Murder without Guilt Chapter 30

For those who wish to look beyond the boundary of this story of life, what follows are two short epilogues of love and happiness:

Four years after the birth of her twins, Sara Sidle Grissom left her home in the middle of the night while a rare snow fell from the Vegas sky. She eased into the front seat of the car and sat back with a heavy sigh.

"Thanks," she murmured as she accepted the blanket placed around her body. She no longer lived ten minutes from her destination and the pain that coursed through her body in increasing intervals meant she needed to hurry. But her husband returned to the house and seemed to take his time before reappearing with a small bag.

This time he made it to the driver's seat, saying "I forgot my things." His hand rested on her knee. "You okay?"

She nodded and, as he drove with uncharacteristic care, she attempted to control her pain with thoughts of past events—the birth of twins which she had missed, the joyfulness she experienced as she learned to be a mother to two babies, their family trip to Costa Rica last year when they had backpacked in the rainforest with two three year olds, and the year long monthly visits to specialists that had finally ended on the fifth and last attempt for a second pregnancy.

Her hand sought out the man beside her. "You okay?" she asked. With him she had a deep sense of safety, of love and home and family.

"Yeah," he said. "Excited—are you having much pain?"

She shook her head. "Not too bad—breathing helps." She had been unconscious during the delivery of her twins, so labor was a new experience for her.

The car increased its speed.

Grissom pulled her hand to his lips and kissed it. "I'm trying to think about us having three children—outnumbered, you know."

Sara laughed, "With certain friends we've been outnumbered for four years! We may not leave home for years!"

"Not even for a vacation?"

"We'll take everyone next time—even Catherine." Sara shifted in her seat as contractions tightened around her again. "I appreciate her more every day!"

"Don't forget Greg and Nick—between the three, Will and Aimee won't miss us."

Without warning, a gasp broke from Sara; she frowned. Her breathing became quick and her hand gripped Grissom's with a strength that surprised him. "This is not fun!"

He grinned. "Breathe—remember all those exercises!" The car sped up again.

She grimaced. "Easier when it didn't hurt!"

At the hospital, they were expected, taken immediately to a room, and quickly everything in the world narrowed to that room and Sara's determination to breathe properly while everything inside her felt as if it was twisting and pulling apart. Grissom talked and talked, trying to distract her. The doctors and nurses returned, left and returned again, telling her she was doing fine and the baby's heart was strong and it wouldn't be long now.

And less than an hour later, just after midnight, while Grissom sat beside Sara, still holding her hand and telling her he loved her, their third child was born.

A decade later, Nick Stokes drove a similar route with two boisterous teenagers in the middle seat of his vehicle.

"Okay, you two—pipe down back there before I haul you to jail." Nick glanced in the rearview mirror at the two. His warning did nothing to quiet their banter; instead the girl giggled louder and the sound of her laughter melted his heart into beating mush.

He grinned and shook his head, concentrated on driving and tried to ignore the noise. The fourth occupant in the car seemed unaffected by the racket as fingers drummed in time to something playing through the small earpiece. Nick actually enjoyed this—he had missed having his own children—he had missed getting married, he thought. Spending time with Sara's children had become his favorite pastime. He glanced at the two again—the twins looked like their mother which was one reason he found it so easy to smile in their presence and overlook the ongoing, good-natured argument.

His route was not to a hospital, but to the airport. Air travel had changed drastically in twenty years; he could remember driving to arrivals and departures and waiting at the curb. No more—every car was stopped, given an electronic number and directed to a distant parking garage where one waited. Passengers walked or rode to the "pick-up parking" area, which was where he headed today.

As soon as the vehicle stopped, the twins jumped out and ran toward the glass-enclosed waiting area. Nick laughed as the two long-legged kids raced each other across the parking deck, both lanky yet graceful in the way they moved. He said to the third child "I'm happy you'll walk with someone as old as me and not leave me behind."

Big blue eyes met his; the mouth formed a sly smile and one eyebrow lifted in a familiar fashion. "You're not old, Uncle Nick." The child took his hand and the two headed to the waiting area.

"There they are!" The teenage boy jumped up and down waving both hands above his head. "Mom! Dad!" he shouted.

"Stop acting like a fool, Will," his sister scolded. "They can't hear you."

Her rebuke made her brother more active; he jumped higher, whistled, and wildly waved his arms.

His sister gave him a strong, genial swat to his shoulder with more punch than needed causing him to stumble, which he turned into an exaggerated stagger. "Ah, Aim—I'm excited," he complained as he rubbed his shoulder. "They've been gone a whole month. I want them to know we're happy they are home."

Aimee, as tall as her brother and possessing a confidence and poise beyond her age, rolled her eyes. "Not like we haven't talked every day," she mumbled.

The two watched as their parents stepped onto a moving walkway. Halfway along the wide corridor their father saw them and lifted his hat in a wave. His face changed immediately into a grin as he touched the woman beside him. The wave caused the children to respond—both jumping and waving with the same enthusiasm the boy had shown earlier. When their mother saw them, her reaction was much like theirs—she stretched an arm above her head in a wide sweeping motion, her face breaking into a delighted grin. The two imitated her and added to their wave by moving their bodies together, sliding back and forth as one.

Their dad laughed. Neither child could have guessed their father's thoughts on seeing them and would have been surprised to learn he did not think of them but of their mother. She had looked so much like them when he met her the first time—all long legs and dark curled hair, a smile across her face that had made him stop and stare. He turned to look at the only woman he had ever loved; his face softened into a look he reserved for her. Somewhat awkwardly, as he had a large bag in one hand and a suitcase handle in the other, he leaned toward her and kissed her cheek.

While the two young teenagers had raced to the windows, Nick and his young companion had arrived at the exit for the walkway, maneuvered their way to the front of the waiting crowd, and spotted the parents waving to Will and Aimee.

"There they are," Nick said, bending down to the child's level and pointing.

In a flash, the child's hand slipped from Nick's grasp. The high voice rang over the general noise of arriving passengers, "Mom!"

Seconds later, Sara was lifting her youngest son, the child who truly was her miracle baby, conceived years after his dad had been left sterile by cancer, yet whose appearance announced to the world his paternity with sparkling blue eyes, wavy blonde hair, and a slight cleft in his chin. Gilbert Louis Grissom, given the French pronunciation of his name at birth, had won the race to his parents and gleefully kept one arm around his mother's neck and one around his father's as his brother and sister and Nick hugged and welcomed the travelers' home as they took luggage and bags from Sara and Grissom.

Gilbert, given the nickname of 'Lil Bear' by his brother within a day of his birth, had also won the right to provide a first report of important activities of the past few days in quick, run-on sentences of a ten-year old. "And Uncle Greg and Aunt Catherine are cooking our dinner. We've eaten cowboy stew five times that Uncle Nick made and did you know Uncle Greg could make a bomb? We made two in the back yard—just little ones—and Aimee has a boyfriend only she said he's a friend but they were holding hands. And I got two bee stings helping Will but it doesn't hurt any more. Aunt Catherine let me sleep with her last night cause she was cold and I missed you, Mom…"

His sister managed to speak when the young boy paused for a breath. "Lil Bear, you talk way too much!" She reached to tickle her brother who giggled before her hand touched him and wiggled from his mother's hold. There was much to say and tell as the family loaded into Nick's vehicle and headed home as everyone talked.

Just as Bear had announced, Greg and Catherine were preparing dinner for everyone and when the family burst into the house, Catherine almost dropped the bowl she held in her hands. Sara had always been pretty, and had kept her good looks as she aged, but today, after a long flight, a month on an archipelago off the coast of Ecuador studying some rare bug, she looked like a goddess, radiating an assured, unconscious magnetism—and to the surprised realization of Catherine—she looked ten years younger. Catherine's eyes sought Grissom and found a similar appearance—tanned, relaxed, laughing as he kept his children within his reach. They are more in love today than ever, she thought with a smile as she went to greet them.

(not 'the end' but a stopping place!)

A/N: Hope you enjoyed this one-one of the longest stories we've written. For the first time in a very long time, we have no story in development-so we're taking a break for awhile! Here's a little blackmail-if you enjoyed this one, leave a comment and that will encourage our imaginations...Amelia, Mimi, and Yvette (aka Sarapals)