Wow, so here we are at the end. It seems strange to click on that complete button. Thanks to all who have alerted and favorited this story. An especial thanks to those who have reviewed, many of whom have become friends. There are a few ladies, who without their help and encouragement, this story would have never come into existance. Naelany for talking me into it, and Stavanger1 and whenpoetryrises for holding my hand throughout the process and betaing for me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Now, do you all have a new box of tissues ready?
I smoothed a stray gray hair back into place on her head, tucking it under to keep it still. Tears had been shed, and now the shock of it all had settled into my heart. I could feel it breaking into a multitude of pieces as I stepped back and allowed the undertakers to nail the lid onto her coffin. The pain of it radiated through my chest and down my left arm, but I held still and refused to let it show. She had died in her sleep just yesterday. I wasn't quite ready to say goodbye to her yet, but I knew I must.
My children, our children, and their children, and one of their children, were nearby. Six of my grandsons, led by my namesake, Edward Anthony, surrounded the coffin and lifted it into the hearse for delivery to the cemetery where she would be interred. He was the first of five children born to my son Edward. The year was 1902. My great-grandson, Edward Anthony, Jr, had been born the previous year to his father and my granddaughter-in-law, Elizabeth.
I remembered meeting her and thinking how much she resembled my own mother. Her hair and eyes were the same color as my mother's and my own. She came from the same county in Ireland my grandfather had come out of, and so we laughed that we might be distant cousins. At least that trait had bred through, as my great-grandson had the same coloring.
Nessie was weeping, her now gray head bowed in grief, her husband and children supporting her. Nessie had three children of her own, along with ten grandchildren. A few of them had married and two were expecting. Bella had been so excited with the prospect of holding two new babies. Now she never would.
Bella and I never did find that magic time to conceive more of our own children. My disability was something we rarely discussed. I smiled in remembrance of how I had taken to alerting her that I would be able to make love to her again. Are you busy, Mrs. Masen? had become her signal. She never turned me away. Of course, it had become rarer and rarer as the years progressed. Still, I had learned her signals of when she was feeling the need and did my best to alleviate her discomfort.
While we had never had the chance to attend higher education, we made sure our children and grandchildren did. I was thrilled as they all, the girls as well as the boys, attended some post secondary school. My namesake had even managed to be accepted into Harvard Law School. That's where he had met his wife, she was a freshman enrolled there. His cousin had attended Yale, and there was a warm, but loving, rivalry between them. It was nice to see them together; laughing over whose rowing team would win this year. I guess that was one good thing about a funeral; it brought the family back together again.
The hearse had taken off, and Nessie's husband helped me into their horseless carriage. The infernal contraption was loud! It reminded me somewhat of the constant barrage of cannon fire I had heard in my campaigns in the war. I didn't like it. Still, it was the only way I could get to the cemetery. My hips had finally given out years ago, and I was in a wheelchair. I tried to not let my disquiet at having to be taken care of show and disrupt others' moods, but I think they could tell.
I never regretted serving my country, but I did use my wounds to dissuade my grandson from doing the same. He grew up hearing about his 'war hero' grandfather. Some hero. As if all it takes is to get shot. As Alice used to say, any fool can do that. After hearing of my grandsons intentions to join up to fight in the Spanish-American War, I asked him to come pay me a visit. We talked about the war, the fear, the smells, the horror, and yet I could tell he wasn't to be deterred. So I told him of my disability, and why I only had two children.
His face glowed in embarrassment when I asked him if he ever wanted to have a wife and love her the way she deserved. I told him about his grandmother, how she never complained, but that she was a flesh and blood woman, and that I could see the want and desire in her eyes. A desire I could rarely fulfill. I knew it was hard for him to think of his grandmother as a young woman with those kinds of feelings, so I showed him the small daguerreotype I still carried with me everywhere. Bella was holding the boy's mother on her lap. "Your mother came about the usual way, son. As it is, she's lucky to have a brother at all." That finally convinced him.
The infernal contraption we were riding in sputtered to a halt halfway up the hill, pulling me from my thoughts. I looked up and could see the hearse pulling my Bella farther away from me. A sob broke through as I realized that even if I caught up to it, I couldn't be with her. She was gone. Pain ripped through my heart afresh, and I started rubbing my left shoulder where it began to ache. It was as if the pain in my heart was spreading, seeping into other parts of my body, and consuming me with grief. I had to hold it together, for my family. They needed my strength as they dealt with the loss of their mother and grandmother.
Nessie's husband got the contraption going again and we once more climbed the hill. There was a long line of mourners behind us, some in carriages, others in the same type of machinery we were in. Bella had been loved by many. Her kindnesses and mercy had reached out to much of our community as we watched it grow and develop around us. Her work with the church's women's auxiliary had surpassed even my mother's. She had organized homes for orphans, cared for the invalid and infirm, and fed the hungry with the labor of her own hands. She always said she was on the errand of angels, but she was wrong. She was the angel.
We finally reached the cemetery. My son came and helped me from the contrivance and put me in my wheelchair. I could see the same grandsons pulling Bella's coffin from the back of the hearse to carry it to her final resting place. She was being buried by Alice, who had died a few years ago, only about four months after Jasper had departed this life. She had been sick for a while, but Jasper had fallen when caring for her and broken his hip. It had sapped the energy from him, and he died a couple months later. When Christmas had come, Alice had rallied. We thought she was going to pull through, but we were wrong. She just wanted to be with her family for one last Christmas before going to join the love of her life.
My parents were buried a couple plots over, and just up from them was Charlie and Sue, the widow he had married a few years after my return from the war. I looked past them to where the Cullens' lay. I was one of the last; making it to fifty-nine was impressive, since the life expectancy for when I was born was less than forty years. Especially when you considered I had been gravely wounded. Rosalie and Emmett were still kicking, though, and I could see them placing flowers on the graves of their loved ones as we waited for the graveside ceremony to begin.
My eyes traveled from the loved ones of the past to the ones of the future. Besides my own progeny, Alice and Jasper's, and Rosalie and Emmett's, were also here. Our three sons still were close, even as family and employment pulled them away from each other. They were standing shoulder to shoulder much as they had as children. The only difference was the topic of their conversations. It had gone from pollywogs and pigtails to jobs and children. I was happy to see that Ephraim Black, Jacob and Sarah's grandson, had also made the journey.
The young reverend called us to order and began to speak of my Bella in reverent tones. He hadn't known her long, having only arrived to our parish a few months ago, but he couldn't miss how universally loved she was. He spoke of her charitable work; of how she preferred to feed poor men soup then to have lunch with ladies of her social class, how her hands never stopped moving in some type of work, and how she had loved her family. In my heart I added, and how she loved me.
He finished with a prayer, and my son wheeled me over to the mound of dirt piled nearby. I reached down to grab a handful. As her husband I would be the first to drop it in her grave. He wheeled me to its side and gently asked if I needed help. I just shook my head, and yet, for some reason I didn't have the strength to stretch it out and deposit that first fistful of soil over her body. I heard my son call, "Dad?" and knew I had to do it. My hand shook as I reached out and I had to mentally force my fingers open to allow the dirt to escape. Once it did, I looked away, but could still hear other fistfuls join my own as my son, Edward, pushed me from the gravesite. How I wished I could close my ears as easily as my eyes.
We returned to my house where the ladies auxiliary was serving lunch. I looked over to where my parents' house used to be. It had been destroyed by the great fire in 1889, shortly after their death. Mine had, luckily, survived. A ramp had been added to the back of the house so I could be wheeled in easily. As we entered the kitchen, I almost called out for Bella before I remembered she would never be there again. That maddening pain in my heart returned with that thought, causing me to sigh.
The luncheon was nice, the food good, but I could tell it was missing Bella's special touch. My favorite dish was the bowl of canned peaches, Bella's peaches, which had been opened and served. Her last offering to the community. There was probably at least another year's supply of preserves in the pantry, but I doubted very much that they would be enjoyed now that her sweet smile no longer accompanied them. Then again, my kids were talking about them as they talked of their mother, and how it was possible to taste her love in the food, asking me if it was all right to take some home. I just waved them to it. I knew it would have made her happy.
Everyone kept asking me how I was feeling. I kept saying I was fine but they looked as if they didn't believe me. I happened to glance in a mirror and could see why. My eyes were sunken, the green having faded in grief, with dark circles underneath showing how little sleep I had gotten the night before. My skin was ashen, almost white. My grey hair was still its unruly self, the one thing Bella had never tamed. As I raised a hand to try to smooth it, I noticed a tremor. Must be the fatigue, I thought, sure it would pass when I could finally rest after today's trials.
My loved ones all remained near as we shared our memories of Bella. Laughter and tears mixed as long ago times were brought out and looked at anew. Even the in-laws had much to add. I was asked about how we met, and my mind was transported back to that warm fall day when I stepped into a one-room schoolhouse and saw a beauty sitting there. Emmett and I laughed over how we had wrestled that day, and thought of maybe doing a demonstration before realizing that would require far more strength and flexibility than we currently had. Hell, I decided, was being a young man trapped in an old man's body.
The night finally drew close on this interminable day. Even when I had lain shot on the field of Gettysburg, time had not dragged as it had today. One of my granddaughters prepared a light supper for us. It was evident who had taught her how to cook, as it was so close to Bella's that I almost wondered if she had somehow cooked it from the grave. Lights were turned on around the house, and I remembered how Bella had hated the wires and feared them lest they set fire to her house. That brought forth a chuckle, and a question from someone caused me to relate the story.
Exhaustion was beginning to claim me and I was nodding in my chair before someone offered to help me to my room. I called over another grandson, a strapping boy about sixteen years of age named David, and had him help me stand and walk up the stairs. He was very patient with his decrepit grandpa, and I thanked him for that. He even helped me change into my nightshirt. I refused to look at the bed.
It couldn't be avoided, though, and so I finally turned to it. I had difficulty imagining sleeping there without her by my side. Last night I hadn't even attempted it, using the excuse that I wanted to stay closer to town, and sleeping at Nessie's place to avoid the pain I now had ripping through my chest. It was as if a gaping hole was being dug into my heart.
My hips gave out as I fell on the bed, David making sure I didn't fall too hard. I looked over to her side, and felt a chuckle when I saw the hairs there. I had always hated that she brushed her hair in bed. The sheets would always become messy with the strands that had come loose, but she would just laugh at me whenever I complained, saying the bed was more comfortable than her chair. David chuckled as well when I told him of the many spats we had in the past over this habit of hers. Now I reached over and gathered those hairs and twined them into a small plait. I grabbed my pocket-watch off the bedside table, opened the back and secured those last hairs of hers inside. It comforted me to know I had that last piece of her with me always. I dismissed my grandson after thanking him again for being such a good boy.
Sleep eluded me and so I again turned my thoughts to her. I remembered how just thinking of her brought me such peace and joy no matter how much pain I was in, something that never changed over the many years no matter the situation. The aching in my chest was growing, spreading down my left arm, and so I simply recalled my favorite thoughts of her to ignore it. I remembered her walking towards me on our wedding day, her eyes full of hope and love. I thought about waking after being shot and seeing her reading to my daughter, a tiny little thing at the time. This morphed into the look on her face as I held our son shortly after she gave birth to him. The years flowed past as I recalled birthdays, holidays, happy times and sad, fear when the kids got chicken pox and joy as we watched them marry. Excitement as we awaited our first grandchild.
That brought another laugh. I had asked her how she felt about becoming a grandmother, she had said it was just fine, but she wasn't sure if she was old enough to be sleeping with a grandfather. I didn't ask that again when we became great-grandparents. Just the thought of that was more than I could process.
My laughter stopped short as another pain gripped my chest. I rubbed the spot over my heart, hoping that would help. I knew it was just the grief of losing her that was bringing this about. It will go away as I get used to being without her. Or it could be indigestion from the food from the funeral. I wasn't used to anyone else's cooking yet. Perhaps it would be best to try and sleep after all.
I settled myself down into the pillows, pulling her pillow close to me so I could envelope myself in her scent once more. There was no telling how long it would continue to cling to the sheets. I wondered if I could keep Nessie from washing them until after it faded.
Wrapped in her scent, the only part of her that remained, I relaxed further. I could hear the laughter of my progeny downstairs, still talking about us. Sometimes words would filter up the stairs, like 'forever love' and 'soul-mate' as they described how we were together. I knew Bella and I had told them all right when they were getting married that 'happily ever afters' didn't happen; they were made. Forged in the furnace of life, the love they began with could grow or burn to a crisp if they didn't tend to it with all the care and concern they could give it. They would only know if they had one or not once it was over. It was now over for us, and I knew I had one.
The pain of that last thought ripped my heart asunder, shooting down my arm and across my chest as I cried out silently of my loss. I could feel the darkness of sleep beginning to claim me, and I surrendered to it willingly. I craved it, hoping it would take the heartache away.
I slipped quickly into a dream. A light was glowing in the distance and I knew my heart's desire was within it. I ran to it, my legs once again young and uninjured. As I approached the source, I could see a form silhouetted within. A young girl, mahogany hair, brown eyes, with a heart-shaped face, stood there. It took me a moment but I realized it was the beauty I had seen in the school-house, but how could she be so young again? I looked down and realized that I had once again become a youth as well. When she noticed it was me she called out, "Edward!"
"Bella," I whispered reverently as I stepped to her and took her hand. "Is this a dream or real?"
"It is real, my love. You are with me now and forever. I was sent to bring you home." Looking past her I could see the faces of those I loved who had gone before, all there to welcome me to the last awakening from a dream, never to sleep again.
Yes, this time he did die! Sorry to make this last chapter so sad, but it was necessary to show how their lives went, how their love continued forever, and still continues beyond death. To me, this is the happiest forever after that we could hope for.
Thanks to all who came on this journey with me. It has been a wonderful ride! This is your last chance! Please review.