This is what I planned for the ending from a very, very early stage. There is even a hint of it in CH 1 of the original story (when I thought this was going to be a one shot. heh). Anyway, I chose that more epilogue-y ending just as a way to show what happened to everyone. I sometimes still think this one here was the way to go.


He has to fight to keep an appropriate tone to his voice, because this part he always finds ridiculous: "And they lived happily ever after. The end." He shuts the book, fighting not to roll his eyes.

She sighs happily, which means she didn't catch his disdain for another in a long line of stupid nonsense fairy tales. It's not that he doesn't want her to be happy, and she loves this crap, it's just . . . she needs to grow up not believing in this horseshit. He made his living offa women who believed in white knights riding to the rescue, and it's just not true. No such thing as a white knight. Doesn't exist. She needs to know that. She needs to know that this is mostly a bunch of ridiculous, made-up BS.

"Daddy, can I ask you a question?" Daddy. She calls him this when she wants something from him.

Shit. He also doesn't want her growing up jaded and cynical. Juliet always says to not worry about it. Stop obsessing, she'll say. She'll figure it out on her own, and stories won't matter as much as setting a good example for her. He's always suspicious that by saying that, Juliet's just angling for him to do something romantic for effect. Which he won't do simply on principle.

"Go ahead, princess." And, see, why does he call her that? Isn't that what he wants to avoid, that lame princess mentality? But, seriously, what else is he gonna call her? He should stick with 'Half Pint' only. Or maybe drop the nicknames altogether. Right.

"Do you believe in love at first sight?"

Easy one. "No. Absolutely not."

She sighs heavily, offended at his lack of romantic sensibility. "Daaaa-addd." She prepares to lecture him. "Do not tell Mom that."

"I think she's already well aware."

Another heavy sigh. "I think it would be so magical." James has to fight an urge to make a Miles-style fake-vomit sound. "When I meet my true love, I'll know. That's the way it works. You just get a feeling about someone, and you know. That it is your dream guy."

"That's how it works, huh?" In the mind of an eight-year-old girl, maybe. "What about 'don't judge a book by its cover'? What about that?

She scoffs.

He tries, "All right, then. Maybe it'll work that way for you. More power to ya. Just don't think it's the only way. Then you're closin' yourself off to a whole world of guys." Wait. Is he telling her there's tons of guys to . . . to, what exactly? Sonofabitch. Maybe he should stick with the fairytales and skip trying to teach her otherwise.

"Well, you do believe in happily ever after, right?"

"See, now, there again, it's complicated."

She giggles, and he senses that she thinks he's teasing her. He supposes he sort of is.

"I'm tellin' ya. You wouldn't believe how many trips to the hospital involved in happily ever after." Four? Five? He's lost count.

She wriggles uneasily and starts picking at her bedspread, because she knows where this is heading.

"Would be less if someone I ain't gonna name didn't smash things over their brother's head. And I guess another hospital visit next week just to get his stitches out." That will be five.

She changes the subject, ever so slightly. "Or if you didn't hurt your knee chasing after that guy who ran the stoplight."

No, six.

He grunts.

"Or remember when Uncle Miles got the hives?'

Hell, yes, he remembers that. Miles, itching and swelling, having trouble breathing. James, antsy in the waiting room: Please forgive me for every bad thought I've ever had about him, please let him be OK, I'll never call him Oda Mae again. Or, maybe Bonzai. Bonzai and Donger. I can't drop Oda Mae.

So, what, that makes SEVEN? Seven trips to the hospital: They lived happily ever after, and were thankful for health insurance. And living near a major medical center. THE END.

He tells his daughter, "Happily ever after's what they say. What they mean is all sortsa trips to the hospital. Or, for instance, I'm still surprised that happily ever after apparently also involves tons of sports practice. Life ain't a fairytale, sweetheart."

"Dad," she admonishes. "That's terrible. When I grow up, I'm going to marry someone so much more romantic than you." She sticks out her lower lip. "Why did Mom marry you anyway?"

"I ask myself that very same question all the time."

She narrows her eyes at him. Maybe she has more to say.

"Listen, here's the deal," he tells her. "I think fairytales are boring. Who wants all happy all the time? That's lame. You and me gotta be readin' better stuff. Back to Little House or Narnia or something. Not this princess happily ever after mumbo jumbo."

"All right," she agrees, smiling happily.

He gets out of bed and tucks the covers around her. He kisses her forehead. "Life is good, Rachel," he says. "Ain't perfect, but it's the not-perfect stuff that makes the rest of it so good."

"Good night, Daddy," she says, closing her eyes. "Can you and Mama put your music on loud tonight? I like to hear it when I fall asleep."

"Think we can arrange that."

See? If life were perfect, this wouldn't be 1986. They'd be listening to their music on one of them newfangled iPods, not a scratchy record player. Life ain't perfect. Probably never will be. Even so, he thinks it's still the perfect way to spend a night.

Yes, I realize I've threatened it before, but I really do think I am done for good. At the risk of sounding like an utter lunatic, these characters don't really live in my head anymore. I had to write out these last parts from when they still did, but now it's all out.

Thanks so much for reading, for reviewing, and for encouraging.

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