"Never have I found the limits of the photographic potential. Every horizon, upon being reached, reveals another beckoning in the distance. Always, I am on the threshold."
– W. Eugene Smith
March 6, 2017 (Jasper is 29)
I lay my daughter on my chest, holding her the way I remember seeing my dad with Rosie all those years ago. I still remember when we brought her home from the hospital. He took that whole week off of work to be home with us. When Mom was tired, he'd let her nap, and he'd bring Rosie out and let her fall asleep on his chest. It didn't matter how fussy she was; she'd settle right down every time. He said it was because she could feel his heart, and it comforted her. He'd rub her back while he helped me read her bedtime stories, and in no time she'd fall right to sleep. I remember wondering how such a strong man could be so gentle with something so breakable. It seemed so easy for him. But now I understand, because holding my daughter is effortless, instinctual. A part of me wishes he were here to see me right now.
I always thought babies started out bald, but Charlotte has tons of hair. It's dark like her momma's and curly like mine used to be. Her eyes look brown to me, but Bella swears they'll be blue like mine. She looks so much like the baby pictures Charlie brought with him of Bella. He took two weeks off so he could come stay with us, and we can hardly get him to put her down. He keeps catching Bella calling the baby "Charlie," and he won't allow it. Bella thinks it's cute; Charlie says she's too pretty to be anything but Charlotte.
Rosie comes by every day to see Charlotte. They're already best friends, and there isn't much that makes me smile like watching them together. Seeing the woman Rosie has grown into makes me confident that my little girl is going to be alright. I'm not going to mess this up. But it also means that some day she'll grow up and go to college, just like her aunt, and I'll have to say goodbye. She'll have friends I've never met and go places I've never been. She'll have her own life – just like Rosie. The only difference, of course, is that Charlotte won't date until she's at least thirty-five. Possibly forty.
My mom has been by to meet Charlotte once, the day we came home from the hospital. Charlie still hasn't warmed up to her, so he made himself scarce. The rest of us are still trying. Some days it's good and some days it's not so good, but I don't regret giving her another chance.
Between Charlie and Rosie, it's a miracle if I ever get to hold my own daughter. It's late right now, though, so the house is quiet. Bella's asleep in our bed, and hopefully Charlotte will be asleep soon, too. I can feel even the tiniest movements of her little body under my hand. I can feel her heart beat, so much faster than mine. I can feel her breathe, and the little puffs of air tickle my bare chest. I try to hold in my laughs so I won't disturb her. I shake a little from the effort, and so does she. My hand covers most of her tiny body, and she relaxes against me when I rub her back. She really likes that. Her breathing starts to slow, and I reach for the book beside me.
In the great green room, there was a telephone, and a red balloon, and a picture of… a cow jumping over the moon.
The words come to me without really even reading them. I've known these words for a long time. I remember happy nights, cuddled in my bed with my mom and later my sister. I remember sitting on my dad's knee in his armchair by the fireplace. I remember reading it to Rosie even on nights when, at the time, I had felt so alone.
I remember kissing Bella's hand the night she met my sister. I remember the way the moon reflected in her eyes, and losing myself in them. I remember realizing that night that I loved her.
Goodnight room, goodnight moon.
Her breaths are even and slow now, and I think she's asleep. The last time I held something so brand new and breakable, I had no idea what lay ahead for us. I remember looking at Rosie, thinking how fragile she was and how scared I was that I was going to hurt her. In this moment, as I look at my daughter, I have no fear.
I know that for me and Rosie, being breakable didn't stop us from being strong. Being breakable isn't the same as being weak, and the strength it takes to pick up the pieces and make a life out of them is the strength that matters. The strength and tenacity it took for Bella to come into our lives without fear or hesitation – to love us – is something I'll always be grateful for.
Goodnight stars, goodnight air.
I know now what it means to love someone more than you could ever love yourself. Rosie has taught me about sacrifice, strength and responsibility. Bella has taught me redemption, hope, and love. I know now that I have nothing to fear anymore. Under my hand, I have everything I ever wanted and never thought I'd have. I'd given up hope of a future like this a long time ago. I'd given up on really living and come to terms with basic survival – just getting by on getting by. I didn't need my own life; I just needed to make sure Rosie had one. I picked up all the pieces and never thought twice about it. I figured if I could do it – if I could keep it together, for Rosie – she might have all of this. A life. A family. Everything she wanted. I never hoped for myself.
I think back to that day in the darkroom, and Bella's hand over my heart. Every day she shows me that I'm worth it, to her. She shows me what it means to really live, and to do so without fear. I think I had always been waiting for her. I had survived one day at a time, waiting for her to come along and light up my darkness.
Goodnight noises everywhere.
I'm brought out of my thoughts by soft footsteps and a slow ache that starts somewhere in my chest. I know she's behind me, watching me. I smile, knowing some things never change. Even after almost eight years, she still can't sneak up on me. I can feel her coming from a mile away. She creeps closer, trying to be stealthy. When I know she's standing just behind me, I speak.
"I thought by now you knew better than to try to sneak up on me."
"Who said anything about sneaking? I was just enjoying the view."
I can picture her smile just from the sound of her voice. I've never needed to see her to know her. I've always known her. Without turning around, I can picture her behind me. I see the way she smiles at me, and the dimple in her left cheek. I know she'll be barefoot and wearing one of my old t-shirts. She likes how comfortable they are; I love the way they hang down just below the curve of her hips.
"My apologies, Mrs. Whitlock. May I offer you a seat?"
"Always the gentleman." She laughs quietly.
I open my free arm to her so she can slide onto my lap. She kisses the scars on the side of my throat, and I hum in appreciation. She kisses our daughter's cheek before she settles in against me. My arm tightens around her, and she smiles. She still fits here perfectly: her head against my chest, her hand over my heart.
"I think I could get used to this," she whispers.
"I already am."
Her fingers trace over the scars on my chest, and I can't believe I used to think they were so prominent. None of my scars have faded, but they don't bother me like they used to. They aren't ugly reminders of my past anymore. They're reminders of her. Bella's lips on my skin. Her favorite places to touch me. Her soft fingers tracing my roughness. She doesn't just accept them – she loves them because they're a part of me.
Charlie once told me that life doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be right. I never expected my life to be perfect. My life before Bella was so far from it. My life with Bella has been close. It's been highs and lows, good days and bad days, and always knowing tomorrow will be better. It's been passionate arguments and even more passionate making up. It's been patience, devotion, and wondering how a guy like me ever got so lucky. Because I am the luckiest. It's always work, but nothing that's worth it ever comes easy. And my life with Bella is always worth it. It's never been perfect, but it's always been right. And that's perfect for us.
She's quiet for awhile, and I wonder if she's asleep. Then she presses her hand to my chest, just over my heart.
"I can feel it," she whispers. "It's beating so fast."
She moves her hand just enough to kiss the skin underneath it.
"It's for you, beautiful. Always for you."
"I love you, Jasper."
I smile, and pull both of my girls closer.
"When I stand before thee at the day's end, thou shalt see my scars and know that I had my wounds and also my healing."
– Rabindranath Tagore
Thank you so much to all of you for sticking with me through this story. Even though sometimes it's been really difficult to get through, this has been so much fun for me to write. You guys have been amazing readers. Your support, encouragement, and reviews have inspired and motivated me. I couldn't have asked for a better experience with my first story, so thank you so so much for going through all of this with me. You guys are amazing.
I really don't think I can thank my betas enough. Lucette212 and Legna989 both beta'd this epilogue. Justaskalice and Lucette212 have been so supportive throughout this entire story… which ended up taking a little over a year for me to write and post. Legna989 has been here for last-minute advice and beta skills whenever I've asked her. They've all been wonderful and lovely, and they've put up with my insecurity and last-minuteness. I love them so much and I never would have gotten this done without them.
I have to again thank ElleCC and LaViePastiche for hosting the For the Love of Jasper contest, because I never would have started this without that opportunity. I won't name everyone, but my friends in this fandom are amazing. A few of them helped me with the one shot, and all of them have gotten me through writing this with WCs and encouragement of all different kinds. Thank you to all of you.
There are still three FGB outtakes that will post in the next several weeks, so keep an eye out for those if you're interested. My first FGB piece was a one shot written for ElleCC, and it's already posted my profile. I'm also doing a Jasper-centric Twilight 25 entry for round four. If you haven't noticed by now, I really do love Jasper.