EPILOGUE - FIVE YEARS LATER
Her memories become concentrated, filtered by the passing years. What once was fun becomes pure happiness. Sad times sharpen into devastation. When Bella thinks of those days—the first, lonely weeks of her academic career—they seem more fiction than memoir. She doesn't see things through the lens of a nineteen-year-old girl, but as an older, wiser observer. She aches for the lonely student, cries for the tortured man. Finds the memories hard to reconcile with the happy couple they've become.
Their first few years after graduation are spent in Greece. Edward lectures at a small, liberal arts college near Athens, while she undertakes further research, spending as much time as possible studying ancient ruins. Their skins gain the patina of a deep tan, their tongues acquire the taste of sharp alcohol and sweet pastry. In the summer they decamp to the Greek Islands, absorbing the sights and sounds of Santorini, speculating about the fate of the lost island of Atlantis. They spend long, hot days swimming in the Aegean, humid nights drinking ouzo and eating mezes at local bars.
They smile. They laugh. They kiss a lot. Looking forward, only forward. The shadows of their past can't catch them, not matter how hard they grasp.
A telephone call in the middle of the night hastens their journey back. They arrive home to see Carlisle being lowered into the ground. Edward supports his mother as she breaks down, his arms wrap around her waist as she collapses into them. On her other side, Alice stares at him with empty eyes. Years of bitterness have aged, withered her. She looks so much older than her twin.
They don't speak a word to each other. Haven't for years. Her vitriol is no longer his to absorb. Before he left for good he tried to make Alice understand, attempted to explain everything…including those bruises—Maggie's bruises—were not at his hand. She wouldn't listen, though—it was only, always all about Maggie.
So life moves on.
Though Edward and Bella both have jobs in Athens, they decide not to go back. It's not solely the lure of family that keeps them—even if Esme's delighted to have them close—but the tiny cluster of cells dividing and growing in Bella's stomach. The hope of something new, something right, something beyond.
The one thing they've both been longing for—the final testament of their love.
By the end of her first trimester, Edward secures a position at a college in New England; in a picturesque town which seems more European than anything. They find a house, convert the garage, invite Esme to join them in their brand new life.
They watch as Bella grows, as she glows, as the hope of new life finally snuffs out the memories of the old. At night, Edward curls his body around hers, shielding her abdomen with splayed hands, feeling the first tiny kicks as their baby makes contact with the world.
He's so goddamned happy. The taste is sweet in his mouth. Flows like honey in his veins.
They talk of names. Of Ariadne and Hera, of Troy and Nicholas. When Edward suggests Icarus, Bella laughs and pushes him away. In the end they agree to wait for the birth, hoping a name will appear with the tiny, screwed up face.
A herald of all good things.
Asia Phoebe Cullen comes into the world on a warm, springtime morning. She arrives with the sun, eyes blinking rapidly, her lungs hearty and loud as she lets out her first noisy wail. Edward holds her, staring down at her angry face, a smile about splits his face in two. He places their daughter in Bella's arms, the sight causing tears to spill over his cheeks.
Tears and smiles. Elation and indescribable joy. He almost expects to see a rainbow. To hear the Angels sing.
"A girl." Bella pulls their scrap of a baby close, skin upon skin. "I can't believe she's ours."
Neither can he. Edward sits down beside her on the bed, holding his girls close, marveling at their beauty. He wants to savor the moment, like a snapshot of senses, something he can pull out and experience time and again.
Love is the most mercurial of emotions. It can build you up, break you down. It brings tears, joy, pain, delight. It's a tornado and a zephyr.
He feels them all, staring at his wife holding his daughter. Emotions so large they can't be dammed. He breathes in deep, holds it for barely a moment, exhales anew.
A new dawn.
A new beginning.
Their little piece of forever.