A/N: Alas, the end is here.
Thanks to EVERYONE. Thanks to everyone who read and reviewed and rec'd me to friends. Thanks to beauteous-betas MarchHare5 and twicrack83; I love you girls! Thanks to MsWDarcy, who started this journey with me (We had a baby!) Thanks to my husband and my lil sis. Thank you!
Warning: adult content and violence. **Mention of physical and sexual assault. ** Language ** This is not for readers under 18! Forewarning: violence and sexual material!
Disclaimer: all recognizable characters and Twilight belong to Stephenie Meyer, the rest is copyrighted 2010 ElspethGordie
"Cara! Be careful, honey. Try not to fall too much!" I yelled as my three-year-old went gallivanting off to the swings.
"Okay, Mama!" she hollered back. Her tight brown curls bounced around her shoulders as she skipped over the rubber mulch. I winced as she tripped over air, but caught herself before she face planted. She looked over her shoulder, smiling cheesily. "I'm good, Mama!" She held up her hands to show no scrapes. I nodded and she ran for the free swing.
Chuckling, I watched her dive onto the swing on her belly. Laughter floated over the air, tinkling bells of joy. Her love of the playground was infamous. I circumvented the begging today by taking her to the park before she could even ask. Though it might have been in vain because Emmett was watching her this afternoon and I knew that he'd give in to anything she asked. The last time he babysat she came back covered in melted ice cream and suffering from a tummy ache. I made him stay to clean up the puke.
Sitting down on a bench surrounding the playground, I smiled cordially at the other mothers, ignoring their obvious sneers for my age.
It had been a long three years. The best three years of my life.
Not long after Cara was born, Jimmy was convicted of rape in the second degree and assault of the second degree. He was sentenced to five to ten years in prison with the option of parole at three. Three years was coming up in a few weeks.
The trial felt like yesterday.
I sat quietly on the stand. I was proud of myself. I'd held it together. I'd clearly and succinctly given them my story; everything was on the table. I nervously twisted my hands then looked up at the gallery. My father sat in the second row; I watched as he wiped his eyes.
Next to him was Edward; I could see the tension in his jaw. His fists were probably clenched. He'd been dreading this almost as much as I had. He caught my gaze and I felt it, that sense of completion, endless understanding, and … love. We hadn't said anything like that to each other. But I knew we felt it. Every time he kissed me softly and took Cara from my arms. Every time I found him rocking her, singing some lullaby when she should have been sleeping. Every time he rubbed my back or held my hand or did my homework because I hadn't had time, I knew. I smiled slightly at him to receive a crooked grin in return.
And finally next to Edward sat Ali, who was giving the full Alice-Cullen-Death-Glare to my ex. He had the gall to sit through my entire testimony with a self-important smirk on his face, like no matter what we said he would still go free.
Emmett and Rose had made the trip up this time. They were currently watching Cara. Rosalie had been a godsend; she had a natural knack with babies. It was just one more thing to feel inadequate about, but she continued to reassure me that the only reason was because she knew she'd give Cara back at the end of the night. Other than my father or Edward, there was no one else I would trust my baby with.
A few rows behind them sat Renee. She was still as a statue; not one tear was shed during my testimony. We hadn't spoke since my last visit. I sent her a picture of Cara, but she never responded. I took that as her choice. It was the last time I saw her.
"Miss Swan, why did you wait until November to bring this to the attention of the police?"
I looked at Jimmy's slime-ball attorney. Clasping my hands together tightly, I responded softly, "I was in shock; I was scared. I was seventeen-years-old and the boy I had dated for two years had drugged me and beaten me and raped me. I was suffering from post-traumatic-stress-disorder. I wanted it to all go away."
"So, after you discovered you were pregnant you decided to attack the father, accusing your boyfriend of two years of rape." The slime was literally dripping off him. Edward looked murderous. "You're trying to tell us that in those two years, you never engaged in sexual intercourse?"
I shook my head.
"Miss Swan, yes or no for the record," the judge interceded.
"No, we did not."
The questioning went on for some time, questions more impertinent than the last. My blush stayed on the surface of my skin, never fading, only growing in brightness.
"Is all of this an attempt to keep this young man," he gestured toward Jimmy, who now wore the mask of the wrongly accused, "from being a father to his daughter?"
I growled at the attorney.
Fortunately, Sam Uley, Seattle's DA, who came to personally handle my case, spoke up. "Objection. Irrelevant. Mr. Crawford signed away his parental rights at the time of the child's birth."
"Sustained," the judge agreed.
Slime-ball bared his teeth at me, attempting a smile. "That is all then, Miss Swan."
The judge nodded. "You may take your seat."
A squeal tore me from the memories. Cara was shrieking in delight as a little boy chased her down the slide and around the jungle gym. Her hair was flying behind her as she giggled and yelled. When the little boy, not more than a year older, caught her, he wrapped his arms around her small torso. At that Cara's yells became more determined as she pushed him away and stuck out her tongue.
"Cara Elizabeth Swan," I said, using my mom voice.
Her face crumpled up in annoyance, but hurried to my side.
"What do you think you're doing pushing other kids?" I asked as I used my thumb and some spit to wipe a smudge of dirt off her face.
"Mama! He was gonna kiss me! Boys are ucky!" she whined.
I tried to withhold a laugh, and barely succeeded. "You don't think Grandpa or Edward or Em or Jazz is ucky." She giggled in response. "Now be a good girl and go play. I don't want to see any more pushing."
"Okay, Mama." And she skipped off once again.
My friends had really been there for me in the last three years. Not just at Jimmy's trial or at Cara's birth, but in the everyday things. They didn't coddle me; it was still my responsibility to be Cara's mother, not that I would have let them take over, but they stood by me through it all.
Ali, Emmett, and Rose were top-notch babysitters. Whenever I needed a night off they were there fighting with each other whose turn it was to watch Cara. Even now, they fought over who got to watch her during my special date with Edward.
After my second year of college Cara and I moved into our own apartment. We'd stayed with Charlie those first two years, not because I couldn't provide, but because I knew that Charlie needed us there. He'd felt so guilty over what had happened to me, especially after the trial. I couldn't hurt him any more by shutting him out of our lives under the guise of independence.
Two hands suddenly covered my eyes, blocking my view of Cara on in the sandbox. I jumped slightly, then relaxed. Lips pressed to the side of my neck. A husky voice whispered, "Guess who?"
I laughed. "Now, I wonder who it could be?"
Another squeal was heard across the playground. "Edward!"
His hands disappeared from my eyes as she swept my little one up into his arms. "Are you being good for your mama, princess?" Edward asked.
She nodded violently. "I'm a good girl!" she announced. "That boy tried to kiss me, so I did what you said and pushed him away!" She pointed at the little boy and shriveled her nose in disgust.
Edward growled, then chuckled. "Good job!" He set her down and she ran off again.
I raised an eyebrow at him, which he only returned as he sat next to me, taking my hand. "I didn't think I'd have to bat them away so soon. Would it be wrong to buy a shotgun now to keep them away?"
"The mothers of three-, four-, and five-year-old boys will love that." I snorted. "Besides, I think Charlie already has you covered on the purchase."
He laughed, running a hand through his auburn hair. It was shorter now than he had kept it in high school, but it still stuck up everywhere like he'd been thoroughly done in. "Yeah, I'm surprised he didn't use it on me."
I giggled because honestly I had been surprised too. But Charlie must have seen the way Edward looked at me and Cara. I leaned in and kissed Edward on the cheek. "It's because he knows how much I love you."
Edward turned, catching my eyes. "I love you more."
I shook my head. "I love you more." Yes, we were that couple. The one who fought over who loved the other one more. Believe me, it made me gag a little sometimes too. Ali habitually liked to make gagging sounds when we were around.
He shook his head. "I loved you first."
I smiled. "Well, can't argue with that." I offered my lips to him, and he accepted them in a chaste kiss.
He'd told me not long after Cara had been born, only a few weeks after the trial. It was almost finals, graduation only a month or so away, and I was stressed out of my mind. Cara hadn't been sleeping, and I was behind in all my work. Charlie kept pressing me to apply for late admission to the University of Phoenix. We were making dinner, it had been two days since I had had time for a shower, and Edward said it. In the midst of the chaos, he told me he loved me, picked up my screaming baby, and told me to go take a shower. I was star-struck.
"Do you think we can drop Cara off at Em and Rose's early?" Edward asked.
I shrugged. "I don't see why not. Rose is in class all day, but Em's off. I can text him." I did, getting a response back in less than thirty seconds. "He says that's fine with him." He actually said "hell yeah," but I was not saying that aloud at a park with little ears around.
Edward clapped his hands together and stood up. "Hey, Cara, do you want to go see Uncle Em?" he hollered in her direction.
Her little head of curls bounced up above the plastic wall at the top of the slide. "Right now?" she squealed back.
Edward laughed and nodded. I could see her jumping up and down, waiting for her turn to slide down. I swear that, even though I didn't name her Alice, Jr., she definitely took on some of her hyper-activeness. Ali was immensely proud. I hurried over with Edward to catch her at the bottom. I laughed as Edward caught her and swung her up onto his shoulders. She yelled, but held on to his hair tightly, beaming down at me.
Cara and I had walked to the park from our apartment, so we got into Edward's car, taking the five-minute trip to Emmett and Rose's off-campus apartment. Edward unbuckled Cara from her car seat and I caught her as she tried to run into the building without us. Both of us holding one of her hands, we walked in together.
We let Cara knock on the door. When Emmett opened it, he acted like she knocked him over when she leaped into his arms. "You're so strong, Jelly-Bean!"
"You're silly, Uncle Em!" Cara giggled.
"You know what we're going to do today?" Emmett mock-whispered.
Cara's eyes got big as saucers and she shook her head. "What?" she whispered back.
"We're going to make princess crowns and watch your favorite movie!"
Cara jumped up, clapping her hands in glee. "Cinderella! Cinderella!" she chanted.
Edward laughed and guided me into the room as she went running off to find her favorite movie. Emmett picked himself off the floor, brushing himself off, and enclosed me in a huge hug.
"How ya doin', little mama?"
I hugged him back. "Great, really, we're doing great."
He kissed the top of my head, and released me to shake Edward's hand.
It'd finally happened. After a year of intensive therapy and medication after I'd finished nursing Cara, I touched someone other than Edward. It was an accident really. The shrink and I had planned out when it would be, but one night after getting Cara to sleep I sat down next to Charlie on the couch and leaned my head against him in exhaustion. He went so rigid it was almost funny. But I didn't react to his touch, and he leaned his head down on mine, kissing me softly on the forehead.
It wasn't an immediate thing like most people expect. There wasn't a switch in my brain that turned back on, allowing men to touch me. I had good days and bad days. But those bad days were so few and far between now that I barely even thought of it when I gave Charlie, Emmett, or Jazz a hug. I barely even prepped myself to shake a new acquaintance's hand anymore. We'd spent a long time practicing and learning to deal with any flashbacks that did come along. But here I was, able to give one of my best friends a hug, and it felt good.
The meds had helped a lot. The shrink put me on some anti-anxiety medication and lowered my dose over the years. I now only took the lowest dose as needed.
"Thanks for doing this Emmett, especially letting us drop her off early," Edward said.
He brushed it off. "My pleasure."
"She probably needs a nap around two, and make sure she has some vegetables with dinner?" I instructed.
He held up his hands. "Don't worry. I learned my lesson with the ice cream last time."
I shook my head, smirking. Edward clapped him on the shoulder. "Don't let those puppy eyes get to you."
Emmett rolled his eyes at Edward. "Yeah, I'd like to see you say no to those eyes." He was right; we all had a hard time saying no to her puppy dog look.
"You ready to go, sweetheart?" Edward asked, rubbing my lower back.
I nodded. "Cara! Mama and Edward are leaving now," I called. The pitter-patter of little feet came galloping our way. I bent down as she swung her arms around my neck. "You be good for Uncle Em."
"Okay. I love you, Mama." She kissed me sweetly on the cheek.
"I love you too, baby."
She turned to Edward, saying goodbye and giving him a kiss, too. I swear he always got misty-eyed when she told him that she loved him.
"We'll be back later this evening," Edward informed Emmett. He'd been planning our little date for weeks, asking me to keep this day open. I still had no idea what we were doing; my questions nor kisses had done nothing to crack his shell.
Emmett gave Edward a giant smile. "You kids have fun! Don't worry about Cara; we'll be fine."
I nodded and Edward ushered us out the door.
We'd been driving for a while, and Edward still refused to tell me what was going on. Then I caught a sign in the distance: Sedona, twelve miles.
I gasped. "We're going to Sedona?" Those red rocks of Cathedral Rock Trail highlighted my early memories of Edward. Our first date, our almost first kiss, and the place I'd told him the truth.
He smiled freely. "I kinda want to finish our date this time."
"As long as you promise to keep the scorpions away from me." I had a healthy fear of those little buggers.
He squeezed my hand gently. "I promise."
An hour later, we'd parked and made our way up the trail to the exact spot where we spent our first picnic. Lounging in the warm winter sun we talked about school. I was getting a degree in social work. I really wanted to help girls like me, young girls who didn't have a family like I did. Edward was getting a degree in education, so he could teach high school science. I thought he was a little crazy for wanting to go back to high school, but he just said schools needed more teachers that actually cared about the students, not just the subject material. We talked about Alice and Jasper, and Rose and Emmett. I really didn't know what I'd do without them. We talked about Cara and the trip that Carlisle and Esme wanted to take us all on over spring break.
I loved this about us. Talking, spending time together. Not only did I love Edward, but he was my best friend. And even though he didn't have the title, he was also the best father for my daughter.
Towards the end of the evening, as the sun was setting and a thousand colors of orange, red, and yellow were exploding across the sky, we went to stand at the edge of the cliff. I tried to get as close as possible to the life-size painting.
"It's beautiful," I said, just as I had those years before.
"Yes, beautiful," Edward replied. I turned to find him looking directly at me. He let go of my hand he'd been holding, and I noticed that it was shaking. Reaching into his pocket he brought out a small red box with a little snap button on the front.
My eyes went wide as he slowly knelt down on one knee. Opening the box and holding it up to me, he asked, "Marry me, Bella?"
I gasped and gazed into the eyes of my other half.
Leave some love for me and the monkey ;)
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