AN: This is it, guys. The last chapter of this story. It took a long time, but I finally did it. Thanks to everyone who read, reviewed, alerted, favorited... Special thanks to everyone who stuck through to the end. It means so much. Also, to my betas, SwallowedxInxThexSea who was awesome while she had the time and Frankie who stepped up late in the game; you guys are awesome. :)
Disclaimer: I still don't own anything you recognize. The little ones are mine though.
Epilogue – Four Years Later
"Eli, you know you're not supposed to be back there," I said as I came out from the back room. My son had the sense to follow me back to the front desk.
After two years of extensive schooling on my part, a heavy investment from my father, and a serious property search, Edward and Rosalie were finally able to expand from their hole-in-the-wall parlor to an elegant studio in a nicer area of the city, taking me on to handle the business side of things. It was no longer just a tattoo parlor, but also a gallery for local artists. Edward never seemed very keen on the idea, but I reminded him that his designs were art and they deserved to be seen, not just by the people who want them etched in their skin. He agreed only on the stipulation that it be mainly for local artists.
Eli was an unexpected part of our lives. Sure, we'd talked about having kids someday, but neither of us expected a honeymoon baby. There was a bet going when Emmett and Rose got married as to when they would have their first kid – especially since she convinced him to start trying even before the wedding – and the pool heavily favored a honeymoon conception. It ended up taking them six months before Penelope Elizabeth Cullen was a reality. Edward and I were married barely two months after he proposed, making Elliot Andrew Masen just a few months older than his cousin since Emmett and Rose kept to their January nuptials.
"Sowwy, Momma," he mumbled as he went to play with his trucks.
I smiled as I watched him play. We'd had to set up a small nursery area since Penny and Eli both came to work with us. It was wonderful to be able to bring my son to work and not leave him in the hands of a nanny or daycare teacher.
A strong pair of arms wrapped around my waist and I smiled as I leaned back into my husband's chest.
"He's so smart," Edward whispered in my ear. "Look at him with those trucks."
"He's been playing with those trucks for six months now, baby," I laughed.
"Yes, but he's organized them into a very efficient delivery system of…. What are those? Tiny burgers?"
"Those are indeed tiny hamburgers, Edward. Your son is now running a fast food delivery service. He is single-handedly destroying the food business as we know it."
Just then, Eli looked up. He always knew when his father was around and loved to show off.
"Dad! Dad, look! It's a truck samwich," Eli laughed as he slapped a truck between two plastic burgers.
"That's great, buddy," Edward chuckled.
"You like it, Momma?"
"I dunno, Eli," I said in a sing-song voice. Edward took his cue and pulled his arms away. "I like little boys better." I let my face fall into a zombie-like trance as I stalked him across the room.
"No, Momma! Don't eat me!" he giggled as he ran away from me. "I'm not food! Momma!"
It didn't take long to catch him. I picked him up, pulled his shirt up a bit and nibbled his belly.
"Ah! Momma, it tickles! Stop it, Momma!" he giggled. "Dad, make her stop!"
"I don't think I can, buddy. She'll get me too. I gotta save myself," Edward said, trying not to laugh.
"But Dad! She's gonna do the thing! Don't let her do the thing!"
I smirked as I stopped nibbling. Eli relaxed in my arms, thinking it was over, but I surprised him by giving him a loud raspberry right on his neck.
"Momma!" he laughed, trying to push me away. "No more hugs, Momma! Stop or no more hugs!"
I'd forgotten that he was starting to understand the concept of punishment. It made teasing and tickling so much harder.
I pulled back, pouting down at my son. "That's not fair," I said.
"Dad said if I wanted to get you to stop doing something, I need to say 'no more hugs' and you'll stop."
I frowned and looked at my husband. "Oh, he did, huh?"
"Uh-oh," Eli said, biting his tiny bottom lip. "He told me not to tell…"
"Of course he did," I said, cocking an eyebrow over at Edward. "I think Dad has some explaining to do."
The door opened then to reveal Rosalie and an energetic Penny followed by Alice and a sleepy looking Xander. Alice had been supervising the gallery lately as it gave her a reason to spend more time with her friends.
Eli started squirming around in my arms when he saw his cousins. I put him down softly and he took off running. I looked over to my husband and crossed my arms.
"Hey, don't look at me like that," he said, shrinking back.
"I will look at you any way I want," I said. "And when you tell my son to withhold hugs in exchange for something? Yeah, that gets you this look."
"You told Eli to withhold hugs?" Alice gasped.
"No wonder Bella is staring you down like you refused to get her pregnancy cravings," Rose laughed. She waddled across the room with her own six-month pregnant belly. They found out they'd be having twin boys this time around. I had no idea how she would cope with that.
"That's like withholding mommy-daddy fun times for a month to a mother!" Alice continued. She understood what it was like for sons to shy away from affection to be like their dads and uncles since Xander was a little older than Eli.
"Look, I thought it would just be a little joke, no harm done," my husband said innocently.
"Obviously you don't understand the value of a son's hug to a mother," I said. "Do you know how many hugs he's given me willingly in the past few months?"
He shrugged and shook his head. "I see you give him lots of hugs."
"That right there is what I mean. It's not hugs, it's little boys and their willingness to give affection," I ranted, quietly so the kids wouldn't hear. "In the past few months, I've gotten a grand total of three hugs from him without being asked. When he was little, he would cling to me. Now I get three hugs in as many months? He's barely three and a half; I don't want him pulling away already!"
Alice gave me a quick, understanding smile before heading over to her own post and leaving me with my husband.
Edward looked stunned. "I didn't know you felt like that," he said. "Come here."
I stepped into his open arms and spoke into his chest. "I don't want him to treat me like I treated my mother."
"Baby, Eli thinks the sun shines out of your beautiful ass," he said, kissing the top of my hair. "You're all he talks about, but only when you're not around. Sure, he'll focus on me when we're both there, but that's because he doesn't see me as much. But Esme, Carlisle, and Charlie all hear about what he does with you, not me. He loves his Momma."
I nodded, but couldn't quite kick the overwhelming emotions. "It just seems like he's growing up too fast. I thought they weren't supposed to pull away until they figured out that girls don't have cooties."
He chuckled and lifted my chin to kiss me. "That doesn't take as long as you think."
I chuckled, but pulled back to huddle in his chest again. Edward held me like that for a while since it was a slow part of the day and he didn't need to be anywhere else. It was nice that we still had this level of affection after being married for four years and having a child.
"Hey, Bella?" he asked a few minutes later.
He leaned down to whisper in my ear. "I think you might be pregnant again, baby."
I stiffened and looked up to see him smiling. "What do you mean?"
"Well, weren't you supposed to have your period a few weeks ago?" he asked. "And haven't you been feeling sick in the mornings a lot? And just last night you asked me to pick up sherbet. I'd never seen you eat that until you were pregnant with Eli and then you craved it all the time."
I gasped and went over everything in my head. That sherbet was good, but that didn't necessarily mean that it was a craving. Sure, I'd been feeling sick in the mornings because I was indulging in some late night snacking, but that didn't start until I was pregnant the first time. And I really had missed my period.
"I think we need to stop at the drugstore before we go home tonight," I muttered as I turned to watch my son play with his friends.
"I'll pick it up, baby, but you have an appointment tonight, remember?"
I looked up at him to see his face trying to remain neutral. It took me a minute, but then I realized what day it was.
"Fuck," I hissed. "God damn it, why did I agree to this?"
He pulled back and cupped my face in his hands. "Because you're a wonderful woman who just wants everything to be okay," he said sincerely. "I know you. If you hadn't agreed to this, you'd always wonder what you could have done."
I sighed and took his hands in mine, dropping them to our sides. "You're right, I guess."
"Momma?" I heard Eli's little voice say.
I turned to see him, Penny, and Xander standing a couple feet away.
"Why you look so sad, Auntie Bella?" Penny asked.
"I think Uncle Ed made her sad," Xander said, looking between the two of us.
"No, no. Uncle Ed did nothing wrong," I said quickly, kneeling in front of them.
"Then why you cwy, Momma?" my boy asked, walking over and palming a tear off my cheek. "See? Wet."
I took his hand and kissed the center of his palm. "Momma's just a little scared," I said. "I have to go seen someone I haven't seen in a year and I'm not sure what's going to happen."
"Take me!" Eli said. "I'm not scared!"
I smiled. "I know you're not, Eli. But I need you to keep an eye on your dad and make sure he doesn't burn dinner."
"Oh," he said, looking up at his father. "But I dunno how to make food," he whispered loudly.
"You don't have to," I laughed. "You just tell him to double check the recipe."
He nodded happily, but then frowned. "Momma, what's a ress-pee?"
"It tells your dad how to make dinner," I explained.
"Okay," he said. He looked at me for a few seconds before launching himself into my arms. "You take Theo with you so you not be scared, Momma. You not supposed to be scared."
Theo was his stuffed bear. It was a present from Charlie before Eli was even born. He took that bear with him everywhere. It never stayed with him for long, but it was always within his sight. It was a big deal to give him up.
"Thank you, Eli," I said, my eyes starting to water again. "I'll take good care of him, I promise."
"Of course you will. You alweady take care of me and Dad. You're the best momma ever," he said with a smile. "So no more cwying."
I laughed and nodded. One by one, the kids each gave me a hug before going back to play. I stood up and quickly wiped the tears streaks off my face. Edward cupped my face and stroked my cheeks with his thumbs.
"You okay?" he asked.
"I'll be fine," I said with a smile.
I was fine for most of the day. There was enough paperwork to take care of that I was thoroughly distracted. I stayed with Alice for a couple hours, letting myself wander over to the small, permanent gallery in the back corner. It was all Edward's work. The first thing to notice was the sketch of the angel that he'd shown me so long ago. He had finally gotten it tattooed on his back and convinced me to get a smaller version of it on my side. I still smile every time I see the drawing. The other pictures and sketches were wonderful, but that angel would always hold a special significance for me.
Finally, it was time for me to leave. Elliot handed Theo over to me with barely any hesitation. I took the bear carefully, knowing it was important in more ways than one. Edward kissed me tenderly after I pulled my coat on. Even in early fall it was starting to get cold.
"Don't let it get to you," he said. I nodded, but didn't say anything. "I'll stop at the drugstore on the way home and I promise not to burn dinner."
"I love you," I finally whispered.
"I love you too, Bella. I'll never leave you." He always knew what I needed to hear.
As I approached the large, austere building a half hour later, I started taking deep breaths to calm myself down. I'd been making a trip over here once a year as expected. It wasn't what I wanted, but it was the court's decision. The girl at the front desk looked bored out of her mind when she acknowledged me.
"I'm here to see Renee Swan," I said cautiously.
"Her doctor's office is on the third floor, second door on your left," she replied.
Dr. Jones greeted me warmly as he had for the past three years. He briefed me on my mother's condition, letting me know that she hasn't gotten any better yet. Not that I was surprised. Eventually, he led me to the observation room where I'd be meeting her. One of the nurses escorted her in.
"Isabella? Oh dear, you look horrible. You've gained weight. And those clothes look horrendous," she said with a sneer.
"It's nice to see you too, Mother," I said, rolling my eyes. I sat in one of the chairs and put my purse on my lap, letting Theo's arm pop out a little.
"Are you still with that hobo?"
"I am still married to Edward, yes."
"And my grandson?"
"Elliot is wonderful, thank you for asking."
"He would have ended up being smarter if you'd married a better man," she said. "You know, I tried to help you by sending you to Laurent, but that obviously didn't work. Now that poor boy is rotting away in jail for nothing. If you'd just listened to me in the first place-"
"Mother, I know you always thought you were doing the right thing," I said, trying to stay calm. "But if you really believed that Laurent was good for me, you are so wrong. He wanted to beat me into submission, make me scared of men so that I wouldn't disobey. He wanted to take away anything that made me who I am." My voice started to rise then. "Do you even realize what you did? You took me away from everything I loved to mold me into some puppet!"
"You needed to see what you were doing wrong!" she insisted.
"No! No, Mother, that was not what you were doing. You kidnapped me. You wanted someone to abuse me until I acted a certain way. That's sick."
She slapped me across the cheek. The nurse moved forward with a needle, but I put a hand up to stop her.
"No, I need to hear what she's thinking," I said.
"You are a disgrace to the human race, Isabella," she hissed. "You chose to live the rest of your life with a hobo and you've procreated with him? This is ridiculous. You should be married to a well-to-do man like a lawyer or doctor and spending your time planning events instead of doing his work for him. Your son will end up worse off than the two of you because you will have nothing to give him."
For the first time in my life, I actively responded to my mother. I slapped her across the cheek, just like she'd done to me.
"You will never understand what I have with Edward and Eli," I seethed. "You deserved so much more than Dad divorcing you. He should have left you go so long ago, but he actually loved you despite the fact that you're severely deluded. I don't even see how you were able to carry me to term since you hold so much hatred for me now, but I can assure you, I hate you more, Renee. Now I'm going to go home to my wonderful husband and my adorable son and see that I'm exactly where I want to be."
Before she could respond, I walked out of the room. Dr. Jones was standing just outside and he looked rather upset.
"I'm not sure what this will do to her," he said.
"Frankly, I'm not sure anyone cares anymore," I said. "I'll be back next year, but not because I want to."
He nodded and showed me out to the front.
I drove home slowly, trying to keep my emotions in check. As soon as I walked into our house, Edward knew it hadn't gone well. He smiled weakly, but let Eli try to cheer me up.
"Momma! You're home!" he said, running up to me. He threw his arms around my leg and looked up at me. "Did Theo help?"
I smiled softly and picked up my son. "He did. He made me feel a lot better."
"Well, yeah. He makes me feel better every day. Silly Momma," he said. He yawned and leaned his head down on my shoulder.
"You sleepy, buddy?" I asked, kissing his forehead.
He nodded and snuggled closer to me. "Read me story?" he mumbled.
I chuckled. "I'll go put him down and eat later," I told Edward.
"I'll come with you," he said, putting his arm around my waist.
It had been a while since we worked together to put him to bed. I sat on the bed with my son's head in my lap as his father read a story and I stroked his soft hair. He fell asleep in the middle of the story, so we didn't bother finishing it. After we tucked Eli in, Edward pulled me back downstairs and sat me in his lap, his hand cupping my cheek.
"What happened, baby?" he asked softly.
At his concerned words, I broke down. I sobbed into his shoulder, releasing all the emotions I'd been holding in for years. He waited patiently, stroking my hair like I'd done for Eli. When I finally quieted down and caught my breath, I looked up at him.
"I don't think she ever really loved me," I whispered. "She wanted a puppet, not a daughter. That's all I was to her."
"She's not sane, Bella. None of this was ever your fault," he said.
"I know. It's just crushing to know I never meant anything to her. I guess it just finally dawned on me," I admitted. "I'll go back, but only because I'm legally obligated. Not because I hold any feelings for her."
He kissed my forehead in acceptance. "I still don't understand why they make you go," he said.
"It was something about keeping her connected to the outside world. I was the logical choice to oversee her care since Charlie was already filing for divorce," I said.
He rolled his eyes. "Whatever. Let's not think about it anymore. We have more important things to think about."
He beamed at me and gave me a small kiss before retrieving a small bag from the kitchen. He handed me a box from inside it and I had to laugh.
"You actually bought me a pregnancy test?" I laughed.
"Well, yeah. We need to know, after all."
I kissed him deeply, twining my fingers in his hair. "I love that you're so happy about this and I don't want you to be disappointed if I'm just sick," I said when I pulled back.
"How can I be disappointed when that means we get to keep trying?" he asked, wiggling his eyebrows up and down like a moron.
Ten minutes later, we were both sitting on the couch eating sherbet while waiting for the timer on the coffee table to go off. Waiting was always the worst part of this for me. But seeing Edward's face when the test came back positive was worth every second. He picked me up and swung me around, kissing me thoroughly.
"I love you so much," he said between kisses.
After I had the best celebratory sex of my life, I thought about what Renee had said. I knew this was exactly what I wanted in my life. She may have had her dreams for me, but my own dreams came true.
I leaned over and kissed Edward again, crawling on top of him. He was my knight in shining armor, who helped me defeat the wicked witch. I decided I needed to take full advantage of my happily ever after.
AN: There you go. Hopefully all the people that were disappointed by the lack of crazy Renee last chapter feel a little better now. I would really love to know what you guys thought of everything, so please drop me one last review!
Next? I do have another story floating around in my head, but it will be a while before it gets posted. School is kicking my ass this year and I need to focus. But keep a weather eye on the horizon, lol.
Thanks again for reading! :)