epilogue


I didn't linger on the phone with my father, but that wasn't entirely by choice. He ended the call before I could even finish telling him I loved him. Truth be told, this upset Edward far more than it did me. I had never been particularly demonstrative toward my family members, and only recently learned the importance of doing so by watching Edward lose Carlisle. I was not currently in the habit of ending conversations with declarations, but I was working to change this. Edward may have told Carlisle how much he loved him every time they spoke, but I never had. It was a chance I would never have again, and I was determined not to make the same mistake with my own father.

I knew my father and I would never be as close as Edward was with his parents, but I was okay with that. I no longer held on to an unrealistic hope that extraordinary actions would come from ordinary people. I was amazed by the sense of contentment I felt by my newly adjusted expectations and accepted my father for who he was, rather than feeling cheated out of what he would never be.

I spent the next week waiting for a fallout from my outburst during my phone call with my dad, but it never came. I called him the following Sunday, and although he didn't answer the phone, I left a message letting him know I was just calling to say hello and that I loved him. It wasn't much, but it was a start.

Soon spring smoldered into summer, and Edward and Esme settled in to a new kind of normal. She claimed she was fine living on her own, but Edward wouldn't hear of moving back to campus. He insisted it was as much for his own sanity as it was for hers, that he would never be able to sleep knowing she was alone in a house that held so many memories.

The irony of this was that most nights he slept at my house. He insisted it all came down to proximity, and the knowledge from my home, he could be at his mother's side within ten minutes as opposed to the hour it would take him to drive home from Princeton. I suspected he was using his mother's bereavement as an excuse to move in with me, but I didn't call him on it. I enjoyed his presence far too much.

Soon Edward turned nineteen, and I turned twenty-seven. The leaves changed hues and fell to the ground, and before I knew it, I was standing in Esme's kitchen helping her carve the Thanksgiving turkey.

"I can handle this, Bella. Why don't you go into the living room and visit with Jack and Kitty?"

Esme's voice was dripping with sarcasm, and I couldn't contain my giggle.

"And let you do all the work on your own? I wouldn't dream of it. Besides," I continued, suddenly serious. "I know this can't be easy for you."

"What, entertaining Jack and Kitty? I'm used to it."

I was fairly sure she knew I wasn't referring to the Killer WASPs. I was more concerned that this was the first major holiday since Carlisle died. I knew it couldn't be easy for her. I also knew from her tone that it wasn't something she wanted to discuss.

Half an hour later, we filed into the dining room to eat. Edward sat at the head of table that had been previously occupied by his father. He bowed his head and began to speak.

"Bless us, O Lord and these thy gifts which we are about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ our Lord." He crossed himself before adding in a whisper that was almost too quiet to hear, "Please take care of my father the way he always took care of us."

"Amen," Esme said from across the table, her eyes filling with tears.

Kitty reached over and grasped Esme's hand.

"I'm fine, Mother. Really." Esme wiped under her eyes with the back of her wrist and forced a smile. "I guess I'll go first. I'm thankful for every day I had with Carlisle."

"I'm thankful for family," Kitty added, taking a swig of her vodka.

Jack nodded in agreement. "I'll second that."

"I'm thankful for Bella," Edward said, looking at me.

It was my turn to speak, but somehow, I didn't feel trapped or nervous.

"I, too, am grateful to have known Carlisle and for my family, both the one I was given and the one I found." I smiled at Esme. "But more than anything else…"

"Capless retractable Sharpies?" Edward teased.

I shook my head. "Just for that, I'll tell you later."

"Please?" he whined.

"No. Your sarcasm ruined the moment. You'll just have to wait."

He pouted slightly as we began to eat.

The rest of the evening was blissfully uneventful. After dessert, Jack and Kitty said goodbye. Edward, Esme, and I changed into sweats and cleaned up the kitchen before collapsing on the sofa and watching It's a Wonderful Life. When the movie was over, we called it a night.

"It feels so strange sleeping here," I said as we climbed into bed.

"You're telling me."

"Edward, this is your house."

He pulled me into his arms. "That's the weird thing. It doesn't feel like home anymore."

"The house does feel different without you father in it."

"Yes, but that's not what I'm talking about. I have so many memories in this house and it will always be a nice place to visit, but my home is with you."

I pressed my lips to his in what was meant to be chaste kiss, but he held me tightly and my breasts flattened against his chest that it was only a matter of seconds before my tongue entered his mouth and our kiss turned torrid. When his hands slipped into my pajama pants to cup my bottom, I grabbed him by the wrist to stop him.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

"Coming home." He gave me a suggestive smile as his thumb brushed my nipple under my t-shirt.

I let out a low moan.

"If you don't keep it down," Edward whispered before grazing my earlobe with his teeth. "I'll have to stop."

"I'll be quiet, I prom…ohhhh." I lost the ability to form coherent words when he began to stroke me between my legs.

We needed to be as close to each other as possible as quickly as possible. We pushed our clothing out of the way and as he entered me, there was a moment where I briefly wondered what I had ever done to deserve him. When we made eye-contact, I had my answer.

I loved him.

I loved him, and my love was enough.

After we were spent, I curled my body into his side and rested my head on his shoulder. I was just about to fall asleep when I heard his voice.

"Bella?"

"Yes?"

"What were you going to say tonight at dinner?"

"If you made me say grace? 'Yay, god.'"

"No, I mean what you were thankful for."

I propped myself up on my elbow and down at him.

"Art After 5."

His eyes widened and he pulled my face towards his. When he kissed me with all the passion he had within him, I knew he understood. I fell asleep in his arms with my face against his chest. For the first time in my life, I dared to dream of forever.