A/N: As usual, gropes and hugs and love of every kind to my beta, TwilightMundi. Also, to carenl/nerac, who seriously helps me stay true to these kids. She is the quiet voice in my head, asking me if they're still on the right path.
There is a longer note at the bottom – please, don't skip it. I'm begging, and it has very important information!
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At the bottom of the page, written with his beautiful penmanship, was live happily ever after with Edward.
My fingertips traced over the words denting the piece of paper. Each letter seemed to make me feel heavier, as if the weight of them was transferred through my touch. Without my permission, my eyes pooled with tears, and I only realized it once one fell and splashed against the page, smudging the precious ink. I panicked, moving the book away from me, and wiping the tears with my other hand.
Looking up, I saw Edward smiling at me from the doorway. The warm summer breeze seemed to carry his scent to me, wrapping me in him even though we were several feet apart.
"I've waited for this day for what feels like years," he said as he approached me.
Suddenly, this vague idea of someday we'd be together snapped into place, a much sharper vision in my head, as he bent down on one knee in front of me.
"This ring has been in my pocket since Colorado. I mean that almost literally. I've kept it with me, almost like a good luck charm, waiting for the right time," he said, looking up at me. "There is no right time, no perfect place in life, but I know. I know Bella, that this is right, the right decision.
"I just want you to know that I've been emailing Phil; I know it wasn't right to look at your email and get his address, but I think you'll forgive me. He's a very nice man, and I asked him for your hand in marriage after we got back from Christmas break. I asked my mom for the family ring, and she didn't even hesitate.
"I know this won't be easy. I know it will be harder for you than me to deal with my moods, my behavior, and med school, residency, then practice. But like I said all those months ago, I want you by my side. Always."
Realizing I'd closed my eyes when he squeezed my hand, I quickly opened them and watched as the unshed tears fell in the space between us. Meeting his gaze again, I could see his eyes were watery, as well.
"Bella Swan, will you marry me?"
You know those moments in life when time seems to stop? When everything sort of turns darker, then fades to black, and all thought is gone? This was one of those moments. I knew my answer, I just couldn't seem to get the words out – my brain too busy imagining what forever with Edward really would look like.
"Bella?" he whispered, and then I heard the waver of uncertainty in his voice.
"Yes!" I said a little too loud. "Yes, of course, yes."
I hadn't even looked at the ring – I didn't need to. I knew our marriage would be one based on more than diamonds or money; material possessions were secondary to us.
Quickly standing, Edward pulled me into his arms, twirling me around the small living room, and kissed me hard. When I heard other voices, I opened my eyes again, and saw our friends.
"Everyone's here," he whispered.
And he wasn't kidding. His parents were there, Phil was there, Alice, Japer, Emmett, Rosalie. For a brief second, I looked for Tanya and Jake, but Edward caught me and must've known what I was thinking, and rolled his eyes. Laughing, I began to hug each of the special people in my life.
When everyone had been greeted, we made our way into the kitchen to get some champagne, and I realized someone had brought an enormous amount of food.
"We're leaving tomorrow," Edward explained from behind me, his hand on my hip. "Today, we celebrate."
My friends had all survived another year of college – and so had I, I realized. I was on my way to becoming exactly what I wanted: happy and loved.
After lunch, Phil and I found ourselves alone in the kitchen, putting away the food.
His voice was calm, but quiet, as he spoke. "She'd be so proud of you, Bella."
Turning to look at him, I wondered if he really understood the impact of his words. I knew Renee as my mom, and I thought I knew her as a friend, but I also accepted that he knew her infinitely better – especially after forming a bond similar to theirs with Edward. I now knew what that felt like, that trust and love.
"She loved you so much," he continued. "I'm sorry she couldn't be here today, but I know she would have loved seeing you grow up and change like you have. I didn't even need to see you, to know the changes, but it was an honor to come out here for this."
I could only muster the courage to utter two words, but I thought he'd understand. After my quickly whispered "thank you" to him, I hugged him tight, our shared grief bonding us.
Later, as the girls sat around the table, we discussed the last few details of Rose's wedding. She and Emmett had decided to get married during Winter break, in Tennessee. Rose and Alice's family would come down from Alaska, and it was shaping up to be a huge, elaborate affair, perfect for the two of them. Passing pictures back and forth made me think about what kind of wedding I wanted, what kind of dress I'd wear, where we'd have it, and a million things I didn't think I'd need to worry about anytime soon.
Several times over the course of the day, I caught myself staring down at the ring on my left hand. Each time, the butterflies fluttered to life and I smiled. It was uncontainable. I was elated.
When the sun had set and the day was over, we said goodbye to our friends and family. I knew the next day, Rose and Emmett were off to Alaska, and Alice and Jasper were going to Texas for a few weeks. Esme and Carlisle were staying in New Hampshire for a bit, and Phil was on his way back to Florida.
Something so subtle seemed to have changed between Edward and me, in the best way possible. As we crawled into bed, the hum was still there, but richer and deeper, somehow. We were sweet and gentle, taking our time and loving each other.
When I woke up the next morning, I realized another full night of sleep had done us good. We were refreshed and ready for the journey ahead of us. After grabbing coffee and breakfast, we were on the road.
Our first stop was New York City. We walked around and did the tourist thing, had dinner in Times Square. It was dark when we came back out, and the neon was glittering and glowing. The city seemed magical, even with the other thousands of people around us. Edward must've felt it too, as he put his hands on my hips, and held me close. Kissing my neck, he moved as tightly against me as he could.
"Will you marry me?" he asked.
Laughing, I stopped walking and turned to look back at him, straight in the eyes. "Yes."
We found a hotel for the night and had breakfast at Zabar's before taking off for our next stop – Philadelphia. We spent a few hours walking around, and by the famous cracked bell, Edward repeated his question.
"Are you going to ask me that every day?" I asked, smirking.
"Yes," he said simply, looking entirely too tempting in the sunlight.
"Every day?" I asked again. "For how long?"
"Until I can believe you said yes."
True to his word, Edward proposed to me every single day of our vacation. It wasn't always in a special spot or moment, but usually. He asked on the sandy beaches of both Florida and California, at the Space Needle in Seattle. Riding Soarin' at DisneyWorld, just after the ride went over the orange groves and the scent was all around us, he leaned closer and asked.
Alice and Jasper made the drive from Houston to the North Texas State Fair, and while we all ate deep fried things on sticks, he whispered it in my ear. Then stole a bite of my deep fried Snickers.
We spent a night on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, and he proposed after drinking perhaps one too many Hurricanes, sloppy and giggling.
In Las Vegas, it was tempting to actually get married, but instead, since I wasn't yet able to legally drink, we lounged by the pool and relaxed. Edward proposed that night, after a cool, refreshing shower. The next day, we detoured and visited Area 51, giggling often and contemplating a stay at the A'le'inn.
Some days were spent simply driving, some nights in the middle of nowhere with no landmarks around, and those might have been my favorite. The focus wasn't on getting to the next destination or seeing the next sight, but simply on each other. I marveled that even after all this time, we still had things to talk about, facts about each other to learn, and steamy nights to share.
When Edward proposed on the piers in San Francisco, he got down on one knee. At Mount Rushmore, it was in front of (arguably) four of the most famous presidents.
Of course, we stopped in Chicago to see his parents. We shopped the Magnificent Mile, and rested our weary bodies for a few days at the Cullen home. I spent more time getting to know Esme, and we had lunch together, alone, one day.
In the middle of telling her about how crazy Edward had been on our trip, how he'd proposed every single day, sometimes in the silliest ways, sometimes the most serious (I left out the sexiest), she began to cry. Unsure of why she was crying, or what I could do to help, I took her hand in mine and waited.
"I'm sorry," she said through her tears. "That's one of the sweetest stories ever." Dabbing at her eyes with a napkin, she sniffled and recomposed herself. "When Edward asked me for my ring, I didn't even ask if he was sure; I just knew. It was useless to try and talk sense into him, to try and explain how hard medical school was, what unpleasant times were ahead for him, and you by extension. It wasn't even his certainty that struck me, though." Looking up at me, I could see her smile. "It was yours. I wish you could see the two of you together, because as much as he looks at you and you can just tell how head over heels he is, you radiate it right back to him. I'm so glad you're joining our family."
And then, in the middle of the fancy cafe she'd brought me to, we both broke down into sobs.
It wasn't simply a joining of Edward and me, it was a joining of our families, and in so many senses, a healing of old wounds. Esme would have a daughter again, and I would have a mother. It wasn't the same – it never would be the same as it had once been – but it was similar. I couldn't heal her pain any more than she could heal mine, but we had each other now, and that seemed to ease the ache.
That night, it was me who proposed to Edward, in the dark quiet of his childhood bedroom.
He said yes.
A/N2: What a journey it has been with these kids. I hope you enjoyed reading this story as much as I enjoyed writing it. This is the end. There will be no epilogue (or epiclounge). There will be no sequel. There will, however, be a chance to vote on an outtake of your choice. I feel bad that there were so few chapters left when we came around to this story again, after it was on hiatus for so long, so please go to my FanFiction profile and vote. There are 5 ideas for you to select from (4 items from Bella's list and one EPOV outtake/sideshot), and I will allow 2 votes for each person.
Thank you for sticking with me through the ups and downs, the women and the men, and the strange pairings in this fic, if you're typically a canon reader. I know it wasn't easy for some of you, and you read with hand covering your eyes at some points, so I graciously thank you for soldiering on.
I hope you're as satisfied with this ending as I am. I love you all for loving them just as much as I have, and I need some tequila and Kleenex now.