First I thought I'd share these lovely pictures of Jake and Heath that [livejournal.com profile] kikiruki drew for the Big Bang Theory. Aren't they incredible? I posted them once prior to this, but they do need more acknowledgment. I loved them so much I made the first one she created into an icon for the fic. Thanks so much, kikiruki!  

Chapter 24

We sat staring at Isadora, silent. Only the wind howling outside filtered through the living room. To me it sounded like Henry's cry that he was still here with us. Didn't she hear that? How could she believe Henry was at rest when he and Johann were still apart? 

"I feel my job is done here," she said finally. "I am leaving in a few hours as planned. I did want to extend my stay-- this bed and breakfast is such a restful place-- but I have other matters to attend to." She sat up straight in the over-stuffed wing-back chair and watched me like an over-protective mom. My heart fell: I'd hoped for closure-- at least for Henry and Johann. She sensed my sadness, pulled herself up out of the big chair and drew me into a big, bear hug.

"Yes, I'm so sorry," she said, crunching my ribs, "but I cannot cancel the other appointment I have. It's with a rather noisy New England ghost. The owners of the Inn claim it's Cotton Mather." She let go of me reluctantly, leaving behind the essence of Lavender and  Lace. She looked up into my eyes, hoping I'd be ok with her leaving. "I have my doubts. There are always people who claim such things-- after all, famous hauntings add a certain flavor to old inns, making them more desirable. Having a famous ghost adds to the mystery. I am not sure about this one. We shall see, we shall see." 

Cotton Mather? Not that I doubted. Remarkable, even in death celebrities get priority. 

"But you aren't done here," I said. "What about Henry-- I think he's still here."

"Ah, I see you have doubts, but I no longer feel his presence. I have searched and searched. I believe your Henry has departed. I am not dismissing your feelings, but I am very sure that he has gone. Do not be sad. He is in a better place."

She was right; I did feel sad. I'd miss Henry. Sure, I wanted him at rest. But I liked him around. But the more I thought on it, the more I didn't believe he had departed, and it seemed odd to me that Henry would be at peace since we hadn't done anything with Johann's journals yet. That was awful damn trusting of the old ghost. If I were him, I'd hang around this old place and make damn sure Johann got the recognition he deserved before heading out to the great beyond or wherever it was that ghosts go. Besides, how could he be happy alone? Was Johann waiting for him? They were thrust apart in life and death-- and that was the bitter pill. They were still apart, and finding the journals and Johann's connection to the Big Bang Theory didn't change the fact that they were still parted. Sure, Johann getting the recognition he deserved was important but surely not the problem. 

And besides, I still felt something of Henry here, like a faint ripple in a pond, and from the look on Heath's face, I knew he still felt Henry, too. 

Heath's next words left no doubt. "No, he's still here."

"I don't believe so," she said, frankly. "I do believe my job is done, but I could be wrong: I have found over the years when it comes to spirits, one can never be certain."

"I don't feel it," Heath said emphatically, knees bouncing up and down. "I'd feel it if he was gone." Heath played with the ring on his finger, then our eyes locked. "He's hiding or resting or whatever spirits do to take a break-- he's done it before. It doesn't mean that he's left."

Isadora nodded thoughtfully, contemplating what he'd said. Heath frowned, and planted his hands firmly on his knees to still them.

"I think you should check the house again--" I suggested. "Top to bottom"

She did. We did.

She still felt nothing. 

I could see it in the way he stood, the tilt of his head, the flicker in his eyes: Heath wouldn't let it go. He believed in his heart that Henry was not at peace.

So we went out to the garden. A new blanket of snow covered the ground, and we trod through the drifts, then through wrought iron gates, then stopped and brushed off the lonely tombstone where Henry was buried. 

I read aloud the chiseled words: "My ashes in a soil that is not mine." I paused. "That sounds familiar."

"It's Lord Byron." Heath recited the rest:

Yet was I born where men are proud to be--

Not without cause; and should I leave behind

The inviolate island of the sage and free, 

And seek me out a home remoter sea,

Perhaps I loved it well; and should lay

My ashes in a soil which is not mine,

My Spirit shall resume it--if we may

Unbodied choose a sanctuary. I twine

My hopes of being remembered in my line

With my land's language: if too fond and far

These aspirations in their scope incline,--

If my Fame should be, as my fortunes are,

Of hasty growth and blight, and dull Oblivion bar.

And so we left Henry's gravesite feeling a bit let down. I hoped Isadora was right and that Henry was at rest, but Heath didn't believe it. I squeezed his hand, and he offered me a sad smile in return. 

We said our goodbyes to Isadora, then waved as she left in the cab an hour later.

"Surprised you didn't go too," I said, turning to Linden.

"We're staying on until tomorrow," Linden said. "It's time we sat down to talk about your parents."

The moment had come. It had been a hard topic to broach for Heath and his sisters. Until now, Linden and Jorge had little new to tell us. It seems for once they had some answers-- but not answers that Heath particularly wanted to hear.

 -------------------------

Dinner was over. A great meal. Everyone ate more than they should have. Kate really out-did herself-- took two days of preparation to make what Heath called quote-- the world's best lasagna-- end-quote. 

We did everything but talk about their parents and spent over a half-hour discussing how, from the moment they stepped into it, this place called to Heath and his sisters. 

"Discovering the passages between the walls was like rediscovering something from my childhood," Kate admitted. "I always thought that I'd been here before. The house felt like home from the moment I stepped in the door."

"I felt that way about my room," Char had said. "I'd sit in the window looking out at the river and think that I'd found my childhood again."

Heath nodded at every word they said while I recalled the first moment in this house, thinking pretty much the same myself the first time I saw Heath.

To give Kate a break, Heath and I cleared the table, while everyone else went into the living room. I knew that Linden had something important to say: he had that itchy-scratchy thing going on at the dinner table earlier-- I've known him long enough to know that he only acts that way when he couldn't contain some key information. He couldn't play euchre worth a shit because he can't contain his twitchiness when he's holding trump. Jorge kept him from spilling his guts all through the whole meal the same way he did when Linden had a good hand-- a swift kick. As dinner unfolded, Linden would say a few words, scratch his chin, take a bit of garlic bread and clear his throat. Then Jorge would kick him under the table. A few minutes later, they'd do it all again. Heath knew something was up, too-- so we both hurried, slamming plates around, slapping Handi-Wrap on the leftover lasagna and sliding it in the fridge-- with no playful swatting each other with dish towels or hot kisses against the dishwasher. 

Damn.

It still didn't keep my fantasies away. Over the last few days, I'd had a really good one involving Heath, peanut butter, a jar of  Kate's homemade raspberry jam and binder twine. 

It's number five of Jake's greatest hits (or I hit on that) straight (or bent) from our bed! My eyes fluttered shut, and I got that far-away look on my face. In my imagination Heath, cried out:

"Oh, Jake! Please! Not there!"

I answered with a diabolical laugh and a finger-full of Jif:

"Oh, yes there. And don't move. Or I'll jam it up more." 

Heath. The ultimate PB and J. After all, choosey mother fuckers choose Jif-- or was that stiff?

 

Heath nudged me.

"Saints preserve me!" I shouted. Heath jumped. Shit. Still inside my little fantasy. Not good.

"What the heck was that about?" he asked. I licked my lips and leaned back into the counter with my hips thrust forward. 

"I'll tell you later-- or maybe show you."

Yep, he was two mighty fine slices of Wonderbread. Forget making a sandwich-- I'd settle for toast if it was quicker or a quickie if I was a toaster. 

Yum, buttered toast--

"Come on," he said, then smirked when he noticed Mr. Happy. "I'll take you up on the latter part. You are one wild and crazy guy, you know that?" He sighed, then shut the door to the dishwasher. "I guess we'd better find out what's up." He grabbed the front of my shirt and gave me a long, knee-wobbling kiss, then dragged me out of the kitchen, through the dining room, down the hall and into the living room. All I could think of was creamy-smooth peanut butter and raspberry-sweet jam and Heath as my captive sandwich.

We hadn't made it one foot inside the living room door when we heard Chas' excited voice.

"I knew it!" she exclaimed. "I knew it!"

"So she was right all these years--" Kate covered a sob with her hand. "They are alive."

Heath froze next to me. His jaw tightened, his shoulders squared off.

"We're not certain," Jorge said. "We cannot be positive, but we do know where they were and that they were alive in 1996."

Linden cleared his throat. "And in Aurora, Ontario." 

My eyes lit up, remembering the story Heath had told me about his parents and waiting for them at the motel. I looked over at Heath again. He'd relaxed some, but his face was filled with a mixture of fear and elation. I almost felt guilty for making him a sandwich. Or toast. 

"Yes," Kate nodded, "but--but-- that was the town where mom old us to meet them, but not in Ontario. In Illinois, Mom told me to meet them Illinois in some old motel-- the Old Town Motel."

"I don't know what went wrong with the directions," Linden said, "but we're sure now that they were in Aurora, Ontario in 1996. I'd like to say it was through great detective work that we found that information, but it was really dumb luck. When Jake told me the story of how you waited at this 'old motel' outside of Aurora, we started looking for other motels with similar names in other towns with the same name. We didn't find a thing, but then I was talking to our secretary Connie yesterday, and she asked me if I'd tried Aurora, Ontario. I said, sure, and then she told me this long, drawn out, typical Connie-story about how she stayed at This Old Motel-- and that was the name of it, This Old Motel, but some chain motel company bought it up and tore it down about eight years ago." 

I couldn't believe it. Dumb luck? No way. I didn't believe in coincidence anymore. 

I blinked and looked at Heath. He was too quiet. He scratched his elbow and shuffled his feet. He didn't look me square in the eyes. It felt to me like he didn't want this. For the first time, there was a possibility that we might find his parents. His sisters looked like they'd won the Super Lotto while Heath looked like he'd picked the short straw at the dentist's office.

I wondered how many times a younger Heath had replayed reunions in his head. How many dreams of arms holding him tight only to find that those arms weren't there? I could understand how an older Heath would be cautious.

"It's all my fault!" Kate sobbed. "All I had was this bit of paper mom wrote the directions on. I just assumed--" 

Heath shook his head. "Kate, no-- it's not your fault. Come here--"  She got up and fell into his arms. I smiled thinking how a younger Heath probably gave Kate the same tight comfort years ago at a lonely motel. Char joined them. I gave them plenty of room on the couch. It was sweet watching them. 

After that, it was all tears and plenty of Kleenex for the next ten minutes or so. I loved Heath more than ever, watching him tear up and hugging his sisters close. Linden regrouped them all before finishing his story, but they were still a gangly mass of arms and legs bouncing and weaving. 

Heath chewed this inside of his cheek as he studied his sisters. They'd gone from sad to excited. He knew that all this could be just one more disappoint. Heath worried for his sisters as much as for himself. Hell, I felt excited. I'd expect Char to be excited: she was always a live-wire: She had jumped up out of her chair and pranced around the room like a kid giddy to ride the ponies at the county fair. But the reserved, protective Kate surprised me: Hope stung her eyes, and she literally danced.

"I had Connie do some checking-- that woman has more connections than Paris Hilton has partners," Linden said. "I think it's genetic-- her Aunt Rita is the same way-- Rita was the one who knew the owners-- names are Ernest and Michelle Gregory. It seems there was this couple who showed up and lived at their motel for some time-- that in itself was unusual, but what made the Gregorys remember them most was that this couple would ask the desk daily if they had any 'young' visitors-- thing is, all those months they stayed there, no one ever showed up to see them."

Kate had slipped between Heath and the end of the couch. Char was between me and Heath. I looked over and saw Kate's eyes flick over at Heath. 

"What clinched it for me was the names they used," Linden said, "Ellen and Hal Parents."

"Parents?" Char repeated.

"You're sure it was them?" Heath interrupted.

"Yes, the motel owner identified them," Jorge said. "Connie e-mailed old Aunt Rita the picture that ran in your local paper. She said it was them."

"Thing is they left a note," Linden added, "just in case three 'young' people came looking for them. She came back a year later and left it in their care. You fit the description of the children she described to the Gregorys . Two girls: the oldest, tall, dark-haired and serious. The youngest: slight and light complected.. And freckled, honey-haired boy. Sounds like you three to me. They were to pass on the letter to you, and they still will-- but only to you. Not even Connie's silver tongue could pry it out of their hands." 

"I tried my best also," Jorge said. 

Charm must not have any affect on the Geogorys-- because Jorge could charm the pants off Gloria Steinem. 

"So we have to go to them! When do we leave?" Char said.

"We can't leave!" Kate said. "Or at least, I can't. I have a new reservation for tomorrow, and Mr. and Mrs. Applegate are in the great room!"

"Get them another place to stay," Char snapped back, "and you could call these new reservations and tell them--" 

"Ah, wait a moment! Hold on!" Linden said, waving his hands around. "They're on their way here. I invited them to the best bed and breakfast in Wisconsin. I sent them the plane tickets."  

"And just who's paying for all this?" I asked.

Linden smirked. "I put it on your bill."

"Great." I looked over at Heath as he chewed on a hangnail. "When will they get here?" 

"Tomorrow."

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