I don't own these characters. They are the sole property of Stephenie Meyer. I only borrow them. No humans are permanently harmed through my actions, though I do confess to harassing, annoying, torturing, and exasperating them – just because it's fun. I make no money from my little stories, sad day. I only play in the sandbox, I didn't build it.
Author's Note: I have no excuse for not updating sooner. I just haven't felt like writing. My apologies.
Four and a half years later…
Today I am, for the first time in what seems like a lifetime, a civilian again. It's an odd feeling, knowing that I won't be reporting for duty at the base tomorrow. Odd, but liberating in the very best of ways. A giggle from the living room distracts me and I stand in the doorway, watching my girls. Cassidy is putting something in a box that Bella has already labeled. Tomorrow all of those boxes will be put into a truck and be on their way to Virginia, where we'll be staying temporarily. My dad knows a doctor who has a house for rent and he's willing to let us live there at a great price while I'm in training, even though our lease will be very short term. I don't mind my dad helping as much now that I know I can stand on my own two feet.
My spot at the FBI Academy at Quantico was confirmed several months ago. I am that much closer to realizing my dream. Then I hear Cassidy giggle and I realize that isn't true. I already have my dream and it is standing there in the living room. Things have gone amazingly well for us, especially after such a rocky start. Bella graduated with her teaching degree just a month ago. In four months, Cassidy will become a big sister.
Right now my little girl is wearing a sparkly pink tutu, cowboy boots, and a sweatshirt with a skull and crossbones on it. This ensemble is crowned by a bandana wrapped around her head Jack Sparrow style. She's going through a pirate phase. I have hopes it won't be long-lived. I'm really tired of being ordered to walk the plank.
Needless to say, Cassidy has her own unique sense of style. Some of her outfits make us shake our heads in wonder. The tutu is a repeat performance; it's one of her favorites. Likewise the cowboy boots, though she usually pairs those with a pair of checkered leggings or one of my tee-shirts and a tiara. She also likes to wear my Army cap, the one with my name on the back. "That's my name too, Daddy," she explained rolling her eyes one day when I asked her why she wore it. Apparently, my baby girl thinks I'm a bit of a dumb ass at times. She's probably right. Bella would say she's definitely right. I'm clearly outnumbered, but it's cool.
Raising Cassidy has sometimes been more of a farce than an after-school special, but we've managed to muddle through. Somehow, she turned out pretty damned fantastic, despite our screw ups. She is most definitely her own person. Our Cassidy not only marches to the beat of her own drummer, she hears her own damned orchestra.
Bella turns and I can see the curve of her belly. Cassidy pats it. She had informed us months ago that she preferred a baby brother and that we were, under no circumstances, supposed to bring home a sister. This had surprised us until she confessed that she wanted to remain our "onliest" girl. First thing tomorrow morning, just before we fly back home to Forks for a visit, we are hopefully going to find out the sex of the baby. Bella and I played rock-paper-scissors to figure out who had to break the news to Cassidy if the baby is a girl. We finally decided that we'd let my mother do it. That's what grandmas are for, right? If it's a boy, then we're all home free.
Last month, Bella and I agreed that if we do have a boy, we'll name him Eric Matthew Cullen. Whitlock thought that was a great idea, and said he wished he'd thought of it himself, even though they don't have kids yet. Of course, as I pointed out to him, Bella told me that Alice had had her kids' names picked out since the seventh grade and nothing as inconsequential as his wishes would sway her. He laughed, but he didn't disagree. That's another reason having a boy would be easier – Bella and I can't agree on a girl's name. Here's hoping for that Y chromosome.
Whit and Alice are living in Houston now, which Whitlock thinks is perfect. Alice isn't so sure, though she does appreciate the shopping that a large city provides. Whitlock is now a brand new U.S. Marshall, so his dreams are all coming true for him too. He's finally part of a family and I consider him a brother. Cassidy calls him Uncle Whit. Bella teases him and calls him Uncle Halfwit. He loves it. He retaliates and calls her Mrs. Hollywood. I don't love that, but Bella seems to get a kick out of it.
Rose and Emmett didn't talk for a long time after they broke up. It wasn't hostile or anything, they just sort of lost touch. Then last year they ran into each other at a bar and suddenly they started talking again. A lot. No one is holding their breath or anything, but it looks promising. Alice insists that they're soul mates and fated to spend their lives together. Whatever. Sometimes that girl is just weird. I love her, but sometimes she reminds of a Chihuahua on angel dust. I think Rose and Em are both just tired of fucking pretty much anything with a pulse, but that's just me. I wouldn't mind having Emmett as a brother-in-law. He's a goof, but he's a good guy. We'll see how it all works out.
Whit got out of the Army about six months before me due to an injury. He got in a car accident stateside of all things. Anyway, his knee was fucked up for a while, but he's recovered well enough to be chasing the bad guys. A few months ago a new guy joined the unit I was in. He was young and scared and didn't have a fucking clue. Basically, he was me five years ago. He had a new wife and baby back home and they were hoping to join him at the base as soon as housing opened up. I kind of took him under my wing as much as I could. It felt good to be doing the helping for once. And he kind of reminded me of Lurch. He was big and gentle and soft-spoken. I have his address and I plan to keep in touch. He'll do okay.
Last year, Whitlock and I went to the National Cemetery near Lurch's hometown and visited his grave. We agreed that we won't go back. Lurch isn't really there. We won't forget him, but we don't need a gravestone to remember. I've heard from his parents several times and Whit and I remember to call them on his birthday, which is just two days before Christmas. Lurch is still our missing piece, but we'd be stupid not to grab what life has offered us with both hands. Besides, if we sat around and moped, Lurch would somehow manage to come back just long enough to kick our asses with those size 16s of his. That is not an ass kicking I care to endure, thank you very much. So we remember, but we don't dwell.
Tomorrow we'll be among family again and that will be awesome. Everyone is excited about the baby, especially Renee who had discovered much to her surprise that she absolutely adores being a grandmother. Who would have guessed? Charlie spoils Cassidy rotten, but he and Carlisle are in some kind of competition to see who can be the most outrageous in their efforts to spoil her. Cassidy loves it, of course, and is well aware that she has both of them wrapped around her little finger. Still, she's drawn to my mom the most. They have many of the same traits and characteristics and it's funny to see them mirror each other without even thinking about it. We call her Esme's mini-me. Cassidy isn't amused by this. Neither, for that matter, is Renee. But they put up with it, mostly because they know we won't stop anyway.
That's what families do – annoy the shit out of each other just because they can. It's our way of expressing love and affection. Trust me on this.
Now, looking at my girls, all I can do is be amazed at how much I love them – and even more amazing – how much they love me. I'm still a fuck up, but my inglorious moments of asshattery are coming with less frequency now. I guess that's called growing up. I can live with it. I hear Cassidy giggle and I watch as Bella teases her and I know that everything we've been through was absolutely worth it…just to see them like this and to know that we've got each other's backs. That's also what families do – they stick together.
Bella and I weren't ready for love, but somehow, it was ready for us.
And it's all worked out.
I smile, thinking of another important person we'll visit when we're back home. Mrs. DiGorgio will be very proud. Hell, I'm proud too. Bella looks up at me and smiles tenderly, one hand on Cassidy's head and the other on her belly. Somehow, out of all the mess and drama and unexpected miracles, we've forged a life.
And it is good.
Four months, three weeks and two days later…
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Matthews,
I'm sending you some pictures of Eric Matthew Cullen, who arrived on the 7th. He weighed in at 7 pounds 7 ounces and was born at 7:17 p.m. I guess he likes the number seven. Anyway, I had promised I would send pictures the last time we talked and here they are. First, thank you for allowing us to use your son's name for our own son. It was an honor to serve with your son, but it was my privilege to be his friend even more. I hope that our own Eric will grow up to be the man that your son was. Second, your Eric will never be forgotten as long as Whitlock and I are around.
Jasper sends his love. He and Alice have just found out that they're expecting a baby too. I'm sure he'll be in touch soon. We both think of Eric – and of you – all the time.
Edward A. Cullen