A/N: After a ten month hiatus for this story, I'm finally posting an epilogue. Some readers asked if I would include how life worked out for Callie and Arizona in this particular tale. I figured why not. This is what ended up in my head, drafted in April, before the season 9 finale. The story was first posted a year ago, when the couple's greatest challenge seemingly was Arizona's PTSD. She-who-must-not-be-named didn't exist in this fiction. Her arrival disrupted my momentum for the epilogue, so I shelved it for a bit. The time seemed right to finish with the current season's more positive approach. Plus, one of my New Year's resolution's is to tie up loose ends. Sorry for the long delay. Thank you in advance to those who decide to read.
Unwanted Visitor - Epilogue
Sofia pulled her car into the driveway of the familiar ranch. She was bone-weary, not having more than a few scattered hours of sleep over the past few days, but slumber was the ransom demanded if one wanted to be a doctor. Sofia completed her undergraduate degree in the east, at Princeton. When the opportunity to attend medical school at University of Washington came her way, she leaped at the chance, not even considering other programs. Plain and simple, Sofia missed her parents, her siblings, even the rain. Though she now lived almost three thousand miles closer, medical school placed so many demands on her, there was little time for visits or frequent phone calls. But even at twenty-five years old, knowing that home was nearby was almost as good as nestling with her beloved childhood blanket.
As she blissfully drove through her old neighborhood, Sofia relished the thought of spending the night in the cozy quietude of her house, though she hadn't really lived there since she graduated high school. Her childhood bedroom patiently waited for her random visits, like a long-time chum, the two seamlessly picking up where they left off. She pulled the trusty, old BMW into the driveway, craving a few hours of tranquility in the comfort of the place called home.
It would be the lull before the storm so to speak; Sofia knew she would be arriving to an empty house. With the May 1st college decision day fast approaching, her mothers planned a holiday that included side-trips, revisiting the two schools at the top of her brothers' list during April school vacation. They would be driving, of course, down the west coast - eighteen hours each way! Familiar chaos was sure to break out the next day, once the family returned, and she would revel in that homespun ruckus as well. It would be the typical aftermath of too many hours and personalities caged up in one vehicle for just too long.
The boys were trying to decide between Stanford and UCLA. Having spent their entire life in tandem, neither boy saw the benefit in dividing the dynamic duo, despite well-meaning suggestions to consider separate universities. The two held firm with their decision to stick together through college, before career goals would surely separate them. It was hard to fathom her brothers were actually seniors in high school. The itinerary was planned so the family would ultimately arrive at her grandparents' house and after a few days, they would make the lengthy return back to Seattle.
Though sad not to see her grandparents, Sofia was glad not to be in that car. The boys' unending shenanigans would surely grate on the nerves of both mothers. She could depend on fifteen year old Anna to whine for the duration. In Sofia's eyes and she was certain her brothers would agree, Anna was spoiled. Her mothers had gotten soft in their old age.
Sofia slung her stuffed laundry duffel over her shoulder as she trudged her way up the path to the house. Unlocking the front door, she walked in. Her thoughts were jarred by classical music playing in the background. "Hello? Anyone here?" she hesitantly called out.
Following the symphonic trail, Sofia nervously sought out the source in the family room. She was taken aback to see her mother sprawled on the couch, lost in a book, "Mom?"
Hearing a voice, Callie's head shot up from the page before her. "Sof!" she exclaimed with surprise as she hopped up, enveloping her daughter into a warm embrace. "I didn't expect you until tomorrow."
"I finished early, I was afraid once I lay down, I might sleep for days. I'm pooped! At least here I could multitask: sleep and do my laundry, simultaneously. I don't even have one pair of clean underwear left," the eldest Robbins-Torres daughter lamented.
Sofia remained perplexed. "Uh, why are you here? Aren't you supposed to be on the all-in-one-big-college-selection-family-vacation road trip?" Sofia apprehensively questioned.
Callie calmly smiled, "I was. But Anna, it seems, made some poor academic choices. The two of us are here, playing catch-up, while Mama and the boys are checking out the colleges, and visiting Grandma and Gramps."
Sofia looked as if she had seen a ghost; this was déjà vu, "Mom, what are you saying? Is everything okay, with Mama I mean? You need to be honest with me, is everything alright?" Sofia stared intently at her mother as tears pooled in her tired eyes.
It dawned on Callie, partway through Sofia's panic attack, that it was ten years ago Sofia, too, missed the family's April vacation. "Hey, it's okay," Callie assured her daughter as she pulled her tight. "Relax Sofia, Mama is fine. She's good, really good."
Pulling back, Sofia warily eyeballed her mother, "You would tell me, right? If there was a problem, you would let me know?"
"Sofia, that's still the deal. We made a promise to all you kids during counseling years ago that there would be no more secrets and honesty would be our only policy. That's still the policy. It always will be. Anna's distraction is a senior lacrosse player," Callie scoffed.
A huge grin spread across Sofia's face, "Are you kidding me? She's letting her love life mess with her grades? Where is she?"
"In her room, finishing a report," Callie smirked, knowing Sofia's wrath was much more effective than either hers or Arizona's.
Callie inhaled a deep breath as she watched her eldest daughter bound down the hall, and released it slowly. Ten years ago they were at a crossroad. At the time, Callie wondered if her marriage would survive and also feared her loving, close-knit family may just implode.
She stared at the dozen or so pictures presently adorning the sideboard. Twenty years ago it was literally wiped cleaned, an attempt by Arizona to eradicate memories that were too hard for her to manage, to remember. Ten years ago, only four pictures dared to be displayed, one of each child.
Callie remembered coming home late from work seven years back. As she shut off the lights in the house, her eye caught a gold luster. An unfamiliar frame sat daringly next to the foursome. The photo was taken at Sofia's high school graduation; both sets of grandparents, the four children, Arizona and herself were captured in the photo. Prior to that day, the extended family had never been altogether. Up to that point, awkward family dynamics, which bordered on strained, made family gatherings ill-advised. Thank goodness times changed. The picture was taken at Sofia's insistence; no one would deny the beloved teen her wish.
Callie vividly remembered the conversation that night with Arizona as the two prepared for bed. "Hey, I noticed a new picture on the credenza," she gingerly remarked to Arizona.
Arizona eagerly responded, "Do you like it? I had it made into an 8x10 and framed it. You don't think the gold frame is too much, do you?"
Without even waiting for a response, Arizona's loquaciousness continued. "Sofia was adamant about having a family picture taken. Both of your parents actually came. Your mother may even have had fun, not that she would give us the satisfaction of admitting it."
Pausing a moment, Arizona pondered the memory before continuing her chatter. "Though, your mother still doesn't get us. After all these years she can't deny we love each other, and she loves the kids in her own, unique way, especially Anna. Anna has her wrapped around her little finger. She loves you, of course. She may even have developed a soft spot for me. Boy, times have changed with that. But she'll just never be able to wrap her head around two women being married. I think it was the first time we were all together. Anyhow, I noticed Sofia had the photo as a screensaver on her laptop. I think Sofia was afraid of what I would think or do if she displayed it. I don't want the kids to think memories are bad, that I'm going to flip out again. When I looked around, I realized that we don't have any pictures out, just one from our wedding and the school photos. I thought this one would be a good start."
Callie remembered grinning at the rambling by her wife, the normally staid, no-nonsense woman, who every now and then succumbed to babble.
Arizona momentarily considered her own words before adding, "I've been pretty good, don't you think?"
Callie smiled as Arizona finally completed her spiel. "You've been great. Thank you, I love that picture too," she answered, before pulling Arizona into a heartfelt hug.
Over the last seven years among the pictures added to the collection were: Sofia's college graduation, Callie accepting her Harper-Avery award, the photo of Mark and Arizona dancing at the wedding, the boys' Baseball State Championship team photo from last spring, and Anna's award winning piano performance at the districts last month. Callie knew in a few months there would be new additions, Carlos' and Danny's high school graduation photos and another, representing a special milestone. The snapshot that was sure to be taken of her and Arizona at their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary celebration.
There was one more photo, ruggedly resting on Arizona's dresser, the one of Arizona, Tim and Nick as youngsters. The glass in the frame remained cracked; Arizona refused to get it replaced. She said it was a keepsake of her past, a bit damaged, but worthy of remembering. The fissure in the glass was her reminder that some wounds never fully heal, like her leg. It was telling her that she could still live her life, happily. What was inside the frame was what mattered most, not the façade. Arizona never wanted to forget how bad it got, or how far she had come, so the broken glass stayed put.
While Callie could confidently say that her love for Arizona never waned, she did worry that her marriage may not make it. Some days, even weeks were not easy, but in November they would renew their vows, celebrate with family and friends, and allow themselves some alone-time.
Cristina agreed to stay at the house while they were gone. Though she remained contently single, pouring her time and energy into cutting-edge heart procedures at Grey-Sloan, Cristina had no qualms watching over the Robbins-Torres brood on occasion. Their beloved Mrs. Gonzales had retired and moved away, to a warmer climate. Bailey was always an option, but since Tuck made her a grandmother, Bailey's free time was spent doting on her grandchildren. Sofia's schoolgirl crush, Alex Karev, was an impractical consideration as he remained the consummate bachelor. Now head of his own Pediatric Department in Portland, it was a moot point anyway.
Callie could easily envision, in Anna's naïveté, a full blown party materializing under their roof, during their absence. Family history and lingering fears suggested it best for the mothers to err on the side of caution. Anna griped about being much too old for a babysitter, but begrudgingly accepted it, knowing the decision was non-negotiable and Aunt Cristina was actually quite fun.
Where had not yet been decided, Arizona struggled with flying and avoided it at all costs. There was no way Callie intended on triggering any ill memories to start their second honeymoon. She had already survived hell, and she would do whatever it took to avoid returning to it. In all likelihood, a romantic getaway along the Pacific Coast would be the best, a bit of a drive, but it did not matter. The couple survived such strife and they deserved to celebrate; Callie savored the idea of doing just that.
As she pleasantly loitered on memory lane, the giggles of her two daughters jostled her from her thoughts. "Mom, how grounded is Anna?" Sofia asked.
Ambivalent, Callie answered, "I'm not following you."
"Can I take her to get an ice cream? Maybe impart some words of wisdom as the big sister, so it won't be exactly be all 'fun'," Sofia negotiated.
Raising her eyebrows at the request, Callie earnestly counseled, "I think that's a good idea. But not too long, when was the last time you slept? I remember med school and fatigue is a constant."
"Ahh, it's been a while, we'll be quick. Thanks Mom," Sofia happily responded.
Anna started immediately whining as they left, "You are so the favorite, Mom has not let me out of the house all week, and Mama even took my cell phone."
Sofia just shook her head, "Been there, done that."
Baffled, Anna questioned, "Really? I thought you were Miss Goody Twoshoes."
Sofia smirked and shook her head, "So, tell me about this lacrosse player…."
Callie chuckled as the two girls walked out the front door. Both girls were beautiful. Sofia had olive skin, black hair and brown eyes, very Mediterranean features. While she looked like Callie, she was all Arizona, studious, methodical and driven. Sofia wanted to specialize in pediatric cardiology – a combination of Cristina's influence and Arizona's. Callie had a wonderful relationship with all her children, but she knew Arizona and Sofia shared a unique bond; it had always been there. Ten years ago, it only strengthened. Arizona could read Sofia like a book.
Anna was a whole different child. Anna was taller than Sofia, fair skinned, blue-eyed, and sported a mane of long, blond, wavy locks. Unlike both her mothers or her sister, Anna was not a student, per se. Premed was not in her future. Fashion design, arts or music perhaps, but Anna was not destined to be a doctor, engineer, scientist or any career that relied greatly on book smarts and endless hours of study. Anna was a hands-on learner, incredibly accepting of all, and no one was kept in the dark about her feelings. She was more like Callie personality-wise, her good days and her bad days clearly radiated from her. Sofia, with her dark, exotic features, would be called striking, Anna would be considered glamorous. In her looks, dress and mannerisms, she made a bold statement. While both mothers were extremely proud of Anna's accomplishments, her unorthodox approach to life had a dizzying effect on Arizona. Callie seemed to navigate the waters with Anna with less swells.
The girls, giddy with excitement at seeing each other, chatted away as they devoured their ice cream cones, covered in chocolate sprinkles. The obnoxious little sister had grown to be a close friend to her elder sister; both shared many intimate particulars of each of their lives with the other, though Anna was cautious. She knew that Sofia was still the big sister who not hesitate to call her on things or even tell their mothers if the situation warranted.
Once Anna explained the details regarding her distracting love life, Sofia timidly broached another subject as they drove home that had consumed her with worry since her arrival. "Anna, how's Mama doing?" she fearfully inquired.
Anna immediately spewed her bottled frustration, "She's a pain in the ass! She set up a meeting at school with my teachers and Mr. Jones. Tells me I can't go away this week, takes away my cell phone and the internet. This is the first time I have been out of the house all week. Mom is so much softer, but she always backs Mama."
Pausing a moment, Anna conceded, "Don't tell either of them, cause I'll deny it, but it's actually been nice spending the time alone with Mom this week, not having to share her. She's pretty chill as moms go."
Sofia laughed, "For the record, when I got grounded, Mama was really tough. She did all that plus she grounded me for two weeks. Despite that, staying back with her was one of my best times with her. But, that's not exactly what I was asking."
The younger sister's demeanor suddenly changed, her maturity rising to the occasion, "I know what you are asking."
Hesitating a moment, blue eyes taking on a deeper hue, the youngest Robbins-Torres child explained. "She still gets the nightmares; maybe once a month, I don't think she's had a night terror in a while. If she loses a patient or if it's Uncle Tim's birthday or something, she gets really uptight and she's off for a bit. But Mom can talk her through it, sometimes she just needs to see the counselor. But we talk about it; either Mom or Mama let us know what's going on so we can just give Mama her space. It's okay Sof, she's been good for a long time," Anna soberly shared.
Sofia nodded, relieved that her Mama was still able to keep everything together, "How about Mom and Mama, are they good, together?"
Anna rolled her eyes, "It's gross; you'd think they would be too old for that stuff. Remember, my room is right across the hall. You should hear Mama drop the F-bomb. And Mom, jeez, who knew there were so many ways to say 'Arizona'," Anna, in a husky voice, mimicked her Mom.
Both girls giggled at the befitting impersonation. There was little left to the imagination as to what was happening behind the closed bedroom door. They were both secretly ecstatic that their parents' relationship flourished, while many of their friends' parents had divorced or struggled with strained marriages. It was undeniable; their mothers were not shy when it came to affection.
Sofia remembered when her parents' marriage was falling apart. Her Mama had anxiously moved home, her Mom moved into the guest room. For the next few months everyone walked on eggshells, there was yelling and crying, so many tears. Just about every night there was a family dinner; more often than not, it included a side dish of indigestion. Her Mom insisted her Mama join them for dinner. So many nights her Mama just stoically sat there, and said nothing. It took a while, but slowly she started paying attention, smiling at a comment, asking a question. One day, her Mama was just part of the banter.
As for family counseling, it was brutal at first. Everyone pointing fingers, tears being shed left and right, and at one point, each had been called on the carpet for something. It wasn't the intention of the family session. It was just so many frustrations and emotions needed to be exorcised, and they just let loose. In time, her parents went from sitting in separate chairs, to sitting next to each other, holding hands, and displaying enough PDA that her brothers were embarrassed. Her Mom moved back into the master bedroom around then. Once in a while, they needed their space, but her mothers had magnetic attraction, one could not resist the other.
Sofia managed to grab a nap while Callie and Anna made dinner. Anna was an excellent chef; Callie loved cooking with her youngest daughter. Anna was adventurous with the ingredients and always willing to experiment with a new recipe. This past week there was lots of time for experimentation. The two shared the best conversations in the kitchen.
After a sumptuous meal, Callie sent her girls off to find a movie. She would join them after she did the dishes. The two offered to help, but Callie declined, wanting her daughters to spend as much quality time together during their brief reunion. Callie popped headphones into her ears, simultaneously dancing and singing while she cleaned.
As she was scrubbing her last pot, two muscular arms suddenly wrapped around her, lifting her off the ground and exuberantly twirling her around, jolting her from musical bliss. Once Callie got her bearings and realized whose body the arms were attached to, she yelled, "Carlos, put me down this minute. Carlos, I'm not kidding!"
Danny was of no help. "But Mom, we missed you," he appealed, as he walked into the kitchen and hugged his mother, lifting her from the ground as well.
Arizona trailed behind them, "Believe me Calliope; they have been torturing me all week."
"Like this," Danny demonstrated as he picked up his Mama and spun her around, a move that resembled some improv dance step.
"Daniel Robbins-Torres, you put me down this minute!...Danny, I mean it," Arizona yelped.
By this time, Sofia and Anna had entered the kitchen to see what the commotion was all about.
"You're back!" the girls squealed with excitement, as they ran to greet their brothers and mother.
"We missed you, and wanted to surprise you, so we drove straight through," Carlos said, giving his Mom another bear hug.
Arizona, Carlos and Danny were not due until tomorrow, but opted to return early, unannounced. Plenty of hugs and kisses were exchanged between the family members. The genuine love and affection among the siblings and parents was clear. No one but Callie noticed, but Arizona was misty eyed at the sight.
Arizona took the road trip with the boys, which ended in LA, at her parents' house. UCLA was one of the schools at the top of the boys list, along with Stanford. Arizona proposed that she be the one to take the trip, she thought it would be a good idea for her to check on her aging parents. But Callie knew the truth was that their boys were leaning towards Stanford as their first choice, and Arizona wanted to see firsthand what the drive was like.
Callie smiled internally that the woman who never even planned on children was already suffering from empty nest syndrome.
Finally, it was her turn to hug her wife. "Are you hungry, we have some great leftovers?" Callie asked.
"Ugg, I'm full. I've missed yours and Anna's cooking. Those two could live off McDonald's; we must have stopped every two hours for food. I don't care if I ever see another doughnut or Happy Meal again," Arizona ranted. "I'm sore and achy, too much time in the car. We drove straight through from LA; we all wanted to just get home."
Callie thoughtfully responded, "I'm going to start a bath for you. Finish catching up with the girls." Callie turned around and added as she walked down the hall, "Anna's been great, by the way."
Arizona looped one arm through each girl's arm, and was quickly brought up to speed on their lives.
Callie filled the luxurious spa tub with the lavender bubble bath that she knew Arizona liked. Soon, she heard her wife enter their bedroom.
Callie found Arizona sitting on the bed, about to disconnect her leg from the socket. "Let me help you with that," Callie offered, as she knelt down to remove Arizona's prosthesis.
Callie kneaded the tight muscles on her wife's residual limb. "This must be uncomfortable. These muscles are so knotted."
Arizona nodded in agreement, "I'm sore, but it was worth it. We had a great trip. I think the boys are set to go with Stanford," Arizona proudly told Callie. "And my parents are doing okay. I never realized how old they are getting. But they're good, though we'll need to keep an eye on them."
Arizona paused a moment, "I just gave Anna her cell phone back. Sofia said we are too easy on her. Do you think we're too easy?"
"Sofia's right, we're pushovers these days. Anna is pretty hard to resist, even my mother spoils her rotten. Come on, your bath is ready," Callie said as she helped Arizona up, handing her the crutches.
Arizona slunk into the warm bath. "Callie, this is wonderful, but you forgot one thing," Arizona pouted.
Callie, confused, tried to think what she forgot. Water and bubbles, what else do you need for a bubble bath?
Arizona found Callie's perplexed expression cute, "You! You forgot you," Arizona playfully answered.
"Come on. Join me, while the water is hot," Arizona encouraged.
Callie smiled, and quickly undressed. She stepped in front of Arizona, lowering herself and leaned back. The two women sat quietly for a time, soaking in their soulful affinity, as the whirlpool jets gently caressed their bodies.
After a while, Arizona pulled her arms tighter around Callie, "What's wrong, Calliope?"
"Nothing," Callie replied, attempting to deflect the question.
Arizona knowingly responded, "I know this body Calliope, and this body is telling me something is bothering you." Arizona deftly massaged Callie's neck and shoulders. "Callie, please tell me," Arizona insisted.
Callie had every intention of telling Arizona about her earlier conversation with Sofia, but preferred not to bombard her with it just as Arizona returned. Relief washed over Callie that Arizona sensed an issue. She relaxed and leaned back, resting the back of her head on Arizona's shoulder.
"Well, when Sofia came in today, she panicked when she saw that Anna and I didn't go on the trip. Plans changed so quick, I never thought to tell her we were staying back. I explained it was because Anna was behind in school. Sofia immediately worried it was because, well, you know."
"Callie, I'm good, you know that. We're good, aren't we?" Arizona nervously asked.
"I know that, and we're great. Arizona, I couldn't be happier." Callie pulled Arizona's arms tighter around her. "It just made me remember stuff I haven't thought of for a long time. There was a time I never thought we would be sitting here, like this, together…...naked, in a tub," Callie added, only half in jest, to lighten the mood.
Arizona mischievously grinned, then her tone turned serious, "I never knew how badly off I was until I needed to fix it, until you forced me to choose whether or not I wanted you and our children in my life. Oh Callie, I can't believe I was ever at that point. I get weepy just thinking about the boys leaving in the fall. Sofia is only here for a couple days, you know I'll probably be crying when she goes too. I can't imagine how hard that was for you to have a wife who was anything but supportive. I guess we should thank Sofia for almost failing sophomore year. That week was so hard; she told me she hated me, and a few other choice words."
This time Arizona pulled Callie in tighter and continued, "I wanted to run and hide so many times, but you said if I left again we were done. I knew you were serious, you wouldn't have changed your mind."
Callie shuddered, "I was serious and there was no turning back. Remember the night or morning more like it, when you finally showed up at 1:00am? I stayed up waiting for you. I pounced the minute you walked through the door, you missed the boys' game, dinner and you never called. It was the day you found out Bert died. I was so angry at you, not because you came home so late or didn't call, I was mostly angry because I thought I was going to have follow through with my ultimatum. And we'd be done, over." A few reluctant tears managed to escape down Callie's cheeks as she was forced to recall that night.
"I should have told you, but before I could grasp he was dead, another person so special to me was gone. Even though it was his time to go, I was shutting down. After aimlessly driving around, I remembered what you said to me. The fear of being alone, without you or the kids, was enough to shake me from my stupor. I came home, and took your wrath. Which, by the way, I know was well deserved.
Callie smiled at Arizona's revelation, "We've plodded through, haven't we?"
"We have; some days are still so hard. Certain days of birth, days of death and even days of crashes weigh me down so much. I could not have done it without you; you worked so hard for us. You still do. I think that is how Anna became such a great cook, all that healthy eating you insisted on. You were pretty creative," Arizona grinned as she spoke.
Callie smirked, "You didn't think I would leave your recovering to donuts and coffee, did you? Your internal demons are going to haunt us every now and then, but we'll just beat them down each time. Right?"
Arizona nodded as she kissed Callie's shoulder. "I've missed you. Are you ready for bed?" Arizona evasively asked
Callie's sultry smile was the only answer she needed.
A couple hours later, Callie found sleep elusive; she was restless. Unsurprisingly, after the excitement of the trip, exhausting drive and ensuing homecoming reception, Arizona was in a sound slumber.
Needing a cold glass of water, Callie walked into the kitchen, pausing at the entrance when she realized she was not the only one awake. Carlos and Danny were sitting at the breakfast bar, deep in conversation, speaking in hushed tones.
"Hey," Callie greeted the two, letting her presence be known. Mother's intuition told her their words were not meant for her ears. The conversation stopped abruptly when they realized she was there.
"You two should be in bed," she admonished. "Do you know what time it is?" she asked as she took a glass from the cabinet.
"We were just going, Mom," Danny parried.
"It looked like you were having a serious discussion, anything wrong?" Callie probed.
Her twins guiltily looked at each other, "Uhmm, well, nothing is wrong," Danny stuttered.
"That means something is definitely wrong. Explain. Please," she firmly demanded.
Carlos peered at Danny and shook his head. Danny whispered not so quietly, "Carlos, we've got to tell them eventually."
"Tell me what," Callie asked nervously.
Carlos could not even look Callie in the eye, "It's about school, college." Staring at his size 11, orange Nike's, he gulped a big breath before continuing, "We want to go to UW in the fall."
"Ahh...Mama told me you both decided on Stanford. What changed? Does Mama know you were even considering this?" Callie sternly questioned.
"No, we didn't tell her yet," Danny sheepishly confessed, raising his eyes to meet his mother's glare.
"Why the change, spill it?" Callie crossly insisted.
The boys looked at each other, each hoping the other would disclose the answer.
Carlos finally caved, "Maybe Stanford is too far away. What if you need us?"
Callie realized what was happening. The boys were afraid that Arizona might relapse, "This is about Mama, you're worrying about leaving her." Both boys nodded, they loved their mothers too much to see either one hurt.
"Look, I hear what you are saying and it is very gallant of you, but think about the message you are sending. How is Mama going to feel if you are afraid to leave her to live your lives, or follow your dreams? How will she feel about herself if you think she is not strong enough to do this? Consider what Mama has survived. She is stronger than all of us." Callie's rant left her sons silent and downtrodden, but they had opened up this can of worms and she was not about to stop until the can was empty.
Callie thoughtfully continued, calmly pointing out, "It's not just the adversity she overcame. Think what she taught you, like how to drive a car. You begged her to teach you after only fifteen minutes in the car with me; the only thing you learned in the car with me was a few new words in Spanish. She even tried to play catcher when you broke your arm, Danny, so Carlos could practice pitching. When I didn't want a skateboard in this house, she convinced me to give in because it was important to you two. She took chances with you, now you have to do the same for her. I know it was hard when Sofia left for Princeton, but we got through it. I get it, it won't be easy. But, the challenging moments are rare. Come on guys. You know Mama is loving, compassionate, playful, funny, even spontaneous. Hey, we're going to miss you two big goofs but we're excited to watch you live your dreams, too. We'll call and Skype. We have vacations, and holidays. Anna's here for a more couple years. She keeps us on our toes."
Callie shook her head in annoyed amusement as she filled the glass with cold water at the kitchen sink. "Go to bed, I think the lack of sleep is causing your brains to malfunction."
Turning around to gaze at her two sons, she brazenly commented, "You know, Mama and I had a pretty good time together before we had any of you. I think we can figure it out."
"TMI," Danny quipped.
She winked and left the kitchen, humored by the embarrassed faces of her boys.
Callie shook her head in disbelief, still flustered at her sons' thought process as she soundlessly entered her bedroom.
Suddenly, the darkness spoke to her, "Do the kids think I am that fragile?"
Obviously, Arizona overheard at least part of the conversation. Arizona switched on the light beside her bedside, clearly wanting to see Callie's reaction as well as listen to her answer.
Cringing at the fact that Arizona was now privy to the boys' worries, Callie knew there would be no peaceful sleep for either one until the subject was addressed. She had no choice but respond, "They love you, Arizona. They want to keep you safe, the way you have always kept them safe. They're just a bit overzealous." Her voice was sincere and tender as she crawled back into bed beside Arizona.
Still ruffled, Arizona anxiously asked, "You don't think I am going to fall apart when they leave, do you?"
"Ohh, I totally think you are going to fall apart. But, so am I. I don't think you are going to back to that dark place. Arizona, we both know PTSD doesn't just disappear. Remember, it's our unwanted visitor. We'll just make sure it doesn't overstay. We'll get through it, together. We know what to do and most importantly, we have each other."
Calmness took over at hearing Callie's faith in not just her, but in them. Arizona smiled she as she shutoff the light, "Over twenty-five years, I think I love you more today than I did then, if that is even possible."
Callie pulled her wife in closer, "It's very possible."
Callie replied, "Hmmm."
"Playful and spontaneous, huh?" Arizona teased suggestively.
The house stayed dormant until late Sunday morning, between the long trip, excessive homework, teenage metabolisms and the late night, no one stirred until mid-morning.
Carlos finally dragged his exhausted body to the kitchen late morning. He took one look at the healthy, but dreary cereal selection and apprised his mother, who was leisurely reading the Sunday paper at the table, "When I go to college, I'm eating Cocoa Puffs every day."
Callie cocked her head and replied, "If the only thing I need to worry about you consuming in college is Cocoa Puffs, I'll be more than happy."
"Mom, come on. I'm gonna be good. Danny will make sure I behave," Carlos retorted.
Danny, who had just plopped his sleepy body down at the table, impishly challenged, "But then, who's going to make sure I behave?"
Arizona entered the kitchen at the tail end of the conversation, and inquired, "Who's not behaving?"
"Mom's not sure we're gonna be good boys in the fall," Carlos explained.
"Well, that's easily remedied. Since I hear you've decided on UW for the fall, I'll make sure you behave. You two can just live at home, and commute. I can keep you both safe and sound," Arizona deadpanned.
"Mom, you told her!" Danny barked accusingly.
Arizona piped in, "Mom never said a word, she didn't need to."
Her head turning to watch the dialogue unfold, as if she was observing a tennis match, an astonished Callie stifled her grin.
The tension in the room was unmistakable as Sofia and Anna walked in the back door from a mid-morning run. "What did Mom never say?" Sofia nervously questioned.
Neither boy dared to speak, and anxiously eyeballed each other.
"What did you dumbasses do now?" Anna angrily blamed her brothers. "Ya' know, the house was really peaceful until you two came back."
Arizona, eyebrows furrowed, sternly interjected, "Anna, that's enough."
All four know that 'look'. Rarely did Arizona get upset with her children, but when she did, she was a force not to be reckoned with. It was enough to make the two boys cower. No one wanted to be on the receiving end of their Mama's wrath.
Unable to take Arizona's glare any longer, Carlos finally spoke, "Well, Danny and I were thinking of just going to UW instead of Stanford."
Flabbergasted, Sofia incredulously asked, "You're turning down Stanford because….? And I can't wait to hear your lame reasoning."
Shamefaced, Danny responded, "We were thinking it might be better to be closer to home."
Arizona smirked as she watched her children squirm, "I thought that Danny and Carlos should just live at home, then we can all keep an eye on each other."
After a long, uncomfortable pause, she added, "Look you two, I overheard the conversation last night, which, by the way, you should have had with Mom and me, together and not behind my back. Remember our family rule on communication?"
Softening her gaze, Arizona tenderly continued, "Listen, I can't guarantee that the next four years will be smooth sailing for me, any more than you two can guarantee that your next four years will be trouble-free either. But, we can't be afraid to live. Things will happen, when they do, we will just need to pick up the pieces and move on. We can hope that the bumps are small, but if they aren't, we talk and work through it. Right?"
Callie stood, walked over to Arizona and playfully added, "I think I can handle Mama."
Standing behind Arizona, Callie wrapped her arms around her and whispered something in her wife's ear, which made Arizona blush.
Anna rolled her eyes, looked at Sofia, and muttered, "See, I told you. I'm sleeping in your room tonight." Chuckling, Sofia merely nodded.
Carlos finally conceded, "We get it." Punching Danny in the arm, "Right?" he asked.
"Ow! Yes. Fine. Stanford it is," Danny scowled.
"I was going to offer to make some omelets, but with that egg on your faces I thought you might have already had your fill?" Callie teased, which left everyone laughing and the tension dissipated.
Callie and Arizona walked in from the driveway, arm in arm, after seeing Sofia off. She needed to return to campus Monday morning. Anna and the boys had left a bit earlier, since they needed to be at school by 7:30am.
It was vintage Monday morning chaos with all six of them up and about. Anna frantically scrambling to locate her books and collect the plethora of assignments scattered about her room that needed to turned in before school began. Danny's and Carlos' horseplay resulted in spilled milk, a broken glass and aggravated mothers. Sofia, quietly sitting on the sidelines, watched the brouhaha unfold.
Both women planned a delayed start of their workday, wanting to wait until all their children left the house that morning. The family dynamics of the morning left them emotionally exhausted before 8:00am, but also overjoyed that everyone had been home, together.
Waiting on a fresh pot of coffee to brew, which was needed to jump-start a second wind, Arizona asked as she twisted her gold bracelet around and around on her wrist, "Callie?"
"Hmm?" Callie distractedly responded. She was sitting at the kitchen bar, scanning through her emails.
"I still can't believe I'm lucky enough to be sitting here, with you, twenty-five years married, sending two more kids off to college," Arizona shared with trepidation.
Still engrossed by her email, Callie, seemingly inattentive, replied, "I can."
"I mean, I don't know..." Arizona's words stumbled from her mouth as her voice trailed off.
Hearing the unsteadiness in her wife's tone, Callie looked up and tenderly observed, "Your comments are great for my ego. I'm feeling really fortunate, too. But I'm certain that is not what is really concerning you. Arizona, what is going through your beautiful head right now?" Arizona's introspective nature tended to show itself every now and then. Callie had learned, over the years, it was best to cut to chase.
Arizona pondered Callie's question a moment before replying. "I guess what I can't believe is you never gave up on me, on us," Arizona shared aloud.
Callie closed her iPad and placed it on the breakfast bar. Giving Arizona her undivided attention, Callie said, "Honestly, there were times I didn't we would get here either. We came close to not making it. It seemed life was rooting for us to fail, with all the curve balls. But, we mucked through those sticky times; together we figured it out. The bad times have made the good times even more special. Even today's breakfast, with the mess and confusion, was pretty awesome."
Seeing Arizona continuing to brood, Callie recognized that her wife was most likely distracted by the melancholy pangs of distant and not so distant memories, which resurfaced over the weekend.
Callie stood and walked over to her, placing both hands on Arizona's shoulders. Her brown eyes were a beacon of love and sincerity; they intently gazed into the blue before her. "I think what you are trying to ask me, in a roundabout way, is if I have any regrets?"
Glassy blue eyes nervously nodded back.
With a confident smile, Callie easily answered, "I have none. Trust me. I love you. And I know you love me." Callie's face glowed with happiness as those last words left her mouth: 'I know you love me'. Callie understood hearing 'I love you' was one thing, they were indeed three remarkable words. But, feeling the passion, strength and certainty of your partner's love, knowing unequivocally that you are truly loved, without hesitation and boundaries, made that love, Arizona's love for her, infinitely incredible.
Callie continued with conviction, "I wouldn't change a thing, because changing it means I wouldn't be right here, right now. What we have at this moment is perfect. If we needed to go through all that crap to get to here, so be it. I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be. Where I want to be. With the person I am meant to be with. I'm certain you agree."
Callie's words served as a booster shot of reassurance for Arizona and she beamed hearing Callie speak them. Wrapping her arms around Callie's waist, Arizona's eyes glowed with unadulterated love and passion as she stared, mesmerized by her wife and with certainty answered, "I do."