A/N: an epilogue is usually the shortest part of the story, but this one turned out pretty massive. This is because it includes both Edward's and Bella's POVs, each covering half the space. As you will see, it picks up a few odd years after chapter 30 has left off – I really hope I got everyone's ages right. Feel free to correct me if you find any inconsistencies – math is not my strongest suit lol. Although there's still an outtake I haven't posted, I want to thank you guys for your feedback and compliments, and for sticking up with this story. It was great fun to write, and it was even better to read all your comments and speculations. I'd love to know what you think about this one final piece because it turned out to be my favorite to write… you'll see why soon enough ;)
I'd almost forgotten how remarkable London had been at night. It was as if it had woken into life. It had a certain quality, a certain charm, which even New York City didn't possess. The streets were packed with people on their way to one show or another, the cafés and restaurants were full with people who came to have a bite to eat a little before showtime. I hadn't been here for a while, but it felt as if nothing had changed much: the billboards above the theatres, like shimmering diamonds, their lights sparkling into the night, the buzz of excitement, the constant babble in the streets.
But there was something different about tonight, something that made the entire city glow twice as bright. I couldn't help the smile that I could feel curling on my lips as I caught sight of the marquee that hung on one of the theatre's walls, announcing today's performance. If I didn't think of it as self-humiliating, I'd take my cell phone out and snap a picture of it. But with the place swarming with well-respected people, I thought perhaps I'd better not. I might be kicked out and miss my wife's first performance as a senior principal dancer.
It was hard to believe she truly got it. All those years of hard work and dreams that at times seemed unreachable, and it was finally all hers tonight. It felt oddly symbolic that her first role as a senior principal dancer would be Odette in Swan Lake. Everyone at home thought it was hilarious when we told them, of course. We were back on the same jokes, the same puns, as if it hadn't been twelve years since she'd danced it for her final recital in Juilliard. I was so proud of her my heart was about to burst into million pieces. I felt so lucky I could be here and support her.
But soon enough, I was reminded I wasn't the only family member who was there for her tonight.
"Hurry up, Daddy, we're gonna miss it!"
"We're not gonna miss it, since gonna is not a word," I corrected my overly excited six-year-old, my smile widening at her impatience. "And we're not going to miss it either. We've got plenty of time. It doesn't start until seven thirty."
"Come on anyway!" she declared, indifferent to my attempt at grammatical corrections, as she yanked at my jacket, fidgeting.
"Don't rip it, it's going to upset your mother."
"Mommy never gets upset with you," she protested, unaffected by my warning. I guess we'd given her good enough reason to sound so confident about her statement.
It was her first time abroad. Bella's promotion and her first big role were enough of a justification for a family trip overseas. The timing of this production was perfect as well, considering it was summertime. I wasn't sure which part of the experience excited her the most; the actual trip or the chance to see her mother onstage. She'd only seen Bella perform once before, since up until then we thought she was too young to sit through a full performance. Tonight was an exception.
I stole a quick glance at her, and our eyes met. Her smile reflected my state of giddy excitement. There was this glimmer in her eyes, so much like her mother's. She was such a perfect blend of the two of us. She had the bronze of my own hair, and Bella's dark brown eyes. But mostly, she was purely herself, like I used to think about Jade, Emmett's eldest, at the time. She was animated and erratic, traits neither Bella nor I had possessed. In a way, she was very much like her grandmother Renée, or her aunt Alice. Often we had found ourselves pondering where all that never-ending energy was coming from, whether it was an age-related thing or whether it was permanent, but at other times, I decided I just didn't care. She was our own personal miracle, our touchstone, our everything. I couldn't imagine our lives without her now.
She had made it all a little more bearable for me. I could never fully cope to Bella's absence whenever she was away. But ever since I became a father, my priorities sort of shifted. So instead of sitting there counting the days until my wife was home, I had my child to focus on. I learned so much about myself in that time it was just the two of us, my daughter and me. Dadward, Emmett used to joke, but I could tell he sensed the difference too. I found my strength in her.
I took her hand in mine and threw a glance at the crowd before I brought my eyes back to hers. "It's going to be a little crowded, so don't let go of my hand now, okay, Grace?"
"Okay, Daddy," she nodded seriously, and I could feel her little hand squeezing mine just a bit too tightly as if she wanted to make good on her promise.
She didn't seem intimidated by the mass of people around, even though they were all over us, huddled together in the lobby as we finally made our way in. Expensive perfume carried heavily in the air, mixed with faint smell of champagne and cigarette smoke that managed to sip in from the sidewalk. It was a sea of pearls and diamonds and furs, mostly in black, but with an occasional glimpse of color. I straightened my tie uncomfortably. I'd rarely worn ties, so it was needless to say I felt overdressed despite the fact that some of the men went as far as wearing a tux. I was so hot I felt like undoing the top button of my dress shirt, maybe rolling up the sleeves, but as soon as the thought had crossed my mind, I decided against it.
Grace eyed me critically, and then nodded her approval. "You look very pretty, Daddy."
I laughed softly. "You don't use pretty for men, sweetheart."
Sometimes it felt as if I would never be able to keep up with her ongoing questions. Where did the sun go when it got dark? How did the rain know when to stop just in time for springtime? And how would Santa know where to find us if we spent Christmas Eve with Grandma and Grandpa, and then Christmas Day with Grandpa Charlie? Even the simplest ones had insanely complicated answers. I found myself constantly mystified by this fact. "Just… because," was often my feeble reply.
"What do I say then?"
"So you look very handsome," she corrected herself, stumbling over the end of the new word. Then she looked up at me expectantly.
"Very good," I nodded, and she flashed a toothy grin at me.
I accidentally caught a glimpse of someone's wrist watch, and my breathing began to speed up. It was almost time. I knelt in front of my daughter. She held my gaze, and there was a flicker of concern there, as if she was sensing my distress. "Okay. Bathroom?"
"No. Can we just go in?" she pouted. I could feel my heart melt. This pout was her secret weapon, had been almost since the day she was old enough to understand its power. No one could remain indifferent to it, especially not me.
"Sure. I just need to do something first," I said, guiding her towards a small table where two ladies were selling programs. I only got one for now, knowing we'd probably be back here a few more times before it was time to head home, so I could get some for everyone else.
Grace watched me curiously as one of the ladies handed me my change along with the program. "What's that?"
"I'll show you when we go in, come on."
I let Grace hand our tickets to the usher. He seemed surprised at her being there, a child among all these grownups, and she informed him very seriously that her mommy was dancing here tonight. We spent a moment or two explaining to him who her mother was before he showed us in and explained how we could find our seats.
All day I'd been acting nonchalant, especially on the phone when people called to give Bella their best wishes. I even managed to maintain my composure while conversing with the usher just now. It was when we stepped into the dimly lit theatre that I began to feel those small tingles of excitement, like little jolts of electricity, not a reaction you'd expect from a person reaching forty in a few years. I'd been there before several times, but it had never seemed as grand to me as it did tonight.
Grace halted as soon as we passed the usher. "Whoa!" she gasped, standing on tiptoes so she could take a better look at the enormous balconies over our heads. The theatre on the inside was breathtaking. It had four floors in total. The sight of it, slowly filling in, made the blood freeze in my veins. I was pretty sure the Metropolitan, where she had been dancing regularly for years, had more seats than this theatre, and still, the thought of Bella dancing the lead in front of so many people made me excited yet absolutely terrified at the same time. I couldn't even begin to imagine how she must feel backstage, merely moments before curtain.
"Can they see anything from up there?"
"Not as well as you will," I laughed as I guided her to our seats in the stalls, third row, dead-center. I mentally reminded myself to thank Philippa Logan, who was still a key figure in the English National Ballet, for getting us such excellent seats.
From the corner of my eye, I detected a few well-dressed ladies in the row behind us eyeing me with cold disapproval as I helped Grace to take off her coat. I tried not to take offense. A child had always attracted that kind of attention in a theatre, normally a grownups' domain. But I wasn't worried about Grace misbehaving tonight. Regardless of the fact her mother was about to dance the lead tonight (a fact I felt like rubbing in those women's faces), Grace had enormous respect for everything that had to do with performing arts, ballet especially, having spent a major part of her childhood backstage of the New York City Ballet. I first took her with me to see Bella in The Nutcracker on Christmas, and she sat fascinated pretty much from beginning to end. When it came to ballet, she'd shown an amount of maturity that some much older people hadn't displayed, so I wasn't too worried about that.
I couldn't help but admire her dress again, dark green taffeta that made her look like a porcelain doll. Curtsey of Aunt Alice, of course. I wished I knew how to curl her hair, because I bet she would have looked even more adorable with ringlets. Instead I just brushed it properly, so it now tumbled down her back in long waves. I wasn't a completely hopeless dad, though. I knew how to braid her hair, sometimes better than Bella, an art even Emmett seemed unable to muster at the time. He was lucky his Jade turned out to be such a tom boy.
"Show me what you got," Grace reminded me as soon as we were seated, and her little hands reached out for the program.
"It's a program. We got one on Christmas too, remember? It has the names and pictures of everyone in the production."
"Mommy's too?" she exclaimed, finally getting my drift.
"Especially Mommy's," I smiled, and leafed through the pages until I found her. It was a different portrait than the one taken when she first got here. This one was taken when she was promoted into first soloist. I just stared at the photo in disbelief for a second, unable to grasp that it was happening, that she was finally on the first page, that she was going to dance her first leading role in less than fifteen minutes. For a moment it really did feel I'd pass out.
"I-sa-be-lla Sw-wan," Grace read out slowly, breaking out every sound and syllable. She was going to start elementary school in September, but we'd been working on her reading for a few months. For someone who had turned six only a few months ago, she was doing really well. However, she still had trouble with long, unfamiliar words. She looked up at me, and there was confusion in her dark stare. "Why Swan?"
"That was her surname before we got married, and she kept it as her stage name."
"What's a stage name?"
"Some artists don't use their own names. Like, remember Ivan, Mommy's friend? The one who's now a dancer in Russia? He has a different name."
She gaped at me. "He does?"
I nodded, smiling at the childish fascination in her eyes. "But you can't tell anyone. He likes to keep it a secret."
"What else?" she handed me the program and watched me attentively.
I skimmed over her bio. "It says Mommy is a senior principal dancer, which is the highest position in the company for a dancer. This is why she is doing the lead tonight." I couldn't help the hint of pride my voice carried. I hoped the sour-looking ladies heard me. "And under that it says what roles she did before and how long she's been with the company."
The information seemed to please her. She looked ahead for a moment, then back at me. "The stage is awfully close."
"If I wave, will she see me?"
"She might. But you can only wave when it's over."
"I know," she said, looking offended at the thought of me thinking otherwise.
"I was just checking," I taunted her, reaching out to touch her cheek. I wanted to poke her like I'd do at home, but I didn't want to risk a fit of hiccups just a few minutes before the show.
I looked up, startled at the realization that the strange voice seemed to be addressing me. A young woman now occupied the seat next to mine. She looked straight at me, but there was something uncertain and hesitant in her smile.
"Are you Edward Cullen?"
I gaped at her for a second, unsure how she could know my name. Her thick accent implied she'd been living here probably all her life, so there was slim chance for us to know each other. She looked about twenty, my students' age, but there was something striking about her features I knew I would have remembered her if indeed she had been one of mine. She wore dark purple, and the color made her red hair stand out. There was something oddly familiar about her, and so I knew I'd seen her before, but I couldn't put my finger on when. Especially right now, with my nerves hanging on a thread.
And as if she found the recognition she wanted in my eyes, she laughed softly. "I'm Emily Earnshaw. My parents are – "
"Nathan and Claire," I completed when it suddenly dawned on me, my voice low with awe. Then, as it slowly sank in, I let out a short, surprised laugh. "Oh my God, look at you!" I hadn't seen her for years. She must have been about eleven or twelve the last time we met. "Are they here with you?" I asked, looking over her shoulder, suddenly hoping they were.
"No. Mom is in-between productions, and Dad has a few weeks off before the new semester, so they're spending the summer in South Africa," she replied, rolling her eyes.
I smiled at her reaction. It sounded like something Claire would do. I couldn't help feeling sorry for Nathan. "What are you doing here?"
"I have a friend at the company who got me tickets, otherwise I would have found myself up there," she said, nodding at the unfortunate viewers at the balconies. "I squealed so hard when I happened to see the cast list," she confessed, and faint pink tainted her cheeks. "I bet you're so proud of her."
"Right now, I'm scared out of my wits for her," I laughed nervously. I wondered if she was already up there, in the wings. I wondered if her heart was racing, if her hands were shaking. I wondered if she'd read our card yet, the one we'd been planning for weeks and then worked so hard to keep away from her. I hoped she knew we were out here. More than anything, I hoped it comforted her.
"She'll be grand. I'm looking forward to see her."
We'd kept in close touch with Nathan and Claire for a while, and then it was as if things became busy overnight, and our conversations narrowed down to phone calls on holidays and birthdays. Our friendship sort of faded, like long distance friendships often do. It was sad and upsetting, but that was how life worked. "Does she know you're here?"
"No. I wanted to surprise her. I guess I should have expected to find you here." She looked over my shoulder, and flashed an impish grin at me, painfully like her mother's. "Here with a date, I see."
I turned to face Grace, whose gaze shifted between me and Emily. "This is our daughter Grace. Grace, Emily is a friend of Mommy and me."
"Hello, Grace," said Emily, her voice softer. "How old are you?"
"I'm six," Grace whispered, and then buried her head in the crook of my elbow.
"She's a little shy," I apologized.
Emily shook her head dismissively, and then smiled at her. "I've known your mommy since I was about your age."
This made Grace raise her head. She scrutinized Emily's face for a moment before she asked, "Are you a dancer too?"
"I am, yes."
"You're, what, about twenty now?" I asked.
"Nineteen this winter. I'm just about to start my professional training. I got accepted to Rambert, if you've heard of it."
"I haven't, but I'm sure Bella has."
I wanted to ask more, but at that moment, the lights above us dimmed, and darkness wrapped around the theatre. Grace clung to my side for a second, with excitement I thought, before she sank further into her seat. I exchanged a frantic look with Emily, who just smiled with much more confidence than I felt. I took a deep breath, and slowly released it. Good luck, love. But my silent words were swallowed by the first sounds of the orchestra.
It wasn't until the first announcement resonated above my head that I truly realized what was about to happen. I was beyond feeling terrified, but that didn't mean the butterflies in my stomach disappeared – never that. A little doze of stage fright was healthy, even after nearly thirteen years of practical experience. I read once that the moment you lost it, it was time to retire.
Well, that time had hardly come for me.
My dressing room was small, and it felt smaller than usual with the enormous amount of flowers and cards and fan letters. We'd be sending the flowers to local hospitals later on in the evening, a part of a long-termed tradition of the company. I looked at the card I still held in my hands, the one I got specific order not to open until I was absolutely ready to go onstage, costume and makeup and everything, the one card that nearly made me undergo the entire makeup process again.
GOOD LUCK TONIGHT, MOMMY – WE LOVE YOU! – my daughter wrote, clearly with her father's assistance. She hadn't mustered the writing of lower case letters yet, and knowing her, she must have insisted on filling out the card herself. I looked at her handwriting, big and childish and yet confident. Each letter was written carefully, as if he had dictated each word for her, his patience endless as always. I thought about them doing it on the sly, planning to keep it away from me until tonight. I raised the card to touch my lips to it, careful not to stain it with lipstick. I smiled as I thought of her, my beautiful baby girl, my lucky charm.
From a very early point of our marriage, Edward and I decided not to have children right away. A year with the English National Ballet was hardly enough to establish myself as a dancer. I was lucky to be promoted into a soloist shortly after I joined the New York City Ballet, but it felt like I needed to do more, much more, to make that year abroad pay off. I was afraid Edward would resent me for wanting to keep my career running for a little longer before who knew when I'd be able to work again, but I should have known better. He was as sweet and supportive about that as about everything else until then. He'd better focus on his studies anyway, too, he said. There was no reason why we wouldn't wait, he assured me.
Luckily for us, there was no family pressure, especially since Emmett and Rosalie had their twins. Matthew and Andrew were born three years after Jade, and that was enough to keep everyone busy. Fortunately for Emmett, he gained his own private football team as all three became enthusiastic sports fans. He used to take the boys to games when they were barely five. Jade started playing professional hockey this year, much to Rosalie and Alice's dismay. I knew they had expected to dress her up like they did with Sophie at the time. Eventually they found their human Barbie in my Grace, and a few years later in Alice's own daughter Lily.
So it was about five years into our marriage when I got pregnant. It wasn't a big surprise when it happened – we'd been trying for nearly a year – but it was still a hard blow for me. I cried for a long time when I realized I wouldn't be able to keep up with what had become my life routine, not even in the first few months. The company wasn't taking any risks, and I had to step down for the year. I'd never been away from my dancing for long. Sometimes it felt like rehab from some life risking addiction. There were days I thought I wouldn't be able to come through. There was no other option for me. I needed to dance. It was a part of who I was. This was when second thoughts began to wash over me. It wasn't something I was proud of, those second thoughts. But they were all gone when I saw her, our daughter, his and mine. And in that moment, the first time they let me see her, nothing else mattered.
It was a difficult struggle to balance between everything I'd cared for in my life, Grace and ballet, New York and London, family and career, but one which I eventually won. Going back to work was a gradual process. Getting back in shape had often been tougher than not dancing at all. I only performed in local productions at first. Then I was promoted again, and was sent to London for the first time in years as a first soloist. Grace was barely three and I was scared to leave Edward alone with her, but he promised they'd be okay, and they were. And this was what we'd done from then on, whenever I had to go overseas to work.
Edward, who loathed the spotlights even more strongly than I did, turned to teaching. Side by side with his enrolling into the doctoral program in Juilliard, he joined their staff, first as a tutor, and then, a few years later, as a piano teacher. It worked perfectly after Grace was born, because his schedule was much more flexible than mine. I'd take her with me when rehearsals allowed me to, and he'd pick her up on his way home since we were situated close enough to one another. It worked really well; better than I'd expected, at times.
They had such an incredible bond, these two. Edward worshipped the earth beneath her feet. It was all kinds of ridiculous. For the past few months, he'd been teaching her how to play the piano side by side with reading and writing. Since she was born, he'd never come to see me when I had a production in London. He didn't want to leave Grace behind. It didn't matter that everyone volunteered to keep an eye on her during our absence. Emmett and Rosalie's kids loved her as their own sister. Charlie was crazy about her, his only granddaughter, and Carlisle and Esme adored her. On the day she was born, Alice declared she was willing to adopt her. We were covered on all ends, and still he insisted.
But tonight was different, I thought, my smile widening an inch. Tonight they were both here.
Tonight was my ultimate victory, the end of the struggle. I finally got there, to the top, the place that looked like an unreached dream when I first got to London. It took me longer than it had for others; twelve years for a senior principal dancer, a position one could reach to in nine, ten years at most. I knew it was because I had to step down for the year to have Grace, but I didn't regret that. And eventually, I got it, so there was really no point looking back.
The second announcement sounded, and I reluctantly lowered my card to the makeup table. I glanced at the mirror, and then hurried out. The corridors were a maze I'd known well, now with masses of people hurrying every which way. The size of the theatre, inside and out, should have been intimidating to me, but it wasn't. After so many years here, it felt like home.
I was surprisingly calm from the moment the orchestra started playing. I saw them briefly from time to time, while standing offstage or in a certain angle from the spotlight. Father and daughter, looking so much alike. We got a long standing ovation when we took our final bow. For a moment, I just stood there, overwhelmed by it all. I couldn't believe it was over so fast. Edward picked Grace up so she could wave at me. I blew her a kiss, and she pretended to catch it, like we'd often done at home. Then my gaze shifted to Edward again. Holding Grace up, he couldn't clap or wave, but it was all in his eyes, in his half smile, in the way he shook his head ever so slightly. I didn't need anything else.
There was an official cast party in a few nights, so I reveled at the opportunity to spend the rest of this evening with my family. I'd been away from them for nearly a month, and I barely spent time with them since they got here. I got ready as fast as I could, impatient to be back with them already. I didn't want to wear a dress when I didn't have to, but I couldn't come out in sweats when everyone else was so dressed up, so I picked black slacks and a purple satin dress shirt Alice had promised would look great. I smiled when I slipped my wedding and engagement rings back on. I tucked Grace's card into my purse before I hurried out of the dressing room, down the hall and through the door.
My exit drew more attention that I prepared myself for. The flashes from the cameras caught me off-guard. I found myself smiling without even realizing it. I thought I heard Grace's voice above all others, but I wasn't sure. My eyes flew over the crowd, trying to spot her, but the flashes were right in my face, and a few people were already holding out their programs for me to sign, so I had to give up my search.
She found me when I was the least prepared for it, and nearly knocked us both over when she launched herself at me. "Mommy!"
"Hey, you, where did you come from?" I giggled, kneeling next to her to envelope her in a hug. I let her sweet scent wash over me, this impossible combination of flowers and bubble gum and something else that was so uniquely her.
"There," she squirmed out of my grip so she could point at the right direction. I expected to see Edward following suit, but he wasn't there.
"Come here," I said, picking her up so I could hold her closer. I staggered a little; I told myself it was because I was tired, not because she was growing older and therefore heavier. I never wanted to stop holding her that way. "Did you have a good time?"
"Yes, but I wish you didn't have to die, Mommy," she pouted, making a few people around us laugh. She nuzzled her head in my neck, barely taking notice of them. I knew she must be tired. Normally she'd be in bed by now.
"Where's your daddy?"
"Dunno," she yawned, her head drooping against my shoulder. The top of her head, nestled against the hollow of my throat, was cold. I held her a little tighter.
"Excuse me, Miss Swan, could you sign my daughter's program real quick?"
One polite request dragged another, and so I kept going with Grace in my arms. And then finally the crowd thinned, and I saw him. He wasn't alone, I now realized. He was having a rather lively conversation with a petite redhead who was half his size. My brow furrowed. I'd never seen him so animated before. He almost looked like Emmett had while he was discussing the weekly game with my dad. Seeing Edward that way was strange, and sort of unnerving.
"Who's Daddy talking to?"
"She sat with us. She says she knows you."
"She does?" My daughter's statement made very little sense to me. But I didn't have a chance to ponder over it because this was when Edward caught my eye. He told her something that made her look up and smile as well. I lowered Grace to the ground and watched the stranger as they approached us. The way she moved instantly indicated she was a dancer.
Edward excused himself then and closed the remaining distance between us. He reached out for my hand and I took it. Grace was still holding my other hand. I returned his smile a little hesitantly, still eyeing the stranger from over his shoulder. He barely saw her now. His eyes were all for me. "Hi," I whispered, squeezing his hand a little.
"You were wonderful." His low murmur, right into my ear, made me shiver. "I keep forgetting, and then you keep surprising me."
"When I stop surprising you, we'll know we have a problem," I laughed.
"Kiss!" Grace demanded, her drowsiness gone in a matter of seconds as she looked at us expectantly. Edward's grin widened an inch as he dropped a kiss on my cheek. "No, a real one, Daddy!" she protested. That, too, was a little game we used to play. His eyes met mine before he pecked my lips to the sound of her joyous cheer.
"Better?" he asked Grace, who nodded. He wrapped his arm around me, and I leaned into his embrace gratefully. Exhaustion was catching up with me.
And she was still watching us, the stranger, with a tiny grin on her lips. She looked as if she knew exactly who I was, and expected it to hit me any second. The way she was looking at me was like a wordless challenge. It made my skin crawl.
Edward's eyes followed mine, and he guided me towards her without me having to even ask. "Come on, there's someone who wants to say hi to you."
We were in front of her now. She was slightly shorter than me. Her brown eyes were gleaming, half excited, half playful. Her hair, carrot red, was pulled back in a French twist.
"Bella, this is – "
It hit me about mil-second before he said it.
"Emily," I breathed, my hand flying to my mouth. Her smile got impossibly wider. I wasn't sure if Edward let go of me, or if I charged forward pretty much the same way Grace had done earlier, but a moment later she was in my arms, giggling.
"Took you long enough," she taunted me, her accent impossibly thicker.
"I get forgetful. Age," I rolled my eyes, slowly pulling away from her.
"Thirty six is not that old," she pouted.
"I'm glad you think so," I whispered, wondering how she could possibly remember that conversation, one of the first we'd ever had. I blinked, trying to get over the wave of emotion that swept over me, and looked up at her. "Let me look at you."
She smiled coyly and stepped back a little to obey my request. I did a quick calculation in my head. She was slightly older than Grace when I first met her, a scrawny disbelieving kid. Now she was a woman, and she was blossoming. Something within me broke when I realized I wasn't there to watch her grow.
"You look beautiful," I managed, my throat tight with tears. "Thank you for coming tonight."
Her smile was timid. "I wouldn't have missed it for the world."
My eyes shifted to Edward, who looked awfully proud of himself. "How did you find her?"
"I didn't," he shrugged. "She found us."
There was so much I didn't know, so much I needed her to tell me. I wanted to know how her parents were, and if they were in town. I was sure she was dancing now – just a hunch I couldn't shake off – and I wanted to know all about that too. But the theatre's lights had just been turned off. The street washed with the dimmer, soft glow of the streetlamps. Realizing I wasn't sure what our plans for the rest of the evening were, I looked at Edward again.
As always, I didn't have to say much. He grinned at me before he picked Grace up. She held on to him, wrapping her little arms around his neck. "Do you want to go to bed, or do you want us to have some ice cream first?"
The sudden glint in her eyes gave him all the answers he needed. "Ice cream," she said, confirming with words what we'd already guessed.
"Ice cream it is," I smiled, stepping closer to rub my nose with hers. Normally I wouldn't be in favor of her staying up so late, but we all knew tonight was special. "Come with us," I asked Emily, who shook her head.
"No. I should get going. But perhaps we could meet someday before you leave. We have a lot of catching up to do."
"I'd love that," I smiled.
"We already swapped numbers," she assured me, and her lively gaze wandered to Edward. "I'll be in touch."
"It's so good to see you," I whispered as we hugged again. I could hardly believe she was the same girl. She looked so different, but at the same time, she didn't.
"And you," she smiled, slowly pulling away. "Oh, and if you need a babysitter while you're here… I believe I owe you."
I burst into laughter at that. "I'll let you know."
After Emily left, Edward put Grace down so he could put his arm around me again. She got a hold on his other hand, excited about the idea of getting ice cream after bedtime. She attempted to bounce forward, but we kept her back with our slower pace. Edward asked her which flavor she'd choose once we got there. She seemed to have trouble choosing.
"Toffee – no, chocolate. And cherry. And vanilla and – "
"What, you want all of them?" he teased her, pretending to be horrified. "I'll have to carry you back! How about we compromise," he told her, throwing a playful glance at me, "And until we go home you'll have one flavor each day?"
She didn't reply right away, as if she was considering it. "Okay. But can we have whipped cream today too? And raisins? And sprinkles? And fudge?"
The rest of their banter was lost on me. My thoughts drifted to Emily again. Seeing her after all this time brought it all back – not just the first time I came here, but earlier, when I had my doubts about Juilliard, about whether I'd be able to do this at all. The craziest thing now was that I'd done it all, and so much more than that, so much more than I had thought myself capable of at the time. Somehow it all turned out better than I'd planned. My mom told me once that life wasn't interesting if I was told everything in advance, and it wasn't until I watched my husband and daughter together that I'd actually realized how true this statement was. And looking at my own daughter, I knew it was a lesson I was going to pass on.
There was a gentle poke on my waist and I blinked, startled, to find both of them staring at me.
"What are you thinking about?" Edward asked me, and his grin was the crooked one I loved.
Life. Love. Choices. Balance. Destiny. "You," I heard myself say. The smile that passed between us was that sweet one which had always earned us our family's collective groan. And my answer actually summed it all perfectly. He embodied all of those. They all revolved around him, the only constant thing in my life.
"About me, too, Mommy?" Grace asked, her doe eyes glistening as she looked up at me.
"I'm always thinking about you, baby," I assured her.
She nodded, satisfied, and towed us forward. Edward and I shared another secret smile, and I knew he knew exactly what I needed to tell him. He held me just a little tighter when we crossed the road towards the ice cream parlor, and I could feel the smile still ghosting in the corner of my lips when I followed my destiny inside.