Well. Here it is. As promised, this is really and truly the last chapter. This has been insanely long, and I so appreciate all of you taking your time to read it and, often, comment. A few special thanks to eyeon who kept me honest with times and ages ("Shouldn't X by Y years old, now?" "Didn't X actually happen Z years ago?" – I have a feeling there may be some off in this chapter, too, although I tried); to motorpool who re-read and re-reviewed the WHOLE darn thing, leading me to a few "Oh yeah, dropped that plot thread" moments; to tia8206 who came up with a few chapter names and helped me come to some sort of idea on James' relationship with Clementine (in the earliest version of this story, he was NEVER going to see her).
It's been a lot of fun, guys; sad to see it end. And I thought it would be a one-shot . . .
This chapter takes place in 2034. Let's just imagine people still text each other then, because that's how it starts.
Friday, September 22, 2034
Los Angeles, CA
The line is long, but the coffee shop's not all that crowded. Most folks head for the door after grabbing their drinks. Kate's phone chirps. A text from Aaron.
I5 Santa Clarita. Traffic sucks. Be there when we get there. Meet u at re dinner?
She got into town last night and planned to spend the day with him (and his new girlfriend! Exciting!). Traffic, combined with his late start, means she's had the day to while away. Hence, the coffee.
She's sliding her phone back into her bag when a teenage boy carrying a full coffee cup in each hand and bracing a giant cookie against his side with his elbow bumps into her. He manages not spill any coffee. "Excuse me," he says. "Sorry about that."
She's kind of sure it was her fault, looking down at her phone, drifting slightly out of the line. "No problem," she smiles at him. He reminds her a little of Aaron.
She hears a shrill whistle. The boy and Kate turn toward the whistler, who's got his pinkies stuck in either side of his mouth and has secured a table on the other side of the coffee shop. "Travis! Over here!" The whistler is probably the boy's – Travis's - dad.
Travis. Doesn't she know someone . . .? She looks closer. Travis's dad stands to help with the cups. He . . . Well, I'll be damned, she thinks. She leaves her spot in line.
"Well, I'll be damned," she says, approaching Jimmy.
"Kate!" he exclaims. He sets down his cup, and opens his arms to hug her.
How long has it been? Ten years? Fifteen? No, more than that. He looks remarkably the same. She sees a lot of gray at his temples, but the rest of his hair's so light, the gray's camouflaged. His forehead is bigger than she remembers it being. Otherwise, he looks the same.
She's glad she had her colorist go to work on her mane earlier this week. She's wearing glasses; he's not.
"Travis," Jimmy says, "this is Kate. She was a friend of your grandpa's. Friend of mine, too," he grins sheepishly. Yeah, that father/son thing doesn't ever stop being weird.
"Nice to meet you," Travis says, shaking her hand.
Travis was born after she moved from LA. That makes him, what? Fifteen? She struggles to remember Jimmy's older sons' names . . .Nick, right, and . . . Joe? John? Jasper? Something with a 'J' . . .
Travis starts to peel the Saran wrap from his cookie. While he's occupied, Kate asks Jimmy, "Is it just me, or do you tend to hang out in coffee shops when the rest of the world is hard at work?"
"It's just you," he laughs. "And, it's only when I have a sister with wedding drama." He darts his eyes at Travis, who's absorbed in his phone. Does he know? Kate wonders
"I hear ya," she says. "I have the whole day free, and yet you'll notice I'm steering clear. I'm sure Cass would rope me into something."
"No doubt," he agrees. "God, the two of them? Cassidy and Rachel? I tell you what, that's a duo you don't want to get tangled up with."
"They're still close?" Kate asks, feeling slightly jealous.
"Thick as thieves. Rachel's always said Cass is like the sister she never had." He takes a sip of coffee, then leans in closer. He smirks. "Ironic, huh?"
"Does she know? Clementine? Did he ever tell her?"
Jimmy shakes his head. "Nope." Kate winds up to protest, to lodge a complaint against this great injustice. Jimmy reads her, though, and cuts her off. "It's just . . . there's never a good time, you know? 'Hey, you just graduated college, now wanna know who your dad really is?' It's not killing her to stay in the dark. Besides, she's not a whole lot older than I was when I found out the truth."
"The truth?" Kate huffs. "Jimmy, you always knew who your parents were."
He shrugs. "How's Aaron doing?" he asks, calm and unblinking in that way she once found so unnerving in both him and his mother.
She fumes, and he's momentarily distracted by his son. "Travis!" he yelps. "Holy crap, man, don't eat that whole cookie. Your mom would kill me if she knew . . ."
"Mom's OK with dessert, Dad."
"Mom has a thing about portion size, and that cookie's bigger than your face. She'd have a fit if she knew you were eating that. Give it to me."
Travis hands over the cookie. He and Jimmy tussle over it more. Kate still feels angry, heartbroken, and cheated somehow. How could Clem not know? How could he not tell her? How about Cass? What about her? And what about all James did for her? How about that, huh? She has a right to know.
"Aaron gonna be there tonight?" Jimmy says in the hazy background. The whole world just went hazy, because, holy shit, Sawyer just walked in the front door. Young Sawyer. The Sawyer she remembers, swiping back his hair, strutting through the door. . . Jesus, back when they were bouncing through time, did they land thirty years in the future and make a little jaunt to LA? Just to mess with everyone's brains a little?
No. Ha ha. No, no, of course not. This is because she was thinking of him. Power of persuasion, that's what it is. Anyway, this guy, he's actually younger than the Sawyer she knew, she realizes now as he . . . heads straight for them. What the hell?
"Ha ha!" Jimmy claps his hands together. "They let people like you in here?" He stands and hugs the new guy, slapping him on the back a few times. Travis gets up, too, for a handshake. The new guy ruffles Travis's hair in return.
"Good to see you, Uncle Jimmy."
Jimmy turns to Kate. "You remember my nephew, Evan? He's Rachel's older son."
Kate's mouth is very dry. "Yeah, yeah. Hey." He was five when she saw him last? He smiles and nods at her.
"So, they let you out on parole, or what?" Jimmy asks Evan.
"Weekend pass," Evan laughs.
Jimmy notices Kate's confused look, and explains, "Evan's in his first year of residency."
"Oh," she says. In a small voice, "What specialty?" Please do not say surgery. Please.
"Pediatrics," Evan answers. He turns to his uncle and cousin. "You guys ready to go? You know my mom'll go apeshit if we're late."
"She's a damn hypocrite," Jimmy mumbles. He turns to Kate, "See you tonight?" He points his thumb at Evan. "The doc here's our ride."
Kate nods. "Yeah, yeah, see you tonight." She swallows a lump in her throat. The doc. She misses him. She misses the one who called him that, too.
Her phone chirps. New text from Aaron:
Hey, Ma. We're in LA. See you at the hotel in five? Love you.
Saturday, September 23, 2034
Los Angeles, CA
Jimmy deliberately works at the ends of his bowtie. He's taking his time, getting this just right. He slowly crosses the ends over, slowly loops an end up, slowly holds down the center, slowly folds the side over. All on purpose. He caught Lauren watching him in the mirror the minute he draped the tie over his neck.
When he's done, he makes eye contact in the mirror. "I still got it, huh?" he smirks at her.
"Mmmmm," she murmurs, stepping up behind him and resting her chin on his shoulder. "Nothing like a man who can tie his own tie." She strokes his cheek with the back of her hand. He turns his head to nuzzle her hand. She turns it over, and his kisses the palm. He turns from the mirror, faces her, and places his hands on her hips.
"You know," he says, pulling her against him and kissing her, "I got some time."
She kisses back, then stops. She swats his chest. "All three boys are downstairs at this very minute."
"All three of those boys lived under this roof for more than ten years, and I don't recall that stopping us."
"Joel and Nick will be gone again on Sunday, I think we can wait," Lauren says.
"I'm not sure I can," he presses her against him again.
"Besides, you don't want to be late. What does Clem want you there so early for anyway?"
Jimmy sighs. OK, he won't get any this afternoon, but surely tonight . . . He answers Lauren's question, "Beats me. Something about the photographers, maybe?"
"She'd ask Rachel or Anson if it had to do with the photographers."
Jimmy shrugs. "Who knows?" His duty is guestbook attendant. How difficult can that be?
He pulls the guestbook from the backseat, tucks it under his arm, and heads for the church. His dress shoes squeak when he walks. Someone points him upstairs, to the parlor, "The Bride's Room." Clem's there, sitting on a couch between two girlfriends. She looks gorgeous - fancy hair, makeup – fancier than he's ever seen her, probably. His little sis, all grown up. At least she's still in jeans and a button-down shirt. Her dress is hanging in the corner.
He bends down to kiss her cheek. He puts a hand to his chest. "You take my breath away," he says, and he kind of means it. "Now, what can I do for you?" He waves the guestbook. "As you can see, I'm on top of my duties. Ready to go."
Clem turns to her friends. "Can you guys give us a minute?" They fuss and peck over her for a few seconds, exclaiming over her hair and earrings and lip . . . liner? Gloss? Stick? Clementine rolls her eyes at the door after they leave.
Jimmy waits expectantly. Her fiancé has a drunk and belligerent uncle. Jimmy braces. Clem's going to ask him to watch out for the guy, keep him calm, keep him from ruining anything.
"Jimmy, I want you to walk me down the aisle."
"Yeah, sure, no problem." I met him last night at the rehearsal dinner so I know who to watch out . . . "Uh, I'm sorry. What?"
She said it very clearly the first time, and the second is no different. "I want you to walk me down the aisle."
"I don't . . . I don't know. . . I. . . I thought you were going to walk by yourself."
"I decided I didn't want to do it alone."
"Well, I think if anyone should do it, your mom should, right?"
"No," she sets her lips, shakes her head firmly. She stares at him with his father's eyes. "If anyone should do it, my dad should, but he's not here, so I'm asking you. Please Jimmy. I've known you forever. I can barely remember a time before you were in my life. Besides, don't you think it would make him happy?"
"Who?" Jimmy's not an idiot. He knows who, he's just buying time.
"Uh. . . well, you know, I never . . . he never . . . never. . . he, uh, you know. . . never met." Jimmy closes his eyes, centers himself. Relaxed, he's able to put an actual sentence together. "I never met your dad, Clem. He was in that plane crash with Kate, remember?"
"Oh, stop with the horseshit, Jimmy."
"Clem, I . . ." what's he supposed to say? It's her wedding day. This isn't the right time (Uncle Miles told Claudia on their wedding day. "You what? Are you a fuckin' idiot?," Dad had bellowed at him. She married him anyway, though). No, this isn't the right time. Although, when is?
Clementine hands over a piece of paper. It's yellowed, creased, rough. It's a letter. He sees his dad's handwriting, neat precise, almost feminine. Nothing at all like his father ever was. He misses him. That's not surprising. What's surprising how much he misses him sometimes. Misses both of them. Dad was 79. Mom was 86. Long, full lives. Nothing tragic, circle of life, yada yada and all that bullshit. He didn't think he'd miss them as much as he does – sometimes. Life's too busy most of the times. But staring at his dad's handwriting, his heart leaps to his throat, and he feels tears spring to his eyes. His hand may even be shaking.
"Read it," Clementine instructs.
Jimmy clears his throat. "Dear Clementine," he begins. He can't do this. He can't read this. It's her wedding day. It's supposed to be all about her. All about Mike. Not this. Anything but this. "What is this?" he asks in a harsh tone he doesn't mean. He shakes the letter at her. False bravado.
She rolls her eyes and smiles. "Just read it."
Jimmy puffs out his cheeks, exhales. He can do this. He looks at the letter again. "You don't know who I am, but I know who you are. You are my daughter. I'm so sorry I never met you, but your mama told me once to write you a letter, and I'm doing that now. I don't know what she'll tell you about me, so I'll say a few honest things up front. I was in prison when she told me about you. I wish I could say that's my excuse for never seeing you. I wasn't a free man. But that's only partly true. The real truth is I didn't want to be a bad influence in your life. The bigger truth is that I didn't want the responsibility. I'm sorry about that. I have two other kids now, and I hope it won't hurt you when I say they . . ." Jimmy clears his throat, swallows the lump there, clears again. . . starts over . . . "when I say they mean the whole world to me. I pretty much think . . ." Jimmy stops. He looks up at Clementine, looks away from the letter. "This is nice, Clem, but I don't think it has anything to do with me." He simply can't read any more without dissolving into a puddly mess of tears.
"Keep reading," she says. He's not getting out of this. She folds her arms and glares at him.
"Easy, easy," Jimmy jokes, tap dancing for more time. "Let's not get all worked up, Bridezilla."
She snorts a laugh, but says, "You finish the letter."
"I . . ." Jimmy's hand is shaking again.
"Finish it, Jimmy."
He steadies his hand. He picks up close to where he left off. "They mean the whole world to me. I pretty much think that everything I do, I do for them. I want you to know that I think about you a lot. I do. Mostly when I'm alone, which isn't much these days. I was a coward for not ever meeting you, Clementine, and maybe one day, I'll get a chance to set that right. I hope I do. Until then, I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure your life is a good one. I know money can't ever be what you need from me. I know now that what you need is someone to come to your dance recitals and teach you to ride a bike and read to you and hold you when you're sick. I'm sorry I can't be that for you. But please know you are in my heart, always. Love, James Ford."
Tears roll down Jimmy's cheeks. "I'm so sorry, Clem. I'm sorry. . ." He's not sure what he's apologizing for. His good fortune that from the minute he was born (before that even, probably . . . definitely) he had Dad, and she never did? That none of them have had the guts to come out and tell her? That it's her wedding day, and he's a blubbery mess? A middle-aged man with two sons already in college, crying over a man who's been dead sixteen years.
She puts a hand to his forearm. "You don't have to apologize, Jimmy. You . . . your family . . . I really don't remember a time you weren't in my life. Your parents paid for my college. Law school, too." She waves a hand. "This wedding, even."
"We should've told you, Clementine."
She shrugs. "It wasn't your responsibility. They should've, though – Mom, and Uncle Jim. I wish they had. Mom gave me that letter when I turned sixteen."
Jimmy sniffs. He wipes tears from his eyes. "When did you figure it out?"
"Not long after. Uncle Jim and James Ford had remarkably similar handwriting."
"And you were OK with that? Knowing . . . and pretending you didn't? How? Why?"
"For the longest time," she says, "I wasn't sure what your mom knew. I thought Mom must've had an affair with Uncle Jim. That broke my heart. Mom was always saying people never stayed together forever, that was just a fairy tale . . .but your mom and dad . . . then this. I thought he cheated on her."
Jimmy laughs. "Yeah, me too." He thinks back to bringing Kate into their kitchen.
"Anyway, and I don't know who's the bigger idiot – me for not paying attention to it, or him for doing it in the first place . . ." She bends over the letter in his hand, she points to the top right corner. "He dated it," she says. "January 17, 1982. Then I started looking into things. There was a James Ford on Aunt Kate's plane. His picture's on the Internet. I guess he kinda looks like Uncle Jim. He really looks like Evan."
"Yeah," Jimmy agrees.
"So, what? Time travel? Is that the story? That . . . really?"
He looks her right in the eye. "Clementine, I've known all this for about twenty-five years, and there are still days when I find it hard to believe. All evidence to the contrary. You being Exhibit A, probably."
"So, whattaya say, Jimmy? Walk me down the aisle?"
"Your mom's OK with that?"
"She's never had anything against you, Jimmy. And by the time it was all was said and done, she didn't have anything against him, either."
"It would be an honor."
Her friends hover and twitter around her. Cassidy gives her a hug, before one of the ushers steps up to escort Cass down the aisle to the front of the church. The friends giggle and fidget with their dresses. Jimmy roped Joel and Nick into manning the guestbook. Not difficult to do, as they both thought they could use it as a way to meet more girls. He spies them sitting in the last pew, craning their necks back at the bridesmaids. Hook up with a bridesmaid at a wedding. Such a cliché, but a good one.
The four bridesmaids wish Clem good luck and start their walk down the aisle. The wedding coordinator closes the door behind them.
He turns to Clementine. "Last chance to tell me to take a hike, sis," he says.
"Thank you, Jimmy. For everything," she says.
He holds out his arm. She takes it. He can see through the little square glass at the top of the wooden church door. The last bridesmaid is almost at the end of the aisle. Clem's on her tip toes, also peering through the glass. She's trying to catch a glimpse of Mike. As she should be. It's her wedding day.
The organ swells. He sees Cassidy stand in the front pew and the rest of the congregation follow.
Dad should be here, Jimmy thinks. He should be approaching seventy, not sixteen years in the grave. He should get to walk his daughter down the aisle. Except then, Jimmy wouldn't . . . couldn't . . . be here. Which doesn't strike Jimmy as a horrible thing, exactly. What does strike him as horrible is no Joel, no Nick, no Travis . . . (no Rachel, no Evan, no Cole . . .)
"OK, you two ready?" the wedding coordinator whispers at them. They both nod. The coordinator opens the door to the church.
All right, Dad, he thinks. Hope I do you proud.
OK, I set a goal to finish by Thanksgiving, and by golly, I did!
FYI, If you go back to chapter 54, you'll see the stuff that's mostly written (either actually typed or at least formed in my head) that didn't make the story. You can still vote, although the clear winner is the events of the Miles chapters (Juliet's 40th birthday, miscarriage, Miles and James fight, etc.) from James and Juliet's POV. So, I am going to do that as its own story, probably a bunch of really short chapters (some probably only 2-3 paragraphs long). I can't say when . . . but I'll probably start putting them up before Christmas, a great many of them are already written and then just got excised from other chapters, I just need to re-edit them so they don't read like flashbacks or memories. Anyway, check back on the site or sign up for an Author Alert or whatever if you are interested in seeing them.
Let me know what you thought, even if you've never left a review before now (and you can do so anonymously). I think I'll miss the random ego boosts as much as anything! ;-) Thanks so much, guys.