A/N: Not much to say here, as it's posting the same time as the last chapter. :)
Seventy Years Later
"I'm going home
To the place where I belong
And where your love has always been enough for me…"
Driving into Forks was like going back in time. The familiar 'Welcome to Forks' sign looked the same, only the population number had risen slightly since my last visit. Certainly, parts of the town seemed to have kept pace with the passing years. The traffic lights were new, and there were a few more. The outlying residential development displayed current architectural trends. Other parts, like downtown and the narrow, tree-lined streets surrounding had a more vintage feel. Of course, I was feeling a little vintage myself peering out of the window. This sleepy little town was where I'd grown up. Sure, I had spent my childhood in Phoenix, but Forks was definitely where I'd found myself, been introduced to the person I was supposed to become, and realized my destiny.
The high school was still standing, though the sign on the front lawn now read 'Forks Community Center', and there was a playground where the parking lot had been. The football field was currently overrun with tiny boys in oversized padding and jerseys, helmets jostling on their heads, brightly colored flags hanging from every waistband.
Fathers crisscrossed the sidelines, cheering and demanding better defense. Proud mothers and grandparents swarmed the bleachers, taking pictures whilst reining in squirming little sisters and brothers. It was moments like those I wished Emmett could have had a son. He would have made an excellent pee wee football coach.
As we passed the cemetery, I promised my father I would visit him soon. I thought about all I had to tell him as we drove along.
"Here we are," Edward's voice broke through my mental list.
Staring out of the windshield, I sighed, "It looks the same."
Truly, it did not. The place had changed, but the differences were cosmetic, and to me, it looked absolutely, perfectly, exactly the same.
"She's waiting," my husband said with a nod towards the house. A woman stood on the steps.
Edward parked the car and got out, walking around to my side to open the door. I hadn't opened a car door in decades it seemed, no matter how much I protested.
"Hi there," the woman called to us with a little wave.
She was young, late twenties perhaps, with long blonde hair and pretty brown eyes. Something about her felt familiar, though I couldn't put my finger on what.
"Good afternoon," Edward returned, walking over to shake her hand, "I'm Edward Cullen."
"Nice to meet you," she smiled.
And there it was; the Look. Years of seeing it and knowing why it happened, with every woman, everywhere, every damn time, didn't cull the need I felt to defend my territory.
"Bella Cullen," I offered, probably a little louder than necessary, "the wife." I hooked my arm through Edward's elbow.
"Of course," she said. "I'm Melanie Newton."
Edward and I exchanged a glance.
"Newton, did you say?" he inquired. "Any relation to Mike Newton, perhaps?"
"My grandfather's name was Mike," she answered, a puzzled look on her face.
"My family is from Forks," Edward quickly supplied. "I believe our grandfathers knew each other in school."
"Oh," Melanie grinned, "how cool. My Grampa Mike died a few years back, but I'll have to ask Grandma Jessi about it when I see her next week."
Jessi? I asked Edward silently. As in Jessica?
Edward raised his eyebrows and tried not to laugh.
Well, that explains why she went all goofy when she met you. It's in her DNA, I smiled.
"So," Melanie cleared her throat, trying to break herself free from her Edward induced coma, "would you like to see the house now?"
"That is why we're here," I smiled.
"Of course," she replied, turning to open the door. "The owner is home. She's very old and doesn't get around so well. She also insists on being here for every showing. She says she likes to get a read on the prospective buyers, whatever that means." She smiled apologetically, "She's really sweet though." As she opened the front door, she called out, "It's just me, Mrs. Johnson!"
"In the kitchen, dear," I heard the voice call from the other side of the wall.
The sound was older, but the timbre was the same. And she smelled the same. I hadn't laid eyes on her in ten years, but I would've known her anywhere. I squeezed Edward's arm, a plea to see her alone for a moment.
"Melanie," Edward turned up the charm, "why don't you show me around outside while Bella takes a look around in here?"
"Certainly," she readily agreed, turning on her too-high heels.
I waited for them to close the front door before I slowly rounded the corner by the stairs, towards the kitchen. The walls had been painted and the appliances were new. The table and chairs, though they had been refinished, were Maggie's. Beneath it all I saw Charlie's kitchen, and beyond that, my mother's.
Ashley was at the stove top, pouring tea into delicate china cups.
"I know you won't drink any," she said without turning around, "but Melanie would think it odd if I didn't offer."
I smiled, but didn't respond. Watching as she spooned honey into each cup and followed with a sliver of lemon, I was reminded of my grandmother. The memory was vague, but she had moved in her later years as Ashley did now - slowly, a bit shakily. Tray in hand, Ashley finally turned to me. The slight surprise on her face was gone in an instant, replaced with a sweet smile. I knew the look. Each time I'd seen her over the years, it had been the same. One's initial reaction to seeing someone who should have aged yet hasn't is hard to miss.
"I've been waiting for you," she intoned, almost scolding in a matronly fashion.
Her hands trembled so I moved to her side and took the tray, placing it on the table before helping her into a chair.
Sitting across from her, I sighed, "It's been too long. I'm sorry."
"Don't be silly," she chuckled. "I got a postcard from you just last month. Tell me, how was Egypt this time?"
"Fascinating as always," I indulged her. "Full of magic and wonder, even though the pyramids are looking a little disheveled and the mummies are drying up. And of course, it was crawling with vamps," I whispered. "You know," I winked with a shrug, "the usual."
"Ah, Bella," Ashley grinned, reaching across the table to take both of my hands in hers, "it really is so good to see you again." For a moment she rubbed my fingers; long and sturdy and cold, with hers which were so small and frail, and warm. "I knew it wouldn't be long before you came around," she whispered. "Melanie thinks I'm a bit off my rocker, I'm afraid," she winked and I laughed. "Passed up several good offers on the house, I did. I kept telling her I'd know when the right buyers came along. I've been saving this place for you."
"Thank you," I smiled. "It's been long enough I think. Even if Edward and I don't live here full time, it will be nice to have it."
"Oh, you'll live here," Ashley replied, tapping at her temple.
"All right, then," I nodded.
The front door opened, and I heard Melanie saying, "… usually has tea waiting…" As she came around the corner, she smiled, "See? Hello, Mrs. Johnson. I see you've met Mrs. Cullen."
"Yes, indeed," Ashley played along, standing up. "Melanie, dear, have some tea."
Melanie smiled politely and took a cup from the tray.
Edward held out a hand and, in his most gentlemanly voice, spoke to Ashley, "Mrs. Johnson, it is a pleasure."
"It certainly is," Ashley said, taking a good look at my husband in much the same way as Esme appraised him whenever we returned to the family after a long absence. Satisfied with what she saw, Ashley turned to Melanie and said firmly, "They're the ones."
"Excuse me?" Melanie asked, nearly choking on her tea.
"I said I would know, and I know," Ashley insisted.
Melanie glanced between Edward and I, surely wondering how such a young couple could actually afford a house, even one this old. Edward would later confirm her notion that showing the house to us at all had been out of courtesy, she never dreamed any sale would result.
"We are willing, and able I might add, to give you double the asking price," Edward announced.
Poor Melanie succeeded in choking on her tea. I got her a glass of water while she coughed and sputtered, "D-d-double?"
"I really want this house," I chuckled, handing her the water.
She nodded her thanks and gulped.
"I can see that," she said once she'd regained her voice.
"Why don't you run over to the office, dear," Ashley suggested, "and draw up the papers?" She helped Melanie to her feet, a somewhat humorous turn of the tables, and led her to the door. "We'll be right here waiting for you."
"Sure," Melanie stuttered, gathering her purse, "right… okay… I'll just… Double? Are you sure?" she looked at Edward, astonished. He laughed and nodded. "Okay then, I'll… I'll be back."
Edward, Ashley and I spent the afternoon catching up. We filled her in on our travels and the rest of the Cullens. She regaled us with tales of her grandchildren and the latest Bridge club gossip. She also brought us up to date on the wolf pack. Most of the boys had imprinted and quit phasing decades before, but a few from our time remained.
"Jacob was good to me," Ashley told us. "He kept me company and helped me sort out how to deal with everyday life. He stopped phasing of course, when he met Serena. But that was all right, since she introduced me to her brother, my husband. Once Jacob had a life of his own and knew I was taken care of, he didn't feel the need to be my protector anymore. It probably helped that Serena and Noah knew the truth. He still visits me on Saturdays, though," she smiled.
By nightfall, Melanie had returned and the contracts were signed. She left with a huge grin on her face and an even bigger check in her pocket. Edward and I said goodnight, promising to come back the next day. For her part, Ashley promised to keep our visit a surprise from Jacob.
We spent the night in the old house, as we called it. We hunted in the forest, raced each other along the old river and watched the moon rise from the meadow. Of all the places in Forks which held memories, the meadow contained the strongest meaning for both of us. This was the place where, as a human, I had truly seen Edward for the first time. This was where I'd found him again after the battle with Victoria and Riley. This was where he'd proposed and where, surrounded by our family and friends, we'd said 'I do'.
We made love in our meadow, isolated from the entire universe, until the sun came up again.
We headed back to the old house to change before we went back into town.
Edward suggested a detour on the way to the new house, and I found him steering the car towards the cemetery. I crossed the newly mown grass and sat down to talk to my father.
It had been seventy years since he'd died, seventy-five since I'd heard him say my name, yet I was as knotted with grief as I had been the first time I'd laid eyes on the stone with his name etched into it. I told Charlie about all the college degrees I'd earned, six in Literature, two in Math, one in Public Relations, three in medicine, even one in Criminal Justice. I had been a doctor, a lawyer and a teacher. I told him about my wedding and how bittersweet it had been without him there to give me away. Billy made for an excellent stand in, I assured him.
I filled him in on Mom, too, telling him how she had been made to believe I had died in a car wreck. She had finally managed to move on and live the rest of her life in relative peace with Phil.
After an hour, I pulled the weeds out of the ground near his headstone and adjusted the tilted flower vase. I said goodbye as I dusted off my jeans, and promised to return soon.
When we pulled the car into the drive of the house, our house, we both instantly sensed something was wrong.
Getting out of the car, and for once not rushing to my side, Edward said, "Jacob's here," just as I added, "he's alone."
Inside, we found Jacob, not as aged as he should have been but old and gray just the same, sitting in the living room. He looked up when he heard us enter, not a hint of surprise on his face.
He smiled weakly, "I figured it had to be you."
"Jake," I breathed and ran to him, wrapping my arms as far around him as they would go. I hadn't seen him in sixty years, and the sight of him filled me with a joy I'd almost forgotten I could feel.
Jacob took in a long, deep breath and held onto me tightly.
"Bells," he sighed. A moment later, he whispered into my hair, "She's gone."
I nodded and hugged him tighter. Edward came over and shook the hand Jacob dared to take away from me.
"Ashley had a stroke last night," Jacob explained, as I pulled my face from his chest. "The hospital called us since her kids all live in Seattle. I got there before she died and she…" he laughed at the memory, "she handed me this envelope and said I had to meet the new owners here today. She said I could consider it my last assignment on Ashley detail."
I smiled and, taking the proffered envelope, opened it to find two sets of keys along with a note in a familiar hand:
May your time here be as precious as it once was,
for as long as you wish it to be.
May your days be filled with laughter, love, family and friends, old and new.
May the magic of your world protect you and guide you into your next great adventure.
Take care of this place, and of one another.
I handed Edward the note and one set of keys. Then, looking around our house, I reached for him with one hand and for Jacob with the other, then smiled.
Welcome home, indeed.
Final Notes: There is truly no way to express what this story, and the journey it has taken me on, means to me. I hope some of you, in some way, have gotten something out of it as well. Whether it was a laugh when you needed one, a thoughtful moment when you weren't expecting one, or just a nice way to pass the time on a lazy Saturday, I hope you each found something in here to love.
Thank you for your time, and here's hoping we'll meet again….