Strength in Living - Chapter 19
Thank you for sticking with this story and I'm so happy at the response it's received. It's been a long time coming, but happy to tell you all, it's finally over. Enjoy.
2 months later:
She couldn't believe today had finally come; Jennifer's trial.
They had worked hard for this. Stella had been shot for this. She had went through 6 weeks of intense physical therapy for this. Mac had been by her side for 6 weeks for this.
There was a lot of pressure.
Liam Diabase was being charged with 2nd degree murder. Stella was so confident in the case against him she couldn't wish for another piece of evidence. She was even hoping he'd change his plea to guilty.
Scott Diabase, his father, was on trial for obstruction of justice and aggravated assault of a police officer. She wasn't so sure about this one. She had hoped he might plead guilty; but she had no doubt he would plead innocence on at least one charge.
It wasn't that she was angry at him for shooting her. No. Instead, she was furious that he had covered up the murder of one of the nicest, most clever and promising young women she had ever met. Scott and his son were responsible for more hurt than she knew how to describe.
James and Veronica were filing for a divorce. James had cheated on her, and Stella was far too unwell to help this time. The couple didn't want Stella's help, however, but it wasn't personal. They were finished, and with Jennifer gone - they really had nothing left to fight for.
Mac broke up with Peyton. He didn't tell her why except to say that they just weren't in love anymore. Stella had a feeling there was more to it than that, but he'd tell her if he was ready. She never did tell him about how she was madly in love with him - but maybe that was best. She was so glad to have his friendship and would do anything to keep it, even if that meant ignoring how she really felt about him.
When she returned home from the hospital, Mac had come and made clear that he would be sleeping on her couch until she felt better. She had tried to insist that he shouldn't bother, that she'd be fine on her own. But actually, just having someone around to help her cook and clean had been a dream come true. She'd also started to talk about how she was feeling. It was difficult, but it was a start.
Mac didn't pity her when she told him how she was feeling. When she'd spoke about feeling like there was no point in living anymore, he understood. When she explained how simply getting out of bed in the morning sent her into a panic attack, he said he'd felt that way too before. When she eventually broke down; he pulled her into the best hug of her life, repeating a simple 'I know'.
Maybe that's the reason he seemed to know how anxious she was before she even said anything this morning. She had woken up, made some coffee and there he stood by the kitchen door, looking like he wanted to say something. She handed him a mug of dark, strong coffee and waited.
"Everything alright, Stella?"
She could have tried to pretend everything was fine, but this was Mac. They'd known one another far too long to get away with lying to each other.
"Yeah, it's just," she paused, taking a shaky breath. "I know we've got all the evidence we need to put these bastards away for good, but still-"
"Anyone could be on the jury."
She nodded, "And I think if we can win this trial, maybe it'll make things better for James and Veronica. Maybe I'll be happier. Maybe Gerrard and Sinclair will get off your back."
"No pressure then?"
It seemed that Stella had worried for nothing, however. Scott and Liam Diabase had pled guilty on their respective solicitors' advice and had managed to reach a plea deal (acceptable for their individual charges). Liam Diabase pled guilty to second degree murder and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. James wanted his head on a plate for what he did to his daughter, but 25 years of the young man's life was still a pretty good alternative.
Scott was found guilty of all charges and sentenced to 15 years in prison. This placated Mac - he wanted the bastard to rot in prison for the months of agony he has put his partner through, but he knew it was a fair sentence. He'd never go back to his job, Liam would never get the chance to become a highly respected chemist as he was on track to become.
Jennifer would never get to experience the wonders that life could offer again. Finding the perfect black dress, the perfect cup of coffee, the most disgusting cup of coffee, the perfect job, the perfect friends, the most amazing best friend. She's never get to graduate top of her class or attend another protest, nor would she get to try the new bagel shop on 5th Ave she was insistent on trying but never got the chance. That trip around Europe she had planned for graduation; seeing Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower and climbing the Fjords and watching the Northern Lights - it would never happen.
Jennifer's life was cut short and in her eyes, these men didn't deserve to live the rest of their's. Because for all her faults, Jennifer Highsmith had committed her short life to helping others, having fun and living every moment of her life to the full. That deserved to be celebrated.
Over coming weeks, Stella felt the cloud begin to lift. She started going out for drinks when the team asked her to. She started going into work some afternoons. She even managed the odd sincere smile or two.
The most notable change occurred one Friday afternoon as she finished up for the day. Something in her mind finally clicked, and there was no one else she'd rather tell than Mac. She rushed to his office and with a knock, she entered.
"Mac, I'm not mental. You know that, right?"
He nodded silently, waiting to see where she was going with this. His eyes followed her as she started to pace.
"I didn't know that!" She exclaimed. "I thought I was depressed or something, like I was having some kind of Esther Greenwood-style mental breakdown. But I'm not - I've had a bit too much coffee this morning, but that's not really the problem. I don't have a problem."
"Stella, you know you've not been yourself for months," he replied kindly.
"Yes, exactly. And do you know what? If what had happened to me over the past year had happened to anyone else, do you think I would have called them 'mental'? Would I have gotten angry at them for being upset or judged them for feeling down? No. I would have told them to take all the time they need to heal. To take comfort in those around them. Why should I be any different? Do I deserve anything less than anyone else?"
"Stella, you deserve the world."
She flashed him one of those sincere smiles and stopped dead in front of him, "I think I know how to start living again and I need your help with 2 things. They might surprise you, but I want you to keep an open mind. First off; I'd like you to refer me to the department shrink."
He seemed taken aback, "I thought you said she was a vacant, stupid waste of money? You hated seeing her after Frankie."
"I'd like to try again. I don't think I'm mental, but there's some things I need to talk to someone about. If she won't see me, I'll find someone private."
"I'll ask her to make time for you."
She nodded, happy for only a moment, before tensing up a little and sitting down in front of him.
"You value our friendship, right?"
"Of course I do, Stella! Why would you even-"
She raised a hand to stop him from talking, "So, no matter what I say, you're not going to stop being my friend?"
He nodded, and she carried on, "You see, since the day I met you, I've wondered what it might be like to be more than just your friend. I've wondered what it's like to be in love with you and for you to be in love with me. And I know that sounds scary and kinda like I'm mental, even though I promise I'm not. I am madly and deeply in love with you Mac and I don't want to ever find out what it's like to live my life without you in it. When I have any news, good or bad, you are the first person I need to tell. When there's some gossip going on in the lab, you know you're the first person I text. When I'm in Barnes and Noble and I see an Ian Rankin novel, I can't stop thinking about how much you hate his writing style but love his plot lines and how it's your guilty pleasure read, even though you tell everyone you're favourite crime writer is James Patterson or Lynda La Plante. I hope you don't think this is weird, I'm no good at this. But I want to spend the rest of my life with you and I don't want to take it slowly. We both deserve to be happy and I think we can make each other happy. Gosh I should have done this at a fancy cafe or a candlelit dinner or something but I think I've been clear enough."
"Yes," he replied, and for a moment, she was confused. 'Yes' she'd been clear enough? 'Yes' his favourite writer was Ian Rankin?
"Yes, I think we can make each other happy."
Stella grinned, "Good."
"Good," he repeated. She pushed herself up from the chair and headed for the door, proud of herself. She'd told Mac she needed a shrink and the world didn't implode. She confessed her undying love to him and she's still here to tell the tale.
Maybe living wasn't so bad after all.