December 1, 2015. Nick would have turned thirty-seven today, Casey thought as she sat down on the front porch swing. She wondered how he would look. Whether his hair would have touches of gray. If he'd still be singing. And how different her own life would have been.
She had moved herself and Joey back to Chapel Hill as soon as she could after being released from the hospital, and Brett was there waiting for them. They tried to make a fresh start, slowly and carefully becoming a family and trying to live a normal, quiet life. Kay had resisted at first when Brett sat her down and told her how he felt, how he'd always felt, about Casey. But as time went by and she saw how much he meant it, she chose to accept it rather than lose him. Within a year Brett had proposed, and within two years he and Casey were married.
Joey was nine now, and he called Brett 'Dad'. He always had, and now they knew it was the truth. Casey and Brett had gone ahead with the paternity test just before his second birthday, when they found a test that could make it definite even without Nick's blood. And now he had a little sister: Kathryn Kay Mitchell, age six, Katie for short. Kathryn was for Casey's mother, and Kay of course for Brett's. She was born almost a year to the day after their wedding, and Casey smiled remembering how nervous the normally unshakable Brett had been during her delivery.
Now Brett's car came into the driveway, and he hopped up the steps and kissed her hello. "Where's the kiddos?"
"At Gwen's. She's gonna keep them until we get back, so they can make cookies with Molly and Ben."
"Okay. Let me change and we'll get going." He headed into the house.
"Need any help in there?" she called after him.
"Don't tempt me, woman. Not if you want to get there before dark!"
She laughed. At thirty-five, he was still the same old Brett. Still making her smile, still taking her breath away. And still so handsome in his uniform. When the vision in his left eye had failed to return to normal, he had been reassigned as a drill instructor, and they were both relieved when he found he loved it. No more Iraq, no more math, and he got to yell at people!
He came out onto the porch in jeans and a sweatshirt, and handed her a bottle of juice as he drank one of his own. "Ready?"
They climbed into her rusty-but-still-running Baja truck, and Brett drove into Raleigh and parked just inside the gates of the cemetery. They pulled the flowers from the back seat and walked hand in hand to a row near the back. Brett rested a hand on his father's stone, then they stood together before Nick's grave. A low marker read:
Nicholas Ryan Mitchell
Dearly loved, dearly missed
Rest in peace.
Brett pulled a few weeds, brushed off the marker, and set his flowers down. "Happy birthday, Nick."
Casey laid her bouquet next to Brett's. "Happy birthday, darlin'," she said softly. "I miss you."
Brett put his arm around her, and after a few silent moments they turned and walked away together, headed for home.
Author's Note: Well, that's it. I know some of you don't like the way it turned out but I hope you can say you still enjoyed reading it. Please review one last time and let me know, or PM me to discuss! I appreciate you sticking with me and THANK YOU SO MUCH to those who reviewed so faithfully!