When Jasper was five and I was fifteen, he barreled off the school bus and showed me a piece of paper that had his name on it. He had written it a dozen times before he ever went to kindergarten, but there was something in the accomplishment of doing it at school that made it different for him. It was different for me, too. We were home alone and I stuck it to the refrigerator with magnets and then picked him up, sat him on the island, and we cracked open a container of ice cream to thoroughly ruin our dinner. Both of us had to go to bed early because of the stomach aches we had and just before I dozed he crawled into my bed and put his head on my shoulder. He handed me his favorite book at the time(Where The Wild Things Are) and I read it to him twice.
I remember leaning my face against the curls on his head and breathing him in. He fell asleep first and I went downstairs to get a drink in the kitchen, where I spent an hour looking at his name on that damned paper. I was proud of him, but at the same time, I was devastated to think that the day was approaching when he would no longer want me to read him a bedtime story. Writing his name felt like a step he was taking away from me and it was selfish and wrong to be upset about it, but I was. He was growing up so much faster than I wanted him to. I knew, looking at that paper, that the day would come when he would be taller than me, stronger than me, and walk away from me. His independence was that much closer. I could actually see it on the horizon.
Thanksgiving finds Jasper writing his name on a new piece of construction paper. My brother, the one who fumbled every time he held a pen just a few months ago, has written his name. His 'S' is backwards. His 'E' is capitalized instead of lower case. And it's beautiful. He traced his hand, put eyes on the thumb, and glued different colored paper slips on the fingers to make feathers. It's a turkey, he assures me. And even though I hate birds with a fiery passion, Jasper's turkey finds a place of honor on the refrigerator. "This is great, Jasper."
"You get to keep it," he says. "I did it for you. On account of it being Thanksgiving."
I give him a big hug and turn down the collar of his shirt. He has two of the buttons open and his hair has gotten long enough now to curl around his ears. Whether he realizes it or not, he's gorgeous. "Are you hungry? Dinner should be ready soon."
"I want some cake. Why do we have to eat that last when it's the best part?"
"Well, you have to eat real food first. We've got ham and turkey and -"
I nod at him. "You know that Mom makes the best turkeys and -"
"A REAL TURKEY!?" His eyes fly to the refrigerator and then he points at his art. "WE ARE EATING THAT!?"
Oh shit. "Uh ... it ... it's what people do. For Thanksgiving, Jazz. They eat turkey and -"
"TURKEYS HAVE BABIES! I GOT TO PET ONE! AND NOW WE KILLED IT!?"
"No! No, we didn't kill it! It was already dead when we bought it."
"WE BOUGHT IT!? DEAD!? OH MY GOD!" Jasper throws his hands up in the air, scandalized. "AND YOU WANT ME TO EAT IT!? LEE! THAT'S SICK!"
I watch him cross his arms over his chest and scowl at me. I suddenly feel responsible for the slaughter of millions of turkeys worldwide, like I am the one who broke their necks ... or shocked them. Whatever they do to them. I don't know. Jasper's nostrils flare and I watch his brown eyes fill with tears. Explaining the food chain really isn't something that I want to do. The circle of life only ever sounds good when Elton John sings about it. To distract my brother from the harsh reality of being a carnivore, I offer him a deviled egg.
He frowns at it, then up at me, shaking his head. "That's an egg. It pops out of a chicken's butt and I'm not touching it! It's hard shelled poop! That's what it is!"
"So ... you're a vegetarian now, buddy?"
"Don't call me names, Lee! I'll tell!" His eyes narrow. "What's a veg ... veg ... that thing you said?"
"A person who doesn't eat meat."
"Are turkeys meat?"
"Then I am a ... that thing you said."
I rest my hand on his shoulder. "People eat meat, buddy. It keeps us healthy and -"
"I got a feather in my mouth when I was holding a turkey and it was gross!"
"Well ... we take the feathers off."
"You pluck them!? Geneva got in trouble for that! You are bad! That's bad! Jim says that turkeys need feathers to keep them warm! Is that why you got it in the oven now? Because you plucked it and it's cold!?"
Someone clears their throat behind us and I turn around to see Jim standing in the doorway, an empty glass in his hand. He fills it with water from the refrigerator door, staring overlong at Jazz's turkey, and takes a sip before he speaks. "We've been learning about animals this week," he says, looking sheepish. "We had a trip to a petting zoo where we discovered farming and got to play with all kinds of ... fowl. It probably wasn't the best timing on our part."
"Clearly," I tell him, smiling. He has snow in his hair. A white Thanksgiving, that's nice. "Did you guys find a Christmas tree?"
"We did. Your father bought the largest one on the lot," Jim assures me. "Erica's in the living room attempting to find a big enough spot for it. And your mother already has the decorations organized. She's ... thorough, that one."
"Oh god. I better go help." I glance at Jazz. He has a toothpick in his hand and is poking the deviled eggs like they should sprout legs and run while they can. "You want to come help, buddy?"
"Why? Is the tree dead, too?"
Jim clears his throat. "Why don't you go and see how Buddha is, Jasper? You wanted to show me the gazebo in the back yard, remember? I'll be out there in a few minutes."
"Yeah. Okay." Jazz slips off his stool and trudges across the room.
Jim waits until he vanishes through the arched doorway before he speaks. "He's doing incredibly well, Callie. Far better than I expected. And I know that Dr. Shepherd is shocked at his progress as well."
"It's definitely amazing," I agree. "How are his mood swings?"
Leaning against the counter, Jim shrugs a little. "He has his moments. He's very sensitive at times and at other times ... he's fine. He loses his temper when he's overwhelmed, but we can count on him to step in and try to diffuse the situation if someone else is having a bad day. And he's learning so fast. We only have to tell him something once and he gets it."
My eyes move to the turkey on the fridge. "Was it easy to teach him his name?"
"Absolutely. And he's reading music fluently. He plays for us every night. New songs that he can't know from memory."
"He used to hate the piano." I put the lid back on the deviled eggs and sigh. I'm seeing the horizon again ... and it's Jasper's retreating back that I focus on. Independence is just over the rise for him. "It was my idea, you know? For him to have the surgery. I'm afraid that it was ... the wrong thing to do. There's so much for him to ... come to terms with."
"You mean about the accident itself?"
"That ... and everything else. He's going to blame me for it. It - it was my idea to go out in the boat that day. And it was my idea for him to have the surgery. When he finally understands everything ... he might hate me."
Jim puts his glass down and takes my hand, patting it reassuringly. "How can you say that? I saw Jasper at your birthday party and he was like a little boy then. Now? Well, now he's seeing the world for the first time as a man and it's amazing to him. He's amazed at life, Callie. What he sees when he wakes up every morning is a day full of promise, of new things to experience and see, and he's happy. He is. You should hear him laugh when he *gets* the joke. This was the right thing to do. Believe me, it was."
I nod, but I'm unconvinced. I can tell that Jim sees it because he leans a little closer to me and adds, "Look at it like this ... you are waking up every morning to a day full of promise and new things, too. With Erica. And you're happy. A blind person could see that. And I know that it was hard for the two of you at first because you had a guy in your life and then your property was vandalized and the two of you couldn't figure out what you wanted ... but you get it now. And it was worth it. Right?"
"Definitely worth it."
"Well, Jazz will feel the same way. Nothing worth having ever comes easy. He'll fight to come to grips with his life the same way you had to fight to come to grips with who you are. Both of you are on journeys, Callie. Both have been a long time coming."
I laugh a little. "You should have been a lawyer, Jim. You're very convincing."
"Are you convinced?"
"I'm getting there."
Mom comes in to check the turkey and Jim takes it out of the oven for her. I go into the living room in time to see a gargantuan tree go up in the corner. My dad appears from behind it, dabbing at his face with a handkerchief and when Erica stands up ... she has pine needles stuck all through her blond hair. Jasper, who is sitting on the arm of the love seat, slaps his leg and points at them both. "And that," he says, "is what you get for cutting down a tree! We're supposed to *love* the trees."
With that, my brother zips his jacket, pulls on leather gloves, and walks happily out the back door. I hear him yell for Buddha and open my mouth to speak, but Dad says, "Great! My son is a liberal tree hugger!"
"And a vegetarian," I say. "He's very upset about the turkey. And its lack of feathers."
Erica makes a face. "So that's why he said we should cook the cats. He said their feathers were already gone anyway and we cook everything else."
I laugh until my sides ache.
And I keep laughing long after dinner is over. Erica and I are alone, rehashing the day on the sofa, our fingers twined together as we talk about Jasper's reaction to the turkey. "Did you see his face?" I wheeze. "When Dad started carving the bird?"
"Oh my god! I thought he was going to scream."
"Screaming would have been better than calling us all murdering assholes."
Erica is laughing so hard that she has tears rolling down her cheeks. "Your mother was mortified. Did you see the way she picked up her knife and glared at Jim? Like he taught him that word?"
"Jim nearly ran. He scooted his chair back. I could practically see the gears grinding in his head."
"Thank God for Mark," Erica says, and then sobers instantly. "I actually just said that ... didn't I?"
"Well, he did save the day." I rub my stomach, which has been stuffed to capacity with good food. "I cannot believe he diffused the situation like that."
"I cannot believe that Jasper dug into the turkey after that!"
"Mark did tell him that birds would eat us unless we ate them first."
"That was horrifyingly ingenious."
I shudder. "And true. Don't forget true. Birds are EVIL."
"You're kinda pathetic. You know that, right?"
She grins at me. "Speaking of pathetic ... did you see the way Mark was with Addison? It was nauseatingly cute."
"You better take notes, Yellow. I expect the same thing when I'm pregnant one day."
"You actually want me to harp on every bite you take and obsess about how much protein you're getting?"
"Okay, maybe not that part. But the backrubs, fetching of water, and sharing of dessert will be much appreciated."
"He didn't *share* his chocolate cake with her. He let her have all of it."
"His kid eats a lot."
She squeezes my hand. "Do you think it's his, Cal?"
"I don't think it matters," I reply honestly. "Addison said that they've decided to wait until after the baby is born to run the paternity tests. I - I really wouldn't be shocked if they decided NOT to do it at all."
"Really. I think that Mark will take one look at the kid and fall in love. Nothing will matter after that."
"I hope you're right."
"I'm *convinced* that I'm right." I lean over, giving her a kiss, then pick up the box that my mother brought us from Miami. "I think these are the pictures you asked for, Yellow."
"I thought those were more decorations for the tree!" Erica sits up, gazing at the box with reverence.
"Nope. She said she left them on the table."
"Really." I pull the ribbon from around the cardboard and pluck the tape off the lid. Inside, nestled between tissue paper, are tons of large photos from my childhood. I see my favorite picture of me and Jasper on the very top. He's not quite a year old in it and he's standing in front of me, his fingers in his mouth, wearing an orange and white jumper that I picked out for him. I'm hugging him close and grinning at the camera like he belongs to me. Even now, I can remember how proud I was to be a big sister. I'm still that damn proud.
"Oh my god! Look at you!" Erica takes the photo, cradling it in her palms. "You're so beautiful!"
"If you overlook the braces and the acne, I was adorable." I pull out another photo, one of Savannah and Trevor that I took the previous year. "Wow! I haven't seen this one until now."
Erica accepts the photo of the kids as I rifle through the others, pulling out one here and there. One of my favorites is a shot of me smiling at the camera over my Dad's shoulder. Mom took it a few weeks before the boating accident when I was twenty. I can't believe how much my father has aged in fifteen years. His hair had a little brown in it back then ... now it's solid gray. I find pictures of Joel and Hope, a profession shot of me and my mother, and several others of me as a little girl. Erica seems amazed by how much *I* changed. I guess maybe she's right. In photos of me after twenty years old, after Jazz was injured, my smile never quite makes it to my eyes.
When I tell her that ... we forget all about the photos in favor of making out in front of the Christmas tree.
Hey, don't knock it til you try it!
The next day we brave Black Friday to buy picture frames. After witnessing first hand how stupid people are during early morning shopping, we head home and I help her arrange the hallway with our joint photos. Erica's father shocked us both by sending us a stack of photos of his own weeks ago, but Erica didn't want to buy frames until she knew what my mother was sending. In a place of honor, on an antique table that we picked specifically to hold photos, Erica puts a shot of her biological mother at sixteen years old. Mary Elizabeth's blond hair is soft and long, hanging around her face as she looks at something in the distance. She's not smiling, but she's not frowning either. I choose to believe that she was pregnant with Erica in the photo and the look on her face is nothing short of wonder. Next to that, we put a photo of Rick vacationing in Hawaii, leisurely enjoying his day. The last photo we place on the table top is a picture of Erica and her grandfather, the one where neither of them are smiling, but she's sitting on his lap all the same. Now that I look a little closer, his head is leaning against hers and one hand is resting on her knee protectively. I've caught her looking at that photo more than once. Maybe he loved her. Maybe he wanted more for her than what either of his daughters could give her.
Erica's adoptive mother finds a place on the wall as well, but she carefully cut her adoptive father out of it. I didn't ask her why. When she's ready to tell me ... she will. We dot the hall with ourselves and our families (my parents, Joel and my dad, Rachel and Buddha) and even a picture of Addison, Mark, Erica and me at dinner. We look so happy, we look like we're all where we belong. Several of our pictures from Italy are thrown in and finally, we put up photos of ourselves separately with Jasper. The shots were taken on different days when we visiting him at the clinic and I love them both.
After we hang the last photo, I realize that there's a photo of just me, but there isn't one of just Erica. I'm showing off my engagement ring in it and when I protest, Erica shakes her head and says, "I don't want a single picture of me on this wall by myself, Lee. I've spent enough time that way to know exactly what I look like alone. I'm much happier with the people I love. Okay?"
I let her convince me.
And then I spend a while convincing her that she will never be alone again.
Nothing says commitment like multiple orgasms.
Emma Foster's Christmas dress for the benefit is solid white with red and and green ribbons woven through the lace. Someone has put tiny little bells on her puffy sleeves so I hear her before I see her. I turn toward the sound of tinkling in time to catch her tap dancing and when I smile at her, she waves and runs my way. Her hair is in ringlets, framing her face beautifully. I kneel down in time to catch her as she rushes into my arms, hugging me tight. She smells like strawberries and when I kiss her on the cheek she's sticky. I make a face at her, wiping my mouth and she laughs. I think I could live to be one hundred years old and never get tired of that sound.
"Are you nervous?" I ask, turning down her frilly collar.
She shakes her head back and forth, hopping up and down in excitement. Her fingers fly over words that I can't understand and I make a mental note to become fluent in sign language before her next surgery. I would imagine that the only thing worse than not being able to vocalize what you want ... is being able to say it and no one understand. It's pure luck that Cristina comes along when I'm ready to scream in frustration. She squats down beside us and gives Emma a sweet smile. "Do you want me to tell her, kiddo?"
Yang glances at me and says, "She wants you to know that your red dress is really pretty. She likes your hair when it's not braided and she can't wait to hear you sing again because at the last rehearsal you were the best."
Emma signs again.
"What did she say?" I ask.
Yang laughs a little. "She told me I shouldn't sing again because I'm bad at it."
Once more time, Emma's hands fly.
Cristina laughs now and says, "Ever. I shouldn't sing again EVER."
I smile as Emma covers her mouth and laughs again and then she's gone, darting off in a swirl of skirt and clacking shoes.
I push myself up and readjust my red dress. It's identical to the yellow one that I wore in Italy the night I proposed to Erica. Hey, why mess with perfection? Erica actually got teary eyed when she saw me in it so I'm sure that sex is in my forecast. Not that I've been experiencing a drought or anything. I think that the only thing more shocking than how smart Erica is ... is how voracious her sexual appetite is. She has officially broken her 'On Call Room' rule too many times to count and we've enjoyed the HELL out of every available surface in our house. And the red dress she is wearing for this benefit is enough of a reminder of how she looked on our special night in Italy ... that it's taking all of my resolve not to pull her into any empty room around us to do that thing I did in the limo after she said yes.
Life is good.
Life is very very good.
What is *not* good ... is the crowd that is steadily building in the big auditorium at the hospital. I pull back a green velvet curtain and look out at the people, feeling my stomach fall to my feet. Every seat is filled and it's standing room only in the back of the building. The richest, most high profile citizens of Seattle were invited and I spot a few political figures in the front row which only adds to my nervous jitters. I'm trying to decide if I could fake laryngitis or if I'd be better off purposely throwing myself down the stairs when Gavin appears beside me.
"Can you help me with this tie?" he asks, yanking at the offending fabric.
"What in the HELL have you done to it, Elvis?" I reach up, trying to work out the knot in it. "Good grief! It's a mess!"
"You?!" I gasp. "You're named after 'The King'. Hell, maybe you should have worn a glittery jumpsuit and walked out there looking constipated."
"For the record ... I don't like you."
"Say it with a straight face and I'll believe you." I finally loosen the knot and quickly repair the damage. When I turn his collar down and straighten his jacket, he's grinning like an idiot. "What?" I query.
"You look really pretty tonight, Calliope."
I return his grin. "I do clean up well."
"Yes, you do." He winks at me and takes a deep breath. "Okay. It's showtime."
"Don't fuck up your song. Don't get tongue tied. And make sure you guilt the rich bastards into opening up their wallets. Okay?"
"No pressure or anything," he says, giving me a one fingered salute.
I clap for him from the sidelines as he walks onto the stage and picks up his guitar.
It's going to be a long night.
I somehow make it through my two Christmas songs and I manage to not piss myself laughing at George and Lexie. What they lack in tone they more than make up for in dancing. Emma laughs at them so much she can't sign the words at all. When they leave the stage, the little girl rushes past me and into the bathroom. Cristina manages to mangle her lyrics and then rewrites them on the spot to be as crude as a holiday song can possibly be. In the audience, I can see that Addison and Mark are collecting money left and right and I have to smile when they meet in the aisle and he rests a hand on her stomach.
During our Thanksgiving dinner, Mark took Savannah and Trevor into the backyard to play. It was a necessary thing for him to do. Those two children, overwhelmed with being in a new place, became holy terrors about an hour after their arrival. When Trevor knocked a pan of rolls into the floor and nearly scalded himself with boiling water, Mark zipped both kids into their jackets and headed outside to enjoy the light dusting of snow. I caught Addison watching from the window. I could tell that she was memorizing the view, tracing it into her mind the same way that Jasper traced his hand. When I joined her, peering out at Mark, who was tossing Trevor in the air ... I smiled so big my face ached. Erica was right about the view. It's breathtaking.
Addison leaned her head against my shoulder that day and said, "I'm going to marry him. You just wait. I'm going to ask *him*."
"You need pointers? I propose very, VERY well," I told her.
Erica arrived in time to agree. Then we plotted the best way for Addison to get her man.
Did I mention that life is good?
Fund raisers be DAMNED.
Jasper is in the front row wedged between my mother and Erica. His only infraction of the night so far has been to shout 'that's my sister' at the top of his lungs while I sang 'O Holy Night'. It's the same way he did it when I was in high school and performed 'Over the Rainbow'. I wish I had done that for him tonight. I didn't even think about it. I wonder if he still likes it. So much about him has changed in the few weeks he's been at the clinic. His hair has grown enough to cover his scar and it curls over his forehead like mine. He's so handsome in his suit that I couldn't hug him enough when he arrived with Jim.
I move behind the curtain again as Bailey finishes up her song and speaks about the clinic. She talks about how important it is to her, how wonderful Denny Duquette was, and how much money it needs just to operate for a week, a month, a year. I watch my parents put their heads together and then my father fishes his checkbook out of his breast pocket and I know that he's donating a huge sum. My suspicions are confirmed when Mom hands the check to Jasper, who passes it to Erica ... and her eyes widen into saucers when she glances down at it. She drops it in the basket Addison holds out and leans back, looking stunned.
Money, I think, is always going to be a sore spot with us.
When I mentioned that I'd like to donate money to the clinic to help them add on to the main building and get rid of the trailers, she refused. She didn't even think about it. She simply said that there was no way in hell that I was doing that and changed the subject.
I've decided that what she doesn't know ... won't hurt her.
For Christmas, Jim will be receiving a hefty donation from one Mr. Joel Torres and no one needs to know that it's actually my money, deposited into my brother's account. They'll all think that Joel is so happy about Jasper's recovery that he was feeling generous. I alone know that my brother is a tightwad asshole who would refuse to pay for anything if he could get away with it. When he dies, he'll probably want his entire bank account emptied and buried with him.
"You ready to sing our duet?"
I shake my head at Gavin, who has appeared beside me again. "Doesn't Yang have to sing again?"
"Yeah, about that ... no. Please ... no. Change in lineup. You and I will do this duet and then I need you to take her place and do something else. She doesn't want to go back out there and THEY don't want her to go back out there. So, it's up to you."
"Why is it up to me!? This was YOUR brainchild so YOU do it."
"I'll make your life very hard at work if you don't do this."
"Whatever, Gavin, you ass! You need *me* to make you look good at work because you spend all of your free time stuck up Cristina's ass and we both know it."
"It's not her ass that I'm stuck in, but you're close."
"Oh! Ew! You nasty little -"
Someone clears their throat behind us and I turn around to find Chief Webber standing just behind me. "Is everything okay here?" he asks.
"Just fine," Gavin says. "We had a small change in our schedule, but Callie is a true team player and she has agreed to perform an additional song to cover it."
"Who backed out?" Webber demands.
"Dr. Yang, through no fault of her own," Gavin replies. "She's been a little under the weather and I'm afraid that she's just not up to it."
"Oh, thank God!" Richard wipes his brow then realizes what he's said. "I mean, horrible that she's ill. Do I need to do see her? Has she been examined?"
I notice the way Gavin's eyes widen and say, "Gavin's examined her repeatedly, Chief. She's fine. I think it's stage fright, but I'll happily do this additional song if the two of you can approve the extra days off I wanted for Christmas because we're going to meet Erica's family in Nebraska and I haven't heard back yet."
"Damn." Gavin puts his hands on his hips. "You've got me by the short hairs."
"Trust me, Elvis, if I had you by the short hairs ... I'd be bleaching my hand," I fire back. "Am I off or not?"
"Fine. Fine ... I'll cover for you and make sure I have another set of hands for ortho," Gavin relents. "Now let's go do this damn duet and then you better close this show correctly and make every Scrooge out there who hasn't coughed up money ... cough up a treasury. Got it?"
"Bite my ass."
"I don't like gristle." Gavin winks at me, adjusts his headset, and walks onto the stage strumming his guitar. I pick up the microphone and listen to him work through the first verse.
"Here we are at last
Another year has come and gone
We reach for the stars to find
That we're not reaching on our own
Life's a little easier
If you find someone who
Climbs the tallest mountains
To stand there next to you"
I join him on the stage and in the chorus.
"You always hear people say
It's better to give than to receive
And with you by my side
I've learned how to believe
We can change the world
One small moment at a time
With my heart in your hands
And your heart in mine"
The next verse belongs to me and I pick Erica out in the audience, looking at her as I sing.
"Here we are at last
It's the best time of the year
And I'm so thankful every day
That I have you here
Life's a little easier
When you find that someone who
Braves the darkest nights
Just to get to you"
The chorus is the exact same as the previous one, but we add more riffs and finally close the song standing next to one another. When it ends, I see a shift in the audience (the light is blinding me so I can't see much) and I know that we're getting a standing ovation. Gavin and I bow (and I wrestle with the top of my gown) and then he leads me to the piano where I sit down, gritting my teeth. I didn't plan anything. This sucks.
"We had to make a last minute change and I apologize for that. Dr. Calliope Torres will be closing the show tonight and as you've heard, she's incredible so I think you'll enjoy it." He pats me on the back and smile. "Sing us out, Cal."
He called me *Cal*. Oh my god ... hell has frozen over.
I watch him exit the stage and take a deep breath. There's no music book in front of me, no ideas rolling through my head. I lift one hand, unsure of what to sing at all, when Jasper bellows, "Sing 'Wizard of Oz', Lee! Sing it real loud!"
I laugh a little and lower my hands, resting them in my lap. Into the microphone, I say, "That's my brother. He's a big fan of that movie."
I can hear people laughing a little and take another deep breath. "Fifteen years ago, he was injured so severely in a boating accident that the doctors told us he would never walk again. They said that he would likely never speak, that he would probably remain in a vegetative state, and that we'd be better off putting him in a home somewhere. We didn't believe them. My parents never gave up and recently he underwent surgery on his brain, surgery that is still in the trial phase, and he's coming back to us with each passing day.
"In his favorite movie, Dorothy dreams of returning home and she clicks her ruby slippers to do that. My brother Jasper didn't have ruby shoes, but he had medicine and every penny that you donate tonight will help people like Jasper find their way home. Because we have to believe that 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow' exists for everyone, even the hardest cases, and you can help make sure they live to see it."
I close my eyes and start to sing a capella and then I play the piano softly, blending it with my voice as I sing my brother's favorite song for him. When it's over and I stand up to take my bow ... Jazz is right in front of the stage and he's got tears on his face. He's clapping so hard that it knocks the handkerchief out of his suit pocket, but he doesn't notice. My prom date, my first best friend, my buddy, my brother ... is proud of me.
And even though he has a tough road ahead of him ... I think he's grateful.
I know I am.
There are some things that you can count on in life. People breaking their legs during the holiday season is basically guaranteed. The final day before my holiday vacation to Miami and then to Nebraska finds me in and out of operating rooms so much that the scrub nurse suggests a revolving door. I don't know what causes it, but holiday cheer does *not* follow patients into the emergency room. By noon I've been called every vile name that a woman can possibly be called and a few that would offend men. By three o'clock, I've been threatened with bodily harm no less than three times and when I snap a heavyset man's arm, he nearly yanks me bald with his free hand.
Needless to say, I'm not in the best mood when my shift ends and it gets worse when I find out that Erica left earlier in the day with Addison. I really wasn't looking forward to driving myself home. Erica is accustomed to driving in the snow and assures me that we'll see plenty of it in Nebraska after the warmth of Miami, but I am *not* used to driving on it. By the time I actually make it home, I have a sour disposition and my hands are hurting from the death grip I had on the steering wheel. I've decided that I do like Miami after all. And I can't wait to put on a pair of shorts and walk barefoot in the sand on Christmas Eve.
I feel like I have frostbite when I finally make it up the stairs leading to the living room and I groan when I see that there's no fire in the fireplace. I don't even know if Erica's home. She didn't answer her cell phone. I hang my coat, pull off my gloves and hat, and hurry to the kitchen where I choose wine over hot chocolate. I take several sips, refill the glass, and walk up the stairs to the bedroom, intent on taking a hot bath. The second I open the door ... I'm on sensory overload.
The wine is strong on my tongue, tasting incredible.
The scent of lilacs is almost overwhelming.
The room is flickering with candlelight.
And I nearly drop the glass in my eagerness to touch the milky white thigh that is showcased so beautifully.
Erica is sitting in the corner chair, her bare legs resting on the Ottoman. One is bent slightly and she's wearing nothing but her lab coat and stethoscope. I watch as she shifts a little and the jacket falls open, exposing her left breast fully. She motions for the glass and I look down to see that I'm a fraction of an inch from spilling it. I hand it to her and watch her take a drink. When she licks her lips, my legs start to quiver. "Erica -"
"I heard you had a bad day."
"Had. That's the operative word. It's looking up."
She grins at me, sets the glass on the floor next to the chair, and stands up. I seize the opportunity and trail my fingertips over her waist.
She kisses me tenderly and I can taste the wine I poured for myself on her lips and tongue. She always tastes sweet to me, but tonight the wine has made her taste even sweeter. I can't get enough of her, and my hands start to roam as I deepen the kiss. The softness of it still shocks me. The lack of stubble, the smooth contour of her jaw, her breasts against mine ... I don't think I'll ever get tired of it or get used to how right it feels.
I nearly cry out in agony when she slowly pushes me away.
"Now, now, Dr. Torres. I'm sure your stress levels are elevated. I think you need a complete physical examination."
I look at her and want to laugh, but the laugh gets caught in my throat as I stare at her creamy skin barely hidden under her lab coat. The lapels of that damn coat are hiding what I so desperately want to feel. I push the sides back and slide my fingers over both of her breasts.
"A physical examination, huh?" I ask as she slowly starts to unbutton my shirt. I hold my breath as she pushes it off, over my shoulders. "And you think you should give it to me?"
"Yes," she says as she places the stethoscope on my chest. She's such a considerate lover that she's already warmed the metal so it won't be a shock against my skin. "Your heart rate is elevated, Callie," she whispers as she cups one of my breasts, rubbing her thumb over the satin of my bra. "Hmmm, that could be a bad sign."
"It's you, Dr. Hahn. You get my pulse going."
"Oh really?" she asks me as she rubs down my stomach and slides her hand in the front of my pants. "Let me see what else I do to you."
"Only at Seattle Grace would the cardio doctor be examining *that*."
Her eyes are twinkling when she chuckles and then her face is serious when her finger glides against my wetness. "My goodness. I should have a closer look."
"By all means." I hold very still as she unbuttons my jeans and kneels down. My mind flashes to Miami, when she kneeled in front of me the first time she ever touched me. Just like then, she deftly slides off my shoes and then eases my pants over my legs until I can step out of them.
"You are wearing *my* panties." She traces the lace of a pair of yellow panties just like her blue ones. "Dear God, Cal, I see why you like them so much on me now. Turn around."
I comply and hear her intake of breath as she appreciates the view. I appreciate the feel of her palms running over the globes of my bare ass as she kneads my flesh. When I feel her lips, then her teeth, on the back of my sensitive thigh, I moan and shiver. Goosebumps dot my flesh as she whispers, "If you weren't already seduced, you would be now."
"You should probably keep going, Erica. Just to be safe."
She bites my ass, causing me to yelp, and then presses a kiss against it. I feel her mouth on the small of my back, just above my panty line, and then she slowly moves upward, exhaling against me as she kisses her way up my spine. When she fastens her lips to the back of my neck and sucks a little, my legs threaten to buckle. I feel my nipples harden into buds and I know that if she could hear my heart now, she'd be inclined to give me mouth to mouth. I'm dying. I know that I am. Her fingers dance over my back and sides and she walks around me and then the stethoscope is back on my chest. One of her brows quirks a little and she gives me a smile that can only be described as impish.
"You're beautiful," I murmur, plucking the steth from her ears and tossing it into the chair. "But you're even better when you're naked."
She lets me push her jacket off and when it clears her hands ... they're all over me at once. She has my bra unfastened and across the room so fast that I gasp and then her mouth is on mine, her breasts are flush against my own, and she's holding me so tightly that I can barely breathe. I moan when she sucks at my tongue and cry out she rakes her nails over my sides. "Fuuuuck."
"Sorry," she mumbles, bending down to kiss the scratches.
I drop my hand into her hair and watch as she kisses her way over my stomach and then traces the scar she gave me with her tongue. When she pulls my panties down and latches onto the scar that I earned in the accident so many years ago ... I feel my toes curl into the carpet and I know that I could get off on this alone. But she doesn't let me. She reaches to one side and grabs the Ottoman, lifting my leg so that my foot is resting against it and my leg is raised, opening me to her. When her tongue slides over my sex, I let my head fall back and dig my fingers into her hair, holding her where I want her the most. She complies, her arms moving through my legs and pulls me closer to her. Her tongue is doing amazing things when she slips her fingers into me.
I won't last long.
And she doesn't seem interested in prolonging the release that she will inevitably bring.
When she moans my name against me, I'm done.
I come so hard that my legs do buckle and I sit down on the ottoman with a loud 'ooomph'. She moves closer to me, situating herself between my knees and laves one nipple, then the other. As soon as the stars stop exploding behind my eyelids and I'm not a second away from a stroke, I kiss her, cupping her face. I can taste myself, the wine, and something that I finally realize is what I've searched for all my life.
I taste home.
Erica Hahn has given me the home that I always wanted and never knew how to achieve.
I taste the rainbow as I sail somewhere over it ... where dreams really do come true.
Erica and I take Jasper home to Miami for Christmas. On the flight, he keeps us entertained with tales of his friends at the clinic. I don't know what Jasper will do with his life now, but I think he could make a living as a stand up comic. His impressions of Jim, Nurse Gladys, and Geneva being angry that the piano is being tuned are so funny that I nearly pee my pants laughing. When he does impressions of me and Erica, I have to go to the bathroom. When I return to my seat, Jazz has on earphones and loudly tells me that he's watching a movie.
I slide into my window seat and take Erica's hand. "Are you looking forward to seeing the beach again, Yellow?"
She purses her lips a little and I know that she's concerned about going back to the place that started and ended so much for us. "You think your mother will let us share a bed?"
"Are you kidding? She'll probably lock one of us in the basement."
"We could get a hotel room."
"Or not. If she does lock one of us in the basement ... I happen to be pretty good at picking locks."
"And then we'd have a repeat of Lori Anne's morning freak out." Worrying her bottom lip between her teeth, Erica adds, "I never thought I'd go back to your family's house. Even now ... I'm surprised that she invited me."
"I think we finally won her over." I take her hand and kiss it. "Besides, she knows that we have this damn trial with Savoy starting next month so she's going to be on her best behavior."
"I hope they throw the book at him."
"I hope it's heavy."
We pass the remainder of the flight discussing the case against Dr. Savoy and sentence he could possibly get. From what we've been told, Savoy faces a lengthy prison term. With Izzie's testimony, as well as mine, the district attorney believes that we will see a guilty verdict. I hope he's right. Even though our home is protected with top of the line security now, I still have trouble walking up the front steps ... where the deer bled out. We're planning on repainting everything and that can't happen soon enough. I think that a fresh coat of color will erase the ugliness of what transpired there. I have to believe that.
My father picks us up at the airport and I quickly shed the outer layer of my clothing before I climb into the limo. Miami is a balmy eighty four degrees and the sky is so blue that it looks abnormal after seeing gray for so long. When we arrive at the house, my mother is waiting on the circular staircase and she rushes forward, hugging Jasper to her. She hasn't seen him since Thanksgiving and she's crying as she frets over his long hair (it hangs in his eyes) and his baggy jeans. He shakes his head and says, "It's cool, Mom" before he rushes past her calling for Buddha.
When my mother hugs me, I let her hang on for as long as she wants to. As much as Jasper is poised to eventually leave home, I'm finally coming back. I want to be here. I want to celebrate Christmas with my family and I'm no longer ashamed of how much we have. I'm damn grateful for it. I let my mother plant a wet kiss on my cheek and watch her greet Erica the same way she greeted me and Jazz. She loves Erica's slightly shorter and insanely curly hair and grabs one of our overnight bags as we walk up the steps together. I follow along behind her as she heads down the hallway toward my room and opens the doors.
It looks the same way it did when Erica and I made love for the first time and my eyes widen when I see the yellow and red robes on the bed. Mom notices my reaction and says, "I - I stocked the bathroom with fresh towels and I - well - I remembered that you two have your yellow and red thing so ... I got you robes. It's part of your Christmas present."
I run my hand over the soft fabric of the yellow one. "They're beautiful. Thanks, Mom."
"The two of you will be ... comfortable ... in here, right? If you'd rather have a bigger bed you can use the -"
"No, this is fine." I can't hide my smile so I don't try to.
"We appreciate it, Lori Anne," Erica tells her, giving her another hug.
"Well, I know how hard it is to sleep without Santos and I want you both to rest while you're here." Mom rubs her back and then squeezes my hand. "Do you two want to take a nap? You had to get up awfully early to make the flight."
"LEE!" Jasper yells from down the hall. "WANNA SWIM!?"
I nudge Erica and say, "I packed your bathing suit."
"Damn." She grimaces. "I was hoping you'd forget."
Ten minutes later, we're walking hand in hand on the beach and she stops every few feet to pick up a new seashell and look it over. "What are you doing?" I finally ask.
"I'm trying to find the match to the shell that I got the first time we were here. Then we'll both have one."
"You're a hopeless romantic."
"That's true." She hugs me to her and gives me a kiss. We're close enough to the water that we can feel the cool spray and she tightens her grip around my waist as I try to pull her in with me. "Wait."
"Quit stalling, Hahn." I point at the ocean. "You can't ease your way in. You have to run and dive."
"My body will go into shock. I just know it. It's *Christmas*. People don't swim in the ocean in the middle of winter."
"Yes, they do." I watch Jasper walk towards us. He's got on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt now. I guess some habits die hard because he sits down a few feet from us and meticulously rolls the legs of his shorts. He has always done that. I hope that he will ALWAYS do that. It's Jasper. It's a piece of him that I have loved since he first did it and it's one more thing that I will never have to miss. When he pushes himself to his feet, I know that he's about to demonstrate the run and dive.
But he doesn't.
He stands mere inches away from the water, not letting it touch his bare toes.
"Jazz?" I say his name softly to avoid startling him. He's watching the waves in the distance with a worried look on his face. "You okay, buddy?"
"Hope was skiing behind us that day," he says, his voice alarmingly monotone. "You were in the front of the boat and you were laying down on a towel because you were sick and you didn't feel like taking me skating. Mama said that the ocean air would clear up your nose and I was real worried because you were coughing a lot. You told Joel that I should have a turn skiing and he said no, so you were mad at him. I was mad, too. And he kept going faster and faster and you told him to slow down, but he said you needed to shut up. I tried to make him slow down, Lee."
I move closer to him, my heart thundering in my chest. "What?"
"I made him go faster by accident and then he tried to fix it and he wasn't looking where we were going no more. And then you screamed and I fell in the water and it hurt real bad 'cause I couldn't see you no more."
I close my eyes, conjuring up the memory of that fateful day. The acceleration had nearly rolled me over as the front of the boat shot upward. My eyes had locked on Jasper's, where he was sitting just behind Joel, and then the sounds of our boat colliding with the other had deafened me. I know I screamed. I know that there were moments of consciousness for me as I called for Jasper, writhed in agony, and tried to wrap my head around what had happened. Never, in a million years, did I think that Jazz had hit the throttle.
Or that Joel looked away so that he could rectify it.
I had always assumed that my older brother had been watching his new wife and couldn't concentrate on driving.
I had always assumed that I had been selfish in taking Jasper out, but now I remember that I had been feeling sick for days and my mother did tell me that the ocean air would help me. I remember being tired, achy, and miserable. I was so congested that I had been awake most of the night coughing.
I didn't take Jasper on the boat because I was being selfish.
I took him on the boat because I was sick and I wanted to be with him as much as possible before I headed back to school. I wanted to see him ski, something he had been telling me he had mastered, and I wanted to stand at the back of the boat and cheer him on as much as my scratchy throat would let me.
That's what really happened.
Jasper's clarity has become mine.
"It wasn't my fault," I mutter.
"Not your fault," Jazz confirms, holding out his hand to me. "Wanna swim now, Lee?"
My hand is shaking when I put it in his. He frowns and looks past me at Erica. Holding out his other hand, he waits for her to take it and then I feel her fingers weave through mine. We're the same holy trinity that we were before, standing together, joined by touch, by our hearts, by the truth. It's only fitting that my two anchors in life tether me so easily as the truth threatens to send me spiraling into the sky.
It wasn't my fault.
It wasn't my fault.
It wasn't my fault.
I want to scream it from the highest mountains and crawl into the deepest caves to yell it there as well.
I did not hurt my brother.
It was NOT my fault.
I feel weightless as Jasper takes a step back, tugging us with him. He lets go of Erica's hand and, still clinging to mine, starts to run. I have to jog to keep up and Erica does the same.
Together, we run into the welcome, calm waters and dive under.
Once upon a time, Jasper was baptized in the Atlantic Ocean and he came up differently.
This time ... I am baptized.
I come up as a different person and Erica is standing beside me to witness the rebirth of someone worthy of her, someone with no doubts, no reservations, and no worries.
She smiles at me and we lean against one another as Jasper swims around us.
You know, everything you've ever heard about straight jackets is true.
You feel like they're restricting your air and you can't break free no matter how hard you try.
My life? It used to be a straight jacket.
But the people that I love most have cut the restraints and I'm free at last.
The end! :)
So, we reached the end. It actually happened and I'm crying as I sit here because saying goodbye to this alternate reality feels bittersweet. I knew that it would be over eventually, but I'll be damned if I wanted it to. I can honestly tell you that writing this story was the best experience of my life. The support, the feedback, the new friends that I've made, the wonderful Callie/Erica community and the femslash readers have truly been a lifesaver for me. I wrote a lot of this fic while dealing with kidney stones and one infection after another. It was something that I poured myself into to escape the painful reality of my life and I can't thank all of you enough for helping me out. Your interest in this story, your questions, feedback, and critiques literally took my mind off everything. I really want to thank each of you by name, but I would feel guilty if I left anyone out. Please know that I appreciate every comment that was left for me. I don't think my replies back to all of you come close to being enough to show how much I admire you all, but I hope it helped. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you ALL!
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