Here is the epilogue I promised, in which we make another time jump. This really is the final chapter ...
In case you are wondering who Lisa is, I refer you back to chapter 7.
I hope you will all enjoy this final final chapter! I know I'm taking a few liberties here with regards to how fast certain things can be arranged - writer's prerogative!
Thank you for reading this story all the way to the end.
A warm Sunday afternoon, somewhere in the not too distant future ...
It was a hot summer again and Olivia was relaxing in her rocking chair on the deck, in the shade of the beige parasol Peter had set up for them. She was watching her family play in the backyard. They had set up an inflatable pool and Peter was watching both their children like a hawk, holding onto their little girl as she wiggled her little toes in the cool water. Noah was splashing around like a proud big brother, ready to show his little sister what life was all about.
Olivia's eyes drifted from the wiggling little toes to the bronzed body of the man holding the child. He looked sinfully good in his bright blue swim trunks and she breathed out contently.
"When can Sarah start swimming, dad?" Olivia heard her son ask his father.
"It's gonna take a while before she's as good as you," Peter told him. "She's gonna need the lifesaver for a while longer. Maybe next summer we can try with the wings. You don't need those anymore, do you?"
"No," Noah said, beaming with pride. "I can swim for real now!"
"Yes, you can!" Peter confirmed, equally proud and Olivia's cheeks almost hurt from smiling, her heart soaring a little each time she heard Peter and Noah chatting like this.
Noah made a goofy face at his sister and Sarah laughed out loud. She had a clear voice and dark eyes - just like Olivia - that already took in the world around her intelligently. She had been one of the lucky babies who had only had one foster home before she was adopted, aside from spending some time at Children's Services, and she had been young enough to accept her new parents and big brother easily. Peter and Olivia sometimes thought that she was more focused on Noah than on them; she was fascinated with her brother.
When the little girl started to yawn, Peter explained to Noah that she was getting tired and would need to be fed before she'd fall asleep. He lifted the 18 month-old old up and wrapped her in a big towel before carrying her to her mother. He held her close to him, his cheek against hers, as he spoke softly to his daughter and pointed out her mother to her. Sarah began to bop up and down on his arm as soon as she spotted her mother, who already had a fruit snack ready for her.
Peter settled the child in her lap and they looked at each other, eyes sparkling. This was it. This was the life they had always dreamed about, but had thought wouldn't be for them. He gave his fiancée a peck on the lips and then sat down in one of the lawn chairs on the deck to watch her feed their daughter.
Noah was still in the pool, playing with the motor boat he'd gotten for Christmas and Olivia knew that Peter would continue to watch over him, so she could focus on their little girl now. Sarah was leaning her head sideways against her mother's chest like she always did when she was almost too tired to eat, but she opened her mouth dutifully each time Olivia scooped up some of her mashed banana and orange fruit snack, and ate quietly.
Sarah had a special history, one that she would never fully know herself, but Olivia and Peter knew.
A year earlier
Lisa had insisted on a closed adoption. She wanted her daughter to have a normal life and she didn't want to feel tempted in a while to start checking up on her and perhaps disturb her life after all. Her pregnancy had been very difficult emotionally, and she needed to sever all ties with this child now so she could begin to heal from her rape and its consequences.
Her rapist had taken a plea deal. He was still unaware that he had fathered a child with his last victim, and that was the way Lisa wanted it to stay.
"Her name will be Sarah," Lisa had told Olivia during the Lieutenant's follow-up visit.
It was a beautiful name, meaning Princess, Lisa had told her. She wanted her daughter to live her life as a princess, with her head held high, unburdened with how she had come to be. With parents who would love her unconditionally because of who she was, nothing more and nothing less. Olivia had told Lisa several times how brave she was and she meant it. She was making a choice that was completely her own, despite even her own mother's initial objections, and it gave Olivia hope that in the end, Lisa would be alright. She was going to take good care of herself, while also giving this child a fighting chance.
It was the nature of Olivia's job to know things; to know details about people's lives that weren't meant for the general public. And so, as soon as they got the paperwork for the baby, she knew: this Sarah was Lisa's Sarah.
The name was the same and the age also fit. She had been born a little early in December 2018 at Mercy General. The mother had given her up immediately after birth and hadn't been to visit her since. It was said that she had moved away, which also fit because Lisa's parents had moved out of the city after the birth with Lisa and her siblings.
Olivia couldn't take her eyes off the pictures of the angelic six-month old that were scattered on the coffee table while they waited for Lucy and Noah to come home. Peter was a little nervous and was pacing, but she knew he was all in as well.
"It makes sense," he told her, "that she would come to you."
"To us," Olivia corrected him and Peter smiled.
"You know what I mean. You. Noah. And now little Sarah. I can't think of a more perfect mother for either of these kids than you."
Olivia stood up to give her fiancé a kiss on the cheek.
"I couldn't do this without you. Thank you," she whispered.
Peter wrapped his arms around her waist and looked down at the love of his life.
"Thank you for giving me a family, Liv."
Peter had suggested one day that they might be more eligible for adoption if they got married. It had been a rather clumsy proposal and Olivia had recognized it as something Peter needed, to be sure she wouldn't up and leave him one day. She blamed her own insecurities for Peter's fear that things might still blow up in his face and after taking a very deep breath, she had said yes. She wasn't sure if their engagement had had anything to do with how quickly Sarah had been offered to them - she suspected it had more to do with the fact that she already had Noah - but she hadn't regretted saying yes to Peter. They hadn't set a date yet but that didn't really matter. They were on solid ground now, and in a few days, they were getting a daughter!
They held each other for a while, caught up in their own thoughts until the sound of a key turning in the front door interrupted their little moment. They let go of each other and a few seconds later, Noah came bounding into the room, followed a little slower by his nanny Lucy. Lucy glanced at the pictures on the coffee table while Peter grabbed Noah and tossed him in the air before catching him and starting to tickle him, much to Noah's delight. Olivia smiled at the young woman, who they had told about their plans to adopt a second child, and to tell Noah everything today. Lucy hadn't made any promises yet about taking care of both children but Peter and Olivia hoped that she would at least be available from time to time. But first, they would have to break the news to Noah. And the baby wasn't the only thing they wanted to discuss with their son.
Lucy went into the kitchen to make Noah a drink and offered to make some coffee, but Peter urged her to just come and sit with them once Noah had his lemonade.
After settling down, it didn't take long for Noah to spot the pictures of the baby on the coffee table.
He was sitting on the couch between his parents and leaned forward to take a closer look at the baby in the pictures.
"Noah, you've been asking us about a brother or sister for a while now," Olivia started, "so … we found this baby who is looking for a family. How about that?"
For once, Noah was speechless, even if it was only for a few moments. His eyes had gone wide and his mouth was open while he stared at the pictures. Then he asked, very softly,
"Is it a boy or a girl?"
"It's a girl. Her name is Sarah."
Noah stared at the pictures some more and then his face turned serious. He looked at his mother and told her,
"So this baby didn't come from your tummy."
"That's right. We're adopting her. You know what that is, right?"
Noah nodded. He remembered.
"So … will she be my real sister?"
His voice went up a little, and they knew he was beginning to get excited, albeit cautiously for now. "I mean … will you love her the same as me?"
The question moved Olivia deeply. That her young son would even think that way was very special.
"She's as real as can be, kiddo," Peter assured him, winking at Olivia. "And we'll love her exactly the same as you. Did you think we'd make a difference?"
Noah stared at his father now and he could see the wheels of his young brain turning.
"You're my new daddy too," he mused, nodding while mulling it all over.
"Yes, I am, Noah. And you know I love you like crazy, right?"
Noah grinned and Peter rubbed his back gently.
"There's something else we need you to know, Noah," he told the boy who was now his son in every way that mattered.
He looked at Olivia, who was finally getting a little nervous as well.
"Noah. You know we both love you very, very much, right?"
Noah nodded, his blue eyes gazing up innocently at his mother.
"And we're going to love this new baby exactly the same as you. We chose her to be our daughter, just like we chose you to be our son."
Noah frowned and Olivia swallowed. She was getting to the hard part now. They had no idea how Noah would respond. Her son was tilting his head a little, then said,
"She's getting a new daddy and a new mommy."
"That's right. But Noah … you didn't come from my tummy either. When I got you, I was also your new mommy."
There. She'd said it and she held her breath, waiting for her son's reaction. Noah's eyes moved from his mother to Lucy, then to his father and finally back to his mother.
"But … you're the only mother I remember. You've always been my mother."
His voice sounded a little whiny now and Olivia knew her son was struggling with this barrage of new information. She wrapped her arm around his small shoulders and kissed the top of his head.
"And I'm very proud to be your mother, my sweet boy."
The child sank into her embrace and she held him close to her, allowing him some time to come to terms with what he was learning in his own way. He was silent for a long minute and then asked her timidly,
"Didn't my first mommy want me anymore?"
Olivia bit her lip to keep it from trembling, her heart breaking a little for her son. She needed to set the record straight at once. She pushed him away from her gently so she could hold his shoulders and made him look at her.
"Oh, but she did, Noah. She loved you very, very much," she assured the boy. "But just like your first dad, she died."
Now Noah's lip was trembling too and Peter scooted closer to them to rub both their backs.
"Why did they all die?" he asked sadly, and Peter wrapped his arms around both of them so Noah was tucked away safely between them.
"That happens sometimes, son," he told Noah softly. "It's not that they didn't want you. But you were all alone, and your mom loved you so much already so she decided to take care of you. You know she loves you, right?"
Olivia felt Noah nod against her chest and she mouthed 'thank you' to Peter.
Lucy cleared her throat and both parents looked at her. She took it as permission to speak and said to Noah,
"Aren't you glad that this mom picked you? And this dad too?"
They gave Noah some room and he looked from one to the other before answering Lucy's question with a shaky "Yeah".
He sounded like he was on the verge of crying, but he forced a little smile.
"Yeah?" Lucy asked with a wide smile.
"Yeah," Noah said again, firmer this time and with a chuckle.
"Yeah?" Peter asked, and now the boy started laughing.
"Yeah! I already said that, silly!"
"Now who are you calling silly," Olivia said, trying for a stern voice but laughing along with the others.
"You're all a little silly," Lucy said and Noah jumped up.
"We're a silly family and I'm getting a sister!" he exclaimed then.
"Yes, you are," Lucy said.
Noah clapped his hands and jumped up and down. The adults understood that he needed to get the tension out of his system. Maybe they should all run a few laps around the coffee table, Peter suggested, and they all laughed again.
Lucy stood up and announced that she was going to make that coffee after all. Peter and Olivia smiled at her before turning their attention back to Noah, who was picking up the pictures of little Sarah to study them better. He was getting a sister. They were getting a daughter. Within one year, Olivia's family was doubling and she couldn't be happier.
"No mo, Mama."
Sarah's small voice sounded sleepy but her words were clear. No more eating. She had closed her mouth tightly for emphasis while her eyes were drooping.
"No more, baby? That's okay. You ate a lot today!" Olivia said, praising their little one.
Peter smiled when he saw Sarah attempt to smile as well, but the toddler really was too tired to do anything anymore and rubbed her eye with her fist. It was a little past her nap time and the heat seemed to be getting to her as well. Peter offered to change Sarah out of her swim diaper and put her to bed. The adults both stood up and Olivia handed over the child, leaning in for a kiss in the process. Peter kissed her softly and winked at her when they broke apart.
"More later," he promised her softly, before taking Sarah inside.
He couldn't stop smiling while he carried his daughter upstairs to her room to get her ready for her nap. How his life had changed in just two short years. All of their lives, for that matter. They were a family now. He had come to New York to bury his father and look after his sister, and in the process he had found love. Now, he had a woman whom he hoped to call his wife soon, and two children. He wasn't alone anymore, and neither was Olivia. He was happy in his new job as ADA for the Bronx Homicide unit and both he and Olivia had gotten positive reactions to the way they had handled their relationship, with honesty and integrity. They were relaxing into their new reality at last, while still marveling at all the blessings they had received, the bundle of joy in his arms being one of them.
Once on the changing table, Sarah giggled when her father blew a raspberry kiss on her tummy, and grabbed one of his ears to make him stop. He was officially in love with the little girl, but he loved it even more to see her with her mother. Olivia was everything a mother should be. Stern but fair and with love seeping out of every pore of her being. For him, for Noah and for Sarah. Their family unit was growing stronger every day and perhaps for the first time in his life, Peter was able to say he was completely happy.
After changing Sarah into a fresh diaper, he put her in her bed, covering her with a thin sheet only because of the heat, and putting her favorite toys next to her head as usual. If Sarah registered the toys at all, she didn't show it, her eyes already closing.
"Sleep tight, baby girl," he whispered to her.
"Dada," Sarah replied sleepily, never opening her eyes.
Peter wore the title of Dada with honor. It had been very special to hear Noah start to call him dad, knowing full well that he wasn't his 'real' father. But having a little child grow up who only knew him as Dada filled him with even more love and wonder at times. And the children adored each other. He hadn't known the joy of a parent seeing their offspring get along until now. He understood so much more of life now that he had children, and he thought it had mellowed him to a point where he didn't wear his Stone face every day anymore. Pamela would have been proud, he couldn't help thinking. He was sure that, despite her illness, she would have seen and understood the change in him. And he hoped that their mother was smiling down on him now. It saddened him sometimes that he couldn't share his happiness with her, and it was the same for Olivia. Despite everything, she would still have wanted her mother to share in her joy, and to see how well things had turned out for her in the end.
After watching Sarah sleep for a minute, Peter walked over to the window of the nursery and looked down at the other half of his family. Olivia had joined Noah at the pool and was now working the controls of his motor boat - or attempting to. Her laughter was uninhibited these days and he loved to hear her laugh. Noah was grabbing the controls from her hands to show her how to operate the boat, and she let him. He watched her rub Noah's back and nodded to himself.
This was it.
This was their end game.
After one last look at his sleeping daughter, Peter joined the others outside again. Olivia smiled as she gestured at Noah and the motor boat.
"Maybe you'll have better luck," she told him with a grin.
Olivia retreated a little and sat down on the stairs leading up to the deck to watch father and son play. They had all come a long way in a short time, and she felt much better equipped now to raise another child. She thought of the letter that Lisa had left behind for her daughter, to be opened on her eighteenth birthday. Sometimes she still wished that her own mother had been as wise as this brave young woman, and that she would have gotten a letter like this on her eighteenth birthday. Part of her would probably always remain a little torn about it, knowing how different her life could have been.
To my darling Sarah,
if you are reading this, that means that you are eighteen now. Congratulations!
By now, you know that you were adopted. I wanted to write this letter to you to tell you a few things. Your parents have a copy of this letter, so they know what's in it. They were asked to give this one to you on your eighteenth birthday.
First of all, please know that I love you. You are a part of me and I could never not love you. Still, once I found out that I was having a baby at eighteen, I needed to make a difficult decision. The man who fathered you was already out of the picture. I knew that there was no way I would be able to take care of you, but I did want you to live. That is why I decided to put you up for adoption. Not because I didn't love you, but because I did and I do.
I have been praying for the people who adopted you without knowing who they are, that they will give you all the love and support that I couldn't give you. That they will encourage you to find your own way in life, to chase your dreams and be the best Sarah you could possibly be. Please never have doubts about who you are or who your family is. Your parents are your real parents because they raised you, and you are their real child. On top of that, you are your own person.
As you go out into the world, don't think you will have to do it all alone now. Your family will always be there for you and I hope and pray that you made a ton of friends. People aren't meant to be on their own. We need each other and I hope that you will never be alone.
I will not sign this letter as your mother, because you already have a mother who loves you dearly. Just know that the woman who carried you around for a little over eight months, also loves you and wanted only what was best for you.
Please be happy, Sarah.
I love you.
Olivia had cried the first time she'd read the letter. Perhaps it had been the first time she had actually cried for herself. For the little girl she once was, who could have had such a different life. But then, she wouldn't have the family she had now and she wouldn't be the one to teach Noah and little Sarah to face life head on.
Sitting there in their backyard, watching Peter and Noah play, knowing Sarah was safely upstairs in her bed, she knew that she didn't want that different life anymore. She loved the life she had now and she loved her family. She wouldn't trade them for the world.
A/N: Deep sigh. Yes, this is the end. It's been a great ride and I loved writing this story. I tried to stay true to Olivia's character but also to finally give her all the happiness we so want her to have. Thank you all for reading and reviewing. Until next time,