Hi all! This future-take was my contribution to the Babies at the Border Compilation.
Huge thanks to the fabulous ladies who put it together and to all who donated.
Love and thanks to Carrie ZM for doing her beta thang and to planetblue
and Robsmyyummy Cabanaboy for pre-reading.
You gals are my favorites!
Two Years Later
"Look at that, man." Jenks tips up his straw fedora and holds his burning blunt at eye level inspecting the roll. "This right here's what it's all about."
"I'm talking about this, son." He waves a hand at the powder-fine, white sand and crystal-clear water in front of him. "The beach and the sun and the fly-ass honeys running around here with their butt-cheeks showing."
I laugh and go back to watching my girl get jostled by the waves in her snorkel gear.
"Smoking that E.C. Kush," he pulls it deep, holding it a moment before choking out, "with motherfucking E.C. Kush." Nodding at his words, he hands me back my lighter. "I'm telling you that it just doesn't get better than this."
I can't argue with him. Sitting here on a beach in Jamaica, celebrating our second Cannabis Cup win, I know he's right. There's no way it can get better than this. Better than her.
Pulling off her mask, Bella drops her head back into the water and smooths her hair with her hand. I shield my eyes so I can get a better look at her standing there, all sun-kissed, soaking wet and smiling. The sight of her makes the words I've been thinking for the last year stumble out of my mouth.
"I'm gonna marry her."
Jenks' head snaps in my direction as I bring the joint to my lips. "Goddamn, man. The fuck have you been smokin'?"
Cupping my hand around my lighter, I dip my head to spark it up and let that smoke fill my lungs. He stares at me like I've lost my mind which makes me grin.
"I mean, I know you grow some good shit, but this must be some real good shit for you to be talking about matrimony. Marriage ain't no joke, kid. That's some game over shit you're thinking about right there."
I exhale. "It's not game over."
"Woo-boy." He sits up in his lounger and holds his hands up to the sky. "Lord Jesus, remove these delusions from my man's head. Show him, Lord, that the minute you put a ring on it, the pussy turns into a groundhog, only visitin' his dick once a year. And on the off chance that it sees its shadow, it'll be a year and six weeks until his dick sees it again."
Holding back a laugh, I shake my head while he continues.
"Let him see, Lord, that once he wifes her up, his coin becomes her coin, and her coin becomes none of his DAMN business."
Pressing his palms together, he brings them down in front of his chest. "Help this fool see past the haze of this bomb-ass weed. Open his eyes, heavenly father."
I tune him out because my eyes are open and I've never been more certain about anything in my life.
"It's about time," my brother says from the lounge chair beside me with his eyes closed and his hands tucked behind his head.
"What do you mean?"
He peeks one eye open to look at me. "It's been two years."
"And nothing." He sits up and smirks. "Just glad you finally got your head out of your ass."
"Two words." Emmett slaps a pink burp cloth over the shoulder of his too-tight-t-shirt before bringing his four-month-old daughter's chin to his shoulder. "Jumbo-tron."
Setting my drink on the table, I shake my head. "No."
"What?" His huge hand comes down on his little one's back a few times before switching to rubbing small circles. "Why not?"
"Well, for one, Jumbotron is one word."
"What're you? A spelling bee finalist? Who even knows stuff like that?"
"I do. And two, Bella would hate the attention. As a matter of fact, I seem to recall her vetoing it when you were going to propose to Rose."
"That's right! She did." Readjusting Claire in his arms, he taps her nose with his finger. "Aunt B is the OG buzzkill."
She smiles at him, looking amused with her chubby cheeks and bright blue eyes as he makes funny faces at her. Her little laugh bubbles up followed by a mouthful of breast milk that lands down the front of his t-shirt.
"Dude! Come on, this is my favorite shirt!"
"I think she did you a favor," I mutter before taking a sip of my beer and watching him blot the bold white lettering of his black tee that lets everyone know he's a Feminist Dadass.
"So, when's this going to happen anyway?" he asks, tossing the burp rag on the table and scooping up an onion ring.
I shrug. "Not sure yet. I still need to get her a ring."
"Mmm," he says from around a mouthful before swallowing. "That's the hard part."
He nods. "Chicks are weird about the hardware."
"I can't see Bella caring either way."
"WRONG." Holding back a belch, he covers his mouth. "I'll give you that she's less high-maintenance than most, but when it comes to her engagement ring, she's definitely got opinions."
"Could Rose do some intel for me?"
"Nah, kid. My Rosie's knee deep in shitty diapers and nipple cream."
I wince, remembering the time I overheard a conversation between her and Bella about cracked nipples and stitched buttholes a few weeks after Claire was born. I'm pretty sure I've never been more grateful to have a dick in my life after hearing that shit.
"I'll bet Ang would be happy to help." He smirks, knowing full-well that my future sister-in-law has only mildly warmed up to me in the past two years.
"Eh, I think I can handle it."
"Suit yourself, man." He slips Claire into her carrier and buckles her in before setting her beside me. "But it'd probably mean a lot to Bella if you included her."
"You think so?"
"Don't you?" Stepping back, he motions towards the restroom. "I need to hit the head, keep an eye on this one."
As he walks away, I scoot closer to Claire and tug on one of the stuffed toys dangling above her. "What do you think, Claire-bear? Should I ask Ang for help?" She doesn't even look at me, too mesmerized by the twirling giraffe to acknowledge my presence. "It can't be that hard, can it?"
"Dude, where are you?" Emmett shouts into his headset while furiously hitting his XBox controller beside me on his couch. "I don't care if your mom is on your case, you tell her you're in a Battle Royale and that there's no pause button in Fortnite!"
Dropping my phone in my lap, I press my palms into my eyes, unable to look at another how to find the perfect engagement ring article. "This is insanity."
"Tell me about it," he taps the mute button on his headset, "I love this kid, but it takes talent to suck this bad."
"Em, Riley's only six-years-ol—"
Tapping his headset again, he interrupts. "What was that, Ri?" His brows furrow. "You tell her you'll happily take that time out as soon as this battle is over. WHAT? No, don't actually say it!" His eyes go wide. "No, no, no. Don't give her the headset! Don't give her the—" He winces. "Hey Ang."
The word eliminated flashes on the screen and Em tosses his controller on the coffee table and flops back on the sofa, taking his scolding like the petulant man-child he is. I chuckle as I go back to my engagement ring rabbit hole, scrolling endlessly in hopes that the right ring will pop out at me.
Emmett sighs. "I know, I know. I'm the adult and yes, it's just a game, but can you do me a favor real quick? Can you put the Angela who comes to our monthly game night wearing a t-shirt that says 'mercy is for the weak' on the phone, please?" He sits up. "The one who understands how to fully commit to victory and would never step away from a heated game to take out the trash."
"Big mistake," I mutter under my breath and glance in his direction.
He pulls the earpiece back so I can hear her using her scary mom voice on him. That voice that kind of lulls you into a false sense of security, like it's all going to be okay, but then also makes you wonder if she's going to pair you with some fava beans and a nice chianti.
I go back to scrolling when I feel the cushion beside me sink down as Em leans over to get a better look at what I'm reading.
"What're you doing?"
With a wolfish grin, he snaps the mic back in place. "What was that, E.C.?"
I shake my head and mouth the word no.
"Hold on, Ang. E.C. wants to talk to you."
"What the fuck, man?" I whisper after he covers the microphone and holds the headset out to me.
"Dude, I'm telling you, she lives for this shit. Bella called her like three times when I was getting Rosie's ring. Busting balls and diamonds are like her calling or something." He nudges my arm. "Trust me, it'll mean a lot if you ask for her help … to both of them."
Blowing out a breath, I snatch the headset from him and put it on. Admittedly, I never expected to care so much about the kind of ring I'd propose to my future bride with, nor did I ever expect to give it this much thought. But at the end of the day, I just want to see my girl's face light up when she sees that ring and I say those words. And if Ang can help me make that happen, then so be it. "Hello?"
"Edward? What's going on? Everything all right?"
"Yeah, everything's great. I was actually just wondering if you were free tomorrow night to help me with something."
"I think so," she replies, sounding suspicious. "What is it you need help with?"
"Finding a ring," I say casually while Emmett gives me two encouraging thumbs up.
"Like a ring-ring or just some kind of little bauble?"
"Like the kind I get on one knee to give your sister when I ask her to marry me."
The line goes eerily quiet for a few seconds and the words never mind are on the tip of my tongue. It's not until I hear the ear-splitting squeal of delight and subsequent string of yeses Ang screams into the receiver that I know that she has more than mildly warmed up to me. She might even actually approve.
I hate to admit it, but I'm relieved.
Slightly deaf in one ear now, but relieved.
"After you," I say, holding the door for a very pregnant Ang as she shuffles inside the small shop tucked between two larger jewelry stores in the diamond district.
"Laurent," she gushes at the well-dressed man who hurries over to air kiss both her cheeks. "It's been too long."
"Ah, Mrs. Cheney." Taking her hands in his, he holds them out so he can see her stomach. "You look radiant. Are you here to select your push gift?"
"No, no." She blushes. "I'm here to help pick out an engagement ring for my sister."
He dips his head in understanding. "I see."
"Although," she ponders aloud, tapping a finger on her chin as a smile stretches wide across his face. "I suppose if my husband should happen to come in closer to my due date, I wouldn't mind if you steered him towards some emerald cut diamond earrings."
"Four prong basket. Platinum."
"Anything between D and F will do."
She winks. "Surprise me."
"Exquisite taste as always, Mrs. Cheney." He bows his head. "Consider it done."
"Now then," he clasps his hands together and his eyes shift between Ang and I, "you're here to look at engagement rings, yes?"
"We are." I hold my hand out to him. "I'm Edward Cullen."
"Mr. Cullen. I am Laurent." He shakes my hand and leads us back to a private room. "Would you like something to drink? A Perrier, Mrs. Cheney?"
"That'd be lovely," Ang replies, taking a seat and pulling a small velvet pouch out of her purse.
"Champagne, sir?" The corner of his mouth turns up. "Or something a bit stiffer perhaps?"
I consider it for a moment as I watch my future sister-in-law slide a shiny jeweler's loupe out of the pouch, but I refrain. "I'm good, thanks."
With a nod, he hands Ang her drink and sits down on the other side of the glass counter. "So, I'd like to begin by learning a little about your significant other, Mr. Cullen. What's her name?"
"Tell me about your Bella."
"She's the best," I say automatically, unable to contain my smile at the thought of my girl.
"She's incredible, really. Brilliant and sweet. Gorgeous. Funny. Kind. Easy-going. All of it." Lowering my gaze, I fiddle with my Fitbit, fully aware that I'm incapable of doing Bella justice with my words. I may not be able to articulate all the reasons she's wonderful, but it's pretty clear what being with her makes me. "I'm a very lucky man."
"And how would you describe her style?"
"What? Like clothes?"
"No, he's asking about her vibe," Ang answers.
My blank stare seems to clue her in that I have no idea what Bella's vibe is, unless she's talking about the fun little bullet I found tucked under her side of the mattress last month, which I highly doubt.
"Laurent, can we start with the diamond cuts? Perhaps that'll make it easier for him to get a sense of what we're talking about."
"Of course." He unlocks a drawer and pulls out a long velvet-lined tray of assorted diamonds.
"Okay, so," Ang sits up and flips her hair over her shoulder, "selecting the perfect center stone is absolutely crucial. It needs to be a reflection of the woman you love and your love for the woman. For example, this," she points to the tray, "is a heart-shaped diamond."
"Very stylish," Laurent adds.
"Super cute and super sweet. Ideal for the girl who'll beautify your humble abode with Hello Kitty décor."
Laurent takes over showing the next cut. "Here we have a pear-shaped stone which as you can see is absolutely beautiful."
"Yes," Ang agrees, "Very chic if you're into a stone that's shaped like a teardrop tat."
I give her a look.
"I'm just saying," she tilts her head, "it shows that she's got superb taste and may or may not be the craziest one in the prison yard."
Clearing his throat, Laurent continues. "Or there's the marquis cut, another striking design."
Ang taps on the glass just below it. "Classy with just a dash of cut-a-bitch."
"We also have the round cut, which is a lovely and traditional design."
"Timeless," Ang concurs. "And mildly bougie."
"The oval cut is another one that's quite elegant," Laurent offers.
"Sophisticated and very on trend right now." Ang nods. "Also, Gwyneth Paltrow level bougie."
"And of course," he waves a hand, "the ever-popular princess cut."
"Gorgeous, but the name speaks for itself."
Laurent chuckles. "The emerald cut is quite exquisite as well."
Wiggling her ring finger with the enormous emerald-cut diamond, she shakes her head. "Exquisite and also taken."
"There's also the asscher-cut and the cushion-cut and the radiant-cut. All of which are stunning, but at the end of the day, Mr. Cullen, what matters is what it means to your intended."
Ang nods. "So, which one of these screams Bella to you? Go with your gut."
As my eyes scan the row of diamonds, I find myself continually drawn to one in particular. I can visualize slipping it on her finger, watching her eyes light up as the delicate stone sparkles in the light. Confident in my choice, I tap the space beneath my pick. "This one."
"The oval cut is an excellent choice, sir. Very chic. Perhaps you'd like to go with a pavé or channel setting. Maybe even a nice halo to enhance its brilliance."
I glance at Ang who shakes her head. "Cheeto dust will get caught in the tiny diamonds, I think a solitaire would be a better fit for my sister."
I jerk my thumb in her direction. "What she said."
"Very good, sir."
"It'll be perfect." Ang beams beside me, resting her chin on her palm.
"You think she'll like it?"
"She'll love it."
"I hope so since you said it's sophisticated and elegant."
"I also said it was Gwyneth Paltrow level bougie."
"Have you ever heard her Starbucks coffee order?"
"True. So, when are you going to pop the question?"
"After I ask your father for his blessing."
Barking out a loud laugh, she claps her hand on my shoulder. "Good luck with Chuck!"
"Let's talk about size, Mr. Cullen," Laurent cuts in, pulling out a small tray of oval-shaped stones.
"Size?" I furrow my brow. "I can't imagine her caring about the size." I turn back to Ang. "Size doesn't matter, does it?"
She smirks. "Only when it comes to dicks and diamonds."
"So, what brings you out here, Edward?" Charlie asks, winding his reel as we wade calf-deep in the river that runs behind his house. "I didn't take you for much of a fisherman."
"I'm not." Not even close. "But I was hoping I could get a minute to talk to you about something important."
He inhales deeply and his lips twist beneath his mustache. "Go on."
"I'd like to marry your daughter, sir."
Casting his line out, he watches it for a few seconds before responding "Is that right?"
"You know you don't need my permission, don't you? Bella's quite capable of deciding what's best for her."
"She absolutely is, and I'm not asking for permission. I am however hoping for your blessing."
"I'll do you one better, son. I'm gonna give you a little piece of advice that I wish I had on my first-go-round with Renee." He yanks back his rod. "You see, I walked into the whole marriage thing with this pie-in-the-sky idea that love was enough, but it turned out that notion was horseshit. A lack of love was never the problem between us. You know what was?"
I can't tell if his question is rhetorical so I keep my mouth shut and shake my head.
"It was the lack of effort. Back then, I put my effort into two things. Being a cop and being a father. You know who I didn't make the effort for?"
I open my mouth to speak, but he continues.
"My wife. I didn't put one ounce of effort into our marriage because I loved her and she loved me and that was supposed to be enough, but it wasn't. You understand what I'm getting at here, Edward?"
"Effort is about more than the cutesy hearts and flowers nonsense. It's about putting the time in and letting her know that you're in this with her and that you're willing to do the things that make her happy." He sighs. "Even if some of the things include wearing skinny jeans and sitting through This Is Us every week. The point is, sometimes you have to go out of your comfort zone to make her happy. Are you willing to do that?"
"Of course, I am." I adjust the lure on my hook. "I already do. I can't tell you how many Sundays I've spent on the couch with her watching the Hallmark Channel Christmas in July movies."
"Ha! How stoned were you for that?"
"Not nearly enough," I admit with a laugh.
"Well, just know that it could be worse. Bella could be dragging you to her monthly book club."
"Yep. I've been reduced to reading steamy chick-lit and trading Insta-pot recipes."
"I'd take book club over 10,000 screaming girls and a hip-thrusting-pop-star any day. Bella dragged me to a Harry Styles concert last month. I just barely got my hearing back."
"Yeah. Think Elvis in his prime with a British accent and tight pants." And a donkey dick, according to your daughter.
"That sounds awful." He sniffs and widens his stance. "For what it's worth though, son, you don't need my blessing, but you've got it."
Sweet relief. "Thank you, Charlie."
Running his fingers over his mustache, he nods. "Take good care of her."
"I intend to."
"I mean," Bella plops down on a stool beside the new crop of Holy Grail Kush, "it's totally normal to want to karate chop a coworker in the throat, right?"
"Completely normal," I agree without looking up from the hybrid I'm transplanting.
"Like literally, that shady little shit sat there as I pitched my ideas to our boss then had the balls to low-key mansplain why he should take the lead on them. Who even does that?"
"And what'd you say to that?"
She huffs. "Thankfully, I didn't have to say anything because Aro shut him down, lickety-split. But I'm pretty sure the look I gave Quil made his scrotum shrivel up into his asshole."
I laugh, knowing that look well as I've been on the receiving end of it a few times myself. "I'm not sure if that's physically possible."
"Well, if it is, that look would've done the trick." Lifting her feet, she spins the stool seat around. "At least I hope it did."
Calmly rubbing my hands together, I do a quick once-over of the counter making sure everything's in place. "Do you remember the first time you were here?"
"Of course, I do." She smiles, spinning once more. "I felt like a total stalker, all awkward and nervous."
"I was too."
She stops mid-spin. "Awkward or nervous?"
"Both." I pick up a small plant, inspecting the leaves. "Rambling on and on about stable root systems and soil saturation."
Sidling up beside me, she loops her arm through mine. "I couldn't tell."
"Come on," I hand her a pair of gloves, "I'm putting you to work."
"Don't you recall me telling you that no plant has ever survived in my care?"
"I do," I step behind her, "but there's a cactus upstairs that's alive and well two years later that proves your assertion was false."
"Only because you water it for me," she mutters, slipping the gloves onto her hands and grabbing the small plant in front of her.
Wrapping my arms around her, I press a kiss to her temple. "Do you remember how to transplant?"
"I think so."
"Do you remember why we transplant?"
"Something about growth maybe? For its flowering cycle or something?"
"It is about growth and flowering, but more than that, this step is about the roots." I turn the Kush over in her hands, letting it slip into her palm and tossing the container on the counter. "You see these, right here?"
Her finger softly brushes the soil-covered roots. "Yeah."
"They're strong and healthy because they've been well-cared for."
"And well-loved," she murmurs, sliding her thumb along the stem.
"Very loved," I agree, moving to stand beside her. "But solid roots like these can't thrive when they have no room to grow."
"They'll become root-bound, right?" She sounds unsure. "Stunted maybe?"
"Both." I rake my fingers through the fresh soil of the new pot. "That's why we take this next step."
"So that they can grow stronger?"
I nod. "The plant will flourish. The stems, the leaves, the roots … all of it. It'll be able to withstand anything."
Running her teeth over her lip, she meets my gaze. "And the high will be higher?"
"There'll be nothing else like it."
She's quiet for a beat, staring up at me adoringly before bumping my hip with hers. "Okay, but can I just say how cute it is when you go all Master Grower on me."
Chuckling, I bend down to kiss her cheek and squeeze her bottom. "You're ridiculous."
"And you're adorable."
"But for the record, I would go all Master Grower on you if we didn't need to get those roots into the soil."
"Promise?" she asks, playfully drawing out the word before dipping her fingers into the waiting container. "Here?"
I take a step back. "Yes."
"How far down do I need to go?"
My heart hammers in my chest watching her dig through the soil. "Only about halfway."
"I think there's something in here."
I can't even hide my smirk. "Probably just a rock."
Getting ahold of it, she lifts the small black cube from the dirt and inspects the outside of it in her upturned palm before facing me with wide-eyes and unreadable expression. Barely above a whisper, my name falls from her lips, "Edward."
"We've got great roots, you and me."
Her big brown eyes glisten as her lips curve upward into the most breathtaking smile. "We do."
"Two years ago, we were in front of a coffeeshop in Amsterdam. I can't recall the conversation leading up to it, but I'll never forget the words you said to me." I swallow hard. "You said 'I'm going to like you forever, Edward Cullen.'"
With a shaky inhale, I flip open the box, but her eyes stay fixed on mine. "I knew that I loved you more than anything then." Removing the ring from the container, I set the box down on the counter beside us. "Still love you more than anything now. Always will."
I slide the glove off her hand and let it fall to the floor.
"So now, two years later, I'm asking you to amend your previous statement." Turning her palm over, I gently slip the ring onto her finger. "And tell me that you'll love me forever too."
The thought of dropping to one knee occurs to me, but when I look back on this moment years from now, I want to remember it just like this. My beautiful girl gazing back at me through teary, loving eyes.
I bring her hand to my chest and hold it over my heart.
"Marry me, Bella."
"Yes," she breathes, curling her newly adorned hand around my neck while the other balances the Kush in her palm. She presses her mouth to mine, kissing me soft and slow before murmuring a new promise against my lips. "I'll love you forever, Edward Cullen."
Minutes later, she steps back, flushed and breathless to look at her ring. "Oh my God, I love it!" She angles it in the light, seemingly captivated by the sparkle. "It's perfect!"
"You like it?"
"Of course, I do." Rising up on her tiptoes, she kisses me once more. "It's so beautiful!" She holds it as far away from her as possible. "And Jesus wept! It's huge. I mean … not like size matters or anything, but—"
"Unless you're talking about dicks or diamonds, according to your sister."
Puzzled, her brow arches. "You talked to my sister about dicks?"
"Diamonds actually." I peck her cheek as I remove the Kush from her grasp. "She came with me to find your ring."
"You went jewelry shopping with Ang?"
"Yep." Setting the plant into the soil, I grin. "And I got Charlie's blessing."
"Wow. How many Vitamin R's did that take?"
"Surprisingly not as many as you'd think."
"Did he strap you to a lie detector or make you wait in a holding cell while he checked for warrants?"
I laugh. "Nah. He just put me in waders and talked to me about his new book club."
"You must be pret-ty into me, Cullen."
"You have no idea."
"Oh no, I know. Anyone who voluntarily enlists my sister's help for life event assistance is either very in love or very crazy."
"It wasn't bad."
"Famous last words," she pulls me close, "it's all fun and games until she's got you transforming an indoor space into a botanical garden and talking you into flower petal cannons to commemorate your first kiss as husband and wife."
"Okay, that sounds oddly specific."
"Shh," she presses her finger to my lips, "just let it happen." My eyes go wide, but she grins. "I'm kidding."
"Well, it'd be foolish to give her complete creative control, but you have to admit she's great at that stuff. Remember her Oscars Party? With the Three Cheeseboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri?"
"The Calamari by Your Name."
"That one's going to be hard to top."
"I don't know. I talked to her two hours ago. She was building a chapel out of your favorite chocolates."
"A Chapel of Dove?"
Her hands slide up my chest. "This day can't get any more perfect."
My phone pings and the screen lights up with a text message. "It's from Emmett."
"What does it say?"
"It says, 'did she say I do-obie? Are you getting ma-weed?'"
She snorts as I text back in the affirmative. "How long do you think it took him to come up with that?"
Another message comes through. Pun-ny, corny, but wholly accurate for taking this next step with my girl. "It's high time."
A/N: Thanks for reading, pals! Until next time :)