The Arranged Marriage
Disclaimer: I own this. Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight. Nothing has changed on that since chapter one.
A/N: Because I know that you want to read this, I'm going to save the sappiness for my A/N at the end. Here, I'm just going to say thanks to Jenny Cullen and swimom7 for betaing.
Chapter 33: Epilogue
It had been a long day. I had a meeting on the status of my thesis first thing this morning, followed by several hours in the library, working on said thesis. At least my shift at New Horizons had been short today, with no extra sessions after group.
At almost nine months pregnant, my energy was waning fast, and I still had things to do once I got home. Like deal with Jack.
"Hello?" I called as I entered the kitchen and threw my keys on the counter. The house was suspiciously quiet, and I wondered if Edward had Jack up at the big house still. At three o'clock this morning, we'd woken up to Jack yelling for us as he threw up all over his new big boy bed.
"Mommeeee!" Jack barreled into my legs and almost knocked me backwards.
"Watch it, bud," Edward scolded with a smile. "Don't knock her over now."
I smiled at the two of them, and Edward kissed me softly. "Seems like someone's feeling better," I teased, knowing that he and Edward had probably been playing all day.
Edward rolled his eyes. "You say that like 'someone' ever acted like he felt bad. He was most unhappy that he couldn't play with Savannah all day."
Savannah Whitlock was born nine months after our trip to Jamaica. Alice and Jasper had, of course, been ecstatic when they found out she was pregnant, and I'd been thrilled to get to practice with a kid that wasn't mine, before I even considered having one of my own. She'd sparked baby fever, though, and when she was only six months old, we'd gotten to tell Esme and Carlisle that they were going to be grandparents again.
"What did my boys do today?" I asked, looking around the kitchen. There were dishes in the sink and smears of finger paint on the table.
Edward fidgeted a little. "We laid around and rested?" He tried to look innocent, but we both knew it was a lost cause and burst out laughing. I knew they'd been playing hard, and he knew it, too.
Tenderly, Edward laid his hand on my protruding stomach and swept a lock of my hair behind my ear. "How was your day? You feeling okay?"
I nodded. "I'm just tired. Dr. Martin likes where I'm going with the thesis, and with all I got done today, I should have it ready before the semester ends."
"Good. Why don't you go get changed and off your feet, and little man and I will make dinner?" he suggested.
I smiled and kissed both of them, before waddling upstairs. Edward had set out my yoga pants and one of his old t-shirts for me—my favorite evening outfit. I could smell ground beef browning when I walked back downstairs, and heard Jack giving Edward a hard time about what was and was not supposed to be in spaghetti.
"Jack!" I called. "Come in here and see me." Jack tore into the room and climbed eagerly onto the couch next to me. He no longer fit in my lap, but he loved to sit next to me and talk to the baby.
Edward poked his head around the corner and mouthed, "Thank you," before returning to the stove.
Jack proceeded to tell the baby all about race cars and how he was going to teach his little sister about baseball. Girls, he reasoned, needed to know these things to be interesting. Then, he told me about watching Daddy work and how he'd helped by coloring and making his numbers prettier.
"Really, Mom, he said that the red and yellow circles made them much better to look at," Jack insisted when I scolded him for coloring on his daddy's work.
Edward was a little quiet through dinner and Jack's bath. After reading two stories, we tucked him in and turned off the light. We both knew that he'd talk to his stuffed animals for at least thirty more minutes, but at least he was in there.
For five years, we'd held onto our nightly routine of talking before bed—only the location had changed. Now, we cuddled on our huge sleigh bed and reconnected each day. Tonight was no exception, and I was antsy to find out what was on Edward's mind.
"We got a call today up at the house," he started. "Tanya wants to come when the Spencers visit this weekend."
Tanya. I hadn't had occasion to think of her much over the last few years, but my thoughts instantly strayed to the letter we'd received just after Jack was born.
Edward looked nervous as we sat in our bed. I cocked my head to the side as he retrieved the letter from the nightstand and handed it to me. The return address shone brightly off the stark white envelope.
428 Idlewild Way
Boston, MA 02101
I stared, unable to move enough to take it from him. We hadn't heard from her since we'd left her on the courthouse steps four years before. News had reached us, of course, courtesy of Carmen and Eleazar, and we knew that she was putting her life back together. She'd never attempted to contact us, though.
"Open it," I whispered, fingering the edge of the envelope.
Edward watched my face closely, searching for any indecision, before he slid his finger through the flap and tore open the letter. Once unfurled, he held it out so we could read it together.
Dear Edward and Bella,
I hope that after all this time, this letter finds you well. I ask about you often, and I was thrilled to learn of Jack's birth. Congratulations.
This letter is long overdue, and I've been putting it off for too long. I owe both of you an apology, and I know that will never be enough to make up for my deplorable behavior. Even after years of therapy, I don't know what made me act the way I did. I could blame it on a lack of affection or guidance, but the truth is, the fault lies solely with me.
Edward, I'm sorry. I should have been your friend first and never crossed that line. What I did to you was inexcusable. You needed support and encouragement, not someone that tried to tear you down. I took advantage of you when you were at your lowest, and brought you down even further.
Bella, there are no words to express how sorry I am for how I treated you all these years. It was easier for me to deal with my own betrayal by treating you horribly and pretending that you were the enemy, than to recognize my own actions for what they were. From what I understand, you really are a wonderful woman and the perfect mate for Edward.
I'll be coming into town soon, and though I have no right to ask, I would love to come by to see you and meet your son. I promise not to hold it against you if you don't want me to; I haven't earned the right to be part of your lives. I wish you both the best and hope to see you soon.
That night, we'd talked about the level of interaction we wanted to have with her, and neither of us was ready to bring her back into our lives. The hurt was still too raw. Instead, we'd responded by letter, thanking her for her apologies and letting her know that while we might be able to be social with her one day, we weren't there yet. We wished her well and put her out of our minds.
As for this visit, I had no idea how to react. The truth was that I honestly felt like I'd won, and while I wished that we'd never had to go through it, I'd often wondered if maybe we wouldn't have ended up as solid as we were now if we hadn't. In some ways, she'd done us a favor and helped us to cut through the crap.
A sharp kick to my side brought me back to the present, and I covered the area where our daughter was kicking with my hand. Edward gave me a small smile and covered my hand with his.
"What do you think?" I asked him.
He shrugged. "I don't know. We have our own place, so it if gets uncomfortable, we can just leave, but I don't want you to be upset or stressed out."
"Maybe if she comes, we'll go up to the house, say hello, and see how it goes," I suggested. It was too hard to carry a grudge for so long, and I'd already won. I had the most wonderful husband and the most beautiful son in the world.
And she had no one.
"If you want to," Edward said noncommittally.
The baby kicked again, and then stilled, as my stomach tightened uncomfortably. I shifted and grunted against the pressure, but wasn't able to relax until my muscles did the same.
"Is that the first one?" Edward asked in concern.
I shook my head. "No, it's been happening on and off all day. Nothing regular," I assured him.
But my body had other ideas, and three minutes later, another contraction hit. Over and over, they hit, each time coming a little faster and a little harder. After an hour, Edward called his mom to come sit with Jack, and we headed off to the hospital.
I was at thirty-eight weeks, so they admitted me and let my labor progress. Edward made sure the anesthesiologist didn't leave me in pain, and he constantly mopped my brow with a cool cloth.
"You're doing great, baby," Edward murmured as I tensed through the pressure of the epidural-dulled contraction. He eyed the nurse as she checked me, and she seemed to confirm his suspicions.
"They're getting a lot harder," he said, and she nodded.
"The doctor will be right in. It's time." She hurried out of the room, and then a flurry of people bustled back in to set up the bed and prep me for delivery. It felt a little strange to have so many people staring at my spread legs, but both the baby and I needed our own teams of doctors and nurses. Edward never let go of my hand and never stopped encouraging me.
Madeleine Elizabeth Cullen was born at six-oh-three in the morning.
"Oh, Bella," Edward whispered as he looked over to where they were cleaning her up and weighing her. "She's absolutely beautiful, just like her mama."
The nurse chose that moment to lay her in my arms, and I had to agree with him. Our daughter was perfect.
They let us sit together for a few minutes, just watching the newest addition to our family and holding each other, but by seven, they were ready to move me to a regular room so that our visitors could finally see us.
Esme and Carlisle were still with Jack and had promised to bring him by as soon as he got up, but Alice, Rose, and Emmett were waiting eagerly for us.
I laughed at the laundry baskets full of pink baby stuff as they piled into our single room. Since Maddie was our second child, we hadn't had another baby shower, and they seemed intent to make up for it. They also seemed intent to hold her and never let her go.
Sometime around eight, I drifted off to sleep, exhausted from the turmoil I'd put my body through all night. When I woke again, the room was quiet, but I wasn't alone in my bed. Jack's coppery locks were nestled into my shoulder, and Edward sat on my other side, holding Maddie over my stomach.
"Will she get bigger, Daddy?" he whispered, trying to stay quiet so as to not wake me.
I could hear the smile in Edward's voice. "Yes, Jack, she'll get bigger, but she'll always need her big brother to protect her. You were this little once," he mused.
"Nuh-uh," Jack protested in awe.
I opened my eyes to see Edward nodding and Jack running a hand reverently over her face.
"I was this little?" Jack asked.
"You were," I answered, letting my boys know I was awake.
Jack snuggled into me, his version of a bed-hug, and I kissed the top of his head.
"What do you think, Jackie?" I asked him, nodding towards his sister.
He shrugged one shoulder. "Eh, she's pretty, but she doesn't do much."
"And she won't for a while," Carlisle said from the doorway, an expression of admiration covering his features. He came in and hugged Edward, and then kissed my forehead.
Carlisle and Edward's relationship had steadily improved over the years, but it wasn't until Jack was born that the most progress was made. My labor had been hard, and I'd bled more than normal. Edward was terrified that he was going to lose me and have to raise Jack by himself. So, he turned to his dad, and a new understanding was born. Since then, Carlisle had been the most supportive father and grandfather I could have wished for.
Esme came in and took Maddie from Edward, cuddling her instantly. After the requisite, "she's beautifuls," and "you did good, Mamas," our conversation focused on more normal things.
After an hour or so, they stood to leave so we could rest some more. Actually, I suspected it was because they were taking Maddie to her pediatric check-up, but they promised to visit later, and I was too tired to fight them.
Edward hugged Jack fiercely. "We'll be home tomorrow, buddy. Can you be good for Grandma and Grandpa until then?"
Jack nodded and skipped over to hold Esme's hand. I suspected that he was far more excited about that visit than he was us coming home.
No sooner were they out the door, then Edward was crawling into bed with me at my insistence. Surrounded in his arms, I fell fast asleep.
That two hour nap was all I got for the rest of the day. A slight banging woke us sometime later, and Mom looked up sheepishly from where she had banged into my tray table. And while she was captivated by Maddie, she had nothing on my father. He was beside himself with joy.
"She looks just like you," he whispered, and I could hear the thick emotion in his voice. Carefully, he rocked her back and forth and hummed a tune that sounded vaguely familiar. He refused to relinquish her, until my mother insisted that they go get us something to eat for lunch. One look at my hospital issued food tray had her scrambling to get me some real sustenance.
Since we would be alone for a little while, Edward suggested that we send Maddie down to the nursery and get cleaned up. Seeing as how I hadn't done so since I gave birth, I was more than willing to entertain his idea. I didn't want Maddie alone, though.
Uncle Jasper solved that for us. When he heard our dilemma, he declared that Maddie needed to be given a tour of the maternity ward and that he would take her. The look in his eyes as he held her was so reminiscent of how he was with Savannah that any lingering doubts I might have had fled.
As they left the room, I heard him muttering what sounded suspiciously like, "Your daddy and I are going to have to learn to shoot better to keep those nasty boys away from you," in a sing-song voice. One glance over at Edward told me he had heard it, too, and he was doing all he could to keep the laughter in.
So much had changed in the last five years. Back then, I could never have imagined sitting in a hospital shower and letting Edward wash the blood and dirt from my body, especially in its current less than perfect condition. But today, he tenderly washed my hair and ran the washcloth all over me, carefully maneuvering around the parts that were swollen and sore, even though those were his favorites.
"You are so beautiful," he murmured as he rinsed my hair, somehow sensing what I needed to hear most.
I scoffed anyway, not feeling particularly beautiful, with my stomach hanging in folds and my breasts swollen beyond recognition. "Yeah, right. Look at me." Tears burned in my eyes, and my hormonal brain wondered if he would ever find me appealing again.
Edward stepped into the shower with me and knelt in front of me. "You are the most beautiful woman I've ever seen," he said sincerely, tipping my head so that I would look at him.
"This stomach,"—he caressed the stretched skin—"carried my children. These breasts, though they look really uncomfortable right now, nourish them. I love the way your body fits into my hands and the way you look and feel when we're together."
My eyes drifted down as I blinked back the tears and caught a glimpse of my husband straining against the wet fabric of his underwear. Clearly, his body found something in here attractive, and right now, I was the only option.
He wasn't done reassuring me, though. "I love you, Bella. Inside and out. Please don't ever doubt that."
I sniffled, and the tears fell. I felt so overwhelmed and loved in that moment. I fell forward into his arms; he just held me and shushed me, offering me whatever comfort I could take from him. Finally purged, I sat back up and kissed him as hard as I could, letting him know that I still loved and wanted him, even if we couldn't do anything about it.
It wasn't much longer before the already lukewarm water ran cold, and we got out. Edward dried me off and helped me into a pair of yoga pants and a long sleeve T-shirt. He threw on his own clothes, and then helped me out to the bed, where he brushed my hair out.
We weren't a moment too soon in coming back. Jasper reentered the room, with a very fussy Madeleine. Edward had once told me that he could watch me feed Jack all day, but he took Jasper out to get a cup of coffee while I nursed.
When they returned, they weren't alone.
I had wondered when Carmen and Eleazar would show up. They were coming up to visit for the weekend anyway, and I could only imagine the news that I had given birth would hurry them along. They had become like a surrogate set of grandparents to both Savannah and Jack over the years, doting on them almost as much as Esme and Carlisle did. After the trial, they'd made a huge effort to repair their relationship with us, and today, I was glad to see them.
Edward's jaw was set and his eyes were cautious, as he crossed the room and sat next to me, throwing his arm around my waist and pulling me close. When he looked at me, his eyes were tender, but worried. I gave him a small smile, and then glanced up to see what had him so concerned.
Tanya had come with them.
She stood in the door, looking around the room nervously. Her eyes only met mine once, and when they did, they quickly averted to her shoes. Her parents had abandoned her and were busy cooing over our daughter, while Edward sat tensely next to me. I wasn't sure what had him more uptight—my reaction, or his own.
I took a deep breath, drew on the small reserve of strength I had, and called over to her. "You can come in if you'd like, Tanya."
Her eyes shot up and met mine questioningly, as if she hadn't expected to be welcomed in and was only here because her parents dragged her along. On second thought, perhaps that was exactly what had happened. She stepped in quietly and practically tip-toed over to where her mother was cuddling Maddie.
"She's so beautiful," Tanya murmured as she gazed longingly at my daughter. Carmen looked for a moment like she was about to ask if Tanya wanted to hold her, but glanced at me and held my newborn baby even tighter.
"I tell you what, you two, she looks nothing like Jack did. In fact, I think she's the spitting image of her mother," Eleazar announced with a teasing grin.
"Good thing, right?" Edward laughed.
Tanya glanced our way. "So, does Jack look like Edward, then?" she asked.
My brows furrowed, and I cocked my head to the side. I knew for a fact that the Spencers had pictures of Savannah and Jack all over the place, and I wondered who she thought those kids were.
"He looks exactly like Edward at that age," Carmen answered with a smile. "What does he think of his new sister?"
I smiled at her. "He adores her. He spent the morning telling us about all the things he needed to teach her to do, but that he'd have to wait until she was bigger. But she's not allowed to have a puppy if he can't have one."
Carmen and Eleazar joined Edward and me in our laughter. They had been present on more than one occasion when Jack tried to convince us that we needed a big dog.
"No, she can't have one. I'm getting one first," Jack declared at the doorway, before running over and jumping on the bed with me. His little arms stretched around my neck, and all my tension melted away. He was the best hugger in the world.
Tanya gaped at Jack, and the Cullens all gaped at Tanya. Savannah looked at all of them like they were crazy and plowed past them.
"I wanna see her," she announced. True to her own style, she was wearing a tiara over her blond ringlets, a pink leotard and tu-tu, and blue jeans, along with the Chuck Taylors I got her for her birthday. "Oh, and I'm sposed to give this to you." She threw a gift bag at me and made a bee-line for Carmen and the baby.
I turned to Edward and tried to suppress a laugh. She was so much like Alice, it was scary. He gave Jasper an "It's all you" look, and Jasper just shook his head and shrugged.
"She'll find someone to take it one day just like her mother did," he said with a smile. "But God help him."
That finally broke the tension in the room, and the rest of the family crowded around. My parents arrived with our lunches a few minutes later, and other than a few awkward glares from Mom, no one acknowledged the discomfort caused by Tanya's presence.
Jack fell asleep against my shoulder in the early afternoon, unable to keep his eyes open any longer, and Esme and Carlisle took that as their cue to leave. He was so tired that he didn't even wake when Carlisle lifted him off my body or when Edward and I kissed him goodbye.
Tanya, Rose, and Emmett were discussing something, and Alice and Jasper were sitting on the in-room couch with Savannah; she was holding Maddie and repeatedly telling her parents that she wanted "one of these."
"How are you feeling, Mama?" Carmen asked quietly as she and Eleazar stepped close.
I smiled. "I'm tired, but I don't suppose that's going to change anytime soon."
"I hope you don't mind that she's here. We were on our way when Esme called, and I didn't know what else to do," Eleazar confessed. "I thought she'd take the car and go somewhere, but she wanted to come up."
Edward glanced at me, before turning back to face them. "It's fine. It had to happen sometime, right?"
Carmen scoffed. "No, it didn't. Not if you didn't want it to. I've done my damndest to keep her out of your lives, even when she begged to come with us, and that's what I'll do if that's what you want."
My earlier curiosity resurfaced. "Carmen, how did she not know what Jack looks like? His pictures are all over your house."
She smiled smugly at me. "I take them down. She's done nothing to deserve to see into your life unless you request it. As you haven't, I didn't see it as my place to let her see him."
I laughed. She was so protective and mother bear-ish, even when it came to her own daughter. I had no doubt that Carmen would shove her out the door now if we asked.
"You can leave them up," Edward said with a laugh.
Carmen gave him a doubtful look, but nodded in acquiescence. "We're going to go, darlings," she told us. "You need your rest, and that baby's going to be hungry soon."
"Will you be at the house tomorrow?" I asked, genuinely hopeful that they would be.
Eleazar smile. "Of course. We'll be there when you get home."
Edward and I kissed them both goodbye and watched as Carmen informed their daughter that it was time to go. Tanya looked longingly at Maddie, but swallowed heavily and walked toward us instead.
"Thank you," she practically whispered. "For letting me be here and see them. Jack and Maddie are adorable."
I couldn't rein in the smile, because it was true and I was their mother. "Thank you," I told her genuinely.
"And well, if you ever need anything, diapers, a babysitter . . . anything, let me know. I'll be happy to help," she offered.
We would never take her up on that offer, and all three of us knew it when the words came out of her mouth. Too much damage had been done for Edward and me to entrust our precious children to her care, but we thanked her regardless and promised we would let her know.
She joined her parents by the door and disappeared from sight. I didn't know if she would be at the house the next day, but I did know that something had changed in me. There was only so much room in my heart, even with it swelling to accommodate my babies, and there was no longer any space for the ill will I bore her.
And as I stared at my daughter, surrounded by our very loving family, I realized that there was nothing to be gained by harboring that grudge any longer. I had won—not against her, but in my life. I had the most wonderful, loving, and supportive husband a woman could ask for and the most perfect children on the planet.
Life was good.
As I hit the complete button tonight, I am struck by the enormity of this. For the last seven months, this story, and you as my readers, have been a constant in my life. Tonight, I hit the complete button and say goodbye . . . for now, at least.
I owe lots of thanks to you all. Thank you to my faithful readers—the ones that have been here since the beginning and those that found me yesterday. You make this worth it and your feedback has been priceless, making me a better writer every day.
Thank you to those that "flounced." Some of you let me know why you were leaving, and while it may have hurt, it made me a better writer and a thicker skinned person. Sometimes that's what we need in life.
Mollie—you were one of the first to believe in this story and thanks to your mega-pimpage, it took on a life of its own. Thank you for your faith in me and TAM.
Jenny Cullen and bonnysammy: you betaed this, without complaint and make it better each week. Thank you for your time and your guidance.
Swimom7—my ficwife and darling friend—the chocolate chips to my cookies. There are no words for how much I appreciate and love you. I can't wait for October.
And now, good night. Thank you for taking this ride with me and for supporting me, even when it was hard. I love you all.