Hey, guys. Here is the first chapter of After Anna, the sequel to A Special Bond. I would suggest reading that one first, if you haven't, or you might get confused. This story starts about a month after A Special Bond ends. It will be sad to begin with, but it will get better with time, I promise. :)
Sorry it took me so long. It's been a long year, both school-wise (I'm now about a year away from graduating college, considering grad school, etc.), emotionally, and health-wise. I haven't been able to pay attention to the story at all for a while, with finishing up school, but now, finally, summer has come, so I'm able to devote a little more attention and time to it, while juggling a mostly-full-time job with something of a social life and family time. I hope you enjoy it. The title is inspired by the play, After Ashley, of which I actually know nothing about, though our university performed it a while back.
Oh, quick note to tiffaroolou: You will enjoy the name of their nanny, haha. :) This story is dedicated to tiffaroolou, who helped it sprout from just a possible one-shot to multiple chapters. I wish I had half her creative ability and imagination! The story is not complete, but I decided to post up the first three chapters anyway. I'm working on the other chapters as fast as I can, I promise.
Here's After Anna.
A month after Anna's death, McGee was still grieving. Shortly after she died, he had sunk into a deep depression. His paternity leave was now about half over, with six weeks remaining. The standard week he took off work for bereavement, when he wasn't caring for the twins, who were almost six months old now, all he did was lie in bed, clutching a photo of the two of them together. He barely ate and hadn't slept in days. After Abby had discovered him lying in bed, wallowing with the photo again, and given him a firm-but-gentle lecture, he had started seeing a psychiatrist again. He was also taking anti-depressants. The entire team, as well as his family and in-laws, was helping him take care of the twins, but particularly Abby, Gibbs, and Tony.
On April 25th, Abby came by his house after church to check on him again. It was an unusually warm April Sunday, with a few puffy clouds and ample sunshine.
Anna's Camry was in the driveway and McGee's Porsche was in the garage, so Abby knew he was home.
She knocked before entering the house. Looking around as she walked in, she noticed it was quiet. Too quiet.
Jethro the German Shepard came running up to her, barking, happy to see her.
"Shh. Hi, Jethro," Abby said, smiling and petting him so he would settle down and stop barking.
She glanced upstairs and noticed the light was off in the twins' nursery. The door was also open, so she figured McGee was with the twins somewhere else.
Tiffany poked her head into the entryway, from where she had been dusting in the living room.
"He's out on the back porch, Abby," she said.
"Thanks, Tiff," Abby said, smiling at the nanny.
McGee hadn't wanted to hire a nanny, but after Anna's death, with his unusual work schedule, he had had no choice.
Abby followed the gentle breeze she felt moving through the house, until she found McGee sitting out on the back porch with a baby on each arm. He had rocked the babies to sleep on a swing built for two in the sunshine and warmth.
McGee looked up. "Hey, Abbs," he said softly. "I wondered why Jethro ran out of here."
"I'm sorry I didn't come sooner. How are you doing?" Abby asked, sitting down next to him and taking Lily into her arms.
"No, it's OK. I know you had church," McGee said, glancing at her, then looking down again. "Plus, Tiff's here."
Abby nodded. Looking up at the sky, she noted, "It's a beautiful day."
"Yeah, it is," McGee agreed softly.
Abby looked over at him. "How are you doing today?" she asked again, knowing he had dodged her earlier question.
McGee swallowed hard past the lump that immediately formed in his throat at the loaded question.
He sighed heavily, then whispered, "Today's been really hard. I've missed her a lot today. She would have been 29 today."
Abby nodded and rubbed his back with her free hand, as she waited for him to talk about it. She didn't need to prompt him to; she knew, eventually, he would open up.
"I just really miss her," McGee uttered softly, before breaking down into tears.
Abby nodded again, continuing to rub his back and pulling him closer to her. "It's OK to miss her, Timmy."
McGee nodded. "I've just been remembering when she was OK and happy and alive and... I just wish there was more I could have done."
"But there wasn't, Timmy," said Abby. "The time that you were together was the best part of her life. She told you that. You don't need to beat yourself up or feel guilty for her dying. You did everything you could. You know she had made her peace when the time came."
Abby looked up at the sky, and with her free hand, pointed to a little puffy cloud.
"See that cloud, Timmy?"
McGee looked up, then nodded again.
"She's up there, you know. Watching you. Watching Sean and Lily. Watching them grow. Making sure you're OK." Abby smiled. "If she could, she'd float down to you in a heartbeat, à la Mary Poppins, with her feet in ballet first-position and her umbrella, just to be with you again, even just for a day."
McGee smiled, for real this time.
"There it is. Your best smile. Haven't seen it in a while," Abby said, smiling.
McGee nodded again, then the smile disappeared once more.
"Have you been sleeping lately?" Abby asked him.
McGee shook his head. "Not much," he said. "Sometimes I'll sleep for a few hours and feel fine. Other times, I won't sleep at all. I think I've been living on about six hours of sleep, give or take. I don't know."
"Are you taking your meds?"
"Most importantly, are you being good to yourself?"
"You need to be good to yourself, too. She asked you to take as good care of yourself as you did her. She was right," said Abby.
"Have you eaten yet today?"
McGee shook his head.
"Let's lay the twins down in their nursery and I'll make you some lunch, while Tiffany finishes cleaning. Meanwhile, you go sleep."
McGee opened his mouth to protest, but she cut him off, "Uh-uh, that's an order."
"Alright," McGee said, before going back inside with her.
They laid the twins down, then Abby called after his retreating back, "I'll wake you when it's ready."
Abby waited until he had fallen asleep, before stepping into the bathroom adjoining their bedroom. She opened the medicine cabinet and found his bottle of anti-depressants. Carefully, she shook out the entire bottle's remaining contents and counted them. She roughly concluded, judging by the date on the prescription, that McGee hadn't lied to her about taking his medication.
Satisfied, Abby replaced the pills back into the bottle, then went downstairs to the kitchen and began to make fried-bologna-and-cheese sandwiches and chicken noodle soup for lunch for her and McGee.
"Abby, I can do that," Tiffany offered, starting to rush forward.
"It's OK, Tiff. It's my treat. Give yourself a break. You work really hard all the time," said Abby.
"Thanks, but I'm good," Tiffany said, smiling and going back to her dusting.
As the sandwiches were frying, Abby pulled out her cell phone and called Gibbs.
"Hey, Gibbs," she said, when he answered, "can I get some advice?"
"Sure, Abbs, what's up?" Gibbs asked.
"I'm worried about McGee. He's still having a really hard time. He's not sleeping much and he's barely eating," said Abby.
"Is he taking his meds?" Gibbs asked.
"Yes. I believed him when he said yes, but I checked anyway," Abby answered. "Do you think he's ready to come back to work tomorrow?"
"No. He knows he's allowed more time off if he feels he needs it," said Gibbs. "If he shows up tomorrow, he shows up. If not, I've already talked with Vance. It's unorthodox, but still, McGee's also not required to come back if we pick up a case. Tony and Ziva and I can handle it."
Abby nodded, then realized Gibbs couldn't see her head bob. "He's still taking it really hard. He still blames himself for her dying. He's taking wonderful care of the twins, but not of himself."
"That's pretty normal," said Gibbs. "All we can do is to be there for him. It just takes time."
"How did you do it, Gibbs?" Abby asked.
There was a long pause.
Then Gibbs said, "You just do, Abbs. Eventually, you forgive yourself for what happened and you put one foot in front of the other, until you're walking through life normally again. It's not going to get better for McGee overnight."
Abby nodded, then she heard yelling and crying coming from upstairs.
"I have to go, Gibbs. Thanks," Abby said quickly, before hanging up.
She took the soup and sandwiches off the stove so they wouldn't burn, then went up to McGee's room. He was having a nightmare, crying and shouting in his sleep.
"Anna!" he called out, from where he lay in the bed he and Anna once shared. "Anna, no! Don't leave me!"
Abby shook his shoulders gently. It wasn't the first nightmare McGee was enduring. "McGee, wake up," she said. McGee's eyes flew open. "Easy, McGee, it was a nightmare."
"A-Abby..." McGee said shakily. He blinked several times, trying to clear his mind of the frightening dream.
"Hey," she said softly, putting her arm around him. "It's OK, McGee. I'm here." They sat silently for a moment, listening for any sounds from the twins, but his nightmare didn't seem to have woken them. "Your lunch is ready. Come and eat."
McGee went downstairs with Abby to the kitchen and sat down and ate.
"Thanks, Abby," he said.
"You're welcome," said Abby. "You need to be good to yourself, Timmy. I know it's hard, but really, it's OK. You know that."
"Anna wouldn't like you to be like this, guilty over her death, not moving on," said Abby.
"I'm sorry, Abbs," said McGee. "I know it's hard for you, taking care of me like this, as well as helping out with the twins."
"Not at all," said Abby. "It's OK. You miss her. I do, too."
"I miss her so much," McGee whispered, looking down at his wedding band. He never took it off, not even to shower. "It's so hard, waking up without her. She was my everything for three years."
Abby nodded. Finally, McGee had calmed down. "Are you OK now?" she asked, joining him at the table to eat.
"Yeah," McGee said, "thanks."
"Of course," said Abby, taking a bite of her sandwich. "As your friend, may I make a suggestion?"
"Sure," said McGee, then he ate a spoonful of soup.
"You're a writer, Timmy. You always have been. Maybe you should write about how you feel. Your life together while she was alive. Writing about her dying will be hard, too, but maybe it will help," said Abby.
McGee looked up, after eating another spoonful of soup. "That's a good idea, Abbs, thanks."
Abby stayed the rest of the afternoon, helping feed, change, and play with the twins. Eventually, however, it was time for her to leave to go home.
"You know, Timmy, you should go visit your parents this weekend," Abby suggested. "It will make you feel better."
"That's a good idea. Thanks, Abbs," McGee said, as he followed her to the door. He held Sean in his arms and she held Lily. "Hey, Abbs? Although I'm sure she'd love to go home with you, I really kinda need my baby girl back."
Abby smiled and handed Lily back to him, then hugged him, taking a moment to bid farewell to Jethro before leaving.
The week crept by, until finally, the weekend arrived. McGee packed a suitcase for him and a suitcase for the twins. A little while later, everything was ready to go. He loaded everything into the trunk of Anna's Camry and strapped the twins into their car seats and set off for Maryland.
Mrs. McGee's face lit up, when she answered the door.
"Timothy!" she exclaimed happily, smiling.
"Hi, Mom," said McGee. "I thought I'd take the weekend and surprise you, Dad, and Sarah."
"That's wonderful, Tim," said Mrs. McGee. "You take the twins inside and get comfortable. I'll get your luggage and bring it in."
"Thanks, Mom," McGee said, smiling. McGee took the twins upstairs to the living room. "Hey, Dad," he added to his father, who was watching hunting on TV.
"Hey, Tim," Mr. McGee said, smiling. "How are you?"
"I'm OK," said McGee. "I needed a weekend away, so I decided to surprise you guys."
"That's nice," said Mr. McGee, smiling.
A little while later, Mr. and Mrs. McGee, followed by Sarah, entered the living room. McGee had warmed up a bottle and began to feed Sean.
"Hey, Tim," Sarah said. "How are you?"
"I'm OK," said McGee, taking a moment to hug her, before returning to feeding Sean.
"Can I feed Lily?" Sarah asked.
"Sure," said McGee. "Her bottle and the formula's in the diaper bag."
"OK," said Sarah, before going into the diaper bag and getting out a bottle and some formula. She returned from the kitchen a few minutes later, and took Lily out of her car seat and began to feed her.
"I'm rather unprepared at the moment, as to meals," Mrs. McGee admitted, "since I didn't know you were coming. Just let me know what you'd like and I'll make it up."
"Thanks, Mom. It's OK," said McGee. "I'll help you cook. Don't stress, OK?"
"Thank you, Tim. That's nice of you," said Mrs. McGee. "Maybe I should make stroganoff. It's not a fancy dinner, by any means, but..."
"Mom, really, it's wonderful," McGee assured her. He knew his mother was acting so strange because she was worried about him.
Mrs. McGee smiled appreciatively.
About an hour later, dinner was ready and everyone sat down to eat. Sarah had ended up helping Mrs. McGee cook, so McGee could set up the travel cribs in Sarah's room. They had agreed to swap rooms for the weekend, since her room was on the main floor and more accessible than his basement room.
"This looks wonderful, Mom," McGee said, taking in the sights and smells of the salad, stroganoff, and Juneberry pie for dessert.
"Thank you," said Mrs. McGee. "The pie isn't fresh out of the oven, but I'm sure you won't mind that it's been a few days."
McGee smiled. "No, I won't," he laughed.
"A smile. Haven't seen one of those on your face in a long time," said Mrs. McGee.
McGee smiled and began to dig in to his slice of Juneberry pie.
Later that night, Sarah knocked gently on the door and entered her room, where McGee was putting Sean and Lily to bed for the night.
"Hey," she said softly.
"Hey," McGee replied.
"So they go down easy, huh?" Sarah asked, looking down at the twins.
"Yeah, they've never had a problem sleeping," McGee replied quietly.
"No, but you have," Sarah observed.
McGee blushed and looked away.
"It's nothing to be embarrassed about," Sarah noted. "You're allowed to grieve. You're allowed to miss her and be sad about her, Tim."
"It's been three months, Sarah," said McGee, as if that settled the matter.
"That's not that long," said Sarah. "It might take a lot longer before you're really truly happy again. But you know she would want you to be the strong, romantic, satisfied man you once were."
McGee nodded. "I know," he said.
"You're strong, Tim. You'll be OK," Sarah said.
McGee smiled and turned and hugged her.
"Thanks for the support, sis," he said.
Sarah nodded. "Come on," she said, "let's go get lost in a movie."
"OK," McGee said, smiling, and following her into the living room.
The next day, McGee rose early. He looked at the clock; it was just six a.m. The twins weren't in their cribs, so McGee figured his mother was already up for the day and spending time with them.
"Morning, Mom," he said, smiling, as he entered the kitchen. "Happy May Day."
"Morning. Happy May Day," said Mrs. McGee. "I've been up for about half an hour. I noticed they were both awake, chatting away happily in their cribs, so I took them out, so they wouldn't wake you."
"Thanks, Mom," McGee said, smiling.
"How did you sleep?" Mrs. McGee asked.
"Good, for once," said McGee.
"Any nightmares?" Mrs. McGee asked.
"No, thank God," said McGee. Then he added, "Hey, how do you...?"
"Oh, mothers just know these things," Mrs. McGee said, smiling mysteriously.
McGee nodded and went over and kissed his son and daughter good morning.
"Eat some strawberries and cantaloupe, then go for a walk. It's a beautiful day. Your dad will start making breakfast before you get back."
"That's a great idea, Mom, thanks," McGee said, smiling.
McGee went back into Sarah's room and dressed, then put on his spring jacket and drove to Greenwich Park. He walked a long ways down the walking path, allowing his thoughts to wander. It was a cool morning and a gentle breeze blew through the city. After a while, he sat down on a bench and gazed out ahead of him.
"I miss you so much, Anna," he whispered. "It's hard, raising Sean and Lily without you, but I'm trying. I can't screw up raising our kids. If I do, nothing I achieve in life will matter much." He looked Heavenward, seeing Anna's beautiful face, the way he chose to remember her, in his mind. "But I promise I'll do my best."
McGee smiled bittersweetly, then got up and went back to the car.
"How was your walk?" Mrs. McGee asked, as McGee came into the kitchen.
"Good," said McGee. "Thanks for the suggestion. Breakfast looks wonderful."
Mrs. McGee nodded, smiled, then they all sat down together to eat.
The weekend flew by and eventually, it was time for McGee and the twins to head home.
"Thanks for the great weekend, Mom," McGee said, hugging Mrs. McGee. "It's been wonderful."
"I'm glad you came," said Mrs. McGee. "I only wish Anna could have been here to come along."
McGee nodded sadly. "Me too, Mom," he agreed.
"You'll be OK, you know," said Mrs. McGee.
McGee nodded. "I know."
"You're welcome to come back anytime," Mr. McGee said, smiling.
"Thanks, Dad," McGee said, smiling back.
"Bye, Sean, bye, Lily," Sarah said, bending down to stroke the twins' soft, silky hair.
McGee smiled, hugged his family one more time, then went back to D.C.
The next day, after McGee returned home from work, his cell phone rang. It was Anna's mother.
"Hello?" McGee answered the call.
"Hey, Tim, it's Cara."
"We haven't heard from you in a while. How are you doing?" Cara asked.
"I've been better," McGee said shortly.
"Have things been going alright with the kids?" Cara asked.
"Yeah, I guess," said McGee, as he waved to Tiffany, letting her know he was home, and he went upstairs to his bedroom to change clothes.
Considering the circumstances, this statement was a complete lie. McGee knew he was just going through life on auto-pilot. He had returned to work, with Tiffany helping at home, but had merely been going through the motions for days now.
"Do you need any help?" Cara asked.
"No. Thanks, but I'm good," McGee said stubbornly.
"Are you sure? I mean, I was thinking, maybe we could keep the babies for a while, at least until you're back on your feet," Cara suggested. "We're worried about you and we're worried about them. We miss Anna so much, too, Tim. It would be nice to see them again. It would make things easier for you."
Suddenly, McGee felt something in himself snap and he was overcome with anger.
"Are you saying that I can't take care of my own kids, Cara?" he snapped, unable to stop himself. "And you think it will be made easier if my kids are taken away from me? They are, in no way, a burden to me. They are the one part of Anna I have left. I'm sorry, but no, I can't let you do that. You're welcome to come visit, but I'm their father and I am capable of taking care of them, thank you very much."
"I understand why you are hesitant, Timothy. Please understand, we're only trying to help. We're not trying to discredit you," Cara said, sounding worried that she had upset him.
"Thank you," McGee said stiffly. "I appreciate you wanting to help and that you want to be involved, but this is my battle to fight. I have to do this, for Anna and for them. I have to go," he said curtly. "Thank you for calling."
"Take care of yourself, Tim. Bye," Cara said, before McGee hung up the phone.
McGee changed clothes, then went downstairs to the kitchen, where Tiffany was in the middle of feeding the twins their dinner.
"How was work, Tim?" she asked.
"Not bad," said Tim. "We haven't picked up a case in a while, so it's pretty boring. Since I'm home now, go ahead and take the night off."
"Are you sure?" Tiffany asked.
"Yes," said McGee, thinking about the phone call with Cara. "I need to work on being a better father. As much as I appreciate your help, I... I don't want to turn into one of those parents who only sees their kids for an hour a day."
"I understand," said Tiffany. "Call me if you need me. See you tomorrow."
"OK. Thanks, Tiff," McGee said, before she packed up her things and left.
Just a heads-up: With the exception of one starting conversation, the next chapter will be a lapse of about seven months, so the twins will be about a year old.
For me, at least emotionally, grief is so much more difficult to write than death. Not sure why. It would really encourage me if you guys would review to tell me what you thought. Thanks. I'll post chapter 2 tomorrow after work, probably, then chapter 3 the day after that.