A/N: This epilogue came to me many months ago, so I've been saying for a while now that there would be two TPoL epilogues. After I finished the first epilogue last week though, I think I realized that's where TPoL truly ended. However, you know I always try to keep my word, so I'm tacking this on anyway. I have cut it down a bit, and the full, unedited version will be the first out-take that I post.
Please take this piece of writing for what it is: either an imperfect ending or a gift to my readers for being AMAZING! The response to this story has warmed my heart, taken my breath away, made me laugh, and has gotten me through some really tough times. This started out as a story about fondling Edward's balls, and turned into something that's made me love my own family more. THANK YOU! M
I woke to quiet sunshine and warmth, and to large hands skimming over my skin; finding a home in the dip and flair of my hip. It was by far and away my favorite way to start the day.
A chapped kiss on the back of my neck… Warmth and soft down coming flush with my back… Lightweight cotton sheets ghosting over my bare skin…
I sighed and pressed my backside against him in response. Edward growled in my ear, a playful and needy and sexy sound - all rolled into one.
Morning sex was another favorite of mine.
But today's date came to me in a rush of consciousness and I jumped to a sitting position, the sheets falling around my hips.
Hands around my waist…
"Not so fast, baby," he rasped.
Kisses to my lower back… Warm breath washing over my skin.
"As fucking beautiful as the day we met," he mumbled, his hands sliding from my waist, between my thighs.
He was a liar.
"I was a mess that day," I laughed, but his fingers were deft and my breath caught in my throat and my hand found his thigh; still muscular, his blond hair peppered with silver.
"A beautiful mess," he amended, and I could feel his lips curling into a smile against the dimples over my ass. His fingers slipped and twirled and dipped.
"Ditto, Mr. Masen," I breathed and rolled over, playfully pinning Edward's shoulders to the bed. "But this morning we have houseguests, young houseguests with good hearing."
"Are you ready for today?" he asked, cupping my face with his free hand.
I blinked back the tears, reality hitting home once again. "I have to be."
He pulled my face to his, kissed away the tears, and then his lips found mine. "Don't cry, B."
Long fingers behind my head, tangling with my messy morning hair… Stubble scratching against my cheeks as his lips parted…
Edward's hand skimmed along my collarbone, then dipped to cradle the swell of my breast, until his fingers found my nipple, pressing, pinching, pulling. He knew what that did to me. He knew it well and he had years of experience. He knew I'd be rendered nearly powerless to object. I shifted my hips just so, skimming along his length. I couldn't say this had never gotten old; we'd gotten old… somewhat. But that spark and that warmth nearly always returned; and it was reassuring and exciting and there was nowhere else I'd rather be… no one else's arms I'd rather be encircled by…. no one else's lips, or scent, or scruffy jaw, or fingers, so skilled, so studied in my own personal anatomy.
We were both surprised to hear soft rapping at the bedroom door.
"Mom, are you -"
"Um, Ness, right now's not -" Edward began as he struggled to find the crumpled sheet to pull over us.
I was the one that found the sheet and Edward only managed to find a pillow, and Nessie was suddenly in the doorway, her face bright red before she turned away. "Oh my god! You could have locked the door!"
"But that would take all the fucking fun out of it," Edward laughed, pulling the sheet over him as well.
I smacked his arm playfully.
"Jesus, Bella. She's getting married. I think I can say fuck around her by now."
"Saying fuck around me and doing it are two different things," we heard Ness muttering as she ducked out of the room and closed the door behind her.
"At least this time she didn't ask if she could get naked too," Edward laughed.
I smacked his arm again, and he pulled me in for another kiss.
I made my way downstairs, past flustered young women all partially made up in pretty, poufy gowns. Most darted away embarrassed, while others smiled and waved and mistakenly called me Mr. Swan.
Nessie's bedroom door called out to me, but I resisted the urge to knock. I'd see her soon enough; we'd have our time. I'd always known this day would come. She was too loving, and family was too important, for Ness not to go out and make one of her own. I knew all the shit people spouted about not losing a daughter but gaining a son. It was just that: shit. Little Bell was at the heart of this operation from the beginning – her heart had been such a large part of what made the three, then four of us a family. Selfish or not, this was a loss. The idea that her heart would hold more than just us… I was a little jealous and, well, if I let myself go there, fucking bereft.
In matters of love, though, I trusted Little Bell more than I trusted myself. I knew this was right for her, so it would be right for me as well. It would fucking have to be.
My orders were to find Will and clear out, but I wasn't going anywhere without a cup of coffee. Facing five versions of Emmett in varying ages and sizes, plus Rosalie, required at least that much. I poured two cups and found my son in the living room. He was distracted enough by the feminine activity around us, though, that he didn't notice me at all.
I cleared my throat. "Manners, son."
Will coughed and laughed a little and finally acknowledged my presence. "Manners? When did you turn into Grandma Esme?"
"You're not going to get anywhere by leering at them, Will." Although, truthfully, I'd noticed the furtive looks a couple of Nessie's friends were throwing in Will's direction.
"I do just fine, dad, without your sage advice."
I was sure he did. Will was tall and handsome and built like a linebacker. At nineteen he lived on his own in New York, and was the lead singer in an emo-hardcore band, smart as fuck, and shy. Not to mention, he looked damn good in his tux.
But the kid was too much like me, and it worried me to no fucking end. Now that he was nineteen, the same age I was when my own life had come to a grinding halt, I was more irrationally anxious than ever. If I asked him about his balls, or reminded him about the genetic component of drug addiction one more time, I might just push him away for good. Fuck that, the kid loved his mom; he'd keep coming back for her, if nothing else. Thank god for Bella.
"We should get out of here, though, and let the women have this time to themselves. Emmett's expecting us."
Will rolled his eyes, another trait he'd picked up from me. "I've got to spend extra time with those boneheads, dad?"
"Fuck, Will. They're your cousins, and this is your sister's day. Act decent."
"Yeah, sure, whatever. I'll get my stuff."
Will could put on a good, snobbish, anti-football act, but leave him alone with Emmett's kids and pretend not to look, and there'd suddenly be a scrimmage match underway. Will was fucking good, too. It killed Emmett and made me pretty fucking happy all at the same time.
"What a waste of talent," Emmett would sigh.
"Not the way I see it," J would inevitably reply. Despite playing wildly differing genres of music, J was Will's third biggest fan, behind Bella and me, of course. If J had his way, Will would have been under contract a couple years ago, but my kid was determined to make it on his own. Yeah, fucking bullheaded and independent like his dad. It wasn't the most helpful personality trait, but he wasn't taking my advice on the matter. He never fucking did.
My dress was as simple as I could persuade Alice to make it. No matter how much I aged she still saw me as the little girl that helped make her lots of money by mixing mismatched patterns and pairing teal with kelly green. But much to Alice's dismay, the older I got the more my tastes aligned with my mom's – simple lines, basic colors, 'classy, but not enough sassy,' Alice would said with a disheartened sigh.
After going back and forth, Alice and I finally settled on something we could both live with: an ivory silk gown with a plunging neckline. It hung on my curves instead of hugging them so that it showed off my figure in a way that wouldn't tempt dad to send me up to my room to change into something more appropriate. Aunt Rose called it boring when she thought I wasn't listening, but I loved it. The color brought out the pink in my cheeks, and I was glad Alice had persuaded me to let her embroider tiny Swarovski crystals around the neckline and scatter them over the billowy skirt.
"Oh, Ness," my mom croaked behind me. "Baby."
It was all I could manage before we were both a mess, crying in one another's arms. For as long as I could remember, there'd never been a safer place than her embrace. Even during uncertain times when she would cry and it felt like the bottom was falling out from underneath us, her arms would bring me a sense of peace. She never kept them from me; she was always willing to hold me. When I was little she'd climb into my bed and her arms would help me sleep, and then, when I was older, I'd scamper into the big bed she shared with dad. I loved that he was there, but in the dark hours of night, I'd seek out the safety of mom's hugs every time.
"Your dad called it," mom sniffled. "He said I'd cry the day away."
"It's not like anything's really changing, mom," I said, trying to comfort her for once.
"Maybe you just don't know yet, sweetie. But, marriage..." Mom trailed off, lost in thought as she tried to arrange the frizz around my face just right.
Maybe mom was right; maybe I didn't know. Mom and dad were the truest example of love that I knew, and things hadn't seemed all that different to me after they got married. They were in love before, and they were in love after, and they had been ever since. My dad chose us, or more accurately, we all chose one another months and months before they made it official.
I don't remember, but mom tells me that I chose first. Way before either she or my dad was willing to commit, I told her that I wanted us to be a family. I guess I felt pretty much the same way now; my heart was set - this was a done deal. This wedding was a gala for Grandma Esme to throw, it meant a special gown for Alice to design, and it gave my mom and dad an event to focus their tears on. I wasn't resentful, though. I loved my family and I leaned on them for support, and they'd always been there for me. I was glad that this day could be about them as much as it was about me.
Okay, fine… Secretly, I kind of wanted to do things the way my mom and dad had, well, minus the five-year old…
The spring when I was five, Aunt Rosalie and Uncle Emmett had a big, lavish wedding. Mom was huge with Will, and I remember her grumbling about looking like a big, ripe peach in the dress Rosalie made her wear. I thought that looking like a peach was kind of awesome, and I somehow persuaded Rose to let me wear green tights so that my legs looked like stems. I'd thought it was perfect.
Anyway, later that night, when me and mom and dad were driving home, I remember them talking all hushed and low in the front seat as I was trying desperately to stay awake. My mom leaned over to kiss dad as he drove, and he caught her there and asked her what they were waiting for.
"To get up the nerve to do that," my mom explained.
And the next day, with the help of a judge that dad knew, and some municipal licensing bureaucrats that he'd been working with to get his non-profit off the ground, me and mom and dad stood in front of a judge, dressed much more conservatively, and a few minutes later they were married.
"Marriage, honey," my mom continued like she never paused. "It's not always easy, even when two people love one another. It commits the heart to mundane reality and grounds love to the here and now. It takes a very special relationship to weather being tethered down like that, still allowing enough rope to fly and to truly enjoy your life with one another.
"But I had the best example, mom."
"I think you taught me as much as I taught you, Little One."
"Last chance to back out, Little Bell."
"Daddy!" I spun around to see my dad leaning against the doorjamb of his old room, a smile carefully held on his face, his eyes a little brighter than usual.
Faint sounds of laughter floated up from Grandma Esme's backyard. I'd made the mistake of telling her that I wanted to get married by the old stone wall. She uprooted trees and leveled the whole area just to make me happy. Of course, she'd commissioned a new grove of trees in Fairmount Park, because she was nothing if not environmentally proper.
"Are you ready for this, Ness?" dad asked.
"Oh, daddy." I wanted to rush into his arms, but in heels and draped in silk I had no choice but to carefully make my way over to him.
"You're so beautiful, Ness," he rasped, holding me at arm's length so he could get a good look at me.
"Aunt Alice's dress," I mumbled, smoothing the skirt of the cream-colored gown.
"Not even close, Little Bell. You look just like your mom, only with curls."
Tears sprang to my eyes. That's just what he said to me the first day we met. I still remembered, dimly… Just his words, and his big green eyes, and mom changing right in front of me. She turned magically prettier and happier without even having to change her dress like Cinderella did.
"I'm lucky, you know," I offered. "Not many girls remember the day they met their dad."
"Not many dads are lucky enough to be chosen by amazing little girls."
It took five years, but we finally finalized my adoption when I was nine. But none of that mattered to me. To me, Edward was my dad from the moment we all slept together on the living room floor. He was special to me, better than a dad, a dad that we all decided on in a long, and hard and painful way, just like mom had warned. He was my Ewoord, my daddy ina takesa longtimeway.
He was a dad that grew better with age, because the older I got, the more I learned about what he'd done for my mom and me. Back when all of that stuff was happening with Jake and my biological father, I only knew that mom was sad, and Edward and Jake were gone. But my dad had single handedly solved Jake's murder, saved a woman and her daughter, and kept me in my mom's sole custody. He made my mom sushi, and he wrote her a note and a piece of music that kept her afloat while she struggled with her demons.
How many girls had superheroes for dads? I knew of one.
My dad did this all when he didn't know if he'd ever see us again, because he loved us that much. Because he promised me he'd make us a family. And as foolish a thing as that was to promise to a four-year old girl, he kept his promise in spades. Even when it had seemed impossible.
He was the best man I knew - probably better than my almost husband.
His thumbs carefully wiped at my tears.
"You're going to ruin your make-up, sweetheart, and I don't know how to do any of that shit."
"I love you, daddy." He was daddy to me ever since Will said his first 'dada'. I wasn't going to be outdone by little Two-Minute Will.
What he was to me went beyond words, though. It didn't matter what I called him.
He was the man that came with me when I went to meet my half-sister. He was the man that filed countless motions to take away my biological father's rights. He spent his entire life helping kids on the streets of Philadelphia. And he spent the rest of his time devoted to me, and my mom, and Will.
"I love you too, Little Bell. I remember the first time you told me, you know."
"You probably said it right back."
Dad just smiled and held my hands in his. "He's got to be good to you. If he's not, I'll -"
"He already is, dad. You don't have to worry."
"Fuck, are you sure, Ness? I couldn't fucking think straight when I was his age."
I'd heard it all before. Two-Minute and I were no strangers to dad's cautionary tales. Me, I listened well and I chose the straight and narrow - went to college, found a job. Will had decided he'd learn from dad's mistakes by making them over again, or at least outshining dad at his own shit. I was glad I was away at school for most of that.
"You know I fucking think straight, daddy."
Dad smiled. It always made him smile to hear me say fuck. "And the guy sweating bullets out there?" he asked.
"He loves me."
"Stupid fucking question. I just want you to be happy."
"And I only want to do this shit once," he chuckled nodding his head towards the backyard.
Faint strains of Chopin floated up from the backyard. If ever music made me feel loved, it was this music… the music that Edward gave me that held me when he couldn't be there, when all I had was my mother's arms.
"That's our cue, Little Bell."
"Okay, daddy. Let's go."
A/N: Wow... okay, housekeeping, before I get emotional... Today (February 7th) is the last day to vote for The Golden Lemon Awards. TPoL is up for two... and I would love your vote: http:/www . goldenlemonawards . com/
TPoL has also been nominated for THREE Shimmer Awards: Climax Award (Best Drama), Tear Jerker Award (Best Tragedy), and Underdog Award (Best New Author). Some of my amazing author friends are up for awards as well... Please check it out: http:/shimmerawards . blogspot . com/
Anyway, um, now I guess the body of the story is really over. There will be out-takes. Look for 'em. I know not everything was tied up. Tanya... I know. Rebecca and Rachel, yep, them too. And did James get out of prison? What happened when Ness met Bree? All good points.
One more time, THANK YOU to all that have read and loved and cried and hated me from time to time and wrote to tell me about it. Thanks to those that have pimped me on Facebook, and Twitter and on your blogs and added me to your C2s... There are too many, and I'll leave people out I'm sure... Lindz, fuzzyltlwingedthing, MsEm, BittenInCA, CoffeeluvaNZ, FL95, Nic, KatHat, Twihard JCS, IWantAJasper, Lady Ali, Vicis, and like I said, the list goes on and on.
I'll be around. I'll probably start another fic before too long. But if this story has taught me anything it's the value of family. I've got to get back to mine for a little while. Until then, xxx, M