Time To Say Goodbye
Author Note: I hope you all enjoy this final chapter of Dog Days, it's been a pleasure writing it and getting your feedback. I'm looking forward to your final thoughts on the story everyone, so on with the fic!
Dog Days Chapter Twenty-Five: Time To Say Goodbye
As Seto was reading the Sunday morning paper he noticed in the obituaries that Jim Wheeler had died. He thought about Joey and his little sister, thinking that they both must be really hurting. He understood that pain and though it said the funeral was today he had no plans on attending. However he did decide to get a bouquet of white roses and send a card expressing his condolences for the loss both the young Wheelers left behind had to be feeling. After he had his breakfast he got on the phone with a florist and set the order up so that it would be delivered in a few hours. That satisfied the young man and he left the paper on the table as he got up to get on with his day.
I do hope he doesn't take my gesture as sarcasm or a jab at him in any way. If he does it won't surprise me, he is thick headed. Seto thought as he left to find his brother.
Joey forced himself out of bed, he was worried Mai wouldn't get home in time to make the funeral service, but he still held hope that she would. Last night she'd emailed him and they'd chatted some, he'd vented to her about his mother and she was there for him. Like always. Then she said she'd be getting home around ten in the morning and to look for her to call the moment she was in town driving home. It was only nine-thirty from the time his clock showed and he got up and went to the dresser to get his blue jean shorts. He wasn't ready to get dressed in the suit he'd gotten at the mall yesterday.
Duke had insisted on getting it for him as well as one for himself on top of the black dress Serenity picked out. Joey hadn't had the energy to argue and had accepted his offer, but planned to work a lot the coming weeks to pay him back for his kindness. That would start after he got his head together. He woke up crying in the middle of the night and realized it wasn't just a bad dream, his father had died and he was really distraught by his passing. There wasn't anything left to do but to wait, so he pulled on the shorts, put his cell phone in the back pocket and took out a white tee-shirt so that he could go out to see what Duke and Serenity were doing for breakfast.
He pulled on the tee-shirt before he opened his door and could see that Serenity was sitting in the kitchen at the table while Duke was preparing something on the stove. They weren't talking but Joey's entrance broke the silence. Duke looked up and greeted him, then frowned seeing his red rimmed eyes. His eyes stung pretty badly because he'd cried so much yesterday and last night. Duke stopped what he was doing and came over to Joey putting a hand to his shoulder.
"Joey man you look awful. Look I keep some tea bags in the fridge, take two of these and go lie down in the living room with one on each eye. Just let your eyes relax. It helps trust me," Duke then moved to the refrigerator and from the crisper drawer he pulled out a plastic baggie with used tea bags in it.
Joey had come across it before and now he knew what they were used for. He smiled and took the two bags Duke offered and went to lay on the couch in the living room. Serenity got up and followed him sitting down on the floor next to him. Joey reached his arm around her shoulders and gave her a side hug, hoping she'd feel better being closer to him. She sobbed and he put the tea bags over his eyes, they were really cold but soothing. Then he reached back over to his sister, pulling her against his side, rubbing her back as she cried quietly.
After a few minutes Duke came in and announced that breakfast was ready. Joey was glad that Duke had made pancakes, that was one dish either of them could do from the pancake mix they always kept on hand and it was nice with the maple syrup that Duke had imported from Vermont. They smelled delicious and Joey slowly sat up, Serenity going right into his arms for a big hug. He knew she was pretty upset and he knew they'd have time to talk about things later. Right now something to eat would make them all feel better. Holding the teabags aside he had to admit his eyes did feel better.
Whether it was from the coldness or something in the tea leaves themselves he couldn't be sure, but he felt better even if his vision was still a little blurry. They sat down and Duke dished up three plates of pancakes and put a tray of scrambled eggs with cheese on the table for them to each spoon off some if they felt like having some eggs with their pancakes. Serenity passed, but Joey never turned his nose up at eggs with cheese. Then they ate in relative silence, Duke was trying to be nice, but it was obvious to Joey he was stressing with worry over his two friends.
"It's going to be all right Duke, don't worry. Mom is coming to get Serenity at the funeral service so we won't need to take her home. Unless she changes her mind that is and Mom is known for flip flopping, so let's not hold our breath Eh Sis?"
Serenity nodded and cut off some more of the stack of pancakes with her fork before swirling it around in the syrup and lifting it to her mouth. She wouldn't raise her eyes and Joey felt really bad for her. He didn't know what it would be like if their situations had been reversed and their Mom had died or something, how he would be feeling so he couldn't imagine what she must be going through. He reached over and held her knee, giving it a reassuring squeeze before taking his hand back.
"I wouldn't mind driving her home Joey, but it's up to your mother I guess. Just know that if she does change her mind we're prepared for it. Ok Serenity?"
Again she nodded, still refusing to look up. It was about fifteen minutes later that they all finished eating. Joey insisted he be the one to do the dishes so Duke and Serenity went out to sit in the living room to see if anything was on television. Soon Joey could hear music playing and he could tell that the music video channel was probably the best they could find. Which also meant that they might feel the need to talk, so he hurried up with the dishes and just as he was putting the pans into the water to soak his cell phone rang. He quickly dried his hands on the dishtowel and answered it knowing it was Mai.
"Hi Mai," Joey greeted her.
"Well good morning handsome. I'm on my way home to get dressed. The flight was horrible but I managed to get some rest so I should be just fine. Is Duke taking you and Serenity to the service?"
Joey sighed, "Yeah, but I hoped you'd come with us, we could all ride together if you'd like to that is."
"I'd like that hun. I'd like it just fine. I am just pulling up to my place now, so give me about half an hour and I will be over ok?"
"Sure Mai. And thanks for being here for me. I really needed to talk last night."
"I'm always glad to be here for you Joey. Hang in there, I'll be over to your place soon hun."
"Ok Mai, talk to you then," Joey replied.
"All right bye for now hun," Mai answered back before hanging up.
Joey hung up his phone and put it in his back pocket before going out to the living room to check in with Serenity and Duke. After he entered the living room he saw Duke was talking and he came in quietly to sit next to Serenity.
"So if you need anything or if you just want to get away from home for a little while and be with your brother you're always welcome here Serenity. That guestroom is yours anytime you want it."
Joey nodded, "If you need us to come get you we'll do that too even if we have to go pick you up at the library."
"No Joey, that is going to change. Mom is going to have to let you know where we live or else I am going to be really hard to live with. I won't talk to her until she gives in because I had no choice about not seeing Daddy, and now he's gone. If something happened to you I'd be lost and it's not fair for you to not know where we live. So if she doesn't like it then too bad. I'm having you and Duke drive me home today, not her. In fact I am thinking of calling her."
Joey choked, this was just what he didn't want to see, "Uh Sis are you sure you should really push this right now? Mom might not have loved Dad anymore but surely she is upset he's gone like we are. Even if it's not the same level of pain, I know she is in pain too. I think we should try to stick together Serenity. Mom will tell me where you're living or she won't either way it won't stop us from seeing each other."
She thought about it for awhile before nodding, "You're probably right big brother. I am just so angry with her. I'll get over it in time though. Thanks Duke for the offer, I am sure I will be coming around and you'll be sick of me during the summer."
"I doubt that Serenity, I could never get sick of you or your big brother. That is why I wanted him to move in here. Because I knew he and I had a lot in common and if given the chance I knew we could become best friends. And you are my best friend Joey."
Duke smiled and Joey grinned at him when the intercom buzzed, meaning someone downstairs in the shop needed Duke for something. It was so rare that anyone used it that it startled all three teens. Duke recovered quickly and reached over to it, to see what was going on.
"Mr. Devlin? There is a delivery here for a Mr. Joey Wheeler, do you want me to sign for it?"
"Sure, we'll be right down." Duke said as he got up, with Joey and Serenity right behind him.
'I wonder what that is all about.' Joey thought as they got onto the elevator.
When the doors opened they got out and headed to the front desk where a big bouquet of a dozen long stemmed white roses was waiting for them. Joey was stunned and wondered who could have sent them roses. He looked for a card and found it sitting on a holder in the center of the bouquet. He opened the small envelope, to reveal a small card. What struck him immediately was that it was signed by Seto Kaiba!
'Joey, I heard about your father's passing. You have my deepest sympathies during this very difficult time. I thought the roses might cheer your sister up and that you might share them with your mother too. Stay strong Joey, time heals all things.
He showed it to Serenity and then to Duke who both looked pleasantly surprised by the gesture the CEO had made and on short notice no doubt. Joey thought he must have seen it in the paper today and cared enough to send them this bouquet. Joey smiled and thought he'd send a thank you card later when he got around to sending out the many thank you cards he knew he'd have to work on after today. But one thing Joey Wheeler had learned was that the better you were at keeping up with other people the better they treated you.
He pulled a white rose out and handed it to his sister who took it and smiled, "This is really sweet of Kaiba to send these Joey, don't you think so?"
He nodded, "Yeah I do, I'll send him a thank you card later after we get back and things settle down."
Just then Mai pulled up and Joey pulled a second rose from the bouquet putting it behind his back. Mai had her long hair up in a french twist and wore a modest black dress. Since he remembered she'd said she'd gone to her aunt's funeral it made sense that she had an appropriate dress for such a sad and somber occasion. Joey opened the door for her and then handed her the rose from behind his back. She smiled and took it graciously before pulling Joey to her in a warm embrace.
"How are you holding up Joey?" Mai asked with grave concern.
"I'm fine now that you're here. So guess who sent these roses? You'll never guess so I'm just going to tell you. Kaiba! Can you believe that?"
Mai's jaw dropped and she shook her head, Joey handed her the card and she read over it.
"Wow, that is deep coming from him Joey. Maybe he's grown up a bit and decided he has better things to do then bother with tormenting you anymore," the young blonde said hopefully.
Joey nodded, "I think he has Mai. Seriously he hasn't bothered me in weeks. I gotta say I appreciate it too because he was so arrogant at times it made me nauseous. So we have a little time before the service are you hungry?"
Mai nodded and together, Joey carrying the bouquet, they went upstairs with Serenity and Duke right behind them. There were enough eggs and pancakes leftover that Mai could have some and that was just what she did. Joey put the bouquet into a vase of water and took out another rose he put into a slender vase to put on his desk, which he did while Mai was eating. After she finished eating she and Serenity went to get dressed as time had passed and it was getting closer to the time they'd have to leave. Joey and Duke sighed in unison and headed to their rooms to don their new suits. It was bound to be a rough hour or two until they came back, but they would all get through it somehow.
When the time came they all piled into Duke's Cadillac and Joey sat in the back with Mai, holding three of the white roses, while Serenity sat up front. They drove in silence to the cemetery where Jim's remains were being buried in a few minutes. There weren't very many people there, and Joey wasn't surprised that his mother was no where in sight when they parked and got out of the car. Just as they were going Serenity's cell phone went off and she pulled it from her purse and answered it. It was their mom.
"Hi Serenity, listen I can't make it, so let me talk to your brother I want to speak to him about bringing you home."
Without saying anything she handed Joey her phone. He knew who it was without even having to hear her voice and if she was going to argue with him now was not the time so he reluctantly put the phone to his ear.
"Hi Mother," he said.
"Hello son, listen I was thinking that since you said you could bring Serenity home why don't you? Bring your new girlfriend and that nice young man you're living with and I will make dinner for us."
"Seriously? All right Mom, if you're sure that it is ok, we'll see you later then."
He handed the phone back to Serenity who said goodbye to their mom and put the phone back in her purse quickly as they walked over to the area the service was being held. There was no casket, just an urn with the cremated remains of Jim's body and Joey had secured him a plot there in Domino Cemetery so that he would always be able to come visit his grave. It was sad that there were only five people besides the priest gathered around the urn and open plot, but Joey knew his father had left many friends and the few here he recognized from the factory Jim had worked at.
Poor Dad, I won't let you down. I promise to make something of my life, Joey thought as he stopped to stand between Mai and his sister, with Duke on the other side of Serenity.
The service was short and Joey handed Serenity one of the three white roses, which she put in the grave, along with one Joey had put there. Then the time came and they had to go. It was as silent on the way back to the Black Crown as it was on the way to the cemetery. They had decided to pick up Serenity's things and get her taken home since Sandy, their mother, had told Joey she was making them dinner. Joey sighed and leaned over so that his head was resting on Mai's shoulder as they waited for Serenity and Duke to come back out from getting her things. He didn't feel like crying anymore but was sure he would again in the near future.
It was just like he shut down everything emotionally inside of himself, everything except for his feelings for Mai that is. She reached her arm around his shoulders and hugged him. He needed the contact and if it weren't for her wearing lipstick he'd have kissed her right then. But he had a lot on his mind right now and she seemed to intuitively understand that, leaving the silence between them unbroken. About ten minutes passed before Duke and Serenity appeared, both still dressed in black, and Duke held Serenity's bags in one hand as he opened the door for her.
After she got in he handed them to her and she put them on the floor between her feet. The drive was long, but they did finally arrive at an apartment complex that Serenity directed them to that was maybe a minute's ride away from the library where they'd picked her up previously. Joey had wondered how she'd gotten there without a bike and now he knew, it was within easy walking distance. It was a nice complex, but still seeing it made Joey's blood boil, just thinking that it was only now that their mom would trust him enough or even care enough to take an interest in his life and his friends.
He calmed down as they went inside apartment 214 and he looked around behind the approaching figure of his mother. She was smiling as he handed her the white rose he'd brought along just for her, and he could smell that she'd made something delicious. His mouth watered just remembering her cooking from his boyhood memories. She was civil enough towards Duke and Mai and even Joey himself. He was surprised when she hugged him and held him tightly for a few moments before releasing him and thanking him for the flower. She showed them into the living room and said that dinner would be ready soon. Then she asked if Joey would come into the kitchen with her a moment.
Here we go, she's going to lay into me over that argument I just know it.
But harsh words didn't come from her mouth.
"Joseph, I'm sorry I couldn't bring myself to go to the service, I just didn't want to even see anything remotely connected to death. I have a real problem with it you see, ever since my mother died two years ago. You remember don't you?"
"Yeah, it was around the time of Serenity's surgery if I recall right."
She nodded, "Yes, well I wanted to apologize for so much that I have done that has hurt you. I don't want to talk badly about your father, there was a time I was very in love with him but he changed. Never mind that, what is important now is that we open the lines of communication between us and try to become a family again. Would you like that son?"
Joey nodded, "Yes Mother, I'd like that a lot. I am planning on going to college but I just don't know what for yet. I need some time to get my head together after losing Dad...I just know that half of the money I get from the house being sold is going to be set away for Serenity's college fund. I know that is what Dad wanted."
She started crying and Joey stood there a moment before moving over to her, embracing her and hugging her softly. She reached around his back and hugged him in return and for once in his life it seemed that everything was going to work out. She wiped at her eyes and pulled away from the hug after a few moments and then went to check on the casserole she had in the oven.
"I hope your friends enjoy dinner. I went to a lot of trouble to make tuna casserole for you. I remember it was one of your favorites. I'm going to work hard to make things up to you son, I promise I will. In fact I have been thinking about moving. To Domino."
"Wow Mom really? That would be great, I would love to have you both closer," he said enthusiastically.
"I think it would be good for all of us. In fact I have a set of keys I had made today for the car, a second set for you to keep so we can share the car, I can't afford to get you one of your own but I am willing to share it with you son. Everything that I have I want you to have," she said pulling a key chain from her skirt pocket handing it to Joey.
"Gee thanks Mother, that means a lot to me, you don't know how long I have wanted us to be a family again. I'm sorry I was so mean on the phone, I was under a lot of stress about Dad it was so horrible, but let's not dwell in the past when the future looks so bright, thanks so much Mother. You know I love you," Joey said blushing slightly.
"I know son, I love you too. Your girlfriend is really pretty and that other boy seems very nice. I am glad you are surrounded by good people who care about you, you deserve that."
He nodded and then went back out to the living room, his mother came out behind him and asked what everyone wanted to drink and soon they were sitting and talking happily. Serenity seemed rather quiet, yet she looked happy that finally her brother got to see her home and was talking with their mother in a casual way for the first time in ages. It wasn't long before they were sitting down to dinner and it was a lovely meal. By the time they left it was almost eight and being a school night they headed right home. Joey was glad that things had worked out well with his mother. She had been impressed with both Mai and Duke and Joey was impressed that she'd spoken of moving and even given him keys to her car.
As they arrived at the Black Crown all three got out and Duke led the way inside. The few customers that were in the store were awed by Duke in a suit and he was stopped by a group of girls wanting his autograph. He waved to Joey and Mai and they went on ahead up stairs. In the elevator Joey finally broke the silence that had seemed endless since they got in the car on the way home. He'd sat in back with Mai even though Serenity wasn't with them, he just needed to be close to her and no one complained so it was understood without having to be said that he was right where he needed to be. He cleared his throat and still holding her hand he smiled at her.
"I love you Mai Valentine."
"I love you too Joey Wheeler, with all of my heart. I am so sorry about your father hun," she said sympathetically.
He lowered his gaze to their feet, "I am too. But you know what? In the end I think it worked out ok. I mean he got to help out both me and my sister in his final days. I hope the house sells soon and with the money I get from it I can get into college and maybe have enough leftover of my half to get a car. I'd like to be able to drive over to your place and go out to grab some take out or be able to do whatever. Just to have my own wheels is a dream I have."
The elevator doors opened revealing the richly furnished third floor where they both got off.
"You can make any dream of yours happen Joey, I believe that I really do."
"I know you do Mai. I used to dream of you being my girl and look how well that's worked out for us both."
He squeezed her hand and they went to get her things out of the guestroom.
"Why don't you stay with me tonight Joey? I don't mind. I'd like it if you did," Mai said as she slung her duffel bag over her shoulder.
"Yeah I think that would be nice Mai. Can we stop by the park on the way? I think there's a game tonight and I'd like to go swing and think a little while. That sound ok with you?"
She nodded, "Sure Joey, get a bag packed and get your stuff for school and I will take you in the morning."
Joey smiled, "Thanks babe, you're the best, you really are."
Winking at him over her shoulder she laughed, "You know I am. I'll be right here while you get your stuff ready."
He went to his room and quickly packed a bag with his school clothes for morning and then grabbed his books, putting them into the backpack he used for school, then he was made a final check of his room making sure nothing was left on that shouldn't be. He was satisfied everything was in order so he left, closing the door behind him. Then he took Mai's duffel bag from her, slinging it over one shoulder along with his own overnight bag and the two of them headed back downstairs together.
At the park they sat on the swings, just as they had together so many weeks ago it almost seemed like an eternity. Joey thought about how lucky he was that he'd come as far as he had. He knew he hadn't done it alone and it had all started with the simple decision to go into that library that hot summer afternoon, to escape the blistering sun. That he found a love for writing, a love that helped break the ground for his relationship with his true love to grow out of was something altogether remarkable. He was in awe of the cards that fate had dealt him recently.
He'd miss his father dearly, but at least in the end he'd gotten him back from the demon of addiction he'd had for alcohol. Joey Wheeler vowed to never become like his father had. He made a silent promise as he sat there swinging with Mai that if she said yes to him when he'd ask her to marry him, that he'd always love and protect her like she deserved to be loved and protected. After he was in college and had a direction his life was going in that would be when he'd ask her. But for right now just being together and in love was the most fantastic feeling he could have ever imagined.
He laughed as she let down her hair and shook it out, she looked so pretty with just the lights from the nearby baseball field and he told her so. As they swung together holding hands for the first time in a long time Joey Wheeler felt hope beyond just that of getting through another day. He felt the kind of hope one feels when coming to a crossroads in life and making the right choice. He knew that right now being with Mai was the right thing for him and with the love and support of his girlfriend and their close friends that he wouldn't ever have to worry about the days where he'd lived in fear. Those dog days were finally over for good.
Final Author Note, I really enjoyed writing this story and I hope that you found the ending as fitting as I did when writing it. I don't see a sequel anytime soon, but I may do a one shot of Joey in college, but that will be at another point in time. I do appreciate every single review this story gets and thank you all so much for taking the time to submit them. It means so much to hear that what you've worked hard on was enjoyed. Thank you, I and really looking forward to your final reviews on Dog Days.