Part Summary: Three moments in Bella's future. (And I'll just say, before you start, you might want a few tissues handy. This story comes full circle)

One year ago today, the first chapter of this went up here. Today, I conclude it. :-)

I am a little behind on answering previous reviews, so if you wrote in the last few days, I've been finishing this epilogue. I'll try to get off at least a "thanks" before tackling new responses.

September 13, 2018

"Hi, mom."

Bella watches on the television screen behind Jasper at the projection booth as her mother lifts her head. Renee occupies a blue polyester folding chair like spectators take to barbeques, fireworks shows or their children's sporting events. But she's not at any of those. She's seated in front of a pair of sugar maple saplings planted on the shelter grounds in memory of first Mark, then of Bella. Still young, the trees throw no real shade yet, even the taller one. Renee has a photo album on her lap. It contains pictures of Bella from birth until the year before her "death." This is Renee's way of remembering her daughter on what should have been her birthday-- "celebrating, not grieving," as she put it to Martha. It's still grieving.

Bella's not sure how much this little "visitation" they have planned will help, but hopes it'll help some. Renee never got to say goodbye, and never had any sort of decent explanation. Now, Bella can see Renee's mouth open into a little O. "Bella? Bella, honey?" She's staring straight ahead where Bella knows her hologram appears between the two saplings.

"It's me, Mom." Bella takes a little step forward inside the small projection area, letting Renee see that she can walk now (however awkwardly) and therefore cementing in her mother's mind that this is a true visitation by demonstrating something a living Bella could never do. Fooling Renee doesn't mean Renee is a fool, even if she is inclined to believe in the supernatural. Renee also grew up with FX movie magic. She's not ignorant of technological illusion and it would take more than a hologram to convince her she's seeing a real ghost, however much she might want to believe. "I didn't get to say good-bye," Bella continues now.

Her mother's expression crumples as she struggles out of her folding chair, setting aside the photo album so she can hold her hands towards Bella's ghostly form. "Bella?"

"I love you, Mom. I wanted you to know that. But I'm in a better place now."

"I'm so sorry, honey," Renee says, arms still outstretched although she makes no attempt to move forward. "I'm sorry we couldn't find you in time!"

"Don't blame yourself, Mom. There was nothing you could do. And it's my own fault, actually."

"But that man . . . !"

"Oh, he took me. But I'm the one who tried to get out of the hunting blind by myself. I had to try. I fell and hurt myself badly."

"The police weren't exactly sure what happened," Renee says, letting her arms fall. "They couldn't . . ." She chokes up. "They couldn't find your body."

"That's because I became part of the Circle of Life -- like in The Lion King." Okay, Bella thinks, that was really corny. At his controls behind the camera, Jasper is biting his tongue to keep from laughing. But she thinks the allusion might help her mother. They'd watched that movie hundreds of times when Bella was a little girl. "It doesn't matter, really. I was dead before the wolves found me. I didn't feel any pain, and they were only acting as nature made them."

"So Brady Jones didn't . . . he didn't kill you?"

"Only indirectly. But I wanted you to know what happened to me -- that I didn't really suffer, or not like I could have."

Renee's face is wet with tears. "I could just imagine . . . "

"I know. That's why I wanted you to know the truth. What you imagined was worse than what really happened. You're my mom. I didn't want you to suffer with those nightmares anymore. I'm happy, mom. I'm fine now."

Renee's face appears torn between relief and deep sorrow. "Oh, baby. I'm so glad. I miss you so much. Are you with Mark at last?"

She dodges the question. "I'm with a lot of people I love, and who love me."

It's enough of a lie to let Renee believe Bella is actually dead and coming back to her as a ghost. Bella doesn't want to lie to her mother further. "I can't stay much longer, Mom, but I wanted you to know the truth so you can stop worrying about me -- and about what happened. I'm healed, and I'm happy. And I'll see you again one day." That much, she does believe; even for vampires, 'forever' tends to have limits.

"Okay, baby. Can I touch you? You don't look solid."

"I'm not. You wouldn't feel anything. It's just presence."

"Ectoplasm," Renee says knowledgeably. She watches a few too many paranormal shows on A&E.

"I'm not sure what you'd call it," Bella says. Behind the camera, Jasper is mouthing, 'pixels of light,' and Bella struggles to keep a straight face. He's irreverent, but saying goodbye is no easy task and this would be much harder if not for his dry wit. "But I do love you, Mom. Take care of yourself, and be sure Phil takes care of you, too."

"I love you too, baby," Renee says, barely able to get the words out. "You're my precious little girl. I'm so glad your soul came to live with me for a while." Her arms extend again towards Bella although she doesn't attempt to approach the projection as it slowly fades away. Bella's glad she's not actually standing there or she wouldn't be able to resist running into Renee's arms. Fortunately, she's several miles away in Rosalie's basement where they've set up the projection equipment. The basement is empty now, which is why they selected it instead of Jasper's cluttered library. Rosalie and Emmett are moving on soon to start another shelter in another place. Esme and Carlisle will follow. Alice and Jasper won't quite yet. Alice can't find anyone to buy her business and is reluctant just to close it. It's been an outlet for local women to earn a little extra money, so she's looking into a way to make it a part of the shelter somehow. That can't be done overnight.

Edward and Bella aren't following either. They're going back to school. Or rather, Bella is -- a new graduate program in a new state -- while Edward starts his residency again. Bella feels a little guilty for not staying with Rose and Esme, but these women's shelters aren't her dream, not the way they've become theirs. Bella helped because she'd had the expertise and contacts, and had needed the job. Her personal passion is different, more esoteric and theoretical.

She moves away from the projection platform now to watch as Jasper shuts down the equipment. He'll go to the shelter later to remove the tiny cameras hidden in the saplings. Edward comes forward from where he's been waiting silently in a corner, wrapping her up in his arms and resting his chin atop her head. Bella clings to him. He doesn't say anything. What is there to say?

This is the down side of being a vampire.

October 23, 2022

"For he's a jolly good fellow, for he's a jolly good fellow, for he's a jolly good fellow, which nobody can deny!"

Laughter and toasts echo through Billy Black's house where he's holding an informal retirement party for Charlie. After 35 years on the force, Charlie Swan has finally turned in his badge for a full pension and a fishing poll whenever the steelhead or salmon are biting. Bella thinks he won't know what to do with himself, but after serving the public for so long in a dangerous occupation, he deserves to enjoy his golden years. Billy has promised her privately that he'll keep Charlie occupied.

That had been an . . . interesting . . . conversation. Billy still isn't sure what to make of Bella's Change, although Jacob insists his father is glad he no longer has to hide things from Charlie. Bella remains his best friend's only daughter, the little girl he watched grow up. Yet she's also his tribe's arch nemesis, at least in form, and he struggles with that.

Bella thinks her Change may be the best thing that ever happened to the Quileute, forcing them to see the people behind the vampires. Jacob remains her staunch friend even if he smells horrible to her and she smells horrible to him. She still telephones Irene regularly and the little boy Irene was carrying has been named William Charles. Bella can't thank them enough for that. She'll never be able to give Charlie a grandchild, but -- as she'd once teasingly put it to Irene -- they had a couple extra. Certainly all four of the Black children are well-provided for by their adoptive, undead aunt and uncle.

Just now, Billy Junior is an energetic five-year-old keeping his three elder sisters busy chasing him, and Billy Senior's back yard has become an odd ground for detente. Eight vampires, ten werewolves, their mates, assorted offspring and parents all congregate to celebrate one human man. Despite the cold and misty drizzle, they're outside because the open air is less offensive to delicate noses (vampire or wolf). The humans suffer through it in heavy down jackets.

Bella makes her way through the crowd to stand next to Charlie. Vampire, wolf and human step aside unobtrusively to give her limping step room, but she's not offended. The fact she can walk at all, however imperfectly, is miraculous, and she finds it oddly fitting that, as a vampire, she's just as awkward as she was when human.

She can hunt, but she's not graceful at it. And Edward still buys her cows sometimes because the sight of her lurching along hurts his heart. He thinks he failed her somehow. She reminds him -- repeatedly -- that not only did he save her, he gave her back something she'd never thought to have . . . feeling in her lower body. The muscles still don't respond perfectly, but she can stand, walk, even run, however badly. She must be the slowest vampire ever, married to one of the fastest. Without her family, she might not have survived her first year.

But she has a family, and not only of the vampire sort.

"Hey, Dad," she says now.

He grins down at her. "I'd offer you a beer, but . . . "

"It's the thought that counts," she replies. She likes that they can joke about her new diet.

"How're the classes going?"

"This is my last semester of them, then I can get busy on the dissertation again. Maybe this time, I'll finish it." Her expression is wry. She and Edward have entirely new identities -- not Cullen, Masen, Swan or even Jackson -- but she doesn't dare follow exactly the abstract she'd begun as her human self. Instead, she's taking a tangential approach and hoping it doesn't arouse too much interest from people who might have known her before. That's always the danger in academia, because when it comes down to specializations, each is a pretty small pond. Jasper's advice has been extremely helpful in how to successfully wade through it without stepping on the sharks hiding in the sand.

"I'm sure you'll get it finished," Charlie says now. He may not understand what she's doing, but he'll support her 100%, just as he had when she'd still had a beating heart. "And Edward? He seems like he's grown up a lot but he's still, uh, being good to you?"

She can't help but grin. "Yes, Daddy. He's wonderful. I've been fortunate in my choice of husbands."

Charlie nods, not adding anything else. Heart-to-hearts still confound him, but he loves her enough to try.

"Hey, Charlie!" Emmett calls from the doorway to Billy's living room. "Last game for the AL pennant is starting in ten minutes! Hernandez is pitching! Come watch 'em trash the Indians!" He blinks, as if suddenly realizing how that sounded. "Well, you know what I mean."

Jacob laughs and slaps Emmett playfully on the shoulder as he squeezes past into the house. Ever since their hunt together for Bella, they've become friends. "Anybody playing the Indians -- or the Yankees -- is my team. It's just icing on the cake if it's the Mariners."

The Mariners win. Bella thinks that probably her dad's best retirement present of all. Seattle is going to the World Series. Edward might be almost as excited as Charlie. "It figures," she tells Irene later as she helps clean up dishes in Billy's kitchen. "The two main men in my life bonded over baseball."

Irene just chuckles. "I'd say it's a guy thing, but I like baseball. At least they bonded. My dad's still making Jacob jump through hoops after, what, fourteen years and four kids now?"

"Well, we'll see what happens. The Cubs are still in the playoffs for the National League. Edward might call me a traitor, but this is one year I hope the curse isn't broken. My life would get really interesting if the Mariners play the Cubs in the series."

May 19, 2031

"Are you comfortable, Martha?"

"I'm fine, honey, but you can give me another sip of water. My lips get so dry . . . "

Bella reaches over to fetch the little plastic cup with its straw, holding it while Martha drinks. Bella tries to conceal that her hands are shaking but Martha has to reach up and steady the cup anyway.

How ironic that the impossibly strong vampire is too weak to hold a cup steady and it takes the feeble touch of a dying human to keep it from spilling. But their relationship was always like that. Mark and Martha taught Bella that strength isn't measured in muscles but in spirit, and however much the cancer has stolen her girth and strong voice, left her gray at the lips and puffy in the face from the chemo, Martha's spirit towers even now.

The lights are low; it's the middle of the night. This is the only time it's safe for Bella to visit as both Martha's daughters and all her grandkids are in Rochester now. The end is approaching and somebody stays at the hospital at all times during the day. The night is for Rosa and Jada to rest, and for Martha's other daughter to take her secret turn as sentinel. Martha doesn't sleep well, so Bella keeps her company when she wakes.

Bella looks up now as Carlisle ghosts in. She heard him arrive, even if Martha didn't.

He's not Martha's doctor. He's Martha's friend, and here in that capacity. Bella should have guessed that, from the moment they met, these two old souls would find in each other a common ground they didn't have elsewhere, not even Carlisle with Esme. "Spouses aren't supposed to be everything to you," Martha had told Bella once not long after her marriage to Mark. "That's not healthy. We all need other friends, other interests. If you spend all your time together, after a while, you got nothing to talk about." She'd laughed. "I should know. Mark's dad and I learned that the hard way." So Martha and Carlisle have been friends for almost twenty-five years despite distance and a need for occasional subterfuge. Bella thinks Carlisle will miss her as much as Bella will.

Now, he takes a seat on Martha's other side across from Bella, and Martha gives him her hand. "So what did the chart say today?" she asks.

"Your white count has dropped again, I'm afraid." It's bad news and Carlisle doesn't sugar-coat it, nor does Martha want him to. He comes each night to give her the real story, although her doctors are fairly honest. But this is the Mayo Clinic, the specialists here among the best in the world. They don't like to lose, and the death of a patient is losing, to their minds. Not to Martha's. Bella wants to be mature and say not to her either, but when it's Martha who's dying, she feels more like five than 44. She wants to go off in a corner and throw a temper tantrum.

Martha is here because Carlisle, and Edward, convinced her to come. They both work here, albeit in different departments -- Edward predictably in Neurology, and Carlisle in Hematology. Bella knows he enjoys the joke of a vampire specializing in blood diseases, but he's also very, very good at it. Together, they brought Martha to Rochester, Minnesota after the cancer returned for a third time. At first, the results from new, experimental treatments were very promising, but then the old tumors stopped shrinking, her white counts dropped despite WBC boosters, and new tumors appeared in key internal organs. The cancer had become Stage IV. Her lead doctor -- a friend of Carlisle's -- admitted the last option was total-body irradiation. It was risky because not only did such an intense radiation treatment kill the cancer, it also nearly killed the patient. Afterward, the (dead) bone marrow could be replaced with new cloned marrow in the hope that a transplant would take. If it didn't, she'd die quickly.

Martha opted to die slowly, instead -- or at least, not to die as sick and weak as the treatment would have left her. "It might make sense if I was forty, but I'm seventy-three. My body is tired. For everything there is a season, a time to be born, and a time to die. I'm not afraid. I'm ready to go home to Clint." Mark's father, who'd passed some 35 years earlier.

Bella had fought Martha's decision. Carlisle hadn't. Now he studies her face and sniffs her wrist. She lets him. "How's the pain cocktail working?"

"Pretty good. Except at night."

"There are less distractions at night to keep your mind off of it."

Martha smiles and looks at Bella, patting her hand. "I've got a few distractions when I need 'em. We're halfway through Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." Martha doesn't add that they're reading it because Martha had wanted Bella to hear it. Martha knows the book inside and out. Even here, at the end, she's still the mentor. Bella wonders sometimes if Martha has a selfish bone in her body? Bella might not believe in Martha's Bible, but she's come to believe in saints, and souls, and salvation, and in the depth of human goodness, as well as the extremes of human evil. She's seen both.

Now, Martha settles back against her pillow. "Actually, I'm tired," she says abruptly, and that fast, her eyes droop and she drops off again." Worried, Bella looks to Carlisle, but he just lays her hand down on the sheet.

"It's the drugs," he reminds her. "She'll drift in and out of consciousness." He doesn't add, "until the end," but Bella understands it.

"You can go down and see Edward for a while. I'm sure she'll be out for another hour or two."

Rising, Bella nods and makes her way to the door, Carlisle shadowing her. Out in the empty hallway, Bella asks, "How long does she have? Any idea?"

"Hard to say. She's a little worse today than yesterday, but it's been five days since Jerry stopped her treatments with no serious change, just a slow slide. The tumors have yet to recover from the last bouts of radiation and chemo."

"So it could be several more weeks? Maybe some months?"

She can tell from Carlisle's expression he thinks that overly optimistic. "She should have at least another week -- more than that, I don't want to predict. When she's awake, she's fully aware. The cancer isn't in her brain yet."

But it was in the rest of her -- liver, bones, pancreas and most other soft-tissue organs. It had all started seven years ago with a swollen lymph node under her right arm. Chemo and a partial mastectomy had seemed to do the trick, but three years later, it was back. More chemo and more surgery, and two-and-a-half years of remission that time. On this third return, it had shown up in several other organs. Chances weren't good. They'd sought a miracle in Minnesota.

But not everything in life had a miraculous ending, no matter how much Martha's congregation has prayed. Or how much Edward does.

Bella parts ways with Carlisle when he gets off the elevator on his own department floor. She goes down alone to the hospital chapel. Edward is there. He comes every night after work to spend time on his knees while she spends time in Martha's room. Sometimes he comes up to join them, but he always prays first. He's returned to the faith of his childhood with a tenacity that astounds Bella; he even credits her survival and healing for his conviction. "I prayed for you and my prayers were answered. I believe again."

She finds that logic somewhat simplistic, but won't tell him so. It gives him peace, and she's glad of that. Edward is, at the root of things, a devout man, and his inability to believe -- at least in his own potential salvation -- has been a blight on his spirit for decades. Since her turning, he's found himself once more. And if he weren't a vampire, and a protestant, and a very good doctor -- not to mention rather fond of sex -- she thinks he'd probably make a good monk.

In any case, he's been praying for Martha for years now, to no avail. By his own logic, that should cast doubt on his renewed convictions, but his belief remains unwavering. Now, he looks around when he hears her enter. At this hour of night -- or really, of early morning -- no one else is in the little room. Edward stands and approaches her, taking her hands and bending to kiss her cheek. "Why do you continue to do this!" Bella blurts suddenly as all her frustration boils up. "It's not doing her any good! She's still dying."

Edward just shakes his head. "I'm not praying for her to live, Bella. Not now."

"Why are you praying then?"

"I'm praying for her to die well, and easy."

"I don't want her to die at all!" She almost shouts it.

Edward doesn't reply, just wraps her up in his arms and holds on with vampire strength even when she fights him. Finally, tired emotionally if not physically, she gives up and sobs. "We could save her. Why won't she let us save her?"

"Becoming a vampire isn't saving her." He pulls away to tip her head up. "We'll miss her. But I think she's ready to go. She's lingered here a long time without her husband and without one of her children. She's lonely, I think. Carlisle thinks so, too. Changing her wouldn't save her. It would condemn her."

Bella sniffs even if there's nothing to sniff back; it's reflex. She knows the truth of what he's said, deep down inside. She'd thought the same thing once when it had come to herself, and if she'd opted to live on with Edward instead of dying too soon, she'd been 28 then. At 73 and a widow of decades, Martha's choices aren't the same. Living forever isn't always a gift and Bella is well-aware of that.

She just isn't ready to say good-bye.

And she understands now why so many vampires avoid forming emotional ties with humans. Losing them is the real hell, not anything of fire and torment imagined by a Medieval Church. She moves back into Edward's arms and lets him hold her while they sit together in a pew.

It turns out that Carlisle's estimate is very close to accurate, regarding how long Martha has left to live. She hangs on for eight more days. As the end approaches, she slips further and further into a drugged sleep much of the time. By the fourth day after that talk with Carisle, the doctors have told Rosa and Jada the same thing -- the end is right around the corner -- so they stop taking night breaks. This makes it harder for any of the vampires to see Martha for obvious reasons. Bella is "dead," and while Martha's daughters know their mother and Carlisle have stayed in touch for years, they haven't seen him but once since Bella's memorial service -- and certainly wouldn't expect him to still look in his early thirties. He's arranged some meetings with them in the last few months, but always with make-up help from Alice.

Unfortunately, the few times one of her daughters or grandchildren aren't in the room now, Martha is firmly unconscious. Bella begins to think she'll never have that last chance to say goodbye. Saying goodbye was denied her with Mark, too.

It's finally Martha, in one of her rare lucid states, who insists that Jada -- the one with her at the time -- go home and "get a real shower and some real food, and I don't want to see you back here for a couple hours. I'll be just fine in that time." Jada tries to argue, but her mother is still her mother and very good at giving orders. Jada leaves.

Ten minutes later, when they're certain Jada won't come back, Bella and Edward tiptoe in. Martha gives them both a smile. Her face is no longer puffy from the chemo. Instead, the skin looks stretched over the bones so her high forehead and prominent cheekbones stand out further. Her dark skin is splotchy and the hand she holds out trembles. Bella might no longer have tears, but she can still cry, and all but throws herself on Martha's body while being careful not to accidentally crush her. Martha holds her and lets her sob, patting her back. Finally, she pushes Bella away a little and Bella responds instantly to the hint. "Let me talk to Edward for a minute, okay?"

Bella nods, and steps back. Her heart is breaking, but she's no stranger to that helpless, shattered feeling. She's faced it before, and she won't deny Edward a few minutes. Martha grips his wrist to pull him close. "Open the drawer in the beside table. You'll find a little purple velvet covered box. Pull that out."

He does as requested, and sure enough, there's a small box in there in a very faded purple velvet bag. He hands it to Martha, but must help her undo the drawstring. Inside is a wooden box that opens to reveal a plastic bottle with a few inches or purple liquid and another container with some squares of bread. It's Martha's portable communion dispenser. "I wanted to do this for you one last time," she tells him, "so I had Rosa bring it to me yesterday. I told her one of the nurses I'd got close to asked me."

Edward's face is a study in grief and devotion, but he helps her open the jars and fill the little glass communion cup. Martha was the first person he'd taken communion from after decades without it. He'd been reluctant, afraid it would offend God for a vampire to take the sacrament, but Martha had talked him into it. Bella, who looks at it all as a sip of grape juice and bite of bread doesn't really grasp why it's so meaningful to Edward, but knows it is, even if he has to cough it back up later. Yet as far as Bella knows, the only time he accepts communion is from Martha, although he faithfully attends Episcopal services every Sunday he's able.

Now he kneels beside the bed even though, tall as he is, his head barely clears the mattress. He bows it and rests clasped hands on the white bed sheet. Martha lays her hand on his crown and says, "Father God, I just ask you to watch over this man, your faithful servant. I know he don't think he's worthy, but I also know you take anybody with an open heart, and there ain't nothing we can do that the blood of your Son can't wash away. You know I've told him this and told him this, Lord, but now, he's going to have to listen to you. Amen."

Bella thinks Martha aimed that less at any deity than at Edward.

Hand still on Edward's head, Martha goes on, "On the night in which Jesus was betrayed, he took the bread and he broke it and he gave it to his disciples saying, 'Take, eat, for this is my body that is broken for you.'" Very carefully, she picks up the little bit of bread in her free hand and offers it to Edward. Normally, she'd put it right in his mouth -- heedless of either venom or sharp teeth -- but right now, her fingers shake too badly. He takes it from her and puts it in his own mouth. Bella hopes that's symbolic, not just practical. "Then he took the cup," Martha continues, "and he blessed it and gave it to his disciples, saying, 'Take, drink, for this is my blood that is shed for you. Do this in remembrance of me.'" Martha can't even pick up the little cup. Edward has to do it himself. "Amen," Martha says when he downs it and hands it back, getting to his feet again as Martha puts the communion box away.

"Thank you," he says, beautiful voice husky with emotion.

"No, thank you, hon. I wasn't sure I'd get to do that one last time." She has to let him put the box back in the bag because her hands can't. Instead, she eyes him. "But don't let it be your last time. I'm just the vessel. Anybody can be the vessel."

"'An outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace,'" Edward parrots.

"That's right. It ain't me who makes a sacrament a sacrament. That's between you and God. Now, put that away and look in that drawer again. There's a stole in there -- the yellow, orange and blue one -- get it out. The other's for Carlisle."

Edward nods and retrieves the stole. It's a long piece of heavy fabric made in the style of African Kente weaving. Bella recognizes it as one of several Martha wears over her robes. "Do you know what a stole really is?" she asks him. Edward just tilts his head, puzzled. "It's a towel," she explains. "It's supposed to represent the towel Jesus used at the Last Supper when he washed his disciples' feet, and pastors wear it to remind them they ain't the star of the show. They're just servants. But we're not the only servants out there. Doctors are servants too, so I want you to have this, to remind you you're God's servant.

Edward is crying openly now even without tears, his shoulders shaking as he presses his face to the stole. "Thank you," he manages.

"Just you take good care of that, remember what it makes you, and watch over my Bella."

She gestures for Bella to approach then. Gingerly, Bella sits on the side of Martha's bed. They just look at each other. Martha appears very tired again and Bella suspects she'll slide back into unconsciousness soon. Leaning over, Bella embraces the woman who has become her mother by choice, if not by birth. "I'm going to miss you so, so much."

"I'll be right here, hon," Martha tells her, pushing her away enough to pat her chest. "That might not beat, but it's still a real heart and you still carry around the people you love in it, regardless of whether they're still breathing. As long as you live, I'll live on in you."

Bella knows this admonition is true. Mark lives still in her heart even after all this time, and despite Edward sharing space there. The thing about real love, she's learned, is that it just gets bigger. It never shrinks. Truly loving one person doesn't mean she can't love another just as much. Love pays no attention to the laws of physics. Bella closes a hand gently over Martha's. "Then you'll live a long, long time," she says, trying to joke.

"I expect I will." She looks up above Bella's head where Bella can feel Edward standing at her back. "You two take care of each other."

"We will," Bella promises.

"I'll be watchin' from up there." Martha points up, although mostly as a joke.

"We know," Edward says.

"Tell Mark 'Hello,'" Bella manages to get out. "Tell him I still think of him every day and I love him." Once she might have felt badly for admitting that in front of Edward, but not now. She can feel his hand on her shoulder, squeezing it in support.

"I suspect he knows," Martha says. "But I'll tell him." Her eyelids are drooping and her words are starting to slur. "You two run along now and send Carlisle in while I'm still awake. I got some things to say to him too. I'd tell you 'goodbye' but it's just gonna be a long 'till we meet again.'"

Bending, Bella kisses her paper-fragile cheek. "I love you . . . Mom."

She lets Edward lead her out then. Part of her old life, her human life, may lie in the bed behind her but she's not leaving it behind. As Martha had said, she carries inside her all the people she's known and loved. She's fortunate to have such clear memories of her human life and to have been able -- for a little while -- to continue in contact with her family. She'll never forget them. She never wants to. They made her. She is the sum total of all things, human and now vampire. Her body is different, and in some ways, it's better. But not in all ways. It's just different. The essential Bella remains.

And the essential Bella is the soul of the vampire.

A/N: And there you have it. Please don't send me hate mail for that last part. It really was planned from the very beginning! We started with the loss of Mark, and ended with the loss of Martha, but if one is a tragedy, the other isn't, not really. Death isn't always tragic. This novel has been, all along, about the beauty of human Bella (even after she becomes a vampire). So the epilogue needed to deal with human things rather than lots of information about her vampire life. I've tried to give some hints about her future with Edward, but it wasn't the focus.

Last random notes: I know there were more wolves in the books, but I figure with the Cullens mostly gone from Forks, some would never have transformed. The curse Bella refers to with the Cubs is the infamous "curse of the goat" that, supposedly, has kept the Cubs from winning a World Series for over 100 years. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is both a poem by Angelou as well as the title of her literary autobiography, published in 1969. As for Martha's cancer, by 2031, I hope there are better treatments, but I'm not doctor enough to even guess what they might be so I stuck with what I did know. There's a picture of Martha's (now Edward's) stole on my profile page and in my LJ scrapbook gallery. :-)

Thank you for taking this long journey with me. It's a little sad to bring it to an end, but it really has given me new respect for the huge task authors face with, writing a book, so I'm glad I did it.

Probably sometime in the next month or so, I'll editorialize a little on a few things that were going through my head when coming up with the story idea. But as I said at the end of the last part, I don't really have any other stories in mind. A couple readers have asked for Bella and Edward's "first vampire time" as an outtake if it wasn't in this (and it wasn't because it wouldn't have fit). I may do that at some point, but not for a while. I never say 'never,' but for now, I'll bid readers adieu and thank you again for all your wonderful comments and support over the last year while I wrote this!

Thanks again!