This was ready to go sooner than I expected, and I didn't see any point in waiting, so without further ado, the epilogue. A million thanks for reading.
And one final thanks to WriteOnTime for all her help with this story. She made it better in so many ways.
Ten months later:
"Alice, I swear to God, I don't care if you are my sister. Don't you dare bring that lipstick one inch closer."
I darted back into the bedroom of Rose's hotel suite just in time to see Rose and Alice squared off, glaring at each other. Alice had a tube of lipstick poised and at the ready, and Rose looked like she might bite her hand off if she tried to put it on her.
Jessica stood behind them, her eyes darting anxiously back and forth. Angela bustled in right behind me, drawing up short when she spotted the stand-off, then hastily backing out again.
"Rose, this color is perfect with your dress." Alice said, her voice conciliatory.
"Alice, my dress is white. Every color is perfect with it."
"It's not white," Alice rolled her eyes. "It's Blush of Cream, which means it's off-white with a peachy-pink undertone. That's why this one goes so much better. It will bring out the warm undertones of the dress."
Now it was Rose's turn to roll her eyes as she turned back to her mirror and slicked on her own lipstick choice, a deep blood red. Alice sucked in her breath in horror before snapping the lid back on her lipstick for emphasis.
"Okay, okay," I said, finally stepping into the room to diffuse the situation. "We'd better get a move on. It's almost time."
Rose shrugged dismissively. "I'm ready."
And she was. Rose had been ready for this day, for this moment, with Emmett for years. Now that it was finally here, she was remarkably calm and unconcerned. She was just ready to get on with it and start her happily ever after. That might have had less to do with their long, circuitous route to the altar and more to do with the fact that Rose was two months pregnant already. Once she was certain the thing with Emmett was going to stick, she'd wasted no time in grabbing what she wanted with both hands.
"If I go check on the guys, will you two promise not to kill each other?"
"I can't kill the bride on her wedding day," Alice sighed.
"I can go, Bella!" Jessica volunteered, jumping forward.
"Um, yeah, no. Two words for you, Jessica," I said, counting them off on my fingers. "Rehearsal. Dinner. The last thing we need now is for you and Mike to vanish again."
"Okay, okay," she sighed, "I'll just wait until the reception."
"Jess…" Alice moaned, and I laughed as I headed for the door. Moving to Atlanta eight months ago and getting engaged seemed to have done very little to cool the fire between Mike and Jessica. Whenever they were in the vicinity of each other, they seemed to have a hard time keeping their hands to themselves. I supposed I could understand that feeling, although Edward and I managed to behave a bit better.
It had been a busy year for everybody. First there had been Jessica's speedy decamping to Atlanta. A few months later, Angela and Ben finally tied the knot in a small, private, civil ceremony. Rose and Emmett survived a tempestuous first few months of dating before surprising absolutely no one last Christmas when they announced they were engaged. Somewhere in there, Edward and I closed on the house and moved in together.
Home-ownership had come as a rude awakening to both of us. That might have had something to do with the fact that our new house was almost a hundred years old, and there was a reason it stayed on the market for months. Almost immediately, things began to break. It seemed like the first six months we lived there, we always had a third person in the house with us: a plumber, an electrician, a handyman…sometimes all three at once.
Esme had been a godsend, endlessly generous with her list of home repair contractors, her decorating help, and her casseroles when our kitchen was out of commission for weeks at a time. There's nothing like dealing with extensive home repair to let you know what your partner is truly like under pressure. Edward and I certainly had our moments, but we made it through mostly unscathed— tense, tired, but at the end of every day, still on the same team.
It mirrored the rest of our relationship. Yes, we encountered bumps in the road as we meshed our two lives into one. But the important thing was always us. I put Edward first, and he always, always put me first. After that, the rest was just negotiation, and we got better at it every day.
One night in January, five months after we moved in, we were finally spending one of our first truly quiet evenings at home. Remarkably, everything seemed in good repair, and for the moment, nothing was ripped up or under plastic sheeting. We'd finally been able to build a fire in the fireplace (after having to bring in a specialist to remove the sparrow's nests from the chimney), and we'd let it burn low since we were going up to bed soon. We were curled up on the couch; Edward was reading a medical journal and I was reading yet another in an endless stream of submissions to The Lantern. He had one arm around my shoulders, and I'd slouched down on the couch to rest my head on his chest. The fire popped and snapped in the corner, and the room was softly lit from the side table lamps. It was snowing, leaving a heavy white blanket on the side yard outside the windows behind us. It made the rest of the world seem silent and far away.
I set down my pages and looked around us, realizing with a slow, warm glow of bliss that if I had to distill my entire life down into one moment to live in forever, it would be this one. I couldn't imagine ever feeling happier, more content, than I did in this one perfect moment.
Edward noticed my distraction and set down his journal.
"What are you thinking?" he asked, smiling.
I twisted a little to face him and pressed my lips to his chest. "Happy. I was just thinking that I'm so very, very happy."
Edward sighed and kissed the top of my head. "Me, too. Come here."
I scooted up, his arms wrapped around my back, until I could kiss his mouth, his soft, perfect lips that I would never, ever get tired of. He sighed into my mouth, cupping my face with one hand. His face was blissful, his eyes glittering in the dying light of the fire. I traced his jawline with one finger.
"Let's make the happiness a permanent thing, okay?" he murmured.
I smiled and leaned forward to kiss him again. "Isn't that what we're doing?"
He smiled back. "Marry me."
It was so soft, yet so earnest. Just the words, honest and straight-forward. I caught my breath and leaned back just enough to see his face fully. He looked back at me, so certain. He loved me and wanted me forever, and he knew it. So did I.
"Yes," I answered simply.
In the end, it was decided quietly, a tiny intimate moment between the two of us. Just as it should be.
I smiled at the memory, and instinctively, the fingers of my right hand went to touch the ring on my left. It was intricate and old, and sported a very sizeable square-cut diamond. It was far more ring than I was comfortable with, but it was the Platt family ring, bought by the same Edward Platt who built the family house, and passed down through the generations. Since Esme wore the ring that Carlisle gave her when he proposed, the family heirloom had been sitting in a safe-deposit box until Edward was ready for it. And now it sat on the third finger of my left hand. Sometimes the ring and all it symbolized overwhelmed me, but it was a part of Edward, the same as the house, the same as his family and his heritage. So I loved it and I wore it and I smiled every time it caught my eye.
I stepped out of Rose's hotel suite and took a deep breath before I walked down the hall to check on Emmett. Just as I was about to move, Emmett's door opened and Edward emerged. When he saw me, his whole face lit up with a smile and he started pacing down the hall in my direction.
Edward in a tuxedo still took my breath away. His broad shoulders, his narrow hips, his long legs— it was almost obscene how good he looked. I sighed and swooned like a schoolgirl at the sight of my fiancé.
"Hey, you," he smiled when he got close, stuffing his hands in his pockets.
"Hey, yourself," I said, suppressing the urge to lick my lips. "Are you guys having fun in there?"
Edward shrugged. "You know. Emmett's so nervous, I think he might spontaneously combust. How's Rose?"
I laughed. "Cool as a cucumber, but it's Rose, so that's no surprise. She and Alice might kill each other over the exact shade of white of her dress, but we'll survive. I can't wait until the reception, that's all I'm saying."
Edward chuckled. "Yeah, me either. The Maid of Honor is really hot, and I'm hoping that if I ply her with enough champagne, I might get lucky there."
I smiled and cocked an eyebrow at him. "Oh, really? And you think you have a shot there? Maybe she's already taken. Who knows? Maybe she's engaged to some amazing guy. Why on earth would she give the time of day to the horny Best Man, no matter how scorching hot he looks in a tux?"
Edward abruptly took his hands out of his pockets and stepped forward, backing me into the wall. He laid his palms flat on either side of my head. "Scorching hot, huh?" he growled, his eyes half-closed and his mouth far too close to mine.
My body lit up with desire and I swallowed hard. "Mmm hmmm. If you're into that sort of thing."
"Do you think she's into that sort of thing?"
"The hot Maid of Honor?"
He nodded, moving one hand to trace his finger over my shoulder and down my arm. "That's the one. Do you think I have a shot with her?"
"Um… you might. If you play your cards right," I murmured, his lips just a breath away from mine.
"Ah, geez! Come on, guys!" Jasper's exasperated huff broke us apart. He was standing just outside Emmett's suite, hands on his hips. "First Mike and Jess, and now you two."
Edward backed away from me, hands up in defense. "No worries. I'll behave." Then he looked back at me and whispered, "For now."
I flushed and looked at my feet. I heard Edward chuckle before he moved away to join Jasper.
"Alright, we have a wedding to put on," Jasper said, clapping his hands together. "Em? You ready, man?"
Emmett appeared from inside the suite, looking a little pale and sweaty.
"You doing okay, Em?" I asked him.
He forced a sickly smile and nodded. "Yeah. Just a little nervous. She's still in there, right? She's gonna show?"
"Em, of course she is! She's just in there ticking off the minutes until 'I do'."
He exhaled and visibly relaxed. "Okay. Good. Yeah. Let's do this."
There were a few more minutes spent double-checking that Edward had the rings, and that Emmett remembered his cues, and then the boys were off to the elevators and the ballroom below.
I headed back to Rose's suite to get the girls together. In my absence, Mims Hale had shown up and was flitting around her daughter, trying to be helpful. Rose looked like she was trying to refrain from murdering her mother, and I wondered if it was always like this, since it seemed so reminiscent of Alice's wedding day. It would be different for me, though. I couldn't imagine Esme ever getting on my nerves the way Mims was currently riding Rose's. And for all intents and purposes, Esme was my mother now. She and Carlisle, welcoming me so thoroughly into their family, was one of the very best perks of many that came with Edward.
Jessica and Alice had a minor disagreement about the placement of Rose's veil, until Rose slapped both their hands away and decided for herself. After that, there was nothing left to do but go get Rose married to Emmett.
Outside the ballroom, as we waited for the music that would cue our entrance, I cast a quick glance at Rose. She was as statuesque as ever, her eyes focused straight ahead, her face placid.
"Hey, you okay?" I asked her with a nudge.
She looked at me, surprised, "Me? Yeah, I'm fine. I'm just glad this is almost done."
"You have got to be the calmest bride in the history of weddings, Rose."
She smiled serenely. "I've done more than my fair share of freaking out over Emmett. I'm all done with that. We've figured out this part. This is just one day, right? We have babies to raise, and I'm sure that's going to be a lot harder than standing around in a pretty dress and getting my picture taken."
"Smart girl. I'm so happy for you, Rose."
She smiled again, showing her gleaming white teeth, which was rare for Rose. "I'm happy, too. And I'm happy you're here. Thank you, Bella. I'm so glad we're friends."
"Stop!" I said waving my hand in front of my face. "I'm going to cry!"
Rose snorted and rolled her eyes. "You and Alice both…such softies!"
Then we heard the change in music that signaled the start of the procession. We scrambled into the correct order and the doors were thrown open. Jessica took the first steps down the aisle towards Emmett in front.
After we'd all made our way down the aisle, Rose followed, resplendent in her bias-cut sheath gown, like something out of a Hollywood movie in the thirties. The early flush of pregnancy had only made her voluptuous figure more so. I stepped forward to relieve her of her bouquet just before she turned to face Emmett. I glanced at him and I swear, he looked like he might cry.
Rose took one look at Emmett's red, watery eyes and started to stifle a laugh. Then, suddenly, we were all trying to hold it back. It was a full minute before the wedding party got themselves under control enough for the minister to begin the ceremony.
Once he began to speak, my eyes found Edward, standing just behind Emmett. Of course, he was already watching me. We smiled at each other and instinctively, my left thumb began to stroke the metal of my engagement ring. Edward's eyes flickered down at the movement and his smile grew wider. He looked back up at me and mouthed "Soon". Yes, soon. I imagined Edward and me standing where Rose and Emmett were, hand-in-hand, promising the rest of our lives to each other. Soon couldn't come fast enough.
I had to look away to get my ridiculously goofy grin under control. Instead, I focused on our friends. I looked at Rose and Emmett, facing each other, finally at the end of one long, painful road and stepping out together on a brand new one. I looked at Jessica, so sure she had it all figured out until Mike came along and blew her life to bits, making her the happiest person I knew. I looked at Ben in the first pew, who couldn't take his eyes off of his wife, one of my oldest and dearest friends, Angela. I looked at Alice beside me, who was crying as she watched Rose and Emmett speak their vows. Sweet, fierce Alice, who loved me with her whole heart; Alice, who had saved my life in more ways than one. I looked at Jasper, who had become a brother to me, smiling at Alice, the light of his life.
Rose and Emmett were near the end of their vows now, and I looked down at my flowers to hide my teary eyes. I felt blessed and complete with all of these people around me. I felt lucky to know them, fortunate to have been a part of their lives and stories, and I couldn't wait to see where life led us all in the future.
Rose and Emmett kissed, and it was done. She was smiling and laughing, the happiest I'd ever seen her, radiant in her joy. Emmett swept her back into his arms for another kiss, this one a lot hotter than their first as husband and wife. Everyone laughed and Rose batted him away good-naturedly. The music started back up and they headed back down the aisle, arm-in-arm.
The wedding party filed out behind them, and Edward caught my hand as soon as we left the hall, his fingers weaving with mine.
"I'm happy for them," he said.
"I'm ecstatic. And relieved. For a while there, I doubted they'd ever make it here."
"It's definitely something to celebrate."
I sighed dramatically. "And we will. I could so use a drink now."
Edward chuckled. "Well, we'd better move along to the reception then. Don't forget, I still have that Maid of Honor to seduce."
I squeezed his hand and smiled up at him. "I don't think she's going to put up much of a fight. This time."