Once again, we have reached the end of another story. I actually have already started on yet another, and will hopefully start sharing it with you wonderful people around the holidays, once I've had time to polish a few chapters and get the plot hammered out.
This is, however, the last chapter of Eden. I want to thank every one of you for reading this far, and I want to give a special thank you to those who have left such kind reviews. It means so much to me to know that y'all are still out there, not only reading but actually enjoying what I write. Thank you all very, very much.
Jordan went back to work early on a bright Friday morning almost a month later. Woody had offered to drive her, drop her off on his way to the precinct, but she waved off his worries with feigned agitation and a cheerful smile. It was with a heart lighter than it had been in weeks that she kissed him goodbye and made her way to cover her first shift since the attack.
The morgue was oddly quiet when she got off the elevator. To be honest, she had been expecting balloons and streamers, and possibly a cake, waiting for her immediately upon her entrance and she wasn't sure whether to be disappointed or relieved when there was not. As she was making her way to her deserted office, however, Nigel grabbed her arm without warning and dragged her, stumbling and muttering, into the break room.
There were balloons after all. A giant banner was strung up over the cabinets that read, "WE'RE GLAD YOU'RE NOT DEAD!" in all capital letters complete with the multiple exclamation points and a bit too much glitter. Lily was there with her daughter, standing beside Bug and Kate, and Garret was actually pulling a cake out of the refrigerator, all while looking quite unhappy about it as Nigel goaded him on. A good number of the day staff she usually worked with were crowded in there, too, and there was a burst of noise as people came up to hug her or talk with her.
All Jordan could do was stand there, adjusting her purse on her shoulder in astonishment as about five different people came up to wrap their arms around her at once.
"Yeah, hey guys," she mumbled, both happy and somewhat at a loss. "'Glad you're not dead', huh?"
"Well, it's true," Nigel said jovially as he helped cut the chocolate cake to hand out. "Bug and I made the banner ourselves, you know, though Doctor M. said it was too distasteful to hang where people might, erm, actually see it. Since this is a morgue and all."
Jordan just laughed, her face flushing with pleasure at being surrounded by her friends. Lily came forward with Madeline, who immediate reached out a little hand to the woman she recognized. Jordan let her grasp her finger, smiling widely when the baby giggled. "I'm so happy to see you!" Lily cried, pulling Jordan into a one-armed embrace with the little girl sandwiched between them.
"Thanks," Jordan whispered into her ear. "And thanks also, for taking care of Woody while I...couldn't."
"We're all family here," Lily replied easily, releasing her when Maddie started to pull on Jordan's dangling earring.
When Lily stepped back to tend to her daughter, Kate was standing there, looking as though she were trying to be next in line. Without a word, Jordan took her into a tight hug. "You are a lifesaver, Kate, you know that? I owe you more than you could possibly realize."
She was stiff for a moment before relaxing and returning the embrace. "I was just doing what I thought you needed, that's all," she said honestly.
It was almost an hour filled with laughter and talking and cake until she could slide out of the room, down the quiet halls, and into her dark, unused office. She closed the door behind her, casting the room in semi-darkness broken only by the lights coming in from under the nearly closed shades over the windows. Her sanctuary, this place had always been. Where she could go to escape her thoughts or her past, or her father or Woody so long ago. At least twice it had marked the beginning of her future. She wasn't sure what it meant now, but she was happy to be back.
With a soft sigh, she turned on the overhead florescents and opened the blinds on her windows. The red message light on her main phone was flashing up at her, and she sat slowly at her desk to start by checking messages before tackling paperwork (as Garret had refused to assign her any new cases yet). The message, though, was from her doctor, confirming her last appointment of the day to remove her stitches. This ordeal was almost completely over.
The phone receiver had not even left her hand before it rang again. Blinking and then quickly falling into her skin as a Medical Examiner, she brought it back up to her ear. "Cavanaugh."
She smiled, her shoulders relaxing a bit. "Oh, hey Woody. It's only been two hours; did the separation anxiety get to be too much for ya?"
His chuckle filtered over the phone line at her words, and she could imagine him lowering his eyes and studying the pen likely in his hands. "I just wanted to make sure your day was starting off okay, that's all."
"Yeah, it's going pretty well, I guess." She shrugged into the empty room, her gaze going out and down the hall to where Nigel was still stuffing his face with cake and trying to get Bug to sing something amid the cheers of other coworkers. Their raucous and joyful laughter could be heard through the walls and glass. "They had a surprise party for me, did you know that? Chocolate cake at eight o'clock in the morning."
"They're all happy you're back. And alive," he added softly. "Can you blame them?"
"No, I suppose not," Jordan replied, half a grin pulling back her lips when she heard a balloon pop and Garret finally start to order everyone back to work. "Oh, by the way. I'm going to be home a little late tonight. I'm getting my stitches out. Finally."
"Hey, that's awesome!" But then he paused, and she knew what he was thinking before he asked. "Does, um...does that mean we can...can, uh...you know...again?"
She laughed lowly, not even bothering to finish his thought for him and going straight for the jugular. "Yes, Farm Boy, this means we can make sweet love all night long once again. What're you gonna do about it?"
Woody swore softly under his breath and Jordan's grin widened when he quickly stammered, "I gotta go now."
When Jordan got home that evening just as the sun was starting to set, Woody's car was already in the driveway. Oddly, though, there did not appear to be any lights on downstairs. An eyebrow raised and ready for another surprise party, she slipped her key into the lock and let herself inside. What she saw instead made her heart swell.
Candles - more candles than she thought she owned - had been lit all over the living room and into the kitchen and dining room, bathing the downstairs with the subtle glow of at least seventy small flames. Fresh flowers of all kinds were on both end tables near the couch, more on the table by the stairs, and more on the bar counter between the kitchen. She could see another arrangement of flowers on the table, where an intimate dinner setting had been laid out with plates and bowls and forks and knives, and those long, fancy taper candles. Dinner was still in the oven, and the smell of it made her mouth water.
The creator of all this, however, was nowhere to be found.
"Woody?" Jordan called, gently setting down her purse and keys beside one of the large glass vases, pausing to sniff at the flowers it held. They were lovely.
His voice came from their bedroom, and she looked toward the stairs expectantly even though he didn't come down yet. "I'll be right there!" he replied.
She went to the landing and gazed up into the dark hallway, where the only light was coming from under the door he had closed. It was another few seconds before he appeared at the top of the stairs, and he beamed when he saw her standing there. "Hey," he said softly, coming down quickly and folding her into his arms.
She laughed softly, pulling away after a moment. "You changed," she noticed, and it was true - he was wearing the blue button-down that she always commented looked so good on him, and a fresh pair of slacks, neither of which he had left in that morning. "And you smell clean."
"Oh," Woody rebutted, releasing her and taking her hand to guide her to the table. "Does that mean I usually smell dirty? I just cleaned up a little, that's all. Lasagna can be kind of messy when you're distracted."
Jordan looked up, meeting his bright blue eyes with her darker ones as he pulled out her chair so she could sit. "What's all this, Woody? Are you trying to seduce me?"
"No," he muttered, the faint color staining his cheeks just noticeable in the candlelight. "I was planning this anyway. It's more of a celebration. Of you, of us. Of where we are in life, and what we've survived together."
"That's really thoughtful." She grabbed his hand before it could leave the back of her chair and gave it a brief squeeze. "Hey, Woody?"
"Hey, Jordan?" he shot back with a grin.
"Um, tomorrow there's something I want to do. And I'd like you to come, if you want."
"Of course." Her voice had changed just slightly, and he glanced down at her with a mixture of interest and concern. The flickering light made her face ethereal as she turned her gaze up to his again. "What is it?"
"I want to go visit the cemetery, to see my mom. Well, her headstone, I guess," she said cautiously. It was a thought that had occurred to her the previous week, and for some reason she felt as though she would find the rest of her closure there, by leaving the remainder of her burden where it belonged - with the source. With her mother.
Instead of laying out the argument of why that was a bad idea, which she had been expecting, Woody picked up the hand still twined with his and turned it to kiss her palm. "I would be honored to go with you, Jordan."
Blinking back a sudden desire to cry, Jordan cast her eyes toward the kitchen. A bowl of salad was sitting beside the sink, and a loaf fresh garlic bread was waiting to be cut. "So, you said you made lasagna? Jesus, Woody, how did you have time to do all this? It's so...so romantic."
"I left work a little early," he explained as he started bringing food over to the table. "To pick up the flowers. There's a florist near the precinct and I called ahead to order them yesterday. Everything else was easy"
Jordan just nodded silently, knowing if she offered to help he would refuse. Instead, she happily let him serve her dinner as their talk turned to more pleasurable things until, finally, the food was finished and she led him away from the table toward their bedroom to stay up for the rest of the night.
The cemetery was very quiet, and quite cool considering how late in the summer it was. A light breeze blew around them, rustling the leaves of the large cedar trees overhead. The sun was starting to set when Jordan found the tombstone she had visited many times over the years. Woody held back when he saw her start walking with a purpose, but she knew he would come forward if she needed him to. For now he would give her privacy to do whatever she desired to do to find closure.
She knelt in front of the modest stone, reaching out with one hand to trace her mother's name and feeling an odd sense of detachment. In the past, she had been filled with rage or intense sadness when she had come here. Now...now she felt calm. No nagging at the back of her mind, whispering to her that she needed to run, as far and as fast as she could.
Letting out a deep sigh, she dropped her hand and clasped them both on top of her thighs. "Hi, Mom," she said softly, her voice getting lost on the wind so she knew no one would overhear. "I haven't visited lately, and I'm not gonna apologize for that. In fact, I don't think I've ever come during this time of year." She chuckled lightly, knowing that was true. She'd usually come often during the month of the anniversary, when she was the angriest and the most vulnerable. When she missed her mother the most. Instead it was just after her birthday this time. "I've changed a lot. I think you'd be proud of me. You know, moving on and letting go and all that. I've been a lot more grounded the last few years."
She paused and let her words die off, not sure what else to say as she continued to stare at the headstone.
"I'm not going to come back," she added after a long moment. "I can't. Or at least, not the way I used to. I want to try to hold on to the good memories I have of you, and I can't do that when I continue to let the bad ones poison me the way I have been."
Her fingers touched the carved name again, falling this time to the word "beloved" underneath. "Obsessing over you has ruined my life. I know there's nothing I can do to change that now, and it's too late to fix a lot of the damage I've done. But I don't want to keep letting this…this hole I have, that you left, keep ripping new ones in this life I'm trying to create now. It took me a long time to understand that my life isn't connected to yours, and Dad didn't always help with that. Hell, I don't even know where he is right now."
She stopped herself again, recognizing the tumbling words and not knowing what to do. "But I do love you, Mom. That won't change. And I'll try not to be so angry all the time because of what happened."
That seemed like a good enough place to stop. After a short, whispered goodbye, she got to her feet. Woody was there immediately to steady her, and he pressed a kiss to her temple. "I love you, Jordan," he told her quietly, wrapping an arm around her waist and gently guiding her away. "C'mon, let's go home and make dinner."
She nodded silently, leaning her head against his shoulder and feeling a weight being lifted from hers.
He turned to look at her, pausing briefly in his cutting of the vegetables for their meal. "What's up?" he prompted with a wide smile when she didn't continue right away. Instead she had levered herself up onto the granite countertop beside him, watching with mild interest as he prepped the food. Her hand covered something on the other side of her legs, but he couldn't tell what it was.
"You remember when we were at the hospital in Lenox?" she started softly, her gaze still on the veggies.
Woody eyed her, confused. He set the knife down, knowing by the tone of her voice that she wanted to talk about something serious. "Too well."
She took a breath and let it out slowly, and then swallowed. She knew what she wanted to ask. She'd been over it again and again in her head, and this had seemed like a good opening. Now, though, it was getting muddled coming out of her mouth. "They wouldn't let you back with me."
"No," he agreed slowly, not having a clue where this was going.
His growing concern was making her nervous. Perhaps this hadn't been the best lead. Just come out with it, Jordan, she told herself firmly. It's not like he's going to say no or anything. "You think maybe…maybe it's time to get a, you know, marriage license?"
"A…get a-a marriage…I -" It was a good thing he had stopped cutting the food when he had, because his hands had started to visibly shake at the word 'marriage'. All he could do was stare at her, his blue eyes huge and completely surprised. He took in a gulp of air and tried to speak again when she smirked. "Marriage l-license? Are you sure, Jordan?"
She nodded, but instead of answering his question, she picked up the item she had hidden beside her leg. It was the engagement ring he had bought in the weeks before they'd started looking for a house, and his cheeks flamed, his heart almost leaping out of his chest. "I – look, I – how did you - ?"
"Ask me to marry you."
His eyes darted from the ring box to her face and back again, and he blinked, convinced he was dreaming. She smiled softly at him and he knew this wasn't really a command; she was just opening the door. Hands still shaking, he took the small box from her and took another steadying breath, staring at the floor for a long moment before looking up at her again. She was still sitting there on the counter, her grin widening, and he came to stand in front of her so he could take her left hand in his right.
"I, uh, I had something planned out, you know, a speech, but…" he shrugged. "I've forgotten what I was gonna say."
Jordan realized she was shaking with anticipation as well, and she wet her lips, an airy chuckle breaking through. But she didn't speak, wanting him to have his moment exactly the way he wanted it to be. Well, aside from her essentially forcing his hand. From here on out, anyway.
"I love you, Jordan. More than anyone in the world."
He dropped her hand suddenly, realizing he was going to need both of his to open the ring box. "We are already planning on spending our lives together, so will you marry me?"
"Of course I will," she answered, letting him slide the ring onto her finger. It was platinum with a flat surface, several small diamonds embedded in the band rather than one large stone mounted in the center. A wedding band rather than an engagement ring. She wouldn't have to take it off while she worked. "This is beautiful, Woody," she breathed, studying it in the light. The diamonds reflected it back, magnified by the platinum. This was all she needed. "It's...it's perfect."
"You mean you didn't look at it when you found it?" he asked, somewhat shocked and now quite unable to take his eyes off of her.
Jordan laughed and looked at him again, a brilliant smile on her face. "I certainly did not! And for the record," she added, reaching out to wrap her arms around his neck and draw him close, "I've known about this ring since you bought it while we were still living in my old apartment. I like to borrow your thick Wisconsin socks when it gets cold. My toes have poor circulation."
He stared at her, dumbfounded though still noticing when she pulled him up against the counter and between her legs so they could dangle down beside his. "Okay, so I'm going to have to find a new hiding place for gifts."
"Probably a good idea."
"We're really engaged now, aren't we?" Woody asked, his voice sounding far away.
"Uh, yeah." Jordan smirked at him, one hand snaking up to run absently through his hair. "Pretty sure that's what just happened. We can go apply for the marriage license Monday, if you want, and be married by Friday. It's…well, it's only valid for sixty days, so let's just do this thing, right?"
"A wedding…by Friday. You're joking."
Jordan chuckled and tugged him close for a quick kiss. "Come on, you should know I won't go for a big thing." The look on his face told her he did, in fact, know that, and she added, "I just have one stipulation."
"Oh?" It was wary, and he eyed her with just as much suspicion. "I already figure you're not taking my name. What else is there?"
"I want Paul to officiate."
"Oh," he said again, this time with surprise. "Okay. Sure. Absolutely."
"His head is going to explode when I ask him. He always assumed I'd never get married after the fiasco my life turned into," Jordan muttered wryly. "And please. I can always hyphenate, right? Cavanaugh-Hoyt. It's freaking long, but no one will keep you away from my bedside in a hospital again."
"Is that why you're doing this? Because of the hospital thing?" Woody asked bluntly.
Seeing where that thought was going, she cupped his face and brought his gaze back to hers. "That may be what spurred me so quickly – along with this near-death experience and how close things came to falling apart – but no, that's not why. I love you, Farm Boy. Crazy as that may seem. And if I'm going to marry anyone, it's going to be you."
"A wedding by Friday," he mumbled again, eyes roaming off over her shoulder now as this idea settled in his mind. "Married by Friday. Married. To you. To…you. The woman of my dreams."
Jordan playfully smacked his shoulder. "C'mon. What dreams?" she chortled when he met her stare again, a look of shock on his face. Before he could answer, though, she said, "You should let me do the talking with Paul, though. He might take some convincing. Now would you do me a favor and kiss me already?"
Jordan led the way into the large church, a sly smile playing on her lips and a very important piece of paper tucked into her purse. Woody walked close behind her, remembering the last time he had been in St. Inez with the murder investigation and quickly chasing those memories away as he allowed himself to truly look around this time. The pews were mostly empty, considering it was late on a Friday, and the deep afternoon sunshine came in through the stained glass in the high vaulted ceiling to paint lovely colors on the tiled floor. It was peaceful and quiet.
Jordan peeled away before she got to the altar and made her way up a small set of stairs to an ornately carved wooden door - the office of the Father. Not hesitating, she knocked three times and waited for a muffled welcome before pushing the heavy door open.
Paul looked up from his desk in surprise. "Jordan!" he cried, a genuine happiness in his voice as his entire face lit upon seeing her. He stood quickly and came around to greet them both, pulling her into a tight embrace. "I never thought I would see you in my church of your own free will," he said with an amused smile. "Have you come to me for business or pleasure? Though of course I will hardly pass up the chance to see you on any occasion, my friend."
"Oh, please," Jordan huffed with a dismissive wave of her hand as Woody came fully inside and closed to door. "I was just here for your Christmas service. Yeah, okay, five years ago." But then her grin widened and she reached into her purse for that piece of paper. "Actually, Paul, Woody and I are here to ask you a favor. Not a business favor, a personal one."
"Oh?" He glanced between them both, taking in Jordan's excitement and Woody's subtle nervousness. Without asking, he extracted the paper from her hands. "This is a marriage license. Issued today. Three hours ago, in fact."
"And you are a priest," she pointed out needlessly.
"Yes, I am."
But he wasn't going to give her what she wanted, and Jordan scowled. "Fine. Paul, would you please do us the honor of...of marrying Woody and me?"
He practically glowed at her question, beaming at her as he responded. "I would be delighted to. I'm just shocked that you're marrying anyone at all, really."
"It could have been you, jerk," she muttered, punching him playfully on the arm.
He just smiled blissfully. "When were you planning on having your ceremony? Would you like to use the church? Of course, I don't mind traveling to another location, Jordan, since I know how you are about houses of worship."
Refraining from hitting her friend again, she and Woody exchanged a quick, meaningful glance that Paul didn't catch. "Uh, actually...we were hoping, um, that you could do it now. If you weren't busy."
"Now?" he choked, his dark eyes widening. "As in, right now? You walked in unmarried and will be leaving here married? I...have never had that requested of me before. Usually a great deal of thought is put into a Catholic wedding -"
"This isn't going to be a Catholic wedding!" she quickly interrupted, holding her hands up for emphasis and just seeing as Woody's face lost all emotion. "No. I know you're a Catholic priest and all, Paul, but we really only need the 'priest' part this time. Okay? Someone to watch as we say vows, maybe guide us a little, and then pronounce the whole thing legal. And, uh, I wanted it to be you instead of some stranger at the courthouse."
Some of the color came back into his cheeks at that and he nodded slightly. "Yeah. Yeah, okay."
She looked over at Woody again, meeting his eyes to make sure he was still good with this – an encouraging nod and smile was her answer – before stepping a little closer and touching Paul's shoulder. "You know me, man," she pressed softly when he looked at her. "You know I can't do a big wedding. If we try to plan anything I'll probably freak out halfway through and cancel the whole thing. Run out of the church wearing a huge white dress, the whole deal. This is fitting and you know it."
"You're right." He shrugged helplessly, though he didn't seem quite as torn has he had just moments ago. "And Detective Hoyt has been around for a while, hasn't he?"
Realizing it was actually going to happen, Jordan rocked back a bit and let out the breath she had begun to hold. She glanced back at Woody again, who spoke for the first time since entering the church.
"Thank you," he said sincerely, reaching out to clasp the other man's hand.
Paul grinned, his eyes cutting back to Jordan as he said, "You can thank me in a year if you're still sane. At least you're both somewhat dressed for a wedding," he added with a gesture toward her light summer dress and Woody's more-than-casual suit. Then, not waiting for a protest, he turned back toward his desk and gently removed a neat little bouquet of freshly cut flowers from a small glass vase. "At least take these?" he asked, handing them to his friend. "They came from our gardens here. Nothing special, but still."
Jordan nodded, suddenly not able to meet his gaze as he plucked one of the flowers from the bunch now in her hands and threaded the stem through the top button hole of Woody's jacket, completing the image.
"You two have vows all ready?"
They both nodded and he reached for their hands. "Perfect. I believe Stacey is here to play the piano for us. Not Canon in D, I suppose, but how about something classically Irish?" His voice rose slightly through the sanctuary as they walked out, and a woman tuning the grand piano in the corner caught his gaze and nodded.
Jordan and Woody looked at one another again. She could see the happiness in his eyes as they started to tear, and she wiped the moisture away with her thumb. "Is this really happening?" he asked her softly as they came to a stop, not at the front of the church, but off to the side in front of a large window overlooking the flower garden.
She gave him a lopsided grin and reached into her purse one-handed, still grasping the flowers in her other, to clumsily pull out their rings and two small cards – one for each, with their vows written down. "I guess it is."
Paul took the ring boxes and, after checking to make sure whose was whose, gave them a bright smile. Suddenly, the echoing of the piano playing a soft Irish lullaby reached their ears. Woody wet his lips and let out a breath. "A little different than I had imagined, but at least the most important part is still the same."
"Are you sure?" Jordan asked, studying his face in the afternoon sunlight coming through the window in an effort to catch any misgivings that might flicker across. "Are you absolutely sure, Woody, that this is what you want? No big wedding? A tiny, barely even religious, ceremony? Me?"
He took a step closer to her, cupping her face in his hands and bringing her gaze completely to his, the flowers almost crushed between them. "I'm sure, Jordan. Of all of those things, the only thing I want – the only thing I have ever wanted – is you. Since the day we met. Well, maybe after that first week. And after everything we've been through, after everything you mean to me… I don't care how big or small the wedding is, so long as it's you I'm marrying. I don't think I have ever fallen for anyone as quickly and as hard as I have fallen for you. That's not something that's going to go away. We already tried that, remember?"
She nodded silently, blinking back tears of her own now. "So this feels right, doesn't it?"
"Very, very right." He almost kissed her, but then caught sight of Paul, standing beside them with a happy smile on his face and he stopped himself. It probably didn't matter, but he didn't want to throw what little tradition they were following away. He rested his forehead against hers instead, blue eyes still locked with her light brown. "Sometimes it feels like you're all I have, Jo. I love you. I don't think I'll ever get tired of saying that."
"I love you, too, Farm Boy," she said quietly, knowing what those words meant to him after waiting so long to hear them come from her mouth. With the hand not holding her new bouquet, she lightly ran two fingers over his jaw before letting her thumb rest on his lips. "It's not what we had written down, Paul, but I'm pretty sure those count as vows. Care to finish this thing?"
Paul chuckled and glanced down, opening the boxes so they could gently take out the others' rings to slide onto their owners' fingers. "I'm not sure much else needs to be said," he murmured. "So, by the authority invested in me by that big power in the sky and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, I now pronounce you legally married."
"That was easy," Jordan breathed, her lips pulling back in a wide grin.
Woody didn't try to hide the moisture gathering in his eyes again as he looked at her, the same woman she had always been, bathed in that amber sunlight streaming through the large window. Nothing was different, and the realization was enormously comforting. The only thing that had changed between them was the name of their continuously unconventional relationship.
"Yeah," he agreed, brushing a stray strand of hair behind her ear. "It was. I'm really not dreaming?"
Jordan's laugh was airy, her heart still beating wildly in her chest. Not from anxiety, but with excitement. She handed Paul the flowers he had so kindly given her so she could clasp both hands behind Woody's neck to pull him down for a kiss.
"No," she finally whispered, "You're not dreaming."