Crossroads

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Epilogue

Noah

I know many people are surprised by the way their lives turn out, about the happiness they’re finally able to experience, about the love they’re allowed to share... I’m not one of those people.

When I met my wife, all those years ago, I just knew. I knew my life would be spectacular, as long as she’s in it. The past proved just that, too.

And the years showed that the love I feel for my wife only got stronger and stronger the more our family grew. She gave me six children. Most of which are idiots in their own way, granted, but still. They’re our children, our blood, our family.

I promised to care for them for the rest of my life, promised to protect them from all the misfortunes life may have in store for them, from all the storms they could ever face. I wanted to be their rock, wanted to be the one they could rely on, wanted to give them just what they needed to experience that same happiness I did, find the same love I found.

When Damon died... It changed things. And I knew I had to step up, had to protect my family from any further pain. I tried my best, I really did. I held my wife when she cried herself to sleep for weeks, embraced my daughter when she hid in the bathroom so no one saw how she sobbed... I gave them my all, and yet I couldn’t protect Mia from the heartbreak she experienced.

I’m still furious, utterly livid, at the things that happened. I still feel betrayed by the fact that she didn’t tell us about Lincoln when they met two years ago. It felt like she didn’t trust us, to be honest. I understand now that that’s not the case, and still, I can’t help but feel hurt.

We’ve always had a structure in this family that solidified on its own: The boys were drawn to their mother, all five of them, while I got my princess. She always relied on me, always came to me whenever she needed help or just someone to talk to. And I felt proud of that, too.

Mia is a remarkable woman. She is strong as a mountain, stronger than her brothers, even. But she also has that compassion, the one her mother carries around with pride. She wants to help people, wants to make this world a better place... But she also wants to protect herself from it by being as strong as she can be.

And I absolutely understand that.

“I think he’s scared of me.” My mother’s voice sends me out of my thoughts, and I see how she looks at Lincoln and Mia with a grin on her face. They’re out in the garden, setting up the barbecue for Mia’s twenty-fourth birthday. It’s hard not to notice how happy they are, how good they are for each other.

“He probably is,” I retort with a laugh, knowing just how strong my mother can come off. My parents just finished their six-month-long trip to Canada, which I still think is absolutely ridiculous. These people are over seventy years old and still ride their motorcycles into different continents to camp in the woods.

I mean, who does that?

“Well, he’s still here, so that counts for something,” Pa says, taking a seat on the bench next to the terrace door.

“Oh, I don’t think he’ll go anywhere. Just look at them,” my lovely wife says, wrapping her arm around my waist as she nods back to the barbecue. Mia taps Lincoln’s nose, leaving a black charcoal spot on his skin, and they both stand still for a short moment. Only seconds later she squeals and runs away from him, her laughter echoing around the garden as he chases her to the back of the house, where they disappear from our view.

God, I don’t even remember the last time my daughter squealed...

“Yeah, he’ll stay,” Ma says again, shaking her head with a laugh.

And I have to admit, I think she’s right. I was wary of Lincoln, probably always will be to an extent. He’s a good man, and I’d even consider him a friend by now, but first and foremost he’ll be the man living with my daughter. Mia’s wellbeing will always be my priority.

Hazel was proud as hell when Mia asked Lincoln to move in a few months ago, and obviously, he happily agreed. They found an apartment close to our home, which is why they spend even more time at our place now, and I have to say I’m glad to see her regularly now, apart from the Friday family dinners. She’s working hard to become the therapist she wants to be, but she also learned to take it slow, to enjoy time with her friends and family.

“They’re good together, Noah. You should stop worrying,” my wife says, and I suddenly realize that we’re all alone outside, the others having moved into the house to prepare the last things before the rest of our guests arrive.

I look at her, take in those emerald green eyes that always hold so much love for me and this family, and I can’t help but pull her closer, a smirk tugging on her lips as she wraps her arms around my neck. “I know they are. It’s just... Hard to understand she’s gone now, you know?”

“She’s not gone, though. She’s here now more often than she was before,” she retorts in her soft voice, combing her fingers through my hair. The movement makes me close my eyes, and I just enjoy this moment, the minutes of peace before our world turns chaotic and loud again as soon as we’re not alone anymore.

“Do you think it’s because of him?”

Hazel studies me with a smile, obviously thinking of her answer before she says, “Maybe. She said he is in contact with his grandparents again, but I can’t even imagine what it must be like, to see our football team of a family while he has only a few people left in his own... Then again, maybe she’s just here so often because she wants to be. You know how tough it was for her when Dad died. Maybe Lincoln just gives her the strength to admit that she wants to be here to find comfort.”

And this, ladies and gentleman... Is my wife.

Always spot-on, always considering everyone’s feelings, always knowing just which angle to take, with a gentleness that would bring any man to his knees.

Even after almost thirty years of marriage I get taken aback by her kindness, by the sheer love she can show all of us. She’s proud of the family we have, just as much as I am, and she carries that pride with such grace, sometimes I want to ask her to marry me again, just for the sake of seeing her walk down that aisle once more. To hear her say yes again.

“I love you.” It’s all I know to say right now, all I need to say and feel.

That smile on her lips shows me just how much she loves to hear those words, just how much she feels them, too.

“Tu sai che io ti amo, leone.”

It’s all I need to hear to know, that no matter what this day brings, hell, no matter what life brings... I’m ready.

I have the best family by my side to conquer it all.

Summer

Saying I miss my husband would be an understatement. It’s been almost three years, and still I feel my heart ache whenever our families come together.

It hurts to know that my children, and especially my grandchildren, will never see him again. I know they all still cope with it in their own way, too. Hazel, as always, has been a trooper. And if Damon’s death meant anything... It at least strengthened Mia’s bond to her mother. They relied on each other, all three of us relied on each other, for a very long time.

I know they were scared to leave me alone. I know they didn’t want me to feel lonely. And I did, I really did. My family gives me so much love, so much attention... But it’s different. The way my husband showed me that love and attention was different. I miss it, and it took some time until I came to terms with the fact that all I had left were those memories, the knowledge and trust that he loved me with everything he had.

It took a long while, but I realized that I should be proud of that. I was allowed to experience this one life-consuming love, the kind of love that makes your head spin on a daily basis, that turns your entire world upside down with so much as that crooked grin on his lips.

With that realization also came the understanding that I needed to change my life. My husband isn’t there anymore. And as much as even thinking that breaks my heart... I know he’d want me to enjoy the time I have, with my family, my friends, with myself.

“Okay, question,” Emma rips me out of my thoughts as she joins me on the sofa, a glass of white wine in her hands. The barbecue is over, Mia got the celebration she deserved, as always. Most of our family has left already though, and I needed some time to gather my thoughts, to just take a breath.

“Did your daughter use some voodoo crap on my son?” she asks, and the question makes me laugh out loud, shaking my head in response.

“Not that I know of. Though you never know, those special ed teachers always run around with weird crafting stuff. Why do you ask?”

“He just told me he wanted to marry her. Again.”

“What, really?” I ask with a laugh, knowing full well that it’s something Noah would do. He’s still crazy in love with Hazel.

Emma sighs, leaning back on the sofa when she explains, “Yeah. Apparently, for their thirtieth anniversary, he wants to take her down the aisle again. Go big or go home he said.”

“That sounds like something he’d do.” I lean over to grab Emma’s glass from her hands, but she instantly pulls back.

“Hey! That’s my wine.”

“Oh, come one. We both know our children have a cellar full of expensive wine in here.”

“Yeah, then go and get yours! This is mine!” She laughs.

I groan, “Please, Emma? I don’t want to get up now. I’m old.”

“Oh, my god! You did not just say that! Summer!” She slaps my arm, looking at me with wide eyes.

“What? I am!”

The way she looks at me just then makes me realize... I fucked up. She’s already planning some sort of activity to show me that I’m not old. I believe Emma doesn’t want to accept the fact that she’s about to be a great-grandmother and tries to use all the time she has to make sure she stays young, at least in her mind.

“Okay, I give you the wine, under one condition.”

I narrow my eyes, knowing she’s a business lady, she knows how to make deals and sticks to them, which honestly scares the shit out of me right about now. “I’m listening,” I say, being careful not to agree to anything yet. One time she got Damon to go bungee jumping with her - the woman is insane.

“You get the wine, and I get some time alone with you.”

“You have time alone with me right now.”

“God, you’re such a smartass. I mean longer.” She rolls her eyes, taking a sip of the wine I want for good measure.

“How much longer?”

Emma taps her chin, thinking dramatically until a grin plays on her lips while she offers the glass of wine to me. “Go to Scandinavia with me. Three months. Two motorcycles. One mission: Having fun.”

“Emma...” I mutter with wide eyes, but she instantly shakes her head, shoving the glass of wine into my hand.

“I’m serious. Three months. Get out of here, see something you haven’t seen yet. Polar lights, skiing, sleeping in a damn ice hotel, you name it. The possibilities are endless, really.”

I look at her, really look at her, and I instantly see the excitement in her eyes, the adventurous spark jumping straight at me with how broadly she grins.

“You think your husband will manage without you for three months?” I ask, but Emma just laughs, that grin on her face growing even wider from my question.

“He’ll survive... Somehow.”

The longer I look at her, the more I think about the things I realized earlier today. Damon would want me to use my time. To experience new adventures, to see things we couldn’t in our time together.

And maybe it’s for him, to make him happy, wherever he may rest now, or maybe it’s that I realize it’s time to focus on myself for a change... But I find myself nodding my head, eliciting a gasp from Emma as she throws her arms around me. “You’re in?!”

“Yeah,” I laugh, “I’m in!”

“In for what?” Noah’s voice makes us break apart and Emma turns around, a proud smile on her slips when she says, “I’m taking Summer to Scandinavia.”

“Are you now?” My son-in-law laughs, widening his eyes as he carries some empty bottles to the counter before he turns back to us. “Well, congratulations. For my wife’s sake, please bring her mother home safe and sound, alright?”

Emma just waves him off, and just as she’s about to say something the terrace door opens again, revealing a rather nervous looking Lincoln. “Noah, do you have a minute?” he asks, scratching the back of his head as he looks from us to Noah and back.

His question makes Emma and me look at each other with wide eyes, and I already see it in Noah’s eyes. He has an inkling about what exactly Lincoln wants to talk about, and I can’t help but be excited as hell all of a sudden. “Can I come?” I ask, and Emma instantly chimes in, “Yeah, me, too!”

Emma’s contribution makes Lincoln widen his eyes, and I almost have to laugh at the scared expression on his face now. I think he’s scared of Emma. Rightfully so, of course, but still. I applaud him for spending so much time with all os uf, even though it’s clear as day he still doesn’t know how to deal with her.

Noah suddenly grins, and I instantly know just how much he will enjoy this talk with his mother by his side. “Well, of course, Lincoln. If it doesn’t bother you that these two join. You know how they are...”

He already walks into the office, disregarding the fact that Lincoln still has to agree to our presence. Well, to be honest, we all know that question was rather metaphorical.

A few minutes later we’re all in Noah’s office, Lincoln sitting opposite from him while Emma and I sit on the couch on the other side, both of us now holding a full glass of wine in our hands, watching the interaction in front of us with wide eyes.

“So, Lincoln, what is this about?” Noah asks, taking a sip of his scotch before he crosses his arms in front of his chest. Well, he definitely doesn’t make it easy for the poor guy.

Lincoln looks over to us, and as much as I see the concern in his eyes when he looks at Emma, the soon our eyes meet I know he will do it, no matter how scared he might be. I’ve spent some time over the past year or so, and I have to say, he’s a good man. A bit shy sometimes, but also very determined and self-assured about specific aspects of his life.

It’s obvious he’s been through a lot, which is why I think Noah cuts him some slack, but he’s still making progress, somehow. It’s quite fascinating to watch, too. Both him and Mia work on themselves every day, and it seems like they’re slowly reaching the person, the couple, they want to be.

I’m happy for them, really. They look happy together, and I think everyone who saw them interact knows just how much they love each other. It’s the kind I had. The kind of love I miss every damn day.

I guess that’s why I’m so confident he’ll make it. He proved time and time again that he can stand up for himself and for Mia, despite the fact that we went the wrong way once. He was at a crossroads, and realized soon enough he needed to change direction, to go the way that led him to happiness, to love, to family, and ultimately to this.

A smile plays on his lips when he nods his head at me, turning to look at my son-in-law in front of him with as much confidence as I have ever seen, to be honest.

“I want to ask your daughter to marry me, Noah.”

END.

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