Don't Ever Forget Epilogue
Five years later
"Mom, where is he?" EJ asked, rising onto his toes on the tarmac and trying to scan over the heads of the crowd.
I shook my head, my eyes joining in his search while my arm tightened around his shoulders. At almost ten, he was nearly as tall as I was, which was honestly frightening. "I don't know, honey. I'm sure we'll find out soon enough."
"I gotta go potty," my daughter, Ashlyn, said from the other side of me.
"Just a few more minutes, baby," I replied distractedly.
"And please not on my shoulders."
I glanced beside me with a chuckle to my husband, watching as his hands rose above his head to lift our little girl down and setting her feet down on the ground. "EJ, stay with your father. I need to take your sister to the bathroom."
Just as he'd said, Edward left the Army when his contract was up and went back to school, and right around Christmas that year, we found out that I was pregnant again.
From almost the instant I saw that second line appear in the window, I was pretty close to positive that I was having a girl. Everything was so different that time around. My morning sickness was nothing worth mentioning for the first two trimesters, the baby didn't stay nestled in my pelvis, and I was craving the strangest things. Like Strawberry Rhubarb pie—I hated rhubarb my entire life, but I'd never had a craving that strong, even with EJ.
Throughout my pregnancy, Edward only missed one doctor's appointment, due to a final that he absolutely could not get out of, and he was there for the ultrasound telling us that our baby was a girl. Again, unlike her brother, she seemingly had no qualms about turning and giving us a full view of her. My husband's hand tightened around mine and I turned my eyes to him when his forehead settled on my shoulder.
Once the technician left the room to allow me to change, Edward's face lifted and he pressed his lips to mine. That time, he didn't even attempt to restrain his tears of elation, but he swore he wasn't going to be one of those typical daddies with a little girl. No baseball bats or being a sucker for pouty lip.
I just nodded and went along with him for the time being. I knew damn well there was a snowball's chance in hell of that happening, if how he was with his son was any indication at all. I'd become the main disciplinarian with EJ, whereas Edward had proven to be a bit more lax than I was. Which honestly surprised me, given the way he was raised himself. I didn't mind that much, though; EJ was actually a very well behaved little boy, even through his "terrible twos", and the bond he shared with his father was nothing short of remarkable.
The delivery of Ashlyn Renee Cullen was a bit more difficult than it had been with our son—a full eighteen hours more difficult. However, it was totally made worth it the instant I saw our tiny baby girl in Edward's arms and the look of complete adoration in his eyes as he gazed down at her. And watching him with both of our children once his parents brought EJ in to meet his new sister made my heart melt as I finally fell asleep.
He loved those kids so much.
As the first few months passed, Edward became even more protective of our daughter as her features grew more defined. From her pale skin and full lips that she'd inherited from me, to the brilliant jade eyes of her father once they'd darkened from the almost sky blue when she was born, and the chestnut colored hair that was just beginning to grow in, she was an absolutely beautiful little girl.
"I'm ordering a ton or two of stone," Edward said one night as he sat on the couch, feeding our daughter.
"Do I even want to ask? I replied and glanced over my shoulder at him from the kitchen.
"For a tower," he answered and I rolled my eyes with a groan. "What? Our yard is big enough. And look at her, she's going to be exotic like her mother. She's not dating until she's forty."
"Honey, you're being ridiculous. She's four months old," I said as I walked over to sit beside him. "And you are not locking our daughter in a tower."
"Come on. Every little girl wants to be a princess, right, sweetheart?" Edward cooed at Ashlyn, brushing her cheek with the tip of his pinky. "And if you start looking any more like your mom, Daddy is definitely not letting you out of his sight, ever. No teenage boys within a mile radius of you, little girl. I do still remember how to use a gun."
"You're hopeless," I commented with a sigh, shaking my head. "'I'm not going to be one of those dads, I swear, Bella.'"
Edward narrowed his eyes at me as I mimicked him, but then laughed. "Well, how was I supposed to know we'd make such pretty babies together? They've got my DNA, too, after all."
"I'm sorry, my uterus must have missed the memo that you wanted ugly ones," I retorted sarcastically and pecked his lips before I stood to check on EJ.
Edward murmured a "smartass" under his breath a second before our son flew by me to jump onto the couch beside his dad. "Careful, buddy. You don't want to shake your sister too much."
"Dad, I finished my room. Can we play Lego Battles now?" EJ asked, tugging on Edward's elbow insistently.
"EJ, what did I just say? You need to be careful around the baby," Edward replied, securing his hold on Ashlyn more.
"But Dad, you promised," EJ whined as he still tried to pull Edward's arm.
"Edward Anthony, stop it!" Edward exclaimed sternly, taking both me and our son by surprise. The jerking had startled Ashlyn and she began to cry, and he lifted her to his shoulder. "I told you, after we got your sister in bed. Now wait."
I watched as Edward stood and left the room with the baby, while EJ remained on the couch with tears welling in his eye. I made my way over to him and he flinched away when I reached out to run my hand over his hair. "Baby, Daddy didn't mean it. You could just really hurt your sister that way. You need to be gentle."
"I didn't want a sister, Mom. What'd you have to have a baby for?" EJ cried, curling up on the cushion. "Now Daddy doesn't like me anymore."
"EJ, your father loves you very much. Don't ever think that he doesn't," I replied, rubbing his back to soothe him.
"He loves the baby more," EJ mumbled with a sob and flipped his body to lay his head in my lap.
"That would never, ever be true, EJ," I said softly, trying to comfort him as best I could until he fell asleep on my leg and I laid him out. I covered him over with the quilt and kissed his forehead before heading to Ashlyn's room, leaning against the door frame as I spotted Edward sitting in the rocker with his head between his hands. "I know you were worried about Ash, but was that entirely necessary?"
"I'm sorry," Edward murmured quietly and lifted his head, revealing tears streaming down his face. "I've never yelled at him like that, Bella. I don't know what came over me. I had her, I wasn't going to drop her. I didn't mean to do that."
I instantly felt terrible for coming off so harsh and I moved over to him, kneeling at his feet and resting my hands on his thighs. "Edward, even the most perfect parents lose their cool once in a while. It's just a little sibling rivalry. He had his dad all to himself for five years, and now he has to share. It was bound to happen. Don't be so hard on yourself."
"I swore I'd never yell at my kids over stupid shit. All he wanted was to play a game with me, and I snapped at him for no reason. And now, he thinks I hate him," Edward replied in a strained voice and leaned his face into my hand as I cupped his jaw. "I wanted to be a better father than that."
"You're an amazing father, Edward. He knows you don't hate him, he was just upset, that's all," I said softly and his fingers closed around my wrist, pulling me up to sit on his lap. "I think all he needs is a little uninterrupted time with you."
Edward nodded, his arms tightened my waist with his head resting on my shoulder. I sat there with him for a half an hour, holding and calming him until we both rose; me to handle a fussing Ashlyn and Edward to head out to the living room.
Once I finally got the baby settled, I made my way down the hall to join them, but stopped in the doorway. Edward was lying on the couch on his side with EJ in his arms, our son's cheek against his chest and his small fist still clenched on the fabric of his father's shirt.
I decided to leave them alone; EJ needed his father that night far more than I needed my husband.
Edward never raised his voice that way with our children again, and he didn't need to. One look from their father was more effective than anything I ever said or did. The older Ashlyn got, the more she grew to look like me, with the exception of her bright green eyes and the deep auburn highlights streaking through the ringlets of her hair. Whereas EJ was the perfect miniature of his father, despite his hazel eyes; even down to the calm, even demeanor by the time he was nine years old.
"Mommy, I'm all done!" Ashlyn called to me from inside the stall, obviously intending to inform me that I wasn't paying nearly enough attention to her. "We're gonna miss Uncle Riley!"
Emma had called me the week before in tears when she got word that Riley was returning and she was still in Washington, caring for her ailing father. She didn't feel comfortable leaving him, but also desperately wanted to be there in Utah with the children to welcome her husband home. Especially after the scare she had experienced with this past deployment, when Riley had been treated for shrapnel in the shoulder and his side after being a little too close to an explosion while on patrol. She needed to see him with her own eyes, touch him with her hands, to know that he was really all right; something I thanked God every day that I had never gone through with Edward, knowing exactly how lucky I had been. It was an impossible situation, and she didn't know what to do.
So Edward offered to take the kids down to greet their father and give Riley familiar faces to greet him when he got home, and then drive him up to see his wife as well. She'd cried even harder in gratitude, even though it would be the first time anyone other than herself would be greeting her husband with their children.
"Okay, let's go save Daddy from Sammy and the boys," I replied, adjusting her dress and helping her wash her hands, before rejoining Edward and the kids.
"They just landed," Edward said, leaning toward my ear so I could still hear his soft voice over the cheering crowd.
"Daddy, I can't see!" Ashlyn shrieked, standing in front of him and holding her arms up, until Edward lifted her up and settled her on his hip while the other three bounced in excitement around him.
I slid my hand through the crook of his elbow and leaned my head against his arm. "Do you ever miss it?"
Edward glanced down at me and my eyes met his curiously. He appeared deep in thought for a moment, but then pressed his lips to my forehead. "I can't say that I never do. But there's a difference between missing it and regretting it."
"Okay, then do you ever regret it?" I asked, watching his eyes move from me, to Ashlyn, to EJ, and then back to me with a smile.
"That is something I can say I never do," Edward replied, sealing his lips over mine in a firm kiss. "I've got everything I want and need. All that matters is right here with me."
I smiled at his words, seeing the truth in his eyes. As we waited on the tarmac for Riley, I thought back to the day we met. At the beginning, we were anything but conventional, fighting attraction, becoming friends, eventually losing that battle to become what were now. We'd grown together, laughed together, fought and even cried together, but I couldn't think of anything more worth fighting for. We were best friends, lovers, and soul mates—a family.
He pressed his forehead against mine, kissing me briefly. "No regrets, Bella. Don't ever forget, I love you."