Or, an Epilogue
". . . but Tom really wants to work for the governor, so he decided to apply at all the offices around the state. He hopes he can find a job with the one here in the city, but he doesn't know yet. I—I haven't told Lee. I was going to, but—" Sara broke off, hanging her head.
"—but then it hasn't been a good time to bring up something like that," Tanya finished for her, her hands tugging at Sara's clothes. "There. What do you think?" Sara turned to look in the mirror, and she gasped in delight. "Oh, Tanya!"
After months of watching her looks fade and feeling just as ugly as she did sick, Sara had almost ceased to care. But Tanya had noticed, and had asked permission to do a little fashion experiment. Sara had always preferred baby doll t-shirts and jeans or flirty skirts, and her clothes just made her feel even more painfully skinny and bony.
Her new capris came to a length that she wouldn't have picked if left on her own. But they were the perfect length to disguise the thinness of her legs while still acknowledging summer trends. Tanya had picked up a pink-and-green checked buttoned shirt in a tunic style that fell over her hips. A floppy green sunhat added a playful note to her ever-present headgear, and made her look more lively. In short, Tanya had worked a miracle. Sara felt . . . pretty.
"Thank you," she whispered, fighting back tears and allowing her new friend to pull her into a hug. "Thank you so much."
"It was nothing, I'm just glad you like it."
"I didn't want you to go out of your way for me—"
"Pish-posh. I love doing this. I want to be a fashion designer, silly. I'm just glad you let me dress you up, nobody else lets me anymore."
Tanya was clearly pouting, which dried up Sara's tears and made her laugh.
"Come on," she said, tucking Sara's hand into the crook of her elbow. "Let's go show everyone how beautiful you are. Though it's hardly news to them . . ."
"Oh, stop it," Sara said in exasperation. Tanya hadn't stopped telling her she was beautiful or lovely since their introduction. Apparently Sara was her new muse.
"And now that we know Caleb is going to be all right, you really should sit down with Lee and tell him about Tom's job hunt. The later you leave it, the worse it will be."
Sara's hand tightened on Tanya's arm, and Tanya patted it sympathetically.
They entered the main room of the hotel suite and looked around. Lee was reading a book in a corner while Susan and Amy were each at their own laptop. They both wore a Bluetooth even though neither of them seemed to be talking to anyone at the moment.
"Aren't those boys awake yet?" Tanya asked.
"Oh, they're awake," Susan answered, sounding amused. "I heard them talking. They're just not out of bed." She wiggled her eyebrows.
"Susan, gross," Amy said in dismay. "That's our loud-mouthed little brat in there."
"Besides, I really don't think they're ready for that quite yet," Tanya added, seeming to enjoy the way Sara made a beeline for Lee, looking horrified.
Suddenly, they heard raised voices. Well, one raised voice and a soft murmur.
"I do not need help with this!"
"Then I'll wear sweatpants for the rest of my life!"
"I am not letting you button my jeans!"
Tanya, Amy, and Susan all laughed, and even Sara giggled. But Lee suddenly shot up from his seat with a look of wide-eyed fury.
"I never thought—" he choked out.
"Lee?" Sara questioned in a tiny voice.
"I will kill Zack Williams," he vowed.
Amy and Susan didn't get it, but from the way Tanya and Sara were laughing, they guessed it was an idle threat.
"I'm calling him right now," Lee said, pulling out his phone, only to have Sara take it from him.
She fixed him with the firmest look she possibly could while laughing. "We're talking about Ril. I'm sure he figured out some way to do it by himself."
"Well . . . Maybe."
"And even if he needed help, it's just pants. Zack is his boyfriend, after all."
"Not according to Ril," Lee grumbled, but he was sitting back down.
Sara held out his phone, but didn't drop it into his hand. "Promise you'll leave them alone."
"Okay, okay," he said, and put his phone back in his pocket under her watchful eye. As soon as he did, her sunny smile returned, and he grudgingly smiled back. "You look really cute."
The door to the bedroom slammed open, and Caleb shuffled out, heavily favoring his left side and practically igniting the room with the heat of his blush. Finn was close behind him, cheeks pink with amusement. Caleb was, indeed, wearing jeans—with the buttons done up.
"Oh, stop pretending you don't like it, you're not fooling anyone," Amy declared. "Now sit down. We have a lot to go over to prepare for your hearing."
"Do I at least get to have something to eat first?"
"Somebody get food for the grouch, he's busy right now," Susan said, clearly not impressed with his intimidating glower. "Not you, blondie, you're busy, too. Where's other blondie?"
"He went out to get food, remember?" Lee said.
"Oh, right. See, it's already taken care of. Caleb, sit down and repeat after me: 'I am Susan's bitch. I do whatever she says.'"
Caleb glared at her.
In the end, it wasn't as bad as they'd feared. Caleb was required to do community service, but his parole wasn't going to be monitored. They did perform a second surgery on his elbow, but since the surgery meant he would probably be able to use his hand again, they considered it a good thing. Caleb had been exceedingly unhappy to find out that the hospital bills were coming to Amy and Susan, and they had a very loud argument about that. Tanya won on the women's behalf by the simple expedient of telling Caleb to stop arguing. He had a hard time disobeying her, especially when she told him that they didn't love him any less for living farther away and they still wanted to take care of him when they could.
The three women left once things were settled. Amy had taken Caleb aside and asked him very gently if he wanted to come home with them. He had called her an idiot, Susan had whacked him in the head with a pad of paper and told him to be respectful, then whacked Amy on the arm and told her she was an idiot. Tanya and Sara promised to stay in touch, and Tanya gave Finn a full-on kiss before she left, which made Caleb yell at them. They never could get him to say if he was upset because it was Tanya getting kissed or if it was Finn getting kissed—he would just turn red and start growling when they asked.
Finn had changed. He started acting much more like he had at first, cheerful and full of slightly perverted jokes. But this time, it felt like it was his real self. He admitted that he enjoyed having people to tease and act like an idiot with. He wasn't strictly normal, he would never be that, but he was certainly happier. Sebastian said that Finn had been sullen and quiet since childhood, but he liked this version of his twin better.
Sebastian would drive to San Francisco every time he had a day off. He even borrowed his friend Antonio's car so he could bring Bellissima, once. Sara adored the puppy, which made Tom declare that he hated Sebastian and that Sara wouldn't be happy until he got her a dog, now.
But that was because Sara would be going with him when he left. Tom and Yuri had both worked with the job placement office at school so they could begin their careers after graduation. Tom hadn't been able to get the position he wanted with the governor's local office, but he'd landed one at the office in Los Angeles. Yuri was interviewing for a job with the Public Campaign Clean Elections organization that would allow him to work in L.A. They would be moving at the end of July, and Lee was trying desperately not to think about it.
Lee and Finn both managed to get to work on time when they were scheduled, but they barely left the apartment otherwise. The month of June was spent on just being together at home, using laughter to cleanse it of the bad things that had happened. It was usually just the four of them, although Averil, Zack, Sebastian, and even Rob all made appearances from time to time. There was a slightly desperate feeling to the amount of time they spent together. They were waiting for it to end. Lee was scheduled to donate more bone marrow on June 28th, which would give Sara time to receive it and recover before moving. They didn't know what would happen after that.
Lee walked out of his bedroom, buttoning his vest and hoping to get a ride to work from Finn instead of taking the bus. If Finn would take him, he didn't have to leave for another half an hour. It was Finn's day off, which meant he was in errand-mode, anyway. He'd already gone to the grocery store and taken Caleb to the doctor today to have an x-ray on his ribs. His second surgery had gone really well, but he had to keep the cast for a few more weeks. He'd gone to his room to sleep when he got home, since the pain in his arm sometimes kept him up at night.
Finn was sitting on the couch, reading something. It looked like a letter. Lee saw that Finn's shoulders were shaking, and he hurried forward with alarm.
"Finn? What's wrong?"
Finn wordlessly handed him the letter, disguising the evidence of his crying by covering his face with his hands.
"Been accepted . . . Notre Dame? Wow, Finn. That's great. This is for your doctorate, right? The Medieval Studies program at Notre Dame is supposed to be amazing."
"It's in Indiana," Finn gasped. "I don't want to move to Indiana anymore."
Lee suddenly felt sick at heart. Sara was leaving, and Finn was leaving, and that meant Caleb was leaving . . . He would still have Ril, but his brother had his own life now. Speaking of brothers, how devastated was Sebastian going to be when he found out Finn was leaving so soon after they'd found one another?
"I'm not going."
"What? Of course you're going. Finn, you can't not go to the doctoral program at Notre Dame . . . You know Caleb's going with you, right?"
Finn uncovered his face to give Lee a watery smile. "Yes, but—"
"Maybe— maybe I could come, too."
Lee blushed, because it was still weird to think about how close he'd gotten to his roommates, but the idea of being on his own here was terrifying. He'd do it if he had to, because he was tough and he always survived, but . . .
"Sara's moving, and I—"
Finn smiled softly and took Lee's face in his hands for a moment. "I understand."
Uh, okay, Finn was holding his face. That was a weird thing to do, but it actually just felt comforting. Finn really did act like he was Lee's mother sometimes.
"We'll talk about it later tonight, okay?"
Finn suddenly frowned at the front door. "Is someone standing outside?"
"I thought I just heard somebody coughing. We're all the way at the end of the hall . . ."
So if anybody was out there, it meant they were there to see someone in this apartment or the one next door. Why they were hanging around out there coughing instead of knocking on the door was a mystery. After everything that had happened, Lee was inclined to be suspicious. He yanked open the front door.
He instantly recognized the man who stood there. He'd seen photos. The man looked older and thinner, true, but it was obviously him.
"Oh, uh, hello," the man stammered. He was clutching a piece of paper, his hand shaking so that it made the paper flutter. Lee still managed to see that it was an address, presumably the address for Tom and Yuri's apartment. "Do you— do you know if they're home?"
"They're not, actually. Sara had a doctor's appointment today."
"O— Oh. I heard . . . They said she'd been ill, but they didn't know what . . ."
"You're Franklin Court, right?"
"Yes. Do you know Sara, then?"
"I'm Lee Reed," he said, holding out his hand. Mr. Court took it and shook hands with him, still looking very confused. "Sara's very important to me, actually. You'd better come inside. I have to get going soon, I have to work, but I'll tell you what's been going on." He led him inside. "Finn, this is Franklin Court, Tom and Sara's dad."
Finn's eyes widened.
"I guess he should wait here for them, if you don't mind. When they get home, try to keep Tom from killing him, okay? Sara would be pretty upset."
Mr. Court looked back and forth between them with growing shock.
"I can't afford to miss work, but Finn can get you up to speed if I can't. The thing is, your daughter got diagnosed with leukemia back in January . . ."
Molly and Mike stared at Yvonne in shock.
"Auntie, you should have told us," Molly whispered.
Yvonne took a calm sip of her tea. "It didn't seem like the right time. I wasn't even sure at first."
"Okay, but, Aunt Yvonne," Mike said helplessly.
"I figured it out when I watched him working here. There's just certain things about him that made it clear. And really, you two could have figured it out on your own, so don't blame me. I had to work it out for myself."
The three of them sat silently at the kitchen table for a few minutes, while the siblings tried to wrap their minds around what they'd been told. Yvonne waited patiently. It was true that she hadn't been sure, and also true that the timing had always seemed wrong. It was just beginning to seem like a good moment. But Mike really shouldn't have brought Molly to this confrontation, she didn't seem to be taking it well. She was awfully pale, and with her penchant for bleaching the colour out of her hair, it made her look almost ill.
Apparently Mike was thinking the same thing. "You've really got to stop doing this to your hair," he said, tugging at the pixie cut teasingly. "White just does not look good on you."
She stuck out her tongue at him, by reflex if nothing else. They got along surprisingly well for siblings, Yvonne had always been grateful for that, but they still had their little rivalries.
"Should we tell them, Aunt Yvonne?"
"I really don't know," she said with a wistful smile. "I suppose I should leave it up to you two. You're not children anymore, and it's technically your decision to make. The only thing I'll say is that since we don't know where he is, I don't think it would be so bad to tell them."
Mike nodded thoughtfully. They all knew he would be the one to make the decision, and Molly would go along with him.
The shop bell rang. Yvonne assumed that Averil had accidentally left something here and was returning for it. The timing was nothing if not fate. They could just tell him now, if that's what Mike wanted. It would be difficult to disguise that they were talking about something serious, anyway. But when Averil didn't come straight to the kitchen, Yvonne got up. A customer? That was odd, it was getting rather late.
Then she saw him, and she realized that fate truly did have a sense of humour.
The light was dim, and caught only certain points of the man's profile, highlighting them as though these details were the only important ones about him. He stood in the doorway with a casual-but-elegant slouch, hands in his pockets. The light caught the scattering of silver in his otherwise black hair, which was pulled back into a long ponytail. It should have communicated rakish charm, but the gleam of light on the glasses he wore added an undertone of absent-minded scholar. Yvonne had never been entirely sure if he did it on purpose or if it was just the way he was.
He raised his head, his lips twisting into a smirk that erased the scholarly note and underlined the rogue. "Hello, Yvonne."
Molly and Mike appeared in the doorway, seeming hesitant for perhaps the first time in their lives. They were holding hands, and their bleached-white and deep-black heads were nearly touching, making them seem strangely reserved and child-like. In other words, nothing like their normal selves. But who could ever be their normal self around a parent?
"Hi, Dad," Molly squeaked.
"Long time, no see," Mike mumbled.
"Long time?" Yvonne repeated in a throaty, dangerous tone. "I suppose ten years could be described that way." She drew herself up with narrowed eyes and looked down at the man standing in her doorway. "Give me one good reason why I shouldn't kill you."
His smirk disappeared, and his answering shrug was very humble.
Yvonne was not moved. He'd better be more than just humble. "What are you doing here?"
"I, uh . . ." he looked desperately at his children, who looked back at him gravely. He finally looked at Yvonne again. "I'm back?"
"What makes you think you're welcome here?" she retorted. "You have a lot of apologizing to do, Clarence Reed."
Long author's note, which I beg you all to read:
What's that? Do I hear you begging for a sequel? Well, I suppose I can oblige since you've all been such nice little review monkeys.
No, seriously, I'm working on a sequel. Obviously. Averil's storyline will include the mysterious Mr. Clarence Reed, as well as an introduction of Zashiki-warashi and Ame-warashi. Lee and Sara will begin a long-distance relationship, which is sad, but Sara's dad thrown into the mix will be good fun. And now I can finally write all of the lovely KuroFai goodness that the characters were too angsty to allow this time around. And no, I don't mean sex scenes, because it makes me feel like a creepy voyeur. I do love to write incredibly adorable bonding moments, though.
However, the more I think about it and plan for it, the more I am convinced that Gray and Ian's story is going to take a turn into territory you as the readers may not enjoy. There will be OC's. They will be female. I hear the clamors of protest already, but I would beg you to hold off. The thing is, I have to remain true to the characters, especially the way I have written them to be. I become more and more convinced that these boys are heterosexual and that they are going to end up with very normal lives. Obviously, the women they do end up with are going to have to be very strong, secure individuals, and I would shoot myself before I wrote a Mary Sue. But that's the path I see them taking. Here's the thing: if this would be disappointing to you lot, I don't have to write it (or at least not upload what I write). Averil and Gray are going to continue their friendship, and I can limit the story to Gray's conversations with Averil. But if you WANT to see their story, then I would be thrilled to include it. I love Gray more than I love some of my real friends, and I want to keep going with him.
Okay. Let's keep things organized, if we can. I would like your opinion on a few things, but I want to ensure it all makes sense. So let's do it like this:
1) Your review, if you have one, for the final chapter
2) Any thoughts you have on Freefall as a whole
3) Any thoughts/suggestions you might have for the sequel
4) Your verdict on the Gray & Ian situation (that is, do you want to read their story?)
Finally, I would just like to say thank you. Thank you for reading, thank you for reviewing, and thank you for the support you've shown. You are the reason I do what I do.