A/N: I'm not able to complete the first chapter of Wherever the Dandelion Falls for posting today. I'm too caught up in writing First Bite and I can't write two stories at once. I anticipate posting the first chapter of Dandelion sometime in March or April, depending on how much creative energy I'm able to focus at that time. Until then,enjoy First Bite! I look forward to having fun with Dandelion when I get there.
This epilogue marks the completion of this 'verse. Thank you to Muriel for guiding me through it, and thank you all for sharing the journey.
I gripped your hand on the armrest between our seats. Your hand is still small and soft, unweathered by gardening or manual labor. Your wedding ring still sits proudly on your finger, seeming more stately and powerful against the newfound wrinkles and rising veins. It looks beautiful and queenly. Like you.
You couldn't sit still, your feet tapping and your eyes darting about the room, taking in the other people waiting. Ruby sat a few chairs down, her long black hair draping over her collared shirt. At thirty-two, she is the spitting image of you when you were her age. She looks so professional and grown up, but she is as spirited as ever. When she was old enough to realize that God isn't her bio-dad, she declared that Science is her dad, and that was all that mattered. These days, she jokes that she works for her dad. Her career as a biophysicist has been fast-paced, and she gets just as much joy out of it as you get out of your work as the executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Preventing Violence Towards Women.
Ruby was typing on her tablet as her feet mirrored your anxious dance. As she finished typing something, she sighed.
"Breaking more hearts, Roo?" I asked.
Her eyes flickered up to mine. "Maybe," she grumbled.
"Who?" I said, my smile growing smug.
"Some guy I met a conference," she said, trying to brush me off. "But it's the same story as all the others."
"Too serious too fast?" I asked.
Ruby scrunched up her nose and nodded.
In many ways, Ruby is any man's dream. Like you, people tend to notice when she walks in a room. She has no shortage of men lining up to date her. The physicists and engineers she works with drool over her when she walks into a meeting or conference, and once they realize how smart she is, they're usually too intimidated to approach her. But doctors and lawyers and other accomplished men line up for days to take her out to dinner.
But Ruby doesn't want to get married or have kids, and even though countless men have tried, none have succeeded in changing her mind. She's happy with her career and her friends. I love that she won't change to make other people happy. I feel like we did right by her. No matter where her life takes her, I know she'll be fine.
The door to the room opened and Caleb walked through. At thirty-four, he's tall and handsome, with a kind face and gentle presence. He is more of a man than I ever dreamed he would become.
As he pulled the surgical mask down to hang around his neck, his face was split in an overjoyed grin. "Eight pounds, three ounces. Healthy and alert."
"And Jenn?" you asked, your hands moving to sign Jenn's name.
Caleb said Good with his hands, his smile growing as he spoke and signed simultaneously, "She was amazing."
You let out a relieved breath as Ruby bounded out of her seat and hugged Caleb, her head only coming up to his shoulder as they embraced.
"I'm so happy for you," she said through her squeeze. "Jenn's going to be a great mom."
After graduating with a degree in Deaf Studies, Caleb started doing professional sign language interpretation. He's good with languages and can read people's bodies better than anyone I know, so sign language is perfect for him. He's too shy to do public interpretation at big lectures and events, but he does well with one-on-one work. He's good at it; his clients are loyal and pay him generously. He works especially well with people who suffered hearing loss in adulthood. His gentleness and compassion are a good fit for people who are angry and scared and frustrated by their hearing loss.
A few years into his career, Jenn hired Caleb to interpret for her while she attended graduate classes. Unlike most of Caleb's clients, Jenn was born deaf. After one class and a cup of coffee, Jenn fired him and asked him on a date. Sheepish but excited, Caleb agreed. Three years ago they got married and nine months ago they told us they were expecting.
Caleb and Jenn had done prenatal testing of their son's hearing and brain activity associated with hearing was detected. But you had researched how to care for deaf infants, just in case. You're prepared for just about anything.
As soon as Ruby released Caleb, he took a few steps towards us, arms open wide. You rushed into them as you said, "Congratulations, sweetie."
"He's got your eyes," he said, squeezing you. "There's no question he's a Lopez."
You gasped with happiness against him.
When Caleb was twelve, he came home from school one day and asked if Uncle Carlos had helped us make him. I panicked and didn't know what to say. You bit your lip, glancing at me before nodding. Caleb's reaction had been a simple: "That's nice." It never came up again until Jenn got pregnant and Caleb told you he was proud to be carrying on the family line.
Ruby had a happy, amused grin on her face as she watched you hug our son. "You better love this one a whole lot, Ma," she said. "Because there's no way I'm going to Abuelify you."
You smiled at her, head still pressed to Caleb's chest, but I saw a flicker of worry pass over your face, darting up into your hair that is now beautifully streaked with silver. Becoming an abuela reminded you of your mom. But you don't need to worry, Santana. You are nothing like your mother was.
When you finally let go of Caleb, I fell into his arms. He is sturdy and warm and gentle. Everything about him is comforting. As he squeezed me to his chest, I felt about to burst with pride. Our son is a dad now. He gets to experience every wonder he's given us. And he gets to experience them with a woman we all adore.
We were exhausted when we got home from the hospital that night. We had cried so many happy tears meeting baby Toby. He was as perfect as Caleb said he was; big, dark eyes that flickered as he tried to focus on everything around him, alert and responsive to our voices. As we got ready for bed, your eyes were tired, but they still shone.
As I drew back the covers to crawl into our bed, I saw you staring in the mirror, your fingers dancing along the edge of your eye. As I looked closer, I saw you were smoothing out the wrinkles that rested there. I don't notice your wrinkles often. When I look at you, I see someone who is timeless and brave and sometimes scared, but always beautiful. My memory of who you've been erases whatever lines time has drawn on your face.
Realizing that becoming a grandmother was making you feel old, I stepped into you, gentle and quiet like a fawn. Moving your hand away from your face, I kissed the crease and let my lips rest there for a moment. Then I tipped my chin down and smiled at you.
"You'll always be seventeen to me, Santana."