A/N: I'm not sure what to say right now. This is it. After 115 chapters, this story is finally complete. From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank every single one of you who have not only been reading, but also taken time to let me know what you think. Thank you all so much! More at the bottom.
~epilogue - 3 years later~Bella
"Bella, wait, no, don't go in there yet! Bella..."
Ignoring Alice's protests, I barged into the living room, only to stop dead in my tracks at the sight that met me. Flowers, hundreds of them, and they were everywhere. I spun around, giving Alice - who had followed me into the room - an incredulous look. "Alice, why does it look like a flower shop threw up in here?"
She shrugged innocently, her lips curling into a devilish smile. "What can I say? You only turn twenty-one once." Seeing my warning look, her smile turned into a pout. "Are you saying you don't like it?"
I sighed, knowing she was just playing me with the sad face, but still, I didn't want her to think I wasn't grateful for everything she had done. "No, Alice, the flowers are beautiful, and I really appreciate it. But..." I hesitated, choosing my words carefully, "Isn't it a bit much? I mean, remember what we talked about? You could plan this thing, as long as you promised to keep it small and simple."
"See, Bella, that's where you're wrong." Alice grinned. "Small, yes, but you said nothing about simple. And besides..." she winked at me, an evil gleam in her eyes. "You can't go overboard when it comes to celebrating your birthday. Personally, I think it should be considered a national holiday."
"Alice," I groaned. "Will you just stop with the birthday talk already? You know how I feel about it." She pretended to zip her lips closed, but she couldn't hide her amusement.
The truth was, I had hated the thought of celebrating my birthday since that particular incident, two years ago, when I was turning nineteen. We had just started college, Alice, Jasper, Edward and I having all been accepted at the same school, and we had made a few new friends, so when my birthday was coming up, Alice decided it would be a perfect opportunity to throw a party.
To give Alice some credit, she had only invited a few selected people, like we had agreed, and everything had been just fine, until it was time for me to open the presents. Almost immediately, I had managed to get a paper cut, and to everyone's horror, passed out at the sight of my blood. Edward had tried to catch me, but didn't make it in time, so I had crashed right into the coffee table, causing it to tip over.
I got away with a sore shoulder and a bruise on my hip, but sadly, the ridiculously expensive birthday cake - which had been standing on said table - didn't make it.
A buzzing sound from my phone snapped me out of my memories, and I pulled it out of my pocket. Casting a look at the display, I rolled my eyes and held it out so Alice could see. "It's another text from Emmett. He wishes me a happy birthday. Again."
She laughed. "How many of those has he sent now? Six?"
"I stopped counting at eight, actually." Emmett, just like Alice, knew exactly how I felt about my birthday, and naturally, he couldn't resist teasing me about it. "I swear, Alice, I'm seriously considering changing my number. Especially after that little stunt he pulled last night..." I shook my head, letting out a groan as I thought about it.
"He didn't really mean anything by it, you know." Alice got a thoughtful look on her face as she watched the flower arrangements critically, and moved to make two of them switch places. Then she nodded in approval before turning back to me. "He was just trying to be funny."
"Well, he wasn't. He nearly gave me a heart attack." I paused. "Um, have you seen Edward today?"
"M-hm." Alice responded absently, her attention back to the flowers.
I bit my bottom lip. "So, is he upstairs? I was thinking maybe I could just-"
"Isabella Marie Swan!" Alice cut me off, the flowers completely forgotten as she turned to give me a stern look. "Edward's up there with Em and Jazz getting ready, and you know you can't see him until later. Besides, I know you already talked to him this morning, because he only gets that lovesick, pining look on his face when it's you calling." A pause. "Actually, you have the same look right now."
Her expression turned smug, and I felt myself blush, knowing she was right. "Whatever. I just miss him." I just had to try avoid thinking about the fact that Edward was in the same house, and I wasn't allowed to see him at the moment. Damn, this would be the longest morning ever. I sighed. "There's still time before we have to get ready. I'll just step out on the porch for a while, I need some fresh air."
"All right." Alice nodded in understanding, her eyes turning sympathetic. She hesitated a little. "Want some company?"
I smiled. "Sure, why not." She followed me outside, closing the front door quietly behind her, and for a couple of minutes, we just stood there in silence.
Finally Alice spoke up, "So, when is your dad going to be here?"
"He said some time around noon." I sat down on the top step, watching Alice do the same. "He left for Port Angeles early this morning, to pick up Phil, and... ugh, Jane." I made a face.
Alice snorted. "What, she's still 'ugh, Jane'? I thought you two were getting along now?"
"Yeah, she's all right." I couldn't help but smile. "I guess the name has just stuck." Phil had met Jane about a year ago, but it took almost four months for him to work up the courage to tell me he was seeing someone. It had been hard for me to take in at first - even though I wanted him to be happy, it still stung to know he had developed feelings for a woman who wasn't my mother.
The first time Phil introduced the two of us had been nothing short of a disaster. Jane was incredibly nervous about meeting the grown-up daughter of her boyfriend's late wife, which had caused her to - in my one-sided opinion - act like a rude bitch, and in all honesty, I hadn't been much better. In fact, when I thought back now, I was deeply ashamed of my behavior.
However, Phil had called me later that night, begging me to give Jane another chance, to which I guiltily agreed, and luckily our second meeting had turned out much better. Once some of the tension had eased, making both of us less awkward and nervous, I had to admit Jane seemed like a nice person after all, and it was obvious how much she and Phil liked each other.
I was truly happy for him.
"Hey, guys. Thought I heard someone out here." Rosalie was suddenly standing in the doorway, looking down at me and Alice with her arms crossed and a smile on her face. "Bella - happy birthday."
I barely managed to get out a 'thank you' before Alice jumped up, panic evident on her face. "Rose, what are you doing out here? You're supposed to be picking up the cake!"
Rosalie met my eyes, giving me a look full of sympathy that clearly said 'did you have to put up with this all morning?' I failed to hold back a giggle, nodding. She calmly turned to Alice. "Yes, Alice, I know. I already did."
"Oh. Good." Alice seemed to relax a little. Then her eyes widened in alarm. "So, where is it?"
"The cake? I left it in the kitchen," Rose explained, sitting down next to me. "So, Bella, are you ready for-"
She was cut off as Alice let out a shriek, "You left the cake unguarded, with Emmett in the house?"
"Oh, God..." I chuckled to myself, burying my face in my hands. If Alice kept going like this, she was bound to end up with an ulcer. Shouldn't I be the one freaking out today, seeing how it was my... well, my big day and all? I sneaked a peek at Alice, whose face was becoming more red by the second.
Looking somewhat nervous now, Rose held up her hands, in a fruitless attempt to calm Alice. "It's okay, Emmett's upstairs with the guys. There's no reason for him to come down here now."
"But it's Emmett!" Alice all but shouted, exasperated. "He can smell baked goods a mile away!"
"Alice, Emmett's not gonna eat the cake," I tried to assure her, unable to hide my amusement. "I promise you, he knows better than that. In fact, I-" I stopped abruptly when my phone buzzed again, and I instantly pressed my lips together, pretending in vain that I hadn't heard anything, because I was pretty certain that would be Emmett, sending me another ridiculous text message.
Apparently, Alice's mind had taken the same direction as her eyes narrowed and she gave me a expectant look. "You were saying...?" When I just smiled and shrugged, she threw her hands up in the air, muttered something I couldn't make out, and rushed back into the house.
Rose and I were left looking at each other, and it only took a moment before we both burst out laughing. "My God," Rose gasped between giggles, "She's already losing it, and the party hasn't even started yet."
"Don't call it that," I protested, instantly sobering up. "You'll probably jinx us all."
She let out a snort. "What would you prefer to call it, then? A social event? A gathering?" I just huffed, and she patted my knee. "Don't worry, Bella. Nothing's gonna go wrong today. I'll make sure of it." I gave her a grateful smile, and she got up with a sigh. "Think I'd better go check on our boys. Then I'll see if Esme needs any help in the kitchen. See you inside?"
"Absolutely." I nodded. "Just give me a few minutes."
"I'll fucking kill him," I muttered between gritted teeth as I strode through the hallway, just barely managing not to bump into Alice who stepped out of her old room, smiling as she saw me. I ignored her and went on, "I promise, love, I'm fine. Emmett was just messing with you. I had one beer last night, and I was back here at the house before midnight. My battery died, or I would've called you when I got home."
"I believe you, baby," Bella sighed into the phone, a hint of amusement in her voice. "Look, I'll be over in about half an hour, but I'm pretty sure Alice will steal me away the moment I step through the door, so I'm afraid I don't get to see you until later. I missed you so much last night. I love you."
I couldn't keep the grin from spreading on my face - I would never get tired of hearing those words. "I love you, too. More than anything." Now Alice's smile grew impossibly wide, and I almost feared it would split her face in two. Shaking my head as she practically skipped past me, heading for the bathroom, I slipped into my room and closed the door firmly behind me.
Bella and I spoke for a few more minutes before we had to hang up. I missed her like crazy, having not seen her since yesterday morning. It was the longest we had been separated in a long time, seeing how we had been living together since our first year of college, over two years ago. Neither of us wanted to live at the dorms, so with a little help from Esme, Bella and I had found a small but decent apartment not far from school.
Now it felt weird in a way, all of us being back at the house, not that things had changed much around here. Even though Alice, Emmett and I had all long since moved out, Carlisle and Esme insisted on keeping our rooms the way they were, wanting the three of us to have a familiar place to stay whenever we came home to visit.
Suddenly the door was flung open, disrupting the quiet, and Emmett barged into the room, looking as excited as a little kid on Christmas morning. He rubbed his hands together, exclaiming with a grin, "Last night was a fucking blast! Or what do you say?"
I gave him a cold look, folding my arms across my chest. "I just got off the phone with Bella."
"Oh." His smile faded. "Look, I can explain-"
"Then explain to me," I cut him off, "why she got a mysterious voice message in the middle of the night, saying I got piss drunk, stole a police cruiser and went to fucking Vegas?"
Emmett let out a nervous chuckle. "It was a joke! Ever seen The Hangover? Brilliant movie." Seeing that I wasn't amused, he sighed in defeat. "All right, it seemed like a good idea at the time. In my defense, I'd had a bit too much to drink, and I was slightly bummed out because no one wanted to go find a strip club with me. Hell, there's no shame in just looking!"
When I just looked at him incredulously, he cleared his throat. "Besides, I came clean as soon as Bella called me back in hysterics. Trust me, a few years from now, she'll be laughing at this." He paused. "You know, if you had woken up this morning on a rooftop in Vegas, Bella would've found a way to blame the whole thing on me, anyway. She'd let you get away with anything."
I snorted. "Whatever. Did you want something?"
"Oh, no, I just thought we could hang out for a while." He threw himself down on my bed. "I mean, it's not like you've got anything special planned for today, right?" He winked, and I rolled my eyes at him. "Hey!" Suddenly he sat up straight, as if something had just occurred to him. "I'll tell you what. Just to make it up to Bella for my little joke last night, I'll send her another text, wishing her a happy birthday."
"Another?" I shook my head as he eagerly pulled out his phone, deciding I didn't want to know. Emmett knew that Bella didn't like to be reminded of her birthday, so that's why he would do just that, simply to pester her. Of course, she wouldn't be offended for real. The two of them just loved to torment each other in any way they could.
There was a brief knock on the door, and the next moment, Alice flew into the room, Jasper in tow. "Oh, good, Em, you're already here. Bella will be here soon," she went on informing us breathlessly. "Edward, you can't see her until you're both ready, so you'll have to stay in here for at least two hours. After I've helped Bella getting dressed, I'll come back here to start on you."
"I'm perfectly capable of dressing myself, thank you very much," I grumbled, much to Jasper and Emmett's amusement. "Alice, seriously, you need to take a fucking pill or something. Do you see me freaking out about all this?"
"No." She stopped, watching me with a frown on her face. "Why aren't you freaking out? Edward, today is your-"
"I know!" I couldn't help but chuckle at her genuinely confused expression. "I'm not freaking out because I'm fucking happy, Alice. Could you please just relax a little? I swear, you're worse than Esme."
"I thought I heard my name." Esme chose that moment to enter the room, a cheerful note in her voice and a soft smile playing on her lips. Then her eyes landed on me, and as if someone had just pulled a switch, she immediately clapped her hand over her mouth to stifle a sob. I had to resist the urge to roll my eyes as she tearfully pulled me into her arms, hugging me tightly.
"Okay, there's no way I'm worse than that," Alice giggled, causing Esme to release me with an embarrassed laugh. She patted her arm. "Come on, Mom, let's get out of here, we've got work to do. Oh, and you might want to wait until the last minute before putting on your make-up, or you'll just ruin it with all of your crying fits." The two of them left the room.
Yes, today was Bella's birthday. My beautiful Bella, who I now was certain I had loved ever since the first time she literally stumbled into my life, that fateful day years ago, back at Forks High. Of course, it had taken me quite a while to see it. I cringed as I thought back to our very first meeting.
"Watch where you're going, bitch." "W-what?""Just get the fuck out of my way."
As far as I was concerned, it was a miracle she hadn't just punched me in the face and never spoken to me again. Bella had later confessed that she had initially referred to me in her head as 'Green Eyed Jerk'. Somehow, our first brief encounter - disastrous as it may have been - had affected my girl just as deeply as it had affected me. Hell, she had owned my heart ever since, I just didn't know it at the time.
Alice once said she had known from the beginning that we were meant to end up together. I didn't object - I sure as hell wouldn't bet against Alice.
And now, starting from today, Bella and I would always belong to each other in every sense of the word, including legally.
Because today wasn't just my Bella's birthday. Today would also be the day I was going to marry her.
It had seemed like such a clever idea at the time, getting married on my birthday. Not only had it sounded incredibly romantic, but I had secretly hoped that with everyone being busy with the wedding preparations, there really wouldn't be any time left to celebrate. Needless to say, they all saw straight through me and would - Emmett in particular - tease me about it mercilessly.
Of course, I didn't really mind the teasing. Today was the day I would finally become Mrs. Edward Cullen, and absolutely nothing could put a damper on my mood. Well, except maybe the fact that Alice insisted on keeping me and Edward separated until it was time to go, which - not surprisingly - turned out to be pure torture.
Last night had been fun, although I knew Alice was a bit disappointed for not being allowed to throw me a - in her opinion - proper bachelorette party. Seeing how the mere thought made me squirm, I had firmly put my foot down, insisting on just a quiet girls night with ice-cream and movies. Alice had reluctantly agreed, after much persuasion from both Rose and Esme.
Emmett on the other hand had shamelessly begged, whined and pleaded for weeks, until Edward finally couldn't take it anymore and caved in, agreeing to a guys night out in Port Angeles. Of course, both Carlisle and Charlie would come along as well, which unfortunately slipped my mind when Emmett decided to be funny and wake me up in the middle of the night with his stupid prank phone call.
When I got back inside, I ran into Carlisle, who was looking around the room in fascination. He smiled when he spotted me. "Looks like Alice brought an entire flower shop into our living room."
"No kidding?" I laughed, shaking my head. "And to think that both Edward and I begged her not to go over the top."
Carlisle chuckled. "Alice means well. She just lives for these things. I think it's been killing her that you and Edward aren't going for the traditional wedding."
I nodded, thinking he was probably right. Edward and I had been very specific about what we wanted for this day. A simple ceremony would be held outside. Then we would come back here for dinner and - of course - wedding cake. We planned to stay and socialize with our families for an hour or so, and then Edward and I would leave to spend our first night as a married couple at a fancy hotel in Seattle.
After some discussion, we had decided to get married on the beach down at La Push. At first we talked about having the ceremony at the meadow, which was the place where Edward had first proposed to me, but we had soon reconsidered. The meadow was our special place, and we liked the idea of keeping it all to ourselves. Besides, I had to admit the thought of walking a mile through the forest in a white dress and heels didn't really appeal to me.
"So..." Carlisle cleared his throat, causing me to snap out of my thoughts. "It's your wedding day. Are you nervous?"
"No." I shook my head without hesitation. "I'm just happy. I can't wait to get married to Edward. That's all I want, for us to be together forever."
Carlisle nodded in understanding, reaching out to take my hand. "I can assure you, Bella, that's all Edward wants as well." He paused. "I remember when I first became aware of your feelings for my son. He was in a very dark place back then. Your revelation concerned me, and I warned you that he might never be able to give you what you wanted."
I swallowed, tears welling up in my eyes. "Yeah, I remember. You asked me to come into your office, and I was so afraid you would tell me I couldn't see Edward anymore, that you didn't think I was good enough for him. But then..." I inhaled shakily. "You thanked me. And you said..." My voice cracked.
"I said you were an extraordinary girl, and that I believed you would be good for him," Carlisle finished for me, smiling softly and squeezing my hand. "Now I know I was right." I smiled at him through my tears.
Who would have thought back then that Edward and I would ever get to the point where we were today? We were happy, in love, and about to get married. Of course, things hadn't always been easy. It had been a bumpy road, with lots of set-backs along the way.
To be honest, there were still days when we were struggling. Edward still suffered from nightmares from time to time, not often these days, but it happened. And my heart broke every time I held him in my arms afterwards, doing my best to soothe him and wishing in vain that I could just take away the painful memories that kept haunting him, even after all this time.
Healing was a long and slow process. But our love was strong, and real. We would be okay.
When Alice came bouncing into the room a couple of minutes later, her entire body practically vibrating as she announced it was time to get ready, any hint of melancholy I had felt a moment ago quickly got replaced by pure joy. I grinned widely. "Come on, Alice, I'm all yours. Make me look stunning!"
Emmett, Jasper and I were all lined up in the middle of the room, waiting impatiently for Rosalie to finish her inspection. Finally she took a step back and nodded in approval. "You all look very handsome. I bet even Alice won't have any complaints - Emmett, stop pulling on your tie, or it'll get wrinkled!"
"But it's so tight," he whined. "I feel like I can't breathe." She rolled her eyes.
Ignoring their banter, Jasper turned to me with a grin. "I heard you managed to talk Alice out of renting a limo."
I let out a snort, knowing Bella would rather have taken her old truck, driving down to the beach herself. "Alice can have her fucking limo - when she's the one getting married."
He chuckled, although it came out a bit strained, and I found myself wondering if he was actually thinking of popping the question soon. If he was, I doubted anyone would be surprised, seeing how he and Alice had practically acted like an old married couple since the day they first got together. To be honest, I was shocked Bella and I had beaten them to it.
A part of me still had a hard time to grasp the fact that all this was real. I would still doubt myself sometimes, whenever I was having one of my bad days, but Bella remained by my side through it all, just like she had promised, and our love just seemed to grow stronger every day.
I still went to see Angela about once a month, which I had to admit helped a lot, because memories of my past would still haunt me every once in a while, and there were times when even Bella's presence couldn't keep the nightmares away. But it was bearable, as long as she would be there when I woke up. And she always was.
A lot had happened over the last three years, but overall, things had been good. I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do after I had finished college, but I had decided not to fret about it - I still had time to figure it out. It was not like I didn't have any options, after all, I was mostly okay with being around other people these days, although I still avoided crowded places if I could.
After giving it a lot of thought, I had finally told Carlisle not to look for any further information regarding my biological father. I had to admit there was a time when I had been a little curious, wondering if I might have some blood relatives out there after all, but then I decided it didn't matter. I already had the best family I could ask for, the only family I wanted.
I no longer felt like I was fucked up beyond repair, and more often than not, I found myself getting up in the morning with a smile on my face, eager to see what the new day would bring. I couldn't forget my past, but I had learned to accept it, to live with it. Thanks to my family, and - of course - my Bella, who after today would also be my wife.
Suddenly I knew I just had to see her, right now. Before anyone got the chance to object, I was already out in the hallway, knocking frantically on Alice's door. Not bothering to wait for a response, I barged into the room. Bella and Alice both jumped in surprise, Alice letting out a cry of protest as she saw me, but I ignored her completely, only having eyes for my girl.
She was so fucking beautiful.
"Edward?" Bella's eyes were full of concern, and she instantly took a step towards me. "Is something wrong?"
I shook my head as I quickly walked up to her, taking both her hands in mine. "Alice," I gave my sister a pleading look, "Give us five minutes. Please?" I fully expected her to start arguing, but I wasn't going to back down.
To my utter surprise, Alice's face softened immediately, and she nodded. "Sure. We were done, anyway. See you downstairs." With that, she turned and headed for the door.
And Bella and I were alone.
She opened her mouth, but before she could say anything, I kissed her. If I had taken her by surprise, she quickly recovered, her fingers finding their way to my hair. A soft moan escaped her. First when the lack of air started to become an issue, I reluctantly pulled back, looking her right in the eyes. "Sorry, love. I just needed that."
"Don't apologize." Bella slipped her arms around my waist, resting her cheek against my chest. "Really, I'm so glad you're here. I was just about to make a run for it and come find you. Seriously, I don't want to spend another second apart from you. From now on, I want you with me always."
I buried my face in her hair, chuckling. "I might just hold you to that." Her only response was to squeeze me tighter, letting out a content sigh. "Bella?" She tilted her head slightly back, giving me a questioning look. I smiled crookedly. "Marry me?"
She giggled. "I will. In less than an hour. Then I'm yours forever."
"Forever and forever and forever," I agreed with a firm nod. "Come on, love. Time to go." Bella beamed at me when I took her hand, leading her towards the door, and our future.
End notes: Like I've already mentioned, I plan to write a series of outtakes, which I'm going to post as a separate story. If you wanna make sure not to miss it, just put me on author alert. You can also check the Loner thread at the forum over at Twi for more information, or follow me on Twitter, where I go by the name NillaSwan. Aside from the outtakes, I'm also playing with the thought of writing another story which would take place before our Lonerward meets Bella, starting with how he first came to stay with the Cullens. It would just be about 5 chapters, and it would be written from different POV:s. I'm not really sure if people would be interested, though, since there won't be any B/E interaction, so I would really appreciate to hear if this is something you would like to read about. Please let me know! :)