Disclaimer: Twilight and its characters belong to Stephenie Meyer. Everything else is original and belongs to me, Cosette Cullen. Thank you for the inspiration, SM.
A/N: Considering that for some of you it has been nearly three years since you read the first few chapters of this story, I thought a couple of reminders might be in order before reading the epilogue. Edward and Bella first saw each other when the train to Paris made an unexpected stop, but it was in Notre Dame Cathedral that they first spoke to each other. Then they unexpectedly ran into each other again a couple hours later at the Louvre. Another tidbit – they made love for the very first time at a hotel in Stratford-upon-Avon (Shakespeare's hometown).
Epilogue – May 2013
~*~ Bella ~*~
"Who holds the rings?" the priest asked, his French accent enhancing the grandeur of the renewal of vows ceremony.
"I do." Emmett retrieved our wedding rings from his suit pocket and handed them to the priest.
"Let us bless these rings," he went on. "O God, these rings are circles, symbols that remind us of the Sun, and the Earth, and the universe. Symbols of perfection and peace, that which has no beginning and no end."
With my arm hooked through Edward's, I listened to the words of the blessing as my eyes took in the beauty of the altar of Notre Dame. I was breathless with joy and gratitude.
"And so, in this moment," the priest continued, with a slight clearing of his throat, "bring your blessing to these rings to also be symbols of unity, of joining and of commitment. Grant that the love which Edward and Isabella have for each other now, may always be."
"Please face one another," he instructed, handing one of the rings to Edward. "You may proceed with the exchange of rings and vows."
We did as directed, turning to look at each other. Edward was otherworldly handsome in a black tuxedo, his face clean-shaven, which was a rarity, and his hair longer than when we'd gotten married at the courthouse five years ago, but shorter than the sex hair he'd had when we'd first met.
I sighed, a soft smile on my lips as I looked into his eyes, wondering how he'd become even more stunningly handsome with age.
Edward held my hand in his, the ring poised at the end of my finger.
"My Bella, when I placed this ring on your finger nearly six years ago, I thought it impossible that I could ever cherish you more than I did on that day."
With his eyes holding my teary gaze, he slowly slid the ring on as he continued. "After five years of marriage, my love and gratitude for you are deeper than I'd ever imagined. You've selflessly given me so much, enriching my life in every way. You've brought laughter and wonder into my world. Your patience and compassion have helped heal wounds that I had before we met. And somehow, seemingly without effort, you have inspired me to be a better man and a better father. Our precious Eva is the greatest gift you've given me.
"In the presence of these witnesses, I thank God for allowing our paths to cross in this very building, this holy cathedral, six years ago. Isabella Marie Swan Cullen, I promise to love you and cherish you until the end of time."
I hastily wiped a tear from my cheek as the priest handed me Edward's wedding band. I was the English teacher, and yet, my prepared vows now seemed to pale in comparison to the beauty of Edward's words. I mentally discarded my memorized monologue, choosing instead to spontaneously share what was in my heart in the present moment.
"My sweet Edward," I began, holding his hand in mine as I returned his wedding band to where it belonged. "We've all probably heard the saying that without risk, there is no reward. There was a time when I didn't believe that, and my fears ruled me, causing me to walk away from you. It still scares me to death to think that I very nearly took a path that would have robbed us both of so much. Fortunately, before it was too late, I did take the risk and was rewarded with a loving husband and our beloved daughter.
"Edward, you've made me feel like a princess today, renewing our vows in this awe-inspiring cathedral, wearing a gown fit for royalty. But it is because you treat me like a princess every single day of our lives that I know my decision to take a chance with you was the most important and greatest thing I've ever done."
One corner of Edward's mouth twitched, turning up into a soft, modest smile. He could blush all he wanted because what I was telling him and our guests was true—he was always so good to me. Sure, we'd had our share of disagreements and conflicts throughout our years of marriage, but he had never treated me with disrespect. His first priority had always been for my welfare and happiness.
I smiled back at him, taking a measured breath in an effort to quell my emotions. "And today I make that choice again, to recommit myself to you, to experience this life journey together as one, and to love you unconditionally, now and forever. I love you, Edward."
His warm hands cradled my own, gently squeezing them as we looked into each other's teary eyes.
"Edward and Isabella, I pronounce you as your hearts have always known you to be—husband and wife. Edward, you may kiss your beautiful bride!"
He responded to the priest's pronouncement with my very favorite Edward smile, the one that lights up his whole face and makes the skin around his eyes crinkle up. I knew I must be grinning just as wildly because I could feel the pressure on my cheeks, my facial muscles stretched to the limit. And then his hands were on my face, my cheeks relaxing at his touch and my lips falling open to his.
I'd always said that I couldn't imagine his kisses ever getting old or boring, and I'd been right. Kissing Edward still took my breath away, and I felt genuine gratitude about that. I knew that it was a rare thing, and I intended to treasure the gift I'd been given. That was part of the reason we were renewing our vows—we didn't ever want to take each other or our love for granted. He kissed me softly, his lips moving slowly over mine, almost reverentially.
As we broke the kiss, smiling at each other again, the priest spoke loudly to our guests. "Ladies and gentlemen, it is my honor to present to you, once again as husband and wife, Mr. and Mrs. Edward Cullen."
As I began to turn to face our guests, my eyes caught sight of Emmett beaming happily behind Edward. I smiled warmly at him, and then my gaze trailed down to his son, our three-year-old ring bearer standing beside him. Ethan McCarty flashed his dimples at me, looking like a mini-clone of his dad.
Facing our guests, we both crouched down to Eva's level. Holding Alice's hand and gazing at me, she looked a little starry-eyed.
"Mommy, you wook so bootiful," she whispered excitedly.
"Thank you, baby girl," I said as Edward and I wrapped our arms around her, pulling her into a family hug.
"Both of my girls are beautiful," Edward told her, his fingers gently pulling at one of her many copper-colored ringlets. "You look like a princess today, Eva."
She giggled as her daddy lifted her into his arms. Alice nudged me, reminding me to take my bouquet back from her. I slipped my arm through Edward's, and we began the long walk down the aisle between the pews as a recommitted family unit.
My heart was so full, seeing the smiles, tears, and warmth on the faces of our friends and family. Edward had paid all the expenses for them to fly to Paris to be here with us in Notre Dame Cathedral, to share in the celebration of our love and marriage. It was especially meaningful to have them here since none of them had witnessed our first wedding.
After our engagement, we hadn't been in a hurry to set a wedding date. With Edward struggling with intense PTSD therapy and me adjusting to my first year of teaching, dealing with the stress of planning a big wedding wasn't terribly appealing.
One day in May, about six months after he'd put the ring on my finger on my birthday, we realized during a casual conversation that we didn't want to wait any longer, but neither did we want the burden of wedding planning. So, the next week, we'd eloped, getting married at the courthouse. We had hell to pay when our family found out, especially from Edward's mother and Alice.
As we slowly walked down the aisle, my eyes scanned the faces in our small group of loved ones. My mother-in-law, Esme, was dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief. Carlisle's arm was draped over her shoulder, and he met my eyes, smiling softly.
Next to them sat my sweet dad. He was here alone, still a bachelor, but he seemed happy enough. Meeting my eyes, he blew me a kiss.
Behind Charlie, I saw my mom and Phil, beaming proudly. My brother, Seth, and his sweet fiancée, Leah, were sitting next to them. Every time I saw Seth, I couldn't help but send out a silent utterance of gratitude. He was clean and sober. I counted it a miracle that I had my brother back, the one I'd adored before drugs turned him into someone else. Even though he'd done three years in prison and was six years sober, Edward still just barely tolerated him. I think he'd forgiven Seth, but Edward just couldn't forget that Seth was the person who had nearly taken me away from him forever.
I smiled at everyone, so happy to have the most important people in our lives with us. There was Rosalie and Riley—they'd been married for about three years now. After trying to get pregnant for over a year, they'd recently started infertility treatment.
My friend, Angela, and her husband, Ben, had made the trip from Phoenix. I really hadn't expected them to be able to fly across the ocean being parents of twin toddlers, but they'd left their babies with Angela's parents.
We'd invited Jasper and his wife, but they weren't able to attend because their first baby was due in just a few weeks. I'd been thrilled when Jasper finally found his other half when she'd started teaching at the same high school. Edward and I, along with Alice and Emmett, had flown from Seattle to Phoenix to attend their wedding last year.
As we passed by the last pew, Edward led me to the open area by the South Rose window, the magnificent stained-glass I'd been gazing at when Edward spoke to me for the very first. We'd decided it would be the perfect spot to greet our guests after the ceremony.
As we took our places beneath the window, Alice, Emmett, and Ethan were right behind. They gave me a quick hug and kiss, followed by one-armed hugs from Edward since he was still holding our daughter.
"Eva, I'm going to take you and Ethan outside to enjoy the sunshine for a little while, okay?" Alice said enticingly.
Edward lowered Eva to her feet, kissing her forehead. "We'll be out in a little while, princess. We're just going to talk to all our friends and family for a few minutes."
Because we saw Alice all the time, she'd offered to keep Eva occupied after the ceremony. Since moving to Seattle after Edward's discharge from the Army three years ago, Alice and Emmett had become even more like family, they having moved there at the same time. Actually, we spent more time with them than we did with Edward's actual family, though we were quite close to them as well.
"Let's pway, Ewa," little Ethan said, reaching for her hand.
"Bye, Mommy. Bye-bye, Daddy." She smiled, looking at us over her shoulder as she walked away with Alice and Emmett.
As I blew her a kiss, I felt warm, soft lips on my cheek. I looked up into my husband's sparkling green eyes, our faces so close I felt his warm breath on my lips as his arms encircled my waist.
"How is it that you're more breathtakingly beautiful than the first time I married you?" he whispered, one eyebrow arched as if he really expected an answer.
"During the ceremony, I was thinking the exact same thing about you, Mr. Cullen." I kissed him softly—once, and then again, and just once more—because his lips were intoxicating.
"Break it up, break it up." Angela's cheerfully teasing voice interrupted our kiss. "We're on hallowed ground here."
"Angela!" I held my arms out, pulling her into a fierce hug. "I'm so happy you're here."
"Are you kidding?" Ben asked incredulously. "We should be thanking you two for your generosity in footing the bill."
"It really is our pleasure," Edward reassured them. "You're going to love France, especially if you enjoy art. The Louvre is a must. Right, Bella?"
I giggled, smiling coyly at Edward. "Oh, yes, I love the Louvre . . . so much."
"Speaking of works of art," Ben interrupted our flirtatious meandering down memory lane, "Angela mentioned you recently had the unveiling of the memorial?"
Edward's eyes lit up as they had every time he'd worked on the planning and design of the memorial statue he'd commissioned of his friend, Specialist James Winters. It was a memorial for all the men who lost their lives in Iraq or Afghanistan, but the bronze soldier was in James' likeness.
"Oh, yeah, it turned out even better than I'd hoped. I've got pictures of it." Pulling his cellphone from an inside pocket of his tux, he grinned as his finger swiped across the screen. "It was unveiled just last week in Chicago.
"Why Chicago?" Angela asked.
"That's James' hometown. His wife and family still lives there," I explained as Edward held out his phone for Ben and Angela to see the picture.
They complimented Edward on the design and what a wonderful thing it was that he'd done, something that must mean a great deal to James' widow. They were right—she'd been deeply touched. I believed it was healing not only for her but for Edward as well.
Edward's journey toward healing had been a long and painful one. The first six months of therapy had been intense and trying. He'd actually regressed at first, with more angry outbursts and an increase in nightmares. But gradually I began to see changes in his demeanor, in the way he'd talk more freely about the friends he'd lost in battle. His nightmares became nearly non-existent after the first year of counseling. The sessions were no longer mandatory at that point, but he'd elected to continue for another year, though with less frequency.
Initially, he'd resented not being able to go back into combat, but eventually he came to really love his job as a drill sergeant. It was his job to train and mold young men into disciplined, responsible, and fearless soldiers. He was empowered by this, feeling that he was making a difference by producing the best of the best to represent our country.
A line of our friends and family was forming, so Angela and Ben gave us their congratulations and thanks before stepping aside.
Rosalie and Riley ambled up to us, both of them beaming. Riley shook Edward's hand and gave me a quick hug before telling us how poignant the ceremony had been.
"You don't know how to do anything in moderation, do you, brother?" Rose smirked, leaning in and kissing Edward's cheek.
Clearly Rose's question was rhetorical because she didn't take a breath, grinning like only a teasing sister can. "You went from one end of the spectrum—getting married at the courthouse—to the complete opposite end of the spectrum—marrying in the most famous cathedral in the world."
"It wasn't about wanting extravagance, Rose. You know that. Notre Dame has significant personal meaning for us."
She chuckled, reaching out to Edward for a hug. "I know, and it really was beautiful."
"And you, Isabella," she said dramatically, holding my hands and kissing my cheek, "are a vision."
"Thank you, Rose." I glanced down at my wedding gown. It truly was fit for royalty with its ivory applique lace laid over the tulle floor-length skirt, and the capped sleeves and sweetheart neckline were decidedly feminine. "I'm so glad you were both able to take time away from work and be here with us."
Rosalie ignored my thanks, not willing to miss another opportunity to tease her brother. "Really, Edward, how are you restraining yourself right now? She's Aphrodite-incarnate in that gown."
Edward blushed, but then he looked her straight in the eyes. "I just keep telling myself that our second honeymoon starts in"—he held up his arm, looking at his silver Rolex dramatically—"approximately thirty minutes."
They chuckled as I pressed my head against Edward's shoulder, my cheeks feeling flushed.
"Where are you going on this second honeymoon?" Riley asked.
He was looking at Edward, but I was so excited about our plans, I couldn't help but answer. "We're heading down to Greece for a week, and then over to England to the Lake District for several days. And then after that, we'll make a quick stop in Stratford. It holds some personal meaning for us as well."
Rose stepped closer to Riley, sliding her arm around his waist. "What kind of meaning?"
"The personal kind, Rose," Edward said succinctly before looking at Riley, his brows furrowed and his mouth twitching humorously. "Bella did say the word personal, right? Did you hear that, Ri?"
"I do believe I heard her say personal."
"Well, clearly it has to do with sex or else you'd just tell me," Rose said matter-of-factly. "So no need to answer further—you already have."
Always the gentleman, Riley changed the subject. "Rose and I are excited to spend some time with Eva while you're gone."
"She's excited, too. She keeps talking about having slumber parties with Papa and Nana, and then with Alice and Emmett, and with you two, Uncle Ri-wee and Aunt Woze." I affectionately imitated Eva's sweet toddler pronunciation of their names.
Rose announced that they were taking too much of our time, pointing out that the line was stacking up behind them. They said their goodbyes with Riley telling Edward how much he was looking forward to working together when we returned to Seattle.
I never could have dreamed it back when Riley was counseling me before my shooting, helping me work through my fears so I could take the chance with Edward. But Riley and Edward were going to be business partners, working together as psychologists at Riley established practice.
After leaving the Army, Edward had gone back to college and earned his Master's in Psychology, graduating just last week. He was qualified to treat various psychological ailments, but of course, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder was his specialty. He was looking forward to doing some pro bono work at the veteran's hospital.
I couldn't be any more proud of my husband. He'd worked so hard over the years to overcome his demons and was now dedicated to helping others with theirs.
I was teaching English at a local Seattle high school, which was immeasurably rewarding. Most recently, I'd dedicated myself to preparing some of my poetry for publishing. After months of multiple rejection letters, I'd finally been noticed by a small publishing company. My book of poems was due to be released at the end of the year.
Now, my focus was on expanding our family. Edward and I had decided it was time for another little Cullen. We were planning to work very hard on that task during our two-week second honeymoon. My favorite kind of work, I might add.
My dad was next, stepping up to me and pulling me into a big bear hug. Then it was Edward's turn, Dad hugging him just as fervently as he had me. Charlie was Edward's biggest fan, I think, next to me.
"So this is where you found this guy, huh?"
"That's right." I smiled, glancing up at Edward. His eyes held the emotion of our cherished memories of that day when he'd approached me, commenting on the beauty of the stained-glass window. "In this exact spot, actually."
"You done good, baby girl." Charlie's voice cracked. He paused, clearing his throat. "You've both done real good."
Edward pressed his lips to my forehead, and I tipped my chin up, looking into his eyes. The ever present energy we'd felt between us since we'd first met pulsated as I held his gaze. We smiled, a peaceful knowing in our heart's that my father's words were true.
A/N: Generally weddings are not allowed in Notre Dame Cathedral as it is no longer a parish, but they are allowed on rare occasions. Given Edward's wealth, we'll assume he was able to make it happen.
It has taken me an embarrassing 2.5 years to write this little story. I'm still astounded that so many of you have been with me since the beginning, never giving up on our beloved PTSDward and his Bella. Thank you so very much for your support. It has been a rewarding and challenging journey, exploring and pushing my creative mind.
I'm aware that some readers chose to stop reading and wait for the story to complete (which I probably would have done myself), so please spread the word to them that TIWBG is now complete and ready to download.
You can find a PDF and MOBI copy of the complete story, as well as pictures of Bella's wedding dress, etc at the story blog: tiwbg dot wordpress dot com.
Or join the private TIWBG Facebook group for copies of the story and pictures. Just copy & paste - groups/281151482005898/ - to the end of the Facebook url and request to be added to the group.
I owe a debt of gratitude to my betas: GuitarGirl, Pickwicksociety, Mel/mcc101180, JenKB, and Wiltshire Glo.
And if I could, I would bestow upon my beta, GuitarGirl, her wildest RobDream come true because she has been with me on this literary journey from the very beginning to the very end. Now that's some fucking loyalty! Muu-aahhh!