A/N: Hey everyone! I'm back with another story. This one will be a bit different from anything I've written before, so I truly hope you enjoy it.
In honor of Veteran's Day tomorrow, I'd like to dedicate this first posting to all the courageous men and women who have fought for and served this great nation of ours. I'd also like to remember and honor the men and women who loved and stood behind those brave patriots.
Most characters belong to S. Meyer. The rest is mine.
And once again, Michelle Renker Rhodes is my silly, sweet Beta-Girl.
"They have given their sons to the military services. They have stoked the furnaces and hurried the factory wheels. They have made the planes and welded the tanks. Riveted the ships and rolled the shells." - President Franklin D. Roosevelt (addressing women's contributions to WWII).
My eyes sweep over the vast field where green grass undulates lazily in the mid-September breeze, blades swaying back and forth, indecisive as to whether they're coming or going. Squinting against the sun's bright glare, I adjust my thick-lensed, red-rimmed frames so that I can make out the objects far beyond the old, magnificent evergreen.
Thick lenses notwithstanding, my sight is no longer what it once was. I remove the burdensome frames and bunch up my red silk blouse around them, quickly wiping off miniscule fragments of lint before returning them to their resting place.
Moving closer to the window, I spy something headed this way, kicking up drab, dry earth into the air and making that air drift and churn like a miniature hurricane. The word for the rapidly approaching object is on the tip of my tongue, but as so many things lately, it escapes me for a few seconds; names and entities intimately familiar take longer to process; they become 'watchamacallits' in my mind.
But this – four wheels, an engine, and a steering wheel – this is almost comical how long it's taking me to remember the name!
Oh yes, it's a car.
A familiar one. Big and black, with three rows and a huge trunk used to carry bikes and basketballs...
An SUV…Isabella's SUV.
My heart gives a thrilled little lurch. I place a withered hand over it to try and ease its anxious hammering.
"Leah! Leah, Isabella's coming!"
Leah's response carries from one of the other rooms, probably the kitchen judging from the delicious scents wafting in the air.
"I told you she and the kids were coming today, remember? And so are Bastian and Charlie and their families."
A vague recollection tickles somewhere in the back of my mind…there is something I should be remembering about today…
"It's your ninetieth birthday, Mama."
"Oh yes," I say. "So it is."
"That's nothing to be so nonchalant about," she chuckles. "It's a milestone to be proud of."
"Well, at least it's an excuse for your brothers and the grandchildren to visit."
I keep my eyes on the fast-moving vehicle headed this way, still dispersing earth and soil as it barrels down the narrow, winding road. The SUV takes the last bend at an angle that makes me shudder, and then it barely comes to a halting stop before the boy is already out. His long hair, so much like his great-grandfather's hair, waves wildly in the wind.
"Look, it's Isabella and the kids! Are they staying for supper?" I ask, still looking out the window.
My daughter, Leah, stands behind me. She rests her hand on my shoulder.
"Yes, Mama," she says. Her voice sounds quietly patient. "Today is your birthday."
"Oh yes. So it is."
I smile and watch Isabella open the trunk. She pulls out a couple of large, brown paper bags with the words "Whole Foods" printed on the side and precariously balances each in one arm while the girls languidly step out of the back seat, eyes glued to those little telephones they carry with them everywhere.
"Ethan, at least help me with one of these bags!" I hear Isabella screech. The boy plainly huffs before turning around and grabbing one of the bags from his mother's arms.
"Your father will be so pleased to see them," I say before turning to look at Leah. "Should I wake him, do you think?"
Leah tilts her head, her dark eyes warm as she strokes my cheek, her tender fingers gliding back and forth along withered, spotted skin.
"Mama, maybe not just yet."
"I suppose the kids can be a bit rambunctious, can't they, especially that Ethan." I smile. "Got too much of his great-grandpa in him. We'll wake him later then, after Charlie and Bastian arrive with their families."
She nods and takes my hand in hers. "Okay, Mama."
An adamant fist bangs on the door, demanding entry.
"Coming! Coming!" Leah says. She walks to the door while I wait anxiously by my spot near the window, my heart suddenly racing with anticipation. Yet when Leah opens up, the boy runs in right past her, drops the bag, and all I manage to catch are streaks of color - red, brown, blue, and white - before he turns right back around.
"Ethan! Ethan, get your butt back over here and say hi to your grandmothers!"
Isabella storms in, dropping the other bag on the floor as she yells after her youngest little monster.
But the boy barely bothers to turn and merely throws out a hurried "Hi Grandmas!" before he's off.
Still, I can't fault him for being anxious to get to the big evergreen, where the tire swing awaits him underneath a canopy of heavy branches. It's always been one of my favorite spots as well.
There are things I don't remember quite so easily anymore, moments lost in a haze of time and age - moments when I'm about to say something or think something, and then suddenly the words or thoughts are…gone, gone like a flowing, silver stream swallowed up by a wide, dark river.
But there are moments and truths that will never fade; not with time or age.
Like this truth: Ethan loves that swing. He laughs and yells and tilts himself practically up to the sky while his long, skinny legs propel him to heights that make his mother cringe and scream and that fill my mind with so many memories…
I'm snapped back to the present by Isabella's anger.
She scowls at her son's retreating form. "That damn boy has been running wild since his father was deployed again. I'm going to have to tell Matt to have a talk with him as soon as he returns from duty. Skye, Olivia, put the phones down and say hi to your grandmothers."
With a deep sigh, the twin, sixteen year-old blond, blue-eyed beauties return their phones to their purses. They take after their father, unlike their brother; when I look at Ethan, I'm back along the Sol-Duc River eighty-somewhat years ago, looking up into the face of-
"Hi, Nana Bella," Skye (or is it Olivia?) says, giving me a kiss and a careful hug, breaking me out of one of those reveries that have been taking over more and more lately. Then the other one hugs and kisses me.
Then Isabella, my namesake, hugs me. "Happy Birthday, Nana. How have you been? You look so pretty in your red blouse and red lipstick."
"Why thank you, Child. I've been just fine."
I study her through my thick, red frames. There's a deep melancholy in Isabella's big, golden eyes, a sadness that I can't fail to recognize; it's the constant fear and longing for a lover risking his life, thousands of miles away. Yet there's something else lurking deep within her eyes today, something she seems to be trying to hide.
I pat her soft cheek. "Your grandfather will be so happy to see you."
She smiles. "We brought you a birthday present."
"You and the kids visiting us is all the present we need."
She sighs and hugs me tight again. "Oh, Nana."
After putting away the groceries she's brought, Isabella excuses herself, and I go join my daughter and great-granddaughters in the kitchen. My gait is admittedly a bit slow these days, and so I hear the girls squealing before seeing the object that's caused all the fuss:
A bowl full of dark, brown batter rests in the middle of the counter.
"You're baking a cake?" I ask.
Leah looks up quickly. "Mama! It was a surprise! Girls, I thought I asked you to keep Nana Bella entertained in the front room, so she wouldn't see her cake?"
"Sorry." They murmur simultaneously – though they don't even look up from their phones.
Leah purses her lips, but smiles again when she looks back to me.
"Of course I'm baking a cake, Mama. It's your birthday today."
"Oh yes, it is. I suppose I'll be turning…ninety."
"That's right!" Leah grins from ear to ear. "I'm so proud of you, Mama!"
"I don't see how my being older than the moon is something to be proud of, but very well," I proclaim.
Apparently, I've said something humorous because Skye and Olivia both giggle.
"Now, Mama, don't act so unimpressed." Leah lifts one reprimanding eyebrow at me as she mixes away at the batter. "Not many people can say they've been blessed with so many years and have seen so much rich history first-hand."
I roll my eyes as I take a seat at the counter.
The girls gather around, peeking up from their phones every couple of minutes to see what their grandmother is doing, until I finally spy Leah quirk an admonishing eyebrow at them. There's a chorus of quiet sighs as the phones get placed on the counter, and their sleeves get rolled up.
"You made my favorite cake?" I ask.
"Well, it's your birthday, so of course I'd make your favorite."
"It's my birthday…"
A hazy mist sheathes my eyes. For a few seconds, it's not my daughter or granddaughters I see standing in the kitchen…
It's a beautiful woman with silky, copper hair, pinned into a simple bun. A white apron covers up the slightly worn, yet elegant, blue day dress that falls to just below her knees. She smiles at me, her bright, green eyes sparkling warmly. She holds a mixing spoon in one hand and a bowlful of home-made batter in the other.
"Bella, I'm baking a cake for Edward's birthday. Would you like to help?"
"I've never baked a cake."
"You've never helped your mama bake a cake?" There's obvious surprise in her voice.
"No, ma'am. Mrs. Clearwater does all our cooking, and I'm not allowed in the kitchen to watch. Mother says it isn't ladylike."
She sighs, her warm eyes crinkling at the corners. "Well here in this house you're allowed to learn and help with anything you want." Her fingers stroke my cheek. "Do you want to help?"
I nod vigorously. "Yes, Mrs. Cullen."
"Okay, then," she says softly. "And remember, Bella, you may just call me Esme..."
"This cake is hella-weird," Olivia (or Skye) says. She purses those purple-painted lips of hers, glaring warily at the mix before her. "You're putting vinegar in it?"
"And water?" Skye (or Olivia) giggles.
"That's how the recipe goes." Leah patiently mixes away.
"Where are the butter, eggs and milk?" one of the girls asks. "When are you going to add in those?"
"There's no butter, eggs or milk in this cake," Leah says.
"What?" the girl cries. "What kind of wack-as-hell cake doesn't have butter, eggs or milk?"
"The kind of cake we used to have when I was a little girl growing up during the Depression," I say, "when butter, eggs and milk were too expensive, and then during the war, when they were rationed, and we had to go without sometimes."
Olivia/Skye wrinkles her dainty, button nose. "Growing up back then must've seriously sucked - no internet, no iPads, no cell phones. I think I would've died. But weren't your parents rich, Nana Bella?"
"Isabella, the piano teacher will be here in one hour. Go ask Mrs. Cope to help you get ready. And Isabella, I've asked the French tutor to come in this afternoon for an extra lesson. He's informed me that you haven't been practicing your conjugations..."
"Yes. Yes, Mother had money. But she wasn't born with such, and most of the people I knew weren't wealthy."
I look down at the thin, plain white gold band on the fourth finger of my left hand, and all the while, I feel their eyes on me, but my mind sees someone else...
"I know it's not much, and I know your mother will probably hate it and say you deserve better, and she'll be right about that. But this here ring has got my very heart and soul wrapped around it, Bella, and it's yours, heart and soul and body and all, if you'll have me..."
The front screen door screeches open, and a few seconds later, Ethan storms into the kitchen, huffing and puffing, nostrils smoking like a half-stoked chimney.
"Ethan, what in the world is the matter?" Leah asks him.
"Mom made me get off the swing because she says I'm going to break my goddamn neck, and she doesn't have the goddamn time or patience to take me to the hospital! Never lets me have any fun!"
He opens up the refrigerator and pulls out the gallon of milk, drinking straight from the container. When he's done, he barrels right back out of the kitchen.
"Where are you going now?" Leah calls after him.
"To get my Xbox out of the car!"
"Boy spends too much time on that contraption," I opine with a shake of my head.
While Leah carries the cake to the oven, I stick the mixing spoon in my mouth and give it a couple of good licks before she can catch me – besides, no one else seems to be interested in tasting the mix. Then I pick up the rest of the dirty utensils and carry them all to the sink. All the while, Olivia and Skye simultaneously complain about the hella-weird cake and check their phones in case they've missed a life-or-death communiqué in the past ten minutes.
"Mama, what are you doing?" Leah asks.
"Why, what does it look like I'm doing?" I say. "I'm scrubbing."
Leah reaches into the sink and gently yet firmly takes the sponge and utensils out of my hands, nudging me aside.
"Mama, that's what we've got a dishwasher for."
"Oh yes. The dishwasher." I shake my head, having forgotten about that contraption.
"Then perhaps these girls here can help me tidy up the kitchen. In my day, we had to help clean up before we got to lick the bowl."
"Nana Bella, we don't want to lick the bowl! Do you know how many calories are probably in that batter?" Skye/Olivia says. "If we lick that bowl, we'll have to watch what we eat for two weeks!"
"Humph," I snort. "When we were kids, we didn't have to mind calories because we spent most of our time playing and running around outdoors, not with our heads glued to one screen or another."
"Mama, I think you're getting tired. Why don't you go relax for a little while? Once Charlie and Bastian and the rest of the family arrives, it'll be a madhouse around here."
She's trying to get rid of me. I'm making a nuisance of myself, I suppose.
"Very well. I'll just go upstairs and check on your father."
"Mama, don't go up those stairs just now. Go rest in the bedroom down here. You'll need help coming down otherwise, and I'm busy in the kitchen."
"Then I'm going out front to check on Isabella."
"Isabella's fine, Mama. Go take a nap."
I ignore her and walk out through the screeching screen door from which Ethan just walked in.
I forget things. I do. But I know that it's September, and I know that the sun shining today is rare for this time of year here in the majestic mountains of Washington. The air should be full of clouds and mist hiding the mountains, shrouding them in soft, white, billowy cotton.
Instead, the heat of the sun rains down over my wrinkled skin, highlighting liver spots and pruned hands. I raise my face to the sun as I walk, daring it to do more damage than it's already done over the past nine decades.
When I reopen my eyes, they rest on the black tire swing under the evergreen that's been our gathering place ever since…well, ever since I can remember.
Isabella swings herself over the tire-swing, to and fro like a pendulum of passing time.
I hear her quiet sobs, the hitch of her breath, the uneven sighs.
I see the surprise in her eyes when she opens them and finds me sitting on the grass in front of her, my blue-jean clad legs folded at my side.
"Nana." She wipes away the smudged makeup under her eyes. "I didn't hear you approaching."
"One of the benefits of being old," I smile. "Our bodies and souls are so close to the hereafter that our footsteps are almost ghost-like."
She shakes her head, and I chuckle.
"What is it, Child? Has the boy finally driven you insane, or is it something else that's got you like this?"
"It's…" She looks up and holds my gaze.
Her eyes are so much like my own used to be: rich golden orbs I saw in my reflection for so many decades. My husband says that Isabella's long, thick chestnut hair is exactly the same shade as mine as well.
Then I remind him that my hair hasn't had a lick of chestnut in it for at least two decades, and that I've got four eyes now instead of two. It's his love for me that keeps me perpetually young in his eyes. The mirror tells a completely different story.
"You wouldn't understand, Nana," Isabella says, forcing my attention back to her.
"Now I know I'm no spring chicken," I chuckle, "but I remember what it's like to have young children. And I also remember what it's like to have a man off at war.
"Yes, I know you do, Nana," Isabella says. "But times have changed." She looks off into the horizon, her honey-colored eyes hardening, losing their sweet softness. "Warfare has changed. There are drones now, and IEDs, and men who twist religious beliefs to suit their own horrific purposes. And I know that when you grew up, you had hardships too, Nana, like the Depression and yes, the war." She narrows her eyes. "But you didn't have the horrors of school shootings or of children killing children. You didn't have the Taliban or Isis or home-grown terrorists for that matter, and you certainly didn't have to grow up in the aftermath of Nine-Eleven," she snorts. "There was an innocence to your time that my children will never experience. And any innocence this country, this world may have still possessed was lost on Nine-Eleven."
She looks down. Her boot-covered feet drag through the indentation of dirt that decades of swinging have left in that spot.
"Life is so much harder now, Nana. You just wouldn't understand."
I gaze at my favorite granddaughter. She's my favorite because she's his favorite. And she's his favorite because he says he sees a reincarnation of me in her. A reincarnation of me physically yes, but more than that, he sees a reincarnation of the way I once saw the world with optimism and faith, with unshakable beliefs and with a certainty in the basic concepts of love, promise and hope.
She doesn't seem to possess that faith in love and hope right now, and I don't want him to see her this way.
I lay a heavily lined, wrinkled hand on Isabella's leg, waiting patiently for her to once more meet my eyes.
"Isabella, I am turning ninety today, and yes, times have certainly changed in the past few years, but I know about life. I know about love. I know about blessings and heartache and unbridled joy. I know about fury, and believe it or not," I grin, "I know quite a bit about passion as well. I know about innocence had and innocence lost."
I close my eyes then.
Behind ancient lids, I see them all young and strong. I see the river sparkling like diamonds, and Sandy running and barking. I see Carlisle and Esme sitting out on the porch, kissing quietly by the light of the full moon. I see Alice running with her skirts flying high in the wind, and Jasper chasing her despite his bad leg. I see Rose and Masen holding hands through the woods. I see Jacob, smiling. I see my Dad…I see Papa Phil…I see Mother with her glittering diamonds…
But most prominently I see him; I see bright, emerald eyes full of an innocence that stole my breath, an innocence that stole my heart.
An innocence an entire nation lost one dark, December day.
Isabella believes my time was the age of innocence. Well it was, I suppose, but it was so much more than that.
"I was just shy of ten years old the first time I met him…"
This will be mainly in BPOV, with EPOVs later on in the story. It will update twice weekly, Mondays and Thursdays.
Also, in this coming Thursday's posting, we'll begin a playlist of the great music that came out of the 1930's and 1940's. :)
It's been a while since we've WIP'd together, so let me know if you've got any other questions, Lovies. :)
Link to 'Stories by Pattyrose' on facebook is on my profile page.