So...this is it. It's been an insane amount of time coming, but I thought it was high time to publish the epilogue. Thank you to those that supported me and were patient - encouraging and fabulously generous with reviews and PM's. I don't think I would have gone through with finishing this entire thing to the end...to those that contributed to the charity months ago, thank you.
It's been a wonderful ride!
Without much further adu...the epilogue. And please don't be upset that the honeymoon isn't done in graphic detail - this is a T Rated fic and I have many young readers.
Enjoy and Merry Christmas!
I own nothing…this fabulous world and everything in it belongs to the very talented Stephenie Meyer…I do however, own this particular story…whatever that means!
The honeymoon…well, the honeymoon was wonderful. Beyond wonderful. Edward and I were finally bound together in an inseparable and tangible way. Even if I hadn't been blessed with a photographic memory in this new life, where I could easily flip through the many experiences of this existence, I would never forget the days that stretched into long nights. The affectionate way Edward tended to me – the moments of patience mingled with feverish touching and loving, would forever be part of my cognizant being.
Every part of my body responded. But Edward knew me better than I knew myself so just two weeks into our getaway, he started dropping hints about going home so "we" could see Grace. I knew he was saying in his own special way that he would be completely at ease with returning early. After a few days of me insisting I was okay with waiting, he solidified things for me.
"Bella," he whispered between kisses, his fingers caressing the back of my neck, "the summer will be over before you know it. Now would be a perfect time to have her with us." He purred. "Let's pick her up on the way home and then we can plan some things to make her visit exciting." Little shivers of thrill ran down my spine with his fingers as they continued to work their magic on my back. My mind raced with the possibilities until his kisses and hands on me had my mind wandering to other places…
I finally acquiesced because I was actually missing Grace fiercely and by the next morning Edward and I were on our way to Seattle to collect her from Jake. She was as happy to see me as I was to see her. Edward brought her some souvenirs from our travels. He took great delight in showing her, while Jake and I solidified plans for her stay.
"Bella, she's talked about you and the Cullens nonstop," he teased.
I smiled. "They adore her you know."
Try as he might, Jake couldn't help but smile. "They aren't your usual sort of bloods-," he coughed and tried again, "family." His face look pained from the effort it took to get the word out, but his eyes were full of mirth.
We were both laughing when Grace came running to her dad to show him all the gifts we'd brought her. Jake arched an eyebrow, surveying her new loot, his head shaking in realization that the spoiling had continued.
"I'll talk to everyone about it, just like I promised I would," I offered meekly.
Jake nodded his head and scooped Grace up to give her a tight squeeze and whispering in her ear how much he loved her and to be a good girl for "Mommy". She hugged him back as tightly as she could and reassured him that she would miss him too.
The summer was wonderful. I couldn't remember ever feeling so completely and thoroughly happy. Grace stayed with us most of July and then Edward and I returned her to Jake and moved ourselves to Seattle, where we could see her every week. The summer went by far too quickly and, suddenly, it was time for the standard ritual of back to school shopping, schedules and normalcy. Alice respectfully requested to send her some school clothes, which I allowed, given they weren't extravagant or more than she would need.
Alice sent her two darling outfits, one in lavender with a sweater to match when the weather turned even colder than it already was that September. The other was something I was quite certain she bought under duress – sparkly, ruffly and as she might call it, gauche. But I think she knew that Grace would love it, which she did. She wore it for the first day of classes, vowing to wear it again for school pictures. She would have worn it every day and to bed too if Mommy Megan hadn't the great idea to call Alice to explain that a true fashionista would never wear the same outfit two days in a row.
We returned to our normal habits – video conferencing, telephone calls and frequent visits. It was never the same as having her full-time, but we adjusted. We made excellent use of our alone time. We hunted in beautiful, scenic places. We ran and laughed and enjoyed each other every day.
But with me being Bella, there came a time when not everything in our lives was happy…
Alice began having vague, almost misty visions of me in a sunny destination. It wasn't long before Jake called to let me know that Renee's time was running out. He considered taking Grace to see her, and finally decided to fly her out for quick weekend visit to say goodbye.
"Bella," Edward whispered as I hung up the phone, "you should go too."
I turned my head toward him in complete surprise. "Me? I can't go."
He pursed his lips. "Maybe we could arrange things, give you a chance to say your goodbyes too." He looked at me intently, not blinking, waiting for a response.
I shook my head. "Edward, she thinks I'm already dead. This would only upset her."
Edward shook his head, slowly, with purpose. "Think about it. Make a decision to go. Maybe Alice will get a vision, and it will help you decide. You can't watch her from afar after it's over. It's now or never."
I couldn't argue with that. I forcefully decided to go, and I heard her softly reply in a quiet, reverent voice from the other room, "It could work, Bella. We can help by standing guard. We'll slip in at night, find a diversion for Phil, and you can have a little time with her."
"And what if she talks after I've gone? That would stir suspicion, wouldn't it?" I argued without much conviction. To say I wasn't intrigued by the proposition would have been an understatement. I wanted to do this desperately.
Jasper appeared at that moment, casually holding Alice's hand as they entered. I tried to block my true feelings, but the look in Jasper's eyes told me I was too late.
"She really wants to go," he spoke with a wry smile turning up the corners of his mouth.
So it was decided. Alice, Edward and I caught the first flight to Florida the next day. Although it was late fall, Florida taunted us with its ubiquitously sunny days forcing us to travel under the safety of darkness.
It was just about dusk when we created the diversion intended to draw Phil away from her hospital room for awhile. We'd "broken in" to their home and a neighbor called Phil, alerting him to the intrusion. We did very little damage – only breaking a window and door lock. But between filing a report and dealing with insurance, we knew I'd have some time with Renee.
Her body was so frail and still in the bed. Even living full-time in the sunshine, her skin had a sickly pallor that made my breath catch in my throat when I focused my full attention on her. My keen eyesight observed every flake of dry dehydrated skin and every uncharacteristic line in her weary face. I felt Edward's hand snake around my waist, drawing me to him as he placed a kiss on the top of my head. He could see the drastic changes in her too. Edward checked her chart, "She isn't in any pain. They're making her as comfortable as possible. Don't worry about wearing her out, the medication is what's making her tired." He stood by her side looking at her tenderly.
"Her dreams are peaceful. She's sitting by the water, smiling and soaking in the sunshine," he spoke quietly. He paused and then smiled my favorite smile. "Now she is thinking about you being there with her," he whispered.
With one final squeeze and a promise that he would be standing lookout in the hallway, he left me alone with my mother. Alice whispered from the hall, "You have plenty of time."
I touched her hand lightly, my cold touch causing her stir in her sleep.
"Hi, Mom," I choked out emotionally, hoping that my involuntary sadness wouldnt be so obvious to her in her drowsy state.
I stood there for a moment, her hand in mine, thinking back on the memories I still had of her. Her eyes fluttered open and after taking a moment to focus, she spotted me standing by her bed. She smiled.
"I must be dreaming, Bella. But you're a sight for sore eyes," she chuckled softly.
"Dreams can be a good thing, Mom," I said, smiling at her.
"Are you really here?" she whispered hopefully.
"Yes, Mom. I'm here. I thought you might like a little company," I added lightly.
"You're more beautiful than I remember," She said wistfully. "But your hand is so cold. Turn down the air conditioning," she instructed in the maternal voice she had used so rarely when I was a child.
"It's okay, Mom. I'll warm up after a while."
Her brow creased and then her smile took on a bemused quality. "I just saw Grace – so much like you. I should have seen her more after you – "she stopped, gripping my hand tighter and focusing her eyes on me intently. Then just as quickly as it had left, her smiled returned and she shook her head softly. "You would be so proud of her, Bella baby," she commented. Her eyes lost their focus and her breathing was slightly labored. I gripped her hand as humanly as I could.
"Are you comfortable, Mom?" I whispered. I prayed that the answer she gave me was one I could live with.
"Oh yes, Bella. The doctors take good care of me and Phil," she looked around, her smile becoming a frown.
"Phil will be back. He just needed to run home for a minute. I'll stay with you until he returns," I reassured her. Her face visibly relaxed.
We talked back and forth. She sometimes drifted off for a minute, but then she would coherently search and ask for reassurance that I was really there.
I heard Edward whisper to me. "Bella, you have about five minutes. I'm sorry it's not longer."
I gazed at my mother, knowing this would be the last time I would hear her voice, touch her hand, see her smile. "It's time for me go now, Mom."
Her smile faded. "Bella, do you have to?"
"Yes, Mom, but Phil will be here soon and you won't be alone." I struggled to keep my voice calm and even.
"Bella, what happened to you? Where did you go? " my mom asked softly.
I told her the truth – or a version of it. "I never really left, Mom. But I missed you," I choked, "every single day."
She nodded groggily. "Are you happy?" She looked at me, expectantly waiting for an answer – good or bad.
"Very. I can promise you that I am very well cared for and so happy," I responded.
"Good. Will I see you again?" she asked, her lids becoming heavy. I had started to turn up her IV, the way Edward had shown me. He thought if she was asleep when Phil returned, that they would assume she had dreamt of me.
I lied. "Of course. I'm always here if you need me, Mom."
"I love you, Bella. I've missed you so much." Tiny tears streamed from her eyes. "I'm so tired," she cried softly.
"I love you, too, Mom. Just sleep. You'll feel better," I responded and then I bent swiftly to kiss her goodbye. She'd already fallen asleep.
I swept out of the room into Edward's waiting arms. Edward and I made a quick, unnoticed getaway. I silently and tearlessly cried the entire trip back to the hotel. Edward held my hand and let me grieve the loss of my mother. Alice stayed behind to ensure that all went well after my visit.
Mom died a week later. There was no memorial – just cremation and Phil scattering her ashes in the ocean. Edward, Alice and I watched from a boat offshore. My grief lasted months. Years really.
Jake and I did a reasonably good job juggling Grace. There was no doubt in her mind that she was well loved. The years passed quickly, Grace growing from a precocious child into a pre-teen. It was then that I was faced with an incredibly difficult choice.
Grace was well aware of her father's lineage. She'd seen the wolves and understood the Quileute history was not just legend. She also knew that what her mother had become – that had been an odd conversation. But she eventually accepted it and we went about our lives as usual. Jake and I argued about this choice, but I finally won the fight – though saying I won was not exactly a good thing.
"What do you mean I can't come to see you this summer?" Grace questioned.
"Grace, I should have been more upfront about this last year. I just didn't know how to tell you," I answered with firmness, determined not to let her see just how much this was killing me.
"So when do I get to see you again?" Her tone was insistent.
"Grace, honey, it's not that simple." I could already feel my resolve fading.
"Mom, I don't get it." She looked at me like she could read me like a book. She knew I was wavering. I couldn't fight her. Being without her in her younger years had been so painful. I need her to cooperate. I needed her to understand.
So I went into detail, explaining how we would have to take a break from seeing each other. I explained how her Dad felt when he'd become a werewolf because of all the vampires living in the area for so long. I told her some of the memories I had retained about the first months after he phased. I couldn't bear that legacy for her – she deserved to have a life free of destiny – except the one that she chose for herself. I had experienced having my choices taken from me that fateful night at the school and I didn't want her to have to deal with anything remotely that difficult.
There'd been no vampires in the Olympic Peninsula for several years (with the exception of us and we never left the Seattle area). The tribal children had stopped phasing and, although the pack was huge, the numbers had not increased. I was not about to be responsible for adding to the size of the pack, or worse, being responsible for my own daughter walking into that new "life".
Grace sobbed when she finally realized it would be some time before I could physically be with her again. She wasn't fighting me anymore, but it was painful to understand that this had to be reality. Jake and I thought if I waited until she was twenty, we might have a chance for her to be a plain old human. But that was eight years away.
Grace cried to me on the phone daily and even video conferencing was a challenge after a while. It just wasn't the same. We missed each other. We needed each other. Edward never argued with me about my choice, but I know he thought I was being very over-protective. That was rich, coming from the man who invented the concept.
Alice was furious with me, but never challenged my choice. She loved Grace and missed her, so she called often and would "pop in" when I was talking to her online.
My self-imposed separation lasted eighteen months. I got a frantic call from Jake that Grace was in a car accident and had to be air-lifted to the closest trauma center for care. She was in the ICU with multiple injuries. (Alice was furious with herself for not seeing Grace in danger, but Grace was with pack members when it happened. She was blind to what was coming and even though I reminded her of that, she blamed herself for years.) I wouldn't even let Jake finish his sentence before I demanded to know where she was. Edward and I drove down the Seattle freeways at such a breakneck speed, even I was amazed to reach the hospital with the car intact. I think Edward broke his own record for speeding on that drive. Jake met us at the front door.
"Just get me there," I begged. Jake led the way.
Grace was tall for her age, but her body looked frail and weak in the bed. My memories flashed back to Renee before she died and how similar the two now looked. Grace wasn't even breathing on her own. For a fleeting moment, I wondered if it would have been better for her to be a werewolf so she would heal quickly, but I quickly dismissed that thought and crossed the room and called her name. Her eyes fluttered open and she saw me standing next to her bed. She started to softly cry.
"Momma's here," I answered brushing a stray hair from her forehead.
She improved dramatically over the next few days and I grappled with leaving again.
"Bella, it's obvious that your presence is improving her condition. You can't leave now," he argued.
"She'll improve whether I'm here or not," I responded, though my voice betrayed my own reasoning.
Edward cocked an eyebrow at me. "You don't really believe that." He cupped my face, dazzling me, but I shook him off.
"We've been through all this. I can't risk it," I argued back.
"And I can't risk having a wife I love regretting her decision for eternity if Grace takes a turn for the worse." His soft smile nudged my aching heart.
And that was the end of our separation.
Carlisle consulted with the doctors and, although she was expected to make a full recovery, she would need some pretty extensive therapy to get her back to where she'd been. The entire family relocated to Seattle from the east coast. Edward and I took turns with Jake and Megan caring for Grace and helping her fight her way back to the healthy teenager she'd been before.
Miraculously, Grace never did phase. Carlisle thought it might be because she and I shared DNA. Emmett said that it was because she was just as stubborn as I was. Megan thought it was because our coven and their pack were no longer hostile enemies. I was just so grateful that she would have choices in her life. She was human and had her entire life ahead of her. Now I understood Edward's desire to keep me human much more intimately – and that wish would be fulfilled in my daughter.
But not everything was rosy. As Grace grew older, we had parental issues – Jake, myself and Edward. Jake eventually came to respect Edward, though it wasn't without a Herculean effort. Jake always had a forgiving and understanding heart. He actually grew fond of Esme and the way she was a true Grandmother to Grace. They had a quiet understanding and Esme extended her motherly ways to Jake just as she had to other "children". The alliance between vampire coven and werewolf eventually grew strong and more stable, all because of one little girl.
Grace and I were especially close. She never did divulge the secret of me – not even to others in the pack. I think the secret keeping may have been difficult on her, but she never let on. I know she made sacrifices to spend time with me and the rest of the Cullens, but she wasn't one to fuss. I can't even begin to count the times I encouraged her to stay in LaPush to spend time with her friends, only to have her push that suggestion aside to see me on our weekends or holidays. Many times I insisted and she would give in. She was adult long before the baby face and girly fascination of glitter and pink gave way to more mature pursuits.
Edward and Jake sometimes didn't see eye to eye on raising Grace. Edward considered himself Grace's father – not on the same par as Jake, of course, but he was just as invested in her well-being and loved her with a fierceness that reminded me of his protectiveness when it came to me in the early days.
Especially humorous, now that many years have passed, was on Grace's 16th birthday. Being the car aficionado that Edward is, he took great care in selecting a "first" car for Grace – without consulting me. He had done some "research" and considered this something a father would do for his child. The only problem was he hadn't really considered Jake's reaction to such an extravagant gift.
The "first" car for Grace he selected? A top of the line Volvo, complete with state of the art sound system and every safety feature available, as well as a few that Rosalie added before the car was shipped to La Push, complete with a big ole' lavender bow tied to the top of it.
Grace was ecstatic – Jake, not so much.
"Bella," he nearly barked in the phone, "did he ever stop to think that maybe I wanted to give her a car? Was that even on his radar? And this car is beyond extravagant. It's nicer than any other car on the reservation, including mine. What the hell was he thinking?"
When I spoke with Edward, his response surprised me. He was contrite, but when I asked him why he chose such an expensive car for a first time driver, I nearly doubled over in laughter.
"She's your daughter, Bella. She's our daughter. Safety is at the top of my list when it comes to her. And as for the extravagance as you call it," he continued, rolling his eyes, "it's used. How extravagant can a used car be? Really?" He nearly rolled his eyes in exasperation.
Like I said, that made me laugh. I'll admit it.
The three of us agreed that from that day on we would discuss all "large" purchases for her. Jake took the higher road and let Grace keep the car, with the understanding that such extravagant gifts would not be the norm, but rather the exception. Jake explained away the expense saying that they used part of Grace's trust to help her purchase her first vehicle.
We were a lot more careful after that. I always knew that Edward was generous, extravagant even, in his gifts. Yet, they were always meaningful. I found out years later about how he helped Ben Cheney and Angela get together – and how they ended up married with two little ones of their own. Emmett let me in on that little secret.
What I wasn't prepared for was something Alice revealed to me a few years after Edward and I married and the entire family moved to a new destination.
We were unpacking, which with vampires can take very little time. However, in this case, it was Alice's wardrobe, so we moved at a much more human pace.
Alice chuckled, shaking her head. "Edward. That is so like you."
Now, Edward was nowhere in the general vicinity. He and the boys had gone to pick up the furniture in storage that the family had shipped from destinations unknown.
She looked at me with innocent eyes, and I realized she'd revealed something not meant for me to know.
"Bella?" she questioned back as if she had no idea what I was asking.
I looked at her pointedly, my brows lifting, waiting for an answer. I was as stubborn as she was persistent.
Finally, her smooth face erupted in laughter. "Edward won't be happy, but I think you should be aware how Edward is always working on 'projects'." Her air quotes doubly peaked my interest.
Alice went on, seemingly without taking a breath, to tell me all about my husband's latest interest.
"So, he contacted an investigator. It seems that they got married and are already expecting their first little one," she continued.
They were John Riley and Terri, the twosome that been part of that whole debacle when I was still teaching at the university. He'd "helped" them with a house and "found" them "scholarships" so they could continue school and not accrue any additional debt – all through one of the company fronts the Cullens used to do large transactions .
When Edward returned to the house, I intercepted him and took him to our room and spent the afternoon making love. He looked confused but never suspected I knew a thing, especially since I blocked Alice's thoughts from him.
Eventually, Grace finished high school and entered college. She'd also fallen in love.
With the last person I wanted her to…
Sam Uley's son, Michael, was a classmate of Grace throughout high school. He was a few months older than her – good looking, polite, strong and smart. As she'd gotten older, Grace went from calling him "annoying" to a "friend" – to someone who took her on her first date. I tried to not panic and assured myself that when she left the Reservation for college, her tastes would change and she'd move on with someone else.
Boy, was I wrong.
She entered college, thinking she wanted to be a teacher, until she took a class in advanced biology. She was smitten and changed her degree course to biomedical engineering. Carlisle was thrilled and helped her through projects, never giving her the answers but gently nudging her in the right direction.
Michael followed her to college, after finishing his associate degree. When I saw them together, which was rare as I was keeping my distance as much as I could to keep a non-family member from phasing, I knew they were in it for the long haul. After begging and pleading her case, Grace convinced me to get to know him better. Michael was sweet and I could see her attraction to him. I knew it was only a matter of time.
Michael asked Jake's permission for his daughter's hand, before following up with Edward over the phone. Jake was pleased at the match and knew that his little girl would be taken care of. Edward was a bit overwhelmed to be considered enough to be included in the rite of permission. As far as I was concerned, I just smiled and hugged my baby girl when she showed me the ring and asked for help in planning her big day.
She married in the little chapel between Forks and the Reservation, but sadly I couldn't attend. With the exception of Jake and the pack, everyone knew me to be dead. There was no way I could sit up front and watch my little girl and soon to be son-in-law exchange their vows. Grace was saddened, but I convinced her that this was the right thing to do – most of her real life was here and I wanted her to have the fairy tale. She said it wouldn't be the same and didn't speak to me for days.
Jake intervened and came up with a plan. I would attend the wedding, but would slip in right before the service. Edward wasn't thrilled about me being alone with a bunch of werewolves, but I think he was more disappointed about not seeing and walking Grace down the aisle.
Jake begrudgingly allowed us both to attend and Alice got to work on planning a second, simpler ceremony for the Cullens to celebrate. Again, compromise helped everyone celebrate this next step in Grace's life.
After being married for four years, Grace and Michael started their Master's programs. While traveling abroad during a summer break, Michael fell during a mountain climbing expedition. He lingered in the hospital for three days, but even Carlisle knew there was no hope. He quietly passed away, Grace holding him in his bed, while she cried silently. My heart broke for her. And she was never the same.
Grace finished graduate school and lived with us for a while. Living near her memories of Michael was too difficult, but in time, she got back to a routine.
"Grace, it wouldn't kill you to go to the social mixer," I chided, holding the information in my hand.
Grace smiled a sad little grin, "Mom, I had Michael. I had the best. I miss him." Her sad face pleaded with me to let it go.
I let the pamphlet float into the trash.
Grace became a very successful and productive engineer. She lived all over the country, sometimes internationally, working on projects. Carlisle and Edward were generous, providing research money when needed, without letting Grace know. We still saw her monthly and talked on the phone almost every day. She had a great group of friends and flew home to the Reservation every few months to check in on her dad.
Our relationship had become more human. Edward and I weren't attending college or high school anywhere. We found it was easier to be available for Grace if we were more liquid in our day to day schedules – but we stayed busy. We traveled, spent time with the family, and worked behind the scenes on charitable causes.
Jake died when he was 87. Meghan had died from a stroke a year earlier. Edward could tell from his thoughts that he was giving up. He became more like a shell than the robust Jacob I'd spent so much time with. And I didn't need to be a mind reader to see how lost he was without her. Edward set up round the clock nursing care at the end, making sure he was comfortable. I was there with Grace and Matthew when he died and comforted them both. I waited until I was alone with Edward later – he held me while I grieved over the loss of my best friend.
Matthew became Chief – he and his wife had two children, who had both left the reservation to pursue careers. The numbers for the tribe were dwindling, but the old customs and traditions continued on.
Grace retired when she was seventy. She spent some years traveling – sometimes we joined her, but mostly she was adventurous and did things on her own. She sent us postcards and would sometimes fly in and surprise us. Usually, Alice let us know she was on her way. Sometimes, Alice let us enjoy the excitement of an unexpected visit from our girl.
When Grace passed my human age, as I noticed every wrinkle, every tiny strand of white hair stand out against her black mane, my stomach would clench. It would remind me that I wouldn't have her forever.
"Does it bother you?" I asked her one day and then immediately wished I could take it back.
"Does what bother me?" she answered. She didn't look up from the newspaper.
I cleared my throat before answering. "That I'm not aging."
Grace looked up from her paper, before folding back the open pages toward herself. "Are you saying I need to hit the salon?" she joked before winking. I caught Jacob's playful smile in her eyes.
But I still gave her that exasperated Mother look. "So it doesn't bother you that instead of looking like your mother, I'll eventually look like your daughter."
Grace pursed her lips. "Mom, I don't care how either of us looks. I'm just grateful to have you. Wanna see a movie?" She went back to reading the Times.
I forced a smile, but my non-beating heart still clutched in fear every time I saw a new crow's feet or a white hair.
When Grace turned 90, we celebrated with a huge party. I thought about the horrible birthday party that Alice had thrown for me decades earlier, but this one was much lower key. Birthday cake, theater tickets and balloons…no glass or pesky presents that might cause mayhem.
Grace moved in with us not too long after that. She drove for a while, but you could see the slowing in her movements, how she had difficulty sleeping, and her sometimes forgetful nature.
Edward was relentless.
He would check on her several times every hour, and with Carlisle's help, outfitted the house with anything she might need, including medical equipment and medications. Over the next year, the family all moved back in together. We hadn't lived this way for some time and it took some adjusting being back under one roof. It did wonders for Grace. She loved to visit with Alice and Rosalie and still looked at Esme like a grandmother. The boys entertained her with wrestling or stories from the old days.
"Grace, are you up to eating?" I walked in with a tray of some of her favorites, hoping to entice her.
"Can we talk for a while?" she countered, but her voice was weary.
I took a shallow breath. "I think you should eat and then maybe after a nap, we can visit a while." I hoped my tone was firm.
She looked back at me, that mischievous look in her eye, while smiling. "Mom, I'm ninety-two. I think I'm finally old enough to make my own decisions," she teased.
I relented and compromised. "You eat and we can chat. Yes?" I asked.
It was like old times. We laughed and talked – about everything and nothing. She confided in me how much she still missed Michael, before a few silent tears fell. I cheered her, and turned the conversation to other topics until she finished some of her lunch and grew tired. She drifted off to sleep and I tucked her in, like I'd done countless times before. Her clarity elated me, but I also knew that many people would have this burst of energy – that it was normally followed with a serious decline or…
I wouldn't let myself finish the thought.
"Bella, I think we should talk." Edward's tone was so quiet and somber I almost missed what he said.
I circled my arms around his waist, hugging him tightly before looking up into his golden stare. "What's wrong?"
What he said next unnerved me.
"Grace," he took a deep breath, "doesn't have long. Carlisle and I have talked and we don't agree, but he said it was a decision for us to make and he would respect whatever we decided."
"Decide what?" I queried.
"Grace may only have days left and I am putting the question and decision to you. Do you want me to change her?"
The breath in my lungs whooshed out of me. Change her? I had only let my mind linger on that choice a few times during Grace's lifetime and the answer was simple.
"NO?" Edward repeated.
"No." My response was quiet. I unfurled my arms from around his waist. I turned my back on him, going back to put away the few groceries I'd picked up for Grace that afternoon.
I felt his hands pull my hair back, while he rubbed my shoulders. "Bella, she has days, maybe two weeks at the most left. I could change her. Carlisle said he wouldn't assist, but he would help me monitor her while the change was occurring. She would still look her age, but her illnesses and weakness would be gone. She would be strong again and we can all help her adjust to her new life. She could stay with you – with all of us – forever."
Days? The thought made my throat catch, but I knew that changing her was not an option.
"No, Edward. She lived the life she was supposed to live. She's not meant to be like us – we weren't even meant to be like us. I can't change her."
As if on cue, Grace appeared in the doorway. Over the years, she'd asked me about my lifestyle, what the change had been like – had I missed not being able to sleep – what did I miss about being human?
She shuffled in with her walker. "Grace, you should not be out of bed," I chastised.
She waved me off. "I heard you two talking. Changing me?"
"Nope – that's not for me."
Edward looked sad, but determined. "We've seen so much in our lifetime. Wouldn't you like more time?" He posed the question to her and his confidence in his suggestion looked overwhelming.
"No. I lived a great life with an amazing family. And I miss Michael," she trailed off with a soft sob. Edward lifted her while she started to cry and carried her back to bed.
The next few days were spent at a vigil around Grace, all of us sitting with her talking as she started to slip away. Edward and Carlisle monitored her vitals, making sure she was hydrated and comfortable
Grace was two weeks shy of her ninety-third birthday when she slipped from this world into the next. I held her warm hand in my cold one and heard the last beat that her heart would make. The entire family, sans Edward, gave me her last moments alone. I gently climbed in next to her, holding her until Edward turned off all the machines, tidying the makeshift hospital room in our home.
We called the funeral home and Jasper dealt with the paperwork. We honored her wishes and had her cremated – then had her urn buried next to her Michael.
I went through the motions and prepped her for her final resting place, quiet but determined to make good on the promises I'd made to her when she was still alive.
After the funeral, the family came back to the house, somber and quiet. The house was empty, even with all eight of us there. I went straight to our room and lay down.
I stayed there for almost six months.
At first Edward gave way to my grief. He spent hours in the room with me, leaving to feed and rushing back to my side. He would talk to me, but I never responded. He would bring me fresh animal blood, but I refused it. He would touch me, but I wouldn't respond. This went on, but his patience didn't wane.
For a while.
After a few months of near-comatose Bella, Edward tried to force me to leave the room. He picked me up and ran with me out to the woods, hoping to entice me to feed and enjoy the fresh air. Once he put me down, I walked back to the house. Sometimes it took hours and after several attempts he stopped trying.
Every member of the family talked to me. Alice threatened, Rosalie dared, Emmett tried to cajole and Jasper tried to reason. Carlisle and Esme would visit and hold my hand and talk to me – of all of family members, they had more understanding of what it might be like to lose a child. They encouraged me and let me know they were here when I needed them.
Finally, after months of not speaking, Edward came into our room. I could feel the anger coming off of him, but I was too full of sadness to respond.
"So, this is it? Forever? I have to live with a wife that I would give my very life for, but would rather just waste away? Have you seen your skin, Bella? You know I would love you no matter what, but from lying there not feeding, you're skin is starting to look ashy - like the Volturi, Carlisle said. And the shadows around your eyes aren't shadows – they're two black holes. You look like a stranger. And don't forget - a hungry vampire – and that's what you are, Bella – is dangerous."
I summoned enough power to turn over and lift my eyes to look at him. My handsome Edward – the same copper-like hair, the wiry frame, the beautiful eyes and strong jaw line, but today, his features were angry. Oddly, I found myself attracted to his lips, wishing I could rouse myself enough to hold and kiss him.
I hadn't realized how weak I'd become. When had I fed last? How long had I laid here?
Edward knelt down in front of me, his strong fingers tracing my lips. "Please? If not for yourself, for me? I miss you. I need you. The family needs you."
The weakness overtook me again and my eyes drifted shut involuntarily. I was so weak I thought I might just be able to sleep after almost a century of being forever awake.
I sensed Edward stand, could hear the stone skin over his knuckles creak. He walked back around the bed and stopped at the door. "I love you, but I won't sit here and watch you fade away from me more every day. I should have changed her – you might have been furious with me, but you wouldn't be wasting away in front of my very eyes." He opened the door and stormed out, slamming the door so hard I heard the crack through the wood of the frame and the windows vibrate to the point of breaking.
I could hear him brush off Esme, his feet almost flying over the grass into the forest.
What was I doing? I had wanted Grace to have her life, to be happy, to experience everything that this world had to offer. I had protected her, fought for her and now what? Because she was gone, I was going to waste away? I was going to lose everything I had with my family because I was feeling sorry for myself.
That was it. I was so consumed in my misery and pain; I never once considered that I wasn't the only one suffering. I hear Alice cry at night and Emmett flip through the photo albums of pictures, while he and Rosalie talked about their memories of her. Every morning when Edward left our bed, his finger would trace her face in the photograph that we'd had taken at our wedding.
I was selfish and making everyone pay for my grief.
I forced myself up on my elbows, though the effort nearly crippled me. I slipped one foot off the bed and had to push the other off before I could stand. During my efforts, I nearly toppled back onto the bed before I felt Esme's hands steady me and help me stand. She handed me a warm glass of red liquid which I gulped greedily. It wasn't much, but it made my senses come alive.
She put a hand to my face. "Welcome back, my sweet girl."
Managing a smile back at her, I ran toward the open window in our room and effortlessly jumped to the ground. Emmett grinned in my direction, while Rosalie pushed her way out from under the Volvo, her flawless face streaked in oil.
"Well, welcome back little sis. He went…" Emmett offered.
I didn't wait for him to finish his sentence. I used what little energy I had left, blocking my scent and running as fast as I could in Edward's direction. The effort made me weak, but my desire to see Edward was stronger. I ran up on him hunting, about to pounce a large pack of elk. Vaulting toward him, I readied myself to tell him how sorry I was and how much I missed him, when I caught the scent of the largest elk in the pack.
I flew right past Edward, sinking my teeth into the jugular of the poor beast, feeding so quickly that I could feel the blood soak the dress I'd been wearing for months. I didn't stop and drained two more of the herd before I felt strong arms around me. I dropped the carcass, turning around and facing my soul mate. The small smile on his face was worth the world to me. He kissed me gently, hugging me tightly to his chest.
"So, you're back?" Edward offered sheepishly. The underlying tone of uncertainty came through loud and clear.
I nodded, rushing to kiss him again. It was then I noticed how much blood I had smeared all over him, soiling his clothes and pale white skin.
"Sorry," I croaked, my voice unfamiliar to me, but made Edward hold me even more tightly. I brushed in vain at Edward's ruined shirt, willing the blood to disappear.
"I never thought I'd hear your voice again, my dear Bella," he breathed.
The elk had gone, but I was far from satiated. We hunted again quickly, before heading back to the house.
When we arrived, Alice had fresh clothes laid out for me and a bath for two. Edward washed me tenderly, scrubbing at my skin with a thick washcloth and rinsing me with hot water. There was nothing sexual in his ministrations – rather, he was caring for me with a tender awe that made my throat ache with emotion.
When we finally finished, we heard Carlisle summon us to the great room downstairs.
I was confused when I saw bags and every Cullen couple lined up together in unison.
"What's going on?" I asked, eager for an explanation.
"We're going to give you two some privacy," Alice offered. She left the uniform line and hugged me, kissing me deftly on the cheek.
"Welcome back, Bella," Rosalie offered. "I'm so glad you're okay."
The rest of the family assured me they were renting a house a few towns over and would be available should they be needed. They each hugged me before quietly gathering their belongings and heading out to their respective vehicles.
Edward and I went back to our bedroom and lay on the fresh sheets, chatting, kissing, touching, before a night of love making, apologies and promises for a new start.
Our days stretched one into another and we talked about all sorts of things. I had the courage to ask him about some of his "projects" as Alice had put it.
"So I helped Terri and John," Edward joked breezily. I kissed each of his fingertips.
"You told me yourself that you hated John Riley," I challenged.
"That is very true, but his actions pushed me to fight for you and for that I'll be forever grateful."
He offered more information of what had happened to some of my friends from my former life.
Mandy and Jack had a great, strong marriage. They had two beautiful children – twins – a boy and a girl, who got scholarships from a mysterious benefactor. And Mandy went on to be an award winning pastry chef in New Orleans. Edward anonymously helped them buy her dream home – by buying it first and selling it to her as a distressed property.
I had to hand it to him. He was smart and a true problem solver.
He also offered information about Jerry. He'd hired an agency to keep an eye on him so other women didn't suffer the same fate. He'd done six years in prison for assault, harassment, bribery, embezzlement and other miscellaneous infractions. He died three months after his release, his automobile crashing when he hit a patch of black ice.
It was odd to hear about people that had been such a large part of my life while I was hiding under the radar, but I was grateful for Edward's actions and generosity. I smiled a bit when I heard about Mandy getting her happily ever after and having a life she so richly deserved.
"You know, it was meant to be," I offered.
Edward ran his fingers through my hair, before gently kissing me on the tip of my nose.
"You and me?" he replied.
"Well, yes, but more than that."
Edward sat up and helped me to a sitting position on the sofa, where we had been mindlessly watching a movie. "Tell me more," he implored, in between stolen kisses.
"You came to Forks. You left." He winced ever so slightly. "Stop, Edward. This is important – and you leaving is in the past, remember?"
He nodded, and took my hands, which encouraged me to go on.
"Jake and I fell in love. We married. We had Grace and then she," I steadied myself, "Victoria took her revenge. I became a vampire and thought I'd lost everything."
Edward didn't blink. He rubbed those familiar calming circles into my hand and I continued on.
"And then I ran back into you. Or rather, Alice ran right into me," I joked quietly. Things were becoming even clearer the more I thought through this.
Edward kissed my forehead. "One of the best nights of my life." He smiled at me and I indulged both of us with a kiss.
He broke away first, leaving me a bit breathless. "Go on," he encouraged.
"Those few months were awful, but they were meant to be. You brought Grace back to me and my life was complete. And even though Grace is gone, fate or destiny or whatever you want to call it had its day. You and I were meant to be together and we are, but more importantly, Grace had her human life. She experienced things, she went places, she contributed to this world – and she allowed me the best part…to participate."
"I see where you're going with this," Edward offered, wrapping me in his arms.
We continued to talk, reminiscing about our pasts and what we had to look forward to in our future. We decided it was time to be productive and that college as a young married couple might be interesting. A few minutes later, we heard car doors shut, one after another, heralding the return of our family, who we welcomed with open arms.
I'm fortunate to have the ability to remember every look, every conversation, every moment that I had with Grace. Sometimes when I missed her, I thumb through the photo albums and try to focus on all the good times we had together. Every sacrifice was worth it.
She loved me and I loved her.
And I had the love of every Cullen – especially Edward's, which made me feel like the most fortunate person in the world.
And really, when you really think about it, what's more important in this life than love?