EIGHT YEARS LATER

"Mom, we're home!" Annie called. I went downstairs to greet my kids. Annie was sitting at the kitchen table doing homework with her friend Margo, Kaden had helped himself to a popsicle, and Krissy, our three year old, was watching Blue's Clues.

"Hello," I said, kissing my two oldest children on their heads.

Kaden, who was almost nine, pulled away and whined, "Mom!"

I pulled him back and wrapped my arms around him. "Don't push me away," I said. "I'm your mother. I get to kiss you if I want to."

Carter opened the door and Kaden ran to him. "Dad, Mom keeps trying to kiss me and stuff," he said.

Carter laughed. "Consider yourself lucky," he said. "Some mothers don't even like their kids."

Krissy tore herself away from the TV to give her daddy a hug. I looked at my family. Annie still had sandy blond curls and the biggest brown eyes you've ever seen.

Kaden looked like Eric, which was weird. He was skinny and tall for his age, with thick brown hair and hazel eyes. He was going to be very handsome.

Krissy looked like me - brown hair, brown eyes, and olive skin.

Carter went into the kitchen and got a diet coke from the fridge. "Hey, Anna Banana," he said, ruffling Annie's hair.

"Dad, don't" she cried, fixing her hair. Carter rolled his eyes.

Margo looked around. "Hey, Annie?" she said. "Why doesn't anyone else in your family have blond hair?"

Carter and I both looked at Annie, waiting for her response. Annie hadn't mentioned Jessica since the day of the shooting at Annie's pre-school. And Kaden was only vaguely aware of the story.

Annie shrugged. "Dunno," she said.

Margo giggled. "Maybe your parents aren't really your parents. Maybe you were adopted."

"I was adopted," Annie said, plainly. It was true. A year after Carter and I married I officially adopted Annie so that I would have full custody of her if anything ever happened to Carter.

Margo's mouth fell open. "You were?" she asked, stunned.

Annie nodded. "Only by Mom," she said.

"Why would your own mother adopt you?" Margo asked.

"She's not my biological mom," Annie said, her eyes locked on mine. "Dad was married to someone else before Mom. She died when I was really little. I don't remember her."

"Oh," Margo muttered, clearly embarrassed. "Did she have blond hair?"

"Yeah, she did," Carter said, sitting down in the living room. We all followed him.

"What's wrong?" Annie asked. "Do you miss her?"

Carter looked at Annie and then at me. I shrugged my shoulders. I knew he didn't want to lie to her. "No," he said, looking at Annie again. "I wasn't really . . .um, I wasn't in love with your. . .with Jessica. I was in love with your mom. With Abby."

"Why'd you marry her then?" Annie asked.

"Because she told me she was pregnant and she said she'd have an abortion if I didn't."

Krissy tugged on my leg. "What's a bortion?" she asked.

"I'll tell you later," I said.

"Why were you getting Jessica pregnant if you were in love with Mom?" Annie asked.

I sat down next to Carter. "I dumped him and he got engaged to Jessica. Then we realized we'd made a mistake but it was too late," I said.

Annie thought about this for a moment, then looked around the room. "I'm glad everything worked out exactly like it did," she said.

"Me too," I said. "This way we get you, Kaden, and Krissy."

"And I get you," Carter added, putting his arm around me.

************************

"So, she finally knows the truth," I said to Carter as we lay in bed.

"Yeah," he said. "And she seems fine with it."

"I am fine with it," a voice from the doorway said. Annie smiled and then climbed into bed between Carter and me. "Jessica didn't like me. You love me, don't you, Mom?"

I hugged her. "More than you will ever know," I said.

"So it all worked out for the best."

"How did you get to be so smart?" Carter asked.

Annie smiled. "I have really smart parents." She kissed us both and went off to her room.

"We've done a good job," I said, curling up in Carter's arms.

"Yup," he said. "I never expected to have such amazing kids. I mean, one amazing kid is incredible enough but three . . .that's a miracle or something."

If a stranger had overheard our conversation they would think that Carter was just biased. But it was true. Our kids were incredible.

Our eldest, Annabelle Joy, won that art contest when she was four. She won for her school, for the state, and got third in the country for her age group. Her art was still astounding. She'd been picked to represent her school in a special exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Her painting would be on display with others done by kids from around the country.

Kaden Robert was a budding novelist, according to every teacher he'd had since kindergarten. He wrote poetry, short stories, and stories about us . . .whatever inspired him ended up on paper. He had been voted best writer in his second grade class and a few of his stories had been published in the kid's section of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Kristin Grace, while only three, was showing a great talent for the piano, which we discovered by accident. After dinner at John's mother's house, Annie played "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" on Eleanor's grand piano. She had just learned it at school and wanted to show us. After she finished, Krissy climbed up on the piano bench and played the whole thing from memory. So we immediately arranged for her to have daily lessons.

It was definitely fair to say that we were the proud parents of three young prodigies.

"Annie's right," I said suddenly. "I wouldn't want anything to have gone differently," I said. "Everything that's happened has made us appreciate what we have. And what we have needs to be appreciated because we are so, so, so lucky."

Carter kissed me. "You know what the best part is?" he asked.

"What?"

"That despite our own tormented, and pain filled pasts, we still have managed to be happy."

I smiled. "Whoever thought that a drug addict and an alcoholic could raise three extraordinary children?"

"I did," Carter said. "When you found out you were pregnant with Kaden I told you that he could be the president. And, while that's still not out of the question, it's more likely that he's going to write a best- selling novel by the age of twenty-one."

He reached over to his bedside table, opened the drawer, and pulled out our little heart-shaped rock. "Remember this?"

I grinned. "I do."

Carter placed the rock in my hand and closed my fingers around it. "Thank you," he said.

"For what?" I asked.

"For letting me love you. For loving me back. Thank you for my children."

I kissed him. "I love you so much," I whispered. I wrapped my arms around him and held him tight. "I love you so much."

As I lay there in my husband's arms it occurred to me that there was some saying . . .some cliché that applied to us. Right before I drifted off to sleep it occurred to me what it was. 'And they lived happily ever after . . ."

Author's Note – There may be a sequel. Emphasis on the word MAY! We'll see how I feel.

Response to reviews –

Carbylobsterandavrilfan- Yay everyone!

Kayla – Good things are happening for everybody. It's a happy ending!

Duckygirl – I'm ending this fic but may start a sequel if I come up with more ideas.

Higherbeingfriendsfan – Annie kicks ass. I'm gonna miss her.

Carbyfan – Kaden is like both of them I guess. I didn't really develop his character like I did Annie's.

Carbybubbles – Sorry to disappoint you. But if it's any consolation, I'm as sad as you are that it's over.

Hyperpiper91 – Thank you!