Chapter 35: Epilogue (ChPOV)
Five years later
I laid quietly in my bed listening to the sound of the rain drip and splash against the window and the roof. I found myself to be pensive and circumspective these days. Maybe it is because some much time lately is being spent talking about the past and living every moment I have left. I wasn't this man six years ago. I was alone, other than a few friends and co-workers. I rarely saw Bella. My life was repetition, but I wasn't living it. Who knew that a cancer diagnosis would change my life in ways I could never imagine.
Slowly, I spun the wedding ring that was on my finger, smiling at the thought of the last five years of memories with my wife, Sue. I had proposed to her after I had received the all clear from Carlisle. Bella had gone to stay with Renee for a while that summer before her senior year of high school, and I could have never anticipated how much I would miss her. Sue tried to keep me busy with wedding plans and details, but we ended up getting married that fall at the Cullen estate with a few friends and family surrounding us. It was perfect.
Bella had returned to Forks to finish out her senior year. She claimed that she just didn't want to go through the hassle of switching schools, learning the ropes again, and making new friends, but I knew better. She was staying for me. She was staying for Edward.
Though there was no doubt in my mind that the boy loved my little girl, I was still wary of how serious they had become. Part of me didn't want to know HOW serious. The idea alone had me eyeing my gun belt, and I had to admit I held my breath every time Bella asked to talk to me. I cringed waiting to here I was going to be a grandfather or Edward had proposed. I knew the hardship of starting a family and a marriage at such a young age.
But those conversations never came. What did start arriving shortly after Christmas was acceptance letters. Bella had applied all over the country. The schools on the east coast gave me the biggest fits. I didn't like to think of her so far from home, from me. I didn't say anything, but Sue would shoot me dirty looks when I would grumble at the school names as they came in. That is, until one came in…Harvard. I couldn't believe it. My baby girl got into Harvard! Apparently, she had written an essay about her year staying with me through my cancer treatment. I was in awe when I read it. She held nothing back which was harsh to read, but her writing was transforming. She was also being offered a full scholarship. How could I grumble about that?
The next day, low and behold, Edward announced that he had been accepted to, and was planning on attending Berklee College of Music …in Boston. How convenient. The boy had the nerve to shoot me his half smile and shrug. He and I had a long conversation after that. I have to admit. I liked the boy, but he had to know that I would hurt him if he ever harmed my daughter in any way.
In the end, we packed up the kids that fall and Carlisle and I drove them and their things to Boston. I still saw Bella on holidays, and those college years seemed to pass in a blur, minus their junior year. Edward was offered an opportunity to study abroad at L'AULA de Música Moderna i Jazz – Conservatori Liceu in Barcelona, Spain. He didn't want to go, but Bella insisted that he not forfeit this opportunity for her. Plus, she had just landed an internship with Beacon Press, so she would be busier that year as well. So, Edward headed off to Spain with a heavy heart. I received several phone calls from Bella those first few months, her voice more somber, and I could feel the heaviness of her heart over the phone line.
The distance ended up being too much for the kids. That Christmas when they both were home, they were short with each other, and I could see the jealousy and separation was wearing them down. When it came time to go their separate ways again, they did so completely. Bella tried dating a few guys, and even had a steady boyfriend for about five months, but it wasn't the same. I had heard from Esme, when I ran into her, that Edward had also started dating someone in Spain, but there was no excitement in his voice when he spoke of her.
Finally, their year apart was over. Bella was staying in Boston to continue her internship at Beacon Press, and Edward decided to take summer classes at Berklee. It didn't happen right away, but I noticed that Edward's name was starting to show up in Bella's emails and phone calls. Soon, I could tell that they did find their way back to each other. There was life in Bella again. That Christmas break, they came home together. The second night they were back, I found myself alone with Edward in my living room.
"Chief," he started, "remember the time at the end of Bella and I's junior year of high school , we were sitting at the kitchen table doing homework, and you asked me if there was a question I needed to ask you?"
I had no idea what he was talking about, but he didn't give me time to answer.
"Sir, I would like to ask you that question now," he said swallowing hard. "I would like your permission to marry your daughter."
I sat there stunned for a moment. I can't say that I didn't see this coming, but it still takes a man emotionally off guard when another man is asking you to trust him with your most valuable treasure. I knew Bella loved Edward, and there was no question this boy…this man would do everything in his power to see that she was cared for and happy. So, I gave a slight nod, and shook his hand.
That summer, the kids were married just as Sue and I were, in the Cullen's backyard. My breath was taken away the moment I saw Bella in her ivory gown. I finally saw the woman she had become. No longer did my little girl stand before me, but a beautiful woman standing straight and confident. She turned toward me with the setting sun pouring through the window casting a glow around her, which was only eclipsed by the smile on her face. She was ready. She had found her forever, and my heart hurt just a little.
So on that rare, dry evening in June, I walked my daughter down the aisle and handed her care over to Edward. I squeezed Sue's hand in mine as I watched them recite their vows, and saw the love not only in Bella's face, but the look in Edward's face allowed me to let out the breath I was holding. His world stood before him, and I knew that this was a love that would last until the end of their days. It was one of those moments that I saw the silver lining to my illness, it brought Edward to Bella.
I had to cling to the idea of that silver lining a month later as I sat in Carlisle's office after my bi-annual check-up, and instead of a smile, he pulled his bottle of Glenlivet from his bottom drawer along with two glasses. It was back. It was bad. There would be no chemo or surgery to help me now. It was time to prepare to say good-bye. The kids stopped back home after their honeymoon before returning to Boston to finish up their last semesters at school. With Bella taking summer classes while Edward was abroad, and Edward's extra credits he earned while he was away, they were both graduating a little early. Bella spoke of staying and delaying the end of school to stay home with me. I insisted, with Carlisle's help, for them to go ahead and finish up school. We promised to keep them up to date with every detail.
That winter, we all flew to Boston to attend both graduations. I was feeling weak, but could still get around OK. Edward was asked to join the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, and Bella decided to take a position and a new, up-in-coming publishing house there, so they could be close. I insisted that they should not plan their careers around me, but when I looked at them in my protest at dinner that night, there was a different sort of look on their faces. They had a light in their eyes, and Bella positively glowed.
"Well, we want to make our home in Seattle, so we can be close to the family," Edward said taking Bella's hand. "We want our child to be close to their grandparents."
My shock was drowned out by the squealing of Esme, Renee, and Sue. Carlisle patted Edward on the back and hugged him while the women swarmed Bella. I stood and walked over shaking Edward's hand, but I couldn't keep the sadness from my eyes.
"When?" I asked him.
"Bella had a suspicion, and just took a home test this morning," he said. "So, if anything, it will be August."
"August," I said looking at Carlisle, who looked down at his shoes, and ran his hand through his hair. He didn't have to say the words.
A stirring beside me brought me from my reverie. I turned my head to look next to me in my bed. Bella was curled up on her side, her stomach protruding out towards me. She was about seven months pregnant. I reached out my weak hand, and laid it gently on her belly and leaned close.
"Hey little girl," I whispered. "Don't wake your momma. She needs her rest."
I sighed, and felt the tears prickling my eyes.
"I am sorry I won't get to meet you. I wanted so desperately too. I hope you have your mother's brown eyes. I know she has never thought much of them, but they are extraordinary and you can't help but be captured by them when you look into their depths. You are so lucky, baby. You are going to be so loved, and even though I won't be here to hold you and teach you to fish, I will be watching over you every day. You give your mom lots of hugs and kisses every day for me, OK, because I won't be able to, and she gives the best hugs. I am going to miss her so much."
I felt a strong kick then where my hand lay and I smiled and rubbed the spot gently. It was then I heard a sniff from above me.
"Daddy," I heard Bella's voice break on the word. Looking up at her, I scooted up and leaned against my propped up pillows, and pulling her into my arms. "I don't know how to say good-bye."
"Neither do I, baby," I said rubbing her back. "I feel like I wasted so many years. Years I should have insisted on seeing you more."
"No regrets," she whispered. "We have had such a great six years together. I am thankful we had them. I am thankful you called me that summer and asked me to come. You not only gave me our relationship, but you gave me my life."
"Bella, you are my life," I said pulling her tighter. "Since that first moment you opened your eyes and looked at me, I was yours. I never thought I could love someone so much. You will see."
"I wish you could be there," she cried.
"Me too, baby. Me too."
Both of us were too over-whelmed by our emotions to say anymore. So we both just clung to each other and cried for our loss of each other. I was feeling tired. I knew my time was fading.
A week later, with my wife holding one hand, and my son-in-law and daughter at my side, I closed my eyes for the last time. Some may say that I lost to cancer, but looking down on my family, and the one that would be joining them soon, I had no regrets.
A/N: Thank-you to everyone who has taken the time to read and review this story over the last nine months, those of you who have set this as a favorite, and kept me on alert. Thank-you. Thank-you. Thank-you! All the love you have given my story and me, there are no words to convey how grateful I am. There are so many of you who have given me love for this story, and have shared your own stories of how cancer has affected your lives, I cannot tell you how this story has transcended the page.
To roxymar, without your amazing generosity with your own experiences of taking care of your dad in high school, this story would not have been as rich in life as it ended up being. You held nothing back, and I am forever thankful for your uncensored honesty. You have my unyielding admiration.
To RosieWilde, I jumped out the gates, and then stumbled hard. If it wasn't for your encouragement and willingness to pre-read and generosity with your honest opinions, I would have never made it past Chapter 4. Thank-you.
To katmom and Gasaway Alley, you guys have been with me from the beginning of my writing, and I thank-you for your continued support and friendship. You are awesome ladies!
Finally, to starfish422…who knew that a story could bring me a new best friend?! You are such a special human being. Lucky doesn't even begin to cover it.
Happy holidays, everyone! You will be seeing something new from me come the new year!