't tell her how you feel that you'll never really have her to begin with? Have you considered that she might need you to tell her how you feel? That she might react favorably to someone loving her? And maybe, just maybe she already knows. Perhaps you're more transparent than you think."
Marshall was silent as he considered her words. His mother had a point, as always, and tended to hit the nail right on the head. She was a smart lady, his mother. And she made some solid points. "You should have been a lawyer." He murmured under his breath.
"Nah." She chuckled. "I'm carbon-based."
"Marshall, I didn't raise my boys to be afraid to tell the woman they love how they feel. Especially not you." She smiled fondly, remembering her sweet, sensitive boy as a child.
"Ma!" He lowered his voice when Mary shifted on him and groaned. It was probably time for her to take some more meds.
"Where is Mary? Right now?"
How did she always know? He'd never been able to hide anything from her, not even as a kid.
"Right here." There was no point in being evasive about it. "With me on the sofa."
"Asleep." She didn't bother phrasing it as a question. Emergency rooms handed out strong medications for broken bones.
"Yes." Marshall shifted uncomfortably under the heat of his mother's spotlight.
"So, call me tomorrow and tell me how it went." It wasn't really a request, and Marshall was not dumb enough to interpret it as such.
"Mom." He did have some self-preservational tendencies left, though.
"Talk to you tomorrow." She hung up abruptly, and Marshall was left holding a phone, bereft of what to do next.
Mary turned her head and raised one arm to her forehead, effectively smacking herself in the head with her casted wrist.
"Oomph." She was a bit disoriented waking up, still groggy from the pain killers. "What the…?"
"Hey." He tightened his arms around her, and stroked her cheek with the back of his fingers.
"I think I just clocked myself." She muttered.
"Yeah, pretty much." He helped her sit up. "Wrist hurting?"
"Mmmhmm. A little." She admitted, surprising him once more. "I'll be right back."
Marshall was more than a little shocked at her open admission, but she had made an effort to be more open with him. She slept more, too, which irritated Mary, and made Marshall warm inside. She'd stay awake through dinner, usually, but as soon as the dishes were put away and they'd settled on the sofa, outside on the deck chairs, wherever, she nearly instantly fell asleep. She ranted about it later, when she woke up, but Marshall was fairly certain he understood. Possibly she was finally relaxed enough to sleep well, and was unintentionally making up for years of sleeping with one eye open. Always looking over her shoulder, waiting for the other shoe to drop. It had to be exhausting, and now she could relax. He found it endearing. She found it obnoxious.
"So, you mentioned something about more meds?" Mary prompted as she sat back down on the sofa.
"Uh, yeah." He grabbed a water bottle from the coffee table and tossed her the bottle of Percocet.
It was now or never, Marshall sighed, taking the bottle from her when she was done. "So, I talked to my mom today."
"Oh, yeah?" Mary settled her back against his chest and got comfortable again. "How is she?"
"She's fine." Marshall smiled smoothed her hair off her cheek. "She asked about you, too."
"Yeah." He took a deep breath. It was now or never. Time to take his mother's advice. She'd better be right about this. Then again, his mother was always right. And the older he got, the more true he realized that was. His mother was right. And the way Mary was looking up at him right now, the trust and affection in her eyes, and a healthy dose of narcotics, calmed his nerves as he took a deep breath and told his best friend that he loved her. Sometimes, it was wonderful having a mother that was always right. Marshall made a mental note to send her a card as he lay in bed with Mary later that evening. She hadn't run.
Mary rolled off his arm and murmured something in her sleep that only Marshall could understand.
"I love you, too, Mare." He returned softly, not one bit afraid that she would hear. He felt complete. Tied together. He felt whole.
That's it! The end. Fin. Finis. Thanks for sticking around!