Author's Note: You can also find this story on Wattpad here.
The characters and song lyrics at the beginning do not belong to me, but rather to the creators of If/Then.
"If you met him tomorrow and knew you would lose him,
If you saw him and saw all the hurt you would know,
Would you hold him, while you had him?
Or let him go?"
Five years later…
It is funny how grief transforms with time. At first, the pain was unbearable - stabbing Liz in every way possible, until she felt like she couldn't breathe anymore. After time, the pain dulled, and the memories began to bring smiles instead of a flood of tears. Liz supposed her - their - children helped with that, their tiny hands and innocent voices wanting to be with their father.
Josh. Liz knew what it meant when the army men had advanced toward her doorway that day, knocking on it with grim expressions. Army men didn't make visits for no reason. The weeks after were the hardest. Everything reminded her of Josh. The cries of their two boys, the shirts filling their shared closet, and the fact that their house still held tight to the smell of his cologne. She had loved him in a way she never felt before. Not like the way she loved a steaming coffee on cold mornings before work or the smell of rain when it hit the pavement. A love that consumed her.
As time went on, she woke up every morning. She cared for her children, making them breakfast and sending them to daycare or school. She got a job as a city planner and life went on. There wasn't much time to think about it after the funeral, but Liz didn't mind. If she allowed herself to, she would probably still fall apart. Most of all, it pained her to think that her two boys had lived most of their lives without a father, but they were helpful in every way possible for the grief to subside. Jake, who was three when Josh passed, had strived to be like his father in every possible way. He would cover himself with Josh's cologne and comfort Liz when she cried, his desperate attempt to wrap his hands all the way around her like Daddy always made her feel better. Cooper, on the other hand, had no memories of Josh. He was the spitting image of him, though, his hair and face molded to maximal similarity.
It was the weekend when Liz returned home to her two boys sitting on the couch. Jake held a photo album in his hands and she recognized it immediately. He must have retrieved it from her bedroom, as that had been it's home for many years. It was the photo album that held the period of her life with Josh. From the silly photos on their first dates, to their wedding, and finishing off with the years when their arms were always holding their children.
Jake was pointing out a picture to his younger brother, saying, "See, and that's dad at his and mom's wedding."
Liz smiled, "Oh, that day…" and received her children's attention. She lifted the photo album from Jake's lap, placing it onto her own as she sat between them. She couldn't stop smiling, remembering that day all too well. Surrounded by friends, pure joy on both of their faces.
"Your father was so excited to get married," she said, tracing over his face in the photograph. It was odd to think that this had once been a moment, that she had stared at him like this and he had stared back.
Crossing his arms, Jake commented hotly, "You don't talk about him very much. All I can tell Coop is the things I remember and that's not very much." He averted his eyes from her.
Liz sighed, wrapping one of her arms around her son. She understood he wanted to know more - he should. Was it still wrong to fear that talking about him aloud would bring tears out of her eyes? She wasn't sure, but if she didn't tell them about him now they would search for the answers in different places, like Kate or Anne. They deserved to hear about Josh from her.
"I know, baby. Anything you want to know you can ask me. I should have told you guys this a long time ago." And so, the three flipped through the photo album, Liz answering their constant questions about the images.
She explained to them her wedding, saying, "Kate, Lucas, and Anne were all there. That was one of the happiest days of my life," and a smile again reappeared on her face, reminding her of that day. "He told me he would do every mistake in his life over again for that day."
Cooper stopped her at that point. "Would you do the same?" he asked, in his childish, five year old voice. Liz nodded, and Cooper smiled, as if that was the most perfect thing he had ever been told.
The next pages were filled with Liz when she was pregnant with Jake, her and Josh beaming in the pictures. In the last of them, however, Liz held a grumpy, sour face - the effects of pregnancy evident. The many pictures following had Jake in all of them.
"What's that one?" he grinned, pointing towards his newborn self being held by his father.
"That was at the hospital. Your father was so happy to see you for the first time. He was he was going to hurt you, but he loved you very much. He swore he would do right by you. He only had three years, but I think he couldn't have raised a better kid in that time."
Finally, they reached the final page of the photo album and a single picture was on the page. She hugged her boys at they admired the beauty of the last picture. It showed Liz and Josh grinning widely for the camera, although it appeared that even if the camera wasn't present they would still have the same smiles on their faces. They were dressed so simply, both in jeans with beautiful Central Park in the background. In Liz's arms was Cooper, only a few months old at the time. Beside her stood Josh, one arm laced around his wife's shoulders and the other holding Jake's hand, whom was standing next to him.
Cooper frowned, "I don't think I will ever be able to love someone as much as dad loved you."
Liz didn't hold back her grin as she recalled what Josh had said to her so many years ago: "You never know."