A/N: Welcome to the final chapter. I can't believe I finished another story. Thank you very much to all of you who were along for the ride. I appreciated every follower, favorite, and most of all, every review. A special thank you goes out to all of you for your well-wishes for my mom. She's doing as well as can be expected, and the treatment already seems to show some success.
I know I've said it before but I have to say it again, I couldn't have done this without my wonderful team: LaPumuckl, NKubie, and Midnight Cougar. You're the best companions one could have in an endeavor like this. I'll be eternally grateful to all of you.
With all of that out of the way, here's the final chapter. Enjoy! (More at the bottom.)
I don't own Twilight …
It Takes a Village – Chapter 21
The rest of August and most of September sped by in a blur. Emmett and his crew finished the remodeling of the house right on time for Bella's birthday. Even though she argued we should let it go unnoticed this year with the wedding in two weeks, I insisted we celebrate the day the woman I loved came into this world. It was only a small party with our closest friends and family and doubled as a housewarming, but we had fun. Everyone was looking forward to our wedding.
Bella and Maddie moved back across the street once Emmett officially declared the work on the house completed. While, I'd also taken over the majority of my belongings, I would still be living in my own house until after we said our vows.
I loved our new home very much, and couldn't wait to live there with Bella and Maddie as a real part of their family. However, I had a difficult time letting go of the house I'd bought with the idea of my children running around the rooms in the future. I simply couldn't picture strangers living in the home I'd chosen for my own family.
So, it was sort of a relief when, shortly after our return from Florida, Jacob and Leah came over to surprise us with the news they were expecting a baby. Considering they lived in a one-bedroom apartment, they had to start looking for a bigger place. It felt like a sign to me.
Although, I'd been jealous of Jacob's obvious connection with Bella when I first met him, I understood now he was simply a really good friend to her by being exactly what she needed right after Seth came out. Over the course of the past several months, he and I had become friends too, and I offered for them to either rent or buy the house once I moved out for good. They were delighted with the idea, and since they both had a solid income, we quickly agreed on a price we all could live with. They even asked to keep some of the furniture that didn't find a place in our new family home, which solved another one of my problems.
For now, though, one of my guest bedrooms housed my sister and her husband, who were staying there for our wedding weekend. My parents had opted to stay at a hotel, and I couldn't say I was sad about their decision. A month ago, my dad finally gave in and grudgingly accepted my choice to get married without a written financial agreement. I was relieved I didn't have to celebrate the happiest day of my life without my mother and father, but I still couldn't forget how they treated Bella in the beginning. They genuinely seemed to like her now, yet Edward Sr. obviously distrusted her still.
However, my sister and my wife-to-be had formed a strong bond — so strong actually, that Alice not only designed Bella's wedding dress, but also planned and organized a substantial part of the arrangements for our wedding ceremony and reception. The only thing I cared about was that, at the end of the day, Bella would be my wife, and I wanted the day to be perfect for her.
"Edward, are you ready to go?" Alice shouted from the hall. "The groom shouldn't be one of the last people to arrive to his own rehearsal."
I turned to the mirror and repositioned my tie, then met Alice and Jasper downstairs.
The test run went well, and after, we proceeded to the rehearsal dinner. A tent had been set up in Bella's, well, our backyard where we'd hold the reception the next day. If the weather literally rained on our parade, the wedding ceremony would take place in there, as well.
That night, however, our parents, my sister, aunt, uncle, cousin and his wife, as well as our friends sat around a long table, enjoying our last night of not being married. Despite some of the people having met for the first time, everyone got along famously.
When dessert was over, our guests said their goodbyes, as the next day was going to be a long one. Before I was ready to leave and spend the last night ever on my own across the street from my girls, I needed to have a moment alone with Maddie. She'd gone to her room a while ago and was waiting for someone to come up and tuck her in, so I volunteered.
"Hey, honey, are you tired?" I asked with a smile, as I entered her pink domain and took a seat on her mattress. Maddie was already in bed, the stuffed puppy she got for her last birthday clutched tightly in her arm.
She replied with a wide yawn, then grinned at me. "Yeah. Are you here to tuck me in?"
"I am. And I wanted to talk to you. You know what's going to happen tomorrow, right?" I inquired, stroking her hair with my hand.
"You and Mommy are getting married," she stated, matter-of-fact.
The corners of my mouth turned up involuntarily at the thought.
"Yes, that's right. Tomorrow, I'll promise your mommy to love her, protect her, and be there for her for the rest of my life, and to assure her of that, I'll give her a ring." Bright eyes beamed up at me, so I continued. "Maddie, I want you to know that I'll love you, too. I always want to be there for you, and I have something for you to remember that, as well."
Her eyes twinkled as I pulled the gold necklace with the bear pendant out of my jacket pocket. I saw it at the jewelry store when I bought Bella's wedding band, and I instantly knew I wanted it for Maddie. Not only did it remind me of our first meeting, but it also represented her special name for me.
Little hands reached to touch the shiny piece of jewelry. "That's for me?" she asked in awe. "It's so pretty. My own little gold gummy bear. Thank you so much, Teddy."
As she sat up, I fastened the necklace around her neck, then hugged her to me. "I love you, Maddie, and I hope you'll never forget that." Pulling back, I kissed her forehead as she smiled up at me.
"I love you, too, Teddy, so much! And I can't wait for you to be mommy's husband and live with us every day."
After another long hug, I pulled up her blanket and gave her a kiss goodnight, then made my way downstairs, where my future wife stood waiting for me.
"Is she asleep?" Bella asked. She took my hand in hers and led me over to the couch where we sat down close to each other.
"I'm not sure. She was pretty excited about tomorrow."
Resting her head on my shoulder, Bella confessed, "So am I. You have no idea how impatient I am to become Mrs. Cullen."
"Oh, baby, I think I do," I let her know with a low chuckle.
She sighed, and I could almost hear the pout in her next words. "Who had that stupid idea we have to spend the night apart before the wedding?"
With a snort, I replied, "That would be everyone other than the two of us."
After a short pause of us merely sitting side by side with her head on my shoulder and her hand in mine, I asked, "So, do we give in to everyone else's wishes?"
Without hesitation, Bella answered a heartfelt, "Hell, no!" Then shot up from the couch, pulling me behind her up the stairs and into the bedroom.
When I woke at six in the morning, I wanted nothing more than to snuggle up to Bella and stay in bed for as long as we could, but I knew today was one of the most important days in our lives. So, to keep up with tradition, at least outwardly, I snuck out of bed, scribbling a quick message to my bride on a piece of paper from my bedside table.
Good morning, my Sleeping Beauty,
I had the hardest time leaving you this morning. But I'm not willing to take any risks with the rest of our lives by completely breaking with tradition and bringing us bad luck.
I love you and can't wait to see you at the end of the aisle tonight. After that, I'll never let you go again.
With a last whisper-light kiss to her cheek, I tiptoed out of the room and made my way across the street in hopes of sneaking into my house undetected. Of course, I had no such luck.
"Your sister owes me fifty bucks," Jasper greeted me from the breakfast nook in my kitchen.
I halted, rolling my eyes, and patted my dog on the head that happily wagged his tail at seeing me.
"So, what was the bet about?" I asked, as I strolled into the kitchen and poured myself a glass of OJ.
Jasper took a sip from his mug. "That you wouldn't be able to stay away from your beautiful bride for even one night."
"And Alice had that much faith in me?" I chuckled, surprised at my sister's confidence.
Smirking, Jasper set me straight. "Not at all. She was sure you wouldn't turn up here until ten, while I was sure you'd try to get in undetected thinking we're still asleep."
Apparently, they knew me better than I'd thought. Before I was able to say anything else, my best friend turned serious. "Are you nervous about today?"
"No, I'm really not," I replied without much contemplation. "Nothing in my life has ever felt so right."
Smiling into his mug, he stated, "I've never seen you this happy. Bella is wonderful, and Maddie is a total sweetheart. Their situation isn't easy, but I think you're handling it very well."
I knew what he was getting at, and though it was the same point my father continued bringing up, Jasper meant it in a completely different way.
"It's not what everyone dreams of when they picture their family, but Seth and Riley are great. Bella and Seth share a bond no one can break, but that doesn't threaten what's between her and me. We love each other, and the guys are an integral part of the family. They are my friends, and together, we'll all make this work."
"I had my doubts at first, but now that I know all of them, I'm sure you will. I wish you all the best. And I can't wait for you to give us little nieces and nephews." The waggling of his brows signaled the serious part of the conversation was over.
We joked back and forth for a bit until the entrance of my sister, in full-on wedding planner mode, put a stop to our banter. The little demon sent us to our rooms to get ready and not get in her way when she took care of the final preparations.
Several hours later, I was dressed in my black tuxedo with a silver waistcoat and bow tie, struggling to fasten my right cuff link, when there was a knock on my bedroom door.
"Come in," I called out, distracted with the task at hand.
I was surprised to see my mother step into my room, a pensive expression on her face.
"Hi, honey. How are you doing?" she asked, her eyes twinkling as she took in my state of dress-up.
I huffed. "I'm fine; impatient, but fine. If only I could fasten this damn thing."
My mother smiled widely, then closed the distance between us.
"Let me help you." She reached for my wrist, and within seconds, everything was in place. "See, now you're ready." Taking a step back, she let her gaze roam over me from head to toe and back up again. "You look gorgeous. Bella is a very lucky woman."
Annoyed with her tone, and yet another apparent dig at Bella, I replied, "I'm the lucky one."
"Sorry, I guess that didn't come out right." Mom took my hand and led me over to the bed where she sat down and waited for me to do the same. Not letting go of my hand, she continued once I took a seat beside her. "Edward, I'm sorry things have been strained between us these past few months, but you should know that I love you, and I want nothing more than for you to be happy. And if Bella makes you happy, then I wish the two of you all the best. Even though I hate that we've drifted apart, I'm glad you found someone who means so much to you that you fight us tooth and nail to defend her and keep her by your side. I'll do whatever I can to make your wife feel welcome."
The tears in my mother's eyes got to me, and the sincerity in her voice made me wrap her in my arms and pull her into me. I still couldn't let go of the hurt and resentment toward my parents for the way they'd initially treated Bella, but I also knew my mother only had my best interest at heart, even if her means were questionable.
"Thank you, Mom. Bella is everything I ever wanted and even a lot of things I never knew I needed, all wrapped into one perfect package. She's the one for me, and I hope that, one day, you and Dad will see that, too."
She nodded emphatically. "I'm trying. I actually really like her." Wiping away the tears that had escaped, she got up and straightened her dress. "Now, I guess it's time to go and take your place at the end of that aisle and wait for your beautiful bride."
With a genuine smile, I kissed her cheek, and together, we left the house.
Standing at the end of the makeshift aisle in our backyard, with the rare evening sun laughing down on me, I felt as though my biggest dream was coming true. Our friends and family sat in rows of chairs, all dressed up to celebrate the most important day of our lives with us.
Next to me, Emmett and Jasper stood up with me, both of them sharing the part of best man, as I hadn't been willing to decide between the two. In turn, Bella took my cue and appointed both her friend, Angela, and Seth's sister, Leah, as her matron and maid of honor. Angela was the first one to walk down the aisle, proudly showing off her seven-month-pregnant bump. Upon reaching me, she stretched up on her tiptoes and placed an encouraging kiss on my cheek prior to taking her spot.
Not letting me wait long, Leah made her way toward me after that. Despite her being pregnant as well, she wasn't showing yet, but the pregnancy glow made her a radiant beauty. She followed Angela's example and kissed my cheek, then also took her spot across from me.
Letting my gaze sweep back up the aisle, my heart did a somersault when I spotted Maddie in her cute, frilly white dress, beaming at me as she almost danced down the carpet laid out between the chairs. Although, the flower girl was usually the one to start the procession, we'd decided to have her walk toward me right before her mother, as she was the most important part of the wedding besides the bride and groom.
Stopping in front of me, she smiled widely, and in her little fist, she held the gold pendant I'd given her the previous night that was on a chain around her neck. We hadn't rehearsed it, but in that moment, I followed my instinct when I crouched down, wrapped her in my arms, and whispered in her ear.
"You're so pretty, honey. You look like a real princess."
After the cutest giggle, she replied, "Thank you, Teddy, but Mommy is a thousand times more beautiful than me. Look."
She turned and waved her hand toward the French doors that opened that moment, revealing a vision too perfect to be real. Without taking my eyes off my bride, I kissed Maddie's forehead and whispered a heartfelt, "I love you, honey," then absentmindedly straightened up to revel in the beauty in front of me.
Bella was dressed in a floor-length ivory gown. The lacy bodice hugged her figure tightly, but the skirt flared out from her hips in a soft line, ending in a short train. Her hair was swept up and fastened in a mass of dark curls on the back of her head, a few ringlets framing her glowing, smiling face.
For weeks, we'd discussed who would walk Bella down the aisle and give her to me. It felt weird to have her dad do it after she'd been out of his house for over a decade. Jokingly, Seth pointed out one evening that Charlie had given her to him ten years ago, so she was essentially his to give away this time. Even though it made sense in a convoluted way, that possibility was out of the question for Bella. After sleeping on it for a night or two, she decided to walk down the aisle by herself, as it was her decision and out of her own free will that she was marrying me.
None of that mattered as she slowly but determinedly made her way to me while all eyes were on her. As soon as she was within reach, I took her hand in mine, gazing into her gorgeous, chocolate brown eyes that were twinkling with joy.
Bending down, I murmured in her ear, my voice thick with emotion. "You're so beautiful. I can't wait to make you mine." I placed a quick kiss on her cheek, then the minister started to welcome our guests and us.
Somewhere in the back of my mind, I vaguely heard him give a moving speech about how everything that happened in life led us to find our destiny and how sometimes disappointment and pain paved the way to where we were supposed to be.
Jasper read a poem about love, and Angela one about faith in God and each other, then finally, came the moment I'd waited for since I first saw Bella at the coffee shop. With her hands securely in mine, and my eyes locked on hers, I recited the vows we'd chosen to pledge to each other.
"In the presence of God and before our family and friends,
I, Edward, take you, Isabella, to be my wife.
All that I am I give to you, and all that I have I share with you.
I promise to take care of you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health.
I will honor and cherish you all the days of my life.
Whatever the future holds, I will love you and stand by you, as long as we both shall live.
This is my solemn vow."
Without looking away, I took the gold band I'd given to Emmett for safekeeping out of his hand and placed it on Bella's finger.
"Isabella, take this ring as a sign of my eternal love and devotion."
Her eyes shone brightly as happy tears ran down her cheeks. Her voice was shaky, but her words were loud and clear when she spoke.
"With God and our friends and family as witnesses,
I, Isabella, take you, Edward, to be my husband.
Everything I am I give to you, and everything I have I share with you.
I promise to be there for you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health.
I will honor and cherish you all the days of my life.
Whatever the future holds, I will love you and stand by you, as long as we both shall live.
This is my solemn vow."
She took the matching gold band from Leah and pushed it into place on my left ring finger.
"Edward, take this ring as a symbol of my eternal love and devotion."
Neither of us looked away when the minister proclaimed, "Isabella and Edward, through your words and actions today, you have joined in holy matrimony. May the blessings of life, the joy of love, and the peace of truth be your constant companion, now and always, as husband and wife. You may now seal this union with a kiss."
He didn't have to ask me twice. Only breaking our eye contact in the very last second, I tenderly touched my lips to Bella's. That very moment, the world around us disappeared as my arms wrapped around her waist and her hands gripped the lapels of my jacket. Without opening our mouths, we deepened the kiss, losing ourselves in the other until the cheers and applause of our guests forced us apart. However, I pulled my wife against my chest and inhaled the scent of her hair, unwilling to leave our bubble just yet.
We had to loosen our hold on each other, though, when we felt little hands tug at our clothes and found Maddie jumping up and down, unable to wait any longer. With a chuckle, I picked her up and placed her on my hip, kissing her cheek as she hugged me. Holding Bella close to me on my other side, the three of us made our way up the aisle through laughs and smiles of our friends and family.
"So, Mrs. Cullen, are you happy with the way things went today?" I asked Bella, as we swayed on the dance floor.
With dinner finished, and the cake cut and served, most of our guests either were having a relaxing drink or had joined us for a dance. Even though I held my wife in my arms, it still wasn't close enough, and I was biding my time until I could sweep her away for our honeymoon in an hour or so.
"I love the sound of that," Bella purred, her cheek against my chest. "This day was all I ever dreamed of and more. But all that really matters is you're mine now."
I was about to tell her how I was going to make her mine as soon as we could get out of there, when we heard a voice clear next to us.
"Excuse me, but may I have a dance with my daughter-in-law?"
Looking up, I found my father standing beside us, a genuine smile on his face. Before answering, I locked eyes with Bella to make sure she was okay with it, and she gave me a determined nod.
Letting her go, I fixed my dad with a short stare. "One dance. And take good care of her. I want her returned to me in pristine condition."
Edward Sr. chuckled loudly. "Sure, Son. I wouldn't dare cross you."
Bella shot me a reassuring look, then concentrated on my father who began leading her around the floor. Since I'd already danced with everyone who mattered and only wanted to hold my wife, I stood to the side, watching the dancing couples. My mother was being twirled around by Carlisle, Esme was dancing with Jasper, and Charlie and Sue were doing something that looked more like a battle for dominance than moving to music. Leah and Jake more stood than danced, while Riley and Alice looked as though they were auditioning for Dancing with the Stars.
"I've never seen her this happy." Seth sidled up to me and leaned on the other side of the post I stood next to. "I've known her all her life and she's never smiled like that. Thank you for loving her the way she deserves and reading every wish from her eyes. She's always been meant to be your wife, not mine."
Over the past year, Seth and I had grown very close, and we didn't hold back much, yet, we rarely spoke of his marriage to Bella or his regrets for hurting her. All the more did I appreciate his words the few times he did open up.
"Thanks, Seth. She's my world. I'd give up everything if it meant she's happy."
Seth nodded, and let his gaze run over the dancing couples.
"Seems like your dad has finally come around," he stated after a while.
I furrowed my brow in thought. "My mom has. My dad …" I trailed off, distracted by the musical sound of Bella's giggles. When my eyes found her, I was surprised to see her throw her head back in laughter while my father looked at her with mirth shining in his smiling eyes.
"I guess you're right," I continued in a daze. "Seems like no one can stay unaffected by her charms for long."
Seth clapped me on the back. "I knew everything would turn out fine eventually. Now, though she's having fun, I know she can't wait to leave with you. So, go get your wife and get out of here. You have some honeymooning to do."
With that, he was gone. Looking over to Bella once more, our eyes met, and I could see all the love she felt for me in that gaze. As I purposely made my way through the dancing couples to steal her away for our wedding night, I couldn't help but think about how we got there.
Our start might have been bumpy, and our road to this day paved with obstacles most couples didn't dream about having to overcome, but in the end, it only made us stronger and today that much more special to us.
I had married the love of my life, but I had gotten so much more: two friends who were like brothers to me, and a little girl I loved like my own daughter. I never pictured my life as it was now, and while some would say it was unconventional, I knew I would not change a thing in my world.
I guessed, for my family, the old proverb stood true: it takes a village.
A/N: That's all she wrote — for now ;).
So, how did you like the wedding? And what about Edward's present for Maddie? Can you forgive Edward Sr. and Liz not that they've come around?
Tell me here or on Facebook in my group Payton79's Fanfiction. There are pictures of the necklace as well as Bella's dress and hairstyle.
I'm going to hit "complete" on this story now, but I promise I'm planning to write an epilogue. At the moment, I don't seem to be in the right frame of mind, but I have the very last part almost completely written, and I promise to give it to you once it's done.
I have more good news. I worked out the idea for a new story, and I'm planning to start writing it soon. So, if you like my work, put me on author's alert so you won't miss it, but it will be a while.
See you all soon.