A/N: Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
Hitting the 'Complete' button on this one.
Betad by the lovely, wonderful Michelle Renker Rhodes. Thanks for taking another ride with me.
Most characters belong to S. Meyer. The rest is all mine.
Epilogue – Full Circle
The sun shines brightly this afternoon, an atypical day amidst these beautiful mountains I've visited every summer of my life. Ordinarily, grey filmy clouds create a sheer canopy of mist like a layer of second skin that veils these woods – soft and soothing, wedged between gloriously tall mountains. I've spent long, wondrous days cocooned in this otherworldly shelter, surrounded by its magnificent, lush greenery and its calming river. It's been a safe haven I've always known I can count on when things aren't quite right in Seattle or in the rest of the world.
Like me, the birds are also enjoying the uncommon golden rays while chirping their approval, flitting from nest to nest as they bask in the warmth, spreading their wings and soaring. A red crossbill, its long, fine-edged black wings stretched towards the sky as if in worship, glides downwards and comes to rest on one of the headstones before me as if it's been summoned by my memories. Its dark eyes hold my gaze before its feathered head shakes from side to side, examining its environment.
"Isabella, do you see that bird? That one is called a Red Crossbill. It gets its name from its color and because it can cross its bill up or down or side to side to remove seeds from the cones. See?"
"Wow! Can I touch it, Grandpa?"
"Only if you can catch it!"
The gentle breeze tickles my skin, picking up my hair and looping it over my moist eyes. I push it back and twist it behind my ear, following the strands all the way down just as my Nana used to do when I was a little girl, and she'd sit me on her lap to brush it out for me.
"You have such beautiful hair, Isabella."
"Grandpa says it looks just like yours. And he says my eyes look just like yours too."
"He does say that, doesn't he? I suppose it's because he loves us both so much."
It's been almost two years since my Grandpa Edward passed and almost eighteen months since my Nana Bella followed him to wherever their mutual heaven awaited. This quiet hamlet where they now rest, halfway to their gurgling river and halfway to their magnificent evergreen is a place I visit often. While the children run around the back yard or visit with my mom, I take some time and sit with my grandparents. Sometimes, I read quietly from the journals that have both brought me comfort and taught me so much about life. Sometimes, I add to my own journals in the hopes that someday, my children or my children's children will glean similar comfort and knowledge from them.
Today, to brighten up their resting place I've brought Nana and Grandpa fresh flowers that grow wild in this area: white marigolds and red columbines, Olympic violets and peach tiger lilies all interspersed with the softest baby's breath. The girls helped me pick the flowers earlier, but we can't take complete credit for them, having gotten the lively color scheme from the enormous – and anonymous - arrangement that arrived from New York on the day of Nana's funeral. They're pretty flowers that go well together, and because they bloom so freely, the girls and I continue bringing them.
We found Nana the morning after her birthday lying curled under Grandpa's headstone, her long white hair cascading over her shoulder like a waterfall, her hands knit together under her cheek with a glorious smile lighting her beautiful face as if she was a young child in the midst of a most enchanting dream. How she'd managed to leave the house without any of us hearing, we still have no clue. But I suppose it's one of those things that has no explanation other than the obvious: she was always meant to be with him in one way or another, and neither life nor death would keep them apart.
"True and loyal hearts," I murmur, sitting on the moist grass and watching another Red Crossbill join the first, each one balancing on top of a headstone while singing to the other. "You were both true and loyal to the very end."
In my memories, my Grandpa Edward is a tall, strong, distinguished-looking man. From my earliest days, I have vague recollections of his dark hair; though, he'd lost the copper long before I was born. But in most of my memories, his hair is thick and white, and his green eyes are lush and vibrant, capturing all the shades of green in the forest surrounding him. Just as Nana once described them, they were definitely evergreen eyes. And though he grew older as time progressed, he was a strong, vibrant man until the very end.
My Nana Bella, on the other hand, was delicate and gentle, her beauty full of elegance almost ethereal despite wrinkles and grey hair acquired as time passed. But on the inside, oh on the inside, her strength shone like a beacon. When my own father was killed in action in 2003 during the war in Iraq, my Nana was there to comfort my mom, to help her through her ordeal both emotionally and financially and to provide us both with all the love and support we could possibly need.
The breeze picks up, making the grass ripple and roll like the river's current. When the birds take flight once more, I smile to myself.
I turn my head to the side at the sound of my husband's voice as I see him approaching, his blond hair catching in the sunlight and shining like gold. After he quietly sits on the grass beside me, he proceeds to pull me to him so that my back rests against his strong chest. I sigh in contentment.
Yes, Nana, I too know what it's like to have my lover finally home from war.
He drops a tender kiss to my temple, wrapping his arms around my shoulders while sheltering me from the growing breeze.
"Are you alright, babe?"
"I'm fine," I smile, "just visiting Nana and Grandpa."
His gaze trails to the side-by-side headstones, and he smiles. "How are they doing?"
"They're fine," I grin, "just fine. They're happy and healthy now, and…" I sigh.
"The stuff you've told me and read me from those journals…" he murmurs, a quiet reverence filling his voice, "they really were a part of the greatest generation."
I angle my head sideways and meet his warm, blue eyes, exactly like those of our daughters. "They were great, but I happen to believe you're pretty great as well."
He swallows and softly eases his lips to mine, brushing them back and forth, warming me. "All I've ever wanted to do is make sure that you and the kids are safe," he says, pulling back to meet my gaze, "that all of you have a chance to live in a world that's not ready to blow itself up on the drop of a dime."
"I know," I breathe. "You're so much like my dad…and like my grandpa in that way. I suppose that's why my nana always approved of you."
He snorts. "Yeah, your nana always did have the hots for me."
I punch his muscular arm, and he laughs. "I'm just kidding. Nana Bella was an amazing woman, and I wish I could've seen her once more before she passed."
"She was ready to go," I smile softly. "I could tell that evening when I went up to see her in her room. She was more…alive than I'd seen her in a while. Her health deteriorated so rapidly within those six months after Grandpa passed, and she was left here without him. You remember how healthy she always was before that, don't you?"
"Yeah," he grins softly. "She was one energetic lady - always traveling back and forth to those charity fundraisers she ran, always involved in those veteran support groups and donating to so many programs."
"And she helped MJ run the Dwyer Animal Hospital that's still housed in the building she used to live in during the summers when she was a little girl – in the house across the river that once belonged to Great-Grandpop Phil. But once Grandpa Edward passed…it was like her heart, her entire body simply couldn't function without him, just as she'd once said."
"True and loyal hearts," he murmurs, as he's heard me say quite often in the past eighteen months.
"True and loyal hearts," I echo.
We're both quiet for a long while. I rest against his chest, and we both let our eyes sweep across the vast field before us, enjoying the gentle hum of the wind, the rustling of tethered leaves, the woodland birds and foraging insects calling to one another, and if we listen closely enough, we can even hear the gentle gurgling of the river's flow.
"Have you told the kids yet?" Matt asks, breaking the relative silence.
"What, are you talking about the fact that along with their other cousins and aunts and uncles, they each have a small fortune, or the news that this is going to be our home now?" I grin.
He chuckles, tightening his arms around me. "Yes, all of that."
"No, not yet. When they're old enough, we'll tell them that Grandma and Grandpa left them something with which to begin their adult lives. As for us living here with Mama now," I meet his eyes once more, "I wanted us to tell them together."
"Good," he smiles.
"But I think they'll be thrilled," I add excitedly. "With the girls older, more mature now and heading off to college soon, I think they'll appreciate having this place to which they can return whenever they have free time, and they've also come to appreciate Mama more in the past year. And Ethan…" I turn around and look behind us in the direction of our soon-to-be-new-home, gazing over the top of the tree line in the distance to the lone evergreen – the anomaly - standing apart, the magnificent tree where young Isabella Swan Dwyer first fell in love…and where a boy who looks and acts so much like his great-grandfather is probably swinging right now. "Ethan does love running around that evergreen and swinging on that tire. And now, with more room than in Seattle, we can get him that German Shepard he's always wanted."
"Sounds like a plan," Matt chuckles. "We'll have the Olympic Mountains as our back yard and a magnificent evergreen in our front yard."
"Are you sure you're ready for this?" I ask. "Are you ready to be a civilian again and live the quiet life?"
I hold my breath while my husband breathes in deeply, his firm chest expanding and contracting behind me, blue eyes piercing. More than anything, I want him home with me, but like my Nana before me, I won't change the man I love.
"I'm ready to come home…to stay." His forehead rests on mine. "I just…I can't be away from you and the kids anymore. Those stories you told me…the ones you've read me from those journals…I want that kind of ending for us, Isabella. I want us together…forever." He kisses me softly. "I want to be your true and loyal heart."
I drop my gaze, overwhelmed by my emotions, but Matt curves his hand around my jaw and brings my eyes back to his, moving in closer...
Adele's Hello ringtone rings between us, and I look down at the cell phone on the grass next to me.
Hey Mom, Grandma Leah ordered a couple of pizzas for dinner, and she wants me to ask you if you want pineapple on your half, and ask Dad if he wants mushrooms. Also, I finished my homework for the weekend. Can I play Xbox now?
"Come on," Matt laughs, reading our son's text along with me. He presses a firm kiss to my mouth. "Let's go home and finish this later."
He takes my hand and rises to his feet, gently tugging me with him just as his cell phone goes off. When he pulls it out of his pocket, he rolls his eyes.
"My new, civilian job. I better take this. The advantages of modern technology," he smirks playfully, waving the phone. "Tell Nana and Grandpa Cullen I send them my love," he whispers quickly before pressing the green button.
I chuckle, and as he walks away, I pick up my journals and once more turn towards the headstones.
Edward Anthony Cullen
U.S. Air Force - World War II
June 22, 1922 – March 12, 2014
Distinguished Service Cross
Loving husband, father, and son
Isabella Marie Cullen
World War II
September 13, 1924 – September 13, 2014
Loving wife, mother, and daughter
"Goodbye, Nana." I press a kiss to my fingers and lay them over her smooth headstone, and then saying goodbye to my Grandpa, I do the same. "We miss you both, but we know you're together and happy, and we're okay as well. Take care of each other...always. I'll visit you again soon."
And as I turn around, the breeze whistles through the trees, whipping up my long hair while a soft, familiar giggle carries through the air - the sound of a woodland nymph forever where she belongs.
A/N: Thank you all for sharing this with me. It was a long one, and in places, a rough one, but I hope you've enjoyed where the copper-haired boy and his woodland nymph have brought us.
Thanks so much for all the thoughts you've shared with me, on fanfiction, fictionpad, twitter, facebook, and anywhere else. I know I haven't always been great with review replies, but as you all know, this was a looong story, and with RL in the mix, most of the time it was a pick between replying or writing the next chapter. I hope to touch base with you all in the next few days and respond to your reviews, at least for the last few chapters.
Finally, shameless plug time:
We'll be starting a new, short story on Monday. A seven-part outtake to Key West, entitled Key West: The Honeymoon. For those of you who've read Key West…yeah, get ready, DeepDiverWard is back! ;)
And after that…we'll see. 3
Love you all! Talk to you soon!
Link to 'Stories by PattyRose' is on my profile page.