Chapter 46: The Letters

Addison was cleaning out her parents' closet. Her mom had been gone for a years and they had just moved her Dad into a nursing home. Most of her Dad's clothes were in his new closet. He had refused to get rid of anything of Angela's after her death. It was a big house, they had the space, and so the kids didn't fight his decision. Now as Addison had begun to spread out her Mom's clothes out on the bed she began to regret their decision. She had gone through this already, she didn't want to relive the old memories. She was stewing when the doorbell rang.

"I got it," she heard two voices yell simultaneously. Squabbling then occurred between her two oldest daughters.

"Hi," she heard Audrey say brightly to whoever was at the door.

"Audrey," the older two complained, before greeting their Aunt.

Olivia appeared in the doorway quickly. "Wow, did a bomb go off in here?" she said incredulously.

Addison had been impatient and started earlier then planned.

Now she rolled her eyes, "Hello to you too".

"Hey," Olivia said coming over to kiss her cheek.

The doorbell chimed again and Nicholas came over. "Hi," he greeted the twins flopping down onto the bed.

"I bet this is starting to make you squirm," he told Addison with a grin.

Addison stuck her tongue out at him. The truth was, the mess was starting to really bug her, and her fingers were itching to start folding.

"Let's start," she said semi grumpily, "Get off the bed".

"Nah," Nicholas said leaning back against the pillows.

"Come on," Addison whined.

Liv reached over and pushed him off the bed.

Nicky got up and sighed, "Fine, here's Katie's wish list in order of priority".

The twins snatched it and looked it over. Nicholas lay on the floor and watched the twins negotiate creating three large piles and two small ones.

"Mine," Olivia called holding up the candy cane striped sweater Angela had worn every Christmas.

"Only if I get the pink and white nightgown from the living room picture and the Tiffany bracelet," Addison countered.

"Deal," Olivia said happily.

Nicky looked over, Addison had taken most of the jewelry and Olivia the clothes. Katie and Jack each had a tiny pile and the rest was being donated. Nicholas was tired of listening to them barter and went into the closet.

He pulled down a box out of curiosity and opened it; a bottle of perfume was inside. Nicky looked up at the shelf and squinted. He went on his toes and took down a final box clearing off the shelf completely. The second box was white and dusty. A red ribbon was tied around the middle into a bow. Nicholas looked for a tag and found "Open only if the worst has happened".

"Liv, Addie," he called stepping out of the closet.

"I hate that nickname," Addison said looking over at him.

"What's that?" Olivia asked pulling it out of his hands.

Addison scrutinized the handwriting, tiny on the worn paper. "That's Mom's," she finally declared.

"Is it? I thought so," Nicky said, "But you know it better".

"It looks old," Olivia said, "Like decades old".

Addison stared at the box.

"What worst thing is she talking about?" Nicky asks, "Has it happened, can we open it?"

Liv looks at him equally confused. "Like losing their jobs?" Olivia wonders aloud.

But Addison knows the worst thing has already happened. The memories send her to her knees. Olivia's eyes widen. Nicholas kneels next to his sister and hugs her.

"When we were little," Addison whispered "And she got cancer the first time... She was worried and cried a lot. I think whatever's in here is her preparing to maybe die that time".

"How do you know?" Nicky said, rolling his eyes, "It might be a survival kit in case of a power outage or flood".

"You know because it's what you would have done," Olivia says simply, looking at her twin. Addison nods.

Olivia reaches out and unties the ribbon. Nicky eagerly pulls off the lid. Addison gathers the letters and reads the names slowly to herself and then out loud. She hands Nicholas and Olivia one and places Jack's on his pile.

Nicholas rips it open and starts to read, Olivia follows suit. Addison carefully slides her finger to open it. She stops short of reading it and gets up, her throat starting to close up already.

Olivia's eyes flicker upward to follow her, an unspoken question floats between them.

Addison sits back down beside her sister. Liv's arm comes up to wrap around her shoulders. Then three pairs of eyes look down at their letters and swiftly read them.

Addison starts to cry halfway through her letter. She holds it out to avoid staining the ink with tears and smearing the words. Olivia tightens her hold on Addison but continues reading her letter.

Liv then starts over re-reading her letter, aloud this time. Nicholas stares at her with the barest hint of a smile. Addison is sobbing but Liv can tell she's listening.

"I will love you til' forever ends, the stars stop shining, and the seas run dry. Olivia Joy Montenegro-Hodgins, as your mommy I promise to love you forever," Liv finishes softly, "Love, Mom".

Nicky reads his next, even singing the rhyme to them happily. Addison dries her eyes and listens. When he finishes Olivia leans over and smacks her lips sloppily on his cheek. Addison halfheartedly follows suit, her lips brush against his cheek.

"Know what then? I have to kiss you once again," Olivia giggled smooching him again with a smile.

"Slobbery," Nicholas complains wiping his cheek and playfully elbowing her in the ribs.

"Your turn," Nicholas prompts his other sister.

Addison reads from starts to mid-end in a crystal clear tone.

Her voice breaks on, "I love you more than words can say. When you have a child of your own you will understand, the all-consuming love".

The tears start with the sentence, "My last bit of advice to you, my Little Miss, is that life doesn't go on forever, so enjoy every single moment of it".

She hiccups back sobs as she forces herself to continue reading, "I love you this very minute and I will love you until the end of time".

The words swim on the paper and she starts earnestly sobbing upon reading, "I feel so lucky to have gotten to be your mommy. I love you so much baby girl".

Olivia leans over and finishes it, "Love, Mom".

Then she pulls Addison in close and strokes her hair.

Liv feels bad for her twin who hasn't master solely holding on to the happy memories. Little things still occasionally send her spinning, and this was a big thing.

Olivia kisses her twin's forehead and squeezes her hand. Nicky scoots over and wraps his arms around A.

"I'm sorry," Addison chokes out, her face flushed with embarrassment. A buries her face in Nicholas's chest and he pats her back.

"Don't you know you never have to be sorry," Olivia whispers tucking back a piece of auburn hair. She tips Addison's chin up, "At least not around us".

Addison hates crying, hates losing her composure. Especially messily, and she can already picture a red face and mascara trails. That's why she usually can bottle up the occasional waves of sadness, but her Mom always causes her emotions to flow over.

"I miss her," Addison sobs desperately.

"Me too," Olivia admitted squeezing Addison's hand.

Nicholas nods and regretfully glances at his watch. "I've got to go. Katie wants me home by 3 so we aren't late to Alyssa's horse show" he says softly.

Addison pushes him off, knowing he would stay if she wanted him to.

He releases her and stands up. Nicholas grabs his pile and letter.

He looks down at his older sisters, "You gonna be okay?" he asks sneaking another glance at the time.

Addison manages a nod through her tears.

Liv laughs, "You're so whipped".

With an affectionate ruffle of Addison's hair, which makes her frown at him and a light, teasing punch to Olivia's shoulder Nicholas leaves.

Olivia tugs Addison to her feet. "You've got thirty seconds," she warns beginning to count aloud.

"Cryptic, much?" Addison says fixing her appearance.

At thirty Olivia yells downstairs, and seconds later the thundering feet of her nieces' can be heard.

"Mom," Quinn and Maura say in unison, ready to complain.

Addison smiles at her ten and eight year olds, "You should have got to the door sooner".

This halts their complaints quickly.

Audrey enters the room ready to defend her position only to be scooped up and kissed.

"I can't believe you're six," Olivia said kissing her niece again.

Then the baby enters, not such a baby anymore at three. Angel giggles at her big sisters and reaches up for Addison.

"Mommy," Angel whispers, "They were fighting again".

"They were," Addison says attempting to sound properly surprised and drops her jaw.

"Mmmmh," Angel says cuddling against her.

Addison kisses her and places her on the bed.

"We can't have that," she says looking at the sisters, and then at her own sister.

Olivia nods in agreement and they spring at once.

Addison tickles Maura, and Olivia tickles Audrey.

"Tattler," Quinn tells her baby sister affectionately. Quinn tickles Angel for punishment. When she's begging for mercy, Quinn stops.

Addison and Olivia are still chasing her sisters in circles.

Quinn's gaze falls on a letter and she picks it up and reads it.

"Mom, this is a really nice letter," she says halfway through, "Who wrote it?"

Addison freezes and sets her jaw. Olivia stops to look at her sister. The children's laughter stops. Quinn looks up, confused.

"My mom," Addison says softly.

Quinn nods and continues reading.

The seconds drag on as Addison stares down at her hands desperate not to cry in front of her children.

Maura tugs on her sleeve and Addison gently pushes her toward Olivia without looking up.

Olivia scoops up Angel and Maura and hauls them down the stairs. She tosses them onto the couch and bribes them to stay put with TV, a rarity in her sister's household and promises of ice cream.

Olivia heads up the stairs to grab Audrey and calm her sister. She peeks in the doorway to view Addison holding Audrey tightly and whispering softly to Quinn.

"Yes, Aunt Liv and Uncle Nick got letters, Grandbug too. Nicky found them in the back of her closet" Addison answered.

Olivia backed out of the room and settled into a sitting position leaning her back against the wall. She would not intrude but she would eavesdrop and intervene if necessary.

"My mom did love us very much. She made us feel like her whole world," Addison whispered, her voice quivering.

"And you love us just as much, right?" Audrey questioned innocently.

Olivia cursed herself for leaving the inquisitive six-year-old behind. Audrey was so serious and way too smart for her age, just like Addison was. But Liv was proud to hear her sister answer in a calm voice.

"Yes, I love you, Quinn, Maura, and Angel just as much. I love you every minute of every hour, and I will love you forever," Addison says.

Audrey wraps her arms around her in a tight hug and kisses her cheek. "Me too Mommy," she coos, "I love you forever too". Audrey then hops off her lap and heads out the door to play.

Audrey pauses in front of Olivia who places a finger against her own mouth in the sign for shh and motions her downstairs. Audrey hesitates and looks back at her mom, about to tattle on her Aunt. Then she hears the TV downstairs and changes her mind hustling down the stairs to enjoy Olivia's spoiling.

Olivia can't hear anything and peeks again. Quinn has slid from her place on the floor to sit beside her mom on the bed.

"It's okay to cry Mom," Quinn says, "if you're sad".

Addison nods and lets a sole tear run down her cheek.

"I miss her too," Quinn admits curling against her side.

"I only remember her in bits and pieces. But I'm so lucky because I remember I lot more than my sisters and cousins. I remember sitting in her lap, tugging at her sleeve to get my charm, I remember being at the park on the swings and yelling higher, higher as she pushed me, I remember her crazy Christmas outfit, the way she could tell a story and make you feel like you were there beside her." Quinn counts each one on her fingers. " I remember her hugs could make you feel so safe and happy, I remember making cookies and watching her hands on top of mine rolling out the dough, I remember how we went to Africa and I got to sit beside her, and I remember kissing her goodbye for the last time," Quinn's pauses and sniffles back tears.

"That's eight things. Eight things that I remember in detail. It's not as many as you have, but it's more than my cousins have. She was something special," Quinn rests her head against Addison's shoulder.

"She was, wasn't she," Addison murmurs, "But guess what?"

Quinn looks up at her shyly.

"You're something special too," Addison whispers, kissing Quinn on her nose.

Quinn reaches up and hugs her tight. Addison lets it linger for a moment and then pulls away.

"Go play," she says pushing her away playfully.

Quinn nods and runs down the steps to join her sister.

Addison waits a moment and then calls out, "You can come in now, Olivia".

Olivia comes in sheepishly. "I'm sorry," she begins to apologize, "I just wanted to..."

"Be here in case I needed you," Addison cuts her off, "It's okay Liv. I'm not upset".

Olivia sits on the end of the bed beside her twin.

"I'm always here, you know," Olivia whispers bumping her shoulder against Addison's.

"I know," she says softly, turning suddenly to bury her face in Olivia's shoulder.

Olivia's hands come up automatically to hug her sister.

Addison is sobbing. She hasn't cried since the night Olivia had pulled her into their secret room. Now she was crying twice in one day. This was unacceptable, she decided. But she couldn't stop the tears from rolling down her cheeks. Her eyes burned from the tears and her lungs from her shuddery breaths. When her breathing finally leveled out she collapsed backward on the bed. Olivia followed suit, her feet dangling over the edge. Addison reached for her hand and Olivia gave it. They lay there side by side, Addison inhaled and Olivia exhaled perfectly in sync. They stared at the ceiling until they saw spots, and slowly they fell asleep.

Hours later they were woken by a stampede of children begging for ice cream. They relented and Olivia moved quickly downstairs to fulfill her promise. Addison paused and pulled something off the top of her pile. She carefully hooked the silver bracelet on her wrist. Then she headed after her children and Olivia, towards laughter, happiness, smiles and love.

That night Audrey woke up from a nightmare and started screaming. Carter had started to get up but Addison stopped him by gently pushing her hand against his chest. She got out of bed and straightened the covers out of habit. She then slid her feet into her slippers and took her robe off the hook on the bedroom door. Addison pulled on the soft burgundy robe as she walked quickly down the hallway.

She opened the door and took in Audrey's tear stained face. Addison picked her up and began to murmur soothing words. Audrey pressed her tiny face into Addison's neck. Addison carefully sank down into the rocking chair beside the window.

"Shhh, shh, it's alright," she whispered comfortingly as she pulled the cream blanket that rested on the back of the chair around them.

She drew Audrey in close and tucked the blanket around them. Addison cuddled the blanket up to her daughter's face. She could feel Audrey's eyelashes flutter against her neck as the little one blinked back tears.

"Hey honey," Addison cooed kissing the top of Audrey's head.

"Sing Mommy?" Audrey whimpered wrapping her arms up around her mom's neck.

Addison sighed. She was a perfectionist by nature, thus of she couldn't do it well she'd rather not do it at all.

"Please," Audrey begged, a single tear running down her cheek.

Addison nods. She think of Katie who sings "Stay Awake" exactly like Mary Poppins sounds, of Olivia who sings her children "Baby Mine" her voice cracking on the high notes like Angela used to sing to them. At one point in time, when the kids were little and her Mom was still alive Addison used to sing "Baby Mine" too. She associated the word with snuggles and comfort but now it just reminds her of Angela. So instead she starts...

"I hope you never lose your sense of wonder

You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger

May you never take one single breath for granted

God forbid love ever leave you empty handed

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean

Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens

Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance

And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance

I hope you dance…"

At the end of the song her voice falls off into silence and she hums gently. Audrey and her both love to dance, this is their special song. For just the two of them to hear, regardless of how well she can sing.

"Pretty," Audrey whispers kindly, the last of the tears slipping away. "Now the other one Mommy".

Addison sighs and then begins, instantly knowing which song she's talking about…

"Baby mine, don't you cry.

Baby mine, dry your eyes.

Rest your head close to my heart,

Never to part,

Baby of mine..."

She waits for the tears to come, her voice to hitch and for her to lose it. But it doesn't, for the first time in a long time she finishes the whole song without any tears.

Audrey is half asleep by then and Addison goes to lay her down. Audrey whimpers and clings to her shirt. Addison sighs and stretches out on the twin bed, glad they recently made the upgrade from a toddler one. She covers them and lets the little one bury in. Then she wraps her arms around Audrey tight and nestles her face into the child's hair.

She kisses her forehead and coos "Bonne nuit,".

Sleepy as she is, Audrey answers "Fais des beaux rêves. Love you".

"I love you too," Addison answers, "So very, very much".

"It is not necessary to be strong in every place if in the place you are vulnerable, you are loved".

A/N: Because it just wasn't finished yet... I wrote this piece a while ago, when I couldn't get it out of my head. When I read the review asking about the letters I had to post this.