A/N: I tried to write a traditional epilogue, I honestly did, but for some reason it just would. not. work. Eventually I got tired of forcing myself to write something I wasn't happy with just because I wanted to meet expectations/standards/whatever. This was the result. I like it, I hope you do too. Thanks go to Theresa, for being my beta right from the very beginning and Rachel for all the help she gave me on this epi.
To avoid any confusion: The format of this epilogue is one ongoing scene in September interspersed with various flashbacks (shown in italics).
Chapter Song: Sigh No More by Mumford & Sons (although Paramore's Hallelujah will do just as well for those who prefer it.
Love that will not betray you,
dismay or enslave you,
It will set you free
Be more like the man
you were made to be.
There is a design,
An alignment to cry,
At my heart you see,
The beauty of love
as it was made to be
A bronze haired young man is sitting on a low couch in a room bathed by the twilight. By his side is a woman with stories of love and loss written deep in her brown eyes. In her hand is an envelope. She clutches the ends tightly, as though afraid it will dissolve or fade away. She's been trying to find the courage to open it all day. The man by her side rubs her back reassuringly, as she stares back down for the hundredth time at her own name. It's written carefully in a hand she knows all too well. She remembers the last time she spoke to its owner.
The answer phone beeps.
"Hi, it's Bella. Again. I know I've already left a couple of messages, but I do really want to talk to –"
"Oh! You're there. Hey! It's Bella."
The silence is suffocating.
"Um, so... how've you been?"
"Charlie told me about the twins. Two girls – that's awesome. Congratulations."
The phone line crackles with apprehension.
"I heard that you made Rebecca godmother. She must be delighted."
"Don't give me that crap, Bella."
And just like that, the cool politeness shatters into hostility. It hits her like a blow to the heart. She hides how much it hurts. It's the reaction she'd expected.
"I'm not lying. I'm genuinely happy for both of you."
And she suddenly finds herself getting angry. Maybe it's because it hurts to hear him use that word so sarcastically, as opposed to the teasing, lazy way he's said it countless times before.
Swollen with hurt and resentment, she snaps back, "Well what do you want me to say, Jake? How did you expect me to react to the news that my best friend's kids were born and he didn't even tell me? How am I supposed to respond when I find out I'm not even their godmother anymore?"
There's no reply, so she tries again.
"Is this about Edward?"
The laughter that greets her question is bitter. "Not everything is about Cullen."
"Then why the silence and ignored calls? I get that you're angry about Edward and me, but you're being ridiculous."
"Don't you dare try and blame this on me!... I can't watch you with... how can you possibly?... after everything we?..." Half formed sentences are spluttered down the phone end then die before completion, as he tries to counter her attack. Then, he sighs. When he speaks again, his voice has a calm, deadened tone to it. "This isn't about us. This is about what's best for my children. A godmother is supposed to be there for the kids, Bella. That's the whole point."
"I would be there for them."
"Oh, really? Forever?"
Her stomach skips at the word. Something tells her he hasn't used it by accident.
"Congratulations, by the way."
The sudden change of topic throws her.
"You know what."
"How... how did you know?"
"You're not the only one who has to hear things from other people."
The phone clicks.
Inside the envelope is a photograph. Two beautiful baby girls stare innocently up at the camera. They have his eyes. The brown-haired woman rests her head on her partner's shoulder, turning the photograph over to look at the back.
As she does so, the rings on her left hand glimmer in the light.
"You don't have to give me an answer now," he says, staring up across her with anxiety in his amber eyes. "It's fine if you need time to think; I don't want you to feel we're moving too fast. I just wanted you to know how I feel and that I'm ready when you are and..."
He's rambling now, and they both know it; anxious run-on sentences trip over themselves in a rush to escape the mouth where they've lingered and fermented for so long, waiting to be said aloud. She stares wide-eyed at the delicate gold band in her palm for a couple of seconds, and then interrupts him.
The answer takes him by surprise.
"Y-you're sure?" His expression is a cocktail of shock and slow-growing joy.
She smiles wistfully. When did he become so scared of her?
"Of course I am."
And they both know she's agreeing to more than just a ring.
She kisses him and her smile warms his lips.
There are words written on the back of the photograph, carefully printed in black ink by a hand more accustomed to a careless scrawl. A lump grows in her throat as she sees them, and she immediately looks away, leaning into his chest for comfort, breathing his heady scent. The house around them is quiet, its other inhabitants deliberately giving them space.
"Oh, come on."
"You have to be kidding me, Bella, it's the ugliest cushion I have ever seen. I mean, green plaid? Were you HIGH when you bought this?"
The offending article is flung in disgust from its hiding place amongst the mountain of cardboard boxes.
"Okay, so not everyone has your innate sense of style. Interior design is hard!"
"Exactly, which is why you're going to let me help you design your and Edwards' room in the new house."
On the couch, the woman's hands are shaking. Next to her, the man brushes her hair back behind her ears with one hand, the other steadying her grip on the photograph. He's dressed smartly in a crisp white shirt and thin black tie.
The school has that strange sense of emptiness that comes with every summer. She sits in her office marking the essays of her Adult Ed class. On the opposite wall, the clock ticks loudly.
A cough announces his presence. She looks up and feels the familiar missed heart beat as she sees him, standing framed in a halo of darkness from the unlit hallway outside her door.
"I got the job."
"Oh my god, you did?" She squeals in delight and jumps from her seat, throwing herself at him. He catches her with strong arms and she wraps her legs around his waist. "I'm so proud of you."
"It's entry level."
"I know; that's what makes me so proud. That you'd do something like that for me..." He shakes his head, batting away her thanks.
"I want to show you that I'm committed to this; I'm committed to fulfilling the role of 'Ms Swan's fiancé'. It's a bit risky for me to stay in high school as long as you're teaching. People talk." His smile smoulders. "Anyway, I don't want to be your student anymore."
Her heartbeat quickens for a couple of seconds, and then she simmers sexily back at him.
"Thank god for that, or this would definitely be illegal..."
She leans up and kisses him. It's slow with a lingering intent that makes them both groan. The hands that tighten around her waist give away the barely concealed desire that now peppers their every embrace. He walks forward and sits her gently on her desk, never leaving her lips. She runs a hand through his hair, shivers at his touch on her thigh, and softly tugs at his lip with her teeth. His chest rumbles, he breaks away and smiles down at her.
"I think I need to get you home."
They leave her office and exit together, hands entwined, into the balmy summer night.
Their hands are linked now, too. It gives her the strength she needs to retract from the safety of his arms and look back at the message on the photograph.
She holds her breath and reads.
They bump into each other in the grocery store, of all places.
"So... I heard you were living in Oregon now."
"Yeah, I found a job teaching. Adult education, you know. It's just a summer thing."
The obvious question is avoided – 'what are you doing once the summer is over?' It's an answer that one is scared to ask and the other is wary of answering.
They both look around awkwardly, searching for something to say.
"And you? You must be exhausted, what with the twins..."
"Oh, yeah. It can be pretty hectic. I don't know how I'd do it, if it wasn't for Jacob."
His name hangs uneasily in the air between them for a couple of seconds.
"I always knew he'd be a great father."
"He really is."
And it's only as one is turning to leave that the other calls after her.
"Tell him I'm sorry. I'm sorry for letting him down, but... tell him I'm happy with my life now. I really am."
They look at each other for a long while. And then, quietly:
"He knows, Bella. He already knows."
And even quieter still:
"He's sorry too."
At the top, written in Jacob's self-consciously neat script, is the date and time the photo was taken. Underneath, there's a message.
Here's to happiness, whatever form that may take.
Sarah and Marie, one month.
It's only then that she realizes she has tears in her eyes.
Edward looks down at her, concerned.
"I'm fine," she smiles through the tears, "I'm fine."
But, in truth, she's better than that.
"You look beautiful."
"Thanks, Dad." She blushes under his admiring gaze, self-consciously fixing her hair.
"Are you ready?" He looks as though he's still half hoping she's going to change her mind.
"Yeah, I am."
And she cracks a smile, squeezing his hand and ignoring the insistent pounding of her heart.
They go together... and then they're there, and her lullaby has started to play and she somehow finds the courage to glance down the aisle where Edward is waiting for her...
The setting sun has dipped so low now that the shadows have crept from the walls into the centre of the room. With steadier hands than before, she puts the photograph down on the coffee table, lining it up next to the envelope it had arrived in that morning.
Edward looks down at Bella, trying, as ever, to understand what she's thinking.
"You don't have to do it."
"I mean it."
"I know you do."
"It's just so... final." He speaks quietly, softly brushing her hair back from her face, "no return, no escape."
"Escape from what?"
"Me, of course."
"Don't be stupid."
That was days ago, but the conversation picks up easily where it left off. It always does.
His eyes glance over to the photograph, resting briefly on Sarah and Maries' faces. Then he looks back at Bella. "You could have that," he murmurs. "You could have so much..."
Her finger on his lips silences him. He looks down at her, his eyes somewhere between surprised and sad.
She stares back unfazed. "I already do."
"I want to set a date."
"We already have a date for the wedding..."
It's a feeble joke, and she smiles indulgently.
"You know what I mean."
"When did you have in mind?"
"Before my birthday."
He looks back down at her. And then he lets out a long breath of air he doesn't need. He stands, offers out his palm.
"Are you ready?"
She nods and takes his hand, following his lead out of the room and up the stairs...
Outside, the sun dips below the horizon.
It won't be long before it rises anew.
A/N: The absolute end. Thank you so much for sticking with me & this story, I hope you've enjoyed it! This is it for me as far as this story is concerned (I honestly do not have the patience/ideas to write a sequel to this fic), but I have plans for some oneshots/short fics about Jacob, the other Cullens & possibly an E/B All-human story. They'll all be posted here.
If you're interested in my original work (i.e. stuff other than fanfic) then feel free to friend/bookmark my livejournal, where I archive pretty much all my fiction, interspersed with the occasional public post about my real life.