Yay, for once I finally met one of my self-imposed deadlines. :) After the angst level of the last few chapters, the epilogue was surprisingly easy and fun to write.
I just wanted to take a moment to say a final thank-you to everyone who left reviews and/or added this story to your alerts and favorites. As I said in the beginning, this was my first attempt at writing fan fiction, and to be honest I was a little nervous about posting it. As it turns out, the amount of positive response for this story has far exceeded my expectations. You guys are all awesome- thank you so much for taking a chance on a new writer.
I do plan to write more in the future. I have a couple of ideas in mind right now (J/B related, of course!) but I definitely won't be posting anything new until after New Year's at the earliest. I'm going to give my brain a much needed vacation :) Keep me on your alert lists, though, because I'm sure I'll have something going before too long.
And finally, Happy Holidays to everyone!
-Twilight is the property of Stephanie Meyer. If it belonged to me, the ending might have been something like this :)
The church was filled to the brim with people, and whatever space wasn't taken up by bodies was decorated to the nines with the best seasonal flowers that the state of Washington had to offer. The low, steady hum of voices reverberated off the walls and the numerous stained glass windows depicting various times in the life of Jesus. The soft music being piped in over the PA was barely audible over all the chit-chat.
Even though the pews were mostly filled, people continued to file in. It was starting to get pretty damn hot under all the lights, and the extra bodies weren't going to help. I felt a bead of sweat trickle down my back under my expertly tailored black tux. That's attractive, I thought, irritated. Maybe I can show up to the reception with pit stains.
I shifted impatiently, hoping that soon all these people would sit the hell down and we could get started already. I glanced to my right where Jasper Whitlock stood, his hands behind his back and a nervous smile plastered on his face.
"How you holding up, man?" I asked quietly.
"I'm fine. I just want to get this going. I'm boiling over here."
"Me, too. I don't know whose idea it was to skimp on the air-conditioning in July when half the people here are in formal wear, but they suck. My nuts are roasting."
Jasper tried to stifle a laugh and it came out as a loud snort. A few people sitting near the front glanced our way for a moment, amused, and then went back to their own conversations.
On my left, Jasper's fellow band members (and my fellow groomsmen) guffawed. "Nice one, Jazz," said his bassist, a guy named Rick Lee. "I bet they heard that outside."
"Shut up," Jasper muttered. He asked me again what time it was.
"Five minutes later than the last time you asked. And yeah, things are running late."
Somehow (I still wasn't sure how, exactly) I'd become Jasper's best man for his wedding to Alice Cullen. Granted, we'd become much closer friends over the last six months or so, but I still hadn't thought of myself as best man material. As it turned out, though, Jasper wasn't really that close with his band members when they weren't performing (at least not at the "best man" level) and he didn't have many other friends. He'd always been a loner, apparently, and I was the first guy he'd become close to in a long time. I had to admit I was honored to be asked. Of course, it worked out pretty well because Bella was Alice's maid of honor.
I still hadn't seen Bella yet. We'd driven into Seattle the day before and stayed at Alice's house overnight, but they were long gone to a hair appointment or some damn thing by the time Jasper and I woke up. I couldn't wait to see how my Bells looked in the dark blue dress Alice had picked out. I had a feeling she'd chosen that color for her bridesmaids dresses because she knew it would flatter Bella. I always knew there was a reason I liked Alice.
"Finally," Jasper said under his breath. The last guests were taking their seats, and the minister had stopped shaking hands and was making his way to the alter. He greeted the five of us and then took his place front and center. I watched as the organist, a tiny elderly woman, sat down and began to play. I didn't recognize the song, but it was definitely pretty.
Two children (Jasper's niece and nephew) proceeded through the open double doors, acting as flower girl and ring bearer. The boy was a little older, and he had to keep his younger sister from meandering all over the place as she threw handfuls of rose petals with all the gusto of a discus thrower. They drew a lot of laughs from the guests as they made their way to the front of the church. The boy persuaded his sister to stand on the bride's side, and then he joined us.
In the meantime, Alice's other bridesmaids began to file in one at a time. Two of them were friends and coworkers from her shop, and the third was a gorgeous, frosty blonde- Emmett's wife, Rosalie. We'd been introduced at the rehearsal dinner the night before, and she hadn't seemed like the friendliest chick in the world.
"Remember that line in 'Pretty Woman?'" Bella had whispered to me. "Something about 'you could freeze ice on his wife's ass?' Well, that pretty much describes Rosalie."
I had to struggle not to laugh as I watched Rosalie take her place in line, thinking that it was a pretty damn good description. Poor Emmett.
Then, finally, Bella walked through the door. The strapless dress fit her exactly right, encasing her slender figure in deep blue satin, and her hair was piled up on top of her head in some kind of complicated updo. I realized I'd never seen Bella with her hair completely up like that before. It showed off the graceful curve of her neck, and I suddenly found myself longing to put my mouth there.
Focus, Jake, I commanded myself. Pitching a tent in church in front of two hundred onlookers wasn't exactly on my "to do" list. Not only that, but I realized I wasn't the only one watching Bella. The one person whose occasional gaze I'd been avoiding was now staring over at my Bells, a slightly wistful smile on his face. I narrowed my eyes in annoyance. Cullen.
Of course, Bella and I had both known he would be there. It was still unsettling seeing him though, and knowing that at some point during the reception he and Bella would likely engage in some form of conversation. They hadn't spoken since earlier in the spring when they discussed the sale of their condo, and this would also be the first time they'd seen each other in as many months.
Despite everything we'd been through, I now firmly believed that Bella was really over any lingering attachment to Edward. Although it hadn't come easily at first (especially while she was still in Arizona) I'd come to trust her again. Our relationship had only grown stronger since she'd come back to Washington at the end of the school year- for good this time.
As soon as I told Bella that I was serious about giving us another chance, she informed me of her intent to give her notice at work as soon as she got back to Phoenix. She didn't want to abandon her classes before the end of the year, but she was determined that this would be her last semester at Mesquite High School. It seemed like fate was on our side, for once, because when she sent in her resume to Forks High School, they called her right away with an opening for freshman English.
So things between us were good, better even than I'd expected- and I knew, deep down, that Bella loved only me. That still didn't squash my natural desire to flip Cullen the bird. I knew it was immature and ridiculous- after all, Bella chose me in the end- but what can I say, testosterone and male pride sure can fuck with a guy's head sometimes.
Of course my maturity and good sense prevailed, and instead of antagonizing Edward, I returned the smile Bella was sending my way as she continued down the aisle. She stepped into place next to Rosalie, and the music drifted off and changing to the recognizable strains of the wedding march. On cue, every head in the church turned towards the doorway, each guest trying to catch their first glimpse of the bride.
Alice floated in on a cloud of white, her tiny frame draped in what I was sure was a hideously expensive designer gown. She did look beautiful though, and I heard Jasper suck in a breath next to me. I glanced over at him, but he only had eyes for her.
She walked down the aisle on the arm of her father, Dr. Carlisle Cullen, who was wearing the bittersweet smile I imagine every father probably wore when they gave away their only daughter. He pressed a kiss to her cheek and then shook Jasper's hand before sitting down in the front row of the bride's side next to his wife, Esme. Alice turned to Jasper, displaying an almost shy expression that I'd never thought I would see on her. The look of pure love that passed between the bride and groom was obvious to everyone, and I looked over at Bella to see her looking back at me.
That'll be me and you one of these days, Bells. Never doubt it.
"Oh God, my feet," Bella moaned, falling into the chair next to me and stretching out her legs. She looked at her blue heels disdainfully. "I told Alice that if she wanted me to do all the traditional wedding party dances, that she damn well better let me wear my sneakers under this dress."
"And what exactly made you think there was snowball's chance in hell that she'd go for that idea?" I asked teasingly. I picked up Bella's right foot, slipped her shoe off, and began to rub her overworked heels and arches.
"Yeah, I should've known bet- ah, that feels good- should have known better than to think that Alice would let me sacrifice style for comfort."
"Yeah, what's that she always says? 'Beauty is pain.'" The voice came from behind me and my hands stalled for just a split second before resuming the foot massage. Bella looked up and smiled as naturally as possible.
"Hi, Bella. It's good to see you." Cullen pivoted around to my left side, his arm around his date, a tall, blue-eyed blond. "I figured I'd say hello while I had the chance. Alice doesn't seem to take the duties of the maid of honor lightly."
Bella laughed, shaking her head. "No, she doesn't." She wiggled her foot playfully and threw me a reassuring smile before returning her gaze to Edward. "Edward, this is Jacob Black."
He extended his hand and I released Bella's foot to shake it, feeling a little awkward about the whole situation. Edward handled it as if he shook hands with his former fiancée's boyfriend all the time. "Nice to meet you, Jacob."
Oddly enough, he seemed like he really meant it. Then again, Bella had always told me that their final breakup was fairly amiable. "You, too," I said.
"And this is Tanya," he said, nodding towards the blonde. "She works at the firm now, designing for some of our pre-existing clients."
I shook her hand, too, and then returned to massaging Bella's feet, glad for something to do. Bella smiled at Tanya and stretched out to offer her own hand. "Sorry for us not getting up," she said apologetically. "My best friend is trying to kill me."
Tanya laughed. "That's okay, I understand. If I had to dance that much in those shoes I'd be crying by now."
Edward rolled his eyes. "Yes, when it comes to fashion Alice is a little…"
"Overzealous?" I offered helpfully.
"I was going to say 'insane.'"
I laughed in spite of myself, and heard a trilling voice behind me say, "Thanks a lot, Edward."
He grinned. "Anytime, sis."
I looked over my shoulder at Jasper and Alice, who still looked deliriously happy. I didn't think there were any jabs that could dampen Alice's spirits at the moment.
"I am sorry about the shoes, Bella," she said sincerely.
Bella waved her off. "What are friends for? I'll just send you the bill from my podiatrist."
I chuckled softly as I kneaded my fingers into the arch of her left foot. She sighed contentedly and flashed me a grateful smile. Edward looked between the two of us and, amazingly, came to the conclusion that it was time to exit stage left.
"So, any chance I can snag a dance with the bride?" he asked brightly.
"I guess I can let you squeeze one in," Jasper drawled, and gave Alice a kiss before handing her off to her brother. Then he held out his hand to Edward's date. "Tanya, right? Care to dance?" She accepted and followed him back out onto the floor, leaving Bella and I alone.
"That wasn't so bad," I said offhandedly, as I gave her foot a last affectionate squeeze.
"What, meeting Edward?" she asked.
"Yeah, I thought it would be really awkward, but…it was all right. I mean, I don't want to go hit a round of golf with the guy or anything, but it was okay."
She smiled at me and wiggled her feet some more. "I'm glad."
I glanced around the room, noting that everyone seemed to be occupied with either dancing or talking. I suddenly had no interest in rejoining the party, at least not just yet. "Feel like taking a walk?"
"Only if I can go barefoot."
So we ended up outside in the gardens behind the reception hall. We walked hand in hand in the combined glow of the moon and the lights coming from the building behind us, Bella's shoes dangling from her free hand by their straps. For awhile we didn't speak, just taking a few moments to enjoy each other's presence. But once we were a good distance away from the reception hall, I directed Bella to a stone bench at the edge of the gardens. She sat down, looking up at me inquisitively.
"What is it?" she asked.
"I was going to do this later, after we got home, but…what the hell." I took a deep breath to steady myself, then looked into her warm brown eyes and found all the courage I needed.
"I love you, Bella. I never stopped, not even when you left me, not even when I thought I would never get to feel you in my arms again. It's been hard to get from there to where we are now, but there's no where else I'd rather be than with you. So I figure, why not make it permanent?" I reached into my inner jacket pocket and pulled out the small box I'd concealed there, opening it to reveal a modest gold band with a single diamond.
"Jake," Bella gasped, her eyes widening as she looked from me, to the ring and back again.
"It was my mother's," I said quietly, "and I'd be honored if you would wear it, and be my wife." I dropped down next to her on the bench and tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear, my fingers lingering on her face. "Marry me?"
She looked up at me with tear-bright eyes, and I thought I'd never seen my Bells look more beautiful than she did in that moment. Though she trembled, her voice came out clear and strong, without a bit of hesitation- there was only love, always love.
"Yes, Jacob. I will."