All songs used in this chapter are from the musical "Children Of Eden" and obviously don't belong to me.

This is the last chapter.

This ending is an inscrutable one. It's the only real ending this story could ever have had. Everything else up until the final scene has been superficial in relation. This IS the story. If you don't like it, you never could have. )
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"You will know heartache, prayers that don't work, and times of bitter circumstances, but I still believe in second chances.
Children of Eden, where have we left you?
Born to uncertainty- destined for pain. Sins of your parents haunt you and test you. This your inheritance- fire and rain.
Children of Eden, try not to blame us.
We're just human, to error prone.
Children of Eden, will you reclaim us?
You and your children to someday come home" - Eve (the musical "Children Of Eden")

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Even as she left her mother's house, she had mixed feelings.

After all this time. After all the coming togethers and breaking aparts, the surprises and familiarities, the comfort and the pain, the loving and hating, the crying and laughing, the joking and screaming. After the 3,000 miles traveled from coast the coast and the 3 blocks from house to house...she was still confused. It seemed almost impossible that anyone could hang onto something so uncertain- something they were so scared of. It seemed even more impossible, though, that she could BE uncertain after everything her mother had told her.

She didn't bother hailing a cab. The downpour had subsided to a soft drizzling and she was already soaking wet. The street of townhouses her mother lived on ran parallel to the sea, so she opted to walk along the infinite stretch of soda shops and laundry mats, watching the waves crash against the shore whenever the buildings broke apart to accommodate an alleyway or parking lot. There were few people out, as it was so dismal and foggy, and the section of town was far more residential than commercial. The sun was beginning to dip down beneath the horizon and the sky was just one giant blanket of gray, with no distinction between the individual clouds.

Rachel walked straight through the puddles, not particularly caring if she got dirty-something entirely uncharacteristic of her. She looked down as she strolled, noticing the way the cement had cracked so long ago, creating a meandering web of uneven ridges along the walkway. She watched the small stream of water that ran from storm drain to storm drain, washing away bits of debris and oil that had collected on the street.

Where was she going? She didn't really know. She wasn't even walking in the direction of their hotel (not that she could get there if she were, as it was all the way on the other end of the city). Every thought that ran through her head was dramatically different, and she entertained each one with such a tired, surrendering detachment that even she didn't consider any of them seriously. It was probably the least productive way to solve a problem- conjuring up ideas such ambivalence- but she knew of no other way. She was exhausted, and she knew that if she couldn't take her mother's advice now, she'd lose him forever. She had to at least try to find her own way, though. Even if it was the same as her mother's, she'd have to at least pretend it was hers.

She had to do this her own way or not at all, and not at all meant losing him forever. Now.

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"Oh this daughter of mine, I love so well,
and all the toil it takes.
I'd give to her a garden and keep it clear of snakes,
but the one thing she most treasures is to make her own mistakes.
She goes charging on the cliffs of life-
a reckless mountaineer.
I could help her not to stumble,
I could warn her what to fear.
I could shout until I'm breathless and she'd still refuse to hear."

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Somewhere intertwined in all the thoughts and half-hearted considerations was the one she feared and yearned the most. To leave him.

She thought about it seriously from time to time. She really did. She thought about doing it all over again- the leaving. She thought about packing up all her things one night and running off to her sister's again. With her parents gone, it would be almost too easy. So much easier than what her mother had recommended. Somehow, the hardest part of being with Ross was just BEING with him- being with him in a normal way. She didn't think they really even knew how to do that. They had never been normal before. They'd never been functional or rational. They'd never made sense. Did she even WANT for them to make sense? Would finding him now, sitting down beside him and being normal with him jeopardize everything they'd stood for all this time? Would breaking his heart once- just once, but for good- be better? Wouldn't that be more "them", after all? Wouldn't that make more sense than a happy ending?

Wouldn't letting him find someone else- someone more like himself- make him happier and be better for them both?

Wouldn't it break her heart?

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And for the boy who's given me the sweetest love I know-
I wish for you another love so you won't be alone.

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No.

She couldn't do it. If being with him all this time had taught her one thing, it was to be selfish with the one you love. She had tried that selfless bit once before and it had almost broken them up for good.

Why was taking her mother's advice- finding him and letting him love her, no walls and no boundaries- so hard?

It was almost completely dark, now. She imagined it was somewhere around 7 p.m., but she couldn't be sure. She could no longer see the waves, but instead only heard them as they made one boisterous introduction after another with the sand. She stopped at the end of one sidewalk, where the buildings broke apart, and turned to her left to look straight down an alleyway towards the ocean. She took off her sandals and carried them in her hand, making her way down the dark lane, up the rickety wooden stairs and onto the beach.

The backs of the buildings were lit up with lanterns, casting some soft illumination onto the sand. As she walked, she sang to herself.

"And it's only in Eden, grows a rose without a thorn.
And your children start to leave you on the day that they are born.
They will leave you there to cheer for them.
They will leave you there to mourn, ever so.
Like an ark on uncharted seas, their lives will be tossed,
and the deeper is your love for them,
the crueler is the cost.
And just when they start to find themselves is when you fear they're lost."

She imagined finding Ross out there on that beach. How simple would that be? How appropriately anticlimactic? She considered the circularity of the beach, itself, as she passed by the remnants of a half-erect sandcastle. This is where you come to spend the day in the sand as a baby. This is where you come to have your heart broken by your first boyfriend. This is where you come to reconcile that heartbreak, and this is where the boy always proposes to the girl in the picture shows. This is always the last place the woman walks before being bedridden after the drawn-out death of the man, and this is where the sunrise memorial service is held.

"Just when they start to find themselves is when they fear they're lost."

Just then, as if on cue, she spotted him.

He was sitting in the dry sand, several yards away from the water, with his knees bent up in front of him and his arms hooked around his legs. Her breath caught in her throat at the sight of him. She couldn't ever remember seeing anything so beautiful in all her life.

He was wearing a pair of khaki pants and a simple, white, long-sleeved shirt. He was barefoot and the ends of his pants were rolled up almost to his knees to keep from getting wet. The wind tousled his hair, his jaw clenched and his eyes serious with wonderment. He was staring out over the ocean, still completely unaware of her presence.

She swallowed deeply. How had he gotten this far away from the hotel? Had he followed her here, chickened out and then walked a ways down the beach? Was he waiting for her? Did he WANT her to find him? Unsurely, she threw caution to the wind and began walking steadily towards him. Though she was still several hundred yards away, she was scared to death of him spotting her. She wasn't sure why.

He looked so pensive and firm, surely lost in thought and suspended in some vague consideration that he'd never tell her about but was almost surely about her- about them. She wished she knew what he was thinking. That would make whatever she was about to do- and let's be clear that even she had no idea what that was- so much easier.

As she got closer, she became increasingly certain that he was aware of her presence. He acknowledged her in no way- didn't turn his head, didn't bat an eyelash- but some part of her told her he knew. As she felt her feet moving her body closer to him, a calm serenity washed over her. She knew, without a doubt, that this was going to be the most important intervention of her life so far. This was it. It was an unspoken "it", as were all the "its" between them, and it had been provoked from nowhere. This was THE "it", though.

She descended into the sand beside him. Her blood had never felt so hot, her head so heavy or her heart so fulfilled. Her pulse raced.

Just when they start to find themselves is when they fear they're lost.

They sat like that beside one another for a few minutes in their serene yet painful entirety, watching the waves lap at the seashore and the sun sink into the ocean. For a brief moment, she felt his shirtsleeve brush against her forearm and her heart shot up into her throat. She jerked her head to the side impulsively to look at him, but he was still starting straight forward. Upon seeing the movement from his peripheral vision, though, he faced her.

Just when they start to find themselves is when they fear they're lost.

"Find what you were looking for?" she asked, not daring to smile. At least not before him.

"Did you?" he asked enigmatically, cocking an eyebrow and lifting one corner of his mouth in a quasi-grin. She let out a breath she hadn't remembered taking and afforded a halting chuckle. She simply nodded, turning her attention momentarily back to the ocean. Apparently, that was it. "You're here," he stated, his voice the most unique, genuine blend of a terror and certainty and his intonation the prefect duality between question and comment. He was asking and stating; unsure and positive.

"I am," she reiterated with a nod. She smiled widely, her teeth shining and her face beaming. She nodded a few more times for good measure and grabbed him by the arm, pulling herself closer to him. "I am," she whispered into his ear.

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You will know heartache, prayers that don't work, and times of bitter circumstances, but I still believe in second chances.
Children of Eden, where have we left you?
Born to uncertainty- destined for pain. Sins of your parents haunt you and test you. This your inheritance- fire and rain.
Children of Eden, try not to blame us.
We're just human, to error prone.
Children of Eden, will you reclaim us?
You and your children to someday come home.

End Chapter 23. End Story.