I Belong To The Skies (The End)

Time sped up after I left the hospital that day. Hours became days, days melted into months. I graduated, got a part-time job, and decided to take nightly courses at a nearby community college. Nicole and Mark got together by the end of last April. Mom still has work, as always, but now we usually have family dinners every weekend. We'll take turns picking the dishes and even occasionally invite a few friends. It was a reminder that, even though we had our own lives, we would still have each other. There was a bond that could never be destroyed. A place where we could return to. A home.

Alicia received a scholarship to this university in California. Turns out she's been harboring this 3.9 GPA all four years and I never even knew about it. I guess she really did always know what she was talking about. Lawrence and I threw her a going away party – I think I actually cried a bit when we said goodbye. As for Lawrence, Alicia knew better than to ruin their relationship by trying to drag it out over the miles of landscape between them. They mutually agreed to break-up but remain in contact. I've never been so proud of her.

I don't really know what became of Jake. Last I heard they were going to send him to a rehabilitation center instead of jail, and then he'd have to work off hours upon hours of community service. Something about it being a first-time offense so they were willing to compromise. I hope he's doing well, but other than that, it's just best not to think about it too much.

As for Shane – he spends most of his time with me. Somewhere between the holding hands, lame jokes, and never-ending conversation, we kissed. Nothing had ever felt so right. I knew now, without a doubt in my mind, that I was in love with him, and he was in love with me. It was the kind of love that allowed you to accept each other, flaws and vices and all, with understanding and ease. And because you knew you were accepted as is, you wanted to better yourself – to make yourself deserving of such affection.

It was the kind of love that complemented and enriched your life instead of taking over it.

I even introduced him to Nicole and Mom. Mom would look at me with those worried eyes of hers as first, but then she'd see how Shane would look at me, and know it would be okay. Shane made everything feel okay. Even more importantly than that, he made me feel as if I would be okay even if he wasn't there. Shane gave me the confidence to face things. He changed the way I thought.

For the longest time, I resisted. I resisted changing into a stronger person, refused to move on. That's why I denied these feelings for him for so long. I knew he was changing me for the better, and I just wasn't ready to let go.

But I'm ready now.

It's the middle of October now. Fall is everywhere. Red and goldish leaves decorate the trees, people walk the streets with warmer jackets, winds are starting to pick up, life is quieting down. I almost fear the change. Then I remember that fall is just a season, and is part of a larger, more wondrous phenomenon.

Shane and I are supposed to meet up for dinner later. Before that though, there is somewhere I'd like to visit. Another place I have intentionally ignored and should confront. There is one last stop to make on the way to growing up.

On the walk there (I decided to walk since it was only a few blocks away from my job), I went through the last few years in my head. They're over, but I know I have yet to make sense of everything. I know that not everything is meant to make sense, but I still like to remember it, to see if I can create my own meaning. I like to notice the intimate links and connections I hadn't recognized before while they were occurring. It makes my experiences more personal, more significant.

I went back to thinking about the day Aiden moved out. He had never been so angry. I remembering thinking it was only a matter of time until we drove him away because we relied on him so much. After dad, Aiden was next in line for head of the family, and he couldn't handle it. He was only eight, and already he had this huge burden on his shoulders. It's not like he didn't try to measure up; as the years went by and he grew smarter, he tried to hold everything together, for him, for us. But even I knew our family was trapping him. So for the sake of freedom, for the sake of his own life, he had to leave. That much I can understand completely. What I don't understand is why he didn't remain in contact with me and Nicole. It hurt to be cast away like that – to feel as if you were part of someone's burden.

I accept it now. I don't necessarily agree with all of his actions, but I know the reasons, know what he must've been thinking. It's something I can live with. Besides, just because he won't talk to me doesn't mean I'm not going to talk to him. One of these days, I'll find him. One of these days, we'll talk.

A rusty gate stood before me. I stopped in front of it – this was my destination. Greenwood Cemetery, the place where my father was buried.

The tombstones lay neatly in rows among the tattered grass. I briefly looked at other names as I counted the footsteps to my father's grave. I wanted to know how far it was, because I was beginning to believe that distance, in any form, was important.

It must've been around four o'clock because slanted shadows from the trees crept around me. Except for at my father's tombstone, his was directly in the sun.

Marshall Levitt, loving son and father, 1965 – 1996. I stood there for a moment, unsure at first what to do. I should've brought something, a memento, some candles. But I hadn't thought about that. All I had was myself, and the sunlight. I hoped that that would be enough.

"Hey Dad," I whispered, feeling awkward about talking aloud in such a silent place.

Sometimes, I wonder what my life would be like if he were still alive. I wonder if Aiden would have still left, or if I would have still connected with Jake. I wonder how different my mom and Nicole would be. I wonder if some other tragedy would have befallen us. Then I realize in a life like that, I would have never had Shane, and I would have never learned to be stable. I would have always lived under a veil of security and never learned what I know now.

It's just the way things are. The universe works in mysterious ways – and everything that has happened has been leading me to be exactly where I am, to where I'm supposed to be.

I took a deep breath. Despite all of that, I miss him. I miss the father I never knew. I hadn't even realized I felt that way until Shane made me see it.

"Dad – I love you. Just wanted you to know that."

An unexpected warmth cradled my chest, uplifting my spirit and cleansing my head. I'm almost sure time temporarily froze and that the sun sent down additional, illuminating rays of light to vividly color the world. I knew then, somehow, that he loved me too. He would always love me and has always loved me. I was not alone.

The world's spinning axis returned as I left the cemetery. People passed me by franticly, cars continued racing up and down the street. They were all in such a rush to get somewhere. I watched them with empathy, noticing some of my own characteristics in each one that I saw, though I knew I was no longer one of them. Time will go on, people will come and go, events will occur and more thoughts will be made, but all of those things will not affect me as they had before. I had finally been rooted; I had found my true independence.

That is why when I noticed a dandelion randomly sprouting between the cracks in the pavement, I smiled. Because if a simple weed could survive in terrain such as this, then so could anybody else.

Shane was puzzled when he saw me, already radiant and full of laughter. I told him how incredible he looked and how much I loved him. He looked at me funnily and asked why I was in such a good mood. I said it was nothing. He wouldn't stop telling me what a weirdo I was after that. But then he would kiss me and I wouldn't care. At the table, he joked that I should eat something before I started saying corny phrases like how grand life is or how wonderful it was to be alive. I laughed some more, wondering just how he knew those were the exact silly phrases I wanted to say.

XXXXX

A/N: Wow. Just, wow. I finished a story! Obviously, I couldn't have done this without a few people. I'd like to particularly thank Anam and Leslie. Without their support and friendship, I probably wouldn't have found the inspiration to achieve such a feat. Really people - never in my life have I finished a story I created. Now I can say I have. Also, thanks to every single reader/reviewer/alerter. You have no idea how much it means to me that people find my writing enjoyable. Much love goes out to each and every one of you :)

I'm going to be starting a new young adult story - well, restarting, anyway. Yeah, I'm going to focus on The Beauty Of Black and Withering Of White now. I encourage anyone looking for good angst/drama to read it. I'll be posting up the first chapter this weekend. So let's see where that story takes me.

- Musickk Darling