AN: Here's the epilogue. It is divided into two parts, both of which are posted here.
Chapter title comes from Pearl Jam's "Just Breathe." Thanks, Scrimmy!
The book Edward is reading is called Family Happiness by Leo Tolstoy.
Much more love at the bottom.
I'm a Lucky Man to Count on Both Hands the Ones I Love
Three months later
"You are exquisite."
I felt the blush creep across my cheeks as Esme stood behind me, pinning the antique barrette into my hair. I was trying so hard not to be nervous. Or throw up. Or cry. But Esme kept talking, and it was becoming increasingly more difficult to control my emotions.
"You are a mother's prayer come true," Esme whispered as her hands expertly arranged my hair as it flowed down the back of my dress. "For years, I prayed that Edward would find someone like you, and now he has."
I swallowed the lump that had formed in my throat. "Someone like me?"
She walked around to face me, and her eyes were sparkling with tears as she gently patted my cheek. "So lovely…and yes, someone like you. Someone who accepts him and his flaws. Someone who grounds him. Someone who loves him whole-heartedly and without judgment of his past. And most importantly, someone he loves just as much in return."
I wanted to tell her how much I appreciated her words and how much they warmed my heart. I wanted to tell her that by loving Edward, he had given me everything I had ever wanted. Not only did I have his unconditional love, but I had a large family with whom to share that love. But I didn't tell her any of those things. For one thing, she'd hear them in my vows. For another, I was already so close to crying, and I didn't want to suffer Alice's wrath if she had to reapply my make-up.
The last three months had been a complete whirlwind. Upon the news of our engagement, Alice and Esme went into wedding planning overdrive. Neither of us wanted a long engagement, and while Alice had complained that there was no way she could plan an acceptable wedding in three months, she relented when we'd threatened to elope. Suddenly, three months was more than enough time, and the best part of it was that I had absolutely nothing to do with any of the planning. Sure, I'd been asked to pick out colors and dresses, and I'd been required to try on my dress, but other than that, the planning and organization had been left in Alice and Esme's capable hands. When deciding on a location for the wedding, there really was just one obvious choice. Thankfully, the weather was cooperating, and the meadow was lush and green and brimming with multi-colored wildflowers. We had picked our favorite spot in the meadow, and Emmett and Jasper had arranged chairs to form an aisle that led to an arch entwined with ivy. It was simple and beautiful and everything I had ever pictured for my wedding day.
Of course, there was one special person missing from this perfect day, but I felt my mother's presence each time Esme squeezed my hand. She was playing both roles today – the mother of the bride and of the groom. I would thank her later, when I could do so without crying. Or, I'd save that for my vows, as well…when my tears would be expected and much more tolerable.
"Aunt Alice says it's time!" Claire and Katie giggled as they made their way into Alice's old bedroom. I smiled down at the girls in their white organza dresses and pink wings and matching headband. We had decided not to have a wedding party, but I absolutely insisted that the twins be a part of the wedding. Alice had found the dresses in a Seattle boutique, and the girls had squealed with delight when we'd called them our "flower girl angels." They were completely adorable. They had insisted on a pair of wings for their new baby brother, as well, but Emmett had put his foot down. Regardless, once I make my way to the altar, I won't be at all surprised to see Rosalie holding Baby Henry, all decked out in his onesie and wings. Em could be as gruff as he wanted, but his stern resolve disappeared whenever his twin daughters were involved. It was just further evidence that the Cullen men were the best fathers in the world.
There was one exception to that rule, however, and he was standing at the bottom of the stairs, waiting to give me away. Charlie's eyes were rimmed with red, and it broke my heart that he was crying already.
"Your mother would be so proud of the woman you've become. You look beautiful, Isabella."
It was his use of my real name – and the mention of my mother – that finally brought me to tears.
"What'd I say?" Charlie's voice groaned as Hurricane Alice made her way into the living room with a make-up bag in hand. I linked my arm through Charlie's as she buffed and concealed and applied more mascara to my eyelashes.
"It's not your fault, Dad," I whispered. "I'm just emotional today."
"Of course you are," Esme patted my hand affectionately. "Now, Jane has your bouquet..."
I smiled at Edward's manager and my best friend as she handed me my wildflower bouquet. She gently kissed my cheek before wiping her own eyes and making her way out onto the front porch. I was thankful that we'd chosen a dress without a train as I made my way down the steps and into the car that would carry me to the meadow.
I felt his eyes on me as soon as I stepped out of the car. It was impossible to ignore his penetrating gaze, and I found myself hypnotized by his stare as Charlie led me down the aisle. We'd only invited a handful of guests because we'd wanted to keep it simple and intimate. I knew Liam and Siobhan were here, as were some of Edward's band mates and a few of my loyal customers from the bookstore. I could hear their appreciative gasps as I walked down the aisle with my father, but I couldn't focus on anyone. We were in a bubble – just Edward and I – and there was no other place I'd rather be.
Edward's smile was breathtaking as Charlie led me to his side, and I handed my bouquet to Jane before entwining my hands with his.
"Dearly beloved," Mr. Weber began. John Weber was an old friend of my fathers and the pastor of the Lutheran church in town. "We are gathered here today…"
Edward's emerald eyes were shining as he gazed down at me. He squeezed my hand, and I squeezed his right back while Mr. Weber talked about the sanctity of marriage. His face was etched with emotion and love, and his expression nearly broke me. But I was determined to keep a tight reign on my emotions, at least until the vows. I knew what a poet he could be, and I was certain his vows would bring me to tears.
"Edward and Bella have chosen to write their own vows. Bella will begin," Mr. Weber announced softly. I smiled into the eyes I loved so much, and recited my vows.
"Today, I am surrounded by so much love, and it's almost more than my heart can hold," I whispered sincerely as I gazed into his eyes. "Not only do I have you standing here, pledging your life to me, but we are surrounded by our family. My father accepted you without question. Your family welcomed me with open arms. And while my mother isn't with us today, I can feel her spirit, and I know she's looking down on us and is so happy that we found each other."
A lone tear trickled down my face, and Edward softly wiped it away with his knuckle.
"You amaze me, and I am so proud of you. I know you tell everyone that I've made you the man that you are today, but I don't think that's the whole truth. That man was always inside of you. I think I just helped pick the lock that was keeping him caged. And in turn, you showed me how to take chances in life and to trust my instincts while loving me completely and unconditionally. All girls should be as adored as I am, and I pray that your little nieces and our future daughters someday find a man who looks at them the way you're looking at me right now. They shouldn't settle for less than that, and I am so lucky to have it. I love you with all of my heart and soul, and I cannot wait to be your wife."
Edward lifted my hand to his lips and kissed the back of my knuckles as a tear seeped along his cheek. I brought my other hand to his face and gently brushed it away.
"My sweet girl," Edward whispered softly as he kissed the back of my hand once more. "Despite the fact that I'm a songwriter, I found it so hard to put into words how precious you are to me. I worked on these vows for weeks, but nothing felt right. So, I went looking for some inspiration, and I found my journal – you know…the one we kept for each other when I was away?"
I nodded softly as he continued.
"That separation didn't last nearly as long as we'd expected, but that month without you only cemented how much I loved you. I was flipping through the pages and I found an entry I made just days before you flew to Nashville. I must have had the day off, because on that day, I didn't write anything about the road or the show. It was just me, writing a letter to the girl I loved more than anything in this world. It wasn't perfect, but it was heartfelt, and that's what I want to share with you today."
I expected him to pull the page of his journal out of his pocket, but he surprised me by reciting the whole thing from memory.
"I wake up each morning with you on my mind. I go to sleep each night, and I see your face behind my closed eyelids. You are in my every thought, my every dream, my every decision, and my every movement. I think about your big brown eyes and how they are a window into your soul, and I'm amazed by the beauty I see there. I think about your heart and how, in your heart, I've found my home. Even if I was a billionaire, your heart would always be my greatest treasure. To know that you trust me with your heart, means more to me than I could ever put into words, and I promise to love you and protect you until I breathe my last breath."
He ended his vows by brushing his lips against my palm, and with that tender gesture, I couldn't control my tears a moment longer. We exchanged rings, and through my tear-filled haze, I gazed into Edward's handsome face as Mr. Weber pronounced us husband and wife. Our family cheered, but I couldn't focus on their happy faces. All I could see was him, and I all I could feel were his lips on mine.
Five years later
"Daddy, tell me the story," Emily grins as she climbs into my lap. I can't help but smile as I close my book and place it on the porch. She loves to sit with me in my rocking chair, but she loves to hear stories even more. She also has a mildly unhealthy obsession with 80's music and children's storybooks.
There is absolutely no doubt that this beautiful child is our daughter.
I can't resist teasing her. "Which story, baby girl?"
"You know…." Emily sighs as she points out into the yard. Bella is working in her flowerbed, planting the roses in such a way that the bushes will get the most of what little sunshine the skies of Forks can offer.
"You could tell me this story," I grin down at her. "You've heard it enough."
"But I want you to tell it," Emily murmurs, rising up just a little to press a kiss to my cheek before snuggling deep into my arms once again. For a mere preschooler, she is quite the little manipulator.
"Her dress was white," I whisper as my mind recalls with startling clarity the way Bella looked on our wedding day. "It was made of lace, and she was the prettiest girl that Daddy had ever seen."
"Until me!" Emily smiles at me with her mother's beautiful brown eyes. It still amazes me that they are the exact same shade as Bella's.
"Until you," I agree softly as I kiss the top of her hair, and I once again find myself wondering how it's possible that my life is filled with so much love and happiness.
So much has changed in our lives during the past five years, but some things have stayed just the same. Bella and I still worship the ground upon which the other walks. She spends her days as the librarian at Forks High School, and I play music and write songs in our basement studio. I fulfilled my contractual obligations to Eclipse, and my three albums were met with moderate success. They had offered me yet another deal, but by then Emily had been born, and there wasn't enough money in the world that could drag me away from the life we'd created here.
Despite the constant rain, our house was finished about six months after we returned from our honeymoon. Bella had immediately started school, and as promised, was hired as the librarian when school started back in the fall. She absolutely loves working in the library, and the students adore her. Some of the boys even have crushes on Mrs. Cullen, and I was constantly warning her that those horn-rimmed reading glasses only help to make those fantasies more vivid in their minds. I know this, because I'm a man, and those glasses haunt my fantasies, as well. She just rolls her eyes at me and blushes. She still has no idea how beautiful she is, no matter how much I try to convince her.
Emily Jane Cullen came along before our first wedding anniversary. She is the spitting image of her mother, except for the unruly copper hair that hangs in tendrils around her heart-shaped face. She is the joy of our lives, and she will be meeting her baby brother in just a few months. We're still trying to decide on a name for him, and Emily loves to pretend that she's reading with us in the baby name books. Our little girl loves music, books, and strawberry cupcakes. She has just started showing an interest in the piano and can already play some songs by ear. She attends preschool at Forks Elementary and is, of course, the best reader in her class.
It still amazes me that they read in preschool.
Our family is healthy and happy. Charlie chose to retire last year and now spends his days doting on his granddaughter and teaching her and Henry how to fish. He is dating Lucy, the owner of the flower shop in town. Carlisle and Esme are still crazy in love. Dad is considering retirement and Mom has started painting. Alice and Jasper got married not long after our wedding. She works in fashion, and Jasper is still teaching at the university. Emmett and Rosalie live close by, and the twins are now ten years old and as cute as ever. Claire keeps her nose stuck in a book, and Katie is taking gymnastics. Our little nephew Henry is five years old and plays little league baseball. He looks just like his father and has his mother's temper.
Jane continues to guide my career, and she's still representing independent artists. She has had several offers from major record labels, but she refuses to leave Seattle. She visits about once a month, and she and Bella are the very best of friends.
The house is exactly as Bella described the day we walked along the property. It is rustic and brown, with two stories and a wrap-around porch. Our rocking chairs are along each side of the door. We spend many late afternoons out here on the porch, watching Emily play on her swing set in the yard while Bella reads and I play my guitar. Our life is simple and sweet, and you couldn't search the planet and find a happier man than me.
I glance down and see that Emily has fallen asleep against my chest. I stroke her face and kiss her head as I gently rock her in the chair. I look across the grass and watch as Bella pulls herself to her feet. She is six months pregnant, and grumbles about being too fat to walk, but the constant glow on her face assures me that she's just as happy and content as I am.
"She won't sleep tonight," Bella whispers as she climbs up the steps and picks up my book before settling herself into her rocker.
"It's Friday," I shrug, and she smiles as she flips through the pages.
"I love this book," Bella murmurs appreciatively. We fall silent as the sound of the river surrounds us. The rhythm of the rocking chair is soothing, and I'm happy to fully comprehend why my father spent so much time out on his front porch.
"I was just getting to my favorite part," I murmur softly. Bella flips the page and her eyes scan over the text. She looks up at me and smiles, and I ask her to read it aloud.
"I have lived through much, and now I think I have found what is needed for happiness. A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work - which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one's neighbor - such is my idea of happiness. And then, on top of all that, you for a mate, and children, perhaps - what more can the heart of man desire?"
Tolstoy was a genius.
Bella softly closes the book and walks over to me. She carefully lifts Emily into her arms and I watch as my baby girl nuzzles her mother's shoulder. I wrap my arm around Bella's waist and pull her into my lap. She kisses me softly and sighs contently as she snuggles into my embrace, and we rock peacefully in the chair – my wife, my daughter, my son, and I.
In my arms, I hold my greatest treasures.
If you have loved the music from this story, I have made a playlist for each chapter. I have posted the link to the playlist on my profile. Please have a listen and let me know what you think.
Bella's wedding dress, flower girl dresses, and Bella's bouquet can be found on my profile. My sweet beta picked out Bella's dress. Please check them out.
Thank you so much to everyone who read, reviewed, rec'd, offered song suggestions, gave me ideas for locales, etc. I can't tell you how much I appreciate all of you.
Thanks to snarkerella for being my beta. Words cannot describe how lucky I am to have you on my side. Thanks to ms ambrosia for making my pretty banner, and to bgwillis for making the thread over at Twilighted.
There are no plans for a sequel. I am going to concentrate on "Songbird" for now, but I am sure it won't be long until I find inspiration for a new story. Please put me on author alert so you won't miss it. :)