Barbi and Liz's Road Trip Play List: There's only one song that would do: Ron Pope's "Headlights On The Highway".


Epilogue- Forever and For Always

We sat in the packed theater, my husband on one side of me and a squirmy kid in the seat on the other.

"Is this almost over, Mommy? I'm bored." The wiggly ball of poof and ruffles complained.

"No, Ila, it hasn't even started yet, silly girl. Now, sit still before I dump you in your daddy's lap." It wasn't much of a threat, really. She'd have been more than happy to be banished to the Land of Daddy's Lap. Thank goodness Daddy chose that moment to lean over and whisper to his daughter, "Little lady, if you don't behave there won't be any cake for you later. Listen to your mommy and sit still; this is Brother's big day."

She complied with a huff, "I don't see what's so big 'bout a gragamation any way. It's not like my dance 'cital. I wore a tutu and everything."

"I know, sweetie, but your brother worked really hard to get to this point. We have to all be here to cheer for him when they call his name!" I tried to reason with my four year old. That's when her Uncle Emmy intervened and plucked her from her seat and snuggled her into his lap.

"And Mini may not get to wear a tutu, but he does get to wear a dress and that cool pointy hat with the tassel!" Emmett Cullen, ever the voice of reason.

"That's not a dress, Uncle Emmy! That Bubby's unicorn!" she giggled. Emmett looked confused.

"You mean uniform, Ila. Now, shush, you two, or I will separate you," now that was a real threat. Our little girl adored her Uncle Em and he worshiped the ground she walked on.

"Yes, ma'am," Emmett replied and promptly handed the little terror his iPhone to play with. Oh, well, at least she'll be quiet, I thought. She really was a good little girl, but being not only the youngest child, but the youngest grandchild (and the only girl grandchild at that) brought about its own difficulties. That little girl was very loved, and her father and I had to fight every moment of the day to make sure that she didn't end up spoiled rotten. The day she was born was monumental and second only to the day that Edward, Masen and I officially became a family.

We were married in a beautiful ceremony in the spring after Edward proposed. Surrounded by our friends and loved ones, Edward Anthony Cullen pledged his love and life to me, as I did to him. The setting sun sinking into the still waters of the Inlet was the backdrop for our vows. All of which were very traditional with the small addition of the promise to always talk to one another.

And Edward took his vow of "discussions" very seriously. He even employed the used of the "talking stick", an annoying length of bamboo he'd garishly painted and hung shark's teeth and sea glass from so they clanked together when his shook the wand-like tool, something he did when he wanted our attention.

While I appreciated the concept of said talking stick, that in no way negated its obnoxious factor. I'd even tried to "discuss" how much the stick bugged me, but alas, the stick won out. I may have even resorted to hiding his beloved stick, but that backfired when he announced that all of my "joy stick" privileges were revoked until the talking stick was returned to its rightful place of honor over the mantle. Needless to say, the stick made a quick appearance amid a flourish of pomp and circumstance to assure Edward knew the stick had been returned. That was the night Ila was conceived. And no, we had not "discussed" whether it was the right time to have a baby. Good for nothing talking stick. What the hell did we have it for if not to monitor the most important discussions in our lives?

Anyway, Ila Elizabeth Cullen (pronounced Eye-la) burst forth into the world nine and a half months later, and it was clear from the beginning that the rest of us weren't going to be getting much of a word in edgewise, talking stick or no talking stick. She even out-talked her Auntie Allie, and gave her a run for her fashion sense, too. Ila, (or Nessie as Mini affectionately called her because he said she was a monster), had a keen eye for what was appropriate to wear or not so appropriate, as the case may be. After having the little diva home two weeks, I nearly had a panic attack over the fear that there simply weren't enough ruffles in existence to keep our little one dressed in a manner that she'd become accustomed to. Thus was the catalyst for Baby Cakes Custom Kids Clothing, a line of adorable kids and baby clothes that Alice and I designed and sewed in our "free time". Because a mother of a newborn and a hormonal, pubescent teenage boy has an abundance of free time. Regardless, it was a fun, creative outlet and it assured that Ila would never go ruffle-less.

I glanced over at my daughter who was surprisingly quiet and content playing some cupcake game on her Uncle Emmy's phone. It was time for the valedictorian's speech, and my heart skipped a beat when they called my son's name and introduce him before he addressed his fellow graduates. I tried to think back on the past eight years and remember the boy he'd once been. He stood before us all a man, and at six feet, four inches he was taller than his dad, and he never missed an opportunity to remind him of the fact. He'd ceased long ago looking up at me; now I strained to look up at him. He tucked me under his chin now when we hugged, and he did so often. My sweet boy never lost that quality. Never once had he ever scoffed or shunned my affection; not even in front of his peers. He told me once that he'd waited so long for a mom that when he finally got me he promised he'd never turn down a hug or cuddle. I wasn't sure who he'd promised that to, I just remember sobbing as he held me. (It didn't help that I was eight months preggers with his little sister when he sprang this on me. I was an emotional, hormonal mess, and he loved me nevertheless.)

Mini was overjoyed when we told him he was going to be a big brother. Well, he was after he got over the idea that his parents had to have sex in order to get knocked up. I could have shot Emmett Cullen for bringing that fact up. Leave it to Em to take a beautiful family moment and turn it into an opportunity to goof off.

We'd just told the family that there was a bun in the oven when he turned to his brother, and clapping him on the back, declared, "Well, it was about time you stuck it to her. Took you four years to figure out where everything went? Man, we knew you were a slow learner, Eddie, but that's really pathetic! It's a simple case of 'Insert Tab A into Slot B'."

Everyone froze. Mini was a freshman in high school at that point, and well versed in the comings and goings of the birds and the bees, but no teen wants to be reminded that their parents do the horizontal hula.

Mini rounded on his uncle, who he stood a good three inches taller than at that time, and spat out, "Ugh! That's disgusting, Em! I think I just thew up in my mouth a little. You. Are. A. Pig." He then stomped off murmuring something about brain bleach and inappropriate uncles.

Thank goodness Ila's presence had helped curb some of Emmett's raunchier comments. At least he thought about what he said before he blurted it out these days. Usually. He still had the occasional slip-up, and that would leave Edward and me scrambling to explain exactly how babies got into their mommies' tummies, or even more fun was the time old Darcy was "excited" about something doggies get excited over and Uncle Emmy told Ila to ask her mommy what that "wittle wed ting" (Little red thing) was on Darce's belly. She was fascinated with the fact that it could "grow" and disappear. That's fine, you just laugh. I want a front row seat when you have to explain what a penis is to your innocent little girl. For weeks she was obsessed with who and what had a penis, and what they did with said appendage. That was never a "discussion" I ever imagined I'd end up having with my three year old. And let's just say that was one time Edward and I were playing Hot Potato with the talking stick, neither of us wanting that responsibility.

Ila would miss Mini when he left for school. Hell, we all would; it wouldn't be the same without him in the house. He'd been accepted to Berklee College's school of music. He planned to major in Music Comp and minor in Music Therapy. He'd seen first hand how music could heal. He claimed over and over again that it was his love for music that helped him deal with difficult things when he was little before I'd come along. Now he looked forward to the day when he could use music to help others heal as well. Masen had irrevocably changed my life. Loving him set me on a course that I would have never imagined, and now he was setting out on his own ride. I had no idea what life held for him, but I did know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that a great adventure awaited him regardless of the road he took. Every day that young man made me more and more proud to call him mine. Through the years I told him that he was the best thing I never did. To which he'd reply that I was his mom in every way that mattered.

Regardless of whether or not I carried that boy in my womb, I could not have been more proud as the principal announced the conclusion of the graduation ceremony and introduced the Class of 2017. Hats flew, we all cheered, and Ila, startled by the ruckus, started to cry and leaned over for me to take her and comfort her. Edward wrapped an arm around "his girls" and kissed each of us.

"I love you, Mrs. Cullen."

"I love you, too, and that's Dr. Cullen to you, mister," I teased him. "How come you can never get that straight?"

"I'm not sure, but you love me anyway, right?"

"Of course I do, babe. Always and forever."

"You know what they say about love...," he hinted.

"No, but I'm sure you're going to tell me." I laughed.

"Love makes the world go round!" He grinned and tweaked Ila's nose to get her to stop scowling as she covered her ears.

"I disagree, but it sure makes the ride worthwhile."**




Be safe.

~ Forever, Liz

**Franklin P. Jones said, "Love doesn't make the world go round. Love is what makes the ride worthwhile." Thank you, Frankie, for letting me bastardize your very wise words. *smooches*