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Epilogue

I awoke to dim sunlight slowly brightening the room. It was early, and I could tell from the peaceful silence that nobody else was up yet. These times were rare, when I didn't have a million and one things I should be doing, and I relished the idea of spending some time alone in the peace and quiet.

Turning my head, I smiled at the sight of Edward next to me. He was sleeping on his stomach, his face turned towards me so I could see the serenity of his repose. He always appeared so young like this...the soft, peaceful lines of his beautiful face, a lock of his thick, reddish-brown hair falling over his forehead, his full, luscious lips slightly parted as if just waiting to be kissed. I loved it, because it was easy to find the fifteen-year-old boy I'd fallen in love with once again whenever I saw him like this.

So much time had passed since that day in the band room when we'd met. And yet, in some ways it felt as if it were only yesterday. It was a peculiar feeling, one born of over two decades of friendship, love, and trust – a feeling that we'd both been together forever and were still somehow new. Our relationship had grown and deepened, but our love was still fresh and continually expanding. I didn't know how in heaven's name it was possible, but I loved the man beside me more today than the day we'd said "I do" almost fourteen years ago.

Unable to resist touching him, I reached out and gently swept his bronze hair away from his face. I hadn't meant to disturb him, but suddenly his eyes opened and those beautiful, emerald green irises focused on my face.

"G'morning, love," Edward mumbled sleepily. "What time is it?"

"It's still very early, babe. I didn't mean to wake you."

"Are the kids up?"

"Not yet. They're granting us a bit of a reprieve this morning. Go back to sleep, Edward."

I smiled as he readily agreed, "'Kay. I love you, Bella."

"I love you, too," I said as I leaned over and lightly brushed my lips against his. He returned my kiss before snuggling back down into his pillow.

I watched him until his breathing became slow and even, assuring me he was once again asleep, and then slipped quietly from our bed.

I paused on my way to the door, distracted by the framed photographs I kept on our dresser. There was one of Edward and me together at our senior prom with Alice, Jasper, Rose and Emmett. Next to it stood a picture from our graduation – Rosalie, Alice, Edward, and me in our caps and gowns with Jasper and Emmett standing proudly by the girls' sides. I smiled wistfully at the happy portraits of six young people with their entire lives before them. It had been easier then, when we were all still together.

Even with everything I'd gone through during high school, we'd still been so naïve. It was as if we believed that if one of us had been to hell and back, it should give the rest of us some sort of free pass. Unfortunately, we'd found out that life didn't exactly work like that.

It began, of course, with my problems. That day when I'd confessed to Edward about Felix had certainly been a turning point. His willingness to love and accept me after how I'd treated him had somehow flipped a switch for me. I still didn't completely understand why he hadn't broken up with me on the spot. I knew I would have more than deserved him hating me forever, but he had kept on loving me instead. True to the promise I'd made Edward, I never again tried to push him away by using another man. I had been completely faithful to him from that day to this.

Still, we had a long and difficult road ahead of us. My mother never did accept that I needed therapy, and so I struggled along with only the support, love, and infinite patience of Edward and my friends to see me through. It took me three long years after Mike's death to finally get over the worst of it. Even then, I had emotional scars that faded with time, but never fully healed.

Of course, when I was finally through the worst of my trauma and we were all looking forward to a fresh start in college, that is when my friends' lives started to fall spectacularly apart.

Alice and Jasper's crisis began when Alice decided not to go to U-Dub with the rest of us. She went to the International Academy of Design & Technology to study fashion design instead. And even though she was still in Seattle, we saw her a lot less often than we would have liked.

It was especially tough on Jasper. He was so disappointed that she wasn't with him. For two long years, he had been telling himself that he just had to wait until Alice got to college and then they'd be together all the time. It had helped make his loneliness bearable for him. So when Alice's choice indefinitely delayed that dream for him, Jasper withdrew into himself.

He started hanging out with a girl he'd met in his history classes, Maria. He didn't see the harm in his friendship with her. Maria was smart and funny and shared his interest in Civil War history. In Jasper's eyes, they were friends, that was all, and so he didn't understand why Alice would mind.

Alice did mind, however. In fact, I minded too and so did Rosalie. I didn't know why Jasper's emotional radar went on the blink around this girl, but it did. She even had Edward and Emmett fooled. It was as if men were incapable of seeing Maria for who she truly was. We girls had no such problem. We'd seen Maria's kind before. On the surface, she was charming and even seemed sweet, but underneath, she was a cold, calculating, manipulative bitch.

The three of us tried repeatedly to warn Jasper away from Maria, but he refused to listen. Maria hadn't done anything specific that justified our opinion of her to Jasper. We tried to explain that it was just a feeling, but explaining feminine intuition to a man was next to impossible. He thought Alice was being unnecessarily jealous and cruel to his friend who had done nothing to deserve it. Alice and Jasper had terrible fights over Maria, putting an intense strain on their relationship.

Things finally came to a head on the night Jasper decided to hit the bars with Maria and a group of her friends. Jasper had invited Emmett, but he'd decided not to go so that he could spend some time with Rose. The rest of us were still underage and couldn't join them. So, Jasper went out without any of us to watch over him. He and Alice had gotten into a wicked fight over his going out with Maria, and I think that's what ultimately led to his drinking so much. Well, that, and the fact that Maria and her friends kept buying him shots.

At the end of the night, a very drunk Jasper ended up alone with Maria in her apartment. He was sitting on her couch with his head back, practically unconscious, when he suddenly became aware of Maria's hand sliding up his thigh. When he'd asked her what she thought she was doing, she'd whispered into his ear that she was only doing what she knew he really wanted her to. She'd then reached for the button on his jeans and tried to unfasten it. Luckily, Jasper was drunk, but he wasn't that drunk. He pushed Maria away and got the hell out of there.

He'd confessed everything to Alice the next day, but she'd felt betrayed and angry. She couldn't understand why Jasper had discounted her opinion so lightly. She had demanded to know why he wouldn't listen to her when she'd tried to tell him not to trust Maria; instead, he had said that she was just jealous and hadn't trusted in her. Alice had told Jasper she couldn't even stand to look at him anymore and that if Maria meant so much more to him than she did, Jasper should go running back to her. She said that her faith in him was broken, and they were over.

Jasper was devastated. He tried time and again to get Alice to talk to him and try to work things out, but she wouldn't listen.

Over the next couple of months, Jasper deteriorated rapidly. He barely ate or slept. He quit going to class. He drank way too damn much. The boy was just a mess, and it hurt my heart to see him like that.

Alice wasn't much better. She missed Jasper desperately, cried over him every night, and listened to the same lovelorn, brokenhearted songs over and over and over again until anyone else in hearing-range wanted to run screaming from the room.

Still, she was too stubborn to admit that she might have overreacted and made a mistake. She wouldn't listen as we all tried to tell her how sorry Jasper was for everything that had happened. She didn't want to hear about how he was doing. If we tried to even mention his name to her, she'd stick her fingers in her ears and hum. I know, real mature, right?

Finally, I'd had enough. So I did what any good cousin and best friend would do when faced with a situation like this – I went to Alice and tricked her into facing the truth.

Unbeknownst to Jasper, I had taken a picture of him the day before with my camera phone…shortly before he kicked me out of his apartment so I couldn't watch him drink himself into yet another stupor.

"Hey, Alice, you've got to see this," I told her in an excited voice as I passed her my phone.

"What is it?" she asked a moment before she saw the image of her ex-boyfriend and her face paled.

"What's wrong with Jasper? Is he sick?" Alice demanded.

It was an easy conclusion to reach. Jasper was thinner than we'd ever seen him. He had dark circles under his eyes, and his skin had an unhealthy ashen pallor. His face was covered by several days' growth of whiskers, and his hair hung limp and unkempt past his chin.

"No, he's not sick – although if he keeps on like this, he soon will be. He's heartbroken, Alice. Jasper's lost without you. He doesn't take care of himself. He finally dropped out of school this semester because he wasn't going to any of his classes anyway. He never even goes outside in the daylight anymore. He just sits in that apartment and drinks. Alice, he knows that he should have listened to you about Maria. He knows he fucked up. But aren't you punishing him a little too severely in light of what actually happened? Maria made her move on him, and he pushed her away. He went straight back to you."

"But…" Alice tried to protest.

"I know," I interrupted, "you felt like he chose Maria over you. He didn't though, Alice. It's you he loves. He doesn't want anyone else but you."

Tears escaped the corners of Alice's eyes. "I just don't know if I can trust him again, Bella," she whispered.

"Alice, you know what I did to Edward. Where would I be now if he hadn't found it in his heart to forgive me and given me the chance to show him that I was trustworthy again? I know you love Jasper, and I know without a doubt that he loves you. Give him a second chance…for both your sakes."

Alice nodded and smiled at me through her tears. "You're right, Bella. After all we've been through…what we had together…I love him too much to let things end like this. I do owe Jasper another chance."

She gave me a quick hug. "Thanks for talking me out of my stubborn streak."

I returned her squeeze with one of my own. "Hey, you come by it honestly. It's a family trait, remember? I understand your stubbornness in a way no one else possibly ever could."

Alice pulled back and gave me an impish look. "And since you know me so well, you'll also understand why I'm going to ditch you right now. I'm going over to see Jasper."

I laughed, "Yeah, I was just going to tell you that if you made that man suffer for even a second longer, I was personally going to kick your butt."

She scoffed, "Pfft, like you could."

"Well, you'd best not test me, Pixie, and go reclaim that man of yours. If you don't soon, I'm seriously considering claiming him myself and convincing Edward that polyandry could be fun."

Alice gave me a mock-menacing glare. "Not a chance, Bells. That cowboy is all mine."

I grinned at her, "I know that Alice. Please, don't forget it this time."

"I won't, I promise."

Alice moved in with Jasper a month later, and within the year, they were married…the first of us to tie the knot. It wasn't something that they'd planned on while they were both still in school. But having come so close to losing one another, they didn't want to wait any longer to make it official and begin their lives together.

With Alice and Jasper happily settled, we all thought that the worst was truly behind us. Jasper had gone to summer school to make up the classes he'd dropped, and he'd graduated on time with Emmett. He then decided to stay in Seattle and go straight into grad school, so he could stay with Alice until she finished up her studies.

Emmett had been lucky that Forks Middle School happened to be looking for a P.E. teacher the summer after he graduated and were willing to hire someone right out of school. Sadly, though, this meant another separation for him and Rosalie. But since they had been hoping to return to Forks to settle down eventually, they both agreed that this opportunity was too good for Emmett to pass up.

Rose missed Emmett terribly – which as her roommate I witnessed firsthand and did my best to aid with gallons of frozen yogurt or the occasional tequila shot – but being the strong, independent girl we all loved, she managed to get along without him. Always mechanically-inclined, she had joined Edward in the mechanical engineering program. It was a male dominated course of study, even in this day and age. Women in the program had to work harder than their male classmates in order to be taken seriously. This was even truer of Rosalie, whose beauty often left people with the false impression that there couldn't possibly be brains under all those abundant blonde curls. She consistently proved the skeptics wrong by ranking near the top of all her classes.

Still, there were those who had trouble accepting Rosalie as an equal. She had to put up with quite a few men who thought she needed to be taken down a peg or two. Edward did his best to watch out for her and protect her from as much of the male chauvinism as he could, but they weren't in every class together and there was only so much he could do.

In one of her classes, Rose was paired with another student, Royce King, for a semester-long project. They were supposed to design and build a working robot that could complete their professor's obstacle course. This assignment meant that she and Royce had to spend a lot of time together outside of school.

At first, Royce had seemed like an okay guy. He was a little arrogant and cocky, but Rosalie was used to that, and she got along with him well enough.

They had often met at the library or at the apartment Rose and I shared, but it wasn't until they were putting the finishing touches on their project that Rose had finally consented to meet at Royce's place. He lived alone in a lavish condo that his parents had bought for him, and the thought of being alone with him made her a bit uneasy. She'd been the target of way too many unwanted passes and had long ago learned to avoid being alone with men she didn't know all that well. But since it wouldn't take that long to test the robot one last time and add their conclusions to their accompanying paper, she convinced herself that it would be alright.

She had been right about things not taking very long. In just over an hour they were finished. With the robot working perfectly and the final draft of their paper printing, Royce encouraged Rose to have a celebratory drink with him. She hadn't really wanted the glass of wine he pushed into her hand but took it anyway to be polite.

That was the last thing she remembered until she woke up the next morning…nauseated, confused, and naked in Royce's bed.

I didn't know what to think when I got a strange phone call from Rosalie that morning, asking me to pick her up at a bus stop a block from Royce's condo. She'd driven over there, so I couldn't understand why she would need a ride or why she wouldn't just wait for me at Royce's place. I didn't ask any questions though. The sound of Rosalie's voice had stilled every impulse inside of me but one – to get to her as quickly as I possibly could. I knew that voice…toneless, numb, cold. An icy chill of fear clamped around my heart as I wondered what in the hell had happened to my friend.

Pulling up to the curb in front of the bus stop, I felt my panic increase as I took in the sight of a disheveled, huddled figure in place of the proud and confident Rosalie that I'd always known. I threw open my door and rushed to her side. Kneeling beside her, I brushed the tousled blonde hair out of her eyes. "Rose, what is it? What happened?" I asked gently.

"Bella?" Her eyes seemed to look through me as she glanced at my face.

"I'm here, sweetie. What do you need?"

In a hesitant, almost childlike voice, she asked me, "C-could you take me to the hospital? Please?"

"The hospital? Are you hurt? Did you have an accident?" My eyes rapidly looked her over, trying to find some evidence of cuts, bruises, anything to explain why she would need to go to a hospital.

"I…I'm pretty sure that…Royce King…" Rosalie choked, unable to get the words out.

"What, Rose? What did Royce do?" I asked with a sense of foreboding.

He raped me, Bella," she finished quietly.

It was difficult for me to be there for her through the examinations and all the questions. I had to hear her story repeated again and again for nurses, doctors, and police officers. It made me physically ill to listen to her recount how she only remembered having the one drink that that son-of-a-bitch had given her and then nothing…about waking up feeling disoriented and then the dawning horror as she realized that she'd been violated…and the worst part…hearing how Royce King had tried to convince her that she'd gotten drunk and seduced him! It was torture seeing Rosalie so timid, so scared, as she suffered through reliving what had happened to her.

It had crossed my mind at the time that it felt as if Rosalie were being violated all over again. But what happened to her in the hospital that day was nothing compared to the nightmare of what happened to her over the following months. The problem was that by the time Rose got to the hospital and had blood drawn, there was none of the drug Royce had used still left in her system. And because she had been unconscious and hadn't put up a fight, there wasn't much physical evidence that she'd been raped. The bastard had even used a condom, so there was no DNA evidence. The doctors could tell that Rosalie had had sex, but there was no way of telling if it had been consensual or not. It had come down to a case of Rosalie's word against that of Royce King. Throw in a prosecutor who was good friends and political allies with the King family, and all was lost. The prosecutor refused to press charges against Royce.

All of us who loved Rose were bitter and angry over what had happened. Emmett, Jasper and Edward had to be talked out of going after Royce themselves. Alice and I argued and screamed and threatened the boys until they at least agreed that killing Royce King might not be the best idea for all concerned. Still, I worried about what Emmett might do. It helped that Royce had been wise enough to skip town and put thousands of miles of distance between himself and Emmett. Rumor had it that he'd fled to New York, but none of us were sure whether or not the rumor was true.

Emmett. How can I describe what this did to him? He was destroyed. He blamed himself for what had happened to Rosalie. He cursed himself for not being there to protect her. And he couldn't even look at Rosalie – not because of what had happened to her, but because he felt that he had failed her.

Of course, Emmett's withdraw from her was the last thing Rosalie needed at the time. Rose had always been a bit…brusque. But now she was angry as fuck and willing to take her anger out on whoever happened to be around. Not that we blamed her. She had every right to be angry after what Royce had done to her. Yet, it was more than a little trying to be around her. Rosalie took pissed off and cranked it up to eleven all the damn time. She never gave any of us a reprieve. And again, I was struck by how familiar it all seemed to me.

Coming home one evening after having dinner with Edward, I found Rosalie sitting on the living room couch in the darkness. She was dressed in sweats, her unwashed and tangled hair obscuring her face. When I had left earlier that day, she'd been in the same place…in the exact same position as a matter-of-fact. It didn't look as if she'd moved a muscle. She was just staring into nothingness, completely trapped inside her own mind.

I sighed as I sat beside her. "Rosalie?"

There was no response from her, not even a blink at the sound of her name.

I didn't touch her. I knew better than that. I just sat beside her, letting her know I was there for her. After several long minutes, I finally broke the silence. "I won't tell you that I know how you feel."

That got her attention as she threw me a burning gaze.

"How could I know how you feel?" I asked her. "I've never been through what you have, Rose."

Her brows drew together in a scowl as the fury in her eyes scorched me. "Bella, if this is the beginning of some lame heart-to-heart, I'd rather just skip it, okay? Besides, for there to be a heart-to-heart, we'd both have to have one, right? I'm not sure my heart's still there to tell the truth."

I nodded. "The feeling of emptiness in your chest, as if your heart has been ripped out…I remember that one."

"Fucking shit! Didn't you just say that you weren't going to pull this 'I know how you feel' crap!" Rosalie demanded.

"I don't know how you feel, Rose. You were raped, and I wasn't."

Her eyes closed as lines of pain etched her face. "I know what happened to me, Bella. I don't need a play by play."

"I'm sorry. But ignoring what happened is not going to make it go away."

"How would you know? Maybe ignoring it is just what I need."

"Rosalie, if ignoring it was helping, you wouldn't have been sitting here on this couch all damn day."

She turned her face away from me. "I don't want to do this. Please, don't."

"I've never been where you are, Rose, but you know I went through my own kind of hell. I know the feelings aren't exactly the same. But the loneliness, the pain, the wanting to stay numb, the uncontrollable anger, the blaming yourself…I recognize all of those feelings in you, because I've had them myself."

I didn't know what to expect then. I thought it most likely that she would react with anger. So, I was a little surprised when she began to cry. I had known tears could be a possibility, but they weren't usually Rosalie's style.

She covered her face with her hands as her body was racked with sobs. "I don't want to be this way, Bella, but I can't seem to stop. I don't know what to do. I'm watching my entire life being destroyed right before my eyes. I don't know how to be this girl. I'm Rosalie Hale, damn it! I don't cower in my apartment afraid to go beyond my own front door. But now, it seems I do. I'm losing everything…Emmett, my courage, my pride, even my will to go on, and I don't have the strength to keep it from happening. Did you ever think you'd hear those words from me, Bella," she laughed humorlessly, "I don't have the strength…"

"But you do, Rose. I know you do," I said quietly.

"How? How do I turn this around? Emmett doesn't want to come anywhere near me, and I don't blame him. Of course he doesn't want me now…after Royce touched me. How can I blame Emmett for not wanting to be with me when I don't even want to? I can't stand who I am now…what Royce has turned me into."

"Rosalie Lillian Hale! How can you even think that? Emmett doesn't see you as some kind of damaged goods. He loves you."

She sneered, "Sure. He loves me so much that he can't even bear to look at me. How could I have possibly mistaken that for disgust?"

I inched a little closer to her, but still didn't touch her. "Think about this, sweetie. It's not you Emmett blames. You know the big lug better than anyone. Can't you see what's going on with him?"

Rosalie looked at me questioningly.

"He blames himself. He thinks he should have been able to protect you."

"That's just stupid! He wasn't even in Seattle. He was in Forks. I didn't even tell him I was going over to Royce's. It was all my fault!"

"Rose, listen to yourself! How was this your fault? Royce did this! Not you! It was completely and totally his fault!"

"But I shouldn't have trusted him. I shouldn't have been there. I shouldn't have taken that wine he gave me."

"This wasn't some stranger in a bar handing you a drink, Rose. You knew Royce. You'd spent time with him and worked with him. You should have had every expectation that you could be alone with him and be safe. He abused your trust."

Fat tears rolled down Rosalie's cheeks. "You know what hurts the most? I didn't think anything like this would ever happen to me. I thought I was too much of a head-strong bitch for anyone to ever mess with. But in the back of my head, I had the idea if any guy ever did try anything like this, I would be able to fight him off, you know? But Royce even took that away from me. He drugged me, so I couldn't even fight. I couldn't even tell him no!"

I was silent for a while as she cried. I knew she needed to get as much of the pain out as possible, and at the moment her tears were granting her that temporary release.

Finally when her sobs ceased and her tears had slowed to a trickle, I broke my silence. "Rose, you're right. Royce did take away your power to fight him that night. But he no longer has that power over you unless you give it to him. He's not around anymore, but you're still acting as his victim. Don't!"

The anger was back in Rosalie's eyes. "What the fuck do you suggest I do now, Bella? You know that ship has kind of already sailed."

"You do whatever it takes to move forward. You find the strength and courage to go on. Rose, do what I was afraid to do…ask for help. Join a support group…see a private therapist…whatever makes you feel most comfortable, but do something to show Royce King that he has no power to make you his permanent victim."

Rosalie sighed, "Bella, I just don't see what it would help. Therapy isn't going to change anything. What could it possibly do? What could it possibly change? What happened to me can't be undone."

"No," I conceded, "What Royce did can't be undone. But it's something to try. Something you can do to try to put some of the pieces back together. Because we both know that what you're doing now ain't working for you, babe."

I could see the uncertainty in Rosalie's eyes. I guessed at what she was feeling, that maybe she was afraid to hope…afraid of how easily her hope could be crushed now.

"I…I'll think about it, Bella. Okay?"

Honestly, it was more of a concession on her part than I'd been expecting this soon. I gave her a small smile. "Okay," I agreed. "And I'm here for you in the meantime. You know that, right?"

"I do," she said softly. "Thanks, Bella."

"Anytime, Rose. Anytime."

I was thrilled the day that Rosalie did go into therapy. But her courageous step had consequences that even I could never have predicted. When he saw that therapy was slowly starting to help Rosalie, Emmett decided to try it too. They worked with a therapist both individually and together to work through the guilt, anger, and sadness they each felt over what had happened.

The progress was very gradual, but eventually things improved between them. By mutual consent though, they took things very, very slowly.

Rosalie was understandably afraid of intimacy after what Royce had taken from her, and Emmett didn't think he deserved to touch her after he'd failed to protect her. So the couple who could never keep their hands off each other found themselves in the unexpected position of refraining from physical contact.

With the help of their therapist, they decided to take their relationship back to square one. Well actually considering how Rose and Emmett's relationship had been from the very beginning, they decided to take their relationship back to about negative fifty.

They spent time together, just enjoying one another's company. They talked…and talked…and talked. Emmett began writing Rosalie love letters. Emmett! I know, right? Even I was surprised! Rosalie wrote him back, and soon they had built up an old fashioned correspondence of love letters that rivaled any of the great lovers of the past. Emmett courted Rosalie. There was no other word to describe it. Their new romance was formed along lines in which with the absence of touching a word, a look, or a comfortable silence meant everything. And on the day when Rosalie finally, finally reached out and took Emmett's hand, the significance of the love and trust she put into that one small gesture was lost on no one…especially not Emmett.

All in all, though, the process took years. Emmett and Rosalie where the last of us to do so, but they did finally marry and were very happy together. They'd had more obstacles to overcome than the rest of us. Adding to what they'd already been through, Rosalie had found out that she couldn't have the baby she so desperately wanted with Emmett. But Emmett had reassured her that they didn't have to have a baby who shared their DNA to make that baby theirs. They had eventually adopted a beautiful baby girl they named Lily Isabelle who Rosalie loved with all her heart and who had had Emmett wrapped around her little finger from the moment he first saw her.

I smiled wistfully as I thought of my friends and the happiness they had all found. I missed them terribly, now that we were scattered all across the country.

Rosalie and Emmett had stayed in Forks where he currently taught and coached at our old high school and she stayed home with Lily.

Alice's fashion career had taken off, and she'd relocated to New York to be in the thick of the fashion industry there. Jasper, of course, had gone with her and was now teaching American history classes at NYU. They had decided not to have kids and were blissfully happy with just the two of them; still wrapped up in each other after all these years.

Edward and I had ended up in Chicago. After graduating with his degree in mechanical engineering, Edward had worked in the auto industry for a few years. But after our daughter, Elizabeth Anne – named after his grandmother and sharing her middle name with Esme – was born he had decided to go back to school. He got his Masters not in Engineering, as I'd expected, but in Business. He was now working for a big corporation…you know, one of those who make everything from shampoo to baby diapers…and he loved it!

When our second child, a son we named Anthony Charles, came along, I decided to quit working and stay home with my children. It was by far the hardest job I'd ever had. There were days when I wanted to tear my hair out in frustration and I longed for just a few minutes of adult conversation! But as the kids grew older and they each started school, I was occasionally granted some precious time to myself, and things got better.

Marriage to Edward. Where do I even begin? It was better than I ever even imagined it would be. Sure, over the course of the years, we'd had our share of ups and downs. We weren't immune to the arguments and irritations that almost every couple goes through. For example, I could not understand why the man seemed somehow incapable of rinsing off a dish before putting it in the dishwasher. I mean seriously, is it that difficult to remember to run a plate under the faucet a couple of times? Apparently for Edward it was. But being married to the love of my life? The man of my dreams? My very best friend? It was so worth overlooking those little things that sometimes bothered me.

So, my life should have been great, right? I was spending my life with Edward. We were financially secure. We had two beautiful, healthy children. I even had the choice if I wanted to work or stay home with my kids. How many women would have given anything to be in my shoes?

And for the most part, I was happy. I mean, staying home with the kids drove me more than a little nuts sometimes. Doing the same tasks like laundry and dishes and grocery shopping over and over and over again could be extremely monotonous. But I felt like what I was doing was important. I was raising my children, taking care of my Edward and of our home. There was dignity and a sense of accomplishment in that. Even if I did have trouble remembering that some days.

All of that changed, however, on the day my dad turned seventy.

I had called him that morning as the kids were eating breakfast, so that the three of us could wish him a happy birthday before the kids left for school. As we talked, I had thought that he sounded a little strange. Distracted maybe? But I hadn't thought too much about it.

The next afternoon my mother called me to tell me that Dad was in the hospital. She had said he wasn't feeling well the night before and had asked her to take him to the emergency room. That didn't sound like my dad at all. He was like me, more the suffer in silence type, so I knew that something was really wrong. When I pressed my mom for more details though, she said the doctors were doing tests, but that my dad was fine. She assured me there was nothing to worry about. When I suggested flying out to Washington to be there for him, she'd told me there was no need. That I shouldn't trouble myself.

I wasn't sure what to do, so I called Carlisle. He wasn't my dad's doctor, but he had been keeping an eye on situation for my sake. He still couldn't tell me anything specific about my dad's condition, of course, because of patient confidentiality. But when I asked him whether or not I should come, he did say that he thought maybe I should. Scared out of my mind, I called Edward and arranged for him to come home early to be with the children and then arranged the first possible flight to Sea-Tac.

When I got there, I immediately knew something was wrong. My dad was talking and laughing; his memory seemed to be fine, because we traded stories of Elizabeth and Anthony when they were babies; however, he was complaining that the right side of his body was numb.

I was certain that he'd had a stroke, but my mother was adamant that he hadn't. When I told her that I had some questions for my dad's doctor, my mom went ballistic and told me that I wasn't to ask any questions. My own temper flared. I told Mom in no uncertain terms that I may be her child, but I was no longer an actual child. I was a grown woman with a husband and family of my own. And I would be damned if I wasn't going to get some satisfactory answers about my dad's condition from someone. If Mom was unwilling or unable to tell me what I needed to know, I would go around her…or through her if I had to. As you can probably imagine, that went over well with Renée. She sat in a corner and sulked while I talked to Charlie's doctor.

It turned out that I had been right. My dad had had a stroke. And regardless of the fact that he was still able to communicate and remember and was not completely paralyzed, the stroke had actually been a massive one.

But the stroke was only the beginning. It turned out that Charlie also had advanced prostate cancer that had spread throughout his body.

The news was devastating, yet I still had hope. This was my dad; of course he would be okay. I mean, I knew he was really sick, but we'd still have time. The doctor said that my dad could live for another two years. Not enough time certainly, but it was better than losing him right then.

Unfortunately, I wasn't to have those two extra years with my father. Just a few days after his first stroke he had another. And just days after that, a third. The series of strokes left him completely unresponsive. His body was still there, but my dad was already gone.

I was afraid that I would have to fight my mother about letting my dad go quickly and peacefully. I feared that she would want to keep him left hooked up to machines for God only knew how long, keeping his body artificially alive because she couldn't face losing him. But luckily they'd discussed what he'd wanted if anything like this ever happened to him. Dad had told her that he didn't want machines keeping him alive, and I was relieved that she was willing to acquiesce to his wishes.

Edward flew in to be with me at the end. We'd talked about it and decided that the kids were too young see their grandfather lying unresponsive in a hospital bed, so Elizabeth and Anthony stayed with Carlisle and Esme while we were at the hospital.

On the day that would change my life forever ten days after Dad was first admitted to the hospital I sat in that small, sterile room concentrating on every single breath he took. He was struggling to breathe, his inhalations getting further and further apart. Every time there was a pause, I waited in the silence with horrified anticipation, wondering if my father would ever breathe again.

Edward had spent the night at his parents' so he could spend some time with the children. He hadn't yet arrived at the hospital, although I had called him and told him that my dad wouldn't live much longer, and he'd said he was on his way so he could be with me.

It was just my mother and I in the room with my father. She had pulled a chair up beside his bed and held his hand. Exhausted, she lay her head next to his on the pillow and fell asleep.

I sat in a chair at the foot of his bed, waiting…watching…all alone.

One breath….

Another…

One more…

And nothing.

I stood from my chair and approached the bed, still waiting for him to breathe again and resume my vigil. It didn't happen.

I slowly approached my mother, afraid to wake her to her new reality. Hesitantly, I reached out and placed my hand on her shoulder.

She immediately bolted upright. "What? What is it, Bella?"

"Mom…he's gone," I said gently.

Her brow furrowed in confusion as her sleep-addled brain tried to make sense of what I was telling her. Then her eyes widened, and she glanced down at my father. She threw her arms around him and began to sob.

I felt awkward standing there watching my mother grieve. I didn't know what to do. I didn't want to believe my dad was really gone. If I let my own grief out, I felt like I would just be making something I couldn't face yet real.

"Bella?" I heard Edward's velvety soft voice from the doorway.

I turned and saw him standing there…my friend, my husband, my strength.

"Edward…"

His name had barely passed my lips when I found myself enveloped in his embrace. And it was only there, with his love surrounding me, that I could unleash my own pain. In the arms of the second man I'd ever loved, I cried for the first man who'd captured my heart. I knew then that my father's loss would leave a permanent hole in my heart for the rest of my life.

In the aftermath of losing my dad, I plunged into the second deep depression of my life. It was different in a lot of ways from how I'd felt after Mike died. There wasn't the self-loathing and blame. But I again pulled away from everyone I loved only this time to an even greater degree. I couldn't be around anyone, not even Edward and my children. I hid myself away. There was no other word for it. I sealed myself in my room and let my family fend for themselves.

Edward didn't say anything at first. He knew that I was grieving for my dad. But months went by and I withdrew more and more. I never left the house unless I was forced to. I never even left my room if I had a choice. I spent countless hours huddled in my wingback chair in the corner of my room the one that couldn't be seen from the doorway reading novels and losing myself in the lives of the characters.

Finally, even Edward's patience was at an end.

"Bella, we can't live this way anymore. All you do is hide in our room! You don't pay attention to the children. You forget about their activities. I come home from working all day and the house is a wreck. I make dinner and check homework and get the kids ready for bed every night…"

I started to cry. I knew what was coming next. Edward was fed up. He was going to leave me.

"And that's fine. I haven't minded doing more than my share, because I know what you're going through. But now…"

Here it was. The moment when I would finally lose everything that had meant the world to me.

"Love, I've seen you depressed before. I know what it's like for you. But this… I feel like we're losing you."

I tried to focus on his face, but the tears blurred my vision. "Would that be such a bad thing, Edward? Obviously I'm not doing you or the children any good."

I could see the caution in his eyes now. "Bella, are you thinking about leaving us? Are you…having suicidal thoughts again."

"No! It's not like that. I don't feel like killing myself. I just… I don't know, Edward. I just feel like I'm never going to be happy again. Like every moment of every day is an unbearable burden that I just don't know how to get through."

"Oh," he said quietly. "You're not happy with us…with me…anymore?"

My tears fell faster. The last thing I wanted was for him to think that I didn't love him. "That's not it. Not at all. I just feel like I don't…" I paused, knowing that I was now in familiar territory, "deserve you."

"Bella," he began, but I interrupted him.

"Edward, I know that I'm not the wife you deserve. I know I'm not the mother that Elizabeth and Anthony need right now. I know that, but I just can't make myself stop feeling this way. And I just keep waiting for you to cut your losses…to leave me…to divorce me. I wouldn't blame you."

Suddenly his hands were cradling my face and his eyes were locked with mine. "I'm not going anywhere, love. I told you a long time ago, there's nothing you can do to make me fall out of love with you. I love you, Bella. I always have and I always will. I'm just worried about you right now."

I closed my eyes against the wave of emotion that swept through me. "I love you, too. And I want to be your wife again, Edward. I don't want our children to be without a mother anymore."

"I'm here for you. I'll do whatever you need me to do," he assured me.

I knew that I needed help. Still, I was petrified. This would be a very big step for me. "I don't think I can do this on my own this time. Baby, I think I need therapy."

Edward wrapped his arms around me. "If that's what you need, then that's what we'll do."

I began therapy a month later. I also began taking antidepressants that my doctor prescribed. The combination of the two helped immeasurably, and I began to feel like I was part of my own life again.

In therapy, I found myself not only talking about the loss of my father, but also about Mike. Twenty years after the fact, I was finally discussing my feelings about Mike's death with a therapist. Better late than never, huh?

In working through the anger and helplessness I felt at losing my dad, I found an echo of those same emotions for Mike still inside of me. In some ways, I felt like I was living them all over again. I told my therapist that I didn't know what to do with these emotions. I was afraid I would unleash them on Edward or my children. She suggested that writing might be the perfect outlet for my feelings. I had felt a small smile tug at the corners of my mouth at her suggestion, thinking of Edward encouraging me to do the same thing when he gave me that beautiful journal all those years ago.

I did as my therapist suggested and began to write. I chose a different avenue than journaling this time though. Instead I decided to write everything down in story form. By telling myself that it was fiction and being able to hide behind the characters I created, I gave myself a safe place to vent all those painful feelings that I needed to get out.

And surprisingly, I found that writing stories was something I loved to do. I was sure that it would never be anything more than a hobby I knew I probably wouldn't be the next J. K. Rowling or Stephenie Meyer but writing was something that brought me joy again.

"Bella?"

Edward's voice startled me, and I realized I was still standing in the middle of our bedroom. I turned to look at him over my shoulder. He was laying on his back in the middle of our bed, naked to the waist, the sheet covering his hips and twisting around his legs. He was sleep-tousled and, as always, sexy as hell. Just the sight of him made my mouth start to water.

"Yes, my love?" I asked him.

"Well, I woke up and saw you standing there, and it got me to thinking…"

"Yes?" I prompted.

"You're awake. I'm awake. Elizabeth and Anthony are apparently sleeping in this morning. Wouldn't it be a shame to waste an opportunity like this?" His crooked grin graced his lips, making him absolutely irresistible. Not that I had an intention of trying to resist him.

I quickly crossed to the bedroom door and turned the lock before sprinting across the room and jumping back into bed with him.

Laughing at my enthusiasm, he pulled the covers back for me, and I snuggled in beside him.

"You know, Mr. Cullen," I said, slipping my arms around his neck, "I like the way you think."

He dipped his head and brushed his lips lightly against mine. "And you know, Mrs. Cullen, that I like the way you taste," he replied before kissing me more firmly and teasing my lips apart.

I lost myself once again in making love to my Edward. I knew to the depths of my soul that I could never have enough of this man. I would still be loving and lusting after Edward Cullen for the rest of my life, and I wouldn't want it any other way.

Our life wasn't a fairy tale. There was no happily ever after. There was just the two of us making a life together, raising our children together, and always loving one another. And I couldn't have asked for a better end to my story than that.


I hope you all enjoyed this glimpse into the futures of the On a Lonesome Road gang. It is my sincerest wish that you understand my need for a non-fairy tale ending. On a Lonesome Road is a story about real life. Much of the content is based on actual events. And life, unfortunately, never has a stopping point one can call a happily ever after. But my characters will continue to live their lives and love one another the best way that they can. I hope this satisfies those of you out there who need a HEA.

I want to again thank all of you who took this journey with me. Your love and support has been invaluable. Especially Delta, Gemma, Ravyn, Nina and the ladies on the On a Lonesome Road thread. There would be no On a Lonesome Road without you.

So what's next from me? Well, I am kicking around the idea of revisiting the On a Lonesome Road universe from Edward's POV. I also have an idea for a mostly-fluffy romance. Yes, I know a fluffy romance from me must be a sign of the apocalypse, but it's in the works nonetheless. ;) I hope that some of you will be interested in these future projects.