Epilogue - It's A Wonderful Life
You see George, you've really had a wonderful life. Don't you see what a mistake it would be to just throw it away? - Clarence Oddbody
Bella sat on Edward's lap at the end of his mother's modern designer sofa wrapped in a warm cocoon of blankets, snuggled firmly beneath the crook of his arm. Edward leaned down and buried his face in her hair, which still smelled so strongly of cinnamon, the result of the two day snickerdoodle baking marathon she'd just completed on Charlie's behalf. They were his favorite.
Bella was a woman possessed at Christmastime, but this year seemed different from the ones that had come before. She'd spent most of their winter break with Charlie, cooking and freezing meals for him to eat when she and Edward returned to school for their final spring semester. Sitting in the trunk of Edward's car was a top of the line fishing pole Bella had bought from a specialty store in Port Angeles. She'd gone to so much trouble to make things special for Charlie this Christmas, and Edward wondered if Bella was beginning to say a final goodbye to her father. He wished that Bella would tell him what was going on inside that beautiful, inaccessible mind of hers.
Soft flickers of light flashed across Bella's face as she watched her favorite movie intently, a holiday tradition that she'd insisted upon involving the Cullen family in. They agreed, since Bella was one of their own now, and because even something as small as watching a movie together at Christmas made them all feel just a little more human.
Edward smiled as his eyes roamed the room and drifted across the faces of his mother and father, who sat beside each other hand in hand, still in love with each other after so many years. Alice and Jasper sat across from them, her head on his chest. Emmett stretched out on the floor in front of the television, his head propped up on his elbow, his arm tightly wound around his wife's waist.
It had been so long since all of them had been together; Edward had been living in Seattle with Bella during his latest stint at college. A year ago, Carlisle had moved the family to Astoria, yet another necessary fresh start after the years marked the faces of the people of Forks, and continued to leave the Cullens untouched. In the summer, after graduation, Edward and Bella would join them there. They had come here for one last Christmas before severing ties with the community completely, moving on yet again to another stage in their nomadic life.
Bella took a sip of the hot chocolate Esme had made before carefully placing it on the coffee table in front of her. She always paid rapt attention to this part of the movie; a romantic at heart, she could never resist a true love story. Edward took her left hand, where his thumb moved just above the knuckle of her ring finger. He'd wanted to put a diamond there to symbolize their engagement, but Bella insisted on wearing only a simple gold band once they'd bound themselves together forever. This summer, they'd do just that.
Edward brushed his lips along the line of her jaw before coming to rest at her ear, where he whispered softly in time with the television, making her a promise with someone else's words.
"What is it you want, Mary? What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word and I'll throw a lasso around it and pull it down. Hey. That's a pretty good idea. I'll give you the moon, Mary." Blood rose to flush her delicate skin, and Edward smiled against her cheek.
Bella leaned back against Edward's chest, the soft glow of the Christmas tree Alice had decorated to the hilt reflecting in her warm eyes. Presents overflowed from the bottom of the tree, like a brightly-wrapped consumerist avalanche. When they opened presents on Christmas morning, Bella would balk at the extravagance his family heaped upon her, even though he knew she would enjoy her presents nonetheless. He couldn't wait to give her his gift, which was hidden in his room upstairs in a box at the top of his closet. It was the type of present Bella loved: simple, from the heart, and it didn't cost a dime.
A small tear forged a wet trail down Bella's cheek as George and Mary Bailey dodged a storm of rice on their wedding day, and Edward smiled as he kissed it away, loving how wonderfully sensitive Bella was.
Hearing the ecstatic thoughts of his mother, Edward turned toward her, her gentle, loving eyes meeting his. She smiled so brightly as she held Carlisle's hand, and he'd never seen her look more proud.
I didn't think I'd see the day when you let yourself be this happy, she teased, her lips curling wryly. Edward smiled at her; he was used to his family's good humor regarding his previously dour and uptight ways. In fact, he rather enjoyed it now that, as his mother had put it so succinctly, he'd allowed himself to be this happy.
When the movie ended, Bella said her goodbyes before walking with Carlisle and Esme to the front door. "I've given Edward some sweets to give to your father, Bella," Esme said, eyeing the large red bag in Edward's hand. "Please make sure he gets them, and tell him that we wish him a Merry Christmas."
"I will, Esme," Bella replied as her arms encircled Esme's waist. "Thank you so much for having me over."
"You are our family now." Esme reached up to cup Bella's cheek, looking at her the way only Esme could. "You are welcome whenever you like."
"Bella," Carlisle said, leaning over to hug his daughter goodbye. "As always, it was a pleasure. We'll see you two tomorrow morning?"
"Definitely," Bella replied as Edward helped her slip into her coat. "Merry Christmas!"
"Merry Christmas." Esme wrapped her arm around Bella, and as the two of them walked out to her truck, Carlisle embraced Edward in an unexpected hug.
Such displays weren't entirely rare for Edward's father, although he had to admit the timing was odd. Carlisle pulled away, resting his hand in the crook of Edward's neck as emotion clouded the perfect features of his centuries-old face.
Edward could hear the worry that still lingered in his father's mind. While the future of Bella's heart had been decided, the fate of her body had not. Carlisle wondered if his son could handle being in a marriage where Bella aged and he didn't, once time had caught up with her human body, and their difference in age truly began to show. He worried about what would happen to his beloved child when, years from now, his mate's time on earth came to a natural end. However, above all the worry, the doubt, and the fear, was admiration and love. But most of all, there was happiness. Pure, unadulterated happiness that his son had finally, after so long, allowed himself to have everything he ever desired.
Edward wanted to beg his father not to worry. Regardless of whether Bella spent her remaining time on earth as a human or a vampire, they would be together, and that was all that ever mattered. But he and his father had been through this scenario many times, and Edward knew Carlisle's mind would never truly be at ease until Bella joined their family in immortality. That decision, however, belonged to Bella, and Edward would not pressure her.
I love you, son. Carlisle patted him on the shoulder, and smiled as his eyes looked out to his wife standing in front of the house talking animatedly to Bella.
"I love you, too. I'll...I'll see you tomorrow," Edward said, feeling like there were so many words that needed to be spoken between them, but the simplest ones often times said the most important things.
Bella threaded her fingers with Edward's on the old leather bench seat of her truck as they drove through the streets of Forks on their way back to the Swan home. Bella marveled at the bright light displays on the homes they drove past on the narrow roads through town. When Edward pulled up into Bella's driveway, the lights from the Christmas tree shone out into the yard, casting a rainbow colored glow on the front lawn. Edward raced over to help Bella out of the car, and walked her up the stairs to the door. He was in such a hurry to return to her that he managed to leap through her bedroom window before the bells that hung from the wreath adorning the door rang indicating it had been shut.
Edward sat patiently on Bella's bed as he listened to her brushing her teeth in the bathroom down the hall, looking up at the mistletoe he'd snuck in and hung from her ceiling earlier in the day. When Bella entered the room with a rush of spearmint toothpaste and soap, she smiled when she saw Edward waiting for her.
"Impatient, aren't we?" she asked, walking towards Edward too slowly for his liking.
"For you? Always," he breathed, echoing his intent with each of his words.
When Bella reached him, she settled on his lap and looked up at the mistletoe, smiling. "What's this?"
"Well, according to legend," Edward said, tracing the neckline of her sweater with the tip of his index finger. "I'm required to kiss you, since we're underneath it together."
"You just want a kiss?" Bella teased, her mouth leaving a heated trail from his chin to his ear.
"I never just want a kiss," he whispered, his breath chilling her skin. Edward didn't think there would ever come a time when he'd tire of seeing the effect he had on the woman he loved. "But tonight," Edward began, gently lifting Bella's sweater over her shoulders. "We'll start from there, and see where our mouths take us."
Bella laughed, and Edward reveled in the warm feel of her breath against him. He closed his eyes, and let his hands explore her skin with a feather-light touch, always mindful of how fragile she was and how careful he needed to be with her, especially when they were together like this. Bella's fingers knit through his hair as their lips met, and Edward found himself becoming lost in her, completely.
Later, as they lay together tangled up in the limited expanse of Bella's tiny bed, Edward ran his fingers through her hair as she slept soundly with her head resting on his shoulder. He thought about how far they'd come since he'd come back into Bella's life on that cold night exactly four years ago. How much she'd grown and changed him. How they'd healed each other.
Edward smiled at the thought of their upcoming wedding day, and how happy Bella was to give him her forever. And Edward knew now, that if the day ever came when Bella asked him to, he'd be happy to give her his.
Judging by the reaction this story seems to be getting, I'm guessing this open ending will be unpopular. I didn't say it outright, but if you read between the lines, you'll realize which choice she made. Thank you all for reading. If you have any questions, please let me know!