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"And the Seasons, They Go Round and Round"

When I think of my father, a million different smells and memories swirl through my consciousness: smoke wafting from the front porch as the sweet tobacco swirled around his face, marinara bubbling on the stove as he stood over the range with his black apron tied around his waist, using his finger to test the stewing tomatoes and leaving him with the smell of garlic and onions always on his hands. Even after endless attempts to wash the smell clean, I could always still smell it on him when he hugged me.

I can barely remember the first time I met him, but I knew every detail of the meeting, my mother recounting the events when I asked questions and pulling out old scrapbooks she'd made filled with pictures from my past life and with photos of my new family. She had always been honest with me, even when I was just a little shit and most people didn't think I'd understand, she respected me enough to give me the honest truth. She told me about her and my father signing the papers and bringing me home to complete their family, choosing a toddler over the coveted infants. My mother had always made it clear that they chose me, that they wanted me, and I can't ever remember them as anything other than my parents.

I remembered my first years with them, how I'd wake up from nightmares and my mom would sit with me by my bed, engulfing me in Joni Mitchell's lyrical melodies before falling asleep in the rocking chair in my new room. Or how my father would make me homemade chocolate chip cookies, even at midnight, because he knew they were my favorite and always made me feel better.

I remembered the first time I was grounded at the age of twelve because I got caught ditching class. I spent a whole week sulking in my room with my dad lecturing me every damn day on the importance of education and how knowledge is the basis for all growth, and I would roll my eyes at him. But he told me something then that I have carried with me ever since, he said I didn't have to like school or be good at any one particular thing, but that when I found something that made me feel alive I should pour my whole soul into it. Don't hesitate, he said, and don't half-ass it, do it with all your heart. Don't try, just do.

And now, five years later, kneeling on the tile floor of the kitchen as I searched through the cabinets looking for my ten-inch round cake pans, these are the thoughts that rambled through my seventeen-year-old brain.

My father is such a fucking cornball but I love him all the same.

"Ah-ha!" I said aloud to the empty house, pulling the round tins from underneath a cookie sheet as I stood up. I coated the inside of the Teflon pans with non-stick spray and lined the bottoms with parchment. Then, giving the vanilla batter one last whisk, I divided the mixture evenly amongst the three pans.

After placing them in the oven, I set the timer on the stove as I did the math in my head. Mom and Dad's flight was to come in at six this evening, so factoring in an hour or so for the drive from the airport, I would have just enough time to finish the cake before they got home from their yearly trip to New York. This was the first year they let me stay home by myself. Granted, they made every single one of my aunts and uncles check in on me, even sending over my cousin as a spy. We ended up drinking beer and playing video games all night, and I was hoping the cake would distract them from the fact that my cousin was a clumsy drunk and had destroyed one of my mom's favorite lamps. It was from Italy or something, from the time her and my dad had lived there when they were younger, so I knew she was going to be pissed.

But man, if anything could distract my mom from a rage-induced rant, it was cake. My mom loved my cakes.

This didn't always used to be the case. She used to have problems eating, even used to make herself throw up and shit because she didn't think she deserved to be loved. I had gone through a stage when I was fifteen, I started rebelling, I guess. I loved my parents, but I wanted to know where I came from and who my biological parents were and why they didn't want me. I didn't know how they could just give me up. My mom told me this story about when she was a kid, how her father gave her up because he didn't think he deserved her but that he had always loved her. She really helped me get through that frustration because it helped to know that I wasn't alone, and that I was lucky enough to have two people who loved and accepted me, even when I was acting like a rebellious asshole. I really appreciated them for that.

I saw the way my mom took care of those people at the clinic, how she helped them deal with their eating disorders and self esteem problems, showing them that we can't help the shit we're given but that we have a choice in how we deal with it. And I saw the way my mom adored my dad, the way she looked at him when he spoke, how she giggled with him when they had their morning coffee, and the way she'd wrap her arms around his waist and rest her head on his back while he cooked. My parents taught me all about what love should be, and what a family should feel like.

The timer dinged and pulled me from my reminiscent haze. I checked the layers in the oven, the cakes a perfect golden brown, and I pulled them from the heat and removed them from the pans to let them cool on the racks.

I mixed the ingredients for the frosting, today's choice a whipped vanilla buttercream. The trick to making a splendid frosting is in the fat. Butter is naturally creamier but doesn't hold as well as shortening for decorating. Some recipes call for both, but I strictly use all shortening, thinning the frosting with a little milk just to make it pliable, and to replace that buttery flavor I use a liquid butter flavoring, as well as vanilla and almond extract. It just adds that extra touch that makes this recipe mine. I concocted it myself following my dad's advice.

I loved throwing myself into baking. I was leaving after graduation for Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Los Angeles. I wanted to be a chef, like my father, only I was going to specialize in patisserie and baking. I had learned everything I knew about cooking from my dad. He owned his own restaurant here in Seattle where we lived and I wanted to be just like him someday, maybe own my own bakery or something. He told me I could do it, too, that I had a natural gift for the pastry arts, and I believed him. My father had always told me I could do anything, I just had to make the choice to do it.

Pulling the strawberry filling from the fridge, I set to work assembling the three layered cake. I piped around the edges of each layer, creating a confectionary dam so the filling wouldn't ooze out around the sides, before stacking the cooled cakes one on top of the other. I then used my spatula to smooth a thick layer of frosting around the sides and the top, dipping the metal scraper into a glass of water and obliterating any flaws in the perfectly smooth surface. I finished it by piping an intricate ribbon around the base, and covering the top with little pink rosettes and green leaves and vines, because I knew my mom would think they were pretty.

Just as I was finishing up, my cell phone rang and I grabbed it from the countertop to answer.

"Hi baby, it's Nonna. I just wanted to make sure you were okay," Nonna's voice soothed over the receiver. My nonna is a real hip chick, but geez, can't they cut me some slack? I am going to be living on my own in just a few months.

"I'm fine, Nonna. I'm just finishing up a cake," I said as I held the phone between my shoulder and ear, trying to wash up the remainder of the dishes. Multitasking like a motherfucker.

"Okay, sweetie. Oh! Poppa wants to say hi, he's just picking up the other phone." I heard a muffled static and then my grandfather's voice was on the phone.

"Hi doll, how are you?"

"I'm fine guys, really. They should be home in a couple of minutes or so," I said with a laugh.

"Alright, alright, tell your parents to call us when they get home. We love you," Nonna said before they both hung up the phone. I checked the clock. I still had fifteen minutes to spare. I turned on Discovery Channel and watched some show on life in the rainforest. Man, the camera angles were amazing and I watched this frog snag a huge ass beetle thing in slow motion. I was still sitting in awe when I heard my mother's voice from the entry way.

"Hello? We're home," she shouted through the house. I turned off the television and went to greet them. My mom stood before me, her short wavy hair ruffled around her face, and I threw my arms around her small frame. I was taller than her now, had been since the tenth grade, but I still felt protected when she wrapped her arms around me. I inhaled her clean lavender scent and relaxed into her soft white blouse. I always tried to pretend it didn't bother me, but I always miss them terribly when they go away.

"I missed you guys," I mumbled into her shirt, trying to maintain a little independence, but I knew as soon as I saw my dad I would just crumble.

"Hey, there's my girl," my dad smoothed as he walked through the door, and I ran to hug him tight across his middle. I inhaled his soapy smell as he kissed the top of my head, his hands running over my long tangled hair. "You've been baking. Vanilla and almond, did you make a cake?"

"Um, yeah. It's kind of a peace offering," I said hesitantly as my mom stopped in her tracks and spun around.

"What happened? What did Charlie break?" Yeah, this wasn't the first time I'd have to apologize for my cousin's behavior.

"The lamp in the living room," I said quickly before adding with a similar velocity, "But I made you cake." I smiled my cheesiest smile as a slow grin twitched on my mother's lips.

"You're lucky you're handy with the mixer," she teased. "Alright, where is this cake? I'm starving." She walked into the kitchen and my dad and I followed her as she took a fork from the drawer and dug right in to the cake on the counter, a small bite right off the side of the perfectly frosted cylinder.

"My God, you're going to send me into a diabetic coma one of these days," she said as she licked the frosting from the fork, and I laughed at the blissful look on her face.

"Alright, let me get a piece of this," my dad said, and she fed him a bite before placing a small delicate kiss on his lips. "Umm…sweet, definitely very very sweet." He winked at my mom and I almost rolled my eyes, knowing full well he wasn't talking about the cake.

I started putting away the dishes as my parents enjoyed the peace offering. My father set to work preparing the kettle for espresso. He turned to playfully smack my mom on the ass, something he considered a display of endearment, and she spun around with the fork still in her hand and tried to hit him back. The oblong diamond of her ring caught the rays and shimmered under the fluorescent lights.

"Knock it off, Edward, try to control yourself," my mom giggled, and she fed him another bite of cake.

"You know that's impossible," my dad said as he kissed her on the tip of her nose, his arms winding around her waist. "I've never been able to control myself around you, Bella, and you know it."

I have always known genetics had nothing to do with the connection I felt for my parents, but I was their child in so many ways. They had nurtured and guided me, saved me from an existence where I was of little importance and gave me a second chance at life, and over the last fifteen years they had taught me many things. They had taught me about the ups and downs of life and how karma can be a powerful ally. They taught me how to care for others and to be a compassionate human being. They taught me about family and choices and hope, and how our lives become what we want them to be, and that when destiny and fate take their leave, our choices take over. They taught me how to cook and how to nurture, but most of all my parents taught me about love.


WARNING: Epically mushy A/N ahead...

And now the circle is complete, my dears. Title is from Joni's "The Circle Game".

Darling Readers...I cried my way through your messages last chapter. I am so humbled by your words and I just want to hug you and squeeze you and pinch your cheeks and give you big sloppy kisses. Thank you for rec'ing this story, for sharing your thoughts, your hurts, your loves, your heartaches, and your own personal demons, thank you for trusting me with your beloved characters and most of all, thank you for reading, for letting me share, and for letting me address issues that are often misunderstood. Letting go of these characters has been difficult for me but I am determined to be happy about the completion of this story...you hear that, DETERMINED! The friendships forged through this process are connections that have touched my soul and changed my life forever. I can't be sad with all that I've gained.

n7of9is beta, of course, and I love her more than I can express with endearments. Your dedication to this story, your friendship, your wisdom, it's all quite astounding and I truly couldn't have done this without you, my most favoritest person in the whole wide world.