Every summer, I was amazed by how, simultaneously, so much and so little had changed in the last ten years. On this particular evening as I walked toward the bonfire that my husband and friends had built near the shore, I couldn't help but be reminded of the bonfire that had led me to my dear friends ten years prior, the memories of that fateful week on the Carolina shore flooding my memory, as they did most summers. In a beautiful combination of moonlight and firelight, I saw the faces of my lifelong friends—Rose and Emmett, smiling at each other as he lovingly rubbed her pregnant belly; Alice and Jasper sitting on a piece of driftwood, each of them with an eye on one of their rambunctious two-and-a-half year old twins as they played in the sand; and, finally, my Edward, smiling as he held our daughter in his arms, pointing out to her the constellations that we weren't privy to in the city.
"I brought snacks!" I announced once I was close enough, earning me a squeal from one of the Whitlock twins and a squirming Ella in Edward's arms. Always eager for a snack, that one. Emmett loved it; he finally had a partner in crime.
It was quite a change from the box of Franzia that had been opened the first night that I walked toward such a bonfire alone, but clearly marked the fact that our lives had transitioned from young adulthood to plain, old adulthood, complete with children and mortgages and 401k's.
After placing Ella on the ground so that she could run towards the food I had placed on a blanket in the sand, Edward approached me from behind, his arms wrapping around my waist as he rested his chin on my shoulder.
"Mrs. Cullen," he murmured into my ear, "did you bribe our sweet Ella with snacks so you could get me alone and have your way with me?"
I turned in his arms, a smile spreading across my face. "My back-up plan is to tell Rose and Em that they need practice. Plus, I missed you last week when you were out of the city…"
Without missing a beat, Edward turned his head slightly and yelled in the direction of our friends, "Rose, Em you're on little girl Cullen duty. Knock before entering our room."
"Edward!" I squealed, swatting him across the chest.
He shrugged innocently before a playful smile appeared on his face and, the next thing I knew, I was being tossed over his shoulder and he was walking briskly through the sand in the direction of the house.
"Where are Mommy and Daddy going?" I heard Ella ask whoever was around to answer her question. I didn't bother to listen for an answer, sure that someone would provide her with an answer that would satisfy her innocent curiosity.
"Mommy and Daddy are going to have adult playtime, right babe?" Edward murmured so that only I could hear, one of his hands reaching up to palm my ass.
"Mmhmm," I agreed, starting to feel a bit sick from bouncing up and down against his shoulder. "But you might want to put me down."
"Why? Are you worried about my back? You feel the same as you always have, Bella."
"No, no, I just…I feel kind of sick," I said, moaning a bit at the end of my statement as I felt my stomach rumble.
Slowing, he placed my feet on the sand as we reached the edge of the stairs that led to the deck on the back of the house. Turning to me, he brushed my hair back and examined my face.
"What's wrong? Did you eat something bad?"
"I've just been feeling a bit nauseas since the drive in. I'm fine," I assured him, leaning forward to peck him on the lips.
I nodded firmly. "Positive. Come on," I said, grabbing his hand in mine and pulling him up the stairs. "I'm sure our bedroom has missed us. I know I've missed it."
Every summer after our original week in Charleston for Alice and Jasper's wedding, the six of us had made an effort to schedule two weeks to spend together in the same coastal town. It wasn't always easy for three busy couples to take the time off work, but somehow we always managed to make it happen.
For the first six years, we rented the same house as that first year, but by the end of that summer there was talk of babies and growth and we knew it was time to sit down and have a serious discussion—to move on, or to squeeze it all in the current house. One afternoon, Rose and I were putting together sandwiches for everyone when she commented how nice it would be for us to have a place to go each summer that was truly ours, with photographs of our friendships throughout the years and rooms to build memories to last a lifetime in, a place to bring our yet-to-be-born children year after year. After some sweet-talking on our parts, the men started looking and so, the seventh year, there was one beach house, divided financially by three families, with room to grow in hopes of future children.
Some years, Edward and I would escape to the beach house for a weekend here and there, sometimes with our precious Ella and sometimes by ourselves. Other weekends, Rose and Emmett would have the house, and sometimes it was Jasper and Alice. The special weekends, though, were when we were all together, laughing and sharing memories while making new ones.
Children, of course, only added to the excitement. Surprisingly, Edward and I were the first to start a family, beginning with Ella the Christmas after our first summer at the new beach house. Jasper and Alice followed quickly behind, popping out a set of twins that spring. Emmett and Rose took a little while longer, as Em didn't ask propose until a summer before we bought the beach house, so this summer she was miserably pregnant, due in late August.
Life was a little crazy, but we loved it.
The next morning, a bouncing three-year-old awakened Edward and me, jumping on us and exclaiming that the waves weren't waiting.
"Come oooonnn," Ella pleaded, holding onto to one of each of our hands. She was using all of the force in her little body and failing miserably to pull us out of the bed.
"It's only seven a.m., pretty little girl," Edward said, sitting up and rubbing his eyes. His hair was sticking out in every possible direction. The desire I had of wanting to rub my hands through it was just as strong as it had been ten years ago.
"Sooooo," she countered in a tone that only a toddler could make cute. If I was a betting woman, I would say that Alice had been giving her lessons.
"What if you go have Uncle Emmett make you some breakfast and we'll be down in a bit? You know he's probably already in the kitchen," I offered, slowly sitting up as I spoke.
Ella's eyes lit up like they do on Christmas morning, or her birthday, or, really, anytime some marginally exciting happened.
"Eggs and bacon?"
"No bacon!" Edward and I yelled at the same time.
"No bacon?" She was pouting.
"Uncle Em isn't a good bacon maker," I explained carefully, rubbing my hand through her soft baby hair. She nodded without asking questions and scrambled off the bed, running quickly through the doorway in search of food.
At the second mention of food, my stomach began to rumble uncomfortably. With what I'm sure was a frown, I ignored it and turned to Edward.
"Last night was fun."
"It was," he agreed, grinning slyly. "And Ella survived without us."
"Sometimes I wonder if she's Emmett's child," he joked, his eyes narrowing in my direction.
I giggled. "She certainly has his appetite." Pausing, I ran a hand through his messy hair. "But she has your eyes."
He smiled, his eyes crinkling with new lines that I loved; 'I'm loved' lines, I called them.
"God, don't mention food," I moaned, falling back to my spot on the bed, my eyes closing as I rubbed my stomach.
His concerned eyes were directly over mine when I opened them slowly. "Are you still feeling sick?"
I nodded slowly. "A little bit, yeah."
"So it wasn't the ride in?"
I shook my head back and forth. "Doesn't feel like it."
"Do you think it's a bug?"
I shrugged. "I have no idea, Edward. Hey, maybe I'm pregnant," I joked, poking him in the stomach.
It was probably a cruel joke, considering Edward and I had been having a trouble conceiving since we had decided to try for another child after Ella's first birthday. Nothing, it seemed, was working. Though I hadn't mentioned it to Edward, I was starting to make myself content with the fact that maybe we weren't meant to have a large, rambunctious family.
His eyes widened, a combination of shock and excitement. "You think?"
"I was joking, don't get too excited," I sighed, pushing him over so that I could sit up. When I did, though, my head started swimming.
"Whoa," I murmured closing my eyes as I scooted to the end of the bed and leaned forward, my head between my knees.
Edward was behind me instantly, rubbing a warm palm against my back.
"Nausea, dizziness, how do your boobs feel? Tender? Any weird cravings, missed periods?"
"You tell me."
"You were craving me last night, though that's not strange at all."
"I was talking about my boobs."
"Oh, they felt normal, too."
"I was kidding, Dr. Cullen."
"And I just trying to help explain why you fill ill."
I inhaled deeply and sat up, feeling that it was safe to do so. "I can't be pregnant."
Edward arched a challenging eyebrow.
"What?" I asked, crossing my arms over my chest.
"We aren't doing anything to prevent it," he said, shrugging. I could see a hint of a smile playing on his lips as hope danced in his eyes.
I sat there, silently contemplating the idea. Could I be?
Edward was silent as well, one hand running through his hair.
Finally, I spoke. "I don't want us to get our hopes up, but maybe I should take a test."
Edward was on his feet so quickly I was afraid I was going to be dizzy again. "I'm going to the store," he announced.
"Edward, no!" I jumped up. "We can't let anyone know."
"Ah, sneaking around in Charleston again, reminds me of old times…" he said wistfully.
I glared at him, completely unamused by his nonchalance (might not be a word). The disappointment on his face in response to my harsh look made me soften.
"Fine," I said reluctantly as I stood slowly. "I might need some more sunscreen."
"I'm going with you and we're doing this in the store. If it's negative, I don't want Alice or Rose to find it."
"Okay," Edward said, wrapping his arms around my waist and twirling me around. "We'll do whatever you want."
Two hours later, and three pregnancy tests later, it was confirmed—I was definitely pregnant. Edward, of course, wanted to tell everyone immediately. I told him we needed to wait, to give our little Cullen #2 a little more time to grow before announcing. Eventually, the doctor in him agreed that it was best to wait for at least a few weeks.
It was impossible, though, to hide my grin as I watched Edward help Emmett and Jasper plant a large umbrella in the sun. Between the news of the morning, and watching the wind win its battle against the men, I was practically glowing.
"Bellaaa," Alice chirped from her towel next to me. All at the same time she was reading, sunbathing, watching her twins play in the sand with Ella, and annoying the shit out of me.
Typical Alice, really.
"Uh huh?" I asked, pulling my gaze from our struggling husbands to her.
She just looked at me, daring me to tell her something she didn't know. I stared back, hoping that I could keep up the fight and not fall to her silent demands.
"You have news," she said in her all-knowing way.
I shrugged, caving. "Maybe. I'll give you five questions."
"You're moving closer to us?"
Alice and Jasper still lived in Texas, far too many miles from our home in New York City—a fact that both of us shared the hatred of. Of course, at the same time, Edward and I were certain we couldn't imagine raising a family anywhere else, we loved the culture and opportunities that were available to them in such a bustling metropolis.
"Damn," she said, knowing she was wrong. "Um, you got a promotion? You're getting published again? A sequel to your first book?"
I snorted. "No to two, three, and four."
"Hey, baby?" Jasper called from where he was standing. "Do you know where the sunscreen is? I need some more for the kids."
Alice gasped suddenly, her eyes moving rapidly from Jasper, to my stomach, to my face, to Edward, and back to my stomach before finally settling on my face.
"You're pregnant," she stated bluntly, definitely without a lift at the end of her sentence signaling a question.
Without confirming or denying her statement, I simply closed my eyes.
"You didn't say five…" Her voice trailed off.
I ignored her.
"You didn't say five," she said, louder this time. "Oh my God, where's Rose?"
When I opened my eyes again, she was gone.
"What happened to keeping it a secret?" Edward murmured from behind me, his breath tickling against my skin.
"I guess you heard the exchange." I turned to face him, shrugging. "You know, Alice knows all."
He was silent for a moment, seeming to contemplate his answer. "Well, it's good to know that some things never change."
I smiled as his statement, turning back to face the waves as he moved to sit behind me, resting his chin on my shoulder. And, as we sat there watching our daughter play with what we hoped would be her lifelong friends, I savored the moment.
Except, the moment ended five minutes later when I heard a very scary voice from behind me. Normally it wouldn't have taken her as long, but I figured that the pregnancy had forced her to waddle from the air conditioned house down to where were had set up in the sand.
"Isabella Cullen you better damn well not be hiding something from me," I heard Rose say as she approached.
"Rose! Babe! Did you bring snacks?" Emmett asked, patting his still-flat-after-all-these-years belly.
"Em, seriously?" Jasper asked. "You just had breakfast, like, an hour ago."
I felt Edward's chest move as he silently chuckled behind me.
"Yeah," I said, "some things really do never change."
"Bella!" Rose demanded, standing in front of me, her head blocking the sun.
"Rose!" I retorted, matching her tone.
She rolled her eyes. "Edward?" Her tone was sickly sweet as she attempted to get the answer she wanted from him.
I felt him shrug against me, sighing before saying, "Alice knows all."
Rose squealed and waddled back towards Alice, her swollen belly leading the way.
Leaning back against Edward, I closed my eyes and smiled.
"You know," he commented, seemingly out of the blue, "every now and then I get in these weird moods where I evaluate my life, choosing the best and worst days and comparing them to each other. And you know what?"
"Hmm?" I asked, not bothering to open my eyes, but dropping my head against his shoulder.
"There have been a lot more 'best' days since that first summer here, the one where I found you again."
Turning my head slightly, I kissed him gently on the jaw, letting him know without words that I couldn't have agreed more. The crazy parties, the calm afternoons, the flirting and the sneaking around—all had been the start of the best years of my life.
"Today is one of those days," he added minutes later. "A 'best' day."
"Definitely," I agreed, my lips spread across my face in a beaming smile.
And I knew with sudden clarity as I leaned against my husband and watched my dear friends interact, that the best days were only beginning. Sure, jobs would be lost and found, babies would be born and grow, mortgages would be paid, and parents would pass on, but this—the friendship, the memories, and the laughter—would always remain, pulling us together when times were easy and hard.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for your support of this story. I hope that you enjoyed the epilogue...I'd love to hear your thoughts, even if you have never reviewed before!
There's definitely a possibility for outtakes, so be sure to put me on alert.
Love you all!