Disclaimer: Twilight belongs to Ms. Meyer
authors note: Here is the epilogue I promised. I just wanted to give you a glimpse into the Masen's lives, ten years down the road.
So very sorry it has taken so long to post. RL gts in the way sometimes.
I want to thank you for reading this story. Writing a FF was a big risk and huge undertaking and I am SO glad I did it. To finish a story feels like a big accomplishment. With that said, now its time for a break :). Thank you for reviewing, for rec'ing this to friends. And as always, I love my beta, klarsen18...I feel like I got a friend out of the deal. And a special thanks to L.J. Summers for her wisdom and support!
"So…how did it go?" Alice's soprano, hopeful and expectant, filled my ears through my cell phone.
"Negative," I breathed out, feeling more discouraged after saying it out loud.
"Oh sweetie. I'm so sorry. Does Edward know yet?"
"Nope. I just did the test—twice—and he hasn't come home from work yet."
"Bells…" her voice trailed off.
"It's okay, Al. Unfortunately I'm getting used to one line and not two."
"I'm beginning to think that Ren was a miracle."
"She very well may have been," Alice agreed, sounding more somber than I'm sure she meant to.
I walked into my daughter's room, yellow and purple and covered with Hannah Montana and Jonas Brothers posters floor to ceiling. I placed her folded clothes on the end of her bed, then I sat down next to the stack. I breathed in and was met with her smell-Love's Baby Soft perfume—something she'd discovered at Walmart and insisted on making her signature scent. Even in my disappointment, and through the sting of hot tears, I couldn't help but smile.
"I hate this, Bella. It kills me to hear you so sad. To know you feel that way and I can't be there for you."
"But you are here for me, Alice."
"You know what I mean."
"I do. But I'm okay. Unfortunately this kind of disappointment isn't a new thing. I am beginning to think that maybe having only one is the plan for us. I mean Edward and I were both only children and we turned out okay," I contemplated wistfully as I fingered Ren's comforter—lovingly handmade by GranEssie, otherwise known as Esme Cullen.
"Well that's negotiable…at least on Edward's end," Alice joked, no doubt attempting to lighten the mood.
"We have Ren and we are happy. Maybe we should stop trying and just be content with what we have?"
"You've been trying for three years. No one would blame you for deciding to stop."
"I just think it's time for Edward and I to sit down and decide, together, how much more we can take. Maybe we stop trying for a while? Maybe we look into adoption? I don't know, and I'm so stinking emotional lately I can't even begin to make a huge decision like that."
"I'm sorry, friend."
"I am too," I whispered, feeling the weight of of yet another negative pregnancy test square on my shoulders. "Wish my mom was around, Al. She went through this and somehow came to terms with just having me. I'd love to be able to talk to her."
"I know you would, Bells."
"But you're a good sounding board too."
Alice, even as a mother of five kids, grieved my infertility with me as if it was her own burden. I knew she felt almost guilty that she and Jasper could pretty much pass in the hallway and conceive, but it didn't stop her from caring for me as only a best friend could.
"And I always here for you."
"That I know."
From the other side of the house, I heard the front door open with a loud, familiar squeak. It clicked shut and Edward's voice, shouting my name, followed.
"I probably need to go for now. For some reason my husband is yelling for me, and quite loudly at that," I told Alice, as I rose from the bed.
"Aw, just ignore him," she laughed.
"With the way he's yelling, I have a feeling he'd come hunt me down."
"Call me later?"
"And, remember to look at Edward's schedule so we can plan a visit. Jasper is mopey…wants to show Edward his new humidor."
"Boys and their toys."
"And my boy has many."
"I love you, Alice."
"Love you back. And Bells?"
"Keep your chin up."
"I'll do my best."
With that, I pushed end, and took a deep breath in and out, and prepared to see my husband. I would tell him about the plastic stick that once again ruined my day, but that would come later. He'd just finished a twelve-hour shift, and the last thing he needed was to be immediately bombarded with bad news.
I made my way through the hall with a plastic laundry basket bouncing on my hip. After dropping off a pile of folded towels in the master bathroom, and depositing the basket in the laundry room, I headed to the kitchen where Edward was still yelling for me.
"Bella!" he called out once more with gusto, just as I walked in. He smiled sheepishly once he realized he'd practically yelled in my face.
"I'm right here, Edward. Where's the fire?"
"Sorry," he apologized through a grin.
"Have you seen your daughter lately?" he asked, as he drew me into a hug and pressed a kiss into the top of my head.
"She came in awhile ago. But since then…no I haven't seen her. What's wrong?"
"Oh, everything's okay." His lips twitched into a smile. "You just need to see this for yourself."
He grabbed my hand. "Just come on."
I trailed behind him, managing to check out his derrière, which looked heavenly in his blue-green hospital issue scrubs. His hair, as always was thoroughly tugged upon. His gait had the teeniest of hitches in it, the result of a knee injury sustained playing indoor soccer the prior year. The messy hair and the hitch in his walk were always fully activated by the end of a shift in the Emergency Department.
"You've worked hard today, my love," I commented, as we walked out the front door.
"And just how would you know this?"
"I have my ways," I answered him, attempting to sound mysterious.
He stopped in his tracks, and turned to face me. As he tucked a strand of hair behind my ear, his eyes scanned my face. "You worked hard too."
"Just wrangling your impish daughter."
"Most important work there is," he murmured, as he gently kissed my lips. He pulled away and studied my eyes. "I detect a touch of sad in there. What gives, Bells?"
"Nothing that can't be talked about later," I assured him, returning his kiss with a brush of my lips across his mouth.
He drew me in tight, wrapping his arms around me. My hands found their way to the back of his neck, where my fingers loved to play with his hair. Much canoodling ensued, as it did most days when he came home from the hospital, especially when our very observant daughter wasn't in tow.
When we were finished giving each other a proper hello, Edward once again grabbed my hand and pulled me toward our destination, the side of our house where the Sycamore sat.
Before me was our eight-year-old daughter. I took in her bronze-brown curls, pulled into a ponytail that had become haphazard from a day of play. Her Jonas Brothers t-shirt was covered in what looked to be orange juice and something chocolate. She wore no shoes, as usual, and the bottoms of her feet were dirty brown.
She was a mess. A beautiful, perfect little mess. This was how I pictured my playful, adventuresome Ren, especially during the summertime, when days were long and 67th Street held wonder and potential.
Her brown eyes were focused intently on what she was doing. As it became clear to me exactly what she was up to, I understood why Edward wanted me to see it for myself.
She was enthralled in tying a little boy—one that I'd never seen before-to the Sycamore, using various ribbons that normally hung from a rack on her closet door. She had his wrists cinched and was attempting to bind him to the trunk of the tree.
"Renee Esme Masen! What in the world are you doing?"
She spun around at the sound of my voice, eyes wide like saucers. Yet after just a beat, the panic left her eyes and was replaced by resolve. Her delicate chin, which matched mine, jutted out a tad, and her jaw, a feminine version of her father's, was firm.
She spoke, precocious as always. "We're protesting, mother. This is a sit-in. As soon as I get Jay tied to the tree, I'm next."
I felt Edward-who stood next to me close enough that our shoulders touched-shake. I shifted my eyes to the side to catch a glimpse of my husband, who should have been my partner in discipline, unsuccessfully stifling laughter.
"And who exactly is Jay?" I asked calmly, while scrambling on the inside. Who was Jay? Why was he being bound to the tree? Where had Ren "gotten" him?
She had set about the work of tying this poor boy to the Sycamore once more. Her voice floated over her shoulder, as she couldn't be bothered to even look me as she spoke. "Jay is gonna be our next door neighbor, and my new best friend in the word. He's here with his mom. She's inside measuring rooms and stuff."
Jay, with his big blue eyes, simply shook his head in agreement as he moved this way and that to make the work of being tied up, that much easier. With blonde hair and skin that was brown as a berry, he looked to be about Ren's age, or at least close to it.
"Well, we are so glad to meet you, Jay," I started in carefully. "Are you sure Ren isn't hurting you? Are you sure you want to be tied up like this."
He cast his gaze toward Ren, the adoration and awe, clearly visible. "I don't mind at all. She says this here tree is going to be our tree and we can't let 'em cut it down because it's special."
This time Edward piped in, finally. "Ren, darling, what gave you the idea we are cutting it down?"
"Daddy, I heard you talking to that tree doctor yesterday. He said if the next treatment didn't work he might have to take the Sycamore down. I heard it with my own two ears."
"You jumped to conclusions, sweet pea." Edward kneeled down to Jay and Ren's level. "We will only cut this tree down if it's dying, and that's because if it rotted and became brittle and fell either way it would hit our house, or Jay's house. We wouldn't want that, would we?"
Jay opened his mouth to speak, but Ren cut him off. "You can't cut it down! You and mommy fell in love under it. I know you got married here…I saw the pictures. And GranEssie says it's almost magical. You can't chop down something that's magical!" Then she added under her breath, serious as a heart attack, "That would be like murdering a unicorn."
Jay's eyes widened, as he listened to my little drama queen. He shook his head with her words and almost settled into his position of captivity with more purpose.
Edward turned his head to the side and started in on his shaking laughter thing, so I promptly and not lightly at all, nudged him with my foot.
"Ren, sweetheart, why don't you untie Jay," Edward offered, once he'd cleared the laughter out of his throat.
"No way, Daddy."
"No way," Jay echoed, flashing his bright blue gaze from Ren to Edward and back to Ren again, where his eyes remained fixed and focused.
"There's no need for a sit-in or a protest."
"You say that, Daddy, but I heard what the tree doctor said. I heard it!"
"I heard it too, but I promise you," Edward held up his most sincere Scout's honor hand, "that we will do our best to keep this tree alive. That if we end up having to take drastic measures, you—and Jay here—will be the first to know."
Ren's eyes narrowed as she considered Edward's offer. Her cherubic heart shaped face was pensive. She pursed those lips, and tilted that head before finally agreeing. "That's a deal I think I can live with. How about you, Jay?"
"I'm in." He smiled widely, Ren's trance over the boy plain as the nose on his face.
"Well then, since we've all come to a suitable agreement, let's get Jay untied," Edward concluded, as he began to loose knot after knot secured in silky and grosgrain ribbons alike.
"So, Jay, when will your and you family move in?" I asked him, as he patiently waited his release.
"It's just mom and me. We move in next week, I think."
"Well, we are so glad to have you. Ren has been praying for a kid to move in next door."
"Oh yeah," I assured him. "After her grandmother moved out several years ago, an older couple moved in. They were very sweet people, but their grandkids only came once a year. Ren has been dying for a playmate."
"Me too," Jay commented, his eyes wide and sincere. "We've been in an apartment. Momma was nervous we wouldn't be able to afford a house. But then I heard her tell my aunt that she fleeced the S.O.B. in the settlement, and we get to have this nice house because of it."
Edward's eyes immediately met mine and we shared a look of silent amusement. Luckily Ren didn't ask what fleece or S.O.B. meant, and we were able to sail right past Jay's colorful quote.
"So your dad doesn't live with you?" Ren inquired, as she unwound a rainbow print ribbon from his arm.
"No. He lives across town, with Victoria and their new baby. Don't see them much, really."
"You don't get to see your own dad very much?" Ren questioned him further, completely unaware of her own insensitivity.
"Nope." Little Jay wore a brave face, but I perceived the grief in his young eyes. Edward noticed it too. I could almost palpably feel and visibly see my husband's heart go out to the child. It took Edward no time at all to act on it.
"So Jay, wanna know something cool?"
"Sure, Mr. Masen."
"I grew up in this very house," Edward pointed to his old bedroom window, "and that was my bedroom window. I lived with my mom too. I am so glad there is finally someone like you and someone like your mom to live in the house again, just like my mother and I did."
Jay was unbound at this point, and he sat up on his heels, leaning in toward Edward, as enraptured by Ren's father and he was by her.
"Really, Mr. Masen?"
"I wouldn't lie about something this important. And you know what else? "
"There is a place really nearby where Ren and I like to go to get milkshakes. In fact, Mrs. Masen and I used to go there as kids to get them because they are the best in town."
Jay looked at me, and I nodded my head with enthusiastic affirmation.
Once he had Jay's attention again, Edward continued on. "And I think the only way to properly welcome you to our neighborhood is with a huge cookies and cream shake. So what do you say we go meet your mother and see if she if she can take a break and go with us?"
"But we haven't had dinner, Daddy."
"I know that, Ren."
"But you and Mom never let me have sweets before dinner. Never." Ren spoke slowly and emphatically, not to mention suspiciously.
"Well, it's a special occasion…us meeting Jay and all," Edward explained. "Special occasions call for the bending of rules, I think. And like I said, we have to welcome Jay to 67th Street."
Ren pumped her arm and hissed "yes." Then both she and Jay jumped up, threw their arms around each other and screamed-their lofty protest under Our Tree quickly to be forgotten. They left a pile of ribbons at their feet and ran in the direction of what would soon be Jay's house.
Edward and I watched them scurry away with youthful energy.
"Our daughter," I sighed out. "I swear if I hadn't given birth to her myself, I'd believe that she was actually Alice's."
"Where does she come up with this stuff?" Edward grinned, as he lightly ran a hand through his hair.
"I don't think Jay knows what hit him. Did you see the way he looked at her?"
"Oh, I saw it. Reminds me of a young Edward Masen looking at the girl next door."
"No such thing, mister," I corrected him. "You never gave me googly eyes until we were at least 18."
"Maybe I remember it differently?"
"Maybe you remember it wrong."
He ruffled my hair, and then bent down to peck my lips. "We should pick up this mess and then go meet Jay's mom. Maybe she'll tell us all about the S.O.B.?"
"Or perhaps about the fleecing?"
I grinned. He grinned, beautifully and crookedly as always. He took my hand in his, bringing it up to his lips for a tender kiss. Then we both bent down and began to collect Ren's assortment of ribbons.
"So, if our daughter thinks the Sycamore is going to be hers and Jay's, she's got another think coming," Edward mused playfully.
"My thoughts exactly. I mean how can she own something that already belongs to someone else, right?"
"It's belonged to someone else for almost thirty seven years? That's practically forever."
"So, Dr. Masen, exactly when were you planning on telling me about what the arborist said?" My tone was still playful, but my Edward knew me. He most certainly sensed my mild irritation.
"I meant to talk to you about it," he hedged.
"Oh, I'm sure you did."
"I just thought I might wait to tell you anything. You know…to see if the tree perks up after the arborist does his thing."
"So our eight-year-old daughter and her new sidekick got to know and I didn't?"
"Didn't know she was eavesdropping, though I should have suspected as much. Besides, I was scared if you knew about it, you'd stage a protest…or a hunger strike or something," he added, straight faced, but with a telltale smile in his eyes.
"And I still might."
"Why?" he smirked. "Because Our Tree is magical, like a unicorn?"
"It may not be magical, but it's important. I mean, consider all the memories we have under it."
"I'm with you, Bells. I don't want to see it go either. And yes, the memories there can't even be quantified. But you know what?"
"What?" I answered softly, all kidding aside, feeling a bit blue. It was likely a melancholy resulting from a negative e.p.t., but the thought of my lifelong friend and landmark not sitting outside our windows was unthinkable.
"The memories I have in here," he put my hand over his heart and held it there firmly, "are unquantifiable too. If that wasn't true, I'd take part in a hunger strike with you."
"You would, huh?"
"Oh, yeah," he played along, his green eyes dancing. "Posters, picket lines, throwing my body in front of the chainsaw…the whole nine yards. Our protest would trump anything Ren has up her little sleeve."
"Well, good thing that's not necessary, then."
"Good thing, indeed." The side of his mouth quirked into that half grin I so adored.
Ren and Jay ran up to us-bright eyed and flush cheeked. She used her thumb to point over at Jay. "His mom said he could go with us. She can't come though. She's got to finish up in the house."
"Are you sure?" I questioned them warily; knowing I'd never let Ren just get in the car with someone I'd never met nor laid eyes on.
Jay held up a five-dollar bill, wadded in his little fist, "She said yes. "
"Maybe we should go in and meet her first?"
"She's on the phone right now. Said she didn't want to be bothered, but that I could go with you if we could be back in thirty minutes. She has night class."
I opened my mouth to speak some practicality into the situation, feeling very uncomfortable with the idea of taking this child with us without speaking with his mom. But before I could voice my concern Edward cut me off.
"Thirty minutes it is then," he agreed with a firm nod.
I found Edward's eyes. I widened mine to silently communicate my objection. He merely gave me a subtle nod and a tiny wink, and turned to look at the kids.
Ren and Jay high fived and then launched into some sort of secret handshake they'd apparently created. Then they ran, screaming all the way, over to our minivan sitting in the drive.
"This is weird, Edward," I mumbled under my breath, once they were out of earshot. "For all his mother knows we're serial killers."
"But we're not," Edward offered, simply.
"Or we could be child molesters."
"But we're not."
"Or…or we could be horrible drivers."
"But I'm not," he added once more, with a playful wink.
"All I'm saying is I just can't believe she'd hand over her child that readily to total strangers."
Edward shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly as we began to walk toward the van. "Don't be so quick to judge."
"I'm…I'm not judging her. I'm just observing her parenting choices."
I could tell he was amused by my justification, but wisely Edward kept his comments to himself.
"Bella, I have a feeling about Jay."
"Have you ever just had the sense that something big is happening? Something…oh, I don't know…providential?"
"Sure I have," I admitted. "So...so you're saying you feel that way about Jay?"
"I know it sounds hokey or whatever." Edward paused and looked up to the sky, a posture he often assumed when searching for the right words. "I mean what if 67th Street in my old house is exactly where Jay and his mom needed to move, because we're exactly what they need in their life?"
"What's that even mean?"
With his eyebrows lifted, Edward explained, "I mean, maybe Jay's mother needs neighbors in her life right now who she can trust, sight unseen, to take her little guy for some ice cream. That's what I'm saying. She's obviously going to night school. Has an ex-husband who got himself a new family."
Then he paused thoughtfully for several beats. "Just reminds me of someone I know. Someone who lived quite desperately, in that very house, for a lot of years."
"Esme," I whispered.
"Esme," he echoed me softly.
My heart lurched into my throat at his words, as a sudden compassion overwhelmed me not only for Jay, but also for his mother, who not seconds before I had mentally deemed unfit.
"I…I hadn't thought of it like that," I admitted quietly, feeling ashamed. "Maybe you're right."
"I really hope I am, Bells," he replied, his gaze earnest.
We looked into each other's eyes, wordless, for several moments, before Edward put his arm around me and pulled me to his side.
"So what do you say, Bells? How about we take our sweet mess of a daughter and her new best friend and get some milkshakes?"
"Sounds like a plan," I agreed, planting a kiss on his cheek.
"So, you're not gonna kill me that this will likely spoil Ren's dinner?"
"Nah. Like you said, it's a special occasion," I told him, feeling that stir in my gut that told me it was indeed just that.
We walked to the mini-van, which Ren and Jay were already within. As I opened the door to get inside, the little guy was looking at me from the backseat, eyes wide and blue, smile unabashed. He was like a sponge, lapping up and soaking in every last drop of attention we offered. It was impossible to not be wholly endeared to the child.
I grinned back at him, the promise of tears imminent. In Jay's innocent eyes, which I'd seen turn weary in a heartbeat, I found I was no longer bothered by his mother's parenting choices. If anything, I was inspired by them, wanting to step outside myself and my worries-namely a plastic stick with the power to crush me—and give the little guy a million reasons to smile. A million reasons to stay young and unencumbered.
"So, are we ready to go or what?" I asked our two amped passengers, as I discreetly used my pinkies to dab at the moisture in the corners of my eyes.
"Ready!" they squealed in unison.
"Are you guys buckled in?" I inquired, already knowing the answer.
Both immediately reached for their seat belts. Ren struggled to get hers to click in, until Jay leaned over and assisted her. She sent him a high voltage grin of appreciation, and Jay looked like he won the lottery in its wake.
I cranked up the High School Musical CD already loaded in the player, knowing Ren would be making a request for "more loudness" if I didn't. I sneaked a look at Edward as he struggled with increasing frustration, as per usual, to adjust the driver seat—which was in position to accommodate a much shorter me. Then I glanced, via the rear view mirror, at my daughter and her new friend, as they sang along with the music. They laughed and sang right into each other's face, uninhibited and free, looking as though they'd known each other their whole lives, and not just a few hours.
"Mom?" Ren asked me in a loud voice, over the music.
"I don't want this day to ever end, and know what else?"
"I can't wait till Jay moves in for good."
I turned in my seat and found Jay's eyes with mine. He wore a smile that split his little face in half. As Ren's words settled on him, their effect was clear. He sat up a bit straighter, and held his head a touch higher.
"I can't wait either, sweetie," I answered my daughter, reaching back to give her hand a quick squeeze.
I glanced at Edward, who was listening to our exchange. His eyes were soft and he winked at me knowingly.
Perhaps it was providential and maybe the new boy next door was not here by accident. Maybe he was here to stay, and as Edward had intimated, Jay in some way did need the Masen family.
And maybe, just maybe, we needed him too.