A/N: Thank you all so much for the wonderful thoughts you've given me throughout this story.
Betad by the lovely Michelle Renker Rhodes.
Most characters belong to S. Meyer. The rest is all mine.
Chapter 30 – Farewell, New York Style Cheesecake Bars
Eighteen Months Later:
I wander aimlessly through the hallways of the townhouse where Sam, Nessie, and I spent fifteen years together - where I've lived for eighteen years of my life. A thousand and one memories replay like a movie reel in my head:
"Mommy! Mommy! I climb the steps all by myself!"
"Daddy, can you paint my room bright pink?"
"Guys, do you think we can get a pool in our backyard? My friend Sophie has one, and it's so cool!"
"Vanessa, clean up your room!"
"Happy tenth anniversary, Bella. I love you, sweetheart. Wait 'til you see where I'm taking you tonight."
"Happy fortieth birthday, Sam. I love you and wish you so many more…"
My finger lightly ghosts an invisible path along the now bare walls in the family room, which is now…just an empty room. All the family pictures have been taken down, carefully wrapped and loaded into a cardboard box, which will soon make a trek across the country and to the opposite coast. Some will eventually debut in my new home. Some will remain in the box until Nessie decides their future.
With a wistful sigh, I look up and happen to catch a glimpse of a sight, which throughout the years, has become commonplace in its familiarity. The winter sun is rising over a cold, New York City morning, bursting through the large back yard windows in deceivingly warm shades of yellow, pink, and orange. This is probably the last time I'll watch the sun rise from this spot. An endless summer sun now awaits me – one of many beauties awaiting me, but it doesn't mean I won't miss this one.
Once outside, I stand on the curb and look up at the townhouse's red, brick façade, slightly weathered by age yet well-maintained throughout the years – every generation has made sure of it. Sam's great-grandparents built this house around the turn of the century when they arrived from France. It's a Laurent family home which has always been inherited by the eldest child. One day, Vanessa and the family she creates will have to decide its fate as well. But for now, the house will be closed, and a maintenance agency will handle the continuous upkeep.
All around me, the city's unceasing life continues, refusing to pause or wane for my departure. The cold, February wind seeps through my bones, and I wrap my coat tighter around me to keep it at bay.
The sudden warmth and sense of…rightness which cocoons me is the first indication of his proximity, even before his warm breath washes over me. His hands slide around my waist, and he pulls me up against his chest, resting his angular jaw on my shoulder. My hands find his and lace our gloved fingers together.
"Yeah," I smile. "Yeah, I'm fine."
"Everything you wanted to take is loaded and secured in the truck. Do you want to make sure it's all-"
"No. No, I trust you."
When he brushes his lips across my temple, they feel warm and soft despite the chill in the air.
"All right then. I'll go tell the drivers they can be on their way. Take your time, Bella. We don't have to go anywhere until you're ready."
Before he can release me, I turn around in his arms.
Edward's green eyes hold mine steadily. They're the same and yet so different from the eyes of the boy with whom I once fell in love: older, yes, and creased with laugh lines which add to his rugged, good looks and which assure me he's led a good life up to this point, as I have. They're also full of a confidence that comes with time, with maturity, and with the experiences of a life's many ups and downs.
He's my present, yet he's respectful of my past, which is one of the many things I love about him.
I reach up and wrap my arms around his neck, sliding my hands through the hair at his nape. "I'm ready now, Edward. I'm ready for our future."
With a wide grin, he drops his head and presses his mouth to mine.
The move to my new home in Newport Beach, California has taken longer than either Edward or I would've liked. Unfortunately, there were many loose ends to tie up, not the least of which was Swan Bellies, New York. To the collective disappointment of many New Yorkers, Swan Bellies New York is no longer. The last creations in this city - Farewell, New York Style Cheesecake Bars, have been baked and eaten.
At heart, I am and always will be a woman who needs some semblance of control. Therefore, I simply couldn't resign myself to allowing someone outside of my family, regardless of how qualified he or she may be, to run Swan Bellies, New York. Once I agreed to marry Edward and move to California with him, Swan Bellies, New York's days were numbered.
We had a good run, though - over three years of almost daily surprises for a city which usually doesn't appreciate surprises. Over the past eighteen months, however, while Swan Bellies, California continued its success and expansion – into San Francisco, San Diego, San Jose, etc., – New York City's creations wound down. When two women took up a savory appetizers boutique business with a marketing strategy almost an exact replica to Swan Bellies daily surprise creations, Anthony was furious. But I reminded him that everyone gets his or her chance to shine, and Swan Bellies, New York was ready to pass the baton.
Besides, we're still kicking ass in California.
Still, it's a trend, and all trends come and go; only those things with true substance remain despite time and changing markets…
So over the past eighteen months, I've flown back and forth six times (six times!) to manage the business on both coasts…and to see Edward and the kids. Each flight continues to be difficult for me, each time is also slightly better than the last. Edward, Nessie…or Anthony are with me on every flight, and in between, they come up to New York as much as they can.
You see, young Anthony Robert Masen is now twenty-four, a college graduate, and my business partner. The little Spawn even had the nerve to officially ask my now twenty-one-year-old daughter to marry him – gave her a flashy ring and everything. (Fine, fine - it's more pretty and tasteful than flashy).
It's almost as pretty as the ring I wear from his father.
For the past seven months, Anthony and I have been working together on a new idea - a brainchild we've developed from a subject which has become near and dear to both our hearts: healthy babies.
Hence, BeMaTuf Baby - A healthy nutrition line for the expecting mom.
Oh, we're aware it's a mouthful, but we've done all the market research, and we have media and advertising in place which makes our name and objective extremely clear. There is never a guarantee, of course, but our nutrition line for expecting moms uses only ingredients grown hydroponically through the use of aquaponics. It can't hurt to eat as well as you can.
What's more, focus groups have shown that moms actually love the name.
Be My Tough Baby! What's there not to love?
Here, I'll admit that Anthony and I did have some back and forth sessions on that name.
"BeMaTuf Baby? Come on, Mom," he chuckled when we first brainstormed. "You just want the 'Be' first because they're the first two letters of your name."
"And you want the 'Ma' first because they're the first two letters of your surname!"
"It'll be your surname soon, too."
Did I forget to mention that Anthony calls me Mom now? It started the day he proposed to Nessie. Edward jokes that he proposed as much to give her the ring as he did to have an excuse to call me "Mom."
I tell him he's crazy. Seriously. As if.
Anyway, back to the Baby Mama Food Name Game:
"Anthony," said I, "if we put the 'Ma' first, it would be MaBeTuf Baby. What the hell is MaBeTuf Baby? Does it mean that maybe your baby will be tough if you eat healthy food? I mean, yes, we're making it clear that it's not a guarantee but an extra way to care for your child in-utero, but who's going to want to buy a food line which just might…maybe…make your baby strong and tough?"
The boy gave me a grin and a smirk exactly like that of his sire's. Darn Spawn.
"All right, Mom. All right. You win."
And so BeMaTuf Baby won.
And if it fails and we fall on our asses, Edward will be there to rub mine all better…and we'll both be there to encourage Anthony to try again.
Besides, with the baby coming soon, I'm just as eager and anxious as Anthony is to get the line out in the market. Edward also jokes about my having baby on the brain.
Oh, wait a minute; I'm not pregnant.
Neither is Nessie!
Good Lord, she still has a year and a half of college to go, and I will kill that little Spawn if he knocks her up now! (Although, I fully trust that he'd love and care for her and the baby with his life, so I really wouldn't kill him. Actually, I'd probably jump for joy, but he doesn't need to know that).
It's Alice Laurent Whitlock who is due to give birth to a baby girl next month: Samantha Whitlock.
Wonderfully healthy at age forty-four, Alice is having her first baby and Jasper's fourth. And, as opposite as they are…they're both over the moon.
The other day during one of my visits, she and I were at a little seafood café on Balboa Island, where she's lived for the past six months since she married Jasper. We were eating fish tacos – which she now craves constantly – when I realized how unbelievably…gorgeous she looks nowadays. Even more so than when she lived in New York - and Alice Laurent has always been gorgeous. Men of all ages would literally throw themselves at her, yet she never paid any of them any mind – until Jasper.
"You're glowing," I said, setting down my taco and watching her shove hers into her mouth like fish tacos are going out of style. She's got one of those perfectly round baby bumps, the ones that look like you've swallowed a beach ball, yet the rest of your body remains perfectly perfect. So not the kind of belly I carried.
She chuckled, gingerly licking her fingers. "Who would've ever thought they'd find me here, right? Living on a little island in California and taking off a couple of years from work to have a baby? I must be nuts." She shook her head.
I suppose this is one of the many reasons why she and I are the best of friends. We both pretend to be braver than we are, yet we can both see right through our mutual bullshit.
And we've both been lucky enough to find men who can see through it as well, men who we need not necessarily to take care of us, but to ground us. And with his little ladys and tough cookies all over the place, Jasper sure reminds Alice that it's okay to need someone else once in a while.
"I just can't believe you beat me with both the marriage and the move to California!"
She grinned, but I know my girl, and there was something wary and hesitant in her smile.
"Bella…" – she rubbed her belly subconsciously – "the pregnancy…the baby…I don't want it to…hurt you. I don't want you to feel-"
I cut her off quickly, placing my hand over hers on top of that baby bump. "Listen to me. All I feel right now is a heart close to bursting from seeing you like this. I have you, I have Edward, and I have…I have…"
At that moment, in my mind, I saw…three children: one tiny infant whose features will always be those of an angel…and two grown children who both resemble their fathers.
"I have my children," I grinned. "And little Sammy here will be Edward's and my godchild. I feel nothing but joy for you…and Jasper." I rolled my eyes, making her laugh.
And at that moment, little Sammy kicked her mother's belly hard, reminding us both of the beauty of upcoming life.
Nevertheless, as happy as Ness and Anthony are about Alice and Jasper's baby, Anthony's interest in baby food isn't so much due to the upcoming Whitlock bundle, but rather due to the fact that he and Ness will be married in less than two years, and both are anxious to start a family right away. In addition to the new venture which Anthony and I now share, Nessie is set to completely take over Swan Bellies, California once she graduates. Thankfully, as her own boss, she can do so with babies all around her.
And they've already named their firstborn girl or boy:
And this is why, though I may warn them and bitch and moan, I'm almost as anxious for that future baby as they are.
No, none of these babies will ever take the place of Edward's and my Anthony. He will always be an angel watching over all of us. But Alice has a future she never imagined for herself, and whatever child Ness and Anthony ever have will be part Masen, Swan, and Laurent.
What more could I ever ask for?
Our lives are wonderfully hectic, busy…and full.
The following morning when the sun's rays stream through the windows, I awaken in a hotel room at the Marriott Marquis warm, naked, and wrapped in Edward's arms. The furniture, bits, and pieces which will make the move to California with me are already on their way via truck, but Edward's and my flight is later this morning. He always tries to convince me to drive instead, and a couple of times, we've done just that so we could stop in Phoenix to see my parents and Anthony's Tree on our way. But today, I'm eager to get back to Newport Beach, eager to begin my new life in my new house, in my newly-expanded kitchen, in my sex(y) pool…eager to tend to the young palm tree the four of us planted together a few months back.
For a few minutes, I rest comfortably and quietly with my head on Edward's chest. When I look up and see him snoring, lips slightly parted, I smile to myself. Edward will be forty-six in a few months, yet I find him sexier and more handsome than I ever did when he was a teenager. He tells me the same thing. Sometimes, I still find it hard to believe that we're here - twenty-seven years after that fateful day. In exactly one week, Edward and I will stand on top of warm sand with the Pacific lapping at our feet and surrounded by friends and family and declare to the world that our love brought us together again.
With this thought kindling me, I slide up his chest and brush my lips over his slightly parted ones, slipping my tongue inside his warm mouth. He groans and quickly responds, his hands gripping my hips as he pulls me completely on top of him and his morning erection.
"Good morning, baby," he grins lazily, mouth still on mine, eyes still closed.
"Good morning. Are you ready for our flight?"
He chuckles and groans again, opening those beautiful, green eyes which always take my breath away.
"You mean am I ready to set your head down into BJ position? Sure."
When I smack his arm, he laughs.
"Today, I won't need to get into BJ position. I can feel it in my bones. Now, come on. Get up, lazy." I bite his chest, fully aware of the fact that his morning wood is growing under me and aware that we won't be going anywhere quite so soon. But it's fun to tease him.
Sure enough, when I try to extricate myself from his arms, his hold simply tightens, and he pushes me down fully over the protrusion between us.
"Hold on there, baby. What's the rush? Aren't you exhausted from all that packing yesterday?"
"I'm exhausted from the past twenty-something months."
"Really?" He arches a brow, gently moving his fingers through my tangled hair like he's my own, personal brush. "What's been so exhausting about the past twenty-something months?"
I rest my palms on his chest as I grin impishly at him. "Well, first my ex-boyfriend's Spawn seduced my daughter."
He chuckles heartily at this; although, he's promised he will never tell Anthony that I ever called him that name.
"Then my ex himself walked back into my life."
"Get the hell out of here?" He's always ready to go along with me - except when I get unbearable, and he brings me right back down to Earth.
"Yup. And get this; now he's lying naked in bed underneath me."
I gasp and giggle when Edward quickly flips us over so that now I'm the one on the mattress while he hovers over me. His darkened gaze holds mine unwaveringly for a few seconds. Then he drops his mouth to my neck, pressing soft kisses along my collarbone before he begins to trail further down.
"What else is he doing?" His tongue darts over my nipples, bestowing equal attention to each before he licks a path to the space between my breasts, then a moist line down to my stomach - which he always kisses with reverence.
As I fist his hair, my heart beats wildly. "He's worshipping my body with his warm tongue."
"Mmm," he hums low in his throat, mouth moving lower. "He does love doing that. Where is his tongue headed now?"
He parts my legs then, and I instinctively and pretty eagerly bend them at the knees, squirming as I anticipate that first touch.
"Now?" I say shakily. "Now, it's headed to the promised land."
He chuckles huskily, his warm breath right there, making me tingle. "The promised land indeed," he says right before giving me one long…slow…lick.
"Ohh Gohhhd…" My back arches before falling and melting into the supple mattress we've warmed with our bodies. When my legs give out and threaten to fold, he pushes them open without pausing in his attentions. And when his finger joins in on the fun, I fist his hair with both hands and find I'm no longer able to narrate.
Finally, she's coming home to stay - Bella…my future wife, the only woman I have ever and will ever love.
A long time ago, we became one another's first foray into love. Unfortunately, young and inexperienced, neither one of us really knew what we were doing. Somewhere along the way, our roads diverged, and our lives took separate paths. I won't call them wrong turns – neither of us will because along these separate paths, we both experienced a full life. Yet somewhere in the bend…those two separate paths converged once more.
Now she sits next to me on the airplane while we wait for take-off. Her hand wraps around mine in a death grip, but we're also carrying on a whispered conversation which even a few months ago, I would've never thought possible - especially not in the current setting. Strangely enough, it's somewhat fitting…and it seems to soothe her.
"No, I think he would've had your hair," I disagree.
"Fine, fine, maybe," she concedes, "but, definitely your eyes - and he would've been tall like you."
"Yeah." I easily agree with that one, "tall like me, but with your self-control."
"Yes, because you have zero self-control - but with your patience." She smiles. "I can't wait to plant the seeds we're bringing back with us around his tree."
"And I can't wait to see Alice and the kids…and even Jasper," she smirks.
That makes me laugh. Although they're always arguing, my buddy Jasper and my future wife have found at least two objects which they can agree are deserving of their eternal love and devotion: Alice…and the coming baby.
Who would've thought those two would've fallen so madly in love?
Our lives have merged in so many ways, yet at the center of it all was and still is a little boy, who despite never having actually been born, has been the catalyst. All of us – Bella, Nessie, Anthony, and even Jasper and Alice – have been brought together by him.
When the plane takes off, Bella's conversation ceases. No matter how much she talks up her courage, no matter how damn brave this woman truly is, flying will never be easy for her. But from here on in, I will always be next to her. What's more, for the last couple of flights, she's been able to take a tranquilizer. In the past, she says they used to make her feel worse, but lately, they seem to help.
Now, as she leans against me, and I guide her head to my shoulder instead of my lap, her words begin to slur.
"I'd like to go to the PV when we get home."
My heart swells at the way she already calls California home…but I correct her anyway.
"It's PV, not The PV."
She chuckles groggily. "Whatever."
For the next few minutes, she's quiet. The plane levels off, and when we reach cruising altitude and the "Fasten Seatbelts" light is extinguished – the moment when it all happened on that flight all those years ago – I feel her swallowing thickly.
Kissing her temple, I stroke her arm in comfort. "I love you, Bella."
"The scones…" she mumbles after a couple of heartbeats.
"Well, that's not how I expected you to respond," I frown. "Come again?"
"The scones…they were fortune tellers."
"Like the Chinese cookies?"
"No…" Her voice is a breath of a whisper as if she's dreaming, "not the cookies. You and Alice with those cookies, I swear."
I can't help chuckling. "Bella, what are you talking about?"
"I'm going to bake you a batch when we get home."
"No. Scones. They're magical."
"What exactly was in that tranquilizer?" I wonder quietly.
"The scones warned me about you…about you and Anthony that day. I thought he was the Spawn, but he's…he's mine…my boy."
My throat constricts, but I swear to God, my chest feels as if it might explode from overcapacity.
"So tell me what's so magical about these scones," I grin, brushing my lips back and forth over her head.
"They taught me my true philosophy: Life gets real, and no, you can't always start over…"
When she pauses, I think she's fallen asleep.
"But, Edward…you can always begin again."
Thank you all so much for taking another ride with me. I've enjoyed it, and I truly hope you guys have as well.
In less than two weeks, I'll be off on my family vacay, cruising through Europe (so excited!).
When I return, and the kids are settled back in school, and I'm caught up with everything, I'll sit down and start planning a new adventure…:)
Take care, loves, and enjoy the rest of your summer!
Link to 'Stories by PattyRose' is on my profile page.